Friday, December 29, 2006

Games of the year, 2006

This year, I'm doing a few categories as well as an overall "game of the year".

Best Light Game/Filler

Um Krone und Kragen

I really enjoy this one and it is a shame the English edition has run
into printing problems and the like. Once I get my own copy, I expect plays to go up.

2-player Game

Times Square

This is fun, but unfortunately it is more representative of a bit of a
weak year for 2-player games, for me. Honorable mention for two older
2-player games that I enjoyed a lot this year: Deflexion and Darter.

Kids/Family Game

Nacht der Magier

Very cute and plays well (albeit very differently) in the dark and in the light.


Blue Moon City
An outstanding offering from Knizia. Honorable mentions (both very strong): Thurn & Taxis and Augsburg 1520.

Amerigame and Game of the Year


I am not usually a big fan of long games, but when I like them, they
tend to be the deeply thematic games. This game really manages to hit
that the dungeon crawl sweet spot and remains engaging and interesting
for it's full (4 hour) duration as either Hero or Overlord and over
multiple scenarios.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

My BGG tools and toys

I've written a variety of BoardGameGeek tools and toys, some mentioned
here, some mentioned on the BGG forums. I thought it would be useful
to have a single page which lists them. Here it is: Matthew Gray's BGG Tools. It includes the
trade tools, colllection tools, and a "random BGG game" bookmarklet.
There's one more, very neat, addition I'll hopefully be adding soon,
but it may take some time to work out the kinks. Enjoy.

(This is posted under the WebServices category because most, but not
all of the tools use the BGG XML API)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Great Service

I've had three remarkably good customer service experiences recently,
so I thought I'd take a moment to remark on them here.

A couple of months ago, I decided to order Darter (href=>, and placed an
order on their web site. They indicated when in shipped, and I
eagerly looked forward to its arrival. Given that they sent it
priority mail, I expected it in a couple of days. After a week had
gone by, I was getting worried. I took an evening walk when I noticed
a box in the bushes of a neighbors house a few doors down. I fished
the box out, and it was addressed to me, from the Darter folks, ripped
open and completely empty. I emailed the publisher, letting them know
what had happened. They mailed me a replacement immediately for no
extra charge. Oh, and it's a very good game.

Last month, I decided to order some games that had come out earlier in
the year as well as a new release or two and some Christmas presents.
However, some of them had just gone out of stock at GameSurplus, so I
emailed them. I asked if they could wait to see if they could get
more in stock quickly, and if so, hold off on mailing them, otherwise
ship them immediately. Then, I changed my order. Then, I added
something else to my order. GameSurplus dealt with all this
indecision and complication wonderfully. They got one game, and
weren't able to get another, and shipped the order such that I had the
games by the weekend. Most online retailers do a reasonably good job
if you do things in a straightforward manner. Any complication, they
usually don't do as well. In this regard GameSurplus excels.
Additionally, most places, the reason shipping takes so long is they
don't "fulfill" or "handle" and order often until the day after you
order, if not more. The actually delivery companies are pretty quick.
GameSurplus takes, as far as I can tell, zero time doing "handling".
Plus, to the Boston, the shipping is fast. An order placed on early
Wednesday afternoon is here on Friday. href=>GameSurplus is a paragon of
mom-and-pop online retailing.

Finally, I had an issue with my iPod nano. For some reason, it got
stuck on "lock". I'd toggle the little switch, but nothing would
happen. I read about a few other similar reports online and tried
various approaches: toggle the switch fast, drain the battery to
nothing, reinstall the firmware, etc. Nothing had any effect. I
could plug it in and see everything on it on the computer, but I
couldn't do anything with the iPod directly because the buttons were
non-responsive, because that's the whole point of the "lock". So, I
happened to be near an Apple Store and I brought it over to the
"Genius Bar". This was on Black Friday. There was no wait, and the
guy looked at it, asked if he could take it in the back, and
disappeared for a little while. He came back and had not had any
success. He asked if it was still under warranty, and I indicated I
was pretty sure it was not, as I had purchased it last September. He
looked it up by serial number and confirmed it was out of warranty,
but asked, "Well, do you mind losing the engraving?" referring to the
engraved name on the back. I said no and was given an identical new
(possibly refurbished, but completely pristine) replacement unit, in
exchange for my non-functioning out-of-warranty iPod. That's customer
service "genius".

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Not a collector

I own a lot of games, but I don't really consider myself a "game
collector", since I own them to play them, not just to own them,
generally. But as I continue to acquire more games, despite a reduced
rate, I occasionally question whether I've become a collector.

I recently looked at the list of SdJ winners and realized I owned most
of them. It turns out, other than this years, and 3 others, I own
them all. So, I thought about whether I feel any compulsion to buy
Torres, Auf Achse and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Well,
I've been meaning to try Auf Achse and Sherlock, which sound sort of
appealing, but without trying them, I don't feel any need to own them.
Torres I've tried several times and don't like. I don't need to own
it. I feel vindicated, for surely a "collector" would feel a need to
have the complete set.

But, just to be sure, I checked the DSP list. I don't own Lowenherz,
but I do have Domaine, so that doesn't really count. The only one I'm
genuinely missing is Der Fliegende Hollander. Again, no compulsion.
But, actually, it's only one game, and it does sound sort of
interesting. Uh oh.

Friday, November 3, 2006

BGG XML Snapshots

I made a href=>snapshot
of all the ranked games on BGG in XML format. Do interesting
things with it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Another month metric update

A few years ago, I posted the idea of a month metric
for gauging the long term worthiness of a game. Last year, I posted
an update to my top games by month metric and
I figured it's worth doing again. Games that score 10 or above on the
month metric (played on at least 10 occasions in different months),
make for a nice sort of "hall of fame".

When I posted a bit over a year ago, the list was 27 games: Electronic
Catchphrase, Crokinole, Can't Stop, 6 nimmt!, Call my Bluff, Battle
Line, Zirkus Flohcati, Speed, Lost Cities, TransAmerica, RoboRally,
Ra, For Sale, Apples to Apples, Knockabout, Carcassonne, Hick Hack in
Gacklewack, Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico, Ricochet Robot,
SpinBall, Traumfabrik, Settlers of Catan, Medici, Igel Argern, Lord of
the Rings, and Schnaeppchen Jagd.

In the past year or so since I updated, the following 7 games have
joined the list: Cartagena, San Juan, Basari,
Euphrat & Tigris, Loopin' Louie, Fiese Freunde Fette
, and Shit!. I remain pretty happy with the metric as
a "hall of fame" measure.

When I last posted, I predicted a few games would make this list
before long. Of those predicted, only San Juan has made it so far,
but Heroscape is only one more play away from making the list and the
others (Ticket to Ride, Oasis, Adam & Eva) seem like still not bad
bets for the next year or two, but it may take a while for them to get
up there.

Of this years crop, Um Krone und Kragen seems likely to make
the list before too long. It's already at 4 and I don't even own a
copy yet, plus it's short. Thurn und Taxis, Descent and
Blue Moon City each have a score of 3 so far and will likely
climb, but it may take some time before they hit 10.

The "elite" set, those that score 20 or above, remain the same:
Electronic Catchphrase, Crokinole, 6 nimmt!, Call my Bluff, Can't Stop
and Battle Line. Zirkus Flohcati and Ra will probably
break in before too long.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Orb-weaver Spider

I believe this is an Araneus, but I'm not certain. An inch or two across.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Image Stitching

One of my game shelves

For many years, I've found the idea of image stitching, where a piece
of software takes several overlapping images and constructs one larger
image from them. Years ago, I looked for a program to do this, and
was always disappointed in the results. I even wrote one of my own,
in Java, using a simulated annealing algorithm that worked quite well,
but still not as well as I'd like. Since then, every couple of years
I've checked out the current offerings and always walked away a little

What I've been hoping for is a program that is

  • wholly automated and doesn't require pre-aligning or tweaking the images,
  • usable with handheld shots, not just nicely rotated images taken off a tripod,
  • able to use not just horizontal arrays, but full grids of images, and
  • capable of producing reasonable results with indoor and near objects, rather than just landscapes.

My own algorithm worked fine with tripod-shot landscapes of arbitrary
composition, but I don't shoot with a tripod much, so it's not really
useful to me. Well, I recently did some more research and I finally
found something that meets my needs, and another one that came close.

The winner is Calico by Kekus Digital. Calico is the fully automated version of PTMac, a supposedly very nice stitcher which involves a lot of tweaking. Calico
essentially doesn't allow any tweaking. You open up all the images,
tell it to stitch, and it does. It does remarkably well with handheld
shots and even does funky angles very well. For the "easy" case of
mostly horizontal panoramas such as this "small" one of the 2005 Blizzard, it does a
flawless job. For the harder case, such as the game shelf shown,
where the images were taken very nearby and there was a large array of
images (over a dozen), it does outstandingly. There are some issues, but they are remarkably minor. If you want a closeup to see the imperfections, check out this 32+ megapixel composite of one of my my game shelves. If you want to see an essentially flawless one, check out this 8 megapixel 180-degree composite of Baltimore, constructed from original 2 megapixel images. Calico is $39.

The runner-up is DoubleTake which has a far better user interface and is a real pleasure to use,
but doesn't do nearly as well on the multi-row short-range handheld
stitching as Calico did. DoubleTake is also less than half the price
of Calico, at $16.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Game Store Database

For 6+ years, I've run a game store database at my site. It's user interface was ugly, clunky, but functional. For a long time, I've been meaning to update this to a more modern interface, with Google Maps, better geocoding support, and things like that. Well, it's finally done. Please check out

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Someone write this Firefox plugin

I browse with a lot of Firefox windows open and each with many tabs.
I probably never have fewer than a dozen tabs open across three or
more windows. Often, I'll have 50+ tabbs open, and usually Firefox
does alright. Some web sites, however, behave poorly. Whether Flash,
animated images or most often, JavaScript, they use up CPU when I'm
not looking at them. In some cases, this is legitimate and
reasonable. I like the fact that Gmail checks for new mail and is
always reasonably up to date. However, several sites use CPU for no
good reason. For example, the old BGG menu system (which Scott has
thankfully replaced) called setInterval with a timeout of
30ms. For a menu system. Other web sites are worse.
Unfortunately, isolating this sort of problem is hard when you have 30
tabs open. I can see Firefox using 50% CPU, but why?

So, someone needs to write a Firefox "process monitor". It's not
exactly a standard process monitor, in that JavaScript lacks typical
processes, but it would provide a few things. First, it would provide
a list of current setInterval and setTimeout calls
by origin, original scheduled time and remaining time. Second, it
would provide some ability to pause (or even auto-pause, when not in
the foreground) tabs from using CPU resources. This would make fault
isolation easier and would be useful to say, pause everything other
than Gmail. Finally, if possible, it would provide some estimate of
CPU usage on a per-open-page basis, like a traditional process
monitor. Right now, Firefox pops up the "unresponsive script" warning
at some threshhold, so I'm hoping there's some ability to measure the
usage in a more granular way. I don't know enought about SpiderMonkey
to know how feasible any of this is, but I really need it, especially
as more and more nice JavaScript heavy "Web 2.0" apps appear.

For now, Venkman, the JavaScript debugger is of some assistance, but
not nearly as much as I'd like. Is there some other tool out there
I'm not finding that offers some of this capability? Anyone care to write one?

Saturday, August 5, 2006

I am again a father!

My son, Bryce Heitman Gray was born last week, on 7/26/2006.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2006 SdJ Virtual Stock Market Results

Once again, the market correctly predicted the outcome of the SdJ jury selection.

Thurn und Taxis, which was consistently the highest priced game in the virtual market, in fact won. Here are the final prices.

Final Market Conditions
Aqua Romana9.79.712.0
Blue Moon City21.525.025.0
Just 4 Fun3.33.24.0
Thurn und Taxis53.053.054.9

But of course, the real question is, who won the market? This year, five users managed to more than double their starting value (each player started with $10,000 and 100 shares of each stock, guaranteed to be worth exactly $10,000 as well). They are:

  • Winner: huber: $54,723
  • Arby: $53,459
  • beckerc: $45,648
  • Automatix: $42,762
  • Ludes: $40,736

All ended the game with no cash, and many shares of T+T. Joe Huber, the winner, also was in the top 6 for total number of transactions at 186. Ludes wasn't far behind at 170 transactions. Arby managed to get 2nd place with only 59 transactions. User "mit" also gets an honorable mention for being the only player who ended with more cash than their starting net worth, at $20,936.

We had roughly the same number of active participants this year, at 126, with 100 people engaging in 10 or more transactions. In various alternate universes, here's who would have won:

  • If Blue Moon City had won, Ninjabob would have won, with over $100,000
  • If Aqua Romana had won, Scurra would have won, with over $200,000
  • If Seerauber had won, aseoghenrik would have won, with over $270,000
  • If Just 4 Fun had won, aldie would have won, with over $370,000

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Game Clusters

A while ago, I href=>wrote about
game correlations on BGG. I recently thought it would be
interesting to apply a hierarchical clustering algorithm to those
correlations. So I did. What this yields is a
big nested tree of games, not based on shared attributes such as
"Knizia games" or "auction games", but based on correlations among people's preferences.

It produces a lot of interesting results, many very natural, a few
surprising. For example, the GIPF series ends up clustered along with
Go, Crokinole, Ingenious, Abalone, and Quarto. Of course, it also
ends up near Tongiaki and Oasis, which is a little surprising.

Pretty much all of the mass-market games get clustered together, with
Baloon Cup and Street Soccer being slightly surprising "visitors" to
that cluster. Then, there's the "traditional games" cluster which
ends up with a handful of Kosmos 2-players in the same parent cluster.
Those form a super-cluster with the mass-market games, with Tichu and
Sleuth thrown in.

Another surprising grouping was that the "chaotic game" cluster
(Democrazy, Fluxx, Castle, etc) ended up as a sub-cluster of a larger
cluster dominated by heavy and involved games and a bunch of Steve
Jackson games. I would not hae expected Civilization and "Devil Bunny
Needs a Ham" to end up so close.

I was slightly surprised that there was no single "party games"
cluster. Some, like Apples to Apples, ended up in an abstract games
super-cluster. Others, like Pictionary and Balderdash ended up in a
mini party-games cluster along with a bunch of slightly older Euro
games. Still others like Catchphrase end up in the residual outer
cluster of games that aren't especially strongly linked at all.

Perhaps the greatest trend is the extent to which games that came out
around the same time end up clustered. Perhaps Java, Torres and Ta Yu
have some other commonality other than all coming out 1999-2000, but
that seems an obvious shared attribute.

Are there any clusters that havve an obvious theme/category for 100%
of the games in them other than the ones I've already labeled?

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Charts for the SdJ Virtual Stock Market

You can now see charts for the SdJ market. The charts are updated every 30 seconds.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

SdJ 2006 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 implemented a virtual stock market for this last year, a good time was had by all, and then I lost the system in a disk crash. I rewrote it.

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 href=>2006 Spiele des Jahres Virtual Stock Market Game.
I'll post the top few "winners" when the award is given.

You can also see the results from last year.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The "Gentle Seduction", faster than I guessed

In 1989, I read "The Gentle Seduction" by Marc Stiegler, in Analog magazine. It was a wonderfully optimistic tale of gradual but powerful adoption of technology by a skeptical woman. It stands out as one of a small number of stories that I still remember in vivid detail. One of the compelling images from the story to me was a scene in which the woman was hiking on a mountain wearing a "headband", essentially a neural-interface PDA:

For a moment she wished she could see it from above as well--and her heart skipped a beat as the wish came true. Suddenly she was looking down from a great height. She saw the long curves of shadows across the snow from high above, and she saw the shorter but distinctive shadow of a woman with a pack standing on the snow field. She threw the headband to the ground even as she realized what she had just seen: a view of the Mountain from a satellite passing by.

At the time I read this, this seemed a wonderfully amazing and futuristic notion. I was enamored by the idea of this kind of casual and seamless integration of technology. While the story wasn't explicit about dates, the above passage supposedly occured sometime around 2080.

Yesterday, we went out to dinner. We were going a little early and the weather was very nice, so we wondered if there was a playground nearby we could take our daughter to. Most maps don't depict playgrounds, but I brought up Google Maps sattelite view and scanned the area until I found this playground barely a block from where we usually park. After dinner, we walked over to the park and my daughter swung on the swings and had a great time.

Google Maps isn't "live", I wasn't accessing it from a mobile device (though I could have), and the interface was far from "neural", but the features that made the story so striking to me 17 years ago were all true. I had casually thought, "I bet there's a playground in thatarea. Let me look." Moments later, I had a high-resolution satellite map of the area, enough to pick out the shadow of a swingset. Pointing out that technology has advanced at a remarkable rate and we
live in an age of technological wonders is beyond passe, but the parallel between that scene from "The Gentle Seduction" and my life yesterday compelled me to write about it.

To cap it off that "the future is now" feeling, as I was writing this, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could find the text of the story online, rather than digging through old boxes of magazines to find the relevant quote?" That thought, a few words into Google and here we go: The Gentle Seduction by Marc Stiegler. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A bound for game collection size

One common discussion that comes up among avid acquirers of boardgames
is "How many is too many?", or to put it another way "How many games
can I justify owning?" I decided to take a look at this
mathematically, by defining some assumptions and analyzing some data.

Let me state my assumptions. First, I assume the vast majority of a
game collection is to be played. I don't acquire games to "collect",
I acquire them to play them. Sure, some fraction of my games may be
kept for nostalgia or other purposes, but it's probably about 10%. We
can tack that on at the end. Second, I assume I don't actually care
about whose copy of a game I play. If a game is worth playing, it is
worth owning, even if I may end up occasionally or frequently playing
someone else's copy. Third, I assume I want to have the reasonable
expectation of playing the bulk of the games in my collection every
several years. The exact value of "several" affects the collection
maximum, but not by an overwhelming amount. The exact value of "the
bulk" has a more linear impact, but it's a good number to use to
characterize how willing one is to have games you may not play in the
name of having greater selection. Finally, I assume some fraction of
titles played I will have no interest in owning.

Next, I looked at the data. The number of different games played in a
particular interval fits an impressively reliable curve. Based on the
past 6.5 years of data, I can say with high confidence that in any
given month, I will play about 32 titles. In 6 months, 145 titles,
with obviously some overlap from month to month. In a year, 250
titles. Looking at a full range of time periods I was able to fit a
curve that fits very well. Now, for any period I can give a
reasonably confident estimate of how many different game titles I
would likely play in that time period.

Next, I had to pick out the various threshholds. How many years
should I allow to play the whole collection? Well, I think 5 years is
about reasonable, but will also calculate for 50 years (the remainder
of my life, roughly) to get an absolute upper bound. Next, what
fraction of games I play am I interested in owning? The number seems
to be about 50% of those I play. Finally, what fraction of games I
own do I want to play in that period? I'd say about 70%. Having 30%
provide a buffer of selection seems reasonable. Finally, I'll add the
10% nostalgia number on the end.

So, let's do the math: In 5 years, the curve says I will play about
740 distinct titles. In 50 years, I will play about 2000 distinct
titles. Cut those in half, to eliminate the 50% I don't need to own
and you get 370 and 1000. Add in the "selection buffer" for variety
and the numbers become 528 and 1428. Finally, add in some for
nostalgia and the occasional "collectible" and you get 580 and 1571.
The good news is, in either case, I can keep buying new games.

So, in an effort to help others justify their own game collections,
I've created a tool that does all the math for
Naturally, it's a bit of an approximation, since I can't do
the full curve fit and your curve may even be different form mine, but
it's reasonable to guess that it may not be tha far off. Enjoy.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Two BGG things

I've done a couple of new BoardGameGeek-related things lately as well as some expansion and documentation of the XML API I wrote about before. Specifically, I created a Greasemonkey fix to the buggy BGG menus, a stripped down "BGG mobile" and some minor schema changes and improved features in the BGG XML API.

Over the past several months, I've been noticing some annoying slowness in Firefox. It seemed intermittent, and I finally got around to tracking it down. It turns out the culprit was the BGG dropdown menus. For whatever reason (a bug I assume) they do a little callback every 55ms. This is insane, for a dropdown menu, especially since it's always running. Scott is aware of the problem, has contacted the provider of the menus and will hopefully eventually roll out a fix. In the meantime, I didn't want every open BGG tab using up a chunk of CPU. When you've got 15 tabs open, it really adds up. So, using a combination of AdBlock to block the /udm-resources/* URLs from the geek and a greasemonkey menu replacement script, it is fixed. Rather than do something slick like replace the menu system with something better in every way, I just replaced it with a big pop-up accessible via a "menu" link at the top of the page. I use the menus rarely enough that this is more than good enough for my purposes. The CPU issues are gone. If you don't know what Greasemonkey is, read my post on Greasemonkey.

I finally got a web browser for my Blackberry. It's slow, but
functional. While it actually manages to render BGG, it is almost
unusable as an interface, simply because BGG tends to assume a
reasonably large screen. So, using the XML API, I wrote my own href=>BGG Mobile. It's purely an interface to game
information, and only the basics at that. The idea is, if I'm in a
game store, thrift store or whatever, I can find out if a particular
game is any good. It shows me it's rating, basic information, and
user comments. It's got two additional things worthy of note. First,
it translates the rating into a number of stars that is entirely
arbitrary, but matches my gut feeling for significant cutoffs. That
is, the difference on BGG between a 6.0 game and a 7.0 game is much
more significant than the difference beween a 4.0 and a 5.0, and even
more than the difference between a 7.0 and an 8.0. A 6.0 game isn't
very good. A 7.0 game is. Additionally, it shows "consensus comments"
for games with a lot of comments. These are generated via textual
analysis of the existing user comments on a game, and it automatically
picks the 5 most representative comments. Both of these features (the
"BGG mobile" interface and the consensus comments, not the stars) will
probably eventually make it to BGG proper, but in the meantime, enjoy
them on my site.

Finally, I've made various bug fixes and feature improvements to the
BGG XML API. Most usefully, check out the href=>BGG XML API

Sunday, May 7, 2006


I saw a listing for a class about another interesting hobby called href=>Letterboxing. It
sounds a lot like GeoCaching, but without a GPS. Using a "clue",
which may be straightforward directions, obscure directions or an
involved puzzle, one locates a "letterbox". Neat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Stuff other than the games

I commented a bit about the non-gaming aspects of the Gathering, but
thought I'd put in a few more specific notes here.

I feel like I met fewer new people at this year's Gathering than I
have in the past, but looking at the numbers, that probably isn't
true. Several people, I was especially pleased to meet.

I finally got to meet Mike Gray, from Hasbro, who I am frequently
mistaken for in online forums. He's a great guy, but I don't think
the error would ever be made in person.

Buckeye Blitz Ice Cream from Graeter's

As mentioned earlier, I met and played several games with Matthew
Monin who I am especially greatful to for introducing me to Descent,
which I bugged him all week to Overlord for us. He was in high demand
in this role. On Saturday night, starting after midnight, we got a
game together and as I mentioned earlier, he altogether crushed us.
We also had the pleasure of going out with some other folks to
Graeter's Ice Cream, always a treat. Matthew makes a rather different
impression in person than he had online to me. In both environments,
he is a pleasure to interact with. Further, he is perhaps the only
other Matthew I have met who is as insistent on being "Matthew"
rather than "Matt" as I am.

Another BGGer, Ava Jarvis stands out as another person I'm
particularly glad to have met. She has a remarkable breadth and depth
of experience that is somehow surprising given her unassuming nature.
Plus, we played a rather entertaining game of RoboRally when she had
gotten far too little sleep and she managed to jump into three
different pits over the course of the game, enjoying every moment of

Geek Admins

Speaking of BGG, it was great to have nearly all of the admins together in one place. We even went out to dinner, took a group photo and Scott let us in on all of his super-double-secret plans. I can't say more, but set your keyword filters to "Aldie", "Coup", "Uzbekistan" and "Boardgamistan". We considered that in the future, perhaps we shouldn't all cross the street at the same time, and avoid the risk that a runaway bus deals a serious blow to the board game community. I also had the fortune to play games with most of the admins, particularly Matthew, Daniel, Sterling and Fabio.

The first couple times I went to the Gathering, I always felt a bit
odd traveling all those miles to game with people who live within 20
miles of my home. I've gotten over it. Miller and
(temporarily-displaced-from-Boston) Anthony joined us for dinner at
"Quaker Steak & Lube", which is a very oddly named restaurant that
turns out to be a decent wings place with a motorsports theme.

The Prize Table

As for the prizetable ceremony, we apparently used up all of our
early-pick karma last year, and got two late picks this year, but as
always, were very happy with what we walked away with (Carcassone: The
City, Times Square, Familienbande and Boomtown).

Engineer Aldie playing Battlestations

And, while I said this post would be about non-games stuff, here's a
final game-related comment. In past years, I've felt it was difficult
to balance the conflicting goals of playing lots of shorter
games and taking the opportunity to play the rarely-played longer
games. In general, I prefer the shorter games but do enjoy some
longer ones. This year, I felt I managed to balance it essentially to
the exact degree I'd hoped. I predominantly played short games, the
vast majority under 90 minutes, but I did play, and enjoy a few longer
games. In particular, the above-mentioned Descent was good enough to
rush out and buy, and I had a great session of Battlestations with
Aldie, Sterling, Anthony and Miller. Those two games alone consumed
about 7 hours. I only played two games the entire event that I really
felt like went on too long: Zepter von Zavandor, which was
reasonably good, but a bit too mechanical and way too long, and
Glory to Rome, in which our game apparently went anomolously
long. I didn't get to play things like Indonesia, which many enjoyed
a great deal, but I don't feel I missed out much. My "total
enjoyment" of four 45-minute games is almost always greater than what I get from
a single 3-hour game. It's only the "experience" games like Descent
and Battlestations that even have a chance.

I may or may not post more game thoughts later, but this may be the
end of my notes for this year. More likely, I will post more detailed
reviews in the Games section of this blog.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Quick Gathering Summary

I'll write up more details when I get home, but some quick final notes: I ended up playing 109 games (63 titles) with 82 different people. As usual, it was a great time. Upon minimal reflection, the real "hits" for me were the previously mentioned Thurn und Taxis, Um Krone und Kragen, Blue Moon City and Descent. The second tier would be Mauer Bauer, Augsburg 1520, Dragons of Kir and Nacht der Magier. The third tier would include Times Square, Fiji, Maus in the House, Cleopatra. These are all games i will either buy or seriously consider. There were a lot of other reasonably good games (fourth tier and below, not listed) which I may not buy but will happily play again. There were only a few I'd avoid, and for now I'll avoid much commentary because I only played once (for the games I disliked, this is natural) and want to avoid criticizing a game before others can give it a fair shake.

The new entries on the list above since my last entry are
Descent which I hadn't previously tried, but we had a great
session in which Aldie, Uwe Eickert and I were crushed by the overlord
Matthew Monin (aka Octavian). I'll definitely have to grab that
despite the playing time and price tag. Dragons of Kir is a
great little two-player that Greg Schloesser has apparently been
commenting favorably upon and I played on the recommandation of Ava
Jarvis. I'm very glad I did. Finally, Maus in the House is an
adorable Haba game about flicking mice, but different from Mause
Rallye, another game about flicking mice and also different from
Pounce, a game about yanking mice.

Today, the final day for me had two highlights, the prize table
ceremony, in which I got a late pick but still got a few nice things,
and a dinner with the BGG admins. Not all the
admins were there, but the vast majority were and it was nice to meet
the one or two I hadn't before and chat about BGG in person.

I'll try to post more pictures and some comments on the games I
particularly enjoyed this week. Requests/questions/suggestions are
welcome. As for the locals in Felix's group and others, of the new
games, I'm bringing back Blue Moon City and Times Square.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Day 6, Consensus of hits

BlueMoon City being built

I haven't played much new in the past couple days but have played a
bunch of the games I liked a second or third time as well as an old
favorite or two. The one new game worth commenting on that I played
is Ausberg 1520. We all failed to realize a key strategic component,
and by the time we did, it was a little too late, but it seems to have
a lot of potential. I'll have to try it again.

I've been asking a lot of people what the "hits" of the gathering have
been, and here's the consensus: Thurn und Taxis is by far the most
universally mentioned. Some like it better than others, but I haven't
found anyone who doesn't like it. Mauer Bauer and Um Krone und Kragen
are probably about tied for next most frequent mention. Blue Moon
City, Cleopatra and Elasund are the main others regularly mentioned,
where the first two are heavily limited by the availability of only a
single copy each. New copies of Blue Moon City arrived this evening,
probably yielding some increase in play the rest of the week.

I've also asked for SdJ predictions from various people, and though most
people have agreed it is too unpredictable to try, names still get
mentioned: Thurn und Taxis, Mauer Bauer, and Nacht der Magier,
notably. Jay Tummelson also made the amusing point that Thurn &
Taxis, Mauer Bauer or Hacienda seem likely, given that this should be
Hans im Gluck's year, if the pattern holds. (Hans im Gluck has won
every five years since 1991, with an additional award in 1994)

I don't think there's anything else I feel I have to play among the new
stuff. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Day 4

I gave a few of the games I was impressed with a second play today and
remain impressed with Mauer Bauer and Blue Moon City and like Fiji
even more upon a second play. Of the new games I played, there were a
couple of good fillers like Jericho and John Silver. California was
more fun with three than it was with five but not radically so.

I also spent a chunk of time this afternoon playing games as a member
of the jury for "Game of the Afternoon", an award given for the first
time at last year's Gathering and done again this year. Participants
were designer Friedemann Friese, Andrea Meyer and James Miller. This
year, Friedemann's dexterity game "Crash Test Bunnies" took the award.
Next year, more designers will be added to the competition. I didn't
get a chance to ask Friedemann if he minds it being discussed, so I
won't say anything further now. Rick Thornquist will probably write
about it too.

The only new game I played today that raised above the "very
favorable" threshhold was Nicht der Magier, a pseudo-dexterity game
designed to be played in the dark (with some dark and some
glow-in-the-dark components) but that plays very well and very
tactically in the light.

I'm up to 53 plays for 39 different games with 47 different people. I
expect my overall play rate to drop as I start playing a few longer
games and doing some non-gaming activities as the weather turns nicer.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Day 3

It has struck me, while there have been no overwhelming hits this year,
like Puerto Rico did in 2002, there are a lot of "very good" games and
few disappointments. Today, I'd add Mauer Bauer, Cleopatra & tSoA,
and Blue Moon City to the "very favorable" list. A bunch of others
are good and for other people they may be even better, like Il
Principe, Aton and Times Square. Times Square almost gets on the
first list, but I don't see a ton of depth yet.

It's been great to play games with (and in several cases, meet for the
first time) ubiquitous BGGers such as Matthew Monin, Ava Jarvis,
Daniel Karp. Matthew Monin, Ava Jarvis and I also happen to share
quite a bit of taste in games, but realized that there may not be a
copy of Knizia's Lord of the Rings at the event, which is a favorite
which none of get to play often enough. Hopefully, we'll find a copy.

So, to summarize the "hits": Thurn und Taxis, Um Krone und Kragen, Mauer Bauer, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, and Blue Moon City. In the under 60 hours I've been here already, I've played 35 games (though 6 were of "Launch Across", a 90-seconds-per-play Connect 4 meets Gnip-Gnop game) with 35 different people. I'll probably shift gears a little to stop focusing on playing exclusively new stuff, but there's still a bunch of new stuff to try, so not entirely.

My camera doesn't arrive until later in the week, when my wife arrives, but in the mean time, there are pictures of several games I've commented on over at Rick Thornquist's second day report, including a few of me (eg, me as sherrif in Hart an der Grenze).

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Day 2

Given the hour, I'm not posting much. I played a bunch of new games (9 different) and most were good and a couple were very good. Thurn und Taxis is quite good and Um Krone und Kragen is also very interesting, if a little heavy on the down-time in a 5-player game. Um Ruhm und Ehre did not impress anyone in the game we played. California was unremarkable with 5 but seemed to have a lot of potential and positive comments from others based on plays with fewer people.

I'll definitely have to play Um Krone und Kragen again, try California with fewer and try some others (Chinesische Mauer, Seerauber) a second time. As far as the "buzz" of what's getting played a lot, nothing is dominating but Thurn und Taxis is certainly getting played a lot, and Caylus and TTR:Marklin both seem to be being played in at least one place pretty often.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Gathering of Friends, 2006, Day 1

I arrived this evening and played some games. I'm not going to really
give a detailed narrative here, but I will make some comments on
games, people and anything else that seems relevant.

I played a handful of games this evening, including some Friedemann
Friese pre-production games that were quite good. The only one I'm
allowed to comment on is Fiji, his upcoming game about
competing for shrunken heads. It's a fun, quick, light game of double
and triple guessing your opponents, as well as some confusing but
entertaining decisions (eg, If I play green gems, I'll get red gems,
but I want to get rid of both). Overall, a clever game I look forward
to playing more. His other prototypes were also on the lighter side
(more successors to Foppen or Finstere Flure than Power Grid) but were
quite good.

Command & Colors: Ancients. If you like Battle Cry and Memoir
'44, but wish they were more complicated, and don't mind much less
nice components, this is for you. It is not at all for me.

Angkor. Interesting, short, fairly random but fun tile laying
game. I'd play it again, but it seemed rather heavily influenced by
the luck of the tile draw.

Big Manitou. Fun, nice components, but the big version didn't
grab me any more than the not-so-big version did years and years ago.
I haven't played Manitou in over 5 years and Big Manitou probably
won't change that.

Not a ton of people have arrived yet, but I did see Alan and a bunch of familiar Boston folks. I got to play games with Ron Charity (of RC Hobbies), the wonderful Friedemann Friese (of 2F-Spiele, of course), JD Sterling Babcock (a fellow BGG admin) and a handful of Boston-area folks. All-in-all, a good start.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The "Much Better" threshhold

In general, people have a lot of inertia when it comes to switching between "stuff". That is, most people don't switch bank accounts just because a different bank offers slightly better rates, or move to a new town or state even if it would be better in nearly every way. For things like banks and homes, there's a lot of friction built into the system. Moving is a hassle and costs money and time. Even changing direct deposit is a hassle and takes time. With a lot of technology, the friction of switching systems is reduced, but there's still a hassle and an avoidance of the unfamiliar that causes people to stick with decisions. In order for someone to switch to something new, the something new has got to be "much better" than whatever they had before to get over that hump. Despite being a technology geek, a group who typically have a fairly low "much better" threshhold, I have a reasonably high threshhold. I kept my very nice Kodak DC280 2-megapixel camera a long time past when everyone else was at 3- and 4-megapixel. The Fuji E550 I got is much better. It's 6-megapixel, has very fast repeat rate, is more compact, faster to transfer, lighter and has better manual control. In that vein, there's a bunch of things I've realized fall into that category for me, and they're worth pointing out in case anyone else is looking for the next "much better" thing in any of these categories.

My TiVo is much better than my VCR. I've had a TiVo for nearly 7 years now. I'm not a huge TV person, but I enjoy several programs. I'm not going to preach the gospel of TiVo here, but it is really a revolutionary device. If you don't have one, get one. It is both worth the monetary cost and the "hassle" of switching to something new.

My Mac is much better than my Linux box. This is only mostly true. I still rely on my linux box as a server for both my this web server, numerous limited-audience web services (family, etc.), private server resources (an arcane but useful todo system I wrote years ago), and various other things. But, as the computer I actually use for web browsing, mail reading, document handling, coding and playing, the PowerBook is so much better than any Linux box I've ever had, and I was a big fan of Linux. For various family and friends I've converted, the Mac is much better than Windows, for them. For me, Windows has always been much worse.

Ruby is much better than perl. This is a new
realization. I've been coding in perl for 14+ years and find it to be
a brilliantly expressive language. I've written vast amounts of code
in perl, ranging from uncountable one-liners to occasional hacks to
enterprise-class software. I still think it's a great language. I've
learned lots of languages over the years, and each has their strengths
and weaknesses, but none have been much better than perl, except for
Java, but that seems an unfair comparison. Java is much better than
perl, but perl is much better than Java. It's like saying a hammer is
"much better" than an apple. If you're driving nails, that's very
true. If you're hungry, not so much. In contrast, comparing perl and
ruby is much more of an apples to apples comparison. Ruby is
expressive like perl, maintains nearly all of the positive things
about perl, removes many of the negative things, adds a great deal of
positive things of its own, and adds only a few negatives of its own.
Especially from the perspective of a perl/Java fan, ruby is
remarkable. Note, I'm not talking about "Ruby on Rails" here. Rails is interesting, but I'm not yet a religious convert.

Roomba is much better than my vacuum cleaner. It is the 21st century and having a domestic robot do chores for you feels right, but that's actually only a small part of what makes the Roomba so much better. Sure, not having to push around a machine is nice, but that's the obvious part.

  • It's quiet. Ok, it's not quiet, but it's nowhere near as loud as a normal vacuum.
  • It's battery powered. In addition to not having to push it around myself, of course, I don't have to deal with finding a place to plug it in, like we did with the upright. Unlike the other battery powered vacuums I've used, the Roomba picks up dirt very well.
  • It's light. Normal uprights aren't that heavy, but the fact that it's really easy to just pick it up move it is great.
  • It's really easy to empty. We have to do it a lot more (every or every other cleaning) but it's so easy, in contrast to dealing with bags. Similarly, it's easier to clean than a normal vacuum, but that's more a function of its weight.

Plus, for me, it's rather entertaining to watch. Others I know find it very frustrating, since it can be very "dumb" seeming at times.

There are other things that fall in the category, but those are the big ones. What I'm looking for now is a blogging system that is much better than blosxom. Blosxom has served me well. It's small, elegant, hackable and met my needs. But, there's enough features I would like that it doesn't have that I haven't found other people's plugins that meet the need, that I'm starting to look around. The problem is, most that I've looked at, I'm not convinced they are much better. Typo looks promising, but I'm not sure it'll overcome the inertia.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Family Tree Graphing

Family tree

At various times, I've done some genealogical research about my family, with some, but limited success. I recently gave it a try again, to great effect. The tool PhpGedView is a nice PHP based genealogy database manager, though it requires a few too many clicks to do most things. Further, RootsWeb WorldConnect is an outstanding searchable database of people's posted Gedcom files. (Gedcom is the standard format for genealogical data) All this looking was actually inspired by seeing the WikiTree project, which is an interesting idea, with a mediocre to poor implementation and a number of somewhat deep flaws. WorldConnect accomplishes the goal of large shared genealogy much more effectively, even if that's imperfect as well.

In any case, I've managed to trace back to the 16th century for parts of my family and back to the 14th century for parts of my wife's family. Very cool. The three big issues there seem to be with genealogy tools are that all the UIs are mediocre at best, GEDCOM merging tools are weak and annoying to use at best and the kinds of family graphs you can generate are surprisingly minimal. On the graphing issue, everything provides ancestry trees and descendent trees, but usually that's the end of that. PHPGedView has a nice "hourglass" graph which is ancestry and descendents of one individual glued together. What I wanted was a graph that included everyone. So, I wrote a ruby script to parse out GEDCOM files and generate href=>dot input file, and used that to generate the graph. It works. In addition to the entirely illegible version at right, there is a large version of my family tree where I'm the red one. The squares are people and the black circles are marriages. The resultant graph is nice.

So, if your last name (or that of your ancestors) is Gray, Lounsbury, Mentzer, Robe, Wilhelm or Stafford, we might be traceably related. Of course, probably not.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Flora (Arlington, MA) and The Publick House (Sturbridge, MA )

Last month, we visited Old Sturbridge Village, and on the
recommendation of a colleague, had dinner at The Publick
. It was a very good meal, with nice ambiance, good service
and very good food. I had a unusual but very good tomato consomme as
an appetizer that stood out. The variety of breads provided with the
meal was also a very nice touch. For each dish, I've probably had
something similar and a little better somewhere else, but never as
consistently high quality dishes, and we had a very large meal,
sampling many things. Overall, highly recommended.

Earlier this month, Boston had its first winter href=>restaurant week, and we
tried Flora, in Arlington.
They even had a goat cheese souffle on their special menu, which I had
been craving. It was good, though pales in comparison to the souffle
I had at Maison Robert years ago. The food was all quite good and I
would certainly go there again though I'm not in any immediate rush.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

BoardGameGeek XML API

For a while now I've been working on exposing some of the data in BoardGameGeek via an XML interface. While it is far from finished, and may never be, it's in a useful enough form that I've officially announced the BoardGameGeek XML API. Right now it provides access to game information, game searching, and collection information. I'm very interested in what sorts of interesting things people may build with it.

On the topic of other websites I contribute to, it's worth mentioning Best of Board Games, a boardgame link aggregation blog, essentially meant to be the successor to Alfred Wallace's now-discontinued "Best of the Blogosphere" feature. It was started by Gameblogger Mikko Saari and includes Alfred, Iain and me as other regular contributors. It's a nice blog to have and I'm glad to be able to contribute. To tie the two together, Mikko decided to note the BGG XML API as a best of the web feature. Enjoy.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Review of Les Zygomates, Boston

Last week, we ate at Les Zygomates, utilizing a rare childcare
opportunity to go to a definitely non-child oriented restaurant. I
had heard it recommended from more than one source and given that I
enjoy French food, I was eager to try it. Further, the chef/owner had
worked at the now-closed Maison Robert, which I was quite fond of.
(Side note: I was pleased to see that one of the Robert's, of the same
family as the now-closed Maison Robert, has opened a bistro in
Kenmore, Petit Robert Bistro)

Les Zygomates is in Boston, near South Station, which means driving to it is a
bit of pain, but close to the T. Dining on a weekday they weren't
particularly busy, but were by no means empty. They had a delicious
sounding and not unreasonably priced ($29) Prix Fixe menu, so we
ordered off of that. I had to try the Foie Gras Terrine appetizer of
the main menu as well, however. From the Prix Fixe menu, I selected a
feta salad, chicken stuffed with goat chese and for dessert, chocolate
mousse. I went in with fairly high expectations, and it didn't
disappoint, but nor did it exceed those expectations.

The foie gras terrine was served cold, but it seemed it had just come
out of the fridge. As a result, the flavor was rather muted. We
opted to let it warm up a bit more, which certainly helped, but I
think the whole experience would have been improved had it been not
quite so chilled. On the positive side, the portion was quite
sizeable, which made sharing the appetizer much more reasonable.
Sharing high-priced appetizers is often an exercise requiring smaller
utensils than those provided. However, this was not the case here.
It turns out, this set the tone for the whole meal. Every dish was a
rather generous portion, with very good, though perhaps muted flavor. The
salad was quite good, and while I wished it had more peppers, it
avoided letting the feta be overpowering or absent. The chicken was
the most flavorful of the dishes, without the chicken or goat cheese
dominating. One of my dining companions also had the chicken and
found the goat cheese a bit strong, so perhaps it was me, as I like
the goat cheese flavor a lot. (Side note: If you know where to get a
really good goat cheese souffle in Boston, let me know. I had one at
Maison Robert that I'd love to find something similar to) The mousse
was also very good, a little sweeter than my preference, but

I worry that the overall tone of this review might leave a luke warm
impression. Les Zygomates is very good. I simply went in expecting a
great deal and that is difficult to counter. The ambiance of the
restaurant is very nice and the service was very good though my one of
my fellow diners wasn't too thrilled with the three of us being
referred to as "you guys" by our waiter, since I was the only guy. I
think the term has become rather gender neutral, but they'd probably
do better to stay on the other side of the formality/informality line.

Overall, a very good experience, but it's no replacement for Maison
Robert. I'd go back, and I'm interested in trying their lunch prix
fixe menu, but I'm more likely to go back to Tivoli's Bistro next time I am in the mood for French food and have childcare
at hand.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Every Year Games

(I've discussed this general idea before)
There's a number of games that are good enough to get pulled out every
year. Of course, to say that "San Juan" gets pulled out every year
may be a bit premature. It came out in 2004, got played again in 2005 and I'm confident it will get play in 2006, but there were a lot of games in that category. So, I thought I'd see which ones had been pulled out every year since I started keeping decent records. I started keeping some records of what I played in 1997-1999, but didn't really produce reliable logs until 2000. So, in order to be included here, I'm going to set the bar as: "Played at least 7 of the last 9 years, or all 6 of the past 6 years".

8 years out of the past 9

  • Call my Bluff. Liar's Dice has been played every year since 1998, when I first encountered it and acquired it. It is also the 4th higest scoring game by my month metric. (MonthMetric: 24)
  • Euphrat & Tigris. Again, every year since its acquisition in 1998. Oddly though, because many gamers in the groups I play with are less fond of it, I have never played it more than twice in a year. Unbelievable.
  • RoboRally. This has been played 8 out of 9 years since 1997. This would have made 9/9, but somehow 2004 slid past without a play. (MonthMetric: 15)

7 years out of the past 8

  • En Garde. Another one that somehow got skipped in 2004, but got played every year since 1998 otherwise. All the remaining games on this list have been 7 out of the past 7 years.
  • Basari. I had high hopes for the followup, Edel Stein & Reich. I played that in 2003 and haven't felt the need to again. Basari, every year though.
  • Ricochet Robot. I'm stunned how with one group of people I can feel like a complete moron, and in another, I'm the one solving the puzzle at blazing speeds.
  • Ra. I only wish I got to play this more, but barring unforseen circumstances, this will certainly be played every year for many years to come. (MonthMetric: 16)
  • Lost Cities. This game gets fewer plays every year, but it still makes it to the table every year. It may eventually miss a year, but it may go a while longer. (MonthMetric: 16)
  • Samurai. In contrast, this has varied, peaking in 2002, but remains a likely contender for staying on the every year list.
  • Apples to Apples. After a bit of burnout where this almost didn't get played in 2002 or 2003, this has settled down as a premier party game as long as its not beaten to death.
  • Take It Easy. This one tends to get forgotten, but undeservedly so. I'll probably have to make an effort to continue to remember to pull this one out, but it's invariably a success when it is brought out.

6 out of the past 6 years

2000 was the year my gaming really picked up and as a result, there are a lot of games I started playing then. Several were released that year, but many were old classics I only just discovered in 2000:

Can't Stop, Battle Line, Medici, 6 nimmt!, Flinke Pinke, Igel Argern, Speed, Vinci, Traumfabrik, Lord of the Rings, Carcassonne, Zapp Zerapp.

I expect most of those will make it to 7/7 (6 nimmt! already has) and enumerating them makes it even more likely.


It's interesting to me that while many of my all time favorites make these lists, some games I like a great deal, but wouldn't call favorites, do as well. Basari, Samurai, En Garde, Take It Easy and Zapp Zerapp, while all very good, aren't quite what I'd consider my favorites. Some favorites, like Settlers, ran into a bit of a burnout (for me and prospective opponents) problem and didn't get played at all in 2002 and has been played infrequently since then. Others haven't been around for 6 years and therefore can't make the list yet. It seems almost certain Puerto Rico will get played this year and next, but I expect many already on the list will as well. As a result, this sort of "year metric", analogous to my earlier "month metric" seems an interesting exercise to do once, but in the long run, it's very hard for a game to break into the top of the list. The month metric does a much better job.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

30 (Gamer) Questions

Like href=>Alfred,
I'm not usually a fan of these kind of memes, but this one seemed like
an interesting one to do.

  1. How long have you been gaming? Since I was a child, when boardgames were a common and well received gift. As an adult, I've been into German-style games for about 9 years now.
  2. What was your first Euro game? Probably Settlers, though if you retroactively consider RoboRally to be a "Euro", then definitely RoboRally. Around the middle of 1997 I really discovered the whole European games phenomenon all at once.
  3. Which game sucked you in? In early 1997 I discovered RoboRally, which really struck a chord and inspired me to go looking for other, similar games. Over the years, I've played a lot of RoboRally.
  4. What is your favorite game? I don't think I can give a single answer to that. It depends who I'm playing with and many other details. Some top candidates would be Puerto Rico, Battle Line, 6 nimmt!, Lord of the Rings, RoboRally and Ra.
  5. What is your least favorite game? Again, this really depends on who I'm playing with, and further, if a game is bad, I'm not particularly likely to play it more than once. Discerning which is my least favorite among several single-bad-play games is tough. "Dog's Life" sticks in my head as an awful game (tedious, long, dull). Most of the more wargamey games I've played haven't been pleasant (Struggle of Empires, recently).
  6. Open or closed holdings? Whatever the rules specified, erring on the side of whichever approach makes the game play more quickly with the players involved.
  7. To gamble or not to gamble? Rather strongly no. I find the thrill of winning actual money is not nearly as great as the irritation of losing actual money. If the goal is enjoyment of a game, I'll just play a game. Some betting games, though, are quite fun. I enjoy Royal Turf, Manila and Titan: The Arena.
  8. How much luck do you like in your games? It varies a lot. I enjoy a great many games with no luck, but I tend to prefer games with at least some luck, and for many games, I don't even mind a great deal of luck, as long as there remains a great deal of meaningful strategic and tactical choices. Heroscape is prototypical in this way. It's got a ton of luck, but a ton of meaningful choices which are certainly effected by the luck, but not totally dominated.
  9. Last three games played? Punct, Crokinole, Travel Blokus. Not an entirely typical set for me, but fun ones none the less.
  10. Last three games purchased? Hm, not including gifts received. I bought Monkey Madness (a game for 3-year-olds) based on a few comments on the 'geek, Face-It as a gift for some 4-year-olds, and Quack Shot purchased off of eBay.
  11. Packrat or trader? Definitely on the packrat side. I own over 500 games and until last year I hadn't traded away or sold a single one. Last year, I traded one game. This year, I traded about 5 games, though the vast majority of those games were for games I had duplicates of in my collection, for whatever reason. So, definitely packrat.
  12. What game are you thinking about right now? Blue Moon. I've written a bunch on Blue-Moon recently.
  13. What's your favorite mechanic? Auctions. But not just any auctions. I enjoy pure auctions alright (like Modern Art or Medici) but I prefer the more structured and constrained auctions. Even the simple Power Grid or Princes of Florence auction approach where everyone has the option of buying something is better. Ideal to me are auctions like those in Ra where the lots not only have substantially different values to different players, but the bidding constraints are different for different players.
  14. What is your favorite Theme? I don't have a particular theme I would call a favorite, though i tend to like unusual and obscure themes. But, certain themes such as sci-fi themes are more likely to peak my interest, but it's not enough to override other qualities the game may be lacking.
  15. Who is your favorite Designer? Reiner Knizia. Of my collection, over 60 games are by him. The next highest designer comes in under 20. Of the 3000+ games I've logged playing in the past 6+ years, Knizia represents nearly 15% of the games played with the next highest designer barely breaking 3%. It's no contest.
  16. Best Gaming experience? Well, if you include the first time I went to Essen (in 2000, I wrote an extensive report) as a single "gaming experience", then that certainly wins. If you constrain it to a single play of a game or something like that, it's a bit harder. My first play at Essen 2000, and several others since then of Lord of the Rings have been remarkable experiences. I found my first play of Battlestations rather remarkable. But, if I had to pick one it would be a game of Princes of Florence played with the G8 game time. We played 3 players, who all knew each other well and with the rule that each minute of play time spent during the actions phase cost you a point. The entire game came in at about 20 minutes and was amazing. I can't entirely adequately describe it, but an adrenaline rush is not usually part of the boardgaming experience, but playing an extremely high speed strategy game against skilled and friendly opponents yields a powerful one.
  17. Worst Gaming experience? The above-mentioned "Dog's Life" and "Struggle of Empires" may be up there, though a 3+ hour game of Euphrat and Tigris with an indecisive opponent may beat out those.
  18. Favorite game for 2? A few months ago I would have unambiguously said Battle Line, but Blue Moon has been rapidly gaining and I expect it has a good chance of beating out Battle Line, but I should give it more time. So, Battle Line remains the favorite for 2, closely followed by Blue Moon. Others that are high up there include SpinBall, Knockabout, Heroscape and Crokinole.
  19. For 3? This ones harder and I'd have a hard time picking between Schnaeppchen Jagd, San Juan and Can't Stop. The latter may win out if I were forced to decide.
  20. For 5? This comes down to Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico, Lord of the Rings and Ra. I think Lord of the Rings wins.
  21. For 6? "6 nimmt!" wins here, though FFFF is rapidly gaining on it, but it needs more time.
  22. Favorite party game? Electronic Catchphrase and Apples to Apples, depending on context.
  23. Do you value Theme or Mechanics more? Mechanics, definitely, but I tend to prefer games with some theme over abstracts, but the particular theme is much less important.
  24. What color do you want to be? Red. Please. I can be yellow or gray or black or other things, but I'll probably end up moving the red pieces.
  25. What is your favorite movie? I don't like movies. The Lord of the Rings movies were very good, though. Grosse Pointe Blank was funny. I actually liked Armageddon. Let's say that. See, I don't like most movies, so it's not a great question for me.
  26. What is your favorite book? Hm. A young adult book I read in elementary school and many times since then, My Side of the Mountain is among them. In adult books, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is probably my favorite, though I like and enjoy a great deal of traditional sci-fi, including Niven, Asimov and Kress. Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress is especially worthy of note. I recently discovered China Mieville and have enjoyed his books as well. I'm hoping to post here soon about some of the reading I've enjoyed and solicit some suggestions.
  27. Last 3 books read? Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston and The Scar by China Mieville. (I may have forgotten something between The Scar and The Year of Our War)
  28. Last 3 movies watched? All on TiVo: Moulin Rouge, Enemy Mine, and Legally Blond.
  29. Favorite alcoholic beverage (or non-alcoholic if you don't drink)? I mostly don't drink, but I like a Rum & Coke fine. Some white wines really hit the spot with the right meal, but I'm not as much a fan of the reds.
  30. Who are the three most important people in your life? Wife, daughter, and Reiner Knizia. Seriously, the tie for third is too hard to break among the real candidates, so Reiner sqeaks in on a technicality.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Games of the Quarter, retrospective

This is a retrospective of what the various top games for me have been over the past 6 years, measured quarterly.

Q1 2000: Vino. One of my early German game acquisition, and a clever and fun business game. Sadly, I haven't played it in over 3 years, though I will have to do something about that.

Q2 2000: Vinci. Acquired this in April and remains one of my favorite overall and certainly about the best there is in the genre of empire expansion games.

Q3 2000: RoboRally. If I had bothered to enumerate the "game of the quarter" for years prior to 2000, it probably would have been RoboRally pretty much every quarter. It still gets pulled out once or twice a year and remains one of my favorites of all time.

Q4 2000: Lord of the Rings. This came out at Essen this fall, the first time I went. I loved the game then, though was a little skeptical about its endurance. I remain about as enthusiastic to play this now as I was then. The expansions have continued to improve it. Sadly, many of those I regularly game with are not as fond of it.

Q1 2001: Battle Line. The first ten times I played this I lost. I kept wanting to play it all the same, and it is by most assessments my favorite 2-player game. (Though the Q4 2005 game may give it a hard run, but we'll see).

Q2 2001: Pounce. I was introduced to this twitch game by a friend and promptly found a copy for myself on eBay. It is best played late at night when everyone is well past a reasonable bedtime.

Q3 2001: Electronic Catchphrase. This got introduced in the groups I play with in July of 2001 and has been played constantly since then.

Q4 2001: Zirkus Flohcati. I picked this up at Essen 2001 and it quickly became one of my favorite fillers.

Q1 2002: Industrial Waste. Another fun business game. Other than the initial burst, this hasn't gotten a ton of play, but I doubt it will be shelved permanently for a long time.

Q2 2002: Puerto Rico. An obvious hit from the beginning.

Q3 2002: Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. Remains one of the best 2-player games out there.

Q4 2002: Puerto Rico. Everything else remained pale in contrast...

Q1 2003: Fresh Fish. I had played this and loved it in 2002, but it wasn't until 2003 when Plenary reprinted it that i was able to get my own copy.

Q2 2003: Amun Re. This was the big hit of the 2003 Gathering, and while many seemed to burn out on it quickly, I remain fond of it.

Q3 2003: Light Speed. A rather clever speed game, and the best of the "under 5 minutes" set.

Q4 2003: Attika. This was the hit pickup of Essen 2003, whose star has largely faded. I enjoy it more with the 6-free-cards-for-connecting-shrines variant.

Q1 2004: 10 Days in Africa. A great filler and extremely teachable.

Q2 2004: San Juan. Surprisingly outstanding adaptation of the Puerto Rico concept to a card game. Gets as much play as Puerto Rico now.

Q3 2004: Heroscape. The best "toy" game ever.

Q4 2004: Buy Word. There have been a few fairly good new word games in the past few years (Typo, My Word, eg) and this is probably the best of them.

Q1 2005: Crokinole. This has been a big hit since 2001, but the discovery of it by work colleagues and its adoption as a post-lunch game earn it this slot.

Q2 2005: Fiese Freunde Fette Feten. A hugely entertaining and clever game system. All the Q2 plays were on a pre-production copy.

Q3 2005: Fiese Freunde Fette Feten. Finally, it was available, and partially driven by my own enthusiasm, many people wanted to try it.

Q4 2005: Blue Moon. Despite my first two plays of this in 2004 being entirely uninspiring, I retried it and am very glad I did.

Game Metrics for 2005

Here's the game metrics for 2005.

Huber Happiness Metric

Equation for a games "happiness units (HU)": (Rating-Offset)*Total Time (minutes)

  1. Fiese Freunde Fette Feten (4826 HU)
  2. Crokinole (4320 HU)
  3. Battlestations (1485 HU)
  4. Heroscape (1485 HU)
  5. Princes of Florence (1485 HU)
  6. Blue Moon (1462 HU)
  7. Electronic Catchphrase (1350 HU)
  8. 6 nimmt! (1237 HU)
  9. Around the World in 80 Days (1080 HU)
  10. Puerto Rico (990 HU)
  11. San Juan (990 HU)

Month Metric

  1. Crokinole (8 months in 2005, 28 ever)
  2. Fiese Freunde Fette Feten (6 months in 2005, 6 ever)
  3. Fairy Tale (5 months in 2005, 5 ever)
  4. Heroscape (4 months in 2005, 7 ever)
  5. 6 nimmt! (4 months in 2005, 26 ever)
  6. Niagara (4 months in 2005, 4 ever)
  7. For Sale (4 months in 2005, 17 ever)
  8. Electronic Catchphrase (4 months in 2005, 35 ever)

Hot Games

Games-of-the-year-2005 post covers these.

Most plays

See the 2005-Games-Report for the 5+ plays list.

2005 Games Report

429 Games Played

208 titles (92 new to me)

124 sessions

236 opponents

287 hours (approx)

25+: Crokinole (32)
10+: Electronic Catchphrase (15),
Fiese Freunde Fette Feten (13),
Easy Come Easy Go (11), Blue Moon (10)
5+: Apples to Apples (7), Fairy Tale (6),
Heroscape (6), Jambo (6), 6 nimmt! (5),
Pickomino (5), Punct (5), Techno Witches (5)

78 plays of Reiner Knizia games
19 plays of Friedemann Friese games
19 plays of Alan Moon Games

Year Games New Diff Ses Ppl
1997 ~30
1998 ~100
1999 ~150 63
2000 301 112 141 126 129
2001 712 172 266 175 165
2002 650 161 279 163 241
2003 552 128 272 129 180
2004 470 80 212 112 216
2005 429 92 208 124 236

First Derivative (year over year differential)
Years Games New Diff Ses Ppl
2000-2001 +136% +54% +89% +39% +28%
2001-2002 - 9% - 6% + 5% - 7% +46%
2002-2003 - 15% -20% - 3% -21% -25%
2003-2004 - 15% -48% -22% -13% +20%
2004-2005 - 9% +15% - 2% +11% + 9%

I'll post the game metrics numbers separately.