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Thinking Out Loud

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Games for Kids >> Praise for Playroom & Reinhard Staupe


For those of you with small children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren in the 3-7 year range, I wholeheartedly endorse the line of children's game by Reinhard Staupe published by Playroom (yes, the same company that does Killer Bunnies -- but I forgive them).

Each of these games features very thick, sturdy cards and most have optional rules to match the gameplay to the child's learning and interest levels. Benjamin, now 3-1/2, really enjoys several of the games. After our success with Papa Bear and Sherlock, I quickly went out and bought all the other games in the series I could find. They are now a staple of our gaming, alongside Gulo Gulo -- and have thankfully replaced Monkey Madness for good.

Here's a quick look at some of the games I've enjoyed playing with Ben from the line:

Papa Bear: There are 12 outfits cards, showing hat, jacket and boots in 1 of 3 colors. Then 36 "change" cards indicate which 2 items need to change colors so baby bear is ready for the day (for example, change the color of his hat with the color of his jacket). Helps with visualization and problem solving. This is Ben's favorite of the series.

Hear & Seek: A twist on the classic Memory game. You don't get to look at the cards you flip over. Only your opponents do, and they have to make the noise of the item on the card. So it's visualization and mental mapping based on sound. Pretty challenging, even for adults.

Catch the Match: Each of 15 over-sized cards has 15 two-color pictures on it (like a blue ball with yellow stripes or a green car with blue wheels). Between any two of the cards, there is exactly one match of items that are exactly the same. There are some "false positives" (like a yellow ball with blue stripes instead of blue/yellow) to keep you on your toes. The first person to find the match wins the card, and the first person with X cards wins.

Sherlock: The english version of Plumpsack, I believe. A memory game where item cards are placed face down in a circle, and each card has a clockwise or counterclockwise direction and number by it. When you flip over a card, you move clockwise/counterclockwise around the circle according to the info on the card, and have to identify the face-down card in the newly arrived space. If you make your way around the circle far enough to reach a previously revealed card, you claim the card and put a new one down in its place. He whips Trish and I at this all the time.

Number Chase: Cards numbered 1-50 are laid on the table. One player secretly chooses a number and writes it down on a slip of paper. The other players guess a number by pointing to a card. If it is not the secret number, the card is flipped over to reveal a question they get to ask to narrow their search -- such as "Is it greater than 15?" or "Is it an Even number?" so some early deduction skill work. A bit complicated for Ben, but I can see him liking it pretty soon.

I'm still waiting for 3 more games in that line to arrive at our FLGS -- at about $8/game, and given the amount of time we've played each of these already, they're among the best values I've come across, and are well suited to the children's audience.

Other than the games listed here, what are some of your favorite games for kids ages 3-7?

(Catch the Match image from the Playroom web site)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gaming By Proxy >> Using Stand-Ins and Substitutes


I caught the tail end of an interesting email chain among some local gamers here that touched briefly on the idea of gaming proxies -- things you use to "stand in" for other game elements. It had me thinking of why some people use proxy components and materials, and why some proxies are considered acceptable, while other proxies are discouraged.

There are two main reasons why I can see people use proxies:

Convenience: The number one reason people use proxies surely must be convenience. In fact, that's the number one reason for me. It's simply easier to use a proxy than the real deal in some situations -- especially if the original components in question are of poor quality or are awkward/fiddly to use.

The best example for this I can think of would be the nondescript plastic coins in the original Caylus. The denominatons were hard to distinguish and they were pretty fiddly to work with. We always use poker chips instead of coins in Caylus. Actually, we use poker chips as proxy currency (or scoring, for games like Tichu) in a variety of situations. The standard denominations and easily identifiable amounts make them very interchangeable.

Accessibility: Another big reason to go with proxies would be that the real deal may not be accessible, but people still want the benefit of playing the game with said difficult-to-obtain item. This is really a phenomena of collectable and expandable gaming. And I have to admit I'm fickle and view this differently case by case.

I abhor people using proxies in Magic: The Gathering, for example. Taking a forest and writing Mox Ruby or Black Lotus across the card with your Sharpie does not cut it for me. I refused to play with people who kept including this proxy cards in their decks, even if it was just casual play. Part of the game to me was getting those cards. If you couldn't get 'em, don't play 'em.

On the flip side, though, I use (and encourage the use of) proxy figures for Blood Bowl. Tracking down the "official" GW miniatures, then prepping and painting them can be an arduous and expensive task. I have made several proxy teams by purchasing incredibly cheap Mage Knight figures for $.25 or less per figure, popping them off their old bases and gluing them to standard 35mm bases so they'll fit on the Blood Bowl board.

I still take some time to number them, highlight them and make them presentable (as well as the initial research to find figures that look fairly close to what team I'm building in the first place) and they serve the same role perfectly as the standard GW figures would.

Defining Right and Wrong? So I can't help but wonder why I'm so dead-set against the use of proxies for M:tG, but such an advocate for other games like Blood Bowl. On one level, they seem the same thing, but on another, it feels quite different. Perhaps it's utility. The Mage Knight figure representing my Orc Lineman fulfills all the same game requirements and functions as any other figure of the same size, regardless of manufacture. The rules impact come from the rulebook, not the figure.

With Magic, though, the cards are the rules - they spell out the costs, the game impact, the implications, etc. The rules and cards are enmeshed in such a way that you can't remove one from the other, or you change a fundamental aspect of the game and gameplay.

At least, that's what I think my mind is telling me right now. Who knows. What do you think? How do you feel about using proxies in games? Which are good, which are bad?

(image of Orc Blitzer from the official Games Workshop site)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It's baaaaaack! Hopefully for good.

Yeah!

Our power is finally back on. Actually, it came back Tuesday night, but we were reluctant to celebrate until we knew it was back for good. In fact, we have yet to do any grocery shopping.

To commemorate the presence of electricity Tuesday night, we let Ben watch his new Little Einstein's DVD, then I fell asleep in bed with the Cardinals-Rockies game playing in the background. It was bliss.

Wednesday night we really shook things up by listening to some Johnny Cash albums, I finally caught up with my shaving (I was getting a little burly) and then we played a game of Gulo Gulo before calling it a night and going to bed around 8:30 PM.

We've just been completely wiped out. Between the stress, the crazy hours, the stress, the sleepless nights, the travel, the stress and all the craziness, we're simply too pooped to do much of anything else. If we get ambitious, maybe tonight we'll do a load of laundry.

Or perhaps we should play it safe and put that off 'til tomorrow. I'm already feeling a little drowsy.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Electricity >> The Big Tease

We actually got our power back at 4:30 PM on Monday!!

For just over 14 hours. The we lost power again at 7:10 AM on Tuesday, and no updates on whether we've been shuffled to the bottom of the priority list or what. But at least we had one cool night of comfort!

That’s pretty damn frustrating, though.

On the bright side, at least we didn’t go grocery shopping to restock everything, and we did get to bath, shower, do some laundry and enjoy the electricity for a few hours. Granted, we were asleep for the majority of the time we had power, but at least we slept comfortably.

I can't help but wonder if we’re now back to the bottom of the storm-related queue of residents needing service, since I’m assuming our losing power this morning was completely unrelated to the storms last Wednesday and Friday. I haven’t called Ameren to find out, though…

Speaking of Ameren. When we came home and found the power back on, there was a message waiting on our answering machine, from Ameren. "Sorry we missed you. We just wanted to call to confirm that your power is back on. If it is not back on, please let us know."

Isn't that a bit like asking a blind person if he likes the color of your shirt? If you don't have power, how is your answering machine picking up and recording the message? The real punchline -- since we lost power again, we can't re-listen to the damn message to get the special number we're supposed to call. Auuuuugh!

Monday, July 24, 2006

118 Hours and Counting... Still no power

This is just getting ridiculous. Even St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is getting fed up with Ameren's (the utility company) inability to provide information on when power might be restored.

Then today they release information stating that they're finally "down to" only 230,000 people without power. At one point they reported that 1.1 million of Ameren's 2.3 million customers lost power at some point from the storms Wednesday and again on Friday. So from that regard, down to 230,000 customers w/o power seems like an improvement. But frighteningly enough, that's still more than the previous high for customers w/o power at a time, set last year.

The latest estimate is that we'll have power "by the end of the day Wednesday" which would mark a full week without power. Crud.

At least we had a brief respite over the weekend, traveling up to Iowa to visit Trish's folks. And I got a little bit of gaming in. So despite the depressing site of our entire neighborhood still sans power when we rolled back into St. Louis Sunday night at 9: 30 PM, at least the weekend wasn't a total waste.

It was nice and cool in Iowa, and we got to see our niece and nephew, which is always a treat. I played 3 games of Hey! That's My Fish!, I won a close 5-player game of Wizard, and Trish and I got mightily thumped at Rook by the inlaws. Benjamin also got to play Catch the Match and Sherlock with Grandma and Grandpa, so he was happy, if a bit cranky during the 6+ hour drive back home.

I so can't wait for power. To celebrate when our power finally does come back on, I'm going to make some Jell-O, and fall asleep in front of the TV watching old re-runs of Law & Order. That sounds absolutely divine right about now.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

60 hours and counting... Still no power

I have a brief moment as I log in from our in-laws' house in Iowa, almost 6 hours from home in St. Louis. Our power is still out, and it may not be restored until Monday, or even Tuesday. Very grim. Very disappointing.

And feeling very powerless to do anything about it.

As I mentioned before, at least our family is safe and our property is undamaged. Many folks in St. Louis can't say the same. But there is an oppressive feeling of powerlessness and uselessness. No matter how badly we want our power, and how badly we want things to go back to normal, we simply can't do anything about it. It's very unsettling.

Being cut off from the Internet and all our amenities is a real eye opener. Not just that it's easy to take things for granted, but it's startling to see just how much we've come to rely on technology and electricity for even the most mundane tasks. I don't even own a regular razor -- and without my electric razor, I've gotten pretty shaggy and scraggly. No washing or ironing clothes. No checking the internet for a recipe. No cooking. No quick email to keep in touch with family or friends.

It feels so. Primitive. It offers the briefest of glimpses of how the devastation around Louisiana must have made residents feel after hurricane Katrina. Or how beleaguered troops feel separated from their world as they fight in the Middle East. Or the victims of bombing and raids, reduced to scraping together what they can to survive. A startling realization.

Hopefully we'll have our power back soon, and our slice of life can return to normal. Or whatever passes for normal nowadays. But hopefully we won't slip back into our routines too comfortably and forget about those who have to live in those conditions every day of their lives.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Mother Nature Kicks (My) Ass...

Well, whenever humanity starts to get cocky about how superior we are, masters of all we survey and all that jazz, it's interesting how Mother Earth likes to tap us on the shoulder and say "Excuse me..."

Or something like that.

I know several parts of the Midwest were scoured by powerful storms Wednesday and Thursday. St. Louis got hit fairly hard as well. I was out taking a walk in our neighborhood around 6:30 PM on Wednesday. We live in a circular neighborhood, and at about the 1/2 way point around the circumference, I noticed a huge black wall cloud tearing across the sky. By the time I passed the 3/4 mark and could see our house down the road, the wind had started to gust. 3 houses away, several garbage cans and a lawn chair went tumbling by as the wind picked up speed and lightning started flashing.

As I was walking up our driveway, the wind whipped leaves, stones and debris all over the place. I was hit in the head with a broken tree limb that flew off the tree from our neighbor's house. Then there was a mighty *crack* and our neighbor's tree nearly split in two as the largest limb came crashing down in their drive way. Their car was parked on the left side of the driveway, or else it would have been damaged.

All the channels were showing the weather report, about this freak storm that no one had predicted, and how it was traveling from south to north -- never a good sign for a big storm in this area. And then the sky turned a sickly greenish-yellow. Another definite not-good-sign during a storm.

We lost power just after 7 PM, as we were gathering our flashlights and whatever else we could to park down in the basement for a while. By 7:30 the storm was over. I don't think there was more than 1 or 2 minutes of rain during the whole thing, but plenty of wind. Looking out at our yard and neighborhood, it looked like a small bomb had hit -- tree limbs cracked and tossed about, garbage cans rolling down the streets, everything in disarray.

Then the damage reports started coming in on the radio. There had been two tornados in the area -- one farther to the north, and one much farther to the south. Some windows blew out of the high rise buildings in downtown St. Louis, and several press boxes at the new Busch Stadium had their windows shatter. 2-3 foot diamter trees had been uprooted and sent smashing through houses or crushing cars.

When all was said and done, nearly 1 million people in St. Louis had lost power -- right before the two hottest days to hit St. Louis this summer. Thursday had an average high of 97, with a heat index rating of 112. There were reports on the news of people who died because they lost air conditioning and either didn't or couldn't get to a cooler environment.

It also, oddly enough, triggers feelings of claustrophobia (being in confined spaces) and autophobia (being alone). Being without power is being isolated. No access to news to know what's going on. No internet. No email. No charging the cell phone after it died. Virtually no communication with friends and family to see how they're doing. It really feels like being cut off from the rest of the world, just hoping that when you finally drive by the house, this time the power will be on.

Thankfully the business offices are open and powered up today. They lost power yesterday like nearly everything else in St. Louis, but they're up and running now -- I can finally check some email, check some news, and feel connected to the world again.

So while it's been horribly inconvenient -- we've been without power for 36 hours and counting, and it's estimated to be out another 36-48 hours -- at least our family is safe. And getting to log on, even for just a little bit, helps curb the feelings of autophobia.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Game Component Manufacturing – Educate Me!

Why isn’t there a US-based manufacturer that can compete with overseas component manufacturers? I’ll confess I’m completely ignorant of global economics, but it’s hard to see how repeatedly shipping large, heavy, bulky things overseas is cost-effective over a domestic option.

Sure, right now there just may not be any domestic option, forcing a publisher’s hand. But with more and more games being produced every year, is there finally a substantial enough need for this sort of service to be fulfilled here in the states?

Even if board printing and mounting and card printing/cutting/collating aren’t realistic to expect locally, what about all the other components? Custom molds for injection-molded plastic figures and bits, the omnipresent painted wooden cubes and discs, and custom-cut cardboard counters and pieces… There are bound to be businesses already set up and able to perform these functions. Is it simply a matter of scale? That the gaming industry needs pale in comparison to other businesses who need custom tooling or dies?

I wish a company would take the initiative and offer components – it’s sorely needed. Not only from the publishers themselves, but I’d suspect there would be some interest and demand (albeit rather small compared to publishers) for the casual gamer. It seems that everyone is a designer in their heart of hearts, and would love to have access to nice quality bits to develop their prototypes. Or as avid gamers who tinker with rules and customize games to suit their tastes, having a lot of extra bits on hand is always handy.

I know I’d buy hundreds of cubes myself, in a variety of different colors, to make each and every prototype I develop as professional-looking as possible. And I’d fill up my Bits Box – a large tackle box – with extra bits and pieces to serve as emergency stand-ins whenever something goes missing or we want to try out some house rules.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Doom That Came From Sweden

Ok, that’s not quite as catchy a title as I first thought, trying to play off Lovecraft’s The Doom that Came to Sarnath. Oh well.

But some serious Doom has indeed come from Sweden. Again. I finally got my hands on the new Candlemass album – eponymously dubbed Candlemass, despite being their 11th album.

I hesitate to say their 11th album together, since Candlemass underwent some serious changes through its day. While I enjoyed vocalist Johan Lanquist in Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, I have to admit that adding Messiah Marcolin for Nightfall was the start of something heavy. Marcolin’s awesome, opera-inspired vocals were the perfect counterpoint to the plodding, driven rhythms and dark sound.

It was a real shame that Messiah Marcolin left after Tales of Creation. Marcolin’s next project, Memento Mori, was pretty good, and their album Rhymes of Lunacy filled a void after Tales of Creation. Candlemass was not so lucky, though. Tomas Vikström tried to fill Marcolin’s sizable role in Chapter VI and failed miserably. It was a disappointing end to one of my all-time favorite bands.

When I stumbled across information that Candlemass had gotten back together last year, I was really stoked. And when I realized Messiah Marcolin was back in the fold, I was numb with anticipation. Could it be? Could Candlemass be back and bring their doom once more?

Well, the release of the new Candlemass album reaffirms that Candlemass was, is and will forever be the fathers of true Doom metal. Pounding, thunderous riffs. Melancholic, contemplative lyrics. Oozing theme, atmosphere and oppressive heaviness.

I’d go so far as to say that the new Candlemass album is their second best offering – only Nightfall, for its originality and phenomenal production (despite being nearly 20 years old, produced back in 1987) inches ahead.

But the new doom is amazing. I hope Candlemass sends more doom our way in the coming years.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Submitting Web/Unpublished/Prototype Games to BoardGameGeek >> Your Opinions?

I've been thinking about this topic quite a bit over the last few weeks. Within the last few months, I've had several prototypes have been reviewed by prospective publishers. While these games exist in a state of limbo between concept and the FLGS, they are still "real" games by several standards.

I know several folks have added their unpublished or web-published games to BoardGameGeek.com. And I've been entertaining the idea of adding several of my own prototypes (such as Forbidden City) to the database.

But something about it tugs at the back of my mind that I'd be doing it purely for ego gratification and it doesn't serve the BGG community. And it's hard for me to be objective about this since I have a vested interest.

The ongoing mental argument usually goes as follows:

I think it would be handy to add a prototype to BGG as a way to centralize information. The game designer could add some nice photos of the prototype and include some good information about the game w/o giving away too much.

It would help create an opportunity for all the Geeks and friends who have playtested such a prototype to leave comments (not necessarily ratings) and add some context to the game concept. A link to the game page could be passed along to a prospective publisher along with the prototype and other materials.

On the one hand, I like the idea of being able to include a link to a prototype page having a publisher see 10-15 comments from fellow Geeks (especially if they are well-known or avatar clad users).

On the other hand, perhaps publishers would be unimpressed, feel it's purely shill content, or be concerned about "shopping the idea" out in a format outside the publisher's control -- perhaps lessening their interest in a game if commentary and content are being supplied which bypasses the publisher's interests. And it seems awfully self-serving and not "be fair" to BGG.

I know there have been some very dynamic arguments and strong opinions expressed recently about the type of content that goes into BGG, and I'd love to hear what you think about it.

What do you think?

  • What sort of criteria should be the "baseline" for a game being entered into the BGG database?
  • How do you think entering prototype, web-published or unpublished works affects the utility of BGG?
  • If these sorts of games are added, what information or classifications would be helpful to make the entries as valuable as possible?

  • Friday, July 14, 2006

    Addicted and Loving It.

    I recently just picked up Kramer/Kiesling's Australia. I also picked up Britannia over lunch the other day, thinking it would be a good long conflict game in the vein of History of the World or Twilight Imperium. And I picked up 3 new Playroom games for Benjamin, two with color/pattern matching and one with counting. And 4 War of the Dragon Queen D&D Miniatures boosters. And some Navia Dratp Insurgence Boosters.

    All this was on the heels of recently getting Alexander the Great, Hear n' Seek and 36 brand new RPG products (some new, stand along hardcover books, some supplements, etc) during the FLGS clearance sale -- all those books set me back a whopping $45. And then I picked up a few other indie design RPGs like Horror Rules , IMP and Never Look Behind.

    Then I picked up some old school Dungens & Dragons modules and books from a co-worker... Tomb of Horrors, Quest to the Unknown, Castle Amber, Isle of Dread and lots of other goodies. About 30 old-school modules and a bunch of 2nd edition AD&D hardcover books.

    Oh, and then I went ahead and ordered Antike, Fairy Tale, Hey! That's My Fish!, Masons, Parthenon (Rise of the Aegean), Ra, Santiago, StreetSoccer, Tempus and Turn the Tide because I'm a game whore.

    This weekend, I'm picking up some new shelving for the basement, as my collection is already causing the current storage situation to burst at the seams. It's good to have a job again to feed the addiction.

    Thursday, July 13, 2006

    So what makes a good review?

    With the advent of the GeekMod system for accepting Reviews, Session Reports and other non-photo content, there has been a lot of vitriol on the boards at BoardGameGeek. My GeekBuddy ekted wrote a very compelling blog entry on the topic, and two of his comments really resonate with me:

    "Personally, if I'm not willing to spend a thoughtful hour on a review, I would
    be too embarrassed to submit it."

    "I suppose to some degree I am trying to assert my own levels of quality on others. I feel embarrassed on their behalf because they seem to have no shame."

    While I might not use “shame” in the latter comment, these two quotes from his post do closely mirror my own feelings. I tend to spend a lot of time on my submissions – be they session reports, reviews or GeekLists. It’s unfair to assume others will devote as much time (or even have the time to devote) that I do.

    But I don’t feel it’s unfair to expect quality submissions.

    Unfortunately, quality is subjective to the Nth degree. If content is valuable to even a single person, does that equal quality? If content is entertaining to read, but doesn’t affect the reader in some way (change opinion, pique interest or inform), does that equal quality?

    It's almost reached the point where I can't afford to spend time checking out a review from an unknown source, and have started to rely almost solely on my GeekBuddies to guarantee I'm going to read quality content. So my GeekBuddy list has exploded -- nearly doubling in the last 2-3 months as I believe the quality of rewarded content has steadily declined.

    I don’t profess to be an authority, but I am willing to share my opinions. I would expect these opinions are shared by many of my fellow Geeks.

    While my focus is specifically on reviews here, many of these ideas apply to all types of content. Additional thoughts are shared in my GeekList titled The Complete Idiot's Guide to GeekLists >> Tips from the Complete Idiot Himself.

    Due Diligence

    In a business setting, due diligence often refers to investing time on research and analysis before committing resources. It applies here, as well. Take some time to read other reviews or submissions. Find out what information is already available on the topic.

    If you’re writing a review, make sure you have the rules right. If in the process of writing, you can’t recall a detail – look it up! Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and making accurate references. And if you make a mistake, go back and correct it or follow up in your post to let readers know.

    Preparation

    Write a draft of your content. Look it over. Make changes. Add notes. Re-write it. And for goodness sake, use the Preview feature to see what it’s going to look like when you submit it.

    I’m probably in the minority, but I invest a lot of time in my submissions. It’s not uncommon for me to spend several hours working on a review or GeekList. Much of it in research and early drafts, then reviews, edits and formatting.

    Provide Context

    It’s important to include some details in your review to help put your submission into context. If you are basing your opinion on a single play, or with special house rules, or based on a pre-release playtest – please let us know.

    Adding context helps make the most out of your submission by putting it in the right frame of reference for each individual reader. Without context, everyone is left having to guess as to the relative value of a submission with regard to how it relates to them. The more context you provide, the better equipped the reader is to evaluate the content’s value.

    For example, if you strongly disliked a certain wargame and write a negative review, adding some context that you usually don’t play wargames, and gave up playing after several hours of frustration – that helps paint a clearer picture of both the experience, and each reader can determine the impact of the submission based on these qualifying conditions.

    Ask Questions – Then Answer Them

    Pretend you’re the reader for a second. What questions does your review answer? You don’t need to answer every possible question, but you do need to justify the reason behind your submission. Here are some typical questions readers may want answered from a review:

    - What’s included with the game?
    - What are the rules like?
    - How does a turn flow?
    - Does it play well with X number of players?
    - What are the components like?
    - Is there a lot of strategy or luck involved?
    - How long does the game take – and would that change with more experience?
    - How difficult is the game to learn or teach?
    - Did you enjoy the game, and would you play it again?
    - What did the other people you played it with think about the game?
    - What is your BGG rating of the game?
    - How is this different (better or worse) than Game X?

    The ABCs of Good Writing

    Of everything I learned in college, the one thing I carry with me every day are the ABCs of good writing, drilled into me during journalism, english and creative writing classes. Again and again.

    A = Accuracy. Be as accurate and detailed as possible. Don't guess, find out and be sure. Make sure you list the proper designer or publisher, include accurate comments about components, gameplay or structure, etc.

    B = Brevity. Be brief. Say only what you need to say to express your point. Edit your own posts to make sure your message isn't getting lost in clutter. Minimum effort, maximum gain.

    C = Clarity. Use clear language to ensure you are sending the right message. Define terms that may be ambiguous. Never make the reader guess where you really stand or what you really mean.

    Formatting is Your Friend

    Clarity is important visually as well as verbally. If folks have a hard time physically reading your material, they'll gloss over it, misinterpret it, or ignore it. No matter how interesting it might be otherwise.

    Put in enough paragraph breaks and new lines to break up content and make sure the information flows well. Reading 3 or 4 smaller paragraphs is easier on the eyes than reading the same amount of content in one massive block.

    Take advantage of the editing tools to emphasize important elements. You don't need to go Grognards on us, but using bold, italics or a little color here and there can help make important information stand out, provide a sense of style and consistency, and make your content much easier to digest.

    Take Pride In Your Work

    Is it something where you can honestly say to yourself, “I think this is worth adding to BGG and I think my fellow gamers will appreciate the time and effort I put into it.”

    ‘Nuff said.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Quick Hits >> Masons, Blokus Trigon, Thurn & Taxis

    I got out for a little impromptu gaming last night with Jay Moore and his wife, Sarah, who graciously invited me over for dinner and a little gaming. In between talking about kids and games and component manufacturing, we actually got a few games in -- three, to be precise.

    Masons: I'm a fan of Leo Colovini games, and after mentioning that I liked Alexandros' quirk of having to open up scoring opportunities on your turn which the other players can take advantage of, several folks recommended I check out Masons. I'm glad I did. I ended up with a fairly strong win, by virtue of some 10-14 point scoring cards early in the game, then two 7+ city scoring cards at 9 pts a pop on the 2nd to last turn. I believe the final spread was 134 - 122 - 101 or something like that.

    Bottom Line: 7.5/10. A very nice light game with excellent components. Creates the illusion of needing to plan in advance to take advantage of scoring cards, but with so much changing from turn to turn it's hard to do anything other than optimize your current turn while making adaptable plans for the next. I like the ability for the trailing player to cycle scoring cards, as some cards are far, far less valuable than others and the values change frequently during the game. Should "feel" lighter, but does cause some Analysis Paralysis.

    --

    Blokus Trigon: I was excited to get to play this. It has all the interesting gameplay of original Blokus, but visualing the triangular-based pieces was more challenging for me. I ended up winning by playing out all my pieces, with my smallest piece last for the maximum 20 point bonus.

    Bottom Line: 9/10. Trigon is an excellent 3-player variant for Blokus, with stellar production and the same challenging gameplay. Is certainly worth acquiring if you're a fan of Travel Blokus or the original Blokus.

    --

    Thurn und Taxis: We wrapped up the evening with TuT. I liked some of the elements, but overall was disappointed. Perhaps my opinion would improve with additional plays, but I felt that once falling behind, it was nearly impossible to come back. Jay ended up securing a lvl 6 carriage before I had my lvl 5 carriage, so I knew that if he continued at this pace, he'd be able to end the game and it was highly likely that the route I had in play at the time he snagged the lvl 6 carriage would be the last one I could work on in the game -- leading to a bit of frustration knowing that this was it, 3 or 4 turns before the game ended.

    It was very close, Jay ended up winning 18-17-14. I had the 17, and could have snuck out the win if any of the 6 face up cards or the top card from the draw matched one of 6 possible path points for my current route, since it would have been 6 long and let me sneak the 2 VP chip for route length. In that regard, a bit disappointing that the planning and execution felt it came down to a lottery. Either the card would be there or it wouldn't. At that point, strategy didn't matter any more.

    Bottom Line: 6/10. Sure, it's much better than Ticket to Ride, but that's really not saying much in my opinion. Using Germany as the map kept spatial relations difficult to determine, especially once the board started filling up with houses. Luck still plays a large part -- perhaps determining the outcome. If I need to purge the draw cards to get 1 card I need while the player to my left happens to get 2 cards he needs at a time, until he can play 2 cards at a time, I'm going to suffer. Especially since there is no way to "catch up" in the game. The game discourages falling behind by having everyone coming in late to a region scoring progressively fewer points. One small spell of bad luck early in the game feels like it would result in an unrecoverable position.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    The Deuce >> Coming This February to a Gamer Near You (Well, Near Me Anyway)

    Well, we can't keep it a secret much longer. I suck at secrets. And Trish's morning sickness and growing belly are starting to give it away, anyway -- we're having another baby!

    Currently dubbed "The Deuce", baby #2 is due the first week of February, 2007. We're excited about having a second child, and trying to prepare Benjamin for his role as a big brother. When asked what he could do to help out with the baby, and what he could help teach the baby, Benjamin commented "I can push the baby in the stroller very, very carefully -- and teach her* how to watch TV!"

    Woo-hoo!

    *actual gender not yet determined... tho' we are eager to find out -- if the baby cooperates during upcoming ultrasounds later on.

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Papa Bear Sesion Report >> Or, "Why Kids Are Amazing"

    Background: I recently purchased Papa Bear by Reinhard Staupe, published by Playroom Games. It's part of a line of children's games, mostly geared toward kids ages 5-8, which come in a similar small box and generally feature thick, sturdy cards. Other games in the line include Hear 'N Seek, Monkey Memory and Sherlock. It had sat around unplayed for a while, but then Saturday, as we were looking for a creative activity for Benjamin, our three-and-a-half year old, I finally opened Papa Bear up.

    I am so glad I did.

    Game Overview: Papa Bear is essentially a pattern recognition game with a slight twist. There are 12 thick, sturdy cards depicting Baby Bear dressed in various outfits. In each outfit, Baby Bear has a hat, jacket and boots, which are either red, yellow or green. Each outfit is a unique color combination, and clearly labled 1-12 for easy reference.

    A second set of sturdy cards shows a number on the back corresponding to one of the 12 outfits, and when flipped over, reveals two items which Papa Bear wants Baby Bear to switch. For example, the back of the card might indicate Outfit 2, which might have a Green Hat, Red Jacket and Red Boots. When you flip the card over, it reveals that Papa Bear wants to switch the colors of the Hat and the Jacket -- so the player would then have to find the outfit card depicting the Red Hat, Green Jacket and Red Boots.

    Trying it Out: It sounds simple, and it really is. For an adult.

    When trying to explain the game and the concept to him from the rules, I could see Benjamin was confused and growing disinterested. So I put the rules away and quickly created a narrative to help put things into context.

    Here was the story: Every day for a week, Baby Bear would get up and get dressed all by himself, just like a Big Bear (and just like Benjamin had started doing). Papa Bear was very proud (as I am with Benjamin) but asked Baby Bear to swap the color of two of his pieces of clothing. If Benjamin could help Baby Bear get dressed for an entire week, we would win the game!

    Rather than being a competitive game of pattern-recognition and trying to identify the correct card as quickly as possible, we played it together as a brain-building exercise.

    So the game started out on Monday, and I made up the story of Baby Bear coming down for breakfast, wearing his Red Hat, Yellow Jacket and Green Boots. And flipping over the card, told Benjamin that Papa Bear was very proud of Baby Bear, but wanted Baby Bear to change his Hat and Boots. And I asked Benjamin what color that would be if they swapped.

    "I don't know," he said, with his big brown eyes looking puzzledly at the cards. "Can we play Snorta instead, please?"

    I wasn't about to give up that easily. So for the first card, I showed him the proper outfit, and explained how it worked, then set the swapping card aside and said "Baby Bear got dressed on Monday -- now it's time for him to get dressed for ..."

    "-- Tuesday!" Benjamin interjected, suddenly showing a bit more interest.

    He identified the next outfit immediately, and said "It's outfit number 5! Baby Bear is wearing a Red Hat and Red Jacket and Yellow Boots!"

    When I flipped the card over, I was nearly blinded by the proverbial lightbulb going off.

    "Papa Bear wants a Yellow Hat and Red Boots! Right, daddy?" After scanning the table briefly, he squeals in delight as he points to Outfit #11, the correct answer.

    "Now he needs to get dressed for Wednesday!!"

    And with that, the rest of the week zipped past, with me flipping over the outfit-swapping cards, and Benjamin gleefully matching the right outfits and color swaps. I was amazed. I thought it was a pretty challenging concept, and wasn't sure if he'd be able to grasp it or not.

    The Kicker: Benjamin loved the game, and we played it a few more times. Then on Sunday, when we reached a slow point in the afternoon, he asked to play it again. Trish was out running errands when we played on Saturday, so she missed the moment the day before.

    As I opened the box and started shuffling the cards, he taught Trish how to play. We both just sat there, mouths agape, as Benjamin explained how Baby Bear needed help getting dressed and Papa Bear wanted to swap the colors, and how to look for the right colors on the cards... It was priceless.

    And that, dear reader, is why kids are amazing.

    Monday, July 03, 2006

    Forbidden City @ Origins 2006

    Aside from loving to play boardgames, I also love designing games. I was beginning to get a little distraught after such a "dry spell" after designing MLB SportsClix for WizKids back in 2002-2003, having had several games reviewed and subsequently passed on by quite a few game companies. But I think I may have turned the corner with Forbidden City, my most ambitious design to date, which coalesced last fall and was prototyped and playtested Winter 2005 and Spring 2006.

    After revisiting and refining the rules and game balance after the Geekway to the West, I got in touch with a good GeekBuddy of mine who looks over incoming designs for Z-Man games. After some chatting, he agreed to take a look at Forbidden City. I was pleased to hear that their initial playtest was a positive experience, and that he would be taking the Forbidden City prototype to Origins to playtest at the Z-Man Games booth. What a great opportunity!

    So I was a bit anxious over the weekend, unable to attend Origins myself, living vicariously through the Geekposts and emails from some of my buddies. But lo' and behold, I received some very good news from some of my fellow BGGeeks regarding Forbidden City.

    This was from Jay Moore (MUKid) a good gaming buddy of mine here in St. Louis --

    Oh yeah, one last exciting thing - guess what was being playtested by the Z-Man guys? That's right, Forbidden City, creation of local gaming hero Jay Little. They had several games out on a table in the board game room and were testing them all. Forbidden City got very positive reviews from everyone. Apparently everybody really enjoysit, and thinks the endgame scoring is one of the coolest things they've seen in a while. I think we might have a winner, Mr. Ynnen...... congrats.

    And another BGGeek geekmailed me this morning with these kind comments from Origins --

    My wife and my two fellow game designers gave Forbidden City the once over. They all really, really enjoyed it. John, who has a tough time keeping Settlers and Puerto Rico straight, won by one point using the card collection strategy. (He was in last for most of the game). It was a great game that was enjoyed by all of them. I may have them give me more comments to pass to you, but I think you've got a winner. Best of luck to you!

    I'm completely biased, so it's impossible to remain objective, but I really do think Forbidden City is an excellent game that fits in a gameplay experience/style niche that's currently sitting empty. Of all my designs, it's easily the most ambitious and creative concept I've developed, and I'm crossing my fingers that Z-Man (or some other publisher) will fill the same and pick it up.

    Big thanks to all the many, many Geeks who helped playtest and brainstorm for Forbidden City. I picked a lot of gamers' brains to get some great feedback and fine tune the rules -- and if Forbidden City does get picked up, I'll be sure to include a shout out to all of 'em in the rules.