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Thinking Out Loud

Friday, May 26, 2006

I'm sorry, Ra -- I didn't mean it...

When it comes to games, I tend to rely heavily on initial reactions, gut instinct and snap judgements. With so many games to choose from when playing (either from my own collection or the extended pool of available games from all my various gaming buddies) and so very little time to play, I can be pretty harsh with games that don't blow me away after the first play.

There are some games, however, that I have ended up playing more often than my initial reaction would normally warrant. This was sometimes due to easy accessibility of play/opponents via PBEM or BSW, or perhaps convincing by my gaming peers that I ought to give the game another chance. Regardless, after giving the game a few more plays, I began to reverse my position.

So in an effort to set a good example for my son, I'm going to own up here and apologize. I made a mistake.

Far and away, Ra is the poster boy of this phenomena for me. When I first played Ra, everyone I played it with hated it. It was one of the first Euro/designer games I had played, and it was so different from anything we had tried before that the strategy completely eluded us. I despised the game for a long, long time. But eventually, as I met more people who enjoy Euro/designer games, Ra was often mentioned as a game that needed another chance.

It took me a long time to come around. But the wonderful player aids from the Geek and the great online implementation over at BSW helped convince me. Once I could better see the tiles, better understand who had what, then I was able to better evaluate the different lots. I found myself playing more and more frequently. And I even found myself requesting Ra a few times with 3 or 4 players. Ra probably has the highest rating boom for any game I've played. It started out around a 3/10 when I first owned and played Ra... but now, it's a solid 8/10, and a game I enjoy with 3 or 4.

Ra, if you're out there listening - I'm sorry. I should have been more patient, and let you develop at your own pace. I'm sorry for pushing you and trying to make you fit my expectations of what sort of game you were.

Old Rating: 3/10
New Rating: 8/10

Do you tend to qualify gameplay after just one play? How many chances do you give a game before giving up on it?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

FrEaKiNg OuT!

As in, that's what I'm doing right now.

Since the Geekway to the West nearly a month ago now, I have played one single game -- that's it. I've been oppressively pressed for time. With the new job, suddenly that concept of "free time" seems purely fictitious. What little time exists between getting home from work and going to bed is consumed by household tasks and spending time with the family.

I didn't realize just how much I took my previous flexibility and freedom for granted. Now if I need to go grocery shopping, that has to be planned around the window between 5:45 PM and 7:30 PM. Shipping something off to a fellow Geek now means skipping lunch to hit the post office instead.

Reading? What's that? I had been reading at a fairly good clip, but now, I'm too exhausted to read, and haven't picked up either book I started in more than a month. Check that, now the only thing I read is technical/programming books (currently immersed in the spine-tingling thriller that is DotNetNuke ASP.NET Portal Solutions for DNN 3.0).

I can barely even keep up with the email threads from the various usergroups and gaming groups I belong to. Several of my gaming buddies have been able to get together and game, and for the first time in what feels like forever, I'm "that guy" -- you know, the guy who can never make it, the guy who says he's too tired to game tonight, the guy who has to cancel at the last moment. I never, ever thought I'd be that guy. Especially since I used to game 3-4 times per week.

So now I'm paranoid about when oh when I'll be able to get some serious gaming in again. With greater flexibility and freedom, I'd often play anything at any time, and generally didn't pick nits about game preferences. Now, I don't want to risk what precious little time I might have to game on something less than stellar. That'd be pretty disappointing.

How do folks cope with being, well, "adults" and having to contend with responsibilities and duties without ever having the time to work on them? AAAAUGH!!! I am totally freaking out about this. I don't know how long I can last w/o gaming being an omnipresent outlet for stress release, creativity or social interaction.

How do you manage?
How do you get yourself through the day?

FrEaK oUt!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

BoardGameGeek >> The Game!

Ok, you heard it here first (or over on BGG a while ago as I was first flirting with the idea). Among my midnight musings and insomnia-inspired idlings, I have been noodling around with a new game concept -- BoardGameGeek: The Game. Players all start as new users. The goal is to be the first one to earn 50 GG to purchase their Avatar.

Actions include posting photos, reviews, player aids & session reports for direct GG, or writing to the forums, creating geeklists, logging games played, entering your game collection and adding comments to other posts to earn Reputation. The higher a player's reputation, the more likely their content will earn bonus GG via tips, or get special action cards/favors to reflect the GeekBuddy analysis/interest/community angle.

The different options take up different amounts of time (ie, Action Points) and some are synergistic. If you spend APs to write a review of Tigris & Euphrates, it costs less to also write a session report for the same game in the same turn. But different game categories are "hot" at different times -- so you may be spending actions on a genre that won't get as many visitors/page views/exposure as others.

Random events would crop up to incorporate BGG-isms and personalities -- Server Down (fewer AP to spend), Sisteray Poo-Poos a Popular Game (driving that game genre's interest up), Tom Vasel Posts a New Review (lowering exposure to any reviews written for the same game by other players), Greg Schloesser Posts A New Session Report (ie, Tom Vasel effect, but for SRs), New Titles Announced for Essen (increasing popularity of those genres).

I've got about 4 or 5 pages of notes typed out already... I just don't know if I'll take the time to refine it and make a playable version just for personal/goof-off use (or possibly for the next Geekway to the West?)...

Does that make me pathetic? Or just cement my position as a Geek forever and ever and ever?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wargames on the brain >> An odd feeling

I haven't had a lot of time to play games, let alone daydream about them. So I find it quite odd that I've been thinking about wargames a lot lately. Not just thinking abstractly or distantly about them, but thinking how it might be fun to track down a few and add them to my collection.

Wargames are easily the most under-represented area of my game collection. I've got a lot of designer/Eurogames, lots of traditional card and boardgames, "old school" GW and Avalon Hill games, party games, dice games and the like. But very few wargames.

And even among the wargames in my collection, they tend to be on the lighter side. Memoir '44, Battlecry, Axis & Allies: D-Day come to mind. I've also got Wizard Kings and Hammer of the Scots from Columbia. I have the solo-play Thunderbolt/Apache Leader from GMT (sadly having purged Hornet Leader years ago). And finally, I have Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage and The Napoleonic Wars -- which are probably the heaviest and perhaps the only truly "grognardian" wargames in my collection. Other than a few minor conflict games I'd hesitate to call wargames (SJG's Coup, Necromancer and Ogre, for example), that's just about it.

I think one reason I've generally steered clear of wargames is that I tend to game with larger groups of people, 3-6 gamers at a time, and most wargames don't lend themselves to groups of that size. But with my sudden shift in schedule and available gaming time (with the new job) I think I'll find that my availability doesn't match up as well with larger groups any more, and I may find myself in the position if both planning ahead (eegads!) for my game time, and possibly playing more 2 or 3 player games.

So I find myself interested in acquiring a few new wargames. The problem -- there are several kajillion games out there, of varying complexity and with varying time requirements. I'd really like to ease myself in, I'm just not sure how. I don't think I want to push beyond a 3 hour timeframe to be able to play a complete game, which helps narrow the field... My favorite time periods for war would probably be Ancient Greek or Roman, Medieval (not necessarily fantasy) and American Civil War. But basically anything before mechanized units or airplanes would appeal more.

Any ideas?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

1 New Job = 15+ New Games!!

The last two weeks have been crazy. I've only gotten one single game in since the Geekway, because other than that slim opening, my schedule has been swamped. (That game was Hammer of the Scots, which I won for the first time in 6 playings). I started my new job on Tuesday, so the week leading up to that was pretty hectic.

The new job is in a fairly professional setting. After spending the last 3+ years as a freelancer working from home, I had literally 1 dress shirt and 1 pair of slacks "just in case" for emergencies. So I had to splurge and do some serious clothes shopping. I can't stand business attire, so thankfully this is just below true "business dress" -- slacks, a shirt with buttons or a polo, and dress shoes. I can live with that.

The downside of the new job has been the dramatic shift to my schedule. No more getting to bed somewhere between midnight and 3 AM. No more snoozing until 9 or 10 AM. No more kibitzing all day long via email or chat with my friends. And a serious damper on my previously wide open gaming schedule.

But that makes it sound bad. It ain't. The job is with a great company, a great group of people, and will offer more security and stability than freelancing in the wobbly game market did. Once I get into my routine, it should also afford the flexibility and resources to travel a bit more and get to some Cons a bit further away from the Midwest, and possibly fly out to meet with prospective publishers if any of my game ideas generate interest. Plus, I just had to splurge on games (for the first time in a long time) as a present to myself for finding a good job.

So, over the last two weeks, I've gone a bit crazy.

I finally picked up my own copy of Manila, which was long overdue. I think it's a very accessible game with a lot of pull, and great bits. A very nice blend of push your luck and betting. And then I picked up Martin Wallace's La Strada as an Age of Steam "lite" game focused almost strictly on the path development (with AoS then adding the money management and goods shipping).

I also snagged Dos Rios, another game by Franz-Benno Delonge... I really enjoy Manila, and Fjords and Goldbrau look interesting (though I have not played either). Granted, he's the same person that designed Big City... But after reading up on Dos Rios at BGG, and now reading the rules, I'm really excited about the gameplay possibilities. Though it may end up being a bit more analytical than the otherwise light rules would seem to intend.

I was *this* close to grabbing Tower of Babel at the time -- I've only played 4 or 5 times, but keep wanting to play again. It's one of the games I wish I would have jumped in at the Geekway. While nearly element feels "borrowed" from another Knizia game, they mesh together surprisingly well, and I love the dynamic that offers which are passed over earn VPs. So I waited a whole 3 days before returning to the same game store and picking it up then.

I also grabbed Cosmic Cows and Snorta Snorta, mostly on the strength of the animal bits. They may be able to double as toys for Benjamin, while possibly introducing a few game concepts or ideas -- like die rolling, number matching and moving the cows along in Cosmic Cows, or one of every toddler's favorite past-times -- making animal noises -- in Snorta Snorta.

But why stop there? I also grabbed a few Frenzy decks, the ill-fated FFG real-time game. I dig FightBall and other similar games, and it was $4 for two decks, so what's the harm, right? The one shop was selling out their stock of Rocketman, the red-headed stepchild to WizKids runaway smash success Pirates of the Spanish Main... so I bought 6 boosters (each containing 2 ships, 1 terrain card, 1 resource card and 1 special card) for a total of $10. The bits look neat enough, and it might be a nice diversion some time.

Other knee-jerk reaction purchases were Yahtzee Deluxe Poker and Head-to-Head Poker (buy 1 get 1 free at Kay-B, meaning both games for a total of $5), Asmodee's Wooly Bully (in an attempt to find a simpler Carcassonne/tile-laying game the wife will try) and Maureen Hiron's Zippy dice game (a recognition/calculation game of rolling dice and spotting combos - like mathematical Set).

Wait, that's not all. Yeah, I'm a sick, sick man. I also grabbed the 30th Anniversary collector's edition of Tunnels & Trolls, an old-school RPG by Flying Buffalo (makers of Nuclear War). It's neat to see all the stuff they packed in the collector tin, and even though I'll probably never play it, it's got value via nostalgia.

Oh, and I ordered Crusader Rex, Ra and Gulo Gulo from the FLGS, hoping to have them in by the end of May. Toss in DragonQuest VIII for the PS2 -- one of the few game-related activities my wife enjoys sharing with me is console RPG gaming -- and it's been a pretty massive haul of gaming.

Unfortunately, with the radical shifts to my sleeping/waking schedule and the new demands of my job, I've got a feeling these games won't be seeing much table time for a while!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Session Report >> Hammer of the Scots

I at least got some a little bit of weekend gaming in -- Dave Stephens and I ended up getting together to play Hammer of the Scots. He had been interested in trying out a Columbia game, and this session of HotS is the first block game he's played.

I was the English and Dave took the Scots. In a change of pace, I decided to play by the rules as written (defender firing first each phase rather than simultaneously).

I was hammered early and often. At one point I rolled 16 or so dice in one battle without scoring a single hit on B2s or B3s. With the Scottish troops entrenched as they were, I could never mount an effective assault without getting picked away mercilessly by their first fire each phase.

After the 7th round, the Scots actually had 11 of the nobles -- I was left with only Bruce, Argus and Mentieth. Then my luck turned around. He tried to seize Mentieth from me with several units, but with 8 B2 attacks, I scored 6 hits for a massive blow to his overall army.

He also strayed too far out with Wallace, harassing my supply lines as I funneled troops into Bruce's territory from England. I ended up getting another very lucky throw of the dice and eliminated Wallace with some weak C2 infantry after he failed to score any hits during the first round of combat. After wintering with Edward that year, I evened things up and we each had 7 nobles at that point.

The last turn of the game I was handed 3 events, and stole Galloway on a lucky die roll with the Herald event, who was the only noble behind my lines of maneuvering and causing me all sorts of grief. He had a pretty good offensive turn, which I negated with Victuals to heal 3 steps. Then I slapped peace down so he couldn't attack. That left me with a 3 Movement card for the last round, in which I was able to tie up enough of his guys and stave off combat to squeak out an 8-6 win (all due to stealing Galloway with that Herald card).

We had fun, but it felt a little cheap that the game came down to that one die roll at the very end. If I had rolled 5-6, Dave would have won, but I rolled 1-4, so I won. Granted, a lot of positioning and posturing led to that point, but it was a bit deflating to all end on that.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Review >> Wits & Wagers

NorthStar games was generous enough to donate a copy of Wits & Wagers to the Geekway to the West gaming event. I was pleased to write a review of the game for their generosity. This is an overview of the game review. The full review can be read over at BoardGameGeek.con.

Clever, Quick Fun ... But Watch Out for Groupthink

OVERVIEW: Wits & Wagers is a trivia game with light bluffing and bidding elements, published by Nortstar Games and Eagle Games. Wits & Wagers has received a lot of press and acclaim recently (Boing Boing, Mensa Select and others) and rightly so -- Wits & Wagers is one of the more accessible, easily played trivia games I've encountered, and is well-suited to nearly any group.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT SYNDROME: Despite its apparent simplicity and accessible nature, there's a strong tendency for the game to devolve into a meta-game -- a groupthink dynamic of trying to undercut what people think a reasonable answer is, rather than what might be a reasonable guess at the question. This is tied to the (necessary) guideline that the closest guess w/o going over is the "correct" guess for the question.

To make up a random example, if the question asks how many miles long the Mississippi River is, very few people could hazard a legitimate guesstimate. The rest are arbitrary and wildy variable guesses. Knowing that my guess can't possibly be in the ballpark, I'd be inclined to make a very low guess, say 100, which I know isn't right. But that's not the point. I just want to be the highest of all the low guesses, or the best lowball guess "below" the reasonable threshold of answers.

It could very well be on the low end of the bidding extreme, meaning it could have fairly good odds for a payout. If the next highest response is too high by even 1 mile, then my absurdly low bid of 100 is "right" and pays out.

Once a group sees this dynamic in action, the next time a comparably unguessable question comes up (especially where the answer could potentially be very, very large), and they've seen the potential "power" of a lowball guess, you might see a variety of guesses like: 50, 50, 70, 100 for an answer that's really going to be 800-1000...

This sort of groupthink is contagious, especially after seeing its success. You simply can't afford to be the only person making a "true" guess if everyone else is playing the lowball game, as the odds are stacked against you that one of the lowball responses (not a true guess, but a response to the groupthink) will end up being the winning answer regardless of its accuracy.

THE BOTTOM LINE: 8/10 -- Very clever, engaging and fairly novel party game. Nice light trivia and interesting wagering process involved. One problem is that some folks will invariably play "The Price is Right" and make obscenely low bids just to undercut what they think other people will do -- putting emphasis on that sort of mind game over legitimate attempts to provide reasonable answers. Despite some poor production decisions and the bidding issues with some players or groups, Wits & Wagers does far more right than wrong, and is an enjoyable way to spend the evening with friends.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Review >> Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court

Chad Ellis at Your Move Games was gracious enough to donate a copy of Succession for the Geekway to the West. I played the game several times, and am glad to write up a full review -- the least I can do for Chad's generosity. Here's a snapshot of the review. The full Succession review (detailing the components, gameplay and negotiations) can be read at BoardGameGeek.com.

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OVERVIEW: Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court, is a no-holds barred game of bluffing, negotiation, bribery and bidding by Chad Ellis and Robert Dougherty of Your Move Games. It's designed for 3-5 and is listed at 90 minutes game time.

Your Move Games really crammed a lot into the box, providing a very good value for the price point (about $25 US online). Overall, I love the game from a conceptual standpoint, and while the mechanics support the concept quite well, Succession ends up being a bit long for what it is, and is highly group dependent -- you simply can't afford to play this with folks who refuse to "leave it at the table" after a game of duplicity, backstabbing and deal-breaking. That said, if your group enjoys power brokering and diplomacy, Succession offers a top notch free-wheeling and clever gaming experience.

THEME: The aging king must choose the successor for the throne. In a humorous twist, that ain't you. Nope. You're not important enough to be king. But you are important enough to influence who will become king. Ah, and that's where the game lodges the players.

You are not one of the candidates looking to become the king. Instead, you are a sycophant or stod trying to ride the coattails of whoever ends up being crowned the king. Through spreading rumors, manipulating opinion and taking credit for other people's efforts, you are trying to convince the candidate who eventually is crowned the king that you're responsible for their rise to glory. Or at the very least, that the other players were trying to sink them and never liked them anyway.

YOU MIGHT LIKE SUCCESSION IF YOU LIKE: Basari, Cash & Guns, Cosmic Encounter, Dragon's Gold, Fantasy Business, Mall of Horror

THE BOTTOM LINE: 7/10 -- 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.

Arbitrary and ruthless player targeting is a big part of the game -- so be warned. Grumpy players who hold grudges shouldn't play. Has some of the wheeling/dealing and evokes a slight Cosmic Encounter vibe with me (a good thing). It's certainly not for everyone due to the negotiations and backstabbing, but with the right crowd, Succession should be a smash hit.