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.