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Thinking Out Loud

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Read any good games lately?

Aside from gaming, one of my favorite past times is reading. I generally read fantasy and science fiction, preferring my entertainment to be detached from the everyday. But despite getting to read some fun novels lately (I just finished William King's Slayer series and am almost done re-reading Rally Cry by William R. Forstchen), I find myself reading game-related content most of all.

Not reviews, GeekLists or session reports (although I do read quite a few of each), however. Game rules and rulebooks. I often bring rulebooks to work to read over lunch, or pack an RPG core book along on a trip. I love reading about new mechanics, trying to visualize how different rules work together, trying to imagine how strategies would unfold. Some games and rulebooks lend themselves to mock set up and playing through scenarios and situations, but games with clear rules and well designed layout and images can really convey a lot.

For roleplaying games, there's the added element of daydreaming about the atmosphere, and creating a narrative of play for the proposed setting or system. I can wile away the hours just thinking about fun scenarios, character concepts or the people I'd like to sit around the table with and game. In fact, for some of the systems, it never gets past the reading and the daydreaming -- simply too many games and activities competing for the ever-shrinking available time.

So what are some of my favorite games to read? I'm so glad you asked.

InSpectres (Memento Mori Theatriks) - A wonderful Indie design RPG. A slightly tongue in cheek, slapstick game about creating your very own Ghostbusters-esque organization to battle evil spirits and monsters. Wonderful, inventive gameplay and some very clever mechanics that put the focus on action and rely on the players to drive the story as much as the referee.

Hollow Earth Expeditions (Exile Game Studios) - A great pulp-adventure game about discoveries in the unknown. With a dash of Jurassic Park, a pinch of Raiders of the Lost Ark and you've got the recipe for an enthralling setting, plus some great mechanics (their Ubiquity resolution system) which keeps the action fast and furious. I've re-read this book several times, thrilled at the potential it offers.

Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (Avalon Hill) - While not as thrilling a read, each time I read the rules, the game makes a bit more sense. There are still some confusing sections, but for the wealth of strategy and the depth of the immersion, reading the rules is very enjoyable. I always come away with new insights, or new ideas on what to try the next time around.

Battlestations (Gorilla Games) - Walking a fine line between an RPG and a boardgame, Battlestations rulebooks, despite some proofing errors, send my mind reeling in hypothetical ecstasy... As in, I keep dreaming up new hypothetical situations, trying to design new scenarios, and finding new ways to appreciate the mechanics and the love that Jason and Jeff Siadek pour into their game.

Space Hulk (Games Workshop) - The beautiful layout and wonderful diagrams help clearly explain the rules. Space Hulk has a lot going on, but the well-written rules and fabulous formatting help demystify the game. The game is very easy to grasp from the rulebook, and allows players to focus on dreaming up plans to crush their opponent.

What are some of your favorite rulebooks - boardgame, roleplaying or otherwise? What about them is so engaging?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Interesting Game Article >> Passed Along By Fellow Gamers

It's amazing the series of coincidences, referrals and chats that can eventually lead to discovering something interesting online.

Case in point, I was online checking email, when I was pinged by Simon Hunt (designer of Take Stock) to tell me about an interesting article he saw over on Boardgame News by Larry Levy. His article, titled "The Two Faces of Gaming" was spurred on by his reading of a recent Bruno Faidutti post over on Bruno's web site. The most interesting part about Larry's column was actually the response by my GeekBuddy Valerie Putman.

It was a bizarre web of ideas, concepts, notices and communication that finally got me to read the article, which is essentially about the impact of certain timed events during a game, such as when you draw a card. Does drawing a card at the beginning of your turn create more downtime or analysis paralysis than drawing at the end of your turn? Or does drawing at the beginning of your turn create more excitement and anticipation?

It's a great read, and I strongly recommend you check it out. Both Larry's column, and the article by Bruno that started it. And then Valerie's comments, which succintly mirror my own feelings about the topic. Here is part of her response, which I largely agree with:

When you draw at the end of your turn, you are much less likely to care as much about what you draw. First, you have to wait until everyone else plays before you get to use it. Second, the game might change enough between turns that you don’t know yet when you draw it if it is helpful. It is much more engaging to draw at the beginning of your turn.

What do you think? Does the timing of these game mechanics matter? How about opposed actions, like rolling dice in combat, or "after the fact" card draws after the person's turn has passed? I think it's too easy to overthink the impact and significance of design decisions like this in short, filler games, but perhaps there's more impact in longer, more tactically and strategically rich games, like Card-Driven Wargames. Dunno. You tell me.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Collection Composition >> How Has Your Collection Changed?

Over at BoardGameGeek, someone recently asked me a few interesting questions -- has my collection remained relatively balanced between new and old, or is it skewed heavily in one fashion or the other? How has my collection changed over the years?

That got me thinking.

My game collection has swollen, shrunk, then swollen again over the years. I used to be able to house all my games in our tiny little apartment in college -- in fact, all of them fit into four old computer boxes (Apple IIGS) stacked in the hall closet. Back then, I had maybe 60 games, but they got played heavily. After college, my collection was purged slightly for extra cash and to make it easier to relocate from Peoria, Illinois to St. Louis.

A few years ago, I tried working eBay full time by purchasing close out/going out of business lots and hard to find games then flipping them on eBay. I purged a few titles from my collection which I regret to this day (as many of you may have noticed in several of my GeekLists, such as Requiem for a Game >> Mourning the Greatest Loss of All ). But with the move into a house instead of an apartment, and my wife and I each working full-time, the collection has gone through another boom. In fact, I'd wager that nearly 2/3 of my entire current collection (hovering near 550 games) has been acquired within the last 2 years. It now spans two rooms in the basement, on 8 shelving units.

And that doesn't take into account all my role playing games -- I easily have as many RPG books, supplements, modules as I have boardgames. In fact, as much as I love boardgames, I'm an even bigger RPG fan. But the RPG hobby doesn't have the same sort of dynamic community, or ease of entry, as boardgaming. There's nothing on part with BoardGameGeek.com for us RPG fans.

What about you and your game collection? How has it changed over the years? Aside from the size of your collection, has the focus or composition changed?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gaming During the Game

I wanted to get some gaming in this weekend, but with the opening of the NFL season, I found that I didn't want to be distracted by boardgaming while watching all the NFL games. Which is odd, because during some gaming events -- NFL as well as baseball and hockey -- I find myself flipping channels frequently. And not just during commercials.

There are lots of lulls in the action, even for a self-proclaimed sports fan like myself. These lulls seem custom made for gaming. But still, I find I get so wrapped up while gaming that I'll often miss those key bits I'd want to focus on if all my attention was on the television during the sports events.

Some sports lend themselves to radio. I think baseball is actually more engaging and spirited when broadcast on radio by a pair of experienced broadcasters. Their inflections and descriptions really add to the flair, and let me know when to focus my attention. For that, I don't mind boardgaming while listening, since I'll "look up" from the boardgame and focus on what's going on when their inflection tells me to.

What about you? Do you game while watching or listening to sports? Which sports and games lend themselves to this the best?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mental Mistakes >> My Most Common Gaming Gaffe

I tend to like games with a focus on the here-and-now and the short term, rather than elaborate, convoluted or long-term strategies and planning. Not that I can't make those sorts of plans... I just can't stick to them.

My Achille's heel as a gamer is most certainly my lack of focus and memory. Not that I don't pay attention to what's going on, or that I can't recall things like rules or how certain situations may resolve. I simply can't follow my own plans. This is sometimes attributable to distractions, but more often than not, just good ol' fashioned forgetfulness and idiocy on my part.

A good example. During my last playing of Blue Moon City, I made a concerted effort to be more mindful of churning cards and trying to manage my hand better. However, after completing my turn, I'd often look down at my hand and notice 1 or 2 cards I should have churned. But apparently forgot to consider. Ok, my bad. I'll remember next time around.

In fact, I even took the cards I wanted to churn and physically placed them in a different part of my hand, clearly separated from the others and out of sequence. But even this mnemonic (well, okay, it was a physical reminder, not a mental reminder, so whatever you call that) didn't help. After completing my turn, I look down at my hand and think to myself "Why are these two cards out of order over here?"

Gaaaah! It suddenly hits me what I've done. But rather than try to go back and see if the group would let me churn 'em, I prefer forcing myself to live with the consequences. I figure eventually I will learn from these mistakes. But let me tell you, I've been making an awful lot of them lately. You'd think I'd have learned a lot by now.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Disappointment, Thy Name Is ... Tempus!

Just got back from Jorge and Eva's, where Marshall "mdp4828" from BGG stopped by to join us while visiting from Wichita for the weekend. We played Tempus, the much lauded and hyped new Martin Wallace game published by Warfrog & Cafe Games. Boy was that disappointing.

I can see why people would rate Power Grid or Age of Steam highly, even though I personally don't care for them based on the meticulous calculations and limited margin for error. Heck, I can even see why some people rave about Ticket to Ride if they desire nothing more than entry level gaming. But I'm baffled why Tempus has so many 9s and 10s over on BGG.

I know I may preaching to the choir for some of these gripes, or to some of Tempus' biggest advocates, but I just gotta' get this off my chest. What a friggin' disappointment.

My initial rating after one play is 4.5/10 ... This is a fabulous concept that feels wholly incomplete. Nice components, and I like the evolution of the civilization tiers. But other than a few neat ideas, I am actually surprised Tempus was published in its current form. Tempus as released feels like an early concept prototype.

There are several major issues with the game.

1) The mountain spaces are worth no points and cannot have cities built, yet are the most common terrain element, severely restricting space and creating a lot of game clutter.

2) Movement is so incredibly limited early on that you can accomplish very little at the point in the game where you need the most flexibility and planning.

3) Meanwhile, the board is so cluttered by the end, you find yourself with the most actions available in the game (5 or 6 actions per round) with nothing to do because you can't have babies, can't build new cities, can't move into any better positions, etc. Lots of churning Idea Cards.

4) Combat is incredibly difficult to pull off, especially against a city. The stack limits prevent all but a massive card investment to succeed in taking on any sort of city, and then only if you guess right about what terrain the defender is going to call.

5) The artificial restriction of not being able to attack someone on 3 or fewer hexes is ridiculous -- buy a bunch of cities and then consolidate your stacks to make yourself immune to counterattack. It may prevent leader bashing, but it completely eliminates any sort of catch up mechanic... the only people you can go after are the people out of contention.

Am I off my rocker, or right on mark? You tell me... If you've played Tempus, what did you think?