Sunday, April 25, 2004



by Thomas Rauscher

Rating: B+

Some people like chaos in games, some people don't. One of the objections I've heard to chaotic games is "lack of control". I don't like games that have a lack of control, but I don't think "chaotic games" necassarily have a lack of control. Rather, a chaotic game is exactly about control and coercing a complex system (usually with some random elements) to produce the desired effects while other players attempt the same. This conflict sometimes causes the game machinery to produce dramatically variable effects. Some games I'd put in this put in this category include RoboRally, FinstereFlure and Druidenwalzer. I very much like the first two and am somewhat more moderate in my enthusiasm for Druidenwalzer. I'd put Tongiaki in this category, somewhere between the two groups in quality.

I've only played with 3 and 4 players, as I heard the chaos makes the game less pleasant with more, unless that's the desired effect. (side note: I feel much the same way about FinstereFlure). The game machinery and randomness make many of the moves substantial risks, with often unexpected side effects, but the machinery of the game is predictable enough to allow for interesting play and a (to me) very engaging experience. I even think it manages to fairly reasonably evoke the theme. The key mechanic of the game, sending expeditions off into the uknown provokes the decision: send an expedition of mostly my opponents, assuming they will fail, or participate substantially oneself to receive the reward. As the game progresses, there are opportunities for clever play that can mitigate some of these simpler risks and complicate the decisions further.

The randomness introduced by the tile draw is substantial, but no more so than in many games, and the expedition rules are not so hard to fathom that they are unexploitable. To me, this is the pleasure of the game: trying to coerce the complex system into producing effects more beneficial to me than my opponents. Overall, this is definitely a chaotic game, and I'd try it with 4 before 6, but the chaos is largely of the pleasant kind. Further, the fact that it plays quickly and is fairly light in feel make the chaos and complexity feel appropriate. Recommended, if you like controllable chaos.

Tongiaki info on boardgamegeek

Gathering Of Friends 2004

I just returned from the Gathering this year, having had a great time. I'll soon expand on this, but some extremely quick thoughts:

Games of note: Goa, St. Petersburg, Power Grid, SanJuan. All of them were very good. It was also great to see many old friends and make some new friends. As ever, talking to Friedemann Friese, Jay Tummelson and others to hear their insights into the business, marketing and industry aspects of game publishing was very interesting. Also, if you're ever in Columbus, Ohio, try Graeter's Ice Cream. Mmmmm.

For some extremely brief comments on many of the new games I played, see the list of new-to-me games.

Games played: 100
Titles played: 60
New to me: 30
People played with: 96

Individual Game Reviews

New Games

I've started with reviews of games where I have somewhat dissenting opinions on their quality, such as Marco Polo, Tongiaki and Sunken City.

Old Games

Games that get played every year

I write a lot of lists of the best games by various measures. I've
come up with metrics like my month metric which
identify the best games. Here's yet another list. These are the games
that have been played every year (at least once) since I discovered

Already played in 2004

  • CallMyBluff 1998 -
  • EuphratAndTigris 1998 -
  • Basari 1999 -
  • ApplesToApples 1999 -
  • TakeItEasy 1999 -
  • RicochetRobot 1999 -
  • ZappZerapp 2000 -
  • FlinkePinke 2000 -
  • Traumfabrik 2000 -
  • Medici 2000 -
  • BattleLine 2000 -
  • CantStop 2000 -
  • 6 nimmt! 2000 -

Not yet played in 2004

  • RoboRally 1997-
  • EnGarde 1998 -
  • Elefantenparade 1999 -
  • Samurai 1999 -
  • Ra 1999 -
  • LostCities 1999 -

Monday, April 19, 2004

Zoo Sim

Zoo Sim aka"O Zoo Le Mio!"

by Corne van Moorsel

Rating: A-

I enjoy this straightforward melding of auction, influence and tile-laying. There are better games in each individual category, but Zoo Sim nicely combines them while maintaining a reasonably light feel. The Zoch re-issue as "O Zoo Le Mio!" did a good job (they changed almost nothing) and made some seemingly minor component improvements that substantially clean up game play. Overall, a fun and simple game which has the reasonably rare quality of successfully straddling the fence between light games and more medium weight games. Recommended, especially with the variant below.

Recommended variant

Zoo Sim does have one minor problem; the rich get richer. Specifically, the income rules say you get one income per zoo tile. I've heard many people assert that this is not unbalancing and played with people familiar with the game, it works fine. This has not been my experience, including a game played at the Gathering with 3 other players who knew the game. I got a second tile in the first round and used that money advantage well and won by a substantial margin. Given the frequency with which I've seen this occur, I've also played a few times with a simple variant: Each player receives 3 income each round. While this is slightly athematic, it is easy to use and I think returns a little bit of balance, especially when played with new players.

ZooSim info on boardgamegeek

Immer Oben Auf!

Immer oben auf!

by Alan Moon & Aaron Weissblum

Rating: A

I recently played this at the GatheringOfFriends2004. It used to be that I didn't like memory games at all. It somehow felt like exercising some "mental muscles" (ie, strategic and tactical thought) was fun while others (memory) was not. So, for a long time, I actively avoided memory games. Gradually, I began to change my mind about them. Part of the change was based on playing games with younger kids, who tend to have a serious edge in the memory department. The other part was discovery of a few games like MammaMia which have a substantial memory component, but that's not all there is to the game. While I wouldn't consider memory games a favorite genre at all, I've come to appreciate them and not look down my nose at them nearly so much. So, "Immer oben auf!" is a memory game, but don't take that as a bad thing.

The game is very simple: Each player has a stack of animal cubes only they can see. These animals come in three varieties (land, air, and sea) which is visible to all by their color, and two each of four animals in each variety. The goal of the game is to get your stack to nine animals. On your turn, you guess an opponents top animal. If you are right, you take it, and put it at the bottom of your stack. If you are wrong, they reveal it and put it at the bottom of their stack. If you're right, you go again, targeting a different player.

The game plays quickly and is more fun than it sounds. Remembering sequences of animals is difficult, but feels different than the usual spatial memory game. Instead, it feels like you're trying to remember the earlier events of the game which produced the sequence. Naturally, there's also an almost trivial deduction/bluff element in which guesses you make about other players animals given what you've seen and your current stack. Overall, if you don't think "memory" is a dirty word this is definitely worth a try.

Other memory games played at the Gathering that are worth trying: Masterdieb and Dicke Luft In Der Gruft.

Immer oben auf! info at boardgamegeek

Sunken City

Sunken City

by Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling

Rating: B

I played this recently at the Gathering. I had heard several negative comments and one or two positive comments going into this game, so I had somewhat lowered expectations. It exceeeded those expectations, but not overwhelmingly. This is an exploration game with a bit of a screw-your-neighbor component. I'm often rather disappointed by exploration games (eg, Goldland or LostValley) but I found the exploration mechanics in this quite pleasant. The basic idea is that the players are exploring a sunken city by raising streets and buildings and retrieving treasures. The nice feature here though is that Poseidon wanders around (controlled by the players) gradually re-sinking cities and roads. This can be used offensively (sink a building another player needs), defensively (send Poseidon over to a neighborhood you've already explored) or constructively (send Poseidon toward you to sink a neighborhood you've finished so you may raise a new one). Additionally, you can even sink your neighbor which seems rather nasty, but they receive a "Poseidon chip" which grants them a substantial movement bonus which seems to largely offset the penalty of being sunk (and losing some of your accumulated treasures).

The exploration mechanic worked very well and I enjoyed that a great deal. There's a real economy of actions that makes for some interesting, if light-weight planning decisions. As new players, we may have been too agressive in sinking the early leader. In the end, one of the slower and steadier players took the win. Overall, this is a light, family exploration game with some nice options, but it isn't very deep. The components are beautiful and the theme is even engaging to me, and all this mostly makes me wish the game was just a bit richer, strategically. I'll play it again, but given that I enjoyed it more than most others, I doubt I'll find frequent opportunities.

Sunken City info on boardgamegeek

Marco Polo

Marco Polo Expedition

by Reiner Knizia

Rating: A-

I recently played this at the GatheringOfFriends2004. I rather liked this game, which put me in the minority. I'm not really sure why it was not more well received. The game is a simple race game in which one has to play certain sets of cards to advance to the next space. Cards are replensished through a simple draft. The twist is you automatically skip over spaces currently occupied by your opponents, leading to a nice tension in which noone wants to be ahead in order to prevent one's opponents from exploiting your effort, but everyone wants to be ahead because naturally that's the goal of the game. The gameplay is quick (under an hour) but I suppose it could be hurt by inappropriate over-analysis. In general, consecutive sets of spacement are at odds with one another from a card collection point of view (eg, "3 of one color", "3 of one symbol", "5 different colors") so one can intentionally avoid collecting cards for one goal, assuming your opponents will occupy that space before you. This game of "chicken" works well and an additional mechanic by which you can give up a victory point to more easily catch up seems to work well.

Certainly, this is no Ra or Euphrat & Tigris, but it's a pleasant race game and I think many are not giving it credit for some real strategic depth that is present. Overall, it's not the most innovative game out there, but the mechanics come together nicely, resulting in a well crafted and compelling experience. Recommended, though given some people's experience this is probably worth trying before buying.

Polo info at boardgamegeek|

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Not Your Average Joes

Not Your Average Joe's

55 Main Street
Watertown, MA

I've been to this restaurant twice now, and I really like the idea and the menu, and while I have found the food good, it feels like it falls short of it's potential. Their tag line is "Creative Casual Cuisine" and that seems a reasonably fair description. Pretty much everything on the menu sounds wonderful. There are a variety of appealing appetizers: Tomato Soup, Crabcakes, Carribean Buffalo Tenders and more. There's a variety of "traditional" entrees, often with their own spin, including meatloaf, several pastas, and steaks as well as a number of salads.

The first time I went here I perhaps had overly high expectations. I hadn't been told anything about it, but for some reason, I was expecting the extraordinary. In reality, it was good, but unremarkable. I didn't go back for several months for obvious reasons, but finally decided to give it another try. On a second try, the menu was equally appealing and the food was very good. The Carribean Buffalo Tenders in particular were a nice "creative" twist on the usual Buffalo chicken. I had the goat cheese and herb stuffed chicken which was quite good, but perhaps a bit mild. Their dessert special (a couple of chocolate mousses) was quite good, though also a little light, but after a large and quite filling meal, light is good.

Overall, this is quite good, but I guess I was hoping for something more impressive (like CuchiCuchi), but it was good enough that I'll go back, if not extremely regularly.

Restaurant Reviews

I dine out reasonably frequently, both at home and while traveling. I hope to soon post some reviews and comments.

A few Boston-area restaurants I have recently eaten at and had postive experiences with include Gargoyle's in Davis Square in Somerville, CuchiCuchi in Cambridge, TivolisBistro in Malden, Bistro 5 in Medford and NotYourAverageJoes in Watertown. Some of my regular favorites include MaryChungs in Cambridge, Piattini in Boston, and Anna's Taqueria in Somerville.

With less details on specific restaurants, I also have some comments on area SteakHouses. Additionally, I work in the Back Bay of Boston, near Copley Square, and eat out in the area a lot, more often for lunch, but for dinner as well. I have comments on BackBayRestaurants.

Feel free to ContactMe with questions or comments.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

March2004 Games

March, 2004

35 games played, 28 titles (7 new to me) over 10 sessions with 31 different people.

Hot Games for March, 2004

  • EinfachGenial (2 plays)
    This is a fun clever new abstract from Reiner Knizia

  • TanteTarantel (2 plays)
    I recently got a copy of this complete with bugs. Not unlike FinstereFlure in theme and play, but simpler.

  • FlinkePinke (3 plays)
    This doesn't come out that often, but it's managed to be one of a handful of games that I've played EveryYear for the past several years.

  • ElectronicCatchphrase (4 plays)
    More fun with 4 than I remembered.

  • Medina (1 play)
    Having obvious "pass" plays is very useful

  • Oasis (1 play)
    Every game since my first bad experience I've enjoyed a lot

  • ZappZerapp (1 play)
    For a Ludo variant about shaking things, some fun tactics

  • ApplesToApples (1 play)
    Finally, this game can be played once and folks can move on. I like this, but the continuous "one more play" effect this game had got tiring. Now, it's a nice party game filler.

  • CallMyBluff (1 play)
    I should play this more