Sunday, March 28, 2004

Consumer Experiences

One valuable role of the Internet has been in doing consumer research. Regularly before I buy a product, I look online for information about it, both from the maker and from other consumers. While discussion groups and online opinion sites (eg, epinions) are useful, I thought it would be useful if people would create their own pages of their consumer experiences, so I have decided to do one myself.

Companies I've had good dealings with

Software and web sites I'm particularly happy with

  • PopFile is a great end user SpamFiltering tool
  • Firefox Firebird Phoenix is an outstanding web browser even if the name has changed a bit too often

Don't hesitate to ContactMe with questions or comments.

Electronic Catchphrase

Electronic Catchphrase

This is a lot of fun and is an outstanding filler. Of all my games this is by far the most played. In the less than 3 years since I discovered it, I've played it nearly 100 times. In general, we play with 6 players, but last night I played a quick game with 4 players while waiting for some other people to finish a game. Even with only 4, it's a blast. In fact, it feels a bit more like a "game" with 4, while with a larger group (even 6, but certainly with 8, 10 or 12) it feels more like a "game-like activity".

Electronic Catchphrase Junior

I picked up a copy of this for my 10-year-old cousin. It was a big hit, and playing with her and another 10-year-old was a very interesting experience, and a lot of fun. First of all, unlike most games the fact that it is "junior" doesn't mean it's a watered down version. The word selection is still good (though it only includes 5000 words, rather than 10,000) and not full of overly simple words. In fact, it included a few items the 10-year-olds were unfamiliar with and one item neither the 10-years-olds nor the adults knew: "TRL", which is apparently a program on MTV. The design of the device is better too: It's not quite as loud, the buttons are clearly labeled and the score is always on the screen.

My cousin and her friend did very well in general though there were a few "generation gap" clues such as "a dance for older people", which turned out to be "senior prom", for example. One rule I don't remember being in my adult Electronic Catchphrase which was listed in the Junior version (which we ignored) is that there is no miming. What a silly rule.

My cousin's friend also mentioned that her teacher would sometimes play EC in class with them (the "adult" version). Bravo for her.

Mary Chungs

Mary's has been a favorite among MIT students and community for a long time. It unfortunately closed in 1991 for several years, but Mary found a new space in Central Square a few years later and has been there ever since. She tells me that MIT (who owns the building) has given her a lease for life.

Mary's is Szechuan style in general, and while everything is very good, there's a handful of things that go even above and beyond "very good". In particular:

  • Suan La Chow Chow. This "soup" is often very spicy and is the one thing that I can't possibly go to Mary's without getting.

  • Pan-fried Peking Ravs. In other places, called "pot-stickers" or the like. Mary knows how to do these right.

  • Crab Rangoon. My wife loves these.

  • Dun Dun Noodles. These tend to be very very spicy, and are great for clearing out your sinuses.

  • Mongolian Beef. Also called "embarrasing beef" because they serve it at your table on a hot skillet which makes a very loud noise, causing most of the other patrons in the restaurant to turn your way.

  • Kung Pao Chi Ding. I really like this chicken with peanut dish, though it's not as universal a favorite.

If you're in Cambridge and want good Chinese food, Mary's is the place to go.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Balloon Cup

I've enjoyed Balloon Cup quite a bit, though I feel there may be a bit more luck than it initially seems, and certainly more than some other flag influence games. That's ok with me though. It's fun, and there is some opportunity for clever play. It's been pointed out that the whole mountains/plain flipping thing is artificial and irrelevant since you can play cards on either side. The mountains/plains thing isn't 100% irrelevant because of this rule, but it's really close. Supposedly, it is because of a change to the rules in the development of the game. Hearing about this change, coupled with the other change (3-for-one exchange), I decided to try the game by the "undeveloped" rules. Those being:

  • Once a balloon of a color has been claimed, any further cubes in that color have no value. There is no 3-for-one exchange.
  • You may only play cards on your own side of a particular "flag", until your side is filled up, at which point you may play on your opponents side.

It's still fun, and it's definitely a little different, as a hand full of extremely high or extremely low cards isn't always a good thing. I'm not sure how different it is, as the game still felt fun and light and seemed to come down to a bit of luck, but I'll play it again under the variant.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Tivolis Bistro

We ran across this browsing the web for new and interesting restaurants in the area to try. This review was quite positive, so we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant is in an unremarkable section of Malden. This particular evening, they weren't especially busy, but they told us that usually reservations are required. I tend to like French food so, nearly everything on the menu was appealing.

We each got an appetizer and an entree and shared a dessert. The squash soup was very good. The Alsatian torte was good, though a bit milder than my preference. For dinner, as is my tendency, I got the filet and my wife got the Orecchiette and Chicken. The filet was quite good and the glaze was outstanding. The Orecchiette and Chicken was also very good. As mentioned in the above-cited review, the portions were remarkably large. The filet was easily 16 ounces, and the Chicken was a very generous portion. For dessert, we got a piece of the flourless Belgian Chocolate Cake, which was outstanding.

Overall, definitely recommended and worth trying again.

About This Site

I wanted to experiment with a blog-like site of my own, but was dissatisfied with what I saw in the existing blog software. So,
instead, I am using a wiki to maintain it. However, unlike most wikis, I'm the only person who can edit this with the exception of others being able to leave comments on some page, such as this one.

For now, this has replaced my existing game log as well as containing anything else I care to put here.

This site uses PhpWiki, which I have used in a variety of other circumstances, with some reasonably minor personal modifications.

I'm also experimenting with the WikiBlog based commenting, as seen below. Please leave comments, as I'm very curious to what extent this is simply a self-indulgence and to what extent anyone else finds anything here useful.

3/20/2004: I just changed the RSS feed behavior for the site. It now includes the full text of the pages rather than just a link to them. ContactMe if this breaks anything.

Contact Me

The best way to contact me is via email. I welcome feedback, questions and responses. My email address is Feel free to drop me a line.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Flag Influence Games

Games fall in broad categories and it is useful to have names for those categories. For example, there are trick taking games (aka WhistVariants), "auction games", "tile laying games" or "influence games" or even more broadly, "party games". There's a category of games which I tend to enjoy a great deal that share several common mechanics but are missing a good label. This category includes BattleLine/SchottenTotten, Tabula Rasa, Adam & Eva, Caesar & Cleopatra, BalloonCup, Scarab Lords, Lost Cities, and I'm sure there's more. In some cases, like Lost Cities, it's a little more of a stretch, in the same way that say, Foppen, is not just a straight "trick taking game".

So, help me here, what's a better name than "Flag Influence Games", because that's an awful name. Further, what other games are out there in this cateogry? Obviously, they tend to be 2-player, and Reiner Knizia has done more than his fair share of them.

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Month Metric

A year or so ago, in my old log, I described the "month metric". Here it is, described again, with the highest scoring games listed at the end.

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 statistics

  • 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.

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 couple 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.

Top scoring games for 2003, by the month metric

  • Electronic Catchphrase (9)

  • Can't Stop (5)

  • 6 nimmt! (5)

  • Light Speed (5)

  • Puerto Rico (4)

  • Mause Rallye (4)

  • Amun Re (4)

  • Hick Hack in Gacklewack (4)

  • Blokus (4)

Top scoring games of all time, by the month metric

  • Electronic Catchphrase (26)

  • Call my Bluff (21)

  • 6 nimmt! (21)

  • Battle Line (19)

  • Can't Stop (19)

  • Crokinole (16)

  • RoboRally (14)

  • Speed (14)

  • Lost Cities (13)

  • Zirkus Flohcati (13)

  • TransAmerica (13)

  • For Sale (12)

  • Carcassone (12)

  • Ra (12)

  • Apples to Apples (12)

  • Settlers of Catan (11)

  • Hick Hack in Gacklewack (11)

  • Ricochet Robot (10)

  • Schnappchen Jagd (10)

  • Puerto Rico (10)

  • Knockabout (10)

  • SpinBall (10)

  • Traumfabrik (10)

Friday, March 5, 2004

February2004 Games

February, 2004

43 games played, 28 titles (6 new to me) over 7 sessions with 37 different people.

Hot Games for February, 2004

  • Yinsh (3 plays)
    Very good new abstract. See QuickGameThoughts.

  • Oasis (2 plays)
    I continue to enjoy this and while it may not be the next big thing, it's quite good.

  • ScarabLords (3 plays)
    Solid two player which isn't as CCG-like as it might initially seem.

  • AdamAndEva (3 plays)
    Still great.

  • ElectronicCatchphrase (5 plays)
    "Jiminy Cricket, for example", "Grasshopper!" Yep. Oh.

  • 10DaysInAfrica (3 plays)
    The nearer two countries are to one another in Africa, the more likely they are to rhyme.

  • PrincesOfFlorence (1 play)
    I managed to go from 0 points to a 3rd of 5 finish in the sixth and seventh rounds. Woo.

  • Traumfabrik (1 play)
    One of the closer games of this I've played.

  • Andromeda (1 play)
    Almost everyone but me seems to really dislike this. I like the probabalistic influence and structured trading.

  • Password (2 plays)
    More mellow and terser catchphrase...

Social Networks

Over the past month or so, I've looked at some of these social networks that have become so popular in the past year. I've looked at Friendster,
LinkedIn, and orkut. Social networks are really neat, but other than that, I'm not sure see a ton of value.
What are they actually good for? LinkedIn is about the best in terms of searching, but their whole business model seems built around the idea of charging you for making multi-step contacts. While I'm not sure I'd pay for it, that's not the part that bothers me. In order to make one of these contacts, they forward the request through each person in the chain. It eliminates much of the convenience which. Why bother?

Orkut, in constrast has pathetic searching, but you can freely browse the networks, but the only connectivity that's shown is your "friends" and "friends of friends". Ok, so when does this become useful? I can see a couple of simple values, but for something that's so neat, it seems like they should be able to actually make it useful.

Update: Ok, having played with these a bit more, I'm still skeptical, but I think I see a few ways in which they're useful:

  • Lost acquaintances. There are people who you've forgotten. Not people you have lost touch with, but people you've forgotten entirely. But, for many of those poeple, someone who are still in touch with is still in touch with them. Then, you can decide whether or not to leave them forgotten. I like the idea of being able to reconnect with people who I've lost touch with and "forgotten"
  • Extended address book. orkut, for example, let's you provide various address info (email, IM, physical, phone) and decide who gets to see it (noone, friends, friends of friends, all). This makes it a useful address book of associates and a somewhat wider network.
  • Friend of a friend postings. Again, orkut provides this capability. Maybe I simply haven't gotten enough of them to be annoyed by it yet, but I think this is a useful idea for distribution of certain kinds of content, particularly job postings.
  • You've got friends! There's that "pat yourself on the back" quality of getting the occasional email that says "so-and-so is your friend". Ah, warm fuzzies.

Now, if only orkut would add more useful searching.