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Date: Sunday, 25 Nov 2007 02:59
The term "multiplayer solitaire" is often used (mostly by people who don't like them) to describe games where there is no direct player interaction - you can't steal my food cubes or blow up my tanks, because we are each working on our own grand master plan for our own area of the world.

Coincidentally, the games the term is often applied to include most of my favourite games.

What these games typically offer, is ample opportunity for indirect player interaction. Often, this comes through competing with other players - for goods, for resources, for actions, for control of an area.

The games reward planning - often long-term planning - but also the flexibility to respond and react to others' actions. While they are less dynamic than some other types of games, players can still have a significant effect on one another's success or failure.

In my experience, while the first few times with a new game often play out as essentially multiplayer solitaire, with experience and increased skill players will watch what other players are doing and respond/react/block/move appropriately. In other words, a game will become more interactive as you play it more and more. This can take time - and it's easy to write a game off after one or two plays without really exploring the strategies and tactics that underpin it.

Moving a game from multiplayer solitaire to a more interactive experience may have a long learning curve, but it is well worth it to someone who (like me) enjoys these types of games. The interactivity enriches the game experience and deepens the thinking involved in playing the game - or at least, in playing it well.

In bad news for designers, there doesn't seem to be a way to shortcut this process - although some seem to be having success by providing solo rules, or versions of the game with less complexity than the full game, to give players an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the game in stages.

I've looked at a handful of these games and have tried to rank them, starting with the most solitaire. Your experiences will likely vary - I'd bet, according to how often you have played the various games I list.

Crayon rails games
You could call them multiplayer solitaire because: The interaction is really only in where you build (taking the best routes into and out of a city) and in taking the goods that other players want.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: I've only played this 2-player so far, but I imagine with more players there could be more opportunity to block other players out of a particular city or to force other players to use your existing train lines.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: The game can be played almost co-operatively, with each player placing pieces without regard to their opponent's scores.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Blocking!

Thurn und Taxis
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player plays their own hand, without restrictions on how many pieces may be played on a particular city. The high level of chance in the flow of cards (particularly if you choose the 'replace the 6 cards' option) makes it hard to block, especially in a multiplayer game.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card hogs! If I have all the cards for Lodz or Sigmaringen, you don't have much of a chance. Also, the need to keep up with other players' carriage cards means that you are under some pressure to play cards and not just to wait for the next card to come along.

Pillars of the Earth - reduced by the random draw of master builders but still very competitive. Has the feel of an auction game in many ways
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is working to make the most of their own set of cards.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card selection/choice of actions - it is possible to take the action that another player wants. Watch how many workers they have left and make sure you take the only stone they can afford. Block their access to key resources like metal. Watch whether they have enough money to place their master builders.

Notre Dame
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player plays their own hand of cards on their own section of the board. There is no restriction on several players choosing the same action.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card drafting phase. If the next player is out of money, it might be safe for me to pass her a Notre Dame card if it means I can keep a money card out of her hands. Also, the carriages.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player builds their own structures on the board - there's no trade or opportunity to influence your opponent's tile draw.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Blocking! Stealing cities, pointing roads at cities - there are ample opportunities for evil play.

Princes of Florence
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is building his/her own buildings and playing cards.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: The Auction phase (and the restricted supply of some cards for the Action phase) allows you to take choices away from other players. The Recruiter card also offers an interactive element.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is building their own farmyard. Unless you are using the I deck, you have little to no direct interaction with other players.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Taking resources and actions that other players need. Early complaints about cards being overpowered seem to stem from this problem - if one player has a card that makes clay super-valuable for them then the other players should adapt their strategy to ensure that the first player doesn't get the chance to get a lot of clay. That's hard to do while you're still learning the ropes, which is where the family game should get solid play from gamers who are just starting out with this game.

Tigris & Euphrates
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: It is possible to play this game without ever entering into any direct conflict with another player.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: War! Two different types, even. It doesn't get much more direct than that - yet the first few times you play you will almost always stick to building up your own civilisation.

What other games attract this label? And does the experience = interactivity rule hold true?

Author: "Melissa (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "interference, solitaire, interaction, me..."
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Date: Friday, 23 Nov 2007 08:04
Last week I wrote about the rules for Albion, an area-control game set in medieval Britain. Today I’m writing about the rules for Power & Weakness, an area-control game set in medieval Britain.

There are a couple of big differences in the games. For one thing, Albion is a multi-player game and Power & Weakness is strictly two-player. Another difference is that Albion tries to be loosely historical, but Power & Weakness focuses on magicians as well as on conventional forces.

The heart of Power and Weakness is a mechanism in which conventional and magical conflict alternates as players struggle to control regions on the board. A cycle in which players move knights from regions to adjacent regions to combat enemy forces is followed by a cycle in which magicians teleport all over the board between regions that share the same magical symbol.

On his turn, a player can take two actions. Typical actions will be adding a friendly piece to a region on the board, recruiting friendly pieces from the stock, or taking and/or playing an action tile. There are a variety of actions tiles. Some of the typical ones allow a player to remove enemy pieces from a region, add friendly pieces to a region, move pieces from region to region, or cancel an opponent’s action. Some action tiles have duel abilities, and players have to choose which abilities to use. Some action tiles cannot be simply taken, but have to be auctioned off between the players.

Taking some actions removes timing cubes from the timing track. The cycle ends when all the cubes are gone, and manipulating the end of a cycle appears to play a part in game strategy. For example, playing tiles that add friendly pieces to the board can trigger the end of a cycle and make it impossible for the opponent to respond before a scoring round.

Power & Weakness has some interesting mechanisms, but the two-player limitation may decrease its appeal. I would be much more likely to acquire a game like this if it allowed for several players; two-player games just don’t get played as much.

Power & Weakness was designed by Andreas Steding and is available for pre-order from www.funagain.com.
Author: "Kris Hall (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 17 Nov 2007 15:14
There have been a few games where I have found myself utterly defeated after reading the rules. Instead of knowing how to play the game I have no idea at all, in some extreme cases I know less about the game than I did before I started and also I am no longer entirely sure what my phone number is.

In pretty much every case this has been cured by playing the game, preferably with somebody who knows how to play it.

Games where I have been defeated by the rules include Coloretto, Mamma Mia!, Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, Tigris & Euphrates and Air War (OK I will admit that the last one was not at all recently).

With Coloretto and Mamma Mia! a step by step playing of the game in close concert with the rules meant that things that were previously clear as mud suddenly became obvious as if some magic spell had been lifted. Interestingly enough I had no problem at all with Zooloretto, mostly due to the familiarity with Coloretto.

Air War is really a case of being defeated by the errata. I spent hours working my way through the hefty rule book to suddenly find this enormous errata that basically poked out its tongue and said everything you have learnt before is wrong and you must learn it again. I put the rules and the errata back in the box, gave the game back to its owner and went back to playing Foxbat and Phantom instead.

With Tigris & Euphrates I read the rules and felt I was about half way. I had some understanding, but was clearly foundering. This time I went down the path of getting someone who had already played it to teach it. This worked a treat, again suddenly everything was very clear and we played it three times in a row. With the game in front of you an experienced player can teach this in about ten minutes and actually explain the internal and external conflicts in a meaningful way as opposed to that blank look that people get when they first read the rules without having played the game.

In the case of Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper I read the rules twice and even tried playing a game solo. Three - nil in the game's favour. The rules aren't that long, it shouldn't be that hard. I read the rules to War in Europe and just played it from scratch, but am now being defeated by a card game and its cursed melds. At least I could console myself that I was not the only one who has had this problem, there are many similar stories at BGG.

I issued the "Teach me" plea and to my gratitude Gregor responded and it was arranged for the next EuroGamesFest. Sure enough after a brief explanation and about a hand or two it was pretty much all perfectly clear and I could now successfully teach other people how to play, which means Melissa and Daughter the Elder are now fans of the game and we have played it quite a few times recently, including a hand or two waiting for meals to arrive at a restaurant and in the waiting room at our GP's waiting room waiting for a Doctor for Daughter the Younger.

My plan of attack for our unplayed pile is still usually:
1) Read the rules
2) If that does not succeed, try a solo game
3) If that does not succeed, call on somebody who has played the game before to assist.

Usually we have a successful game after step 1, but not always.

Hmmm meeples taste like...
Author: "Fraser (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "rules, Mystery Rummy Jack the Ripper, Ma..."
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Date: Friday, 16 Nov 2007 14:30
This one I am excited about. I’m talking about Albion, the upcoming area-majority game from the new game company Troy Press. Albion covers a lot of the same territory as Britannia, but looks like it is a quicker, less complicated game.

In Albion, players try to become the dominant force in various regions of the British Isles in order to score victory points. On his turn, if I player has the most cubes in a particular region, and he has the appropriate card for that region, he may play a kingdom card to score points. Petty kingdoms are kingdoms that consist of just one region. After a player has scored at least three petty kingdoms, he may attempt to score a high kingdom which consists of two regions and is probably worth more victory points. And at the end of the game, players see who has the most units in the three final kingdoms: England, Scotland, and Wales.

On his turn, a player will have to choose between the following actions: move settlers (from one region to an adjoining region), attack settlers (opposing settler cubes destroy each other on a one-to-one basis), add settlers (one cube is added to a region where you have a majority or tie for the majority of the cubes), recruit Britons (exchange neutral brown Briton cubes in one region for your own cubes), or play an invader carder (units that invade England from the sea). Complicating matters is a population limit for each of the varying regions that limits how many units may occupy it.

Does this sound simple? Maybe even excessively simple? Perhaps. But I was suspicious of the simplicity of Midgard when that came out, and Midgard turned out to be one of the games from the last couple of years that the Appalachian Gamers plays the most.

Albion may have less historical chrome than Britannia, but the Appalachian Gamers found that Britannia’s victory point system channels players into predictable grooves. Albion looks like it might be a little less predictable, and play in a much shorter time.

It looks like Albion will show up sometime in 2008. I’ll be waiting.

Albion can be pre-ordered for about $40. Troy Press can be found at www.troypress.com.
Author: "Kris Hall (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 10 Nov 2007 17:16
As loyal readers will know, I've spent the last 7 weeks or so immersed in translating Uwe Rosenberg's wonderful new game Agricola.

One of the challenges in translating this game was understanding the richly thematic world that the game encapsulates, and reflecting that in the words and ideas used in the translated text.

Nowhere is this more necessary than in the 360-odd cards, particularly the Improvement and Occupation cards.

I've been asked a few times, "Why did you use this word? No-one will know what it means!" - this is my answer.

First, it's important to understand that the names on the cards enhance the theme of the game. We could play a themeless game which says "Swap a white cube for little markers if you have this card" or we could play a thematic game where we put sheep into an oven and they come out as lamb cutlets to feed the family. It doesn't really matter what the cards are called - they still have effect in the game - but Agricola's heavy theming is so tightly bound to its gameplay that I wanted to make sure I did justice to the cards.

That meant spending way more time obsessing about the names of the cards than might have been expected. Thanks especially to John and Ralph who have shared my obsession in the last week and have made suggestions on what to include or have made me think about why particular words should be used, and also to the many others who have emailed or geekmailed suggestions. And thanks of course to Hanno who dealt patiently with my questions about "what did this guy do?" and William who shared his research as we worked through it.

Here are some of the online resources that I've found helpful:
There are of course other, more detailed references that I used for individual items. Some are old, some are more modern. Many led to squeals or at least shouts of "Aha!" - not least this picture of a shepherd's pipe (not shepherd's horn or shepherd's flute - phew) and John's discovery of the term Gypsy's Crock, which sounds much better than my very mundane "Tripod Pot".

I hope this set of references has been interesting. I've certainly found it a fascinating process. Look for the full set of card translations on the Lookout Games website Real Soon Now.

And enjoy!
Author: "Melissa (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "agricola, resources, translation, meliss..."
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Date: Friday, 09 Nov 2007 14:23
In one of my early blogs for Gone Gaming, I listed a few hypothetical games that I wished someone would create. One of my hypotheticals was a game I called NGO (Non-governmental organization) in which players try to stop famines and cure plagues to earn victory points. Now, I’m not so arrogant as to think that Matt Leacock was inspired by my blog to create Pandemic, the upcoming co-operative game from Z-Man Games. But I can at least congratulate myself for being ahead of the curve in predicting what kinds of new subject matter game designers will find interesting.

Z-Man has made the rules for Pandemic available on-line, and when I saw that it was a co-operative game, I knew I had to take a look. There are all too few co-operative games, and some of them (Arkham Horror) can take a long time to play. Pandemic has only about eight pages of rules, and the rules claim that the game can be played in forty-five minutes.

Up to four players can play Pandemic. Each player is a disease control expert who is trying to contain four different pandemics that are spreading around the world. If the players can restrain the spread of disease long enough, they may be able to find cures for the diseases and win the game. If the diseases get out of control and spread to too many cities, the players will lose. At the beginning of each game, each player gets a special power that they will use to modify some rule of the game in their favor. During the game, players move around the world-map game board, and treat disease in afflicted cities while trying to get the cards they need to find a complete cure for the global plagues.

Pandemic is basically a set-collecting game. If a player’s pawn is in a city with a research station, the player may discard five cards of the same color to cure a disease of that color. The player with the Scientist ability can cure a disease with only four cards of the same color.

Players get four actions per turn, and these can be used to move a player’s pawn, build new research stations, or to treat disease (remove cubes) in the city that the player’s pawn occupies. Normally, a player may only remove one disease cube per action, but once a cure for a disease is found, players may remove all the cubes of a cured disease from a city by spending just one action.

Although players will eventually be able to cure all four diseases, they may not have much time. Each turn players are required to draw cards that spread the infection of one or more diseases to cities listed on the cards. Wooden cubes of four different disease colors are placed on city spaces to represent the spread of contagion. The big problem comes when new disease cubes are supposed to be placed in a city that already contains three disease cubes of that color. In that case, an outbreak occurs and disease cubes spread to every adjacent city. Outbreaks in one city can trigger outbreaks in adjacent cities in a deadly chain reaction.

One sign of a good co-operative game is the ability to increase or decrease the difficulty level of the game to suit the experience of the players. In Pandemic, players may add more Epidemic cards to the deck to increase the difficulty of the game.

At least two of the most popular co-operative games are heavy-theme games taken from pop culture sources (Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror). It will be interesting to see how the gaming community reacts to a co-operative game that isn’t inspired by works of fantasy, legend or horror. I am looking forward to trying Pandemic.
Author: "Kris Hall"
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Date: Thursday, 08 Nov 2007 10:41
Last week I played my second game of Palazzo for the year. I own the game, but it very rarely makes it into my game night bag, hence the low play count. I couldn't really place my finger on why until last Wednesday's game.

The game ended like this:

I'd been doing kind of moderately well throughout the game: not best and not worst. On what was likely to be my last turn I had a pristine 5-story white-marble building with tons of windows, a mixed-material 3-story building and a mixed-material 2-story building.

Now in Palazzo, for those of you unfamiliar, you score points based on how tall your building is and what it's made out of. The core score for a 3-story building is the number of windows it contains, but there are bonuses of +3 and +6 when you reach 4 or 5 stories and those bonuses are doubled if the building is made of a single material.

The result is, unfortunately, very difficult to intuit, and this really showed in last Wednesday's game.

Given the choice between making a for-sure purchase of a single, one-window floor that I could add to my 2-story building and an auction for a couple of much better pieces, I took the latter. Unfortunately I didn't have the most money, lost the auction, didn't get another turn, and thus lost the game. However, what made the defeat especially ignoble was that if I'd instead just made the purchase that looked so much less good to me, I would have won by a couple of points.

The problem was that intuitive difficulty. Sure, I suppose I could have added up the two possible scores, then made a more knowledgeable risk-reward assessment based on the exact values, but that's generally not the way I roll. Worse, I think it would be disastrous in an ultra-light game like Palazzo.

So, instead, I went with my gut, and my gut said that singular one-window story was almost worthless, because my thumbnail way to try and assess the somewhat confusing valuations of Palazzo is to go with window count. Instead I should have remembered that there was a huge drop off in score from a 3-story building (value=windows) to a 2-story building (value=0).

But even when I remember that next time, and I bet I do, especially after writing this article, I suspect I'll be tripped up by something else. And that's really my core problem with Palazzo: not that it's light (though it is), and not that it's sort of Alhambra-like (which it's really not), but rather than the scoring is sufficiently obscure that it's often pretty hard to figure out the right thing to do.

The Benefits of Obscurity

Mind you, there are often great benefits to making scoring obscure in a game.

Hidden scoring is a terrific idea, even when you can see every point earned along the way. Tigris & Euphrates is a fine example of this. Sure someone could memorize every point earned, if they wanted, and thus have some advantage, but most people don't do that. And the flipside is that if all the scores were open then a huge analysis paralysis would start to settle on the players when they began to guess or second-guess all their info in light of the revealed scores. Quo Vadis and Through the Desert both do the exact same thing, with perhaps even more benefit.

The close companion to this idea is to have unscored scoring: valuations which aren't totally scored until the end. Genesis is an example of such a Knizia game, and even offers good reason for holding the scoring up to the end: because you don't know what everything's worth until the last piece is played because the size and ownership of herds of animals can change until the last move. Dead Man's Treasure is another example of game where the scoring isn't settled to the end.

So, I see reasons for making the score itself obscure, but not the scoring, and that's ultimately why I think Palazzo doesn't live up to some of Knizia's better mid-weight games. There's just too much formula in the scoring to allow you to intuitively know what to do.

Which is a pity, because I really enjoy the other aspects of the game.
Author: "Shannon Appelcline" Tags: "shannon_a, knizia"
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Date: Tuesday, 06 Nov 2007 10:45
Long term games. Role-playing, 12 hour marathon sessions of such-and-such. This post is somewhat inspired by an upcoming (2008?) expansion to FFG's Descent, which adds a campaign system to the tactical dungeon crawl. And some of my recent experiences.

Board games are often beloved for their 'play and forget' aspects. You can start a boardgame quickly, and it makes no demands on your time before and after the game. This is a start contrast to other 'hobby' games. Miniatures demand time painting and sculpting. Collectibles demand time sorting, planning, and devising (deck-building/army building). Role-playing demands prep time from the GM, and require players to carry information from game session to game session.

As gamers age, add families and commitments, board games begin to appeal above other games because of this lack of commitment away from the table. But there still remains in some people the desire to build something lasting within their hobby. Online MMRPGs tap into this. Join World of Warcraft and you are immediately part of something large. The game goes on around you and you experience bits and pieces. Put the game down for a moment and when you return you find your position identical, but the environment has shifted - a living game.

There is obviously some desire to see this sort of persistence in board games. It's not for everyone. Some people bundle this desire into "theme", but it's a whole nut by itself, most often called 'campaign play' - the idea that each playing of a game impacts the next time the game comes out.

One of the best examples in my experience is the old GDW game Imperium. In this 1970's space wargame the two sides fight a short-lived strategic war. Generally the war ends when one or two planets or outposts change sides. One side wins the war - "game" over. But the game doesn't actually end there. You roll some dice and play a 5-10 minute mini-game of peace, and then the next border skirmish/war breaks out - with players in a similar position to the end of the last war, or game. Players can play two wars back-to-back, or keep track of holdings and continue to play the game with an ever shifting series of planets and fleets. Persistence.

Imperium is a good game, taken up to greatness because of the ease of what is often called 'campaign' play. Descent (as mentioned earlier) received some derision early on due to it's complete lack of 'campaign' play. The next expansion will change that, bringing persistence into the game.

An obvious inspiration for Descent is the Heroquest/Warhammer Quest line of games. These games have the same theme as Descent (fantasy dungeon crawls), but had campaign systems from the very beginning. Even granddaddy Magic Realm provided a campaign system.

But a persistent world doesn't need to be tied to a fantasy adventure game. We have yet to see a designer (probably an American or Italian, given their design tendencies) bring the idea of persistence into an economic game, or any genre of game using 'modern' design features.

Perhaps the oft-requested Civ-lite game should be a game that plays in 'mileposts'. Short 60-90 minute games that reach stopping points where one player is deemed the winner, but the game is set up again next game for the next age of the game. Players could even change.

The Lords of.. series approaches persistence in-game by suggesting that players can enter and leave the game as they wish - that the players have no need of being static, and it might be possible to even win the game by playing for the first or final third of the game.

I'm sure there are other persistent worlds built within boardgames. It's an interesting piece of the attraction of games in general - and probably the one that inspires the most loyalty1.


1Obligatory footnote. It's not a surprise that campaign systems inspire loyalty. Invest more time into a specific game and you will feel more invested in it. What a surprise eh?

2Second Obligatory footnote. The second impetus for writing this is a persistent browser game that I'm involved in called Imperium Nova. It's an economic/negotiation space empire game. Mostly inspired by board games, the main mechanics are economic. Even warfare carries a hefty monetary cost. But it really serves to illustrate how electronic(computer/console) games have fully embraced persistent worlds. It's a selling point of many of these games. The microchip takes care of the math and the note-taking, leaving the player free to remain involved in an ongoing game. Persistence is a strong selling point3.

3But it still hasn't been applied much outside the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Military genres.
Author: "Aaron_" Tags: "Imperium Nova, adventure_games, magic re..."
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Date: Sunday, 04 Nov 2007 05:40
Around Essen time we decided to make an effort on the pile(s) of unplayed games. This also included playing some new (to us) things at games nights etc.

Starting off with our games:

Australian Rails - Melissa's first foray into crayon rails, my second (or possibly third - I have dim memories of friends playing a crayon rail game a decade or so ago, but don't entirely remember if I played or not, which probably means that I didn't). Melissa enjoyed it, which means that some of our crayon rail games might hit the table soon.

Thebes I had heard a little about this, but not much in terms of details. A nice set of choices to be made along the way and the drawing from the bags seemed fine.

On the Underground - Nowhere near as cut-throat as the London Game. It plays well with different numbers of players which is always good.

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper Another one of those games where I read the rules and by the time I had finished I still didn't know how to play the game. I tried reading them again, still no go with the game and I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew less about the universe in general compared to before I had picked up the rules. Gregor kindly volunteered to teach me and after a hand it or two it was all quite obvious.

Power Grid Power Plant Deck 2 Yes it is just a new deck of power plants, but they are different, they go down to number one and there's one or more that power eight cities. All this is just "blah blah blah" if you don't play Power Grid, but I like it. One day I may play the Power Grid Mega Hello Kitty Grand Tichu Humungous Deck variant where you merge this deck and the original deck, but for now I a happy to just play the maps with the new deck.

Other people's games:

Princess Ryan's Star Marines - Much more your beer and pretzel type game. It probably didn't help that we didn't have a bad guy player, but we really didn't see much in this to elevate it above the basic B&P; game. With an active bad guy, I can see that the interplay between the "good" guys could get more interesting though.

Shazamm! - My feeling is that you need to play this a couple of times to get an idea of what the various cards are before you will be able to play it well. On a single play it did not light my fire.

Risk - Star Wars: The Clone Wars Edition - As with most versions of Risk, after a single play I am undefeated. I would rank this above Risk 2210, but slightly below Risk Transformers.

Before I Kill You, Mr Bond - I can see quite a nice game underlying this. I am not sure that it has all managed to get out though. It feels like with the card draw it can become a little unbalanced a finish what seems to quickly.

Eurorails - Do the different maps and goods make the various crayon rails different enough or at an abstract level are they all just the same game? I think my vote falls for the former. This one certainly tests the European geography of the players.

Ziegen Kriegen - Similar to 6 Nimmt! in many ways, but the Geeple (goat meeple) and building of the island during the first four rounds influences whether you want to be scoring high or low.

Downfall of Pompeii - The different stages are almost different games and the whole thing is surprisingly quick. Daughter the Elder was quite taken by it, possibly due to the fun she had dropping my citizens in to Mt Etna.

1960: The Making of the President - Another game where I think you need a couple of plays under your belt to have a good idea of the various possibilities, and build up an idea of the general worth of various states and regions. I gave up the fight for the East Coast on the last turn, partially to repair some damage in the West, but mainly because I had crap cards. However it was engrossing and I will definitely play it again - and I might even have a proper idea of how the media works this time.


mmm meeples taste like...
Author: "Fraser"
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Date: Friday, 02 Nov 2007 14:45
I didn’t get to the Appalachian Gamers meeting this week (and thus missed what will probably be the only game of Arkham Horror played by us until next Halloween), and I missed my usual blog inspiration. But as I was pondering what to write about this week, it occurred to me that there are games I admire, but don’t actually love. Probably the epitome of this contradiction is Knizia’s Modern Art.

Modern Art is a sophisticated and elegant auction game that can inspire amounts of truly Machiavellian mind games. Each round players are dealt a hand of cards that represent paintings by several different artists. Players take turns auctioning off cards from their hand. If another player buys a card, the auctioneer keeps the cash. The auctioneer can bid as well, and if she wins the auction, the money goes to the bank. Each sold painting is left on the table in front of the owner. When the fifth painting by one artist is sold, the round is over. Players then collect cash for their paintings in proportion to their popularity; the paintings of the most popular artist generate the most cash, while the works of less popular artists generate less money.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize the opportunities for guessing and bluffing created by the game. If you draw a lot of paintings of one suit at the beginning of a round, then you probably want to invest in that artist. But if other players see you buying a lot of your own paintings, then they will probably guess your intentions, and either try to acquire that artist’s work for themselves, or bid you up to limit your profits. You could always auction a painting by a different artist just to fool other players, but you risk helping another player with his plan. There is a constant tension in the game between the need to further your plans, and hiding what your intentions really are.

Why wouldn’t I love Modern Art? Well, it is merely a card game, and I tend to like games with boards. And if it isn’t entirely abstract, it comes pretty close to being so. I also tend to do poorly at auction games, but in the right frame of mind I regard that as a challenge and not a reason to avoid a game.

But having expressed those reservations, I still have a hankering to try the game once again. It may be an abstract card game, but it is a darn good one. It may be the most fun to play the games you love, but playing games you respect isn’t bad either.
Author: "Kris Hall"
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Date: Saturday, 27 Oct 2007 20:37
So, Essen is over for another year. The pilgrimages have been made, the booty unshrinked, sprues discarded to save luggage space and weight. The first batch of verdicts are in from the Chosen Few - while we, the Unwashed Masses, scoured the Internet with only one mostly industrial medium-sized German town in mind. And occasionally checked airfares and hotel availability.

My loot is still in transit - a couple of consignment numbers my only link to unimaginable greatness. Or, at the least, to hours of gaming fun. (Frustratingly, the consignment numbers only reveal that the package "is in transit to the destination country" - sometimes no information is better than partial)

Meanwhile, there's still time for the older games in our collection. Last night, we had six for games night, including two players who are new to gaming. We kept it light but fun - two games of Diamant, followed by at least ten of Bamboleo. For fun factor, especially with new gamers, it's hard to beat a really good dexterity game.

The game that is getting the most play, though, is Ingenious. This is Otto's favourite game, and she insists on playing it (usually on BSW or on the PC) before bed every night. She's improving, although she does need to be reminded that we are looking to improve our lowest score and not necessarily our highest.

In the past week, we've managed to get two new (to us/me) games to the table. Both are, I think, destined to be family favourites. On the Underground was one Fraser had played before and managed to pick up at 20% off. I enjoyed it a lot - and will put it on a shelf with The London Game. A friend - and regular member of our gaming group - is in hospital at the moment. She and her husband introduced us to The London Game - when she gets out, I look forward to returning the favour.

I have been waiting to find Thebes in Australia for some time, and finally got my chance last week when Fraser's "spies" told him that there were 2 copies available in the city. Ah, the joys of being easily led. We really enjoyed playing this with one another, and hope to get it to the table with more players soon.

We're still trying to work through some more unplayed games before the loot arrives - mostly because I may need some gaming credits to inspire Fraser to try some of my purchases. Australian Rails is on the dining table at the moment, but a combination of factors involving a bicycle, a car battery and a school trip to Hong Kong for older students means that it may not make it to full play today.

Fraser hopes so, though - he knows that once Agricola arrives there will be no chance to get other new games to the table for a while.

Happy gaming! And if you were lucky enough to be in Essen, remember to share the love. Or at least to tell us about the games.
Author: "Melissa" Tags: "essen, melissa"
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Date: Friday, 26 Oct 2007 14:54
CharCon, the gaming con of Charleston, West Virginia, was last weekend, and for me the big event of the con was the appearance of Jason Matthews, the co-designer of 1960: the Making of the President (co-designed with Christian Leonhard). Mr. Matthews taught me the game, and I played two games of it, and I would have gladly played two more.

1960 is a card-driven, area majority, presidential-election game in the same vein as Twilight Stuggle, the game of Cold War conflict designed by Mr. Matthews and Ananda Gupta. In 1960 players play cards for their events or campaign points as they try to increase their support in the most important states of the U.S. Players can also use cards to advertise in each of the four regions, and thus handicap the opposing players. Or they can use their cards to dominate three important issues in the election (defense, the economy, and civil rights) with the most successful player gaining endorsements and momentum points.

As in Twilight Struggle, a lot of the game is damage control. Some of the events on the cards only help one of the two political parties, and each player is likely to have one or more cards in his hand each turn with events that only benefit his opponent. Players can activate events favorable to them on cards played by their opponent by spending momentum points. Players can also stop opposing players from activating events by preemptively spending two momentum points when playing a card. Naturally, there never seems to be enough momentum points, and players often face the agony of letting an opponent activate one event in order to save momentum points to neutralize a worse event to be played later.

In the first game I played, I seemed to get cards every turn that allowed me to pummel my Republican opponent, but Richard Nixon (cleverly played by Charlie Davis) still managed to steal New York state from me on the last turn, and win the election. While I wasn’t happy about losing, I was glad to see that every turn counted, and that the election can be unpredictable right up to the end of the game.

1960 can be played in ninety minutes or less, and it may be one of those fine games that are meaty enough for gamers, but that can be enjoyed by non-gamers as well. For me, 1960 is one of the year’s best games. If I don’t get it for Christmas, I’ll have to buy a copy.
Author: "Kris Hall"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Oct 2007 02:19
As I've played an increasing number of German games, I've increasingly grown fond of those by Reiner Knizia. Sure, he's the big grand poobah of German gaming, and he designs more games than most small countries, but I've discovered that I like his games because they're just more fun for me than a lot of what I play.

To some extent this surprises me, because they're pretty analytical and pretty mathematical, neither of which matches my definition of fun, but of everything I play they're the ones I come back to the most.

I came to this realization late last year, so this year I've set out to play as much Knizia as a I can. I'd hope to have a pile of Knizian nickles by year's end, and though that hasn't come about, I've still managed quite a few plays.

To date my 2007 play list looks like this: Ingenious x5, Blue Moon City x4, Quo Vadis? x3, Through the Desert x3, Amun-Re x2, Colossal Arena x2, Dead Man's Treasure x2, Dragon Parade x2, Escalation! x2, Genesis x2, Great Wall of China x2, Hollywood Blockbuster x2, Marco Polo Expedition x2, Ra x2, Taj Mahal x2, Buy Low Sell High x1, Ivanhoe x1, Kingdoms x1, Knights of Charlemagne x1, Loot x1, Lord of the Rings x1, Palazzo x1, Relationship Tightrope x1, Rheinlander x1, Stephenson's Rocket x1, T&E Card Game x1, Too Many Cooks x1, Tutankhamen x1, Winner's Circle x1.

Which I suppose one really can't complain about, since I've been playing at least one Knizia game a week.

All this play of Knizian games has gotten me thinking a bit about his design, and thus I offer up the first of what will eventually be several articles on his games.

Marco Polo Expedition v. Blue Moon City

This week I want to talk about two of Knizia's games, Blue Moon City and Marco Polo Expedition.

Blue Moon City
is one of his top-tier games, and even moreso one of his best rated games in recent years. It's currently #76 at BGG, with a rating of 7.46. Pretty much everyone I teach it to loves it.

Marco Polo Expedition is contrariwise one of his biggest disappointments according to the general public. It's currently #1270 at BGG, with a rating of 6.17. Most people I teach it to are pretty indifferent, and just last week I had someone who absolutely despised it on his first play. Personally, I think it's a fine game.

I offer up a comparison of these games not just because their ratings vary so widely--and not just because I've played them each in the last week--but also because I'm struck by their similarities.

Blue Moon City and Marco Polo Expedition are both ultimately card-collection games. I tend to call Blue Moon City resource-management and Marco Polo Expedition set-collection, but they tend to come down to the same thing. You decide to work toward the completion of certain spaces and thus you collect the cards that will allow for that.

Let me explain that a bit more for those not familiar with the games:

Marco Polo Expedition is a game of moving your camel along a set track, while trying to stay tight with the rest of your caravan. To move onto a space you must play cards which depict either caravan leaders (in five colors) or four types of goods (in those same five colors). Individual spaces require either matched goods, matched colors, sets of caravan leaders, a group of each of the four good types, or a group of each of the five colors. You get to jump over other camels, and thus you have to carefully track what other players are doing, to try and plan for spaces past where they end up--or else maintain a group of cards that will be viable for advancing onto multiple spaces.

Blue Moon City is a game of moving your pawn around a wide-open city, while trying to stay tight enough with other players to take advantage of synergy. Upon arriving at individual spaces you reconstruct the buildings there. To reconstruct a building you must play cards in six different colors, but cards can also be used orthogonally to generate special powers. Individual buildings require a grouped set of cards in the same color. Each building space can only be accomplished once, and thus you have to carefully track what other players are doing, to try and plan to build spaces which they won't complete before you--or else maintain a group of cards that will be viable for complete multiple spaces (which may largely be done by making good use of those special powers on the cards).

At the base level, there's really a lot of similarities between the two games. In both you manage cards, trying to stay a step ahead of opponents the whole time, but still in sync with them. So, why do their ratings vary so much? I can offer a few suggestions.

It's All About the Complexity

First, there's a dramatic difference in complexity between the two games. Fundamentally, Marco Polo Expedition is a pretty simple game: you have a single path to victory which you must assess. Conversely, while maintaining the same core ideals of gameplay, Blue Moon City adds a lot of complexity. This comes out in a few different ways.

One of them is openness. You really have a lot more choices in Blue Moon City, and if one opportunity closes up, you can always try another one: going to a different building site, collecting different cards, or even deciding to just grab victory points rather than building up your resources.

Another is color. Here again Blue Moon City offers a lot more than Marco Polo Expedition. In MPE the theming is very weak, borne out mainly by the mechanics of camels moving in a caravan, while in Blue Moon City it's very strong, with the cards all having different powers, and even the building spaces feeling very different--again, as opposed to Marco Polo Expedition where there's no real differentiation between the different spaces you can land on.

In their own way, each of Blue Moon City and Marco Polo Expedition are each quite different from what Knizia regularly designs, but in different directions.

In general Knizia games are pretty simple. He uses the bare minimum of mechanics necessary to pull off his design. If you look at most of his top-rated games, such as Through the Desert, Tigris & Euphrates, Samurai, and Ingenious, there's very little color there: the theming is mostly abstract and the mechanics mostly bare (though Blue Moon City is by no means the only game that offers some serious theming).

On the other hand, it's pretty rare for a Knizia game to offer as little openness as Marco Polo Expedition does. In all of those top games that I mentioned, you tend to have a whole board to play on, as opposed to Marco Polo Expedition where you're just looking forward a space or two.

Though not ever game can have the color of Blue Moon City, you can see part of the reason that Marco Polo Expedition might pale even against the Knizia norm when you consider the dearth of possible decisions.

Forgiving Games

However, I think there's a second way in which Marco Polo Expedition really differs itself from Blue Moon City: in its forgivingness.

In Blue Moon City you have a pretty powerful ability to cycle cards. Every turn you can toss out up to two cards, replacing them. Further, you can play cards for their powers if you don't need to use them to build, or you could move over to a different building if you can't get what you need for the building you really want. Still, through all this, you can sometimes get stuck and have to make non-optimal decisions.

Conversely Marco Polo Expedition can make it a lot harder to get rid of "wasted" cards, which tend to be generated when you build up for a space that someone else claims. The dual nature of all the cards--leader/good and color--helps prevent this somewhat, but you can still be set back multiple turns if you misjudge what your opponents are doing.

Further, there's a big difference in scoring visibility between these games.

In Marco Polo Expedition its really obvious when you're behind, because the most important measure--whether you're with the caravan or not--is clearly visible on the board. Further, when you get behind you usually have to sacrifice victory points to catch up (by dumping VP chests rather than playing extra cards).

Blue Moon City actually has a very similar catch-up mechanism, again underlying the similarity between the games: if you get behind in building the central monument, you have to pay more VPs to do so, which in the end is the same thing as sacrificing victory points in Marco Polo Expedition.

However, this sacrifice ends up behind much less obvious in Blue Moon City. Everyone's points are face-down, so you never know definitively until the last minute when someone will claim victory. I think the usefulness of hiding VPs in order to keep everyone interested until the last minute can't be underestimated, no matter how much grognards argue about open VPs becoming secret.

Also, I think there's a serious psychological difference between sacrificing VPs (as you do in Marco Polo Expedition) and paying extra (as you do in Blue Moon City), and that generally the former will make players unhappier than the latter.

Final Thoughts

Generally, I like Marco Polo Expedition, and I'm sad that it hasn't gotten better attention. However after writing through this I can better understand why.

Most directly, I think Marco Polo Expedition walks a hard line. On the one hand, it looks like a serious gamer's game, because of its release in a big, fairly expensive box. On the other hand, it looks like a family game because of its tightly constrained decision tree. On the third hand, it plays like a gamer's game because of its unforgiving nature and harsh-looking punishments.

With a game uncomfortably between all those extremes, it becomes a bit more clear why some are turned off the game after a first play.
Author: "Shannon Appelcline" Tags: "shannon_a, knizia"
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Date: Tuesday, 23 Oct 2007 19:01
Welcome to new readers of Gone Gaming who have followed the link from the Wall Street Journal.

We are a team of around 10-12 games enthusiasts who enjoy sharing our passion with others. New posts appear every 2 days or so and feature a wide range of games-related topics.

Here are some posts that might interest you - or explore the tags on the side to find more!

New Gamers: Don't Worry, that's normal! - the passion for trying (and buying) new games (Mary)

Gaming Saturation - "I'm finally at a point in my life where I can honestly say I don't feel like I have time I'd rather trade in for more boardgaming." (Matt)

Tie Breakers - ways to break scoring ties at the end of a game - what makes the most sense? (Shannon)

When the goal is to participate - including younger children in family boardgames (Melissa)

A real gaming controversy - where gaming and the real world collide (Kris)

School Games Night the Second - a community-building family boardgames night at a primary (elementary) school (Fraser)

You might be a gamer if ... - if you recognise yourself in any of these sayings (Mary)

Hated Questions - questions that game store owners secretly dread being asked (Aaron)

Games in the Classroom - a report on a classroom games day for 9-11 year olds (Melissa)

Ted Cheatham and the Road to Silk Road - an interview with a game designer (Kris)

The Backwards Brain Teaser Game - something to play at home (Smatt)

Arthur, Arthur! - Arthurian legend in games (Shannon)

Tournament Games - a discussion of how games can be used in tournaments (Fraser)

Lightweight and Feeling good - some lighter weight (simpler) games (Matt)

Gardner and the Multiple Intelligences of Boardgames - applying Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences to boardgames (Melissa)

A Cribbage Tale - playing a master (Smatt)

Collectibles on your game table - games that don't end with one purchase (Aaron)

Board Game => Card Game - when boardgames are adapted (Mary)

Five Game Design Dont's - what NOT to do (Shannon)

Beyond Nickels and Dimes - a different way to look at "games played" (Matt)
Author: "Melissa" Tags: "best_of"
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Date: Sunday, 21 Oct 2007 06:00
o Prior to the media day you are constantly checking boardgamegeek, boardgamenews, Frank's site and other places for the first snippets of information and complaining when there isn't any there

o Planning to SMS "Ready, Set, Go!" to people who are at Essen at the exact time the doors open to the public.

o Posting to blogs, BGG and mailing lists about Essen envy

o Knowing the airfare to Essen

o Knowing which hotels at Essen still have vacancies

o Know that if you take the child who has a passport that your luggage allowance will be doubled

o Searching out German rules for new games on the internet, emailing your partner/spouse/friend with access to a printer to print them out so you can determine whether or not to place an order with your Essen "personal shopper"

o Wanting to go to the airport and ask for a ticket "on the next flight to Germany"

o Being prepared to ditch a local community event that you have put at least 100 hours work into to go to Essen instead

o Knowing what time the doors at Essen close, factoring in time for the Essen correspondents to type up their reports and then you start checking

o Having Aldie say "You are jonesin' for some Essen"

o When ringing your spouse on the phone you say "I'm not at home, but I am not at the airport"

If many of the above apply to you then, to quote Aldie, "You are jonesin' for some Essen"

Author: "Fraser" Tags: "essen, fraser"
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Date: Friday, 19 Oct 2007 04:17
As usual Essen will be showing gamers some resource-churning games that will come our way in the next month or two. Two of the more promising ones are Cuba from designers Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler, and Hamburgum from designer Mac Gerdts. In Cuba players try to earn the most victory points by shipping goods, constructing buildings, and paying taxes. In Hamburgum players produce and sell beer, sugar and cloth to gain the money needed to build the citiy’s churches. The player who makes the biggest contributions to the churches will win.

I’m not going to examine the rules of the games in minute detail here, but instead I will show how they handle some of the same basic game mechanisms.


In Cuba players each have a set of five cards that they use each turn to take actions. The cards are the Worker (who produces resources), the Tradeswoman (who buys and sells resources), the Architect (who constructs buildings), the Foreman (who activates buildings), and the Mayor (who sends merchandise to ships in the harbor and thus generates victory points). Each round, each player will use four of these five cards, and save one card for the Parliament Phase. Each card is worth a certain amount of votes in the Parliament Phase, and the player who has the most votes (votes can also be purchased for cash) will be able to enact certain laws that apply to all players. Note: each of the five action cards has a secondary ability that only one or two players can use each round.

In Hamburgum, Mac Gerdts once again uses his favorite mechanism, the rondel. On their turns, players can move their marker on the rondel from one to three spaces for free. Players can move their marker further by paying prestige points. Three of the spaces on the rondel are labeled Beer, Cloth, or Sugar. Landing on these spaces causes a player to produce the named product. The Trade space allows a player to buy or sell his goods on the market. The Guildhall space allows players to construct buildings. The Dockyard space allows players to build ships in the harbor. The Church space allows players to make those all-important donations to the churches of Hamburg and thus earn prestige points.


Cuba resembles Caylus and Puerto Rico in the wide variety of buildings available to players. There is only a single tile available for most buildings, and so only one person in the game will usually own each particular building. The cement factory, the saw mill, and the golf course turn certain resources into victory points. The hotels and the inns create victory points directly. The small bank and the large bank generate cash every time they are activated. The cigar factory and the distillery turn tobacco into cigars and sugar cane into rum, and certain cafes turn cigars and rum into victory points. Other buildings are helpful getting goods onto ships in the harbor, generating extra votes for the Parliament Phase, or have other special abilities.

In Hamburgum players can construct buildings for a variety of purposes. Constructed buildings are placed in front of each player, and a citizen marker of the constructing player is placed on the board. Production buildings increase beer, cloth, and sugar production. Merchant buildings generate a one-time cash payment. Councilman buildings generate cash for every citizen marker on the board. Vicar markers generate cash for every donation made to the churches. The Lord Mayor building generates cash for every church that has been completed. In Hamburgum, players may build more than one building at a time (and the strategy tips in the rules encourage this). This could lead to dramatic shifts in the kinds of buildings available as players build three or four buildings at a time.


Both games have special rules that constrain players or offer them special opportunities. In Cuba, each player has a plantation board with a grid of spaces that produce various resources. When a player uses his Worker card, he places a worker marker on his plantation board. He can then activate only those spaces that are in the same row or column as his worker. As the game progresses, players will construct buildings on spaces on their plantation board, and will thus cover up and eliminate certain resource spaces. Because the Foreman can only activate buildings in the same row and column as the playing piece, careful placement of buildings is important.

In Hamburgum, players making donations to churches get a bonus tile. The first bonus tile for players contributing to a particular church is always worth five prestige points. But the remaining four tiles generate contingent prestige points: one tile generates 1 point for every donation tile that the player already has; one tile generates 2 points for every ship a player has in the harbor; one tile generates points for every citizen that the player has in the church’s district, and one tile generates points for every building that the player has in the church’s district. Players will constantly wonder if they should place a few extra citizens or ships before making the big church donation, but by waiting they risk having another player snag the desired tile first.

Both Cuba and Hamburgum seem like intelligent variations of the resource-churning genre of games that have been so popular the last few years. I look forward to trying both of them. Rules for these games are available online if you want to check them out.
Author: "Kris Hall"
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Date: Tuesday, 16 Oct 2007 19:38
If you had asked me a few years ago if it were possible, I would have denied it but I now think I'm reaching a saturation level for my boardgaming habits. Sure, I'd love large chunks of time to devote to some more plays of a few longer games (Die Macher, Here I Stand, Twilight Imperium 3 or Revised Axis and Allies anyone?) but I'm finally at a point in my life where I can honestly say I don't feel like I have time I'd rather trade in for more boardgaming.

This is a combination of several factors, the major factor being the formation of a local biweekly boardgame club. It's been running for over a year now and every other Monday evening I get a good three hours of gaming in with a group of 8 to 12 regulars. Keeping my schedule clear on that one night a week has done wonders to satisfy my boardgaming needs. (On the off Mondays a smaller group has been playing an ongoing role-playing game, which also helps to satisfy my gaming needs.) In addition to biweekly play, I have a quarterly full day of gaming at a friend's house about an hour away. This is great for getting in games that just don't make it to the table in the biweekly gatherings. Finally, now that school is back in session I have a weekly boardgaming club that I sponsor. On the one hand, this is great as I get to play even more games, but we're somewhat limited on time - our meetings only last about 90 minutes or so. This means most 60-90 minute games only get played halfway through the first time before its time to pack them up. Future plays can sometimes squeek in an entire game in time alloted.

Will all this scheduled game playing, going back to work full time, and a happy little 1 year old running around to watch out for, I find myself pretty darn busy. Sure, boardgaming is darn fun, but I'm running out of things that I'd give up in order to get more gaming in.

Now, life isn't exactly all rose-colored glasses, there are a few things I'd change, if possible. First, it is all the shorter games I've been playing. Due to limited time constraints, I don't get in as many long-term, deep-thought games as I'd sometimes like. I've played a lot of medium-weight (some would call lightweight) games lately, To Court the King, Ca$h n Gun$, and Owner's Choice being some of my favorites at the moment. While I haven't yet tired of To Court the King, Owner's Choice may need to rest for a few weeks before I pick it up again (I've now got the most games played of Owner's Choice over on the BGG...) The preponderance of lighterweight games comes from needing to grow new players at the high school game club as well as my desire to make sure all the gamers at our biweekly meetings are getting in games they enjoy. Thus, I've been making a bit more of an effort lately to accomodate people by playing lighter games that are more effective at drawing in less hardcore players.

However, on the whole, playing "too many" lightweight games is a happy problem to have. I'd take too many games over too few any day of the week (or month or year). Meanwhile, most of the players I play with are slowly getting the feel of more and more complexity and I can start bringing out the bigger guns at our weekly school boardgame club.
Author: "Dr. Matt J. Carlson" Tags: "dr_matt"
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Date: Saturday, 13 Oct 2007 02:49
Let's be brutally honest here. It's four days till the Essen game fair opens. Three, by the time I post this. And you, gentle Reader, are champing at the bit waiting for reports - or hints - or photos - or ANYTHING really - that give you any information about what is going on with all those New Games.

I know this, because by Tuesday night I too will be compulsively hitting the Refresh key in case anyone has somehow stumbled across a hidden cache of games and managed to play one of them before the Messe actually opened. (Brief pause to gloat: We did manage to play the new Amigo cardgame Ziegen kriegen on Friday night.)

So this week, something different.

I was struck, this week, as I wandered the supermarket listening to Michael Flanders and Donald Swann's classic "Bedstead Men," by how much it sounded like a game.

Oh, when you're walking in the country, Far from villages and towns,
When you're seven miles from nowhere and beyond,
In some dark deserted forest, or a hollow of the downs,
You may come across a lonely pool or pond.

And you'll always find a big, brass broken bedstead by the bank,
There's one in every loch or mere or fen.
Don't think it's there by accident, It's us you have to thank,
The society of British bedstead men.

Oh, the hammer ponds of Sussex, And the dewponds of the west,
Are part of Britain's heritage, The part we love the best.
Every eel and fish and millpond Has a beauty all can share,
But not unless it's got a big brass broken bedstead there.

So, we filch them out of attics, We beg them from our friends,
We buy them up in auction lots with other odds and ends,
Then we drag them 'cross the meadows, When the moon is in the sky,
So watch the wall my darling, While the bedstead men go by.

The league of British bedstead men is marching though the night,
A desperate and dedicated crew,
Under cover of the hedges, Always keeping out of sight,
For the precious load of bedsteads must get through.

The society for putting broken bedsteads into ponds
Has another solemn purpose to fulfil.
For our coastal sands and beaches, All where waving willow wands,
Mark the borders of a river, stream or rill.

You will always find a single laceless, left-hand leather boot.
A bootless British river bank's a shock.
We leave them there at midnight, you can track a member's route,
By the alternating prints of boot and sock.

Oh, the lily ponds of Suffolk, And the millponds of the west,
Are part of Britain's heritage, The part we love the best.
Our riverbanks and seashores Have a beauty all can share,
Provided there's a boot... Provided there's a boot...
Provided there's at least one boot... Three treadless tyres, a half-eaten pork pie, some oildrums, an old felt hat, a lorryload of tar blocks...
And a broken bedstead there.

Can you see it? It's clearly a pick-up and deliver game, possibly with some sort of relative position - each player plays both a British Bedstead Man and an Insomniac Nature-Lover, whose mission is to stop the other players' Bedstead Men from placing their Bedsteads.

Each player starts the game with (or has to collect along the way) a boot, three treadless tyres, a half-eaten pork pie, some oildrums, and old felt hat, a lorryload of tar blocks and of course a broken bedstead. Players must move around the board, leaving them in strategic positions near lily ponds, millponds, rivers, streams and rills.

There could even be an auction component - because you have to collect some of those things (at the least, the tyres, tar blocks and broken bedstead) before you can abandon them in some otherwise picturesque place.

And the board, of course, would show one of those old-fashioned ordnance survey-style maps of part of Britain - with the occasional set of matching sock/boot footprints.

Do you see it?

What obscure and - if we are honest - rather ludicrous - inspiration would you like to one day see as a game?

To those who are lucky enough to be in Germany next weekend, have fun at Spiel. To those with business there, I wish you all the best. If you see an Australian, say hello.

And to any stray people with a company or private jet flying from Melbourne to Germany early next week? Call me!

Author: "Melissa" Tags: "game design, melissa"
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Date: Friday, 12 Oct 2007 05:01
The parade of area-majority games continues with King of Siam. In this upcoming game (to be published by Histogame and designed by Peer Sylvester), two to four players use cards as they strive to place followers from three political factions in the eight provinces of the southeast Asian nation. Players also claim followers for themselves in order to dominate one or more of these factions.

One of the more things that should make King of Siam different from the vast horde of similar games is that each player starts the game with an identical set of eight action cards, and never receives any more. Players had better be darn careful about when they play each particular card.

Each faction has a set of color-coded follower markers (presumably little wooden cubes). In the set-up phase, four random followers are placed in most of the provinces. But each of the three factions has a home province which contains two of its follower markers, and two more chosen randomly. Eight province tiles are placed at random on a track that is numbered one to eight. Then control of each province is resolved according to where the province is placed on the track.

To resolve each province, players play cards from their hand. Most the cards allow players to add followers from one faction or another, or swap followers between different provinces. Each player has one card that allows him to switch province tiles on the track, and thus change the order in which the provinces are resolved.

Please note that each player has eight cards, and there are eight provinces to be resolved. This means that if any player plays more than one card in a province, he will not have a card to play in one or more provinces still to be resolved.

After playing a card, each player takes a follower marker from some province on the board and places it in front of him. Followers gained this way are an investment in the control of the faction.

After all players have played their cards to influence a province, the faction with the most followers in the province places a control marker there.

But if two or factions are tied for control of the region, then an imperialist British control marker is placed in the province. If the British ever gain control of four provinces, they are considered to have colonized Siam, the game ends immediately, and a special set of victory conditions applies. The winning player is the person who has the most complete set of followers (a set is one blue, one red, and one yellow marker).

If the British do not gain control of Siam, then the game ends when control of the last province is resolved. The faction that controls the most provinces gains control of Siam. The player who has the most followers in front of him from the winning faction is the winning player.

One other item of note: in a four-player game, players are grouped into two teams who win or lose together.

Because of the limited number of cards to be played in the game, the playing time of King of Siam should be quite short; the rules claim that a game will last between half and hour and a full hour.

If El Grande and Liberte ever had a love-child, it might look a lot like King of Siam. This mechanics of this game aren’t very original, but it looks like it will be an area-majority game for those gamers who think Midgard takes too long.
Author: "Kris Hall"
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Date: Thursday, 11 Oct 2007 10:09
Last week, when playing Thurn & Taxis, we momentarily thought we had a tie. (Momentarily, I say, because I added up my 21 points of chips and got 19, but that's neither here nor there.) This inevitably led us back to the rulebook for the perennial question, "What breaks ties?"

In Thurn & Taxis the first answer was, "the player who earned the 'game end' bonus tile'", which makes a lot of sense, because that's a definitive goal that players should usually be going for. However, the second tie-breaker, didn't make sense, because it was, "if [the person with the tile] was not among those tied, the player closest clockwise from this player who was tied with the most is the winner!"

So Thurn & Taxis, to offer a reminder, works like this: when a player goes out, play continues until all players have had an equal number of turns, and thus ends to the right of the start player. This means that unless the last player is the one who went out, the winner is a player who was advantaged because he had more of an opportunity to react to the game ending, which seemed to me to be the opposite of what the tie-breaker should have been. I suggested that going counter-clockwise from the ending player would have worked better, because that would have been a player more likely to be disadvantaged, which led me to a general pondering about how tie breakers should be written.

A Philosophy of Tie Breaking

So what makes a good tie-breaker? I have three criteria: it should be obvious, fair, and ideally unique.

Having a tie-breaker that is obvious is the most important criteria. Inevitably, if a part of the rules doesn't get explained when you're learning a new game, it's how ties are broken. So, you want a tie-breaker that feels obvious: in other words, even if you don't know what the tie-breaker is, when you find it out you want to be able to say, "That makes sense", because the opposite case, where you suddenly find after the fact that you should have been hoarding sheep (or whatever) for the tie-breaker can put a damper on a game.

Almost as importantly, a tie-breaker should be fair. My complaint about the secondary Thurn & Taxis tie-breaker is that it didn't seem fair to me. It would have seemed fair if it in some way either rewarded a player who was truly disadvantaged or else rewarded a player who had extra resources (which especially in a resource-to-victory-point game engine are essentially fractional victory points).

Finally, if possible a tie-breaker should be unique, which is to say something that can't result in yet another tie. Having the end-game marker in Thurn & Taxis is a pretty good example of this sort of thing, because it will usually be held by one of the winners; the designer just didn't think beyond that for the rare cases in which it turns out to be held by a loser.

Looking at Some Examples

So how do different games deal with tie-breakers? I've decided to offer up a few examples, each of which I've looked at by my criteria.

Primordial Soup; Torres
: First, the Holy Grail of tie-breakers: games where you can't tie. This is a pretty rare game design element, but usually, I think, a good one. Torres and Primordial Soup are both good examples, because they're games where you literally can't have the same score as another player: instead, you skip over them.

This technique is often put to good use in any sort of game where you have some sort of absolute positional difference, offset in subsystems where ties are relevant. For example in Entdecker you place figures on jungle paths, and if there's a tie, the person who placed first wins; conversely in Patrician you place floors in towers, and if there's a tie, the person who placed last wins.

The Settlers of Catan: Settlers is a game which allows no ties, because you win by having the right number of points on your turn. This really shows the difference between games which go a set length of time, and thus allow ties, and games which just go until someone wins, and thus usually don't.

Ingenious; Tigris & Euphrates: These two Reiner Knizia games offer the next best thing to no ties: a tie-breaker that is so entirely obvious (and fair) that trying to reach it is just a standard part of your gameplay. In each game, you win based upon your worst score in multiple colors, and in case of tie you drop down to your second worst or third or fourth. Thus the entire schoring mechanism is an organic whole.

Havoc: The Hundred Years War: In this Poker-like game, the person who has won the more battles (hands) is the winner, and if there's still a tie, it goes to order of placement in the final battle, making it fair, relatively obvious, and with the second tie-breaker unique.

Ticket to Ride: This is a pretty standard game with good, but not great tie-breaker. The person with the most completed destination tickets wins ties. That strikes me as fair, but it's neither obvious or unique. I'd guessed that the tie-breaker would be the person who has the longest-route bonus, since that's usually unique, but I'm not unhappy with the actual rule.

Carcassonne; Caylus: These games have my least favorite tie-breaker. Either the game explicitly says there is no tie-breaker, or else just doesn't mention one. Besides being anticlimatic, it feels lazy on the part of the designer. I think some game designers feel like they can get away with it because you earn enough points that a tie is pretty unlikely ... but they will come up sometimes. For Carcassonne a potential tie-breaker is immediately obvious: a count of unused meeples. For Caylus a good tie-breaker is a bit more difficult because unused resources have already been valued with points. I'd be tempted to offer a tie-breaker based on total contributions to the castle, with earliest contribution being an additional tie-breaker, since building the castle is the theoretical purpose of the game. Alhambra and Coloretto were another few games that I found that had no tie breakers.

In looking through games, they generally did better than I expected ... other than those which didn't include a tie-breaker at all.
Author: "Shannon Appelcline" Tags: "shannon_a"
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