Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why We Play Online

I've been playing lots of board games online recently, especially Pandemic, which has lead to thinking of the role that online play has in my personal corner of the hobby. Why do I play online?

In general, I would think that people play online versions of board games for three primary reasons: 1. ease of setup and play, 2. more available opponents, and 3. more available games. I've discussed number one at some length in my post here. Although some gamers might play online for this reason, I seldom do. My personal reasons for playing online are numbers two and three above.

Long Distance Gaming

Certainly there is something to say for getting to know new people as you play games on the Internet and the community development that can result, but generally I play with people I already know. My problem is that the majority of my friends that enjoy board games do not live locally, so by playing online I increase my gaming partners threefold.

Playing Games I Don't Own

For me, the other major draw to online play is that there are many great games on the Internet that I don't own and thus have never played. Now, I have no problem buying games without trying them first. Since I have no local game group this is the way all my board game purchases are executed. However, I can certainly imagine that I would have a much higher satisfaction rate with my purchases if I could actually play some of the games before I ordered them. This is, of course, more easily said than done since to learn a game online is a bit more difficult than learning it in person: you can't rifle through the cards and examine the game pieces as you read the rules. I've yet to learn any new games this way, but I intend to start with a couple games high on my want list: Stone Age (playable at BrettSpielWelt) and 1960: The Making of the President (on Game Table Online.) All I need to do is wade through the rules of each game, then find someone willing to take the plunge with me and play!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thinking About Game Carnival

The Idea

The concept of the blog carnival rather interests me. For those of you not familiar with this phenomenon, a carnival is an online magazine published at a regular interval that demands participation from a blog community in two ways: authors submit posts from their blog that become the articles in the magazine, and then those same authors take turns hosting the carnival every time it is published.

This format increases the visibility of the entire community since readers stumbling upon the publication will be presented with a variety of interesting articles on the subject at hand and thus be introduced to blogs they may never have read before. Also, when an author hosts a well supported blog carnival on their site, many additional guests will visit the site and perhaps be exposed to much more of what that author has to offer even beyond what they've submitted to the carnival.

Game Carnival

A year or two ago when I was initially active on my blog, I followed the Game Carnival maintained by Gameguy, submitting some articles to it as well. Unfortunately, during my downtime (we'll call it 'the dark years') Game Carnival gradually lost its board game content and its support in general and was ultimately abandoned. This strikes me as odd since it seems like there are lots of interesting board game blogs out there, and the carnival is such a good way to increase exposure in the community. Why did it fail? Is there enough interest in this for me to pick it up and run with it? Are board game bloggers really not that interested in keeping such a project up and running?

A Final Thought...

Game Carnival was a broad gaming publication, meaning articles could be submitted on board games, card games, video games, role playing games, and anything remotely related to the hobby. This seemed at the time to be a positive feature--in theory a broader topic would garner more support from different kinds of bloggers. However, could the lack of focus and sense of purpose be what did it in?

What would be the first steps to building support for a new carnival? Is there any way to start small, perhaps some sort of a trial run to test the market, if you will? The fact that there doesn't seem to be any viable publication on board games makes me think one may simply not work, but then again perhaps the idea simply needs some tinkering.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the Small Hours of Spring

The snow has been replaced by mud. The landscape is painted in unfortunate hues of brown. Sure enough, it is spring, but it will still be weeks until it looks that way. Soon, however, things will be different. Potential will burst into actuality; the earth will shed its beggar's rags for the trappings of royalty. But for now I must wait.
(This pile of dirt will soon be our pumpkin patch. Last year I tried growing pumpkins but the area I chose was simply too shady. I'm hoping for better luck this year, and many more, much larger pumpkins!)(My raised bed garden that Justin and I built last year. The trappings of last summer's garden remains, but soon will be torn out and prepared for a new crop. I have much fine tuning to do when it comes to vegetable variety selection for my next planting.)(The American Arborvitae trees I planted last spring. I still have my doubts if I chose the right variety for the amount of sun they get during the growing season, but the trees seemed to do well enough last year. These are intended as a privacy hedge along the back and sides of my property, so I'm curious as to how much they'll fill in this season.)(One of my Anne golden raspberry bushes. Flanked by red raspberries and blackberries as well, these produced a little fruit during their first growing season, but I'm hoping for a large crop this year. I need to construct a trellis to hold the vines in place, for they will almost certainly be too heavy to support themselves.)
(Proof it actually is spring! The rhubarb is usually the first sign of life, and sure enough here it is. Hopefully next will be the asparagus. Mmmm...asparagus.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Tagline: Do you have what it takes to save humanity?
Designer: Matt Leacock
Published: Z-Man Games, 2008
BGG Rank: 22
Ages 10+
2-4 players, best w/4
(also playable solo or w/5 players)
Online Play: BrettSpielWelt

Personal Stats:
Plays: 16 (including 2 solo & 6 online)
Personal Rating: 9/10
Board Game Progression Group #4

There are probably hundreds of reviews of Pandemic online already, so rather than providing one of my own, I'd much rather list a few of the best places to look for information on the game. If you're debating on whether Pandemic is the game for you, check out the following:

(Image courtesy of Chris Norwood.)

You can also follow the links in the info section at the top of this post to visit other related sites and articles. If anyone would like help getting set up to play Pandemic online (or one of many other great board games), I'd be happy to help!

Friday, March 27, 2009

More Pandemic Punishment

Logged a couple of quick plays of Pandemic last night on BrettSpielWelt with Tom. Our first game on the site last week was such an easy victory that we thought we were getting pretty good at the game. We were wrong.

Both games last night seemed like they were within reach late in the game, but each ended in devastating defeat in the end. Our second play ended with Europe and North America blanketed with Blumonia disease; the game ended both because we ran out of blue cubes (actually we were short by six!) and because we exceeded our outbreak limit (going from six at the start of the turn to probably somewhere in the vicinity of 14...)

A third game would have been necessary to save face after such a humiliating defeat, but we opted for sleep instead. Sleep is important, you know, to fend off disease. Like Blumonia.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

7 Excellent Online Board Game Resources

I'm sure there are hundreds of board game themed websites, blogs, podcasts and the like, but the following are my personal favorites. If you think I'm missing out on some great ones, by all means drop me a line!

  1. Board Game Geek If you have anything more than a casual interest in board games you owe it to yourself to visit this site! The most extensive compilation of board game knowledge on the web, board game geek has pictures, reviews, rules, strategy tips, discussion, and news about almost every board game ever. The two features I find most useful: 1. User-voted "best with __ number of players" goes beyond the publisher suggested number of players to tell you a game's sweet spot. Just because a game says it supports 2-5 players doesn't mean it scales well along that range. 2. Especially for popular games,BGG acts as a compilation of user reviews. Being able to read 15 reviews of a game rather than one goes a long way toward accessing how much you might enjoy one particular title.
  2. Yehuda is a gentleman who authors a board game blog out of Jerusalem, Israel. He engages in lots of deep thinking about board games, so many of his longer posts will keep you thinking for quite some time. He also maintains a thoroughblogroll of current board game blogs, which is certainly a valuable resource and much appreciated.
  3. Skip Maloney: The Board Game Examiner Skip is a contributor to Games magazine and has been writing about games for quite some time. This experience shows, both in his excellent writing and his vast knowledge of board games. His site features reviews of many types of games from strategy to word to party games, and insightful commentary about the hobby.
  4. Tom Vasel: The Dice Tower Tom is a missionary, a math teacher, and has a wealth of knowledge about board games. He co-hosts The Dice Tower podcast with SamHealey , produces a video podcast, has written hundreds of board game reviews, and more recently begun to tape video reviews of board games. Certainly Tom is one of the most visible members of the worldwide board game community.
  5. Scott Nicholson: Board Games with Scott Scott produces excellent video reviews of board games. The production values are great and most of his reviews are very thorough. If you want to take a look at gamecomponents and see examples of play before you buy a new game, definitely check to see if there is an episode of Board Games with Scott about the game!
  6. Board Game News This is a site I've only begun to explore. Numerous contributors to the site author articles covering all aspects of the hobby. Also,BGN maintains a page called 'Gone Cardboard' that keeps track of all board game releases that have been announced for the coming year.
  7. The Spiel - Stephen Conway & Dave Coleson I just listened to my first episode of this excellent podcast yesterday, and boy was I blown away! The production values here are just tremendous: so good in fact that The Spiel would not feel at all out of place on mainstream radio (except for the geeky subject matter, of course). The hosts are extremely knowledgeable, well spoken, and enthusiastic. Some of their game reviews are so thorough and descriptive that I could almost skip the rules and dive right in to playing the game in question.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tastes of Spring

New post up at my culinary blog, The Black Peppercorn, about the fundraiser for hospice I'll be participating in on April 5th. Everyone in the area should make a reservation immediately; I would if I didn't have to cook for the event!

Looking for Good Audio Conferencing Software

Last night Ben, Tom, and I tried out Yahoo Messenger's conference call feature during an online game of Pandemic. While we've had excellent results with two person audio chats on AIM and Yahoo, the three-person chat left much to be desired. The sound quality was poor, perhaps a third of the conversation wasn't transmitted on the first try, and it was extremely difficult to relay organized thoughts to the other participants. Tom and I had played Pandemic online twice already, so we knew the system pretty well. We were attempting to teach Ben how to play the game, and since he hadn't played the tabletop version either, it did take bit of explaining.

We did successfully teach the game, but the pace was painfully slow with Tom and I having to repeat information at least two or three times for it to be understood. This process would have actually been smoother had I simply resigned myself to explaining the rules via text chat, a technique I usually avoid because using audio chat gets points across more quickly and with greater comprehension.

I don't know if the poor performance of Yahoo Messenger's conference call is indicative of similar features available through other clients, but I hope not. I'll need to find another option, I'm afraid--any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Better as a Video Game? Part II

My first post in this series detailed an amazon.com review of Tide of Iron that seemed to suggest board games in general are dated because the mechanics are more easily implemented in a video game setting. This review seems extreme, but I hear more qualified versions of this sentiment fairly often. To a reasonable person who actually enjoys playing board games, when might certain games be more suited to a video format?

Case Study: Cities & Knights of Catan

I'll cover three answers to this question and how each pertains to this one particular title. A board game may be better as a video game when:

  • setup is extensive when compared to the actual value of game play, or
  • particular mechanics or housekeeping functions are tedious or repetitious, or
  • the game isn't heavily played or well known by the players and thus much easier to play when led by a computer program.

Setup Time

Jennie has mentioned that she has friends that enjoy playing Cities & Knights of Catan online, but refuse to play the physical version of the game. Part of this is due to the basic setup time of any Settlers of Catan game: the board has to be randomly constructed, several decks of cards shuffled, game pieces removed from their storage bags, and finally opening placement of settlements (and cities as the case may be) and distribution of initial resources. Any game that requires several steps of setup will certainly play faster in video format, so if fitting in a quick game is one's primary goal the computer version has the upper hand.

Bits & Pieces

Cities & Knights also has many more cards, pieces, rules, and special situations than vanilla Settlers. As in the base game, resource cards must be dealt to players at the opening of each turn, but in Cities & Knights commodities and three different categories of progress cards are also distributed. In C&K players need to track which types of knights they have on the board, whether those knights are activated or not, which player has the most knights, progress of their city developments, a host of incoming progress cards, the robber and the merchant pieces (the latter of which tends to move very frequently), differing hand sizes due to city walls, when to place Metropolis pieces, 'Defender of Catan' cards, and other assorted mechanics and bits of information. I will not concede that all of this bookkeeping, card drawing, and piece tracking is reason to only play the video version of the game, but it does contribute to that argument.

Complexity as a Barrier to Play

A third angle at which to look at this game is its difficultly to get to the table. I own the board game and have yet to play a full game of it in tabletop form, both because I've yet to fully grasp the rules and since the game's complexity is such that I will only introduce it to players already quite familiar with Settlers of Catan.

I've played the online version probably 10-15 times, and because of the structure of the computer program I have yet to master the intricacies of some of the mechanics, especially the special abilities and movement of knights. The computer notifies players when knight abilities are available, and then only allows legal moves. It's impossible to use a knight improperly in the video game, whereas in the board game I'm not only unsure about exact legality of a move, but I might not even realize everything a knight can do, and thus won't even notice I'm missing important options.

Another reason C&K never hits the table is that it can really only be played by those that already fully understand the base game. Very few of the people I game with locally have played Settlers enough times that I feel prepared to add on the extra complexity of Cities & Knights. I am much more likely to introduce a new mid-weight game such as El Grande or Fury of Dracula, as I feel teaching those games from scratch is easier than adding lots of new complexity to a game players are just beginning to understand. Perhaps Cities & Knights online will allow me to teach the game more easily and thus ultimately result in more tabletop plays. We will see.

Wrapping Up

Cities & Knights of Catan is one instance where it's been suggested the online video game port may be a better implementation of the game than the original tabletop version. Though there is no conclusive evidence, and how one views each of the three major points discussed in this post is certainly still subject to personal preference, I'm willing to concede the legitimacy of the argument in this case. There is no reason why someone who plays fairly deep board games (El Grande, Agricola, Caylus, etc.) wouldn't feel right at home with the complexity of the tabletop Cities & Knights. However, when you take into account the strategy and game play one gets for the level of complexity (quite a bit from the aforementioned titles, perhaps not as much from C&K), perhaps the organization and acceleration achieved by the video game is appropriate in this case.

Also see: Better as a Video Game? Part I

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bakugan: Battle Brawlers

The game where you toss little plastic spheres onto a card 'game board.' If they land in just the right way, those spheres transform into little robot fighters.

Is this an fresh new idea for a game that would be fun to play with my kids? Or perhaps simply just an annoying fad?

The gimmick does seem very cool, but I don't know if the system is worth buying if the underlying game doesn't have much value.

Anyone seen B:BB in action?

(Image courtesy of Walmart.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Home Again

(My dog Max checking out our board games. There is barely enough space in our '95 Escort to comfortably hold them both.)

So, game night:

A couple games of For Sale in which I was soundly beaten by the Mrs.

Several rousing games of Wits & Wagers, a game at which we discover my uncle Ned is rather proficient.

A partial game of Fury of Dracula.

In the end, people bail early and game night is a bust.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gaming Conventions

I'm planning on attending a major gaming convention this year and trying to get Toph to come as well.

The cons I'm considering:

  • Gen Con Held every year in Indianapolis, IN, Gen Con is the largest (I think) gaming convention in the states. This year the dates are August 13-16. Being the biggest, Gen Con probably gets the most big company attention--vendors and the like.
  • Origins Held annually in Columbus, OH, Origins is another major con. This year the dates are June 24-28. I know there is an exclusive board game room with a vast collection of games supplied by the local game club. My birthday falls during these dates, so I may pass on this one for that reason.
  • World Boardgame Championship Much smaller than the first two cons on this list, the WBC is, however, exclusively a board game event. Held in Lancaster, PA, so this one is within 7 hours of my house by car. This is certainly a feature! Dates are August 3-9, and since I have a work conflict on the 3rd & 4th I'll miss the first two days.
  • Board Game Geek Con The details of this one were just announced so I don't know as much about it. Pros are it will be exclusively board game related, and I might recognize some people from the web site. Cons are that it is much farther away than the WBC (Texas), and I will be working full time in November when it takes place.

My first impressions are that I will enjoy either the WBC or the BGG con the most, and the latter being at an unfortunate time and place chances are the WBC will win out even though I'll be forced to miss the opening portion.

Why do I want to go to a con? The board game vendors will be awesome. There will be hoards of board game enthusiasts with which to play and converse. Most of all, however, I'd like to play lots of new games. It is very difficult buying board games without playing them first, since there are so many out there and only a small percentage of those will be ones I love. Perhaps this convention will help me explore the available options a little bit better, and focus my future purchases exclusively on titles I already know I enjoy.

Hopefully I'll get the whole trip planned out soon. Anyone reading this who'd like to meet up there, let me know!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lego Board Games!

While browsing board game blogs this week I saw this post at the aka pastor guy blog. It references a Board Game News article about a series of forthcoming Lego board games. I'm shocked I hadn't noticed this at that site already.

The basic idea is that you will buy a Lego board game that needs to be fully constructed before play. Legendary game designer Reiner Knizia will be the brains behind the project, so, although the games might not be amazing, they should at least be playable. Certainly if such a big name wasn't designing the games my worry would be that these would be more toy and gimmick rather than decent board games.

Storage of the Lego board games would seem to be a complication. Presumably players would need to construct the board before every play, since I don't think I've ever seen a Lego set that could be placed back in the box fully constructed. Might this lead to far too much construction time for not nearly enough game?

Apparently these will only be released in Europe, so they'll have to be mail ordered. I will almost certainly buy one, and see how it plays. This is such a cool idea that if it is executed well there's no way I won't own them all!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Introducing: Pandemic Online!

Yesterday morning, while preparing the info for my forthcoming Pandemic review I noticed that Board Game Geek said it was playable online. After double checking my sources, I found this news to be accurate: as of 3.15.09 Pandemic can be played on the German board game site BrettSpielWelt!


Wasting no time at all, last night Tom and I took the plunge and played an opening game to familiarize ourselves with the interface. We started out on easy mode with just four epidemics since this was only Tom's second time playing and we weren't really familiar with the commands. The interface feels very well designed once you learn your way around, although it is a little difficult the first time through simply because all the cards and commands are in German!

(An example of a BSW Pandemic game in progress. Courtesy snoozefest on BGG.)

As we often do when playing a game online (especially when learning one) Tom and I used audio chat through AIM while we were playing. This was especially helpful playing Pandemic because we could fully discuss available strategy options in a very timely fashion. Also, this meant we didn't have to use the online game's system for proposing moves, which looks like it will be a useful way to discuss strategy with unfamiliar players, especially those that don't speak English. Using the same picture action icons as you use to actually make decisions in the game, you can suggest a hypothetical turn, and then allow other players to agree or suggest an alternate strategy. Useful, yes, but it seems like it may slow the game down considerably. I'll be interested in seeing how well that mechanic works in real time.

Anyway, we won our first game fairly easily, so next time we'll up the difficulty for sure. If anyone out there would like to play a game of Pandemic with me in the future, just drop me a line!

Packing for Vermont

So, three days in Vermont, one big game night, and two kids and a dog taking up most of the space in the car. Which games to bring?

Kids Games

There will be lots of kids at game night and chances are at least mine will demand to be part of the action.

  • Sorry! Sliders is a shoe-in here, although adult supervision will be necessary to ensure things don't get out of control.
  • I Spy: Eagle Eye is a fun one that all the kids over three should be able to play, and it comes with a cool bell, which makes it all the more fun!
  • Gulo Gulo is the new favorite, so it's a possibility, and
  • Flea Circus is always in the mix. Abby suggested
  • Charades for Kids, which I hadn't considered, so perhaps that will come too.
We should definitely bring quite a few kids games since we'll be there for three days, but perhaps five is too many...

Group & Party Games

  • Wits & Wagers will come fore sure. Just like the dog, unless you physically restrain him, he'll be out the door and in the car before you know it. Wits & Wagers will be a good game to get everyone involved. Also, with lots of people we could even do team play, which is suggested in the rules.
  • For Sale as another easy to explain game that anyone could play with just a short introduction. As it supports six players For Sale should be a good fit.
  • Sorry! Sliders can also double as a good game for adults in this category.
My debate here would be whether I should bring Say Anything. If we have a lot of players staying late it could be a good fit for a less serious second game to run while we are playing something meatier.

Main Course

At this point I have two primary decisions remaining. I'd like to bring a mid-weight game that a number of people will already know. Probably

  • Settlers of Catan or
  • Carcassonne
Both of which I've played with the Mrs., Ben, Jennie, and Meg, all of whom should be present. I'd like to find time to fit one of these in over the weekend, although given the choice I'd most like to play either

  • El Grande or
  • Fury of Dracula
All four of these last games are in the #5 group of my board game progression chart, and thus would fit the bill for the central strategy game of the evening. Ideally I'd get to play a game from each of those pairs, but we shall see.

So, subject to last minute changes (of course!), here are my Vermont weekend board games:

For the kids:

For the adults:

Perhaps an option to include Say Anything if the Mrs. would like it to come along.

This post brings to mind an article by Skip Maloney about packing games for a trip to Florida. The situations are somewhat different but many of the same thought processes went into the planning: length of time of the trip, types of players available and their previous board game experience, and number of opponents at any given time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Session Report: Odds & Ends

A quick recap of my gaming over the last few days:

Sunday night I played Settlers online with Jennie, Katie, and Toph. Jennie took game one and Toph game two (although I was on the verge of victory...) Jennie's been playing a lot, so perhaps she's gotten pretty good. We will see.

Monday I played a solo game of Pandemic. I had played this once before with all five roles, only giving each role one player card to start. Last time I came within one player turn of winning. This time I lost on turn #2. Three adjacent three-cube yellow fever infections to start the game and a first turn epidemic are not a good combination! Pandemic is a fun diversion as a solo game, but not nearly as fun as four-player. I'd like to get a feel for Pandemic's viability with all five roles, but the jury is still out.

Yesterday I played a bunch of Sorry Sliders games with the kids and we all had fun. Both of them can compete fairly well against me, although I do avoid doing anything particularly mean.

Also, the Mrs. and I played another two-player game of Fury of Dracula. I played the four hunters this time and found the number of cards and decisions a little much. Also much of the game featured screaming and/or yelling children, which was painful. As with our first two games, Dracula lost, although this time it came down to a final dice roll. I don't know about Fury as a two-player game; I'm thinking it is best left to at least three. The hunters being somewhat split up amongst different players is much more thematic in my mind.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Developing My Board Game Progression Chart

As you've probably gathered by now I've been playing lots of games recently, in particular lots of party games. All of these recent sessions have been fun, but I've begun to notice that there has too often been something missing.

I've known all along that my gaming preference is for strategy board games. Looking back on my childhood my favorites were Stratego, Risk, Monopoly, and Clue. Not always the most exciting titles, especially by today's standards, but certainly strategy games. I've never been opposed to other types of games, but when I say I want to play a board game I'm not talking trivia, party, or word game, I'm talking STRATEGY! Those other types of games are fun (usually...) activities, but generally if I'm not getting strategy I'm not getting my fix.

A Separate Category?

In fact, I would take the 'fun activity' label a step further and lump those other types of games in with other fun group activities much more readily than I would with strategy board games. So... We could play Scrabble, disc golf, Trivial Pursuit, Say Anything, Wii sports, go out for karaoke, or go bowling. On the other hand we could play Settlers of Catan or Puerto Rico. I'd probably enjoy anything in the first group, but if I really want to play a board game (and I almost always do!) the second group is the one I would choose.

What I've realized more recently is that the situation isn't really as static as I made it out in the example above. As far as board games go, instead of lumping everything into two categories, I could probably come up with a whole progression of games starting with those farthest from my ideal game (but still lots of fun in their own way) all the way to my perfect gaming experience. I've really started thinking in this way because of these recent gaming sessions that have been very light on strategy games. I've begun to notice that even when adding a game like For Sale (light 'filler' strategy game) or Pandemic (cooperative strategy game) to a game night along with party games, I still don't feel like I've scratched that board game itch.

I'll try to lay out a basic list here, although much more thought and many more plays will be needed for fine-tuning. Games will be listed from most like a fun activity at the top (group #1) to closest to my ideal strategy board game at the bottom (group #5). All games on the same line are at a similar level.

My Board Game Progression Chart

(fun activity)

  1. Say Anything, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble (#1, almost any trivia, word or party game)
  2. Wits and Wagers, Sorry Sliders (#2, party, dexterity, with slightly more strategy than above)
  3. Blokus, For Sale, Metropolys, Clue (#3, abstract or light strategy)
  4. Dominion, Alhambra, Pandemic (#4, cooperative, light strategy)
  5. El Grande, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Fury of Dracula, Puerto Rico (#5, heavier strategy, strategy with high levels of interaction and/or theme)
(ideal strategy board game)

Some comments:

  • The number of rows I chose for my list is somewhat arbitrary. I could have condensed this to three groups of games and probably still made my point, but I felt that five groups would be much more accurate. Given enough time and thought I could probably rank every one of my games along this progression, each with its own unique position, but that isn't necessary for my purposes here.
  • Just because a game is higher on the list doesn't mean that I like it less than the games on the bottom. In fact, I like Wits & Wagers just as much (if not more) than many of the games lower on the list. The reason this chart is necessary is because simply playing games based on how much I like them isn't enough to get the most out of a game session.
  • As you can see by the group description I list in parentheses, I feel that weight is an important consideration here in many cases. Thus Dominion, one of my favorite games, falls into group #4 instead of #5 because it is simply too much lighter than the games in that group.
  • I suspect that Pandemic doesn't make it into #5 because it is both cooperative and fairly light. Perhaps a heavier coop like Arkham Horror would make it, but I don't know.
  • I don't know if my ideal game night would include only games from #5, or if some amount of balance between groups would make for a more fulfilling session.
What exactly does this chart tell me?

If a game night is featuring mostly party games, I will do my best to fit in one of the games from group #5. Two weekends ago when we were playing with Emily and Scott, I should have pushed to play El Grande rather than Pandemic. The latter would probably be best during a session including other fairly substantial strategy games, rather than in the midst of party games as it was that evening. That same weekend when we played with Chris and Lucy, the games were For Sale, Pandemic, and Say Anything. Though this might have been a slightly better mix, the group #4 Pandemic wasn't enough to make it a great board game session.

This chart gives me a guideline for planning a game night and for packing games for a trip or vacation. One of my next posts will be my thoughts for which games to bring to Vermont with us this weekend, and I will certainly consider my games progression list in that process.

Thinking about games in this way presents another useful way of deciding which games to buy next. Already I think about types of games I'll enjoy, accessible themes and simple games to attract new players to the hobby, games best with different numbers of players, and game categories in which my collection is lacking. In the future, my collection's balance in regards to my board game progression chart will be another important consideration.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Too Many Puppies

We have a cute little book about a girl with a dog who has a litter of puppies. The puppies are adorable and cuddly and the girl's mom shouldn't make her give away the puppies! She is going to keep all the puppies.

But then the puppies start to get bigger, more rambunctious, and more trouble than they're worth. They take up all the girl's time and space. Puppies are a hassle! Perhaps she should give away all the puppies.

I am that girl. Except I don't have too many puppies. I have too many party games. They are taking over my life. It seems they are forever spread out upon the table demanding attention. My poor strategy board game collection sits there: sad, lonely, and ignored upon my game shelf.

Dominion takes it pretty well, being young himself. He sits there looking dejected, not making a sound.

El Grande is a little tougher and is used to standing up for himself (after all he is old enough to have a decennial edition, and he's an award winner), so he puffs up his chest and tries a demand: "Play me!"

"SILENCE!" Shrieks Wits and Wagers. "Do you think we care about you? You could be on Ebay in 10 seconds flat!" El Grande whimpers and backs down. The rest of the games simply cower silently in the corner.

Somebody help. I have too many party games.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fury of Dracula: First Plays

I played Fury of Dracula twice yesterday.

Our first was a learning game between the Mrs. and I. She had read about half of the rulebook and I had finished it, but since Fury is on the heavier side I knew the game demanded a play between the two of us before introducing it to new players. Since I had read the rules more thoroughly I decided to play Dracula and consult the rulebook, and the Mrs. controlled the four hunters. We both had our hands full between my immersion in the rulebook and the Mrs. playing all four hunter roles (which is a lot of work for a first time player!) Our game covered the majority of the rules, although I never went to sea and we only drew a fraction of the event deck. Victory went to the hunters.

James and Karin came over for dinner and games last night and we started off with Fury of Dracula. I took on the Dracula role once again, the Mrs. played Lord Godalming and Dr. Seward, Karin Dr. Van Helsing, and James Mina Harker. We were a little worried that the game would be too difficult to teach especially because we had only played through once, but it really wasn't too bad. Helping with this was the game's semi-cooperative nature so the Mrs. could guide the other players throughout much of the game helping everyone to understand better. We didn't explain going to sea or Dracula's special powers, or the resolve track, or combat until each of those came up during the game, which simplified the pregame explanation considerably.

I felt like I made some excellent decisions as Dracula, but the hunters kept finding me through well-timed event cards and I was never really able to get any separation from them, even with going to sea twice during the game. I was two turns from maturing a new vampire and thus advancing the vampire track to six for the victory when Mina Harker, with the hunters' last chance to catch me, took a train to my locale (during the day!) and successfully staked me on two consecutive rounds of combat. Oh the humanity!

The game probably took us between 2 1/2 and 3 hours to play, which did feel a little long. There are a lot of unique event and item cards in the game that need to be reviewed when drawn and again every turn to make sure they are played at an opportune time. During future plays when we are more familiar with the cards and options each turn Fury should play a bit more quickly. Everyone did seem to have a good time, and Fury of Dracula will definitely see future plays with the same group.

We ended the evening with a couple quick games of Wits and Wagers which was fun as always.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Better as a Video Game?

Recently I've heard a sentiment mentioned several times: 'This board game would be better as a video game." What features in a board game would lead someone to feel this way? I recall several particular points here, and I'll cover them over a short series of posts.

Breaking News: Video Gamer Reviews Board Game!

I read a review of Tide of Iron (a tactical war simulation game) on Amazon.com that stated:

"If this game was published in the 70s or 80s it would have been groundbreaking and would have been amazing. As it is, computer games already do what this game tries to do."

According to this reviewer video and board games don't take up separate gaming territory: if a type of game has been well executed in video format, he would see no reason why a similar game would have any reason to exist in tabletop form. He continues:

"Fundamentally, as a board game you need to read and learn the rules to implement the mechanics of the game, whereas a computer game does all the mechanics automatically and allows intuitive player learning."

To me this exposes the poster as a gamer that has a strong bias toward video games in general. From his perspective probably 99% of board games would have absolutely no reason to exist, since what mechanic in a board game wouldn't be more easily implemented in a computer version? Candyland, for example, could be entirely played without any players at all! The computer could shuffle the cards, draw one each turn for each player, and move the pieces. Certainly this is much easier than dealing with the hassle of actually using the mechanics of the game. 'Candyland is a terrible example!' you might say, and I thought so too at first, since who wants to play Candyland? But maybe it is a good example because this is a game in one of the simplest forms possible and thus emphasizes some of the essential differences between video and board games.

What reason would anyone have to play Candyland except to 1. teach some basic game mechanics to a young child, or 2. interact face-to-face with your kids? Both of these reasons are entirely negated by the computer version. Video games skip the mechanics and remove the personal interaction.

Who Runs the Program?

We can think of a game's execution as a program. With video games the program is run almost entirely by the computer. The computer knows the rules and mechanics and runs the majority of the program in a quick and efficient manner. The only input required of the player(s) is the essential participant contribution to any game: the player decisions. Sure, a video game may require a player to click on a picture of dice to effectively "roll them" in the game, but really this is just the computer awaiting that player to tell it to continue. The player has no impact on the game at such a point, he merely gives the computer permission to generate a random number ("roll the dice").

On the other hand, during a board game session the program is run entirely by the players. The rules and mechanics are all laid out in the rules and the components of the game, but it is up to the players to learn and execute them. A video game lets players mentally skip over much of the nuts and bolts of game execution, whereas a board game requires players to be much more active participants. A video gamer may insist that this crucial difference allows him to more fully concentrate on the important part of the game: the actual decisions that lead to winning or losing. A board gamer might say that being completely involved with the game's execution leads to an experience with more weight and depth.

Who Builds the House: the Man with the Plans, or the Man with the Hammer?

From my perspective any cerebral activity would become a more full experience by adding a physical element. Imagine instructing someone on how to build a house. You give the orders about what materials to acquire, what tools to use, and how to proceed with construction. Such a job successfully completed would certainly give you satisfaction since your decisions were responsible for that success. Now imagine making those same decisions but also performing much of the physical labor. In this case the job may have been more of a hassle because you had to physically build the house rather than only supervise, but it also would have led to an additional level of satisfaction with the completed project. To me this describes some of richness of experience gained from playing a board game rather than a video game. Yes, the decisions are the essential part of the game, but the execution of the mechanics provides that extra bit of satisfaction.

Is this mostly a case of preference? Absolutely. The video gamer would emphasize the hassle side of the mechanics, the board gamer the richness of experience.

More examples and analysis to come...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Commitment to blogging

As anyone reading this will have noticed, I have transitioned from a long dormancy to writing on at least a weekly basis. I am pleased to be writing again, but don't know that I could say exactly why I am. Work and life are both fairly busy, as they have been.

I have been very much involved in the hobby as of late, so I presume that is the key reason behind my posting regularity. I have purchased numerous board games since the new year. I have played all but one of my games (Fury of Dracula--the rules are read, and hopefully it will hit the table soon!). I have been taking notes down about the game I intend to one day design (maybe next decade...) Ultimately all this adds up to lots of thinking about board games, and therefore lots of things to write about them as well.

I'd like to think I could sustain this output into the distant future. I could make the commitment to write every day, or three times a week, or what have you. However, I want this blog to be fun and informative. If I force myself to write when I'm just not feeling it, chances are it will be a chore to write and to read.

For now, I will do my best to keep thinking. And writing.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Gaming weekend: North Star party games

The family and I were in Syracuse this weekend visiting my sister-in-law and her boyfriend. We picked up copies of Wits & Wagers and Sorry! Sliders at the Target. I had been somewhat shocked that none of our local Walmart stores carried Sliders, it being a mass-market game and all.

We spent lots of time playing board games during our visit, although the vast majority consisted of the two North Star party games in my collection.

Say Anything (3 plays)

We gave this one another try, and for the most part it was a lot of fun. The four of us took our answers a little less seriously than our group had on Friday night, and we did a great job of playing the game briskly. It is possible that Say Anything was more fun this time because the players knew each other a little more and could play off that fact to a greater extent. Perhaps the game can be just as fun with new friends, but we will have to wait and see.

Wits & Wagers (4 plays)

Though I did enjoy our plays of Say Anything, I had even more fun with Wits & Wagers! Instead of answering opinion questions like Say Anything, in Wits & Wagers players answer trivia questions. After everyone has written their guess on their personal dry-erase board, each player bets on which answer is closest to the correct one. I think I found this title to be more fun than the other because the winners of each question are determined by some definite answer and not just the opinion of the current player. Like Say Anything, Wits & Wagers needs to be fast paced to be fun, but this one plays quickly by design due to the 30-second timer used during each answer phase and each betting phase. We played this with four players, but I can see it being even more fun with a full complement of seven (or even more if you play teams).

(1 play)

Our play of Pandemic was one of the most tense I've played thus far. Perhaps 3/4 through the player deck we only had one cure and the blue disease was on the verge of overwhelming Europe completely. For a few nervous moments we felt the game was simply out of hand and victory was impossible. A few smart decisions and a heap of luck later, however, we emerged victorious, albeit with seven total outbreaks and a precious few cards remaining.

Sorry Sliders (3 plays?)

Although it wasn't the star of the weekend we did set up Sorry! Sliders and had some fun with it. I think it will be a very enjoyable game in the right circumstances, especially at a party featuring some alcohol. Sorry! Sliders seems to be a fast paced and well designed dexterity game, entertaining for children and adults alike.

Overall the weekend was lots of fun. I only wish we'd played more strategy games, as I'd brought both Dominion and El Grande. Maybe next time...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Game Night Session Report: 03.06.09

The Mrs. and I had guests over last night for board games. We played For Sale and Say Anything for the first time, and Pandemic, a game we'd all played previously.

For Sale

This being our first play, it was unclear at the beginning how much we should be bidding on different properties. It seemed that we overestimated property values near the beginning of the game then gradually reduced our bids on subsequent rounds when it became clear that we might run out of cash. Near the end of the game Lucy realized that she had done much better than she had anticipated much of the game and indeed she finished in first with 70+ points. I took second, the Mrs. third, and Chris fourth. For Sale didn't blow me away, but we somewhat stumbled through the game this being our first play. I anticipate playing this again soon.


Lucy and Chris had each played this once at previous game nights at our place, so everyone was up to speed with Pandemic. Feeling like we knew the game fairly well at this point, we decided to play with our cards hidden and included five epidemics in the game to increase the difficulty somewhat. Although there were a few tight moments and we found our fourth cure with no cards left in the player deck (one turn from defeat!), the game did seem like somewhat of a comfortable win. Fun and challenging, but not quite as tense as some previous sessions.

Say Anything

The box of Say Anything claims the game only takes two minutes to teach, and that really isn't far from the mark. This game feels a bit like a more complicated Apples to Apples. There is more strategy, but turns also take considerably longer because players need to think up and write down answers instead of simply choosing a card. I enjoyed the betting mechanic, which seemed to work quite nicely. Many of the questions were interesting, however I was surprised at how many were fairly dry. This is the sort of game that begs silly or outrageous answers, and many of the questions didn't seem to leave enough room to accommodate that style of play. Overall I enjoyed the game, albeit with a few reservations. I'm certain this one will require the right group with the right frame of mind to be truly entertaining. Chris was in the lead much of the game, consistently scoring points in almost every round, and held on for the win. All final scores were within a few points of the leader, however.

I greatly enjoyed the evening, however at the end I was left wishing we'd played a heavier competitive strategy game: the game selection really left me wanting just a little bit more. I am glad we got two of my new games to the table, though, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Expanding my collection, part four: Number of Players

It's important to own games that work in many different settings with different groups of people. One of the easiest factors for me to control here is to have a variety of games that play well with different sized groups.

For instance, Carcassonne can be played with 2-6 players but is best with 2, good with up to 4, and not so great with 6. Inversely, El Grande plays with 2-5 players but is best with 5, not the greatest with 2, and okay in between.

Of my new games, For Sale plays between 3 and 6, and is best near the higher of that scale, and Say Anything plays up to 8 players very well. These are both great additions because they can handle large groups and then can hit the table in situations where other games like Neuroshima Hex! (2-4 players, best with 2) or Carcassonne really can't (or shouldn't!) be played.

Of course there are many situations where a 2-player game will be ideal, the most common of which is games I play with my wife. In such a situation, Neuroshima Hex! may be perfect, as would Memoir '44, Dominion (2-4 players), or Alhambra (2-6, but much better with 2 or 3).

The best way to get a feel for the appropriate group size for almost any game is board game geek. In the information section of each individual board game page there is a 'best with # of players' line, which details the general opinion amongst users about the ideal number of players for a game as well as which numbers are not quite perfect but still recommended.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Expanding my collection, part three: Theme

I've purchased many of my recent games with theme very much in mind. I don't know that this strategy will actually expand my game group or get many more people interested in trying new games, but it seems to me like it has that potential.

Talking Points

In general a variety of strong and interesting themes enables me to talk about games much more often in casual conversation, especially at work. Here is an environment where people know nothing of the eurogame movement, or the huge variety of modern board games. Sometimes it's possible to sell a game primarily on mechanics: "Carcassonne is a board game where the players build the board as they play!"

However, if the person with which you are conversing has little to no interest in board games, chances are no discussion about mechanics will sell them on trying a game. Much more interesting in conversation is: "I have a board game about World War II, one player is the Axis and one the Allied forces. You pick a particular historical battle then are able to fight it out and attempt to rewrite history!" Mechanics here don't really enter into the discussion at first, as they don't really mean much to non-gamers.

Inverse Theme Selection

Sometimes what a theme isn't strikes me as more important than the theme itself. For instance, when it comes to fairly geeky people, science fiction and fantasy themes are often a plus; such a person may even be sold on a game because of a strong theme in one of these categories. The population at large, however, who already considers the board game hobby a bit on the geeky side, may very well be completely turned off by one that also has a sci fi theme!

A perfect example of this phenomenon is the cooperative game Pandemic. When looking at the cooperative category of strategy games, I found that the vast majority (perhaps every single one besides Pandemic!) had themes related to science fiction, fantasy, or horror. While I personally love these themes and for the right group they would certainly shine, I opted for Pandemic for its thematic accessibility.

I Could Be Wrong...

The bottom line: I'm betting some added emphasis on theme in my game selection process will ultimately yield more game nights and more people in my social circles interested in playing games. Only time will tell, however. Perhaps the line between people who like games and those that don't is more stable than I think and a little thematic honey will do little to attract more interest. I suppose it doesn't hurt to bet a little on theme, now does it?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Expanding my collection, part two: Focusing On Simplicity

Quick To Play, Easy To Teach

As I've mentioned previously, I've been focused on the light to medium weight portion of my game library. Most of my gaming sessions involve brand new players, so I'm constantly teaching new games. This steers my collection toward lighter games because they:

  1. Are easier to teach. Less complicated rules makes it much easier to get a game to the table, and ensures new players won't be overwhelmed by a game and not want to play it (or any of my games!) again.
  2. Play more quickly. Less time explaining rules combined with shorter actual game times greatly increases the chance I'll hear those magic words at game's end: "Let's play another!" This way I can either teach two new games in a night or play a known favorite from a previous session and teach one new game.
  3. Avoid the misconception that board games are too complicated. Many people don't want to go through the hassle of learning new games, or perhaps just don't want to be forced to think too hard on their free time. Only teaching new players the most accessible games minimizes the chance of reinforcing that misconception. "Actually, that wasn't too bad!"