Sunday, April 24, 2005

SdJ 2005 Virtual Stock Market Game

As we are about to enter the season of speculating over who will win
the Spiele des Jahres this year, I thought it would be nice if people
could put their (fake) money where their mouth is and participate in a
virtual stock market. I've always wanted to implement a virtual stock
market, and this seemed like a good excuse.

The basic idea is that you buy "shares" in the various games and only
the eventual SdJ winner pays out in the end ($100 per share). So, go
put your prognostication skills to the test in the 2005 Spiele des Jahres Virtual Stock Market Game.
I'll post the top few "winners" when the award is given.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Sleeptracker Review

While I was in college, I thought it would be really great if I could
arrange it so my alarm clock would wake me up when I was in a light
sleep rather than when I was in a deep sleep. I tried hooking up a
microphone to the computer near the bed to detect sound (I assumed I'd
be more likely to roll around and the like when in a light sleep) and
trigger based on that. There was too much ambient noise in a college
dorm environment and I gave up on the idea and I haven't had a
computer near my bed to try again since.

When I read about the href="">Sleeptracker, I was naturally
very pleased, but at the same time skeptical. Their webiste had the
tone of a scam; light on specifics, high on claims. A while later,
Gear Live published a href="">very
positive review and my interest was again piqued. I decided to order one.

It works. I wouldn't say I bounce out of bed, exicted and happy to
start the day with it. I'm simply not that much of a morning person.
However, I've not had that awful "please, not now" headache feeling I
often get when the alarm goes off. Of course, with a baby, the baby
often beats the alarm, in which case it's less effective.

It works by having an internal accelerometer which detects motion over
some period of time (it seems to require two movements in about a
minute, but that might not be quite right) and it considers such
movement a "light sleep" moment. It then ignores you for 8 minutes
and starts waiting for movement again. It's a simple and good system.
It doesn't require any reliable skin contact, it isn't sensitive to
ambient light, noise or even to my detection movement by someone else
in bed.

I wish they'd put such an explanation on their web site that explains
this rather than mumbo jumbo like: "[it] continuously monitors signals
from your body that indicate". Yeah, singals like whether or not
you are moving
. It would improve their credibility a lot. They should at
least put something in the manual. The fact that it uses an
accelerometer was apparent after playing with it for an hour or two.
The managing partner in the company stated it explicitly in href=>this
interview, so it's not a big secret. Oh well.

It's a bit expensive ($150), but it does what it says and it does it
well. I'm glad I have mine.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Around the World reactions

I played Around the World in 80 Days several times before the Gathering and didn't play it once
at the Gathering. This wasn't because I don't like it any more; in
fact, I like it a great deal, but I was focused on new games a lot.

But, it's worth mentioning that there was a very interesting
bi-modality of the reactions to this game. Many people seemed to have
a similar reaction to me, which is that it was a fun, interesting
light strategy game. Several comments were made suggesting it would
be a good SdJ contendor. Others seemed to have a very negative
reaction, which really surprised me. I can see someone not especially
liking it, but I was rather surprised by the frequency and magnitude
of the negative opinions, given the similar occurence of very positive

Given that, maybe it really is a Spiele des Jares 2005 possibility.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gathering 2005 Photos and Summary

Louis XIV, one of the Gathering favorites

David Hansel goes for worms to go with his 4's in Heckmeck

Genevieve Gray watches a game, kindly avoiding pointing out her father's strategic errors

James Miller, Greg Schloesser, Patrick Korner and Herby Levy play Dorra's Kreta

As usual, the Gathering was a great experience. I played many fewer
games this year (about half) partially because I played longer games,
but mostly because we had to spend a lot of time with Genevieve. I
still managed to play over 50 games and over 30 new-to-me games and
had a great time gaming, socializing and visiting some sights around


As previously mentioned, the big hit for me was Fiese Freunde Fette
Feten. Other games ratings, though many of these are based on a single play:

Very good games I expect to have some longevity: FFFF, Amazonas,
Heckmeck, Carcassonne: The Discovery, Diamant, Fjorde, Jambo, Louis
XIV, Ticket to Ride Europe.

Games that have potential, but I didn't play enough to be sure:
Dungeon Twister, Farfalia, King Arthur card game, Kreta, Manila, Oltre
Mare, Submarine, Tower of Babel.

Not bad, but probably nothing special in the long run: Adventure
League, Boomtown, Dancing Dice.

Not impressed: Montanara, Oriente, Walk the Dogs.

People & Sights

Genevieve was very good in general and spent some time in the hall,
playing on the floor, playing on the table and socializing with and
charming everyone in sight. She didn't win any tournaments though.

Gorilla at the Columbus Zoo, expressing disappointment in Knizia's "Tower of Babel"

Genevieve Gray meets a sea turtle at the Columbus Zoo

We didn't spend all of our time gaming though, and visited the
Columbus Zoo with friends at the Gathering who also brought their
kids. Genevieve enjoyed the zoo and loved the aquarium portion
with manatees and sea turtles.

21st century baby monitoring

I'm very glad we figured out the baby monitoring solution, and it substantially increased the amount of
gaming we could do. Genevieve wasn't so thrilled with the hotel room
and a couple times we had to run up to the room and comfort her back
to sleep, but she did well. I suspect she just wanted to be
downstairs gaming with us.

Graeter's ice cream is very very good

We also went out to Graeter's Ice Cream which is delicious. In
particular, their "Buckeye Blitz" is a chocolate peanut butter ice
cream that is among the best ice cream I have ever had. I can see why
Keith Lockhart gets it shipped in to Boston.

Fabulous Friedemann Friese

Gaming glitterati - Rick Thornquist and Greg Schloesser

Back at the event, I got to talk to a lot a lot of folks "in the
business". While I remain mostly uninterested in being in the
business of games (I like keeping my work and hobbies separate), I'm
always interested to know more about it. Jay Tummelson and Stefan
Brueck are always interesting to talk to. And, as always, Friedemann
Friese is always a real pleasure to talk to. I gushed profusely to
him about FFFF and it was interesting to get his take on some of the
cards and bits from the game. It'll be interesting to me to see which
things get changed in the US edition other than some discreet
obscuring of any exposed nipples. For example, one of the cards is
"Kutterpullen", or lifeboat racing, a hobby that Friedemann apparently
has done. It sounds like it may change to "Bowling" or "Softball
League" or the like.

Some board game geek

Scott Alden of boardgamegeek
and I got to play a few games and talk quite a bit. With luck, some
of the stuff we talked about will make it to the geek soon. Scott
spent a lot of time recording GeekSpeaks at the Gathering, and
everyone should keep an ear out for them.

Lots of Heroscape on the prize table

At the prizetable, we got very lucky. Tournament winners get first
picks, followed by everyone drawn randomly. My wife's name was second
among the non-tournament winners. We got "Piratenbilliards", a great
dexterity game I first played at the Gathering in 2002. Then, the
luck of the pick ended, and my name was picked second-to-last. I
still got Zendo. Maybe the luck handn't actually run out.

Overall, it was a great Gathering. For me, only one standout hit
game, but overall one of the best Gathering experiences I've had and
they've all been quite good.

All new at the Gathering

I usually play a lot of new games at the Gathering, but this year, it
went to an even greater extreme. With two exceptions (Liar's Dice and
Quack Shot), every game I played at the Gathering this year was new to
me this year. In fact, with only a two more exceptions (Diamant, Walk
the Dogs), every game I played was new to me at the Gathering. This
is a good thing, since I haven't had much other opportunity to play
the new stuff. In the 6 months leading up to Gathering 2004, I played
63 new games. In the 6 months leading up to Gathering 2005, I only
played 25 new games. This month alone I've played 34 new games (2
pre-Gathering) which is about the same as last year, but I played many
fewer total games this year.

More new games: Farfalia is good. Dancing Dice is another good dice
game and more fun than I expected. I'll post more details and an
overall summary along with a few photos when I get home.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Miscellanous notes

More second play improvements: Australia and Carcassonne: The
Discovery, both of which were "fair to good" on their first play have
been bumped up in my esteem on a second play. A second play of Louis
XIV also left me happier with it. English cards helps too. It's not
revolutionary, but it's quite a good game.

Jambo is very good but many people already seem to know that.
Montanara, not so much. Adventure League is fun and a good middle
weight Knizia game and warrants another play. I was neither
unimpressed nor excited by it.

Another game to add to the "good buzz" category is Diamant, but it's
not quite as new as some other (being all of a few weeks "old").
Shadows over Camelot is also getting a lot of good comments, though it
is long and there is only one copy so I haven't had a chance to play

Friday, April 15, 2005

A confluence of interests

Gaming, href=>technology and href=>fatherhood converged in an interesting
way. I am here at the Gathering, as is href=>Genevieve. Genevieve requires frequent naps
and goes to bed before 8pm. Unfortunately, this makes getting gaming
done a little harder, as either my wife or I have to be up in the room
while the baby sleeps. Further, we have to be quiet and the room has
to be dark, so it's not even conducive to having some friends up to
the room to game.

We checked if the baby monitor would work, but the distance from the
room to the hall is too far. Another couple was in a similar
situation, though they had two rooms, one for them and another for
their boys. We came up with a great solution. Their room was within
range of our baby monitor, and naturally their two rooms were
adjacent. So, after all the children were asleep, we put the
receivers for their monitor and our monitor in their (the other
couple's) room. Then, we put our laptop next to those baby monitors.
Fortunately, the hotel as free WiFi, something all hotels should have.
We installed Skype on our laptop and
theirs. We then made a call with Skype from our laptop to theirs, and
all the adults went down to the gaming hall with their laptop which
could "hear" any noise coming from either room. It worked great, and
all children slept peacefully and all parents had peace of mind and
got to play Louis XIV.

We used a similar set-up during Genevieve's naps during the day with
much success, and she timed her naps well to coincide with the endings
of a game of Fiese Freunde Fette
and later a game of href=>Jambo. The impressive thing to
me is not that we did it, but that it was simple to execute with no
advanced planning. VoIP over wireless, baby monitors and
interoperability are good things.

Other than gaming at the Gathering, the Columbus Zoo is very nice and
Genevieve loved the manatees. And, as always, href=>Graeter's Ice Cream is extremely

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Fillers, retries and more raving about FFFF

"Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck" and Diamant win the awards for best fillers
of the newer stuff. Both seem to be nearly universally enjoyed. I
was impressed with how well Diamant does with as few as three or as
many as eight. It's a very different game with fewer, but still fun.
The King Arthur card game may be a slight step up from "filler" but's
it's a nice card game that should surprise noone that it's by Knizia,
very much his "feel".

I played Amazonas, Fjorde, and Tower of Babel all again. Each has
improved with play, Amazonas perhaps the most. Amazonas has more
going on than it seems at first and plays pretty quick anyway. Fjorde
takes more like 45 minutes than the listed 30, but has two very
different "games" within it that mesh nicely. Tower of Babel I
enjoyed more with fewer players, but now that the gameplay is a little more
apparent, I may enjoy it with more players. Still, it was the least improved.

Fiese Freunde Fette Feten remains my favorite. I'm up to five plays,
two games in a row two nights in a row. For me to play the same 90
minute game back-to-back is a real rarity. In addition to an
entertaining and engaging theme (if a bit more "adult" than many)
which produces nice narrative, the underlying game is clever,
interesting and has some real tactical depth. The auctions offer good
opportunities for tacitcal play, but the nature of the cards, the
multi-faceted goals and the multiple, sometimes conflicting goals is
what really makes the game part of this shine.

Jay says there will definitely be an English edition, though he
probably (certainly?) won't use the Rio Grande imprint. It sounds like
there will likely be some minor art changes (there is some cartoon
nudity), but Jay said he'd try to keep it to a minimum. One or two of
the life activity cards may need to be changed as well, since some of
them aren't quite a cultural match to the US.

I'll probably play again before the Gathering is over, but I'm eager
to have it in English despite now being fairly familiar with the
German cards.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What's the Buzz?

I played another 9 games today. The recurring theme for me seems to
be that if I had high expectations, I find myself a bit disappointed
and if I wasn't expecting much, I find myself pleased. The major
exception remains Friedemann Friese's new game (co-designed with
Marcel-Andre Cassasola-Merkle, which I forgot to mention yesterday>Report-2
) which I expected to be good and now having played it
three times can continue to enthusiastically recommend it.

Kreta, I had no preconceived notions about other than it being Stefan
Dorra (a plus) and Goldseiber (neutral). It's pretty good. Nothing
revolutionary, but nicely done. Australia was a bit of a surprise;
it's a light, simple, fast Kramer-Kiesling game. Better than
expected, but I didn't expect much. Louis XIV, I expected great
things and I found it good, but probably not great. I'll play it a
couple more times before I really decide. It may be great, yet.
Submarine, all the reviews seemed to say it was very dry. Well, yeah,
I guess, but I've played drier games. Clever mechanics that combine
in interesting ways. I liked it.

As for what the "buzz" is this year, I wouldn't say it's particularly
focused. Last year, St. Petersburg, Power Grid, Goa and Ticket to
Ride had a lot of play and a lot of positive buzz. The new stuff is
getting a lot of play, but not a lot of overwhelming consent on what's
great. Loius XIV seems to be in general impressing most people
though, and Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck is getting a lot of positive
comments and play as a filler. A couple of well-developed prototypes
are getting a lot of positive opinions and I hope they see publishing.
Everyone I've played FFFF with has enjoyed it a great deal as well.
Ticket to Ride Europe has also been well received, though not getting
as much play as TTR did last year.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Friedemann Friese strikes again

This evening proved more successful in terms of finding good games. I
played Carcassonne: The Discovery, by Leo Colovini, Fiese Freunde
Fette Feten, Gone Fishing, and Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck. The Discovery
is a nice distillation of the Carcassonne mechanics down to a very
basic level, with a nice variant of meeple management. Gone Fishing
is a nice 2-player bluff, tactical and memory game. Heckmeck is a
very nice little dice game by Knizia. Reading the rules, it doesn't
sound like much, but it works very well.

Fiese Freunde Fette Feten is great. By a good margin, it's the best
game i've played so far. The goal of the game is to live out your
life according to a dealt out set of "goals". These goals include
things ranging from "get married and have children" to "start a cult"
to "have a heart attack", so maybe milestones or the like may be a
more apt description. Through card drafting and auctioning, you have
various life experiences like "love at first sight" or "go to bible
study with a date" which have various effects, like starting
relationships or increasing various attributes like religion, drug
use, wisdom and illness. When things line up, you can achieve your

The game offers some very interesting choices, as often it is hard to
sequence your goals, as they may be conflicting. The auctions and
drafting provide some nice player interaction, but further players can
become "friends" or even get married and share some of the benefits
and penalties of various life experiences. Of course, that can
change. One of things Friedemann said he was trying to accomplish
this game was a game that is fun and has a amusing and entertaining
quality but is a serious strategic game at the same time. It's rather
entertaining when you can lose a game (as I did) by failing to have a
heart attack because I didn't smoke enough. Oh well.

The art is beautiful, as Maura's work usually is, and rather funny.
There is a moderate amount of language in the game, so it's worth
waiting for an English version, especially since the theme is all the
richer when the names of the cards are understandable. Jay Tummelson
of Rio Grande flippantly reassured us he would be publishing it,
though Friedemann seemed to think (perhaps correctly) that there may
be some issues with some of the art in the US for being a little

Sunday, April 10, 2005

2005 Gathering of Friends, Part 1

Well, I've been here a couple days now and as always, it's great to
see people I don't get to see very often and the weather is wonderful.
In terms of games, nothing has really jumped out at me so far, but
that may be because of unreasonably high hopes for a few of them.

Manila is a better betting game than most. It was better played
quickly. Amazonas was good, but I was sort of hoping for more, given
it is a "big box" from Stefan Dorra. Tower of Babel wasn't as
interesting of an experience and I hope that was partially because it
was late and it was five players. I hear it is better with fewer, and
I really had high hopes for a Knizia game from Hans im Gluck. Ubongo
is another good entry in the "speed parallel puzzle sovling" genre.
Fjorde is nice. Ticket to Ride Europe is quite good. I enjoy
standard TTR, but I'm not as much a booster of it as many are. I
enjoy this new version somewhat more. The map feels "better" somehow
and the rules tweaks seem improvements.

I'll try to post some more detailed comments as the week goes on.
I'll even try to answer questions posted as comments.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

24, the arithmetic game

There's an arithmetic game called 24. The idea is to take four
integers and using the four basic arithmetic operations plus grouping,
produce the number 24. A friend recently mentioned this game again
and mentioned two of the more difficult sets: "3 3 7 7" and "1 3 4 6".
They're good ones. Some simpler examples: "1 2 3 4" is solved as
1*2*3*4. "3 4 5 6" is solved as (5+3-4)*6. "5 5 9 9" is solved as
(5*5)-(9/9). For low integers, roughly 80% of combinations work.

Of course, if you try to solve one of those 20%, you're just going to
be frustrated. My friend wrote a program to simply spit out a yes/no
answer as to whether a given combo works. I though it was a good idea
so I wrote one too. Knowing something is solvable without knowing the
solution makes for a good puzzle.

Other ways the puzzle is played is to not limit yourself to 24, but to
try to combine a set of numbers to produce 0, then 1, then 2, then 3,
etc. Some sets of numbers will let you get quite high. "1 2 5 6" will
produce every integer up to 43, and 60 distinct integers. "2 5 9 10"
will produce 79 of the numbers from 0 to 100 and 124 distinct values
overall. It's first miss is 41.

Some values are "easier" to hit than 24, which is to say an even
higher fraction of sets can be combined to produce it. "2" is the
most universal result for low numbers. All but 2 combinations of
numbers 8 and under can be combined to equal 2. Limiting yourself to
numbers 7 and under, you can always produce 0. All of the single
digit results are more frequent than 24, as are 10, 12, 14, 15, and


Friday, April 1, 2005

Games I Never Win

(Like many "list" blog entries, I'm not sure this serves any purpose other than self-indulgence, sorry.)

On average, I do reasonably well at most games. I'm better at some, worse at others. There are some I'm really bad at, like Hick Hack in Gacklewack, which I've won once in 16 plays. I'm doing something wrong, but at least I have that one win. There is, however, a limited list of games that I have never won, not even a single game. Obviously, there's a bunch of games I've played only once or twice and haven't won, but I'm not counting those. Without further ado, games (I've played 5+ times) that I've never won:

  • Coloretto (0/12)
  • Arbos (0/8)
  • Metro (0/7)
  • Wyatt Earp (0/7)
  • Zum Kuckuck (0/7)
  • Das Amulett (0/6)
  • Drahseilakt (0/6)
  • Power Grid (0/6)

I don't see any big unifying theme. A couple of them are games I
continue to enjoy very much: Power Grid and Zum Kuckuck. A couple are
games that my poor performance has certainly taken the shine off of:
Coloretto and Metro. I've never especially liked Wyatt Earp, but I
feel that way about many rummy games, but others like it so much I've
been convinced to play it a bunch. My hands are shaky, so Arbos is no
surprise; it's more of a surprise that no other dexterity games are
present. Das Amulett and Drahtseilakt I also still like. Of all of
them, I'd really like to win a game of Power Grid.