Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Boardgame Quality Metrics

People try to measure how good a boardgame is in many ways, such as
ratings and counting number of times played. Total number of plays is
probably one of the most common. As a measure of how "good" a game
is, it's not bad, but it doesn't take into account length of the game
or replayability over time. That is, a 15 minute game that's played 6
times is probably not "better" than a 3 hour game that's played 3
times. On the other hand, using total time playing has problems on
the low end: A 15 minute game played 10 times is probably "better"
than a two hour game played twice. Further, a game played every other
week for a year is probably "better" than one played every day for a
month and then never again.

Various other metrics have been suggested, including Joe Huber's
"happiness" metric which works well, but requires a lot of
bookkeeping. So, I've been trying to identify a metric of game
"quality" that meets the following criteria:

  • Doesn't bias unduly for or against long or short games
  • Doesn't require ratings
  • Doesn't require overly detailed records
  • Doesn't overly credit "fad" games that get played a lot for a
    little while
    and then never again
  • Does bias towards "classics", though not overwhelmingly
  • Measures "replayability" in some form
  • Is easily understood and doesn't require deep understanding of
  • Is easily calculated
  • Can be readily used on a per year basis or on a "all-time" basis

So, after careful consideration and analysis, I've come up with a
metric that I like and thought I would share it and suggest it to all
:-) I've actually suggested this metric before, off-handedly but I
like it even more now that I've looked at the actual statistics for my
own games.

The metric is the "month metric", in which a game receives 1 point for
every unique month in which it is played. For example, I played
Medici in both February and March of this year, so for the year it
scores a "2", but it also was played in 5 different months over
2000-2001, so it's total score is a "7".

For my own games, only a dozen games have an all-time score above 10
and there's a nice distribution below that. For the year, naturally a
"12" is the highest possible score, though I had no game above 7, but
a solid group (9 games) at 6 or above. The other nice thing about
this metric is that I find it is (probably unsurprisingly) heavily
correlated with all of the other metrics discussed (# plays, total
time playing, "happiness").

Monday, December 2, 2002

Advocacy of Board Games

Over the past few years, I've seen several discussions about board
game advocacy. In the past, I've had the opinion that board game
advocacy wasn't actually a good thing. I've relatively recently (the
past 6 months) changed my mind.

My original thinking was as follows: "advocacy", or trying to spread
the word about board games is motivated by several desires, one of
which was to increase the number of board gamers out there.
Unfortunately, more people isn't always a good thing. More people
means a bigger market, and means more money is involved, and money can
be a bad influence as well as a good influence. Take the Internet,
for example. Back in the "old days", the net had a nice small
"community" feel. People shared information, were self-policing, and
were usually fairly "neighborly". In contrast, the net today involves
a lot of outside policing, discouraging of sharing information, and is
often an unfriendly place. However, in return we've gotten a great
deal. There are a great many exciting communities, a wealth of
content, and long term commercial viability, even if many .com's blow
up along the way. I didn't see the same benefits for growth of the
board game community. As it is, I have more than enough games to
play, more than enough people to play them with, and noone complains
if people share rules, post them online, or otherwise do things that
a "big business" involvment might prevent. However, I've come to the
conclusion that the benefits of growth outweigh the costs, especially
if as a community, we're careful.

Specifically, the reasons I see for advocating board games are many

"Lost Spielfrieks"

There's a lot of people out there who don't know these games of
ours exist, and when they discover them, they are thrilled and excited
and it brings a great deal of happiness to them. Advocacy helps make
people aware of these games who may be very interested but aren't
otherwise aware of them.

Casual Gamers

I used to be more skeptical on this point, but I now believe there
are a lot of people out there who may never become heavy gamers but
genuinely enjoy these games of ours occasionally. This may be as
often as monthly or as infrequently as a couple of times a year, but
they're out there. I'm often reluctant to push my hobby on my friends
or family, but often find that I don't need to push; they pull. After
a surprising interest last year, I brought several games to
Thanksgiving this year, my cousins, uncles, aunts and parents all
enjoyed the games (Zirkus Flohcati, Puerto Rico, TransAmerica were all
big hits). Sharing games with casual gamers is a good thing.

Social Good

This is the arrogant reason where I say "my hobby makes the
world a better place", and maybe I'm just deluded, but seeing articles
that show that href=http://www.alzheimersupport.com/library/showarticle.cfm/ID/1650/e/1/T/Alzheimers/>playing
games helps prevent Alzheimers or Frank Hamrick's href=http://groups.yahoo.com/group/spielfrieks/message/22215>story
about playing games at the Ronald McDonald House really make me
believe that games are a good thing. This is in no way to imply that
any other particular hobbies aren't good for society, it's just
that I think board games are a good one.

Market Size

While I have some concern that a too large market has the
potential to make the board gaming industry too much about money,
having it be large enough to support the game designers and companies
is obviously important too. Many many games are produced out of love
of games rather than love of money, but if "board games" as a product
are a complete failure, the quality (at least of production) and
availability will drop. I don't want to see the board game industry
ever become as big business focuesed as certain other entertainment
industries (music, movies, or even mass market toys), but I don't
think there's much risk of that. A moderate increase (say, a factor
of 2-5 in the US) would do a lot to improve the success of companies
like Alea (part of Ravensburger) and Rio Grande.

Given this thinking I've been pleased to see these two recent
"mainstream press" articles
on these games of ours, one in href=http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/021209/misc/9diversions.htm>US
News and another in href=http://www.fool.com/news/foth/2002/foth021125.htm>The Motley Fool.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Extended Essen Thoughts/Photos, Sackson Auction list

I've put up my Essen 2002 photos. I've
also played several games of Trias, ad acta, ZooSim, and Fische
Fluppen Frikadellen, and all have held up well. The only one I'm
beginning to have some questions about is "ZooSim", which seems to
have a bit of a rich-get-richer problem. Next time I play I think
I'll play with a fixed income variant. That is, everyone gets 3
income at the end of each round.

I've cataloged my acquisitions from last week's Sackson auction. I
came home with:

ASAP, Ad Liners, Avante, Bazaar, Buried Treasure, Casablanca, Cloak &
Dagger, Corporate Pursuit, Das Erbe des Maloney, Das Super-Blatt,
Dragonriders of Pern, Eddie's Eleven, Focus, Foil, Fuedal, fun-et-iks,
Gold Connection, Gold am Yukon, High Hand, Jumpin, Lone Wolf and Cub
Game, Mad Marbles, MageStones, Maze, Mississippi, Mr. President, New
World, Oil Tycoon, Orbit War, Perfect Wedding, Phlounder, Ploy,
Quinto, Robin Hood, Round Four, Scoop, Stocks & Bonds, Stop Thief,
Swoggle, Tribond, True Colors, Twister, Twixt, Ultimate Stratego,
Whosit?, and Xanth.

In particular, I have more than one of Buried Treasure, Gold
Connection, Phlounder, and Mr. President and would be open to trades
or purchases.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Sackson Auction

The first part of the auction was a series of "box lots", where 1 to 3 boxes
full of games were auctioned at once. They went for prices ranging from $15 to
over $300, typically $50 or so per box. There were about 350 boxes done this
way. They included miscellaneous junk, prototypes, sid's notes, and valuable
stuff like Eon CE expansions. Many spielfrieks won lots.

After a short break, they started the individual game auctions. Most of this is
older stuff and often went for quite a bit individually. A 1941 Wizard of Oz
board, with no box, pieces or rules went for $190. Few spielfrieks I noticed
bid on these.

Finally, part way through the individual games, they did the shelf lots, where
the most spielfieky style games were. Many 3M games, as well as a lot of
German games went in these lots. Among other things, I got myself an instant 3M
bookshelf collection.
The SPI games brought some of the higher prices of the event.

The whole auction wrapped up around 7, and a small amount of trading amongst
buyers occured. Overall, a very nice event.

An important note was that despite selling about 10,000 games, this was only a
little more than half of the collection. The rest will be auctioned in the

Tuesday, October 22, 2002


I played Cannes, the new Splotter release. It's been characterized as
"Roads and Boats"-lite, and while it certainly shares several
qualities with R&B, it stands nicely on its own without supplanting
R&B or feeling less interesting than R&B.

The theme is about making movies, which require a variety of resources
(computers, people, and beer, which produce special effects, scripts
and stars, in various combinations) in multiple stages. There are
multiple types of movies (sci-fi movies, action movies, and the
amusingly translated "girlie movies" aka chick flicks) which require
different resources. This part of the game is interesting, but not
especially novel.

The really clever part of the game is how you access the resources and
production mechanisms. There are hexagonal tiles, which players
control the layout of, and then each player has five rods which they
use to form a "network" of connections between tiles. Only those
tiles connected to one's network are usable. This means you have to
carefully layout tiles and gradually change your network as your
resource and production needs change, all while other players are
impinging on the same space. Further, only a limited number of
resources can be retained between turns.

The play is very tense, and the timing of the endgame is interesting.
Like in Roads & Boats, the key to doing well seems to be to set up a
production "machine" as quickly as possible, and then run it longer
and better than the other players. Of course, other players may
attempt to interfere with your machine. Overall, the tension and
interaction was very nice, and the theme was engaging and fun, though
one player found the production hierarchy a little non-intuitive.

The components are also worth mentioning, as they are somewhat nicer
than many Splotter games in the past. They aren't quite up to the
major German publishing standards, but they are very nice all the
same, particularly more so than Roads & Boats.

I look forward to playing this one more, and if this sort of
production game is interesting to you, I highly recommend it. The
network mechanism is very new feeling, so I can't quite compare it to
anything else I've played, which alone makes this game worth trying.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Just back from Essen, first comments

Well, I just got back from Essen, and thought I'd post some quick
comments. This is my second time to Essen, and you can href=http://www.mkgray.com:8000/essen/>read about my trip in 2000, if you want. This year,
I was only there for the end of Thursday and all of Friday and
Saturday. The "buzz" of the fair was Friedman Friese's new game
"Fische Fluppen Frikadellen", in which players can switch between
tables and multiple copies of the game. I didn't get a chance to play
this, but it seemed very well received.

I'll discuss other games below, but another nice thing about Essen
this year was I knew far more people there. It was great to see Scott
Alden, Greg Schloesser, James Miller, Mik Svellov, and many others.


This game of plate tectonics from Gecko Games was featured in the Doris
& Frank booth, and though the art was by Doris, the game was not by
Frank, but Ralf Lehmkuhl. I was very impressed with this game, and it
seems to have a variety of interesting options and the continental
drift mechanics are very nice. I'll try to write more later, but the
basic idea is one is competing for control over the new continents
that are being formed. On each players turn, they have some control
over the drift, and then action points to do things such as force more
drift, reproduce, move, and the like. Very nice. The only negative
comments I heard was that it was a bit dry, but I didn't find it so,
and unless players are very ponderous, it moved along at a good pace.

color=f8f0ff>ad acta

This small production game has a theme that seems hard to make
interesting: paper pushing. But, the game is quite fun, and lends
itself well to its theme. Each player runs an office, and documents
get pushed around and processed by various offices before being filed.
Precise timing of this processing is key to the game, as different
documents score different points depending on when the are filed. The
game is all about queue management, as documents come in to offices on
a last in first out basis. A few special action cards mix things up
nicely. Some found parts of a little too chaotic and hard to track,
and I see where he's coming from, but I very much enjoyed and
recommend the game.


This is a beautifully produced new game from Cwali, where players
produce competing zoos, attempting to attract the most visitors. This
game has a few nice mechanics that interlock nicely. Players
participate in a series of blind auctions for tiles which are layed in
a domino-like fashion, and compete for dominance in several categories
(types of animals and trees) as well as receiving bonuses for creating
path loops. I like auction games, so that part appealed to me, but I
found the other aspects very engaging as well. The art is also very
nice, though some speculated that people might assume it was a
children's game because of it. In any case, highly recommended.

color=f8f0ff>Canal Grande, FFF, Cannes, Age of Steam

These 4 also got a lot of good buzz (highly rated in the Fairplay
booth, and spoken of highly by those who'd played), but I didn't get a
chance to play them. I picked them all up except for Age of Steam.
I'll comment more once I play them.


Many people commented to Friedemann Friese that Frisch Fisch should be
republished. He commented on a certain irony in this because
apparently it took several years to sell out, and only once it had
completely sold out did an upsurge of interest start. The possibility
of another publisher doing an edition of Frisch Fisch seemed to be in
mind, but nothing specific, of course.

I also heard some other folks mumbling about the possibility of
Friedeman doing a new game for Alea. Would the box be green?

Nothing in the way of details, but a new Reiner Knizia "big" game from
Hans im Gluck is supposedly going to be out at Nurnberg, and
presumably this is the Egyptian game Chris Lawson mentioned last

I'll post more later, with photos...

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Going to Essen

Despite having lots of interesting topics to write on, I haven't had
the time to write here lately. Hopefully, I'll get time to write
about Lord of the Rings: Sauron, Roads & Boats, and some Lord of the
Rings: The Confrontation strategy.

All this will probably have to wait though, since I'm off to Essen,
and presumably that will be the most interesting thing to write about
for a little while. I hope to have some stuff up here early next

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

500 games

This past weekend, I hit the 500 mark for games played this year.
There was some discussion of people's current games for the year on href=http://groups.yahoo.com/group/spielfrieks/>spielfrieks, and I
thought I'd include my post here.

Games played: 502
Different Games Played: 216
New to me games: 120
Number of people played with: 187

While there are some games I enjoy a great deal, what I really enjoy
is variety. Despite this, I've already hit 10+ and 5+ for many games
this year, though a great many games that have been played once (131)
or twice (42).

The games marked with *'s are the "few or no plays before this year"

My 10+ list so far: Geister*, SpinBall, TransAmerica*,
Electronic Catchphrase, Crokinole, Call my Bluff.

My 5+ list so far: Knockabout, For Sale, Hamster Rolle*, Industrial
Waste*, Puerto Rico*, 6 nimmt!, Pente, Zirkus Flohcati, Alles im
Hick Hack in Gacklewack, LOTR:TC*, Battle Line, Mause Rallye*,

But, I've decided I personally like Joe Huber's "happiness" number
better than just the straight number of plays. By that metric my top
games for the year:

  1. Puerto Rico (8 plays)
  2. TransAmerica (17 plays)
  3. SpinBall (24 plays)
  4. Lord of the Rings (4 plays)
  5. Industrial Waste (8 plays)
  6. 6 nimmt! (7 plays)
  7. Crokinole (15 plays)
  8. Traders of Genoa (2 plays)
  9. Electronic Catchprase (16 plays)
  10. Geister (31 plays)

  11. Battle Line (5 plays)
  12. Call my Bluff (10 plays)
  13. LOTR:TC (6 plays)
  14. Pente (7 plays)
  15. Code 777 (3 plays)
  16. Pueblo (5 plays)
  17. Euphrat & Tigris (2 plays)
  18. Medina (2 plays)
  19. Haste Worte? (3 plays)
  20. Hamster Rolle (8 plays)

where I expect Lord of the Rings will go up once I get the Sauron
expansion, I expect LOTR:TC will hit 10 plays, and I hope to play a
little more E&T. Puerto Rico will probably remain at the top.

This year, I've been good at TransAmerica, For Sale, and Puerto Rico,
while I've been less skilled at Alles im Eimer, Hick Hack in
Gacklewack and Zirkus Flohcati.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002


I decided to pick up the new game "Squint" from Out of the Box this
past weekend, and got to play a few games. I was reasonably pleased.
The very basic idea is Pictionary-like with cards with various
squiggles, circles and lines which you have to use to "draw"
with. There are three difficulty levels and you determine each time
which to use by a die roll. After a couple of games this way, we
found the hardest ones were the most enjoyable, so we played with just
those, and that works very well. Next time, I may use the variation
of allowing the person who is "drawing" to do any or all of the words
on the card. That way, they can go conservative and do the easier one
for fewer points or the harder one, or try to get multiple one's

Overall, as a party game, very solid.

Thursday, September 5, 2002

ABCNews article

ABC News
has a story on obsessive hobbyists, and includes a bit on the
associate dean of the Rice school of engineering, Tony Elam, who is an avid
(>4000 games) board game collector. He likes Puerto Rico.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

I was recently in St. Louis, and decided to stop by a local game
store, "The Fantasy Shop", which I had seen mentioned on r.g.b. It
turned out to be heavily weighted towards comics and RPGs, but with a
handful of German-style games. It also turned out that luck was with
us and the store was having a "Moonlight Madness" sale that night from
11pm-1am and everything was 20% off. One of the things I decided to
pick up was the new Knizia Lord of the Rings game for two players.

I've played it a few times now and am very pleased with it. In basic
mechanics, it is not unlike Stratego with the addition of special
powers and cards which change the effectiveness of some of the units.
There are many special powers to keep track of, but after an initial
play the powers are reasonably easy to keep track of.

Another key feature of the game is that with a few exceptions, pieces
only ever move forward, which in addition to pushing the game to
conclusion and avoiding stalemates, introduces some very interesting
tactical choices. Often, a players best move would be to do nothing
or move a piece backward.

The result is a game with a opportunity for careful strategizing,
bluffing, and long term planning. It further has the quality that a
single fatal error can easily cost you the game, but those errors are
easy to avoid, in your next game, giving a steady improvement in one's
skill. Further, it appears that doing well at the game relies heavily
upon recognizing when your opponent has made an error (not always
obvious) and successfully capitalizing on it (not always easy).

It is possible that with enough plays it will reduce to a simple
bluffing and luck game, but I expect it will hold up for quite some
time to some varied strategies. With novices, I think the light
player has a bit of an advantage, but am not sure that will be
sustainable with experienced players.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Reviews and Descriptions of Play

I don't know why, but the practice of giveng a description of play
followed by a often extremely brief evaluation and calling that a
"game review" has been bugging me lately. I've never been especially
fond of this approach, but for some reason it's been something I've
noticed a lot lately. If I'm going to like a game because of its
mechanics, I will be able to tell that from a brief description just
as well as from an in depth description. Knowing that there are
auctions for priveleges is sufficient. Knowing there are three rounds
of 6 auctions in which a variable number of priveleges which each
player can win at most 5 of is excessive and often distracting, until
I'm actually going to play a game.

Similarly, I'm more interested in people's opinions of a game, why
they liked and why they didn't, and I don't think every detail of play
is necassary to understand that. Sure, I need to know that there's
simultaneous actions to understand that a reviewer thinks that "the
simultaneous action selection seems to make the game very random", or
something, but a one or two paragraph description is sufficient,
rather than a regurgitation of the rules. Further, I'd much rather
have opinions on how the play feels and how the various rules combine
than know what they specifically are.

For example, in Ra, the fact that different auctions are not just
worth different amounts to different people (as in most auction
games), but also may effectively cost dramatically different amounts
for different people is an important part of why I like the game. The
fact that there are 3 rounds and monuments aren't scored until the end
and some tiles go back at the end of each round doesn't matter in my
evaluation of the game.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Slow Summer

Well, it's been a slow summer. In July and August, so far, I've
played 54 games, less than half the usual rate, so as a result, I've
had less to say here. Even more so, I've played very few new (to me)
games this summer. A lot of TransAmerica, SpinBall, Puerto Rico, 6
nimmt! and a variety of other new-ish and older favorites, but not a
lot new. Just recently I picked up Lord of the Rings: The
and like it, and I'll put some comments here after
I play it a couple more times.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Great Games, Hot Games, and Replayability

Often, when I introduce new players to these games, I'm asked "Which
is your favorite?" or something equivalent. Usually, I don't have too
much trouble identifying a handful of "favorites", but it raises a
question of how to rank games. One obvious issue is how to compare
games of dramatically differing lengths. An outstanding 10 minute
game is going to be a very different experience than an outstanding 2
hour game, which is a different experience from playing the
outstanding 10 minute game 12 times in a row. What might make some
reasonable metrics?

Ratings. One way to do it would just be to rate games, say
from 1-10 or from 1 to 4 stars. The problem with this is it tends to
be fairly variable even for one individual. That is, sometimes a game
may be an 8 and other days it might be a 6. Further, it doesn't
really catch the difference between games of different lengths. You
could try to incorporate length in somehow, but that doesn't
distinguish between the short game that you want to play over and over
and the short game that you enjoy a great deal, but only once in a

Number of Plays. I've got my games
that get played a lot
page. This obviously works fairly well, but
has a natural bias towards shorter games. I would guess that most of
the truly great games (to me) will make this list someday, but for
some of the longer games, it will take a while. Further, a number of
great but not-quite-as-great games make this list because they are so

Total time playing. This seems like a pretty good measure, but
it has bias against the short games. If I make the decision to play a
game 15 times, that implies it is pretty good. Two plays of a two hour
game doesn't to me imply it is better than the 10-minute game I play
15 times.

Replayability. This is a metric which I define as "the number
of 1 month periods in which the game has been played". This means a
game which gets played 7 times all at once and is never played again
gets a "1". On the other hand, a game that gets 2 plays and then is
played again once a month for the next 5 months gets a "6". This
works a little better than number of plays, but also tends to favor
short games.

Happiness. Joe Huber suggested this formula: take a rating of
a game, subtract a baseline, and multiply it times the total time
spent playing a game. It avoids the bias against long games by
including length in the calculation, and mitigates the bias against
short games by introducing the rating. Overall, this is probably the
"ranking system" I'm most fond of. So, without further ado:

Top 20 Games of All Time. RoboRally, Battle Line, Lord of the
Rings, Settlers of Catan, Vinci, Traumfabrik, 6 nimmt!, Schnappchen
Jagd, Bluff, Euphrat & Tigris, Pente, Ra, Princes of Florence, Puerto
Rico, Can't Stop, Medici, Bohnanza, Industrial Waste, Ricochet Robot,

The list doesn't change all that frequently, but it certainly does a
little bit.

Of course, then there's the notion of "what's hot now", and a little
tweak to the happiness formula to incorporate "newness" and number of
recent plays. This year's "hot" games for me have been: Puerto Rico,
SpinBall, Industrial Waste, TransAmerica, Crokinole, Lord of the
Rings, Alles im Eimer, Pueblo, Haste Worte? and Hamster Rolle.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Playing Games Wrong

Reading the header, you might assume I mean playing games with the
wrong rules. I don't mean that at all. I've observed occasionally
that people (including myself) are just playing a game wrong. All the
rules are right, but something else is wrong. Sometimes it is a
matter of thinking too much or thinking too little. Other times, a
particular strategy is ignored. Others, the game is treated too
seriously, or too lightly.

Obviously, the best way to avoid this is to play with others who have
"played right" before, but this isn't always possible. It struck me
as obvious that Apples to Apples should never be treated as a serious
strategy game, but I've seen people play it that way. Unsurprisingly
it isn't fun. In a similar vein, Space Beans is best played fast.
Play slowly and it's not so great. Princes of Florence, played with
players who aren't aware of the relative value of jesters and
landscapes can create a very "wrong" game.

In others "wrong" is a matter of perspective. There are two styles
I've observed to playing Sticheln: "nasty" and "selfish". If everyone
plays with one style, it works great. If some people play "nasty" and
others "selfish", usually one of the "selfish" players wins, and the
others lose, and the "nasty" player gets to play kingmaker. Modern
Art is often the same way. I've played both "high" and "low" games of
Modern Art, where the prices tend in the eponymous direction. If you
get a mix of "high" and "low" players, the game can be very
unsatisfying. Can't Stop benefits a lot from trash talk, but one
player trash talking and everyone else not is just weird.

Some "wrong" ways of playing aren't so wrong, and some of them can be
fixed with minor mechanical changes. Vinci is one of my favorite
examples here. Even played "wrong" this is a great game, but the
"wrong" way to play (in my opinion) usually ends up with players
bogging down in the last round or two trying to squeeze every last
point of delta they can out of their position relative to the leaders.
Played in a much more free-wheeling manner, this game is even more
fun. A simple rules change of playing with hidden scoring
dramatically changes the style of play in these final rounds, and in
my opinon, for the better.

There's a few games that I think I must be playing "wrong".
Katzenjammer Blues, for example, I'm missing all the fun and most of
the game, and I usually like Knizia games. What's the story here?
I guess session reports help too. Maybe I'll try Katzenjammer Blues
again some day, but until then I'll keep playing with others to avoid
playing "wrong".

Friday, May 24, 2002

Missing Game Themes

German games are often noted for their often rich themes, though
frequently irrelevant to gameplay, as shown through artwork and
nominal topic and goal of the game. In many games, the theme actually
acts as a substantial mnemonic aid for the rules. Carcassone could be
abstract shapes and lines with markers, but "roads", "castles" and
"farms" are more evocative.

Some themes are more popular than others, but there is a huge variety.
Themes range from the straightforward, such as world conquest (Vinci),
or business (Industrial Waste), or exploration (Lost Cities), all the
way to the obscure and sometimes bizarre, such as bean farming
(Bohnanza), pig races (Galloping Pigs), and construction as restricted
by toilets (Drunter & Druber).

Thinking about these themes, it occured to me to consider themes of
non- board games, and I thought about role playing games. There are
fantasy RPGs (D&D, etc.), and there are fantasy board games
(Elfenland, Alladin's Dragons, Das Amulett, Maginor). There are
espionage RPGs (Top Secret, etc.) and there are espionage board games
(Heimlich & Co., Inkognito, etc.). There are western RPGs (Boot Hill,
etc.) and there are western board games (Wyatt Earp, Way out West,
etc.) There are science fiction RPGs (Traveller, etc.) and there are
science fiction board games (Starship Catan, RoboRally, etc.). There
are superhero RPGs (Champions, etc.) and, oh, wait, there aren't any
superhero board games.

I'm not sure why this is, but I have some theories, none of which
satisfy me. Maybe "superheros" are too childish as a theme for
german-style games, but, there aren't any children's superhero board
games I'm aware of either. Maybe superheros are just not a popular
notion in Germany, which clearly drives a lot of the board game
market, but then why would part of the fall Essen Spiel fair include a
comic book convention? Maybe noone has thought of it yet, but that
doesn't seem likely. Superheros give a convenient excuse for "special
powers", in the same way that magic is used in a great many games.
The theme is vivid and could readily be non-violent (saving people,
apprehending criminals, etc.). I really want to see "Hedgehogman" by
Doris & Frank (or, would that be "Igelmensch"?)

For that matter, there are many themes that seem sparse, such as
education, medicine/health, Africa, and time travel (though there are
a few in each category) while other categories which don't seem to me
likely to be that much more common, are, such as the Middle East,
gardening, subway building, and evolution.

At least there's only one game about animals kicking over piles of

Monday, May 20, 2002

Kniffel Duell and Vinci

I played Kniffel Duell for the second time this evening, and have to
say for a game that is essentially a Yahtzee tug-o-war, it's rather
fun. I've always been fond of dice games, but not especially Yahtzee
because of the lack of player interaction. Kniffel Duell solves this
nicely by making the game a tug-o-war. It makes good two player

I've played Vinci seven times now, and played this evening with only
three players. First of all, I had forgotten how reasonably quick a
game it is with three player (probably about an hour). Second, I
don't think I will ever play again with public scoring. Hidden
scoring not only avoids the analysis paralysis that occurs in the end
game, it leaves a little bit of mystery and prevents players from
spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to hit the leader, and
hence speeds the game along. This remains in my top ten games,
overall. For the curious, the full top 10 (strategy games, excluding
dexterity games, party games, and word games) is: RoboRally, Battle
Line, Settlers of Catan, Lord of the Rings, Vinci, Traumfabrik, 6
nimmt!, Schnappchen Jagd, Bluff, Euphrat & Tigris.

Sunday, May 12, 2002


If you haven't tried out href="http://www.brettspielwelt.de/gate/jsp/base/"> BrettSpielWelt
yet, you should. It's a nicely done (if confusing at times) system
for playing a wide variety of games on line. It's not nearly as much
fun as playing in person, but it's an alternative if circumstances
demand. Mark Johnson has created a very nice href="http://members.tripod.com/MarkEJohnson00/bsw.htm"> Quick &
Dirty Guide which helps deal with some of the German for
non-German speakers. My handle is mkgray and if I'm on, feel free to
send me a message.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Business Games

I used to think I didn't like business games. I'm not sure where I
got that idea, but I was pretty sure they weren't my thing. One
possible reason is that when I was first introduced to Acquire I was
told it was a business game, and while I enjoy Acquire a great deal,
it isn't as much my kind of game as many others. I don't actually
think Acquire is a business game. Acquire is a stock game, and a cash
management game, but it's not really what I'm calling a business game.

So, since not everyone always agrees exactly what a
"<fill-in-the-blank> game" is, I'll define "business
game" for how I mean it. A business game is a game that at some level
attempts to simulate the operation of a business which produces some
sort of goods and sells them on a market. This operation may be at a
very low level (individual workers, products, etc.) or at a very high
level (product categories, growth rate, etc.). The level of
simulation may be anything from detailed accounting down to individual
units, or some high level general business strategy. The production
of goods may be of only one type (typical) or of a few different
varieties. The market may range from a mathematically simulated
market to draw of random "market" cards or the like.

Some business games I've either played a lot recently or played for
the first time recently include Industrial Waste, Funkenschlag, and
Schocko & Co. The last one in particular is prototypical of what many
people dislike about business games, but yet I like it a great deal.
Most business games are perhaps somewhat more repetetive than other
German games. Markets and production details and prices fluctuate,
but in many ways the conditions remain similar throughout the game.
Further, there is often a lot of simultaneous action, and sometimes a
reduced perception of player interaction. In Schocko & Co., pretty
much all actions are in parallel for all players, and the players
interactions is through a shared set of consumers and through playing
of action cards on one's opponents.

These properties are clearly not true in all business games. Vino,
another business game I particularly like does not remain the same as
the game progresses. The limited number of resources (vinyards) become
scarcer and more expensive until the end of the game, changing the
dynamic greatly as the game progresses. Others, like Funkenschlag,
have a slightly more complex marketplace that evolves over time, and
in an occasionally predictable way, allowing for some interesting
planning options. Further, a game like Merchant of Venus completely
violates the "simultaneous actions" principle, and players take turns
(which is, in my opinion, the game's biggest flaw). However, if
played with the alternate setup variant, it has one of the most
interesting "market simulations" in any of these games.

Some games that have many properties of a business game I wouldn't
qualify. Many of these I would categorize as stock games (Acquire,
Palmyra, etc.), while others lack the feature of any representation of
the business' operations. Samarkand is a fun set collection game, but
despite many parameters in common, it's not a business game.
Showmanager/Atlantic Star is in the same camp. It's got a lot of the
attributes: a shared market for resources (actors), a relatively
uniform environment, and a shared market for product (shows), but
nothing about the operations of the business.

Obviously, I like a lot of different kinds of games, but it is very
intriguing to me whenever I identify a common feature that makes me
like a game that isn't trivially obvious. I like certain themes,
that's easy. I like auction mechanics, and I was quick to identify
that. However, it's taken me a long time to realize that I really
like business games (operations, production, input and output

Industrial Waste, while on the lighter side as business games go, is
one of my recent favorites. Vino, I've been fond of for a long time.
Funkenschlag and Schocko & Co. both seem very good, if a bit on the
long side, and I'll see if they stand the test of time.

Saturday, May 4, 2002

A different Game-a-day (reprise) and Careers

A couple months ago, I commented that
I usually hit the point where I've played one unique game per day for
the year around this time. That is, today is the 124th day of the
year. This year, I've played a lot of different games. As of today,
I've played 160 different games, which means even if I don't play any
new games for the next month, I'm set into the beginning of June.
That's a lot of different games. I'm very glad to have the variety

I played Careers, the old American game, this evening, and it was
rather fun. We played an old 1955 copy which has various anachronisms
like "Be the first human on the moon!" and some politically incorrect
bits like having a "gorgeous secretary" give you points. Overall, a
very cute game though with several nice mechanims (you secretly set
your own goals, combinations of card play and dice movement, and a few
other bits). A lot of "roll the die and move", but still amusing.

Sunday, April 28, 2002

Gathering Photos

I just posted
50+ photos
from the thirteenth Gathering of Friends.

Friday, April 26, 2002

Gathering Report, part IV

While I may write more later on the Gathering, I wanted to wrap up
here with comments on other new games, "old" games, the prize table,
and non-gaming stuff at the Gathering.

color=f8f0ff>Goldland, Cairo,

None of these really impressed me a lot, but they weren't bad.
Goldland in particular a lot of people liked, though it wasn't to my
taste. I like the idea of exploration games, and many of the
mechanics seemed appealing, but the whole thing just didn't gel for
me. I'll give it another play sometime, but it's not high on my list.

Cairo I really wanted to like. It's a flicking influence game. Some
combination of lack of skill and monotonous play really left me
unimpressed though. Lumberjack, I also wanted to like, but it ended
up feeling rather dry. Oh well.

The only game I played which I'd actively warn people away from is "A
Dog's Life". Stay away from this one. I have so many other ways I'd
rather spend my time.

color=f8f0ff>Great New-to-me Games

I played a lot of games that I'd never played before but have been out
for a while. In the truly "great" category were Code 777 and Frisch
Fisch. I also substantially enjoyed Haste Worte? (not entirely new to
me), M, Elchfest, Entdecker, Guesstures, Pig Pong, and Tabula Rasa.

I was expecting to like Code 777, since I am in general a big fan of
deduction games, and this has a reputation for being one of the best.
I was not disappointed. This game is much like "What's That on My
Head?", but with colors and a different distribution of numbers. The
result is outstanding.

Frisch Fisch, I had heard nothing about, but was described as a "brain
burner", which I often find a positive attribute in games. This
Friedemann Friesse game has some very nice mechanics. Simple tile
laying impacts where roads will be built according to a simple set of
rules (all roads must be contiguous and all buildings must be adjacent
to at least one road). Placing a building in one place may cause
several road tiles to get placed elsewhere. The somewhat
collaborative puzzle solving of everyone trying to determine if any
new road segments are built as the result of a person's play was very

Sadly, both of these games (Code 777 and Frisch Fisch) are out of
print and hard to find. If anyone knows where I can get one for a
reasonable price, please
let me know.

I don't have a lot to say about the other games, but I feel like
saying something, so here's a sentance or two on each. "Haste Worte?"
is one of the best word games I've played in a while, but you need to
make your own cards. M is a great absract tile laying game I wish I
had discovered earlier. Elchfest is surprisingly fun. Guesstures is
not that novel of an idea (speed charades), but the timer device is
awesome! Pig Pong is exhausting. Tabula Rasa was a lot of fun and
very interesting, despite me being unimpressed after reading the

color=f8f0ff>Prize Table

I got very lucky with the prize table. The basic idea of the
Gathering Prize Table is that all attendees bring at least one (good)
game for the prize table, many bring more, or bring some "ok" games in
addition to one or more good ones. On the final Saturday, prizes are
given out. First, winners of tournaments from the previous year which
occured after the prize table ceremony, followed by tournaments
winners from this year, followed by randomly selected people. Then,
the process repeats, more or less until all the prizes are gone.

I didn't compete in any of the game tournaments this year and my team
didn't win the Treasure Hunt (which was a lot of fun, see below).
This year Alan decided to have a "target tournament", however. The
idea of this tournament is that some some number of people are
"targets". They keep track of all the people they play with. The
winner of the target tournament is the person who plays with the most
targets. I came in as first runner-up in the target tournament (23
out of 28 targets), so I got an early pick off the prizetable, for
which I took Funkenschlag, since I had heard such good things about it
and had just recently been very impressed by one of his previous games
(Frisch Fisch).

My wife was called randomly very early and took Members Only. On my
second pick I got Schocko & Co. In later picks I got a handful of
other games. In the end, I got 3 out of my top 6 picks and was very

color=f8f0ff>Non-boardgame stuff

Obviously, thoe point of the Gathering is to spend time with people
and play board games. Further, most of the "spend time with people"
is done by playing board games, however, there is some other stuff
that goes on.

In the "almost boardgames" category was the Treasure Hunt. This is a
puzzle hunt style event usually run by Aaron Weissblum, run this year
by he and Brian Hanechak. The hunt was a blast. Basically, there
were four puzzles to solve, but you had no clues to the puzzles. The
puzzles could be bought with "game bucks", which could be obtained by
solving other puzzles or by playing game shows. Overall, a very fun

Other folks went off to an amusement park for a day, and there's also
the photo safari, in which teams take a variety of amusing photos in
an attempt to get the most points. I think some people even went and
played golf.

The other regular activity of the event was eating out. A lot of
people got groceries and occasionally ate at the hotel or in their
rooms, but sometimes you need to get out. There's a strip mall
cluster in Columbus with perhaps as many as two dozen restaurants,
ranging from reasonably nice to very fancy. Ruth's Chris Steakhoue
was yummy, but given the price I've certainly had better steak. The
surprise hit to me was "Red Robin" a very kid friendly burger joint
that was very good and reasonably priced. It's a shame we don't have
these out here.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Gathering Report, part III

Today I'm going to write about the good "new" games I played. None of
these were amazing, but were quite good and I look forward to playing
them more. Those games are: Alles im Eimer, How Ruck!, Clash of the
Gladiators, Dschunke, Die Sieben Weisen, Maginor and Zahltag.

color=f8f0ff>Alles im Eimer

This is the closest of this set to making the "great" list. It's by
Steffan Dorra, has an unique theme and is rather amusing. The basic
idea is each player has a pyramid of buckets and is trying to knock
down their opponents pyramids. This is done by playing colored cards,
which the next player must play higher than, followed by the next
player, until someone cannot play higher, at which point they lose a
bucket of the appropriate color.

A lot of different opinions on the strategy of building the initial
pyramids existed as well as differing approaches on how to attack
one's neighbors. No matter how many cards are played (1-3), you only
draw one more, so an all out assault costs you two cards.

The game is fun, though with 6 it doesn't have much control, but still
works well. Jay suggested the variant of allowing players to attack
left or right, and I look forward to trying that.

color=f8f0ff>How Ruck!

This is a cute tug of war game by Richard Borg. The game is quick and
has some nice elements, but it has a very unusual property which was
reported by several people; when you win, you feel like it was because
of good play, but when you lose, it seems as though it was completely
out of your control. As a result, I'm not sure there's a lot of real
control here. It's enough fun in any case to continue playing.

color=f8f0ff>Clash of the Gladiators

As many have mentioned already, this is a dice-fest. It's a really
fun dice-fest, but it's definitely not a lot of deep strategy. The
features that set this apart as an especially fun dice fest are the
customized teams and the animals.

The customized teams give you the ability to try out different styles
of carnage ranging from the full out attack to the net throwing
rerollers. Further, the game is such a dice-fest that no strategy has
a conspicuous advantage.

The animals are a nice touch as well. Risky to attack, but worth
extra points, and they provide an enjoyable and fun role for
eliminated players that speeds the game toward the end especially once
more than one player has been eliminated. Be the bear.


I played this one twice, once with some rules missing, and once
without. With the wrong rules, this game is pretty dull. I'm glad I
played it with the right rules. It's not amazing, and it's not
exciting, but it has some interesting decisions and some nice
mechanics. I'm not sure the whole is much greater than the sum of the
parts, but the parts add up reasonably nicely.

color=f8f0ff>Die Sieben Weisen

I only played one aborted game of this, but it was rather enjoyable.
This game has a nice feature that I haven't really seen elsewhere,
which is freeform negotiated partnerships. Unlike something like Mu,
in which partnerships are chosen in a structured way, here it is
entirely up to the players to decide the partnerships.

The gameplay itself is similar to the Attacke/Ivanhoe/Taj Mahal
mechanic where the last to quit a fight wins, but all contributors
lose their committed cards. The injection of some powerful magic
cards mixes things up nicely. I'll pick it up when it comes out in


This much maligned remake of Knizia's Vegas was actually fun. It's an
interesting influence game with a substantial share of luck. The
theme fits well and the components are decent. Overall, it's a game
of choosing your battles and carefully spending limited resources.
It won't get played a lot, but I'll play it again.


This was the first game I played at the Gathering. It's cute game of
hand management. Each player has a hand of various types of workers
which they can put to work on a job, if they are the lowest bidder for
that job. Nice artwork and some interesting tactics.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Gathering report, part II


The best thing about the Gathering is the people. In addition to a
great many people I've known before, I had the opportunity to meet
many who I had never met before, or had only met online. Everyone I
met was a lot of fun.

Some people I met were similar to what I expected based on meeting
them online. Greg Schloesser is friendly and outgoing, talkative and
upbeat, and overall a great guy. Others were different from what I
expected. For some reason I expected Mik Svellov to be reserved and
quiet, but he was as outgoing as Greg. I think every time I turned
around he was teaching a new group of people Goldland.

It was also great to meet many of the maintainers of other great board
game sites, including Derk from BoardGameGeek, Eric from About
Boardgames, and Mark Jackson from Game Central Station. I also played
a few games with some designers and had an interesting talk with Mike
Fitzgerald on games for the Palm handheld, as well "beaming" each
other a couple of apps.

Meeting Jay Tummelson and a number of folks from Funagain was very
interesting, because the business of board games is intriguing to me.
Jay clearly understands his business and I wish him the best continued
luck. It sounds like he will be doing a great many of the new games
played at the Gathering.

color=f8f0ff>Size of the Community

All of these discussions about the game industry led to a few
conversations about estimating the size of the "board game community".
A few relevant data points:

  • Members of the spielfrieks mailing list: 859
  • Members of the Unity Games (Boston area) mailing list: 181
  • Fraction of the US population on the Internet: 1/2
  • Games in a Rio Grande print run: href="http://www.kumquat.com/cgi-kumquat/funagain/tummelson">2000-3000
  • Attendees at Spiel show in Essen: about 150,000

These numbers, combined with various other data I've heard seems to
imply a total community size (in the USA) between 1,000 and 20,000 people,
depending on how you define "board gamer". If you include people who
only play Settlers, and only a dozen times a year, it's probably
larger. If you only include people who have collections of dozens or
hundreds of games and play dozens or hundreds per year, it's probably lower.
Personally, my estimate of gamers who play a variety of german-style
games at least once a month is probably around 10,000.

More on the Gathering and new games later...

Monday, April 22, 2002

Gathering report, part I

So, I just got back from a great 9 days of gaming at the Gathering of
Friends in Columbus, Ohio. I played a total of 91 games, 64 of which
were different, 49 of which were new to me, with a total of 105
different people. I mentioned the games that were the biggest hits in
my note from yesterday, and I'll comment on
those first.

color=f8f0ff>Puerto Rico

This highly anticipated and hyped title pretty much lived up to the
expectation. There's a ton of descriptions of play, so I'll skip
that. Overall, the game is engaging and seems to lend itself to a
wide variety of strategies and some clever tactics. There's also a
nice brinkmanship aspect where players try to put off production as
long as possible to avoid helping others. Of course, eventually
someone decides it helps them more than others.

I only got to play twice at the Gathering, in large part because there
were so many other things to play, but in each game, different
strategies succeeeded, and while some clearly work well (the Hospice
strategy and the Quarry strategy), none yet seem to be "the strategy".


This was the surprise hit of the event for me. This game plays in
under half an hour, seems likely to scale well from two players to
six, and is a lot of fun. I'm not really sure how much skill or
strategy there is, and there may not be much, but it's a blast, and
tied for most played game of the Gathering (tied with href="http://boardgamegeek.com/viewitem.php3?gameid=3078">

Sadly, Funagain was out of stock by the time I (and many others)
discovered it. I really thought I wouldn't like it since train games
don't usually do much for me, but this was not like most train games.
As in other train games, you are trying to connect up multiple cities
with train track. Unlike other train games, that's it. That's the
whole goal of the game, and to be the fastest to do it. Good quick


I love auction games, and when I was told this game was all auctions,
I was already favorably disposed to like it. Despite playing with a
substantial rule misinterpretation the first time, it was great fun.

The game is, in fact, all auctions all the time, with several nice
twists. Some auctions give you victory points, while others give you
more money for other auctions. Others give you variable points or
other special abilities. Most important, winning an auction earns you
a right to bid in that category in the next round. Those who win no
auctions in a category are locked out after the first set of
auctions. Depending on the number of players, each player is expected
to win 3 to 6 auctions in that first critical round, possibly more
than once in each of the 6 categories.

The game play is reasonably quick and seems well balanced (once we got
the rules right). A further nice twist is that each of the two boards
is double sided allowing for four different variations on the game.


This new Kramer & Kiesling game is altogether different from most
of their work I'm familiar with. It's essentially a pure abstract
game of 3-dimensional geometry. Each player is placing identical
(oddly shaped) blocks in their color and a "neutral" color, trying to
conceal their color while moving the "chieftan" around the pueblo such
that he will see your opponents blocks, causing them to score negative

This description doesn't really do it justice, but the result is a
pleasing abstract strategy and puzzle game. The game comes with
several variants, only one of which I've played so far. The game is
beatuiful and surprisingly clever for how simple it is.

color=f8f0ff>All Games Played

I'll write in a little more detail about other games soon, maybe even
this evening, but I figured I'd include my complete list of games
played at the Gathering:

Five times: TransAmerica, Knockabout

Four times: Alles im Eimer

Three times: How Ruck!, Pueblo

Two times: Celebrities, Clash of the Gladiators, Code 777, Crokinole,
Dschunke, Haste Worte?, Hive, M, Pizarro, Pounce, Puerto Rico,

Only once: Africa, Bamboleo, Basari, Beasti Boys, Cairo, Call my
Bluff, Can't Stop, Catchphrase, Cocotaki, Die Sieben Weisen, Dog's
Live, Dvonn, Elchfest, Entdecker, Euphrat & Tigris, Frisch Fish,
Gold Connection, Goldland, Guesstures, Hands Up, Hit the Deck,
Industrial Waste, Kupferkessel, Lumberjack, Maginor, Munchausen, Ohne
Furcht und Adel, Oodles, Password, Pig Pong, Piratenbilliard,
Pyramiden Der Jaguar, Quacksalbe, Ra, Really Nasty Horse Racing Game,
SpinBall, Tabula Rasa, Wanted Whosit?, Zahltag, ZappZerapp and a
number of prototypes.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Back from the Gathering

I've gone a while without an entry here, but part of that has been due
to the fact that I've been at the infamous "Gathering of Friends" for
the past week or so. I'll write more here later in detail, but here's
a few quick comments:

I played 91 games (64 different games) with 105 different people. The
people were all great and I had a wonderful time. As for the "new"


Puerto Rico, TransAmerica, Pizarro, Pueblo


Alles im Eimer, How Ruck!, Clash of the Gladiators, Dschunke, Die
Sieben Weisen, Maginor, Zahltag


Goldland (though worth trying), Cairo, Lumberjack

I'll post more detailed comments soon.

Thursday, April 4, 2002

Im Marchenwald

I have an eight-year-old cousin who I've been giving board games as
gifts to for the past several years. It started out with Sagaland
(Enchanted Forest) and has gone from there. Well, about a year ago,
after Essen, I played Im Marchenwald with her.

Im Marchenwald is a cooperative memory game, in which you are trying
to rescue a princess by collecting 7 items before the evil dwarves
take her away. I played this once with adults, none of whom were
especially impressed or amused. The game itself is a nice twist on a
"Concentration" style game, in which you're trying to uncover a
particular kind of item. Once you've found it, that card tells you
the next item you're searching for. In addition to items, there are
the evil dwarves and a few other mostly bad cards. Not very
interesting for adults.

With a seven- or eight-year-old, however, this is a great game. It's
surprised me how much my cousin got involved in the narrative. She
was constantly nervous about the dwarves, and excited and enthusiastic
when a item was correctly discovered. The cooperative nature didn't
phase her at all. On other players turns, advice and suggestions were
given, but given the large number of cards (49), it's unreasonable to
remember any substantial fraction of the card flips. Instead you say,
"oh, I think the glass slipper was in that corner of the forest" and
another play says "Oh, I think it was along that edge" and you pick a
card. The game has great dramatic tension, and it seems well
balanced. That is, you usually win, but only if you are attentive and
fairly careful. If all players have bad memories, the dwarves will
get you.

In the end, the really impressive thing to me was how much fun it was
to play with a kid, while with adults it was dull. Sagaland, to me,
is about as equal with kids as with adults. Zapp Zerapp, similarly.
Im Marchenwald definitely benefits from a child's perspective.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002


In my
earlier entry about dexterity games
, I mentioned Pounce as one of
my favorites. I got a request for more details, so I figured I'd
describe it here.

Pounce is not a German game, but an older (early 90s, I think)
American game, though clearly aimed at adults (the box art depicts
only adults playing). Sadly, it is out of print. This game has has
everything. And by everything, I mean it has a miniature toilet
plunger and rubber mice with elastic tails. Oh, and
cheese and dice.

The games comes with a trifold cardboard game board which depicts a
piece of cheese. In the center is a circle. Additionally, each
player gets a rubber mouse (a couple centimeters long) with a long (30
cm -ish) elastic tail and fifteen units of cheese.. All players place
their mice in the central circle and hold onto the tails. The player
whos turn it is removes their mouse from the circle and takes the
minature plunger (actually, the plunger part is full sized, the handle
is just short) and the pair of dice. They proceed to roll the dice
and one of three things can happen:

  • They roll a 7 or an 11. In this case, they must slam the plunger
    down on the table, trying to capture the mice which are sitting in the
    circle. Simultaneously, the players try to pull their mice out of the
    circle. If they are captured, they pay the active player one cheese.
    If they escape, the active player pays them one cheese.

  • They roll doubles. Play passes to the next player clockwise.
    The player with the plunger puts their mouse back in the circle and
    the next player takes the plunger.

  • They roll anything else. In this case, nothing should happen.
    They should just roll again. If however, the plunging player plunges
    or the mice players pull out, they pay a penalty. If the plunging
    player plunges, all captured mice are payed one cheese. If a player
    pulls out, they pay the plunger a cheese. If the plunging player
    plunges and a player pulls out, no cheese changes hands, since both
    players were in error.

That's it, and it's a great game. The game ends when one player runs
out of cheese. The player with the most cheese is the winner.
Obviously, this is a serious twitch reflex game, but there's also the
key tactic of psyching out the other players. When you're
plunging, regular fakes are critical for both encouraging mice to
prematurely flee and to desensitize them to the plunging motion when
you do roll a 7 or 11. Further, mice players can motion as though to
flee in order to try to get their opponents to erroneously do so.

The idea sounds simple, but boy is it fun. Here's some photos of the

Saturday, March 23, 2002

Quick thoughts on another play of LoTR:F+F

I played another game of Lord of the Rings with the Friends and Foes
expansion this evening, and we came very very close to winning, with
Sauron starting on 15. All the hobbits survived to Mordor, and we
were in tolerable shape, but Pippin had a ton of traveling cards and
we thought we'd make it. Sadly, Frodo fell, then Pippin, then Sam.
Merry made it to Mount Doom, but failed to destroy the ring. We got
77 points (60 + 17 defeated foes). We skipped Helm's Deep by
defeating foes. This is a great game, and I look forward to
continuing to try to beat the expansion.

Friday, March 22, 2002

Puerto Rico next week and a few other Alea thoughts

For those of you who may have missed it in r.g.b., Jay Tummelson of
Rio Grande Games
stated that the Rio Grande edition of
Puerto Rico
would be out next week.

Alea (the publisher of Puerto Rico in Germany, among other things) has
done exactly what good marketing and brand building should do. As I
understand it, several years ago, Ravensburger, maker of a great many
outstanding family board games, decided to start the Alea label to be
a brand for gamers games. They created a numbered series of "large
box" games; they are Ra, Chinatown, Taj Mahal, Princes of Florence,
Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa. Additionally, they started a
small box series (Wyatt Earp is #1 and Royal Turf is #2).

Now, had Ravensburger released these games under the Ravensburger
label, they would still have been well received, but a few
things would have been different. First of all, there's the chance
that some consumers would be turned off by the complexity of some of
the Alea games and think that was characteristic of Ravensburger, and
Ravensburger would lose a customer of it's excellent line of family
games. Second of all, with the Alea brand they now have a reputation
among many gamers that dramatically exceeds the reputation (which is
good) of Ravensburger itself. Even with no review or knowledge of the
game, I would purchase an Alea big box game sight unseen. I know
others who would do the same.

This is the way "branding" should be done.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Velcro instead of rubberbands

[someone posted to r.g.b. pointing out that rubber bands can
degrade over time an damage game boxes. This was my reply]

I've noticed this phenomenon myself and came up with something that I
like a lot as a solution. Velcro makes a product called "One-Wrap
Brand Qwik Tape". If you've seen velcro tape before, it's like that,
but much much lower profile (thinner), and the "rough" side isn't as
rough feeling at normal velcro (hence less abrasive to game boxes).

Another advantage of this stuff is it is non-constrictive which means in
addition to not damaging the game due to rubber-band decay, it doesn't
dig little grooves into the cardboard either.

It holds the games together great for both transporting and for
keeping on shelves if the shelf isn't 100% full.

The good news is that it's cheap. The bad news is that the only place
I've found to get it is
wholesale on the web with a minimum $50 order.

I highly recommend it.

Monday, March 18, 2002

Battle Line, Flinke Pinke, Space Beans

My theme for the day seems to be the defense of games (and versions of
games) that are often maligned...

color=f8f0ff>Battle Line

I played my 30th game of
Battle Line
today. I've played agains 9
different opponents, and I think I finally am reasonably skilled at
the game. It sure took long enough :-)

I lost my first game of Battle Line. This was back in fall of 2000.
Then, I lost my second game. I began to think I was seeing the error
of my ways. I lost a third time. Well, I kept trying. I lost the
fourth time. I kept playing. In the end, I didn't win until my 9th
game, and that against a friend who had never played before. Since
then, my record has been 12 wins in 22 games, or about average. What
an amazing game.

Some small portion of those games have been with the Schotten-Totten
rules (no 10's, no tactics cards, hand size of 6), but despite claims
to the contrary by some, I am convinced the tactics cards actually
decrease the luck in the game and substantially enhance it. There are
few enough of them that it's easy to keep in mind what they all do,
and the can't play more than one more than your opponent keeps their
power appropriately in check. Many games, three or fewer tactics
cards are played.

In my opinion, this is probably the best two-player game I have ever

color=f8f0ff>Flinke Pinke

Here's another Knizia game that has another version. The "other
version" here is also the American version, though no major rule
changes have been made in this case. The physical production of the
American version, Quandary, is dramatically different however.

Flinke Pinke is a beautifully elegant and simple package. A deck of
30 simply produced but attractive cards and as many chips in 5 colors.
It's small, it's compact, it's portable and it works. Quandary, on
the other hand is a beatuifully produced behemoth. Instead of cards,
players have large plastic tiles. Instead of simple chips, again,
large plastic tiles. All of this necessitates a board, since the
tiles don't stack/overlay nicely the way cards do. The resulting box
is large (Pictionary sized/shaped), and while the bits are beautiful,
it's way overproduced.

While I admire nicely manufactured games as much as the next guy,
Flinke Pinke/Quandary is a great game and that greatness is not
reduced by use of cards and chips. For me, space is the primary
constraint in my game collection, and I'm much happier with Flinke
Pinke than with another unnecassarily oversized box.

I need to remember to pull this out more often, especially with 4

color=f8f0ff>Space Beans

I played my 10th game of Space Beans today. This game also seems to
have a undeserved bad reputation. Players who spend a lot of time
card counting can come very close to breaking the game, but not
entirely. Certainly, played the "wrong way", this game can take far
too long and not be much fun, but played "right", it's amusing,
strategic and fun.

The "right" way to play is to not think heavily about one's choices,
and play quickly. This isn't to say that one shouldn't think at all,
but it's not a good game to spend time pondering. The mechanics make
for some fun planning and bluffing. The art, of course, is wonderful.

This isn't a game that will get another 10 plays very quickly, but I
enjoyed the first 10 times and more than got my money's worth.

Saturday, March 16, 2002

SpinBall and other dexterity games

Looking at the general category of "dexterity games", it's one of the
few kinds of games I tend to be quite bad at, yet still enjoy a great
deal. This is not to say I only enjoy winning, but if one loses
a lot, it can be somewhat less fun.

I define dexterity games fairly broadly, including essentially any
game where manual dexterity impacts the outcome of the game. Among my
favorite dexterity games are Crokinole, Loopin' Louie, SpinBall,
Hamster Rolle, and Pounce. All of these are worth writing more about,
but for now I'm going to discuss SpinBall, since I just got my copy.

SpinBall is a game by href="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/search.php3?designerid=235"> Aaron
Weissblum which is basically described in its href="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/viewitem.php3?gameid=2794">
BoardGameGeek entry. The description doesn't really do it justice
though. Essentially this is a game of trick shots. Because of the
nature of the surface and the the ball, you can put so much spin on
the ball that you get some very elaborate series of bounces, all of
which seem to defy basic physics.

With inexperienced/less skilled players (such as me), you just shoot
for points, and this is challenging enough. However, once the players
get somewhat better, the blockers become critical. Often, one player
is very good with a single shot, and somewhat less skilled with
several other shots. Their opponent may be skilled with two shots,
but not so much with any others. As soon as the second player scores,
they can block their opponent's only good shot, and start racking up
points. That is, until their opponent scores twice with their less
practiced shots and blocks the second player's only two shots.

The variety of shots that can be made in this game is remarkable.
Everything ranging from the three standard shots (straight/back,
single ricochet, and double ricochet) to center bounces to "wall
hugger" shots make this an amazing game to watch as well as play.

It may not be as strategic as partnership Hamster Rolle, as silly as
Loopin' Louie or as stressfull as Pounce, but it really has a quality
that no other dexterity game I've played has; it seems like magic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Long games, short games

One of the (many) statistics I track about games is how long they
take. I don't record the times for individual plays, but just use an
average, either the stated range on the box or my own adjusted number
based on experience.

At the end of last year, I noticed an interesting trend. I was
playing more games, both in number and in total time, but the average
length of the games I was playing had dropped dramatically. Games
like Crokinole, Hick Hack, For Sale,
the Pair of Dice Games
and a variety of others had dropped the
average game length down to 27 minutes.

This year, so far, my average is up to about 35 minutes per game.
I've spent more time playing "meatier" games, like Lord of the Rings,
Traumfabrik, Urland, Hase & Igel, Schnappchen Jagd, and many
others. At the same time, I've continued to play Pair-of-Dice games,
Hamster Rolle, For Sale and a lot of other "snacks".

All of this has led me to think about what makes longer games
sometimes more satisfying, but short games so appealing at many
levels. I think the food analogy is especially apt. Vinci is a steak
dinner. Hick Hack is potato chips. Crokinole is a dried fruit
snack. Schnappchen Jagd is a big deli sandwich. Hamster Rolle is a

Some games, however, don't quite fit. Games like For Sale or href="http://www.pair-of-dice.com/games/knockabout.html">
Knockabout are fairly short (each in the range of 20 minutes), but
are much more "filling" than many other snack-sized games. Maybe what
these games are is a nice vegetable side dish. That is, they're
nutritious and good, but they aren't a meal in and of themselves, but
they aren't a usual kind of "snack". I will continue to make it a
goal to have my gaming sessions be "balanced meals". All that gorging
on snacks at the end of last year was ok, but it left me hungry, and
it's probably not healthy :-)

Ok, enough of that.

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Ulysses and Auweier

The final two new-to-me games I played on Friday were Ulysses and

Auweier was a game
strongly recommended. The theme is one of birds mating,
and the mechanic is one plays worms to seduce the female birds, and at
some point a "mating round" gets called, and you see who gets who's
eggs. The theme was amusing and the mechanics seemed good, but the
game didn't click with me. With more plays, another aspect of the
game might add a lot of interest: you can stack your draw deck. It
has some potential.

Bob was interested in playing Ulysses, as was I. The theme here is
great: Each player is a God trying to push Ulysses' boat around the
Mediterranean in accordance with their own goals. The core mechanic
is when each player proposes pushing the boat somewhere, and there is
a "council of gods" in which card play determines if the boat goes to
the originally proposed location or some other. I really liked many
aspects of the game, though the artistic design of the board meant it
was sometimes distracting to identifying routes, and therefore it was
easy to miss a shorter route between two points. Further, two of the
players seemed to be severely hindered by bad card draws, which may
hurt the balance of the game excessively. Despite this, it was fun
and I look forward to playing it again some time.

Saturday, March 9, 2002

Lots of new (to me) games

After a slow beginning of the year in terms of games I'd never played
before, I got to play a lot of games that were new to me, and couple
that were "new" in the sense of being released recently.

In January and February combined, I only played 11 games I'd never
played before. (They were Wer Hat Mehr? (aka Where's Bob's Hat?),
Witch Trial, Die Mauer, Democrazy, Munchausen, Ghost Chase, Imperium,
Sky Runner, Fibonacci, Kathai, and Industrial Waste.) Yesterday
alone, I played 6 new games. My comments on them follow.

I played Jumbo Grand Prix, a somewhat older Knizia title which I had
never played, and enjoyed a great deal. This one goes on "the list"
(to buy). I'm usually only luke warm on set collecting games, but
Knizia set collecting games tend to be much more my thing (this one,
Zirkus Flohcati, Money, etc).

Someone had just purchased someone else's copy of "Siedenstrasse", a
racing game, and we had 6 people, so we tried that. The rules
translation was mediocre, but I think we figured it out. As we were
starting, someone came over to us and declared "Oh, I've played that,
it was awful." Fortunately, it wasn't awful. In fact, it has a
couple of clever mechanics. The core of the game is these action
cards, which advance you on the race track, but in some unusual ways,
such as "advance the player in last place 5 spaces, and move your pawn
such that it is exactly 5 spaces ahead of that player". You play
these action cards, but must later play them on other players. So,
you end up trying to play them on yourself when it is most favorable
or least detrimental, and on others in the opposite situation. It's a
nice mechanic, and the scoring (based on progress at various stages of
the race) is clever. It was fun.

Drachenland, the new Knizia family game received some positive
comments, so we decided to play that. It's a game about collecting
dragon eggs and gems, and has a really cool dice tower as a major
component of the game. Of course, the tower doesn't do anything
except roll the dice. The game itself is good light fun, but nothing
special. The clear gems are more valuable than I realized. It's most
clever mechanic is using "king dragons" to move pawns around under
certain circumstances. It's worth a play.

I was very interested in trying David & Goliath, a whist-style
trick taking game in much the same vein as many Klaus Palesch games
(Hattrick, Sticheln, Mit List und Tucke). The basic twist is that the
lowest card gets the highest card in a trick and the highest gets the
rest. Further, colors in which you take 1 or 2 cards count face
value, otherwise it's 1 point per card. I definitely didn't get this
one, and while I still enjoyed it, other games in this style are more
to my preference.

I'll continue later with my comments on Auweier and Ulysses, the other
new games I played.

Thursday, March 7, 2002

Ninuki-Renju (Pente) and Hex

For my wife's birthday last year, she asked for a copy of Pente, a
commercialized version of Ninuki-Renju, a stone placing game. The
goal is to try to get 5 in a row or capture 10 stones by capturing
pairs. I'm normally only a moderate fan of pure abstract games, but I
was very impressed with this. One factor that made it very enjoyable
is my wife and I are very evenly matched (neither of us is very
good). Further, it is short enough that you never feel like an early
mistake fates you to a long and drawn out loss, as I feel some
abstracts have as a flaw.

I recently played a couple of games agains the href="http://www.zillions-of-games.com/index.html"> Zillions of
Games AI (which, incidentally, runs reasonably well on Linux under
the latest build of WINE), and was soundly crushed, reassuring my
perception that there was a lot of improvement that could be made in
my play. It may be one of the first pure abstract games that I'll
spend some time improving at since Chess. If you haven't played it, I
highly recommend it.

On an only somewhat related note, some time ago I learned Hex, another
2-player abstract game. This one is a connection game, and it seemed
fun/interesting, but not that deep, when I first played it. Most of
the moves seemed obvious, but I never really played it very much, so I
din't know how much was just my perception. Well, at some point, I
stumbled across
Queen Bee
, a computer Hex player. As above, I was thoroughly
crushed and only had a hope of winning at the lowest level. Maybe
there's more to this game. I'll have to print out/make a hex board
and play against players who are closer to my level of play.

Wednesday, March 6, 2002

A (different) Game A Day

For the past couple of years, I've noticed an interesting statistic
regarding my game playing. Starting on any arbitrary day (like, say
January 1st), and counting the number of different games I play, I
play very close to one different game per day, for about 4 months,
when it begins to drop off. I'm not 100% sure what this means, but
one interpretation would be that I have a roughly 4 month "refresh"
cycle. That is, if I play a game, possibly a few times, I may have
had enough of it for about 120 days, at which point I may seek it out
and start playing it again. Or maybe it's just an anomoly.

Last year, looking at the games I'd played that year, I'd played 102
different games as of April 10th, the 100th day of the year. Prior to
April 10th, I'd never been more than 15 games "ahead". On May 13th,
the 133rd day of the year, I'd played 133 different games, and after
that point, I had played fewer different games than one a day.

So far this year, we have had 65 days, and I have played 66 unique
days. We'll see how long the "one a day" trend lasts this year. If
anything, I expect it to last somewhat longer than it has in the past.

Monday, March 4, 2002

Tal der Könige and 3-player Knockabout

Tal der Könige

I played this for the first time this evening, and while it was a
solid game, I wasn't amazed. The bidding mechanic is nice (players
laying sets of bidding tiles face down among piles of resources), and
the fact that most of the time, everyone gets one pile and
someone gets two, but with clever bidding this can be changed, is
nice. The building mechanic (making pyramids with a coherent color
pattern) on the other hand felt flat to me. I wouldn't exactly avoid
playing it, but I'm not likely to seek it out.

To some extent, this surprised me, as bidding and building are usually
mechanics I enjoy. I guess at some level, I enjoy "development" more
than "building", and this is definitely just "building".

color=f8f0ff>3-player Knockabout

is an amazing abstract dice based two player where the
dice only interject a slight random aspect. To me, it ranks up there
with "Can't Stop" and "Bluff" in the category of dice games, even
though in most ways it is more of a positional game (like Chess).
Well, it's a great 2-player game, and there is a variant for 3.

I love the 2-player form, and the 3-player version has all of the same
pleasure as the 2-player form up until the end game. The win
condition in 3-player is for a total of 5 of your opponents dice to be
knocked into the gutter. This means you can get situations where you
have 2 dice in the gutter, opponent A has 2 dice in the gutter, and
opponent B has only 1 die in the gutter. If you knock one of opponent
A's dice in the gutter, you give opponent B the win. This isn't so
bad, but once all three players have 2 dice in the gutter, the next
die in the gutter causes that player to lose and both other players to
win. I keep thinking there's got to be a better win condition.
Playing for complete elimination has the flaw of making one person
often kingmaker and/or bored as they are chipped away at.

In any case, I'll keep playing this two player.

Sunday, March 3, 2002

Friends and Foes Expansion to Lord of the Rings

I played the href="http://boardgamegeek.com/viewitem.php3?gameid=2449">Friends and
Foes expansion to href="http://boardgamegeek.com/viewitem.php3?gameid=823"> Lord of the
Rings a couple of times this weekend. I enjoyed the unexpanded
game quite a bit, and felt the expansion improved on it further. The
rest of the group I played with (both games) were completely new to
the game, and with varying degrees of familiarity with the books,
though all had at least seen the movie, so had some basic narrative

First of all, the game is a lot harder now. In my
previous plays, we probably won about half the time and lost about
half the time, and the losses were usually reasonably close. In our
first game with the expansion, we almost got killed in Bree, the new
first board. We would have, but because of foolish error, but given
it was our first game on that board we let ourselves back out the
mistake. Well, we died in Moria. We had an amazingly bad tile
shuffle (we got every event tile in Bree on the first two players),
but still, we got killed quick. Oh well.

So, having gone through all the rules and gotten killed so quickly,
everyone was eager to try it again. This time, we still had some bad
tile draws, but were doing very well against the foes. We ended up
dying in Isengard, still fairly early in the whole process, but we'd
nearly achieved a military victory (we'd killed 27 of the 30 foes)
with three hobbits killed. I worry that the game may be almost
impossible to win except by military victory.

Ok, that's not quite true. I just wonder whether by making the game
more difficult, it doesn't make that victory more luck dependent. In
the "basic" game, a long series of events hurts, but as long as you
get a few turns in there, you can usually do OK. With the F&F
expansion, a long series of events interrupted by a few action tiles
is worse, because of the impending threat of being overrun by foes.
The occasional bad tile mix in the original seemed annoying, but less
likely to be fatal. It seems to really hurt now. That said, I really
like a challenge, but would like to think it is somewhat more skill
based. I'm tempted to do the following; instead of shuffling the
entire tile set, shuffle the 11 bad tiles and the 12 "good" tiles
seperately, then create two piles one of 11 (6 good, 5 bad) and one of
12 (6 good, 6 bad). Shuffle these seperate piles. Then, put the
stack of 12 on top of the stack of 11.

Other than the difficulty issue (maybe we just had bad luck or played
poorly), it is a very nice addition. It adds to the narrative, it
enhances the in game tension, and is a lot of fun. I'll play it again
sometime soon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Industrial Waste

[Also posted this to spielfrieks]

After reading several reviews and comments heavily
mixed between the positive and negative, I decided to
take the plunge and pick it up.

I played two games, both with 4 players. I didn't time
but I belive both came in under the 60 minutes claimed
the first
play may have been under 45 minutes. I'll skip the
description and instead refer you to
Akke's description

Overall, my opinion is very positive. I'd give it an A-
the letter
grade scale. With one exception, all the other players
total of 5
others, over two games) also had favorable opinions.

In the first game, my impressions were positive, as
were Mike and
David's. Jake didn't like it as much. While sharing
many aspects
with other German games, it has a substantially
different feel than
many. For one, as has been pointed out in reviews
before, it is
somewhat lighter on the interaction between
players. Jake's main
complaint was there was a lack of "tension" in the
game, which I'm
somewhat inclined to agree with but I don't think is
inherently a bad

The second game, played with Mike, Ronald and Brandon,
I enjoyed even
more, and all playing enjoyed it. This game went
somewhat longer and
we had more opportunity to try out various things, and
I think the
card distribution was "more interesting".

After thinking about the game a little, I realized it
has one very
unusual attribute: few tactics, but heavy
strategy. Most of these
games of ours are fairly tactics heavy or are a more
even mix of
strategy and tactics. While this game has some tactics,
it has
substantially more (and perhaps more obvious) strategic
choices than
many games.

Of the tactics there are, many of them are obvious
tactical decisions,
but not all of them. The more obvious tactics: what
sequence the
cards are played in, the resource auction bidding, and
timing of the
accidents. However, there are some other more subtle
available. Selection of the cardsets wasn't used
tactically at all in
our games, but I suspect it could. That is, everyone
tended to pick
the card set best for themselves rather than
considering how they
might make someone else's life difficult. Another
interesting tactic
would be to save some money by firing employees and
then promptly
rehiring them after payroll is due. To me, the most
aspect of the game tactically is the endgame
timing. Here's where
card selection, holding cards over and whatnot can
dramatically effect
when the game ends and therefore who's plans are
interrupted, who's
are finished, and who has a big pile of garbage left
over. There are
other interesting tactics as well, such as flooding the
market with
raw materials to get it cheaper one's self. Inventory
management also
appears to be quite important, especially in
conjunction with the
endgame timing.
As for the strategy, this is where the game really shines. Not only
does a player have a lot of choices in terms of how
they run their
company, they all have substantial impacts on the
gameplay. In both
of my playes, I tried a strategy of reducing resource
requirements to
avoid having to purchase much in the way of raw
materials. This meant
my waste production was too high and I spent too much
time managing
waste and not enough time producing goods. I ended the
game with a
substantial resource overstock and my waste situation
still not under
control. In the second game, I used a similar strategy,
but with more
early growth, and some waste reduction before launching
into full
blown production mode. I controlled enough of the
growth cards that I
could decide the end game, and managed to complete two
orders at size
20 in the final round. Other players effectively used
strategies and uniform technological improvement. I'm
eager to see
how much the strategies vary and how much successfull
strategies are
dictated by the available cards.

Because of this heavy strategic focus, there is less
"tension" which
is usually generated by balanced tactical situations,
but the waste
management aspect introduces a level of tension that
doesn't make this
feel too relaxed. Overall, I'm very pleased with it,
and recommend it
to anyone who understands that they aren't getting a
tactical game.