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Thinking Out Loud

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Geekway to the West >> A Smashing Success

Just wanted to drop a quick line to tell everyone how smoothly the Geekway went. Despite my anxieties, it can be considered nothing short of a complete, total, sweeping and utterly enjoyable sucess. I'd like to thank all the volunteers and attendees for making the Geekway to the West such a great event -- I'm already eager for next year, despite sheer exhaustion.

A few quick hits as I muddle through my records. I'm still trying to tally everything up, but I think we had 55-60 registered attendess stop by to play games, with another 8-10 guests tagging along to get some Geek in.

More than 100+ games went out via the Swap Table or as attendance prizes, and dozens (if not hundreds) of games were logged. The Swap Table (where people got to "draft" games in exchange for games they donated) had a lot of great titles -- including Command & Colors: Ancients, Deflexion, Liberte, Primordial Soup, Fresh Fish, Attika, Epic Duels, Maharaja, Candamir: The First Settlers, Siena, Battleline, Settlers of the Stone Age, Inka, For Sale, Street Soccer... most new in shrink! Wow.

Nine Geeks who couldn't attend were "Adopted" by our St. Louis gamers. Each adopted Geek received a free attendance prize ticket, so he could participate vicariously in the Geekway. Six of the nine won prizes! By the end of the day, I'd guesstimate that 3/4 of the people who attended walked away with something.

Folks who left early, missed out on a massive 22 player game of Werewolf -- won by the nefarious Chester "I'm not a real sleestak" Ogborn on behalf of his slain werewolf brethren.

The night was capped off with a rousing 32 player Monkey Madness tournament, the signature game of Geekway to the West. Crag Zipse (flying in from Atlanta for the Geekway) cut through the first two rounds and won a thrilling final round, with Aaron Michelson coming in a close second.

I hope everyone had as much fun as I did. I only wish I could have gotten a few more games in with a few more people. Oh well, there's always Geekway to the West 2007!!

I'm also thrilled with how close to my true goal we got -- I wanted to break even. We came within $15 of breaking even in terms of recuping costs for the facility, food, prizes and other administration/preparation costs. Not bad!

I'll post the complete prize list, games played lists, highlights and more details as I recover my wits and organize my thoughts...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Geekway to the West >> The Panic

The Geekway to the West 2006 starts tomorrow, at 9 AM. At our house. And I'm a wreck. I've barely slept in three days, and have a long list of things to do before tomorrow.

Did I clean everything? Did I print out enough trivia answer sheets? Do I have all the name badges? Are all the prizes cataloged? Do I have enough seating? Did I get enough food?

While I strive in this role -- as host and "face man" for an event -- I have to admit I'm a bit of a mother hen. I worry about every little detail. I desperately want everyone to have a good time, and unfortunately, if 59 people have a GREAT time, and 1 person is miserable, a part of me will consider the Geekway a failure. Absurd, I know, but I'm crazy like that.

That said, I think I've prepared just about as well as I can. But even so, there's always a nagging doubt. I guess we'll find out tomorrow if I'm as prepared as I think I am.

Here's a small Geekway Tracker that I had inserted into the Yahoo! group so members could see the progress as we went along. The "registered attendees" is a bit misleading -- since there are folks who have signed up via the local Boardgame Meetup whom I don't know, as well as quite a few people who have said they'd show up for a bit, but probably not for the whole event, or friends/significant others that some of the attendees are hoping to entice.

I'm realistically expecting anywhere from 60-70 attendees over the course of the event. And I'm pre-giddy with anticipation. It's going to be a great weekend.




-- Geekway Tracker --

Donations Received: $125

Operating Expenses: $385

Games Donated: 48

Registered Attendees: 51

Geeks Adopted: 9


(updated 4/27/06)


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Geekway to the West >> The Final Countdown

The Geekway is now only a week away (less, considering the "Old School" gaming being held Friday for last year's attendees, this year's volunteers and the out-of-towners). I'm pleased as punch by the expected turnout -- somewhere between 50-60 pre-registered gamers should be showing up Saturday, over the course of our 15 hour game-a-thon.

I'm also pleased by the number of volunteers who have stepped forward to run a slot or two of some introductory games. Since there's such a wide cross-section of gamers coming (in terms of experience, preferred types of games, etc) I really wanted to provide the opportunity for folks to take some games for a "test drive" -- especially games they may not otherwise get a chance to play. So folks stepped up to run sessions of Wallenstein, Reef Encounter, Caylus, Age of Steam and lots of other games. Some folks are also going to be running some large-scale events and game prototypes, which should be exciting.

And while we're no Gathering of Friends, we're no slouches, either. Some of my game industry contacts have been very good to us. Between their generosity, a modest budget based on registration fees and attendee donations, we'll have more than 50 games to use as Attendance Prizes and to seed the Swap Table. Great, great stuff.

Here's a photo of just some of the donated games -- I've still got more to sift through, catalog, etc. Some great stuff in there.

We'll be taking plenty of photos of games in progress and chronicling our games played, hopefully via session reports, reviews and the like. We're strongly encouraging attendees to actively participate in BoardGameGeek after the event to detail their experiences and thoughts on all the games -- the more information we get out there about the Geekway, the better the event will get every year (in terms of attracting new attendees and generating donations/interest from publishers).

My personal goal is to grow the Geekway to the West where it becomes a "must attend" event every year for those who are passionate about the hobby, while keeping it casual, friendly and affordable. And if you're not able to join us this spring for Geekway to the West, hopefully you'll be one of the folks we'll get to game with at a future Geekway.

Keep gaming!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gaming Bits & Settlers of Candamir

Got some good three player gaming in last night with Chris and Justin. Three is such an awkward number to game with. Some games simply don't work well with three players, as it either invariably comes down to two-on-one, or is lopsided enough that a moderate lead can be insurmountable. So we tried a few different games out with three, and overall, I was very pleased.

I showed up a bit earlier than Justin, so Chris and I played a game of Harry's Grand Slam Baseball. I'm simply amazed at how incredibly fun this quick card game is. It's lighter than light, but there's just enough hand management and some built in tension, not to mention the great treatment of the original 60s game -- well, Harry's Grand Slam Baseball is far more than the sum of its parts. Kudos to Out of the Box for keeping the original design and artwork but adding a few modern wrinkles that mesh well (the storage tin, diamond and scoreboard).

Next up was Candamir: The First Settlers, which was largely disappointing (see below). That was followed by Can't Stop (Sid Sackson), San Marco (Alan Moon/Aaron Weissblum) and Oasis (also Alan Moon/Aaron Weissblum). My opinion of Can't Stop went up a notch, and I was amazed how incredibly different the feel is face to face after 20+ playings on BrettSpieleWelt.

San Marco and Oasis are both odd ducks. I really, really like them conceptually. I really, really like the production quality and decisions generated. But both games can be incredibly frustrating -- it feels you can be done in by luck of the draw (yours or your opponents') with little room to maneuver or fight back. But thankfully both games are quick enough (45 minutes with 3 players) that it doesn't irk me as much as it would in a longer game.

Oddly, Justin won San Marco running away, but seemed to feel (from what I can tell) that his decisions had less to do with him winning than luck of the draw and selection position. Chris won Oasis running away and I think he felt pretty much the same about that -- getting to pick first when another player's offer was the maximum possible score at that time, etc. I rate both games considerably higher than either of them (both solid 8s for me, in the 5-6 range for them).

Despite these odd sessions, I still think they are both excellent games. I'd still only recommend playing San Marco with three, but I really want to try Oasis with four to see if it opens up the gameplay experience a bit more. I'll have to mull them over a bit more before commenting further.

Candamir: The First Settlers (Mayfair Games/Klaus Teuber)

I picked up Candamir for 50% off at a local hobby shop, which seemed like a real steal considering the nice production quality, and the comments that sounded like Candamir shared some of the adventure nuance and flavor of Starfarers of Catan (which is by far my favorite Catan game). After skimming the rules, I felt I had a pretty good handle on the game, but went to http://www.profeasy.com/ to run through the online tutorial. Let me say that (despite a few interface quirks) the profeasy.com tutorials are incredibly well conceived -- after running through the 10-15 minute tutorial, you know everything you need to know about the game.

Unfortunately, while the tutorial only took 10-15 minutes and captured everything there was to know about the game, the actual game took just over an hour and a half, but featured very little beyond what the tutorial showed. There are some interesting mechanics and features (such as using a deck of cards to show how your character can move along the board and what he might encounter in the wilderness), but overall it drags on and on.

It felt about 30-40 minutes too long for the experience it provided, which is too bad. It was vaguely reminiscent of Starfarers, but lacked the cleaner production and integration of the adventure elements. It also felt like there was very, very little interaction between players, as aside from the nominal trade phase, you don't really compete. And with three players, there's very little incentive to trade.

Bottom Line: 5.5/10 -- I think Candamir's failure is in trying to accomplish too much. The game is easy to get into and seems to offer a lot of potential, but quickly becomes repetitive and drags on at the end, as players need to move farther and farther, taking longer and longer, to accomplish their goals. That said, I do like the adventure concept, as characters develop, earn experience, provide for the needs of the villagers, explore and do other adventure-y things. It's just too darn long. I think I'd play it once or twice with my nephew, but can't see ever playing this again with more sophisticated gamers.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Push Your Luck Profile >> Yahtzee Progeny

I'm a big fan of easy to learn, quick playing games with push-your-luck elements, and the large family tree of Yahtzee games/clones/variants certainly fits here. The thing is, I'm not a real big fan of Yahtzee itself, but appreciate some of those elements.

But I enjoy the concept, and I enjoy the breezy nature of the games. So here's a look at the grand daddy itself, as well as my favorite and least favorite Yahtzee clones on the market.

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Yahtzee is a classic dice game (nee Yacht) played with 5 dice. Each player's turn consists of rolling the dice up to 3 times in hope of getting die results which match 1 of 13 different scoring categories (earning several 1s or 2s, getting 3 of a kind, 4 of a kind, straight, full house, etc). Each player tries to fill in a score for each category, but this is not always possible -- especially later in the game as more categories are already filled in and your target categories may be harder to achieve. When all players have entered a score or a zero for all 13 categories, the game ends and total scores are compared.

Yahtzee is simple and straightforward, and does have some very light push-your-luck decisions over the course of the game, but even at 10-15 minutes, it takes too long for what it provides. It's one of the few games my wife will play, though, so that's something. As a basis of comparison, I give Yahtzee a true average 5/10 rating.

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Red Hot Yott is a simplified version of Yahtzee, which I'm guessing is aimed toward younger players. It's hard to think of getting simpler than Yahtzee, but it dumbs the game down a step. You can find Red Hot Yott at Wal-Mart or Target for $5 or so -- so at least it's cheap.

The game play is almost identical to Yahtzee (roll dice, reserve or re-roll until you pass or hit a scoring combination), and the categories are similar (though renamed), but the difference between Yahtzee and Red Hot Yott is that Red Hot Yott changes the 1s on the dice to Red Hot Dots, which are wild. And that is the game's downfall. They come up far too often, removing decision making, creating wonky results and eliminating any sort of suspense or interest in the gameplay.

Bottom Line: 2/10 -- Red Hot Yott is an absolutely horrible Yahtzee variant. While it does come in a nice tin, with decent bits, there's nothing else good to say. Having "wild cards" (the red pips) that can be used as any number is crazy -- with so many dice and so many rolls (and re-rolls) you're going to get lots and lots of Yotts/Yahtzees, for crazy high scoring games that never end. Completely strips away strategy or decision making. Blech.

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On the flip side of my Enjoy-O-Meter is Reiner Knizia's Easy Come, Easy Go, with a great edition published by Out of the Box which you can snag for $12-15. It's a slightly more confrontational Yahtzee, forcing players to vie for the same limited pool of scoring options, rather than each player scoring for each category individually.

There are nine "Prizes" -- the scoring combos -- which players earn by rolling the requirement printed on the card (Less Than 3, Exactly 13, Four of a Kind, etc). Players roll four dice and try to earn a Prize by hitting the card requirements. The first player to get and have three cards at the beginning of their turn wins. Ah-ha, but winning a Prize doesn't prevent other players from trying to seize it... If I snagged the "Exactly 7" card on my turn and you roll 7, you can snatch it from me!

This wrinkle is great, especially when added to the "no going back" aspect of dice rolling. Once you set a die aside to count toward your hand, you can't later re-roll it if a subsequent die roll makes you think another Prize might be easier to go after. While there's obviously a ton of luck, there's some probability manipulation, too -- most of the time, you can set aside dice in such a way that you'll usually have a 50% chance (or at worst 33% chance) of hitting what you need to grab a score (though considerably lower at the end of the game should you need a specific combo to snag a card from another player with three Prizes already).

The Bottom Line: 7.5/10 -- A very nice, light, breezy filler game of Yahtzee-esque push your luck. This is kinda' what Pickomino should have been. Plays quickly and offers enough push-or-pass to keep it interesting for a few rounds in a row. As an added plus, it's one of the few games the wife will play!! That's worth +.5 in the rating right there!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Quick Hits >> Ostia (again), Oasis, Fairy Tale and Ra...

Got another good night of gaming in last night with Eva and Jorge. I was happy to get to try Ostia again and see if it was still as pedestrian as before, as well as try out Oasis, which I've been eager to play ever since landing it via trade on Boardgame Geek.

Ostia, the Second Chance

The game is very easy to explain, and the individual player boards are very well done. A second playing confirmed my feelings, though, about the largely lifeless gameplay. Average all around, which is a shame, as with some minor tweaks (posted over on BGG) I feel this could be a very engaging, interesting game -- you just need to add more important decisions.

Jorge won by a landslide, 18-13-12. Considering there's a maximum 22 points to earn if you win every single Senate and all the bonuses, that was a clobbering. There were some close guesses and wrong reads, as several times Jorge beat my donation to the Senate by 2 or 3 points. Jorge also expertly bid and sold in the Forum so he was always flush with money to dominate the cards for donation. Eva and I should have been more aggressive with the auctions. But even then, the auctions felt pretty dry and repetitive.

My rating stands at 5.5/10.

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Oasis (Moon/Weissblum)

This was the clear winner of the evening for me. I had been keen to get a hold of Oasis based on some Geekbuddy analysis, and I was not disappointed. The game was insanely close. Jorge had the opportunity, through the bonus tile action at the end of the game, to end the game immediately by drawing a stone tile. So we had to stop the game and calculate the scores to see if it was close. At that moment, it was Jorge 142, Eva 141 and Jay 139. You can't get much closer than that, so Jorge snagged the last stone tile, and even w/o triggering any scoring with that, won the game.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about the game, drawing some comparisons (most superficial) to Hacienda, Through the Desert and San Marco. It was amazing to note how close the game was, that any one turn with a different action selection could have changed the winner. Jorge and Eva agreed that they each had the bonus action (by having the 1st player select your offer) 2-3 more times during the game than I did, which even if that's only worth 1-2 more points each time you get the bonus, was very influential in our game.

Bottom Line: 8/10 -- So glad this hit the table. Very, very enjoyable. Has a slightly San Marco vibe -- not surprising considering it's another Weissblum/Moon game. Some interesting decisions to make offers to lure people into selecting your offer so you can receive greater priority or bonus actions. Specialize in just a few scoring areas, or try to cover all the bases? Keep to yourself, or get into someone else' region? Lots of nice decisions. Biggest downside is I can how a player would regularly be in a position to end the game with his "bonus action" requiring a complete score count *before* the end of the game to see if ending the game will win the game.

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Fairy Tale (Z-Man edition)

I hadn't played Fairy Tale in a while, so was eager to try it again. We played w/o the bonus/advanced cards, which seem tailor made for 5 players -- with fewer players, the card distribution is so crazy that you'll get some very odd game results which detracts from the drafting strategies, in my opinion. We played twice, and it was easy to get back into the game after a long hiatus.

Bottom Line: 7/10 -- I really like the drafting mechanic, but found the art (in the Z-Man version) squeezed into a cluttered, ugly frame with the large icons. The strategy eludes me. Despite feeling that I make good personal and defensive drafting positions, I tend to come in last. There's something about the game that I just don't get. I'm not good at games requiring memory elements, and I can never remember what's missing from a hand being passed to me to deduce who has drafted what cards, etc.

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Ra (Reiner Knizia)

I continue to be both fascinated and incredibly frustrated by Ra. I like certain elements a lot, but for what is largely a push your luck game, it feels awfully long when a string of bad luck does you in. It's one thing to get bad luck in Diamant, Cloud 9 or Can't Stop. But it's another thing to get karma screwed in the last 10 minutes of a 45 minute game.

In the last epoch of Ra, I was left with 3 unused bid tiles while Eva and Jorge each had 2. No gods, floods or civ tiles were drawn the entire third epoch, and the Ra tiles came fast and furious at the end of the game, leaving very little room to maneuver or react. I had groomed my hand carefully during the 2nd epoch, and held (I believe) the 10, 12 and 13 bid suns for the last round.
Was it poor decision making? I don't think so. There was literally no value in all but one of the earlier lots that epoch for me. My only option would have been to deny Jorge 5 points by using my 6 bid sun to snag the 4th building of a type for him that he ended up getting with his 4 bid sun -- no points for me, though. But after that, the epoch ended before anyone could do much of anything else.

It left me feeling incredibly frustrated. For the length of the game, it has so much push your luck that it can really kick you in the balls, even when you make a good strategic and probability-based decision. Even with clever play, it can be very, very difficult to overcome bad luck. The game still hovers in the 6ish range for me, as I see what I like about the game, but when playing, the role of luck smacks me in the face.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

To Game, Or Not To Game ... That Is The Question.

Over the course of my life as an avid boardgamer, I have often said "It's better to play a bad game than no game at all." But the longer I've been in the hobby, the more I'm starting to reconsider this position.

Why? Well, simply put, there are some real stinkers out there.

The more games there are, the greater the chances for a fairly standard bell curve of results based on the quality of a game. There are far more games crowding the first standard deviation, that generic 68% which occupies the common ground and creates the average. Necessarily, there are now more games occupying the further extremes... And once you get to the third standard deviation (on the right of the bell curve), you're dealing with the elite, cream of the crop games -- or if it's that third standard deviation to the left, the worst of the worst.

With more than 500 games in my collection, and access/exposure to a good 200 or more games via my friends' collections, that's a large sample size to draw from. Granted, it's not purely random sampling, as the nature of the collections introduces a bias -- hopefully screening out some clunkers before they make it that far.

But that's not always the case with my collection. I'm prone to grab games that simply sound neat, are new and shiny, are from a publisher/designer I like, or just happen to fit my budget at that time. So while my collection may be skewed ever-so-slightly toward the right and become more of a camel-hump curve than a true bell curve, it's good enough.

In a true bell curve, the first standard deviation block (one SD left, one SD right) accounts for 68% of the results. So from my 520 game collection about 354 games are one SD from the true average, making up the bulk of my games. In BoardGameGeek rating terms, these are probably the 5s and 6s (and probably 7s) in my collection -- games I'd play, usually never turn down, and tend to enjoy when played occassionally.

The second SD, when added to the first, encompasses 96% of the total sample in its range. That means a total of 28% of my collection sits here, 14% to the left and 14% to the right. That's about 73 games that are below average (games rated 3s and 4s), and another 73 games above average (games rated 8s and 9s). The high end are games I'd almost always play, will often suggest, and enjoy a great deal.

The third SD (and for all intents and purposes the final deviation) encompasses 99% of the results, accouting for 3% of the overall sample, 1.5% on the far left, 1.5% on the far right. That means only 7 or 8 games that are absolute trash (rated 1s and 2s) or are the Holy Grail of gaming (rated 10s). Those elite games are paragons of design, entertainment and boardgaming goodness.

So why this long drawn out example? Why these skewed, biased and overall meaningless stats and breakdowns? Well, first it was kind of fun to do. But more importantly, it shows the sorry state of affairs of my collection and the dilemma I face.

With a good 80-90 games that are far below average, and with more new games being added to the sample size all the time, it's getting harder and harder for each individual game to make a good impression. I'm loathe to stick to just a handful of the top tier games and play them repeatedly, as I think I'd get burned out fairly quickly. But if that's the case, are they truly exceptional games?

And for those games scraping the bottom of the barrel, would it really be better to play those stinkers than to relax and read a book? Is the social context rewarding enough to warrant trudging through the mire? Adding to the complexity of this is the fact that each of my gaming friends' bell curves are slightly different, and the ratings don't always overlap in some neat, tidy Venn Diagram. So a game in my 1st standard deviation to the right may be a game in someone else's 2nd SD left, or 3rd SD right.

I have no idea where I'm going with this, to be honest. But it kept me up all night long. In that regard, perhaps it would have been better to play, say Time Control, than lose sleep.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gaming Snapshot >> Ostia, Mississippi Queen, Succession and More

Finally got some "real" gaming in for the first time in nearly a month. A wide assortment of games, which I generally enjoyed. I was a bit surprised to find out the other gamers were less than thrilled with the selection, though. A well, they can't all be winners.

Ostia (Mayfair Games/Pro Ludo)

First time any of us had played. Ostia is described as economic game of trading goods for cash or donating them to the senate for Victory Points. Sounds like an interesting decision of where to apply your resources, or bluff to secure favor when you really want to earn money now or bide time for a future turn. Not so. The decisions are largely meaningless and bland. Justin and I disagreed as to how significant an advantage a player with superior memory would have, but we both agreed the game was pretty lifeless.

Bottom Line: 5.5/10 -- I was hoping I'd like the mechanics of secretly dividing your hand into trade/keep, and then secret assignment of cards to sell or influence. But in practice, it doesn't matter. The neatest element -- the ship/store card which is placed in your hand to designate which cards are going to be auctioned and which stored in your warehouse -- is completely unnecessary. And the bluff cards are almost unnecessary, as well. I like the concept, I like the components, but the execution does feel quite dry and listless. Even with strong memory of what cards are in whose hands, there's little application for that knowledge.

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Bucket King (Rio Grande)

This was the first time Justin played. Michael and Chris had both played before, though Chris wasn't too thrilled to play again. As this is a favorite of mine, he sucked it up to let me play. Fast becoming one of my favorite card games. I won through a combination of good play and growing disinterest by my opponents.

Bottom Line: 8.5/10 -- Wow, what a great little game. Far more planning, hand management and strategy than it first appeared. A wonderful card game that's easy to teach, plays quickly and is wholly satisfying for its type of gameplay experience. The more I play Bucket King, the more I love it. More than meets the eye, as you have to manage your hand, your bucket pyramid and your opponents to succeed.

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Mississippi Queen (Rio Grande)

I hadn't played in years, despite having acquired the Black Rose expansion. Justin was interested, so we pulled it out. The rules are super-simple, so we played with passenger pick up the first game. Justin and Michael got stuck in an endless pushing loop which forced them into last place. Chris screamed ahead, leaving me trolling for 2nd. By the time Justin and Michael realized the hopelessness of their situation (due to the timing of the mechanics), we called the game since positions seemed fixed. Disappointed it didn't go better, as there's a lot to like here.

Bottom Line: 7.5/10 -- Great production quality, nicely applied theme, simple mechanics. I like the laid back, easy going feel and pace of the game. It plays quickly, while offering some positioning and planning challenges when playing with passengers. Not much of a game using the strictest basic rules -- but with the simplest rule set, it's playable by gamers as young as 6 or 7.

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Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court (Your Move Games)

My favorite game of the evening just happened to be the least favorite of everyone else. Well, it would have been of Ostia hadn't gone over so poorly. Succession features a lot of free-form, anything goes sort of diplomacy and negotiation, around some very clever ideas: candidates for the throne gain/lose standing with the king, and reward players they feel are helping their cause, while blaming players they think are causing them problems. Each candidate and each player has unique abilities, and the wild range of cards creates a lot of chaos. Despite that level of chaos, though, I love how much manipulation exists in the game... But it certainly demands a lot from the players.

Justin and Chris clearly didn't like the game, and moved to quickly end the game. I have to admit I was a bit miffed that Justin created a vote he knew he both could not win and which he knew gave the game to Chris, to secure second place (but more importantly to end the game). I think Justin had a good chance to win of he would have continued. Arbitrary and ruthless player targeting is a big part of the game -- so be warned. Grumpy players who hold grudges shouldn't play.

Bottom Line: 8/10 -- I really dig the concept and implementation of the game. Great production qualilty (except the peeling cardboard coins). Clever interplay of mechanics and concepts. Everything is for sale -- how you play or apply a card, how you cast your votes, who you assign blame to... everything can be manipulated for a price or the right favor. You need to carefully balance your position so you don't peak too soon and appear that you're doing too well, or you'll get crushed. A lot more nuance and subtlety than I think most people will give it credit for. Has some of the wheeling/dealing and evokes a slight Cosmic Encounter vibe with me (a good thing).

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We also played a few hands of Pit. I won 2 and Justin won 2. It brought back some good memories. It was refreshing to see how dynamic and still engaging a classic game like Pit can be. I also tried Harry's Grand Slam Baseball for the first time, a classic, quick-playing baseball card game republished now by Out of the Box (originally published in 1962). It's a light, breezy way to pass the time with enough of a baseball theme to scratch the itch, and a good back-and-forth pace -- a great game value for about $10.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Burning Bridges... Even Jerks Design Games

I've had a lot of great experiences within my boardgaming hobby. I've made a lot of good friends, gotten to develop and design games for WizKids and Goodman Games, and have met a lot of great publishers, designers and hobbyists like myself.

Thankfully, there are lots of great people in the boardgaming hobby. Jay Tummelson (Rio Grande Games), Zev Shlasinger (Z-Man Games), Greg Benage (Fantasy Flight), Bruno Faidutti (Designer) and Mark Osterhaus (Out of the Box) just to name a few off the top of my head. Prominent publishers, designers and gaming enthusiasts. And really nice people who I've had the opportunity to chat with at conventions, demo games to, interview with or otherwise interact with enough to know how bad by comparison some people in the industry are.

While it may not be as severe as one bad apple spoiling the whole barrel, sometimes it's not that far off. Since the industry is so small and so clique-y, I really am loathe to name names or point fingers (heck, I'm no saint myself -- but at least I try to be civil). But recently on BoardGameGeek, one designer in particular has gone off the deep end and has done nothing but come across as arrogant, superior and downright rude.

I certainly don't mind if someone questions a comment I post in a review or session report, but when a game designer sends me private messages just to insult me, tell me I'm a poor player or that I clearly don't understand strategy -- or even better, enjoys lording his design credits or superior experience within the industry -- well, let's just say it doesn't sit well.

I'm not the only person from my gaming group he's done this with, either. Our group played one of his games, and I believe several of us posted comments and reactions to the game. And at least one other player got similarly rude, confrontational and idiotic responses. I tried to extend the olive branch and engage in meaningful discussion on his game design to convey what I felt were weaknesses and potential issues based on the game group, and was met with vitriol and vanity. He's left similar comments on a recent positive review posted by a BGGers -- rather than being thankful and kind for the positive review, he snapped at a few descriptive comments made by the reviewer.

It's a real shame, as I had enjoyed the first of his games I played, but now, not only will I avoid any games by this designer, I'm also avoiding other games published by the same publisher.

Monday, April 03, 2006

An eye-opening experience...

I haven't gotten much gaming in lately, as things have been pretty hectic when I've been home, and I just wrapped up one of the medical studies I participate in. In fact, for the last few weeks, the only gaming I've gotten in has been qhile sequestered at one of these medical studies.

It's an odd, odd environment. Lots of the participants are retirees, college students or folks just looking for a little extra cash to get by. I'm in a fairly unique situation. Over the course of ten studies, it's become fairly apparent that I'm atypical from the average participant -- specifically my work experience, education and general breadth of what I had always considered common knowledge.

Common knowledge and common sense aren't that common, it appears. At first, I found it amusing, and it was a bit ego gratifying. Now I find it humbling, and more than a little frightening.

During the most recent study, I played in several games of Cranium, the popular party game. There are all sorts of different categories, ranging from general trivia, vocabulary and artistic skills. I tend to do quite well at Cranium, as I feel I'm fairly well rounded, if not especially "deep" within any of these categories.

Over the course of the games, I was shocked and appalled at some of the discoveries made:

- I was the only person at the table (of 6 players) who knew that all squares were rectangles, but not all rectangles had to be squares. When I explained the necessary requirements for a square, and the distinctions for a rectangle, I was met with baffled looks, and one of the ladies finally said "Ah well, I never was good at math."

- I was the only person playing who had ever even heard of Appomattox Court House. It was a "fill in the blanks" clue, where you only get to see 3 of the letters, and then need to solve the puzzle based on the clue. The clue was "Surrender Site" and the puzzle was displayed as A---M----X. I knew it before the card hit the table, feeling the clue was so obvious, but I bit my tongue, hoping someone else would jump in. I explained that this was where General Lee was asked to surrender by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War. To which several people asked "who?"

- I was the only person at the table who knew that Leonardo DaVinci painted the Mona Lisa.

- I was the only person at the table capable of spelling what I had considered fairly common words: bachelor, banshee, cellular and (believe it or not) diaper.

- No one else at the table knew who Lucille Ball was. That's not so much common knowledge as just showing how old I felt. I'm only 33 -- it's not like I grew up watching I Love Lucy when it was first running. But how could anyone 26 or younger (as they were) not know who Lucille Ball was?

Things were further fragmented when we played Scrabble. I had politely warned them that I was fairly good, and had played for a long time. I offered assistance to anyone who wanted some help during the game. But over the course of the game, I was questioned over the spelling (or very existence) of the following words: smelt (the metalworking process -- no one had ever heard of it), fated, illicit, pare (that's not how you spell the fruit), jape, fiat, akin.

The following words were also spelled wrong by other players: deus (I accepted it as latin, but he had thought he was spelling "deuce"), doush (a woman thought she was spelling "douche"), fale (fail), ferrit (ferret) and several other similar spellings. I couldn't help but think that the rest of the players had litereally only ever learned how to spell phonetically, and not traditionally -- and had probably read very, very little.

It did nothing to boost my ego. There was no sense of pride or fun in winning. I felt something akin to pity. Not necessarily for these people (they're all very nice and otherwise bright, clever people), but for the "state of the world." It made me a bit frightened to think that this is the next generation assuming responsibilities for the world.

As soon as I got home, I read a bunch of books with my three-year-old son, Ben, and we spent hours building words with his blocks and spelling things out on his Magna Doodle. I have a greater sense of resolve now to do what I can to instill a passion for learning, reading and education in my son. The same sort of passion I felt growing up.