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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Very Short Week

Sorry guys... nothing much from me this week. All keyed up for our trip to Vegas (we leave in 15 hours - woohoo!) and don't really have anything prepared.

I was going to make some comments on the controversial Essence of Euro-Style Games essay published a few days ago by Lewis Pulsipher (designer of Brittania, among others) and how it relates to my eurogames vs. wargames post a few months back. It's a topic I've been meaning to return to, but now I'm not entirely sure I want to tread on those waters. If you're on the spielfrieks mailing list, you know exactly what I mean. Next week is Question of the Month week, so I'll save it for later.

For now, I just have the following quote about that article: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." (Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride.)

I also have a comment about the local auction KC blogged about on Saturday. Let's just say it's not the most monetarily efficient means for disposing of unwanted games. (I sold 7 games, all but one in print and 3 of them in shrinkwrap, for a total of $45.) And I've got about 23 suggestions on how it could be better run.

I'll be writing next week's column in a post-Vegas haze, so I have no idea what you'll get :) (Anybody know of any decent game shops down there? Can't hurt to take a look.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Open Gaming vs. Scheduled Events

A good reference point for this post is this article by Valerie Putnam (whose "Pros & Cons" tag is so clever that I had to drop my own series moniker which was quite lame in comparison). In it, she discusses the merits of open gaming with respect to tournaments. The one format her article overlooks is the scheduled event format. This format is most common in local conventions (e.g., Portland's Game Storm). Volunteer Game Masters sign up to run events of their choosing, and a schedule is created from these events (here is the current Game Storm schedule under development). Con-goers then select events from the schedule to attend; perhaps there is a sign-up sheet posted during the con so that attendees can ensure a reserved seat.

As Game Storm has grown over the years, I have observed more open gaming occurring. At the same time, I have seen more scheduled events cancelled due to lack of interest. Here are ten tips on how a Game Master can make his event more attractive and ultimately more successful; good events are an important factor in getting folks to attend future events by the same GM.

  1. When creating an event, look for a spin to make your event more attractive. I once ran a Lord of the Rings event using the "Corrupt Hobbit" variant (similar to the traitor mechanism in Shadows Over Camelot). Another time, I copied the historical information behind the spaces of Merchant of Amsterdam and had the players take turns reading the information as we progressed. You don't have to do something as outrageous as Celebrity Deathmatch Candamir to give your event extra appeal; at a minimum, make the game description a bit more sexy than Jay Tummelson's attempt.
  2. Aggressively work with the Board Game coordinator weeks in advance to ensure the schedule is balanced and fair. Do not assume that the coordinator will actively adjust the schedule. If someone is running a three-hour game in a two-hour slot right before your own event, have it fixed. If there is a glut of events being run at the same time, find a sparser slot and have your event moved. The reason you want to do this as early as possible is because con-goers often like to plan their itinerary before they arrive, and they may be disappointed by surprise schedule adjustments.
  3. Know the game. Reread the rules before the event and master them. There is one GM whose events I will not attend because of one event where he did no prep work and I had to assist with the instruction.
  4. Go to the Geek. Research player aids, FAQs, and so forth. Do whatever it takes to make the playing experience more enjoyable. For example, I created a chart for La Citta to track population and food totals for each player, making it easier to assess the board situation at a glance.

  5. Prepare how you plan to teach the game. Consider putting an outline on paper and going through a dry run. Realize that the learning styles of folks at the cons may be different than those with which you are most comfortable; likewise, your teaching style may be unfamiliar to some of the participants. Be patient and flexible when teaching it.
  6. If possible, do not play in the game. This should be your preference. Only play if you feel that the extra person will make the experience that much better; for example, if I were running El Grande, I would play if exactly four others showed up, as it truly shines with the full complement of five. Stay by the table to answer questions early on, but aim to become invisible by the end of the match. Avoid excessive commentary, and only consider giving strategy tips when asked.
  7. Make sure the previous table is cleared off a few minutes before the start time of your event. If it looks like it isn't wrapping up, identify the GM and work politely with him. If necessary, find the appropriate con official to resolve the situation.
  8. Keep the pace of the game moving. Get a sense of whether the game is on track to complete on time. Hold the group to moving at the appropriate pace; I once ran a 6-player game of Liberté (with all new players) in a 2-hour slot, and contend that it is possible with a disciplined GM. When appropriate, announce progress against schedule. For example, if I were running El Grande (which is structured into thirds) in a 2-hour slot, I would report at the end of the first scoring round how ahead/behind we are of our 0:40 target.
  9. Keep the mood friendly. The most talking I will do at an event I am GM'ing is when trouble stirs. I have had to deal with frustration, impatience, grumbling, and interpersonal conflicts. Not being an actual participant in the game makes this moderation all the more effective. In a con setting, "it's a learning game" has been the star phrase in my toolbox.
  10. Make sure your own table is cleared off a few minutes before the start time of the next event. Remove all trash. Straighten the chairs and smooth out the tablecloth.

Last October, I talked about potential problems introduced by the presence of scheduled events at an open gaming con. There are other problems created when open gaming occurs at a con centered on scheduling events:

  • It discourages mingling, and encourages cliquing.
  • It can lead to events getting cancelled. One evening, you may decide to play Caylus instead of Event X after some waffling, but what if others made the same decision about an Event Y you were interested in?
  • If events are cancelled, GMs will be discouraged from running as many (if any) events in future years. The worst part is that a GM for a cancelled event not only spent all his prep time for naught, he is also at high risk of not participating in an event (open or scheduled) himself. This is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

In summary, GMs owe it to others to put a little extra work into their events, and attendees owe it to others to participate heavily in the scheduled events. On the other hand, if the majority's preference is for open gaming, I would hope that the con officials are working to collect this feedback and morph the con accordingly.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Auction Results

Well, we all had a good time today at the auction at Rainy Day Games. I took out 10 games, and only 6 of them got bids, but that's OK. I also spent $23 on a bunch of games, and came hope happy with my loot.

What didn't get bids. Liar's Dice 6 player $5.00 (minimum $9 on the Geek) - I guess this wasn't the copy that someone was waiting for, although it was a pristine copy. Also with no bids were Disorderly Conduct at $1.00, then Outwit at $2.00 (3 others just like it) and Nightmare the Video Game $5.00, although an Atmosfear (essentially the same game) went for $15.00.

What did sell. Adel Verpflichtet sold for $6.50, on the Geek it sells for about $12. Can't Stop sold for $12, on the Geek it goes for $22. Evergreen sold for $5.00 (sealed), and $17 new on the Geek. San Gimignano sold for $5.00, goes for $25 on the Geek. Overall I'd say folks that bought my stuff (thank you!) still got pretty good deals compared to what they would have paid on Boardgamegeek.

What I brought home.
Bang: Dodge City $2.00, $7 on the Geek. This adds some new things to Bang!, a game my kids like. It lets 8 people play the game as well.

Venezia around $5, around $15 on the Geek. I played this at Doug's house, complete with pigeons fighting over the palazzo in Rome. Fun, interesting action selection.

Thunder's Edge around $5, sells for about $20 on the Geek. I played this at Dave's house on a Saturday some time ago. Since I have an expansion for it, this might go into the sale pile with the expansion if I decide it's not quite for me.

Targui around $3.00, around $20 on the Geek. Variable board, nice artwork, some elements of RISK and some typical to area control games.

Penguin Ultimatum Around $2.5, around $10 on the Geek. Since we like Monkeys in the Moon a lot, this was an easy ine to bid on. In this case, you're hiring talent to display their best efforts for the Penguin Emperor and his court. Plenty of wacky fun.

Termitenspiele $1.00 (thanks Peter!) An Edition Perlhuhn game by Rheinhold Wittg. From the rules, it's hard to tell what's going on but essentially it's 4 sets of 16 cubes (heavy cardstock) that show termite trails along 6 sides and get lined up in various puzzle-style games.

Laguna Around $5, $15 on the Geek. Franz Vohwinkel art; a beautiful game about pearl diving and catching currents around the islands, which may or may not help you get the pearls home.

At these prices, these are easily games that if they get played even twice they're worth the price, and they are all decent enough to pass on to other gamers if they turn out not to be on our top shelf list. It's not about making money though. If I want to sell games, clearly Ebay or Boardgamegeek is a better option.

I appreciate Stave and Amy at Rainy Day for running the auction; what a great way to boost the store as a "serve your customers" place. The pizza and the beer next door were alos good, but mostly because Chris Brooks gave in and did "Back in the USSR" at the karaoke bar for all of us.

And to all my buddies there, it was gret to see you and see you again soon at Gamestorm.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Solitaire's The Only Game In Town

I'll be very impressed if anyone can tell me the musical source of the title.

Like a lot of gamers, there have been times during my life when I've had to resort to solitaire gaming to get any gaming at all in. The longest stretch was after I left high school (college was all about RPGs or drinking games) up until about seven years ago, a stretch of around 18 years. I did get a little ftf gaming in during that time, but the vast majority of the gaming I did was solitaire, and then only when I could find enough space in a small apartment to actually leave something set up.

The reason I "founded" Rip City Gamers was because I discovered the Euro market and found that solitaire wasn't much of an option. At the same time, card-driven wargames started becoming popular, requiring an opponent (and ACTS hadn't really taken off yet). Try playing El Grande solitaire, it requires a real desire to succeed. Much of what I love about Euros is the tension of not knowing what your opponent will do or where they are in relation to your own position in terms of victory conditions. As such, playing Euros by myself has pretty much become an exercise in learning the game so that I can later teach it.

Recently, I've been playing World of Warcraft solitaire. The game is very playable solitaire as is, although managing four players on your own can get a little confusing from time to time, especially with a game a variable as this one. I've been impressed with the solitaire changes suggested on the 'Geek, and that got me thinking about how one might find ways to make Euros more fun solitaire, which is to say "at all". I'll skip such obvious games as Al Cabohn, which are specifically set up to be played solitaire.

Bidding - Like a lot of mechanisms, this can be simulated by setting reasonable bids by each player, then dicing to randomize them a little. Downside is that you have to think about every position's bid, which can be a real pain. Blind bidding, such as found in games like Aladdin's Dragons, is pretty much out if you want to play each position, although you can completely randomize the process for all but one player. I personally don't find this all that much fun. Continuous bidding, where players bid around the table until all but one pass, is also difficult to do unless you treat is as a "max bid" and use the general bidding scheme. Again, this loses much of the excitement and flavor of the mechanism. This is perhaps the biggest solitaire killing mechanism out there.

Guess What I'll Do - I personally love this mechanism, where one player picks one of a set of possibilities, and the other player tries to guess what they picked. Choosing a defense in Pizza Box Football is a classic example, although in most games it's a less pervasive element. The answer is to have a set of rules that govern what will happen under certain situations, and in fact PBF provides that exact situation while providing considerable uncertainty. For games that don't have an AI provided, I'll generally pick which of the possibilities are most probable, then dice for them. In the end, I generally feel like I'm just playing the odds rather than gauging my opponent, which again removes some of the fun, although PBF is so based on the dice that their system doesn't really change how the game feels.

Hidden Elements - This is usually cards, but it can also be a variety of other things, such as tokens in Samurai or E&T. Even with cards, the specific mechanism will determine if this is solitaire-friendly. Settlers, for example, is generally pretty solitairable, although you lose some of the tension surrounding development cards. Paths of Glory is somewhat less so, unless you are willing to play with randomly drawn cards (although you really need to look at the combat cards ahead of time, reducing the tension a bit). Hannibal is patently unsolitaireable in it's existing form, mostly because of the Battle Cards, although that process can be reduced to a simple CRT. In fact, someone did that very thing with the original Titan game, removing the Battleboards/lands completely. It makes the game playable within two hours, although one might argue that it loses a lot of the fun (if you aren't watching someone else fight). However, with a game like Dungeon Twister, the cards are easy to use: just draw combat and action cards randomly and they all even out in the end. In general, the more cards that can come up, the less solitaireable the game will be. Command and Colors: Ancients works well too, and often you don't even have to randomize the cards, just "forget" what your opponent has in hand.

Trading - This is actually fairly doable, even with games like Civilization. Some things can be randomized, but in general it's not too hard to just pretend to be two people trading cards. You know that someone is going to get a nasty-gram from time to time, but that's true in the ftf version as well. I played this solitaire a lot when it first came out in the AH edition - my parents had gone to Europe for a month, and I was stuck out in the sticks without much to do. However, the more involved or elemental the trading is (such as Bohnanza), the less interesting. The original Civ made it pretty easy to simply compute the value of each trade to both parties and try to equalize it as much as possible, but this isn't as easy with a lot of games.

Of course, solitaire isn't really ever meant as a replacement for ftf gaming, it's more of a story (at least for me). Seeing how the game unfolds is really the payoff, not so much winning or losing. That's the fun in soloing WoW or Civ. There is very little fun in handing your opponent a particularly sweet screwage move when you are your opponent, sort of like sticking it to the Man when you are the Man. Regardless, I'm unlikely to play games like Civ or WoW with my existing group, they simply are too long for the number of people involved, so playing them solitaire is the only way to get them on the table.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A brief look at Conquest NW

Late Sunday, I returned from the Conquest NW convention in SeaTac, WA. The show ran through Monday, but the portions I was most interested in ended Sunday, so I trundled home.

Some thoughts:

I did well in my DBM tournament. Finished 2nd out of 8. (Last year, when there was little cost associated in playing, we had 22 players. This year, 8 bagged out in the last week. Go figure.) Only game I lost out of four was to the guy who finished first (someone I've never beaten in competition). I've now won 10 out of 14 games with my Later Swiss army (6 of 9 in tournaments). I think I'll be sticking with this one for a while.

This convention was VERY lightly attended. They'll be lucky to have hit 250 total attendees. I'm sure much of that had to do with poor advertising. The miniatures room was usually full, but no other room was even at half capacity. The boardgaming room, in particular, was practically empty, and at best 1/4 full. Kind of sad – they must have lost a bundle on this show. However, they've apparently noticed things they did wrong, and they're really looking forward to making things better next year. Our tournament will likely be back, so I may try to make it a four-day thing and support other parts of the show on the other days.

Shows like this provide a STRANGE mix of people. You have hard-core historical gamers (there were both DBM and ASL tournaments), eurogamers, and RPGA fanatics in the same group. People that probably would snicker at the others from behind closed doors meeting in hallways and nodding to each other when noticing the convention badge.

I love reminding people of things they'd forgotten about. I actually used to role-play with Peter Adkison (Wizards of the Coast founder) back before he started WotC (I think it was 1988 when we were most active, maybe 1987). We lost contact a good 12-13 years ago or so. Anyway, he was a featured guest at the con, and happened to be at the registration desk Sunday afternoon when I was between games. I stopped by, introduced myself by reminding him of the gaming group we had first, then giving him my name. I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered me. We had a good chat after that remembering the old days. If you really want to see the brain power and enthusiasm that went into the founding of WotC before Magic: the Gathering hit, try to find a copy of The Primal Order, a generic RPG supplement. There's brilliant stuff in there (and the three supplements) that has never been equaled in anything I've ever seen. M:tG turned Wizards into a economic force, but it started out as most do – a company by gamers for gamers. They just happened to stumble onto a gold mine.




I followed the herd and took a handful of games down to the local game shop for their annual auction. All part of the process of removing stuff I'm no longer interested in playing. I think this is going to be a severe buyer's market... You just never know, though.

At Conquest, I picked up a copy of Twilight Struggle. You just have to love a CDG with only 8 pages of rules. I was surprised to see that it's currently in the geek's top ten games (as is Command and Colors: Ancients, btw – both games were seen all over the place at the con). I didn't realize it had been rated THAT highly. That said, I've seen nothing but good reports on it, and there's actually very little combat – it's more an area/political influence game than a wargame, thus increasing its appeal. There's apparently a little concern with the difficulty in getting the US to win the first few times you play, but it seems to be a style thing as much as anything. Looking forward to giving this one a shot. Jodie might even play... (Of course, Here I Stand has started shipping, so there's definitely going to be competition for gaming time.)

As a side effect of buying Twilight Struggle, I got entered into a raffle for other GMT product – surprise, surprise, I won a copy of 3 Days of Gettysburg. I've thought about buying this one in the past as it's the only battleground I've ever personally visited. I don't expect to ever actually PLAY the thing, but I'll probably punch it out and push some of the counters around as an interactive learning experience more than anything.

Finally, Jodie and I pulled out Elasund for a learning game yesterday. It plays surprisingly well with two, and we both enjoyed it a lot. (And we definitely enjoyed it more than Candamir.) This one should get a fair amount of play.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Game Group: Long Island Boardgaming Organization

Long Island Boardgaming Organization
Submitted by Chris Palermo
Edited by Dave Eggleston

How did the group get started?

For a period of time, I used to host several people at my house for gaming. Unfortunately, there was nothing "official" and people would routinely cancel, which was awfully frustrating. Finally, I decided to form a "real" gaming club. During a World Boardgaming Championships visit, I realized that I could create the same sense of camaraderie and competition in a local group. It just needed to be organized. Two founding members set about making a constitution, with attendance policies, membership policies, etc. From these policies, the Long Island Boardgaming Organization (LIBO) was born. It is still a work in progress, on many levels, since we are never content with simple mediocrity. We always strive for excellence. We track a lot of statistics, and award plaques at the end of each year to those players who win the various categories. The stats measure different abilities, so it is unlikely one person will sweep through all the plaques. There are restrictions to avoid someone coming to one GameDay, winning 3 out of 4 games, never showing up again, and then qualifying for the plaque.

How does your group find new members?

We recruit using BoardGameGeek, word of mouth, AccessDenied, and at some local conventions. The evolution of INDEPTH, our free magazine on our website has helped somewhat. It is interesting that the group was originally formed with friends and family, but now that we have recruited, we have recruited gamers, who have become like family.

How would you describe your group?

We are primarily male, with only 1 female remaining in the group. Ages range from mid-20s to early 40s. We meet once a month from 11am-1am for a GameDay, and twice more a month (on a Friday night from 7pm-1am, and a Wednesday night from 7pm-11pm) for other gaming. We currently have the Wednesday Nites on hiatus, since we started a splinter league for Heroscape, which meets two Thursdays a month. We meet in members’ houses. We have approximately 10 members (down from a high of 15), and, ideally, like to keep the group between 9-16 members. There are about 3-4 members that can host, and the GameDays and GameNites rotate through those hosts. While we do track a lot of statistics, which makes for competitive play (that was the philosophy going in: Make people play for something, and they’ll show up), the fact is that the social camaraderie is what makes this group feel unique. There truly is a sense of friendship amongst everyone in the group, which makes the game playing that much more enjoyable.

How do you decide which games to play?

The mission of the group, initially, was to effectively work our way through my large collection. Consequently, most of the time, the games are chosen from that collection. Recent recruits, however, have brought their own sizeable (and, in some cases, still-growing) collections. I make up the schedule for the day, determining which games will get played and when, trying also to be cognizant of recent purchases by other members. This does create some debate between those members who do purchase and collect games (who wish to play all the games they purchase) and those members who do not purchase games (who wish to play their favorites again and again). We normally set up themes for GameDays; currently, it is based on manufacturer (e.g., February is Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games). By the end of this year, we should be able to set up GameDays based on themes in the game, as well as mechanisms. There is a lot of work involved to making this happen, however, since each game needs to be classified.

How do you select the start player?

At any time there are 2-4 games going on simultaneously. Certain players (based on who played the “worst” the previous month) have the ability to select a table at which to play. After those requests are made, laminated seating cards are taken randomly. Each player then heads to his or her assigned table and seat.

What do you consider your group’s signature games?

Our signature games would probably include Puerto Rico, Atlantic Storm and Advanced Civilization. There are a number of games we play quite a bit (e.g., Medici and El Grande) and a number of games we played a lot at one time (e.g., Goa and St. Petersburg). However, the first three are almost always standards each year.

What games were featured in your most memorable gaming sessions?

Our most memorable session was probably a session of I’m the Boss, which was immortalized for all time by Michael Albergo in his writeup in the pages of INDEPTH.

What games were featured in your most unfortunate gaming sessions?

We have taken chances on some games that simply did not work (e.g., Mutual Mania). But, across the board, the games that fail miserably are the games with no real end (e.g., Munchkin, Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, Inkognito); either it is too easy to whack the leader, or everyone ”ends” at the same time.

What games have created the biggest love/hate division among members of your group?

With all groups, there is a distinction made between games with great mechanics and games with great aesthetics. We are fortunate to have representation on both sides for this debate. There aren’t many games that have their ratings tremendously out of whack (where one faction might rate the game a ‘2’ and another faction might rate the game a ‘5’); Advanced Civilization probably fits best, due to the lengthy time needed to play. Twilight Imperium caused the most controversy (with some pretty distinctive ratings); the full collective commentary spanned 16-18 pages altogether.

What do you do about food and music at your gaming sessions?

For food, we normally have the host provide lunch, which is paid for by all the members in attendance. For dinner, it is up to the host. Some hosts also provide dinner (adjusting the day’s food ‘fee’ accordingly), while other hosts order out, with each person paying for his or her own meal. There is no music at the gaming session.

A closing note?

While our approach and philosophy probably differs greatly from other groups, it is important to remember our origins, initially consisting of friends and family exclusively . New recruits are brought gently into the group; we delay making decisions on suitability until we are confident in the new recruit, since the camaraderie is so important to maintain. In fact, the group has become so family-like we regularly schedule "Family Days", which have included trips to the Bronx Zoo, Coney Island Aquarium and New York City. We also have a Mini-Golf tournament and two Ping Pong tournaments each year, as well as other assorted get-togethers as a group, including spouses and children. We also take session reports and reviews seriously; part of putting out a magazine, besides being used as a recruiting tool, is the ability to influence other gamers. Several gamers have written me to tell me that, based on a review or report they read in INDEPTH, they would now be purchasing that game. Those truly are success stories.

Game Group is a monthly series, providing unique profiles of established gaming groups. It was inspired by the “book group” feature in the (most excellent) bookmarks magazine. We want to hear from you about your gaming group! If you would like to participate, send an inquiry to ripcitygamer@comcast.net.

Game Group index:

01/2006: Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club
02/2006: Long Island Boardgaming Organization

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hunting for a Clue (or Maybe a Can't Stop)

I'm also on the Auction Hunt this weekend, which some of our folks already mentioned. Rainy Day Games will sponsor an auction on February 25 at 3 pm. So if you're in the area, please plan to come on out ready to spend some cash for good games.

Evidently a couple of our guys have already put 100+ games into the piles. Which is great in terms of more games available to the public, possibly not as good for the price per game figures. So I've been trying to work out a reasonable goal for what I want to do in relation to the auction. Here are my starting facts:

1. I have way too many games, like maybe 500 I don't "need" for playing anytime soon.
2. Many of the games of that 500 wouldn't be worth $5.00 apiece.
3. Many of the games are at our storage locker, some unknown as to which box they're in.
4. I collected a lot of duplicates for an eventual donation to a library or a school, so I probably wouldn't want to donate those, or if so, maybe just one nice copy.
5. The deal is you get store credit at Rainy Day Games, a nice retail store that has sold a lot of Havoc for us.
6. Rainy Day is nearly an hour drive for me, so I don't shop there too often.
7. I don't have a clue what other games will be in the auction - duplicates may lower prices.
8. In past years many Euros have sold for $10-$15.
9. In the past, card games have only brought a few dollars.
10. The more games for sale, the less interest per game unless the game is outstanding.

And some assumptions behind my factoids: If a game won't bring $5.00, it may not be worth the hassle of finding it, checking for completeness, and toting it in. I'd like to participate in the sale, and having some credit at Rainy Day would be cool, if only to support the store. A lot on unusual games I have may not be well enough known to bring on bidders. And games that would sell well on Ebay or Boardgamegeek should probably sell there instead.

I'd like to get a few games to the auction that are either great standards or that people could look for having played them already. Or just things that our family likes so we tend to get extra copies of in trades or when we see them for sale. Here's my starting list:

1. Can't Stop - great basic Sid Sackson. Often copied, hardly improved on. This is the US Parker Brothers version.

2. Liar's Dice - I might sell Perudo or its ilk instead since Liar's Dice (Milton Bradley?) is by far my favorite version of the game.

3. Black Box - might be tough to find one with the original cheap paper "shell" intact. It never had a real box since the games itself is a hard plastic container. Great solo game, even though meant for two players.

4. Ghosts - another classic 2 player, simple, made more popular by being on BreeSpielWelt I think.

5. Heroscape - a big set with plenty of plastic miniatures and furniture, might not be worth the effort to find a beautiful copy if it's only going to bring in $10 or something.

Maybe I'll spot some different choices once I start cleaning the basement and office, where games tend to pile up before they get hoisted off to storage, usually to clear some floor space at home. My idea for now is to try to generate $60-$100 at Rainy Day as a store credit.

Hope to see you at the auction - I'm sure I'll bring some of your treasures home as well!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Burndown Update, The Auction Game

Time for an update on my burndown chart for unplayed games.  I think I found a better way to graph this by using a technique often adopted by Scrum teams to indicate overall scope – capture the total amount of games knocked off in addition to the split between played and unplayed games.  Looking at the graph below, if you look at the top line you’ll see that there are a total of about 83 games for me to knock off this year, and as of tonight I’ve played seven of them.

Burndown20060227

At this trajectory, it seems unlikely I’ll get even close to finishing by the end of the year.  I’m picking off some of the easier ones, such as Rolit, Yahtzee Deluxe Poker, and Ido, but I’ve got some much longer games that will be more difficult to get out and play still in the queue.  Time to consider reducing scope.

As Doug mentioned, Rainy Day Games will be hosting an auction on February 25 at 3pm.  I’m getting more aggressive about auctioning some games unlikely to be played again (though nowhere near as aggressive as Dave and Doug).  My goal is to make enough to purchase a copy of Descent.  I’ll have some decent titles up for auction, including Doom, Formula De Mini, and Quicksand.  The challenge, of course, will be to not pick up a bunch of games at the auction that will persist on my unplayed list this year.  That reminds me… I need to grab Outdoor Survival for the auction too.  I was duly warned about even trying that one.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thursday Already?

I was out this afternoon running errands, and thought to myself, "Self, you forgot to do your blog entry this morning!" Which was not entirely true, I'd forgotten to do my blog entry for yesterday morning. Ack. Time flies.

Today, I did a Good Thing. As I've written a few times before, I'm trying to cull down my game collection. I got far enough to have actually separated out a bunch of games, created a new storage area separated from anywhere my wife might happen to be in the house, and even sold a few to members of my group. I also did a little looking on eBay to see what sort of prices I might get for some of the more desireable games.

Today, I took all of the non-eBay games out to a local store, Rainy Day Games, to be placed in an auction taking place at the end of the month. All told, I brought in almost 100 games. A grand total of four had either missing or damaged parts, all of which came with the original game. A few games I'd had for a long time (more than 10 years) had some box damage. Otherwise, these were all in great shape, some never played.

While I was writing down the manifest (and trying to determine minimum bid, which I determined by either setting it at $5 if it seemed like a worthwhile game), I was surprised at the number of people coming into the store who came all the way into the back and marvelled at the collection. At least four people expressed interest in Goldland alone, and several were doing that knowing nod that means "Cool..." A contributing factor was the number of big box games that I'd brought in, very few of my card games got culled as they take up such a small amount of space. Sadly, I forgot to take Chez Geek with me...

I don't know that all of my games will get bought, although with the junk having minimum bids of $1, I figure that just about everything will find a home. If everything was able to pull in an average of $5 each, that would be $500 in store credit. That's a lot of credit, enough for almost 10 FFG games. Since I don't buy a lot from this store, that means that a lot of things I was intending to purchase online will become retail price purchases.

Mostly, I'll be happy that my games will get new life. There is something sad about a game that isn't played and loved, even if it is a loser like San Gimignano. (Note if you're attending the auction: it's a great game! Not.) While some games I own have considerably more sentimental value than gaming value, I'm happier if the game is hitting the table on occasion. Even if it's someone else's table. For that reason, I kept the minimum bids very low to encourage buyers.

I'm not sure I'll make the auction, as I'm coming home from Denver late on Friday, then have a four hour choir rehearsal the next morning, plus I'm anticipating enough disposable income generated from the auction that I'll buy yet more stuff. And so the cycle comes around yet again. Bing, purge, bing, purge.

Hey, I could have worse hobbies.

Oh, I do have worse hobbies. Whoops.

Again, my apologies for the late posting. I am almost certainly not going to be posting next week because of travel, so I'm now off the hook for that week...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Head stuck in a paint pot

Next weekend is a new gaming convention in the Northwest. Conquest NW. These guys have apparently been running shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles for a while, but 2006 is their Seattle debut. As it turned out to be the same weekend as our annual West Coast DBM 15mm Championship (Harbor Storm) our organizer hooked up with them to become a featured event at the show.

So, naturally, that means I have painting to do. I don't think I've EVER gone to a tournament without having to do some painting. Constantly tweaking things... Of course, the stories aren't any good if you're not doing the painting up to the last minute. This time, however, I think I've got it done early. Only 22 figures plus 9 pack horses to paint this time, and they're nearly all done. As a result, my head's been in a paint pot during my free time the last week or so. Hasn't been much time for boardgames since the big shindig at Mike's on Super Bowl Sunday.

Not that that's stopped me from acquiring any... Right after I start talking about culling the herd, there just seems to be an influx of new stuff. Games that have arrived at the house since the beginning of the year (or will be here shortly):

*Age of Steam Expansion #4
Bus
*Command & Colors: Ancients
*Defiant Russia
*Die Magier von Pangea
Drive (Crazy Chicken)
El Caballero
*Elasund
*Euphrates & Tigris Card Game
Fearsome Floors
*Here I Stand (shipping next week.)
Pizza Box Football
*Ra
Railroad Tycoon
*Red Vengenace
Roma
*Saboteur
*SeaSim
Settlers of Catan 3d
*Sixteen Thirty Something
*St. Petersburg: The Banquet
*Subulata
*Traumfabrik
*Wildlife Adventure
*Zing! (Die Sieben Siegel)
ZooSim

Needless to say, the “owned but unplayed” list just grew a bit. I've never played any of the ones with asterisks. Now that Jodie's worked through most of her morning sickness, and I don't have any pressing painting/work deadlines, maybe we can chop down through this list a bit. Jodie was reading the rules to Elasund a couple days ago, and it looks like a good one.

And it's definitely time to sell a few things... Need to balance the gaming budget a bit.




Given the recent chatter in the comments to Chris' blog entry last month, I've started looking closer at 18xx games. In particular the “entry-level” one-state games 18GA, 18AL, and the upcoming 18FL. These are designed for a small number of players, and around 3 hours playtime, max. THAT sounds doable. Long enough to give you a real feel for how the genre works, but not so long that you're spending the last four or five hours feebly managing a bad position. (Which is exactly where I expect to end up on my first few plays.) After a play or two on those, I think I'll be ready for the 1860 and 1856 I already own.

This all ties in to my unbreakable draw towards bigger, heavy (not necessarily war-)games. I'm just sorry I had to miss our group's recent Die Macher day. Next time, I'm there.

Monday, February 13, 2006

February Potpourri

A lot of topics this month, but they are all linked to line items from my New Year’s resolutions: selling games; working on prototypes; and running events at Game Storm.




This past weekend, I packed up the first of two suitcases with games to sell at the Rainy Day Games auction later this month. It appears I have already rid myself of most of the wheat last year, as what I have left is largely chaff. I am certainly not expecting to haul in as much as I did last year, where I averaged ~$17 a game. Here is what is in the first batch:

  • Now that I have stopped buying every single Kosmos 2-player game that has been released, I can allow myself to dispose of the ones that I own: Balloon Cup; Caesar & Cleopatra; Elchfest; Lord of the Rings: the Duel.
  • A bundle of Wizard Kings products: original set, four expansion maps, and two expansion armies. I understand that different rule sets and scenarios have been released that “fix” the game, but it all seems like too much work for what is a rather constrained system. I will stick with CCGs and Titan for fantasy-themed warfare.
  • Various obscure Euros from a few years ago that flopped in their first playings: Evergreen; Die Weinhandler (the Piatnik release, not the recent card game); Machu Picchu; X.Net. I figure that there must be at least a couple of completists in the area who would pick these up for a few bucks.
  • A couple of games that do not require snide comments to justify dumping: Family Business; Africa 1880.
  • A Cheapass Hip Pocket bundle: Agora, Nexus, Cube Farm, Steam Tunnel. These games cover the full range of mediocrity.
  • Time’s Up: Got it off of a prize table at a con. I play this enough at cons using other folks’ copies.
  • Industria: In our first game, I did absolutely nothing for a long stretch of the game, and still placed second. A pretty game, but it failed to engage me.
  • Two Avalanche Press games using roughly the same system: Granada and Tears of the Dragon. The former was decent enough in its trial run, but I am highly selective of which wargames to add to my short rotation; the latter added a fantasy setting and spell subsystem to it, but it appears to be an absolute mess – and I rarely use that term with games.

My second load will be made up of my Panzer Grenadier Bundle (5 games), my Down in Flames bundle (also 5 games), and two games of opened and sorted – yet largely unpunched – Pirates of the Spanish Main cards.



There were a lot of games that I held onto for many years just because I had the storage space. Now that the closet is almost full, I find it hard to let go of many of them because they might be fun to play with my daughter Ruoda several years from now. Never mind that there are plenty of other games I own to play with her that I do enjoy, and that the number of such games far outweighs what I had as a kid both in terms of quality and quantity; I expect no more rationality in my decisions to sell games as there was in buying them. With that in mind:

TOP TEN CRAPPY GAMES I AM HOLDING ONTO FOR RUODA’S SAKE.

  1. Lord of the Rings (with Friends & Foes expansion) – She might turn into one of those kids who cannot handle competition, so I better keep a cooperative game around just in case. However, with me as her dad, she be more likely to be reading Pratchett than Tolkien.
  2. The Bucket King – At least until I find a better game with cute barnyard animals
  3. Fossil – How much more boring is actual paleontology than playing this game? Because I would like her to at least learn that much from the experience.
  4. Tally Ho / Gone Fishing – Every little girl needs to be exposed to hunting and fishing, and I would rather it be with me than, say, Dick Cheney. Beer not included.
  5. Big City – I can sell it as re-experiencing the nightmare of Portland-area urban planning.
  6. Hare & Tortoise – I am sure that, with my math education background, I can find better ways to get her to do arithmetic willingly. But I’ll keep this around as a fallback plan.
  7. Runebound (1st ed.) – Just in case she is into this sort of thing. I hope not, else she might resent me for not picking up 2nd edition and all of its expansions.
  8. Africa / Goldland - No matter how dry/dull you make the rest of the game, exploration games are still fun for kids of all ages, especially when they feature Goldsieber’s luscious production.
  9. Roborally (with expansions) – The coolness/cuteness factor is way too high for me to part with this.
  10. “Crayon Rails” series / “Ticket to Ride” series / “Trans*” series / “10 Days in” series – Is it not enough that we have two world maps hanging up in her playroom? Geography is overrated…


A month ago when reading the D&D Forgotten Realms campaign sourcebook, I was looking at the spell “Gemblast” when an idea came to me for a game. I came up with a rev 0 ruleset within 24 hours, and, soon after, had a rev 1 made and ready for playtesting. I have never completed a multi-player design before, so that was encouraging. I have no ambition to be published, and I do not think I am capable of producing anything original or tight enough to be worth marketing, as I fall too hard for my themes. However, some of the playtest feedback was positive, although it clearly is targeting a narrow niche. So, I thought I would make this available free for PDF download, releasing it via this blog in the next couple of months after I do a bit more playtesting. Perhaps I can fulfill my Game Storm resolution by holding a playtest session...

My main concern of self-publishing is the price of Adobe Acrobat. I would probably use it for this and my 2-player design (which I may also release the same way), and perhaps for archiving articles from this blog. That’s a lot of money to invest in small-time vanity projects… Does anyone ever use Word for self-publishing? Are there pros/cons other than platform support?



This past week, Kosmos/Mayfair announced the English edition of the Candamir character builder. My wife has not been willing to try many new titles with me the past few years, but now I think I have a way to get this one onto the table:





One of my stretch goals this year was to do something memorable at Game Storm. With the Candamir editor, I now have an idea. The hotel has wireless, so if I bring a laptop, digital camera, and a color printer, then I can make custom cards for participants. They can play the game as themselves and have a (worthless) souvenir to take home with them afterwards. If the logistics prove to be prohibitive, perhaps instead I will go with Celebrity Death Match Candamir: six contestants, two 3-player semi-finals; top 3 finishers battle it out in the finals. Here are the contenders, all legal with a value of exactly 40 points each:





Saturday, February 11, 2006

Playtesting – the Questions

A second chapter in my views on successful Playtesting. You know what you want to test, but what do you want to find out from your test players?

Mechanics and Rules
This is typically the first set of playtests you run, even by trying out a game yourself, playing the parts of three to five different players.

You want to know if the turns work the way you thought they would, whether there are any major stumbles in how the game proceeds, and if the game appears to have some tension or challenge. You want to see if your concept of the board, or the cards, or the pieces, etc “work” the way they are supposed to.

The other major thing we look for at this stage of Playtesting is, “Is this game pretty much like a game that is already published? Did we just re-invent the wheel or borrow too much from a known game mechanic?” If the answer is YES, maybe you’re done with this game as it stands. Using a known mechanic in a new way is fine though, as is using an interesting mix of known elements.

You might also want someone to try it out (with you sitting nearby) trying to learn the game from the rules you handed them. That’s how you see whether your write-up needs work (and it probably does!) This testing happens several times in the life of a game, so be prepared to take people’s edits and assistance gracefully!

Finally in this group, you really do want playtesters to tell you to improve the game, with rule changes, ideas about components, game flow, anything goes. You have to listen to them. You don’t have to accept every idea, but you dang well better listen politely!

Publishability
So past the basics of getting the game to “work” properly, now you’re onto the bigger issue. Should you try to get this game published somehow and get people to play it?

Here are the main questions we want answers to. Some of them we can ask directly, some we ask in a group setting, and others we don’t ask until later, maybe after a playtester has tried a given game at least a couple times.

1. Is it fun? How fun is it compared to other games sort of like it?
If it’s boring, or trivial, or irritating, you might as well know now!

2. Did you like the theme? Did it add to enjoyment of the game?
This is where you have a chance to educate or keep the interest of a player. Although abstract games are fine, if you can fit theme (and ambience) to the game well, you get an extra bonus from the game when you’re done since the experience was itself themed.

3. Was there some tension in the game? What was it about?
There’s good and bad tension of course. Good Tension – tough player decisions, game surprises, and bluffing are examples. Bad Tension – players disagreed on a rule, someone took too long to play, the game took forever to learn—these are the things you don’t want of course!

4. Would you buy the game? What would be a reasonable price?
If they like it but would not buy it, try to find out why. Also it can help to find out in general if they think games are under- or over-priced to give you a point of reference.

5. If you owned it would you play it:
· Only on a special occasion
· Once every few months
· Once a month
· Possibly more than once in a single game session
You want to know about re-playability. The more people want to bring your game out, the more they sell it to other people on your behalf. Over half the games I own I bought because I played that game at someone’s house and went home and put it on my wanted list. If, right after you test a game, someone yells, “Let’s play again!” that is a _very_good_thing_.

6. Would you share this game with other:
· Gamers? (People who play board games and card games twice a month or more)
· Collectible Card Game Players? (Games like Magic the Gathering , etc)
· (In Havoc’s case) Poker Players? (We wanted to know about crossover interest)
· First-time Gamers (Is this a game one people could use to introduce the gaming hobby to people who had not played?)
· Non-Gamers? (People like your family that might play a game once a year if forced to.)
This is marketing information, pure and simple. It might tell you that publishing 20,000 copies is way too many, since your game only appeals really to one small group listed above. It might tell you that publishing the game yourself as a DTP (desk-top published) game is plenty good for the people you want to get it to.

I’ve probably left out some big questions we also ask, but I don’t have access to the files from here. So if I missed some obvious ones, drop me a note and I’ll report back next time.

Happy gaming!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Reprints Encore

I feel like saying encore partly because I’m going to echo some of the prior comments, and partly because I’m on a train from Brussels to Amsterdam and I felt like speaking some French.  I thought most folks in Brussels spoke Flemish or Dutch, but I sure heard a hell of a lot of French while I was in town there this week.

The city just isn’t as interesting our quaint as so many others are in Europe.  Some blame it on the Euro-ifaction of Brussels, but frankly I wasn’t too impressed when I last visited in 1990.  Now the food and beer are outstanding – much better than anything I had in Germany last October.  There just isn’t much to see outside of a few museums downtown.  I’ve got all of Friday in Amsterdam and hope to visit the Ann Frank museum again and hit one or two of the art museums.  Update from Amsterdam: we hit two of the art museums.  More on that later.

Reprints… let’s see.  Why is it that everything that comes to mind is a wargame?  I don’t play them nearly as much as I do Euro/German-style games, but still I crave them.  All the more remarkable is the fact that those I crave the most, I haven’t even played before.  I’m thinking Up Front, We the People, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage.  I think I can do without a reprint of Rise and Decline of the Third Reich.  Having read through the rules for Paths of Glory, my appetite for card-driven wargames is especially fierce right now.  Getting through a game of PoG is certainly an important step before I go crazy and purchase Hannibal or We the People off eBay – I may not enjoy it as much as I think I will.

While Dave seems to think I would pursue the perfectly logical and economically sound approach of reprinting those games that will produce the most profits, my belief is that most reprints will either be labors of love or low-risk reprints driving by the GMT P500.  A modernized, re-themed Die Macher could be very interesting, but I hesitate to vote for that as I haven’t even managed to get in a playing yet.  Taj Mahal is definitely on my list of games to acquire that are out-of-print, but I don’t think it has near strong enough appeal to warrant a reprint.

This is not strictly a reprint, but I think it would be very cool to see Eagle Games do a treatment on the 18xx system.  Not to dumb it down, but to blend some interesting bits with reduced playing time and increased approachability for this gaming system.  Maybe this could be a Railroad Tycoon expansion.

There’s one collectible card game that I’d like to see more expansions for: 7th Sea.  There was such a great story arc to this game that I would have enjoyed seeing it play out more.  The flip side is that I was able to obtain a large number of cards for next to nothing after it went out of print.


Final comment after spending a day here in Amsterdam – found a fantastic game store near our hotel.  Funny enough, the name of the store is the Game Keeper and it had probably the widest selection of the Euro games I’ve seen, even after visiting Germany.  Didn’t buy anything though – no spectacular deals, although I did inquire about other Splotter titles after seeing Bus in stock.  Thought there might be an affordable copy of Antiquity available, but it wasn’t to be.

Flying back to Portland tomorrow for a week at home, then I’m off to Alabama and DC the following week.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Games Reincarnate

Today’s game market, driven in the US by the realities of printing a minimum of 3000 copies for an audience that will purchase a number less than that, is constantly seeing the more successful titles dry up in the pipeline. This is more common for wargames and smaller euro publishers, but it is still something that I take into account when I see something on the shelf that I suspect I’ll want at some point. I purchased the Ursuppe expansion kit when I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be around much longer, even though I didn’t expect to have it see a lot of table time. I sure wish I’d sprung for the last couple of Cosmic Encounter expansions back around 1980, even though the title has seen repeated reprints (some better than others).

As such, I’ll try to group reprint games into two categories: classics and contemporaries. For my purposes, classics are pre-Euro era, roughly before 1998. These are mostly sentimental favorites rather than games I actually like. Contemporaries are those printed since 1998, games that friends have that I’d like to get copies of because I think they are good games.
First, the classics. Cosmic Encounter, mentioned above, has been done enough for me. I own most of the Eon edition game (missing the last two expansions), and I have the Mayfair editions, so I’m not really missing anything - I could always throw in the moons from the original, although at this point in my life that would require some sort of personal chemical enhancement for at least me.

GW’s 2nd edition of Talisman was a game I “collected” into the very early 90’s that would be nice to see reprinted. I’m sure that GW, a company that never turns down an opportunity to milk it’s customer’s for cash, is considering yet another edition. The same goes for Blood Bowl, which I have a 2nd edition copy of (the one with the mounted board rather than styrofoam). GW’s problem is that they appear to consider playtesting to be something best done using the aforementioned personal chemical enhancement, so I don’t hold out much hope of either game addressing the problems of the originals. Talisman became a race to see who could run through the dungeon and get a lucky roll at the end first, although I loved having fifty thousand different characters.

To reprint Talisman, the main difference would be in simply a better game. I liked being able to buy expansions at a reasonable rate, much as is being done with Runebound (although I refuse to purchase the 2nd ed for reasons I’ve stated on this blog previously), and I don’t need the wacky 3D board they used in 3rd ed. However, I suspect that this would end up being Runebound/World of Warcraft/Descent with expansions, so perhaps we’re best off just leaving this one in the dustbin of eBay.

Blood Bowl would be much more fun if they provided plastic painted figures, a la Hero Quest, rather than expecting you to paint your own. Moving little grey or metal figures around the board is not so cool. And, of course, playtest the thing and package it with the good rules, not the wacky ones that 12 year olds like (although this is almost certainly their target demographic). You could always add flavor with special rules for different teams. Plus, make the board interesting and use decent quality cardboard instead of the standard cereal box on steroids in 2nd ed. However, this is GW we’re talking about.
I’m sure there are a ton of good SPI wargames that would be very cool to see reprinted, although those that have been (Empire of the Middle Ages comes to mind) are hopeless rules messes. Plus, very expensive. I’m just not that likely to spend more than $50-$60 on a wargame, over $100 is simply not going to happen.

I definitely want to see a reworking of AH’s Successors, although that technically falls right on the classic/contemporary border. A less florid map that is easier to read (there are connecting lines that fade right into the background or physical border art), clean up some of the events, clean up the rules, and you’ve got a good game.

And I guess that last bit sums up the real problem with most of the “classics,” they need well done rules. Anything more complex than World of Warcraft and you’re talking crazy talk, that just doesn’t happen much. Rules are exceptionally hard work to do well, and we don’t emphasize writing as a craft enough in an era when ROTFLMAO will almost certainly end up in the OED in our lifetimes.

As far as contemporary stuff, there are always a few titles that I wish I’d gotten but didn’t because of (guess what) cost. Roads and Boats I’d like to have solely for solitaire. In this case, I’d like to see the tech tree pared down a bit, have a way to place roads that doesn’t involve plexiglass and a Sharpie, shorten the game by about an hour, and make it a bit less painful to blow a resource cycle. Improve the components as well, all of those little cardboard chits with all of the wooden transport pieces look like an earthquake hit my games closet and the wargames started mixing it up with the euros.

This title in particular would be awesome as a basic game and expansions, although I know Splotter did just that (albeit one game and one expansion). I would pare the tech tree down and limit the size of the maps to start with, perhaps up to four players (this game would be hellish with six). You could sell extra hexes and pieces to add players, plus an expansion to increase the tech tree, perhaps another to create different terrain types as well. Even better, port it to the DS or PSP so you can play without all of the expensive components. OK, expensive hardware that everyone needs to have, but you can also play Advance Wars on your DS.

I am ten times more likely to spend $200 on a game if I can buy it in playable pieces, although I do understand that an expansion is by it’s very nature going to have fewer buyers than the original, and thus be somewhat more expensive. An excellent example is Settlers/Seafarers/Das Buch/Cities&Knights/5&6 Player expansions, which is certainly at that magic $200 number at retail. I’d never have bought the whole thing in one go, even if they made everything 3D. Oh, they did...
Otherwise, I’ve been enough of a packrat/collector that I already have many of the out of print titles that I want from the modern era, even all of the old Avalon Hill chestnuts that I played as a teen. Heck, I’ve even got Magic Realm which I got for a steal at $31 on eBay. Of course, I also have Princess Ryan’s Star Marines, perhaps the most overproduced title ever. In general, if I missed out on it and want it, it typically gets reprinted.

So there's my take on reprints.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

All the news that's fit to (re)print.

“What are some games that you think should be reprinted?”

I love it when questions like this are asked. The other variant is "is anyone going to reprint "X"?" One of the typical snarky responses is always “Why? Everyone who wants one already has a copy.” We all know that response is usually bogus, but it might not be for Outdoor Survival. Let's take a look at some hard-to-find gems out there.

(Going third means I might repeat a couple entries from KC and Dave's posts. I feel sorry for Chris – he may have nothing original left.)

Okay... on to the list.

Would Multiman Publishing just get Up Front reprinted already? I'll settle for the base game, but I'd love to see Desert War and Banzai reprinted as well. This card game looks like it should be simple at first blush but it's very deep, and does a fantastic job of creating a fog-of-war effect. The rulebook needs to be rewritten as it's in Greenwood's famous old Avalon Hill style, but this is a game that should always be in print. I would not be at all surprised if MMP's first print run of this game, when it finally appears, sells out quickly.

The next is a pair of related wargames that need reprinting. Dave already brought one up, but in addition to Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, We the People needs to be reprinted. Currently, both games are held up because Hasbro owns the rights and won't relinquish them. Neither will they print the games. Rumor is that We the People will be redeveloped. The only change I've heard is that it will use a CRT instead of the card-based conflict resolution. Works for me. I'm hoping the go-like supply rules are changed as well. As long as the simplicity is still there, a redone We the People would be a welcome sight. And given the prices H:RvC commands on eBay I'm sure a new version of that would also do very well.

The final wargame I'd really like to see redone is Gunslinger. There can never be too many old-west skirmish games.

While not necessarily a single game, there is a category of wargame I'd like to see revisited. The old 3W Quad game. I think all of them were designed by Rob Markham. Four half-map battles per box, 250 or so counters for the set, all with a common theme. They're pretty basic, but quick-playing wargames are nearly always a good thing. The recent Men of Iron from GMT is close, but Berg has a way of “chroming” a game too much, and I'm not sure the activation system works for the level of game the Quad represents. The small-box series Avalanche Press has recently started is the closest in-print analogy to these, but they're all WWII games containing a single battle each. (Gazala 1942, Alsace 1945, Defiant Russia, and Red Vengeance are the current entries in the series.) Granted, there's multiple scenarios for each game, but that's not quite the same thing. Avalanche retails these games for $20 each. I'd imagine that a double-sided full-size map, one or one and a half sheets of counters, and a short rulebook could easily be done for under $30 retail.

On the eurogame side, there's a handful of candidates. Top on my list is Union Pacific. Given the success of Ticket to Ride, I think a lot of people newly introduced to eurogames might want to try Alan Moon's meatier train game.

One thing that's hard to find is a good trick-taking card game that works well for three people. Schnäppchen Jagd fills that niche, but has long been out of print. That should be changed.

Two heavier games finish out my list. The first is Die Macher. This is the highest ranked game on BGG that isn't in print (or isn't returning soon, a la El Grande). The subject matter makes a return to print unlikely, but it's such a good game... There's also one expansion that should be reprinted – Age of Steam Expansion #1 (England/Ireland). For that matter, Age of Steam should not be allowed to go out of print... If Warfrog can't keep it around, someone else should.

To finish off my rambling for the week, I'll submit a game that should be reprinted before it's actually out of print. Europe Engulfed. GMT is down to a double-digit number of copies, and Asia Engulfed is soon to be placed on their p500 list. When AE is printed, there's going to be resurgent demand for EE. If you've been sitting on the fence about buying EE, I suggest you snag a copy soon, or the decision might have been made for you.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The One About Reprints

“What are some games that you think should be reprinted?”

That is one deliciously vague question. Who died and made me Jay Tummelson? On the one hand, there are certainly many games that I feel deserve to be reprinted based on reputation alone. On the other hand, with the leaked confession of his love for Atlas Shrugged on BGG last week, I fully expect Chris to answer “the games that should be reprinted are those games that will sell big the second time around.” I chose an arbitrary list of five games, approaching this question from different angles.

A related question is how quickly a company should release a new edition which incorporates significant changes. If it is released too soon, then we consumers might get into the mode of trying something out a bit right after it is released, and, if it is not deemed to be a keeper, quickly dumping it before the resell value vanishes. An example of a fair upgrade is Ticket to Ride. Here, Days of Wonder expanded the VP track from 80 to 100 spaces and tweaked the graphics on the train cards; clearly, this was not so much change as to devalue the original edition. As for dubious upgrades, of course I must mention Fantasy Flight Games. Although I have stopped purchasing most of their games out of principle, I think FFG should continue to reprint and upgrade their releases from the past 5 years until my entire FFG collection is worthless. However, I think there are a couple of old games they probably won’t touch. The big-board Fantasy genre is clogged right now – especially from FFG – so there is no room for Battlemist and its convoluted ruleset. However, I think that Thunder’s Edge, the other release from the trilogy of early FFG big-board games (which also included Twilight Imperium, the only one to be truly successful), deserves another shot. While I would want most things to remain the same (especially the combat system, which is still my favorite in any game), the cardboard counters should be replaced with plastic minis for the various units.

Speaking of “Update & Upgrade”, several of my old Avalon Hill games could use a nice update. In fact, if you asked me this question a couple of years ago, my #1 answer would have been Monsters Ravage America, not because the game design was that great, but because of the bizarre components (e.g., some military units were plastic minis, others were cardboard counters) and the potential for overproduced goodness given the theme. Now that that has been taken care of, my next choice from this line is Dinosaurs of the Lost World. Give me a big board, plastic minis for the dinosaurs, full-color adventure sheets, large cardboard replicas for the key escape items (rope, map, tarpaulin) and maybe tweak the design a bit in light of modern concepts. Also, please wrap this up within the next five years, so that it will be ready in time for me to play with my daughter in her prime age for this type of game.

Not everything needs to be modified. With slight hesitation, I choose another old Avalon Hill game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. It is one of my very favorite games, and resale prices and internet buzz indicate high demand. However, when fans of the game talk about reprinting it, there is too much talk about removing the combat card subsystem and replacing it with a more conventional combat resolution table (CRT), similar to what later card-driven wargames employ. I would not want to see it reprinted if they messed with the cards; to me, this subsystem is what puts the game over-the-top in the fun category. If anything, I would like to see more games - both wargame and Euros - include extended "mini-games" in their design. The two largest of my own multi-player designs both feature mini-games to a large extent. The best example I can think of in a Euro is the party system in Traumfabrik. This is a common element in CCGs, which is probably why I enjoy them so much. But I digress...

To prove to you that I am not completely against tinkering with a good thing, I will select one of the “Modern Classics” that are in the queue to be reprinted by Rio Grande Games. Among elite company which includes El Grande and Tikal is the grandest game of all: Taj Mahal. Although perfection was achieved in the game design, the production could use some work. For instance, the board is serviceable, although under dim lighting it is very difficult to distinguish the regions, which is very important to do at a glance in order to assess opportunities for high connectivity scores. However, the real offender here is the card design. The icons are printed on both sides of the card to enable fanning to the left or right, but they are so large that it is easy to be confused about just how many symbols are really on a given card. Additionally, the special cards have the same large icons on them, even though the icons on these cards are not used for bidding. Getting through the first few turns with a group of new players is always a painful experience. Just as there are a handful of CDs I do/would repurchase when they are remastered (I’m still waiting for them to cut …And Justice For All with that fuzzy bass sound removed), I would plunk down money to own a top-notch Taj.

All of my choices so far are games that, due to having a large quantity and variety of components, could not easily be reproduced. For my next selection, I choose a game of which several folks have made homemade copies: Code 777. Doing do usually involves swiping tiles/racks or blocks from another game and painting the numbers onto them. I suppose I could find a cheap Rummikub set and just colorize the number tiles, but, in truth, I am far too lazy to do this. In truth, I want it to be reprinted so I can stop feeling guilty about being so lazy. Speaking of, it is now time for me to start procrastinating working on next week’s article…

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Someday My Reprints will Come

  • Name some games that should be re-printed and why.
  • For each nominee would you change it or go with the original?
  • Why does that game deserve to be back on game store shelves?

There are two reasons I'd want to see some cool games back in print: (1) The game deserved a wider audience and (2) The game is only available now as an expensive collector’s item.

I’m not covering the reason, “If they published this now, they’d make a lot of money,” even though I hope any of these that saw a reprint would do well enough for the publisher.

I think the game didn’t get enough play the first time.
Foppen (Friedemann Friese) One of my favorite light games, works well with newcomers, evenly hands out screwage (if you are lowest in the trick you have to sit out the next trick.) It’s fun and fast, and the artwork (every card is different but suits are related tribes) is fun.

Icebergs (Tom Wham) A nice game published only as a TSR micro-game. Meaning little tiny print, a small paper fold-out board, and miniscule cardboard chits. I’d reprint it regular size. In fact, I made a full sized set once – used boats from Bermuda Triangle, icebergs from white wooden cylinders and printed a full size color board. Maneuver your ship through ice floes in the Bering Strait, while the ice moves as well.

Cartel (Phil Orbanes) For me, it’s a 10. Redone as Dallas (Maruca), which was good if you couldn’t get Cartel. Then redone as Priceless by Orbanes’ own Winning Moves, which I thought totally lost the spirit of the original game. I’d re-do it more like the original, with the hand-made company logos and art. Maybe clean up the bookkeeping a bit, but other than that it’s a great game.

Wildlife Adventure (Wolfgang Kramer) Yes, it got reprinted as Terra-X and later Expedition, with beautiful art but since it’s all in German there’ not much I can learn while playing, which is part of the coolness factor of this family game. It’s nice cards, a big board, some tokens for vouchers and a whole bunch of plastic arrows. I’d produce it pretty much the original way, since the animal cards carry pictures and stories about endangered species that you can look at while waiting for you next turn. I didn’t like the new rules added to Terra-X and Expedition, but maybe there’s a compromise that could be included.

We hate to pay collector’s prices, but there’s a decent game in there.
Full Métal Planète (Gerard Mathieu et al.) I’ve never played it. I won’t afford $200 for a game that might or might not be fun. I’d like to see a reasonable copy around $50, with color board but nice tokens, plastic models à la Twilight Imperium or wood cubes to replace the heavy pewter pieces that drive its price through the roof.

Big Boss (Wolfgang Kramer) A homage to Acquire, and frightfully expensive still. Could be remade less expensively since prices may have already fallen for the plastic parts needed, or there’s another clever (but beautiful) way to do it. But I just want to play the thing.

McMulti (James St. Laurent) I hadn’t played this until Christmas 2005, and it’s very good. Maybe not incredible, but quite good. Fix up a few mechanics to get away from luck being so much a factor if possible. Publish pretty much as is, since you could now do the little plastic cool things cheaper I suspect. Use cubes instead of barrels (they look less like barrels, but the barrels tend to roll all over creation.)

Success Stories
These games were reprinted because someone thought they’d make money, or people deserved to play them, or both. These are ones where I did pay collector’s prices, and they got re-printed at much lower prices. Oh well. =)

  • Frisch Fisch (Friedemann Friese), reprinted as Fresh Fish and again out of print. Another great 2F Spiel game.
  • Kohle Kie$ und Knete (Sid Sackson), reprinted as I’m the Boss. At least I can read all the game bits now!
  • Palmyra (Reiner Knizia), reprinted as Motley Fool’s Buy Low Sell High. I like the original a little better still.
  • The Great Dalmuti (Richard Garfield), hard to believe it was going for $40 on Ebay before the reprint. A fun party game, especially if everyone wears a different hat.

And last, please, someone bring back the original RISK with wooden cubes at a cheap price. Then when those new games go to Goodwill, I can get a good supply of wooden cubes in six colors for $2.99.!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Question of the Month: February

Being the first full week of February, each blog entry this week will answer the following question, provided by KC: "What are some games that you think should be reprinted?". This month, instead of myself being the first to answer, we're going to try something different and let the person who provided the question get the first crack at answering it.

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

No-Show

I’m in Chanute, Kansas attending memorial services with family, so there may not be a post this week from me (again!).  There’s a small chance I’ll write something tonight, but don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tension Is Good For You!

Last night, members of my group played Mesopotamia for the first time (it had been played before, but not by these particular members). After a close game that ended with Tim edging Mike for the win thanks to a couple of Gift of Marduk cards, Mike said that he thought the game was completely uninteresting, ending with what has started to become a trend - the claim that we might as well turn a card over and determine the result that way.

While I will concede that Meso does have some luck elements that can throw the game one way or the other, and that most of the time it seemed that choices were fairly apparent, I do take issue with the "turn of a card" statement. I have played many great card-driven wargames, among others, that were so close that the final result balanced literally on the throw of a die or what card a player had left in their hand. Unlike Meso, many of these games took up to five or six hours to play (our game took around 75 minutes including my somewhat addled description of the game, I suspect that an hour is not unreasonable).

Understand that while I was a good two turns out from completing the victory conditions, I found the game to be exciting and fun, completely the opposite of Mike's experience. I actually thought that he had the game completely sewn up a few turns earlier, even playing a Mana Theft card on him to slow him down a bit. Tim's surprise win came through play of a card that gave him the two mana he needed to take in his final offering. I enjoyed the way the board developed, even though I drew about elebenty billion plains tiles when what I really needed was a stone field. While most of my moves were pretty obvious, it was because of the goals I was choosing to pursue, not because there was literally nothing else to do. I felt the game design drove the behavior that the designer intended, such as protecting tribes carrying resources. I also felt the "story arc" of the game was good, with a slow start progressing through increasing choices and capabilities that ended with a close game.

The best part, though, was definitely the tension. Quite frankly, with equal opponents any game comes down to luck - how lucky you are and at what point. Every wargame I play is like this to some extent. Get a lucky roll at a critical point, and suddenly the BEF is kicked out of Gallipoli by a couple of Turk corps. Hannibal wins at Cannae against overwhelming force because the opponent can't respond to a Double Envelopment card. These are the games that I remember most fondly, because they give good story. And they give good story because in the back of your mind you know that at any second things could go all pear-shaped for you or your opponent. And that, my friends, is tension.

Tension is a staple of the cinema, of literature, of music, of the theater, of life itself. What will happen next? A good author sets up the right amount of tension so that the reader is aware that the situation is dire, but not so much that at some point you say "Enough already!" I felt that the recent remake of King Kong failed in this respect, first because everyone knows how the damned thing ends, but also because Jackson chose to keep hitting us over the head with thrill rides on Big Ape Island. Apatasaurus stampede, big fight with T-Rexes, very large icky bugs and leeches, scary natives about to disperse Jack Black's brains out on a rock, it was all just a bit too much after a while.

Done in the right amounts, however, tension is da bomb. Hitchcock was a master, slowly building up tension through a variety of techniques over the course of the film until we were all sitting on the edge of our seats. He played us like fine violins, and we paid for the privilege.

A game is, of course, not a movie, although I believe a good game shares some elements with story. First of all, a film is going to be the same every time you see it (director's cuts aside), and the viewer's role is minimal. In a game, the player's role is primary, and the interaction between players a close second. It's all action/reaction, stress/release, tension/relaxation. The best football games ever are the ones where you don't know who will win until the end, and the truly great games are where teams pull out that one in a thousand run to win at the buzzer. It is exactly the same for games. I've played games that felt like I was teaching a clinic, and they were the most truly boring games I ever played. Give me a squeaker every time, win or lose.

So what exactly is it that makes tension work? It's pacing. It's having the game slowly gain momentum over time so that early decisions (both intentional and random) aren't nearly as important as the ones at the critical point somewhere near the end of the game. King Kong failed on both counts, taking too long to set up and then giving us too many thrills in the middle (the fight with the airplanes at the end mostly used tension by having Naomi Watts slip on a ladder, the rest was just rooting for the monkey). That pacing also applies to how fast the game moves along, how much downtime players have to put up with, etc. Sunriver Games' Havoc does this by increasing the value of battles, Meso by requiring players to increase their mana capability to better get their higher value offerings dunked, but also through not knowing what cards players may have drawn and through randomly building the board. There are many paths to tension, but as in all art, it's about what you put where.

I'm not saying that Meso was one of those games, nor am I saying it meets the criteria for a great game. I only know that I enjoyed my first playing and look forward to seeing how it stacks up over time. What I am saying is that playing Meso is only like turning over a card if all you care about is whether or not you win. If luck is going to ruin the game for you, then I'd say that you shouldn't play games that have a luck factor, although I know that this is not a true statement for anyone I play with, especially Mike (who is planning to perhaps play Rommel in the Desert, a wargame that rolls buckets of dice, this very evening). The random element (or hidden element in some cases) is what makes the game exciting.

Don't think that I'm of the opinion that luck is the cat's pajamas, here. After three games of Twilight Imperium, which I really liked the first time I played (with a major rule misinterpreted thanks to a misprinted player aid), the luster is off of the game because it is possible to be completely screwed by a single really bad card draw of lots of scoring cards. That's too much luck, especially in a long game. On the other hand, the 18xx series, which features not only zero luck other than the initial draw, but also zero hidden elements, holds no interest for me at all. As with all things, luck is great in moderation.

Interestingly, I felt that Meso was essentially Roads & Boats Lite, with added luck elements and minus the overly complex endgame, the risk of blowing a cycle that would screw you for the rest of the game, and the length. For me, the negatives of R&B outweighed the luck factor in Meso by quite a margin, while for Mike the opposite was true. Different strokes and all, but I know for me that it's all about pacing and tension, in a story well-told. When I've lost those close six hour wargames in the eleventh hour (in Successors, that has been literally true when Salvation In The Eleventh Hour has been played on me), the tension and story arc made it all more than worthwhile and entertaining.