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.