Sunday, June 27, 2004


This game has a really clever mechanic. Usually, for me, that's
enough to make me really enjoy a game. With Alexandros, this is
unfortunately not the case. It's an area influence game, which isn't
my favorite genre, but that's not my main problem with it. It isn't a
bad game, it just isn't good enough.

The really clever mechanic is that the boundaries between the areas of
interest and influence are determined by Alexandros moving around
where he moves in (roughly) straight lines on a triangular grid, one
segment per player turn. It's neat. The rest of the game is a
relatively standard area control and cardplay game, but well crafted.
The components are nice and attractively produced.

The problem I observed is that it's easy for someone to fall badly
behind, and worse, it's easy to play unintentional kingmaker. I've
only played it twice (which will probably be about it), but it even
seems it may be a bit difficult for someone to not
accidentally make a bit of kingmaking move. I understand any
multi-player game is going to have a bit of kingmaking potentially,
but Alexandros seems to have it a bit more than I enjoy. Further, the
only way around this is for players to consistently gang up on the
leader(s), which happens naturally, but it's frustrating as a
fundamental game requirement. Finally, the luck of the cards isn't
overwhelming, but it is sufficient it can stymie attempts to hit the
leader even when that's the obvous correct move.

Overall, it's a nice set of mechanics, including one novel and clever
bit, but which falls victim to a few standard problems. The game is
fun, but the novelty is not so engaging as to distract from the
problems. In both games I've played, the problems rapidly outweighed
the fun. Not recommended, but not so bad as to not be worth a try. Rating: C

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Extremely useful websites

I tend not to use this site for the usual blogging purpose of listing
"cool links" and whatnot. There's already a great many sites that do
this far better than I ever could and there's only a limited value in
re-citing useful links.

There are, however, two sites I've been reading regularly for many
months and feel they're unusually valuable and often unknown:

  • is a
    site run by an independent non-partisan group funded by the Annenberg
    Foundation. Basically, they analyze political advertising and write
    detailed response papers indicating what claims are true, false,
    exaggerated, incomplete or otherwise in need of clarification.
  • Footnote TV is a site
    which outstandingly cites references to news and issues addressed in
    various television programs, particularly "The Daily Show" and "The
    West Wing".

They're both extremely worth following.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Copyright, Patents, "Intellectual Property"

To me, one of the more interesting problems of recent times is that of
so-called "intellectual property" by which people mean copyrighted
works, patented inventions, trademarked terms and a variety of other
pieces of information. Calling it "Intellectual Property" is really
an awful name given that it lacks most of the qualities usually
associated with "property". It's non-rivalrous, in that I can have it
and give it to you and in no way diminish the extent to which I have
it. It's possible for two people to both have it without knowing it
or even ever having come in contact, in the case of simultaneous
inventions or works. It has zero marginal cost to produce "copies".
The list goes on. It's not really property.

While I was in college, I was first exposed to the whole idea of "free
software" and later, "open source". These are very compelling models
for software and I use and contribute to such projects regularly.
However, I started a proprietary software company, I hold a patent, I
wrote a copyrighted book, and don't have a problem with the idea of
proprietary software or other works as a governmentally granted right.
I have a great deal of respect for the ideals of folks like Richard
Stallman, but I think a world in which all software was copylefted
would have some incentive issues.

As a producer of creative works I recognize the value of a "creative
commons", as described by folks like Lawrence Lessig and well
discussed in a recent piece
on DRM by Cory Doctorow
. I also see the value in protection of
works as an incentive. While it is true that a great many works would
be created even without the ability to legally prevent copying and
redistribution, many would not. As has been pointed out by many, this
would still be the case even if the duration of the rights were
dramatically reduced.

If copyright were a "mere" 10 years, I can't imagine many works would
go unproduced as a result. Blockbuster movies certainly wouldn't be
shied away from. Most books don't stay in print that long. Much
software is useless after that long. And yet, every decade or two
there's a court case to extend the duration of copyright.

Patents seem to be a somewhat different case. Reducing the duration
of patent protection would probably have limited impact on software
inventions but could substantially deter more costly innovation such
as pharmaceutical development. Given that patents are individually
inspected and evaluated anyway, it seems natural that the patent
office could assign a term for a patent on a case-by-case basis.

It's a real shame that the recent case opposing to the copyright
extension didn't succeed. I fully believe copyright and patents are
important to encouraging innovation, but much shorter durations would
be a real societal benefit without be a substantial deterrent to such

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Goa and Power Grid thoughts

I played Power Grid with 2 players for the first time. I liked it.
It definitely feels a bit different than the multi-player version, but
it's still quite good. The auctions are quite different, and the
competition for cities is not relevant starting in Step 2, but the
quality of someone needing to occupy all the cities to end the game is
very appealing. While I'm unlikely to seek it out frequently with
two, it also seems it would be a very good introduction to the game
and provides an environment to experiment with the tactics a little
less disruptively.

I continue to enjoy Goa a great deal. It's long, but worth it. It
appears there are several errors in the translation on the Geek, when
compared to the Rio Grande rules. I encourage those who've learned
the rules by reading the rules on the Geek to check their English
rules if they have them. A few specifics:

  • You can place the flag marker on any place on the edge or in any unoccupied square, so long as at least one tile is orthogonally adjacent.
  • When you draw expedition cards, you discard/play (playing at most one) down to your hand limit after you draw.
  • The expedition cards for getting to the fourth and fifth rows are awarded seperately for each column, allowing up to 10 to be awarded per game. (This is unclear even in the Rio Grande rules, and I have played it both ways)

With experienced players, the game is close to the 90 minute estimate
and a lot of fun. It's a lot to keep in your head at once and I'm
tempted to allow planning on paper next time I play.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Good online game stores

It seems over the past year or so there has been a deluge of new
online games stores. I have ordered from a few of them, but for a
long time I ordered from href=;;RGBR>Funagain
primarily. Their selection is essentially the best of the domestic
online sellers and their prices are usually competetive (plus, they do
price matching, if you're willing to deal with it). Recently though I
have used Game Surplus for my
orders and have been quite pleased. In addition to having outstanding
prices and a selection that approaches Funagain's. Further, they are
in Pennysylvania which means their shipping to Boston only takes 2
days even via UPS ground, which is very nice, especially compared to
the sometimes substantial delays that shipping from Oregon (Funagain's
home) seemed to yield.

Both Game Surplus and Funagain have well done web sites and shopping
cart systems which used to more of a distinguishing characteristic.
Additionally, both are responsive to special requests and questions
over email which makes it nice to do business with them.

Sunday, June 6, 2004


Ma Ni Ki!

Ma Ni Ki!

by Dominique Erhard

Rating: A

This is a simultaneous puzzle solving game in the spirit of Ricochet
Robot, though the puzzle itself bears essentially no resemblance to
Ricochet Robot. The basic idea is you have three animals on two
platforms and you are trying to change their configuration by issuing
commands like "Ma", which moves the bottom animal on one platform to
the top, or "Ni" which swaps the top two animals on the two platforms.
As a result, the game is a race to shout out multi-syllable commands
such as the eponymous "MaNiKi", or "LoNiMaSo" or the like.

The game is a blast, and the components are absolutely beautiful
rectilinear wooden animals, along with cards showing the 24 possible
target configurations. No individual puzzle is very hard, but the
speed element makes it appropriately challenging. My only concern is
that it may get a little repetetive after several plays.

The game suggests an "advanced" variant of excluding the "Ni" command
from the options. Another advanced variant that I expect to try is
requiring all solutions to be four syllalbles or fewer, with one
exception. If the current puzzle is a stack of 3 animals and the goal
is to move that stack wholesale to the other platform, the shortest
possible command to do so is five syllables. All other
transformations are possible in four syllables, although some of them
are subtle and a lot easier to find as five or six syllable commands.

Overall, a very entertaining and clever game. It also has the
advantage many puzzle games have of easily allowing a virtually
unlimited number of players and easily allowing the introduction of
new players mid-game. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 4, 2004

How big is the boardgames market?

There's a lot of attempts to define and estimate the size of the board
games market. Even many of the publishers don't have precise numbers
because they sell their games to distributors and retailers and do not
get sell-through numbers reliably through their customers. There are
a few obvious things that could be measured to try to measure the size
of the market. The traditional way is to measure the total copies or
dollars of a game sold or a similar number. These are interesting,
but number of people is more interesting.

The question "How many board gamers are there?" is very specifically
predicated on the definition of a "board gamer". When I ask the
question, I even more specifically mean German-style board game
player. So, I am excluding focused Go and Chess afficionados,
ConSim/War game players and other people who could reasonably called
board gamers. By this definition, I think the number is between 2,000
and 80,000. If I had to go down to a specific number I'd say there's
about 4,000 "serious gamers" and about 40,000 "casual gamers". One
obvious way to try to measure this though is to measure total copies
of particular popular games that have been sole.

Presumably, if there are 100,000 copies of Carcassonne sold, there are
roughly that many people who own a copy. Naturally, there's some
fraction of those still in the distributor and retail channel.
Further, there's some number of those copies that were never opened,
never played, or played and abandoned. So, the total number of people
who actually play it with any regularity is somewhat lower. But, even
the initial number is hard to obtain for any given game.

In an attempt to come up with at least approximate estimates, I took
to looking at the href=>BoardGameGeek collections data
as a starting point. For a number of games, there's a known print run
size and it is known to be essentially completely distributed.
Further, for man other games, print run/distributions sizes are
approximately known. Given this and the number of BGG collections a
game appears in, it is possible to estimate the number of total owners
any given game has. This number will not be precise, but it seems to
be reasonably accurate, within about an order of magnitude. Overall,
I estimate between 1 and 10% of most "German-style" games are
reflected in the BGG collections for typical games. More "mainstream"
games yield lower percentages and extreme niche games are higher
percentages. The table below shows some of the games I based this
estimate on.

BGG ownersBGG %
ad acta1500815%
Ticket to Ride100004634.63%
Apples to Apples1000000~10000.1%

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Chase Mortgage Customer Service

I recently found a problem on my mortgage statement caused due to a
sequence of errors by Chase, my bank and me. I called Chase customer
service to try to get it resolved and was appalled at the service I
received. The customer service representative was unhelpful,
uninformed and rude. I asked that she have someone who could help me
call me back the next day.

Nobody called the next day, and I went to their web site and sent an
email inquiry, expecting that to go to into the black hole that is
often email support. A bit less than 48 hours later I received a
polite, helpful, informative and apologetic email back explaining both
what they would do and what I needed to do in order to correct the
problem. I was shocked.

A couple weeks later, I checked back online and my online statement
did not seem to reflect the changes I expected it to. I sent another
email inquiry. Another 48 hours later and I got back another
response, again politely apologetic, indicating the problem had indeed
been resolved and their online system unfortunately did not always
reflect those changes promptly.

Today, I received both a paper statement and a hand signed letter from
Chase indicating the problem had been resolved and apologizing for the
confusion. While I am still rather disturbed at their response when I
called, the quality of their email support largely made up for it.
Given that email support is probably an economical solution for them
and at many levels a preferable solution to me, I'm pleased to know
they are using it effectively and I'll naturally use it in preference
to the phone in the future. I hope their poor quality phone service
is not at all an intentional attempt to drive people to the
easier-to-manage email support.

In any case, if you have a customer service issue with Chase, skip the
phone and send them an email.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Recent Games Played

Blosxom is nice. It made it very easy to add a "Recently Played
Games" box to the sidebar of my blog. A little self-indulgent, but
that's what blogs are for, right? I also added a "Send me a
note" form in the sidebar, but that's just HTML.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

May 2004 Games

May, 2004

May was a really slow month for games, but after April, that's ok.

27 played, 24 titles (3 new to me) over 9 sessions with 22
diffent people.

Hot Games for May, 2004

St. Petersburg
A local pulled this off the prize table at the
Gathering so it's naturally gotten a lot of
play. Very good. My copy should arrive this week.

I continue to enjoy this, particularly with 4 players.

I recently played the "short game", where you only
play to the number of VPs proscribed for one more player than you have. Works well.

Nice Knizia abstract.

I still enjoy this, especially with the variant.

San Juan
I actually wish I'd played more of this.

Industrial Waste
It always surprises me who likes this and who doesn't. I still enjoy it a great deal.

6 nimmt!
This went on a brief, undeserved hiatus in March and April. Good to have it back.

You're Bluffing
This really makes you think differently, and that's nice.

Adam & Eva
Lighter, but among the best of the flag influence games.