Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Games of the year, 2005

While I expect to play a few more games before the year is up, my top
10 for the year is pretty much cemented, so here it is:

Fiese Freunde Fette Feten (13 plays)
In addition to an engaging theme and a high "fun" factor, I
really enjoy the mechanics of this game. It melds auctions,
multi-dimensional optimization and careful timing into a great gaming

Crokinole (32 plays)
We've had a Crokinole board at my office for a while now, but this year several of my colleagues decided it was something worth playing at lunch, so it
definitely makes the list this year.

Blue Moon (10 plays)
See my recent review for more detailed comments. I'm glad I gave this a second look.

Around the World in 80 days (4 plays)
Light, novel, fun.

Jambo (6 plays)
A great two player that is interesting on the first play and leaves some substantial depth to explore beyond that.

Fairy Tale (6 plays)
Maybe not the "best filler ever", but a solid filler that, unlike many, has improved with repeat play.

Heroscape (6 plays)
One of the big hits of 2004 remains extremely entertaining. This would be higher if I had more opportunities to play it.

Electronic Catchphrase (15 plays)
King of party games, remains king.

Battlestations (1 play)
Only one play, but I'm eager to play more. It's a four hour game session, and I am usually not so happy with long games, but this game satisfies at more levels than most.

Techno Witches (4 plays)
The pre-programming mechanic combined with measured movement create a surprisingly clever range of tactical options.

Runners up: Louis XIV, Shadows over Camelot, Punct, Ticket to Ride, Princes of Florence, Easy Come Easy Go, Apples to Apples, Rumis, Palazzo, Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Blue Moon Review

(this is a combination of a review and some more specific comments on deck-building experiences with Blue Moon)

I had played a couple games of Blue Moon in 2004 when it first came
out, and was unimpressed. The art was pretty, but the theme didn't
really grab me and the gameplay somehow seemed unremarkable. I
essentially dismissed it.

Fast forward to fall of this year; Every couple of years, I get the
urge to play a game like Magic: The Gathering, but I've avoided it for
several reasons, despite certain appeal. The appealing features of
Magic, to me, include lots of permutations for play, a variety of
strategic approaches, opportunities for clever tactical play, and in
particular, the ability to do deckbuilding. Deckbuilding games are
appealing because they allow substantial strategic exploration before
actually playing. Most German-style games don't allow for a lot of
pre-game strategic planning. But, Magic has some huge flaws from my
perspective: blind purchases, an extremely deep money pit, and
gameplay I don't find that engaging. Well, in the process of
exploring the desire for this kind of game, I found a lot of people
saying very positive things about Blue Moon. Further, a guy I game
with regularly had recently gotten into it and had very positive
things to say about it, so I gave it another try.

Blue Moon seemed to satisfy all of the requirements. It had many
permutations (8 pre-built pre-balanced decks that were all reported to
be interesting), a range of strategies, tactics and the ability to
build decks. Further, it has no blind purchases and the "money pit"
aspect is limited. Because of the way the rules are constructed, a
(retail-priced) purchase of about $100 gets you every card and the
ability to build every legally constructable deck. So, for $200 (no
small sum of money, but still, limited) two players can play with
absolutely no limitations. In contrast, most CCGs, $200 will give you
a good start, but will only scratch the surface of the possible amount
one could spend. Finally, the comments on the net assured me the
gameplay was more compelling than it originally seemed.

So, I gave it another try, and I must say I've been extremely
impressed. The deckbuilding aspect intrigued me the most, but I
played quite a few games with the stock decks first. It's impressive
to me how dramtically different each of these pre-built decks are, and
yet how well balanced they are against each other. Each has its own
style of play, some more similar, and some rather different. But,
what I really wanted to try was the deck building.

Deck building

The Emissaries & Inquisitors deck give a variety of interesting
deck-building options with the Inquisitor cards. So, I designed a
bunch of decks (see them at my Blue Moon Deck
), and recently had the opportunity to play a couple of
games with these constructed decks. I remain extremely pleased and
entertained. The first game we played was using decks we each thought
were reasonably strong. My deck was a Mimix-based deck that had a
huge number of free cards. This meant I could very quickly play a
great many cards. My opponent's deck was a Flit deck aimed at
blocking strong cards and using direct dragon attraction cards to add
a little offensive power. The game was quite close with my deck
hammering hard on the offensive, while the Flit managed to keep
blocking most of those attacks. In the end, the Mimix won, though
only barely.

The second deck-building match we each played a deck we didn't think
we necassarily be particularly strong. I played an Aqua deck built
with the goal of being able to outlast an opponent in nearly any
fight. Through a combination of high valued cards and a large number
of shield cards (mutants and non-mutants), it would be a rare
circumstance where this deck would truly be forced to retreat and
combined with the Aqua's "Water of Immortality", there's no particular
reason to avoid burning through cards. My opponent's deck was a Khind
"one-trick" deck, but it was a powerful trick. The trick was to
collect a hand containing the right set of cards and be able to play
them all at once: both floods (forcing your opponent to retreat,
immediately) along with an number of cards which increase the number
of dragons attraced if the opponent retreats. The result was a very
unusual, but interesting game.

The entire game lasted only three fights. The first fight involved a
huge number of cards on both sides. At least 10 cards for each of us,
if not more. In the end, the Khind were forced to retreat, but
unbeknownst to me he had accumulated most of the cards into his hand
required for his "trick". A few cards into the second fight, my
opponent made an error that would rapidly lead to me winning. In the
interest of seeing how it would turn out without that error, I
suggested we back out the move. Having backed out this last play, he
managed to quickly get the full complement of required cards in his
and and triggered the trick. Two floods meant I was forced to retreat
and had to concede four dragons, moving it from two on my side to two
on his. By this point, my opponent was using his Inquisitor Razor
Mind's ability to discard cards at every opportunity. My deck
remained strong, but before I could get to 6 on my side, he was able
to retreat, ceding me a single dragon, and then discard the remaining
2 or 3 cards in his hand for the win. Overall, a very interesting

So far, I remain very interested in this game. The deckbuilding
affords a number of opportunities for strategy and analysis outside of
the context of an individual game. The gameplay itself is more fun
than I originally recognized, and experience with the decks certainly
helps. Further, the basic mechanic (a brinkmanship mechanic, not
unlike Taj Mahal) works far better in a two player game than it does
in multi-player game. Overall, a very enjoyable game experience, and
definitely it is the first I have found that truly successfully
scratches that "game like Magic" itch. Rating: A+

Friday, December 9, 2005

Licensing and Advertising

For a while now, I've had a few Google AdSense ads on my site, as an
experiment. I think the program is a great idea, and it's easy to use
and in general fairly unobtrusive. The ads that get selected are
frequently comically mismatched to the content due to homonyms or the
like, though. In any case, I figured if I could generate some revenue off of
this website, that'd be a nice fringe benefit.

When it comes down to it, it's not very much money. If it worked out
to, say, $100/year, that might feel like it's worth it. It's not very
much money, but I could buy a few games with it and it would be a nice
perk. In reality, it's not even that much, and for such a small
amount, I'd get more satisfaction from providing the content here
unsullied by the clutter of advertising (even as unobtrusive as Google
AdSense is). So, unless something changes, I'll probably continue the
experiment til the end of the year and then remove all the ads.

On a related note, I've officially put the Creative Commons license
for this blog on the web page. I used the "Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License". In the majority of cases, if
you want to commercially use any of my content (text, images, source
code) that is not explicitly otherwise licensed, I am happy to grant a
royalty-free license for such, but I do require that I be contacted

In the end, I don't put stuff here in the hopes of making a buck, I do
it because I think it makes the web a better place and it gives me an
outlet for the occasional self-indulgent rambling. I really enjoy
hearing stories from people about how their 12-year-old loves the
Heroscape Combat Simulator, or that my discussion of Baby Signs
convinced their spouse to give it a try. So, let me know if you
like/appreciate/use the stuff I put here.

Update (12/9): Several people commented that part of the issue
is that there are no ads in the RSS. This is true, but I'm not
convinced it would make a big difference anyway, for two reasons: 1) A
lot of evidence suggests "regulars" of sites don't click on ads. If
you've subscribed to the RSS feed, you're a "regular". 2) I get a lot
of random visitor traffic, mostly through google, and this is a far
greater number of visitors than the "regulars". I estimate somewhere
around 100 regular RSS-based readers of this blog. In contrast, the
web version of the blog and the Heroscape related stuff I've built in
particular (which have AdSense on them) have somewhere in the ballpark
of 1000 unique new visitors per week, excluding search engines, other
robots, etc.

I may actually try to break down the ad revenue page-by-page and leave
them on some pages if one or two pages represent the bulk of the
revenue, I may leave it. Further, I may leave the highest revenue
pages in place long enough to get over the threshold at which they'll
send me a check. In any case, I find ads in RSS much more annoying
than most ads, so I don't foresee myself ever putting those in this

On additional note for those who read via RSS: If you're interested in
reading the comments on current "front page" entries in RSS as well as
the entries themselves, there is an RSS feed that includes them at
http://mkgray.com:8000/blog/index.crss. Enjoy.