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.