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=""> 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=""> 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.