Monday, December 24, 2007

Brief Overview Series Ep. 3: Caylus Magna Carta

This is the third entry in my brief overview series in which I attempt to show you the basics of a board game to help you decide if it's worth a purchase. For people like me, images are worth a thousand words - hopefully this benefits you as well.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fate: Dark and Stormy report #12

It was our last day of work before Christ's Mass vacation, and it was a Friday (roleplaying day), so we filed into the conference room for one last session before the new year.

Last session, the party had finally defeated the monstrous spider after a long and tense battle. Today, they began by resting up. Leo and Elros had sustained some minor injuries, which Rwake was determined to heal. Pulling a bowl from his hide-sewn travel bag, Rwake began cooking some herbs in the dead spider's lair. Purple smoke filled the room and the other party members cringed as Rwake rolled up wads of spider web silk, coating them with his pungent herbal concoction. He then placed one makeshift web-bandage on Leo's wounded arm, and one on Elros' side. Rwake also took time to investigate the spider's dead body to see if he could locate a storage cavity for the spider's venom. Succeeding with +3 on his Anatomical Knowledge roll, he found the venom and soaked it up with more wads of spider silk. He then coated the poison balls with leaves from his bag and stashed them away.

Leo was eager to leave the room, so they agreed to go back to the central chamber where they rain was dripping through a hole in the ceiling. Here, they pulled out food and chomped while regaining their strength. Rwake pulled out a flattened banana-potato vegetable thing and offered some to the others, which they declined. Elros, weirded out by Rwake's food, shared some bread and dried meat with the tall jungle dweller. Rwake in turn handed Elros a handful of small nuts, which Elros accepted and found that he actually enjoyed. Elros listened in the quiet for signs of the storm dying, but thunder could still be heard above them.

After recuperating for a spell (and erasing all stress boxes - no one had any consequences), the party headed for the last unexplored corridor, just off the entry chamber. Rwake headed stealthily down the passage . . . then rolled a -3. Suddenly he managed to dislodge a large stone with one hand on the wall. The stone tumbled down, causing a loud thud and the hissing sound of many falling pebbles, kicking dust up all around them. Waiting quietly, they heard nothing in response. So Rwake, throwing caution to the wind, lit up a torch and proceeded into the room at the end of the hall. On the far wall of the room, they see an upright sarcophagus with a strange winged head.

The head of the sarcophagus began moving, in an instant revealing long tentacles and flying toward Rwake, swinging a tentacle at him. Below, the party enters the last room of Hightower Tor:

The creature was recognized by Leo (using his Academics roll of +2) to be a gronuluk. This was fun for me because the gronuluk was a creature I had created long ago, when drawing creatures for an RPG game I was creating for fun. So this was my first chance to actually use the gronuluk for something.

Rwake rolled a +3, dodging and rolling to avoid the gronuluk's suction-cup-covered tentacle. Rwake then loaded his blowgun (-1 to his action), firing a dart at the hovering creature, rolling a +4. The gronuluk rolled a +5 for flying and barely dodged the dart as it whisped by.

Elros, ready to deal some damage, drew his sword (-1 to his action, -1 for the spin earned on the gronuluk's defense) and cast some energy magic, hoping to squash the gronuluk to the floor. He rolled a +3, which the gronuluk defended against with a Flying roll of +4, resisting the force of Elros' spell. You can see Elros below, casting his energy magic, Leo at his side:

Meanwhile, Leo had pulled out a dirk, launching it at the gronuluk's open mouth. Leo rolled a +4 against the gronuluk's defense of +0. The gronuluk attempted to shrink itself, but was caught too quickly by Leo's dirk, dealing 4 stress. The gronuluk returned to its full size and shook the dirk from its mouth, swinging a tentacle now at Leo, attempting to grab him. It achieved a +1 on its roll, which Leo dodged with a +3. He had been ready for the gronuluk's retaliation and made his move flawlessly.

Rwake sprang back into action, blasting another dart at the floating creature, rolling a total of +4. The gronuluk, rolling a +5 on its Hide skill, shrunk quickly to the size of a small ball, tentacles wrapped around itself, still hovering. The dart flew past, doing no damage.

Elros, fed up with the size-shifting gronuluk leaped forward once more, slashing out with his sword. Both Elros and the gronuluk rolled a +1. Elros spent a fate point to gain +1, finally dealing 1 stress to the creature.

Leo followed Elros' attack by drawing and flinging two knives at the gronuluk's face. Again, both rolled +1s. The knives swept by the gronuluk as it dodged with its mad flying skillz.

At this point, the gameplay was beginning to feel stale. Long ago, they had defeated the "boss" of the dungeon - the dagwir zombie. Then, they faced an even tougher foe in the spider's lair. Now they were rolling poorly against this goofy little floating octopus creature. We were out of time, and weren't going to meet again until January. I had to think quick. Here is what followed:

Me: Suddenly, the gronuluk starts to shift and shrink again. It begins glowing, blue, then purple, lowering to the ground. It slowly floats down, still glowing, until it touches the ground, forming a new shape. When the glow dies down, you see a Lufan man standing before you. He coughs for a minute, then says, "Thank you! You have freed me! I was trapped in the body of that gronuluk by a magic spell and you freed me by attacking the gronuluk spell!"

[shock and laughter from the players]

"What year is it? I've been trapped here for, I don't know how long..."

J (as Leo): "How did you get like that?"

Me: "I remember I was exploring the tor for treasure. I came into this room and a wizard of some sort was there. He cast a spell on me and I've been a gronuluk ever since, mindlessly hiding out in the head of that sarcophagus. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Renk."

[more laughter and joking]

"Are you coming or leaving? Can I go with you? Are you able to heal me? I'm hurt."

[The party takes to treating his wounds from the short battle.]

AC (as Elros): "Yeah, we're leaving as soon as this storm let's up."

Me: As you are treating Renk's wounds and chatting, you hear the thunder stop. There is no more pounding of hail. Everything becomes quiet. The storm has moved on. J, tell us how you convince the others to join you as you head for our next adventure. (I had told J before hand what was coming up and that he would need to convince these guys to come with him.)

J (as Leo): "Well, I'm heading for the city of Gryborn to attend the Craftsmen's Convention. It only happens every few years. You're welcome to come with me."

[Elros and Rwake agree]

Me (as Renk): "Do you mind if I come with you? I need to get of here. I have no idea how long I've been trapped here."

[They accept his company. He gives them a ring from his hand and tells them it's a Translator's Ring. It allows the wearer to understand the languages of Mrug, Noggit, and Dagwir. They comment on how that would have been useful earlier. They exit through the main entrance to the tor and behold hail piled at the base of the hills. Leo's cart is slightly damaged and filled with hail as well.]

So that ended our little learning adventure. We all gained a better understanding of the new Fate 3 mechanics, as written in SotC. Next year, we will take a break from this campaign to play a SotC adventure using the recent released Spirit of the Season. AC will be GMing. When that is done, we plan to continue this campaign as the party heads northeast to the city of Gryborn for the Craftsmen's Convention.

For fun, here's a scan of my original sketch of a gronuluk:

And here are the special item cards I created. When the PCs found these treasures, I handed the players these cards. They are a combination of the original adventure's treasures with my own mods. The sketch art is my own. The drawings were scanned, then modded in Photoshop to create the cards.

There was much joking about this one, no one wanting to wear it for "style" reasons.

May you enjoy much good roleplaying and gaming of all other sorts during the Christmas season. Until January, it's going to be mostly board gaming posts, but keep your eyes out because I plan to write a little something about a recent RPG system discovery. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fate: Dark and Stormy report #11

We had taken last week off on account of my wife giving birth to a new baby. But this week, I arrived back at work, ready to dive back into Hightower Tor at the Friday lunch game table. This week, it was our muscled jungle master who started off the scene - still fighting the monstrous spider. As you may remember from last time, the spider has been ignited with flames all across its hard and hairy back.

Rwake began by attempting a stunning feat.

Llama: "I use my staff to polevault up onto the spider's back."

J: "Isn't the spider still on fire?"

Me: "Yeah. He's still on fire all over his back."

Llama: "Okay, I try to land on his head."

Me: "His head's on fire too."

J: "Is the spider still taking damage from the fire?"

Me: "Yeah. He did last session and he will again on his turn."

Llama: "All right. I spend a fate point to say that there's an open spot on the spider's back where the flames have gone out, near the head."

Me: "Okay, that sounds good. Roll. The difficulty is Fair (+2)."

Let me cut in here. For those of you who may be considering GMing with Fate, you might be wondering, "How'd you decide on the difficulty?" The answer is: I just picked something that seemed not to high and not too low. I figured something like this would be possible for Rwake, but harder than Average. So I said Fair. Setting difficulties can indeed be tough sometimes. For the sake of keeping the game flowing, I recommend just picking something just as I did - not too high, not too low. I find this process of elimination easier than pinpointing the perfect difficulty. The important thing is that the PCs have fun, so just pick something and let the players give it a whirl. Below, you can see Rwake, safely perched atop the spider.

Back to the scene. Rwake rolled a -2, added his +5 for Jungle Gym skill (flipping and jumping around the jungle) for a total of +3. His plan worked, and he successfully landed square on the bare spot he had aimed for. Crouching, he grabbed the nearest crevices in the spider's neck joint and hung on for dear life.

Elros, still near the spider, plunged his sword into the spider's leg for a +7 on his Swordsmanship. This gave him one shift above the spider's +6 Athletics roll. This inflicted one stress point which rolled up to the spider's 7th and final box on his stress track, leaving only consequence boxes. Below, Elros prepares for attack, while Rwake watches from atop the spider.

Getting in on the action, little Leo sprang forward, chopping at the spider's back left leg with his Shortsword of Shock. The spider was focused on Leo, so I figured the difficulty of this slash would be Mediocre (0). The spider wasn't doing anything to defend itself. It was simply outnumbered. Leo rolled an Average (+1), dealing one stress, which rolled up to a Mild consequence. I decided the spider now had the aspect "Overwhelmed". It was surrounded, and taking damage from every side, including its flame-broiling backside.

At this point, the spider offered a "concession". Since the spider wasn't a person, I just explained that the spider was clearly backing off with no intent of further conflict. In the Fate 3.0 rules we're using, the opponents can accept the concession, or they can refuse it and keep fighting. Each player explained why he didn't want to simply leave this battle behind. The primary reason they agreed on was that they didn't want to leave this spider to consume more victims exploring these ruins. So they refused the concession, earning the spider a fate point.

The spider recognized that its attackers were still hostile and lunged at Elros once again, achieving +7 on its Melee roll. At the same time, the spider made an attempt to throw Rwake from its back. I gave the spider a -1 to his roll because I couldn't remember the exact ruling of doing two actions simultaneously with one attempt. I rolled a +2 for this attempt. Rwake used his Death Grip stunt (+2 to rolls of strength when holding an opponent) to grip a crevice in the exoskeleton with hands of super jungle strength - a roll of +4 total, saving him from being thrown. Elros, for his part, moved to dodge the spider's attack, but with a +3 roll, he was crushed between the grotesque pincers of the spider's mouth for 4 stress, then tossed aside.

Then on Rwake's turn:

Llama: "I pull out my knife and find a weak spot to stab the spider."

Me: "Oooo, so as you feeling around you discover the spot Leo had been hammering with a chisel earlier?"

Llama: "Sure - do I need to spend a fate point for that?"

Me: "Nah. That's what Fate is about. This kind of stuff works out for you guys. So do you jab the knife into Leo's crack?"

[giggling from around the table]

Rwake: "I tag the Overwhelmed aspect to get +2 on my attack for a total of . . . +6."

Me: "The spider's exoskeleton is weakened, so that's going to be a difficulty of +3. You dealt 3 stress. Your blade sinks in and ooze starts to spill out."

Players: "Eeeewwww."

Me: "So now the spider is trying to madly shake Rwake off its back. It now has the Moderate consequence of 'Half-sensing'. Rwake struck something in the spider's neck joint to hinder its senses. The spider is visibly struggling now."

Elros, still aching from his spider bite, got up and charged the spider (supplemental action for -1) and rolled a +2 for his sword attack. That gave him the shift he needed against the spider's Average (+1) roll to move the damage up to a Severe consequence. Jumping into the air and slicing a two-handed slash, Elros' sword cleaved through the spiders eyes and mouth. The spider took a new temporary aspect of 'Weakened'.

Webbing now began too shoot wildly from the spider's abdomen, near Leo. The little Lufan quickly darted around to the front of the spider (supplemental action), using his Close at Hand stunt to freely pull out a long chisel and a short carving knife. Aiming at the wounded face of the beast, Leo flung both "weapons", rolling a +2 against the spider's +3 dodge. Leo now uses the free tag of the spider's new "Weakened" aspect to reroll his Thrown Weapons skill, achieving a +5 this time. those 3 shifts of stress took the spider into the Taken Out state. Leo's knife cut through part of the spider's face, while the chisel lodged deeply into one of the eyes. The spider wriggled for a few moments, screeching its last, and finally dropped lifeless to the dusty floor of its lair.

Before dismounting, Rwake wedged his knife into the spider's neck joint and methodically broke all connections, ensuring the spider's final death. Behold below - the monstrous spider fallen. Notice Leo's chisel embedded in the spider's eye.

A post-battle examination of the room turned up a Pearl of Power, which allows the owner to enhance the benefit of one stunt per day. Elros also found a leather pouch containing 15 silver among the corpses. He kindly split the silver between the three of them and headed back to the hallway.

So, after many weeks, they have finally bested the monstrous spider, Elros reasonably damaged from the experience.

Our next session won't be until the second half of January, once we're all back from Christmas break. It will probably take another 3 weeks or so to finish this adventure. After that, AC is going to take over GMing and we're going to play through the holiday-themed, Spirit of the Season. Some of us, especially J, have been wanting to try a real SotC adventure, pulp-theme and all. While I'm not into the pulp genre, I am willing to give it a try. So, AC stepped up to run this next adventure. Once we've finished that, we'll move on to the continuation of this campaign, following the story of Elros, Leo, and Rwake. The adventure will be one of my own creations. Thanks for those of you who read these reports. Comments are always appreciated.

Thursday, December 13, 2007 - make shopping easier

Many of you may have visited before, but, like me, you may not have known about a sweet little feature called Shopping List.

This feature was brought to my attention by Thomas, who runs So, big thanks to him for this tip.

If you plan to do large game orders, you will find the Shopping List very useful. Here's how it works:
  1. Look up a game on
  2. Click the button that says "Add to list".
  3. Repeat with every game you want to include on your game order.
  4. Click the link in the upper right corner which says " games in shopping cart".
  5. You will now see a list of every store that carries all of those games and their stock status.
The stores will be listed in order of price, low to high. There will also be a list of sites which carry only some of the games. The only work you will have to do is estimate the shipping costs. So, the next time you do a large game order, you might want to use the Shopping List feature to find the best online store to buy from!

NOTE: You may notice that Thought Hammer does not show up in your searches on This is because their website is not yet compatible with the way does its magic. Thomas assures me that he has requested Thought Hammer change this, but they have yet to make the change.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Boards and Bits: no more free shipping

Several weeks ago, I did a 2-part Buyer's Guide series on the cheapest places to buy board games online. My personal award for the ultimate online game store went to Boards and Bits.

Just this week, I happened to stop by Boards and Bits to look for something and noticed they had changed their shipping policy. You can read it on their front page, and you'll notice a different shipping logo at the top of the page. It used to say something to the effect of: "Free shipping on orders of $125 or more". For a while, Tom (who runs Boards and Bits) said that his recent free shipping policy (which matched that of Thought Hammer and Fair Play Games) was working well and not causing him to lose money. This has apparently changed. Here is the text from the front page of Boards and Bits:
Due to rising costs of freight (and everything else), we are changing our shipping discount policy.

Effective immediately, we are offering 1/2 price shipping on all orders of $100 or more, which means you will pay from $3 to $5.50.

And as always, we have low flat rate shipping prices for orders of any size -- from $6 to $11.

Shipping price is based on your zip code, and not on order size or weight.
So, in place of free shipping at $125, Tom now offers half shipping at $100. This means you reach the shipping discount more quickly, sure. But one more game is all it would take to reach $125, so the $25 decrease isn't a huge benefit. This also means you now pay shipping costs, regardless of order size. $3 to $5.50 really isn't bad at all. The issue here is more about all-or-nothing. Thought Hammer still has their free shipping policy. This makes me wonder, will Thought Hammer receive more business now from Boards and Bits fans? Is the change in shipping policy enough to make buyers think twice about which seller to buy from?

I really don't know. The change in policy is so minimal that I think there will be little change among the general game-buying population. On the other hand, people like me, who have their eye out for the best deal will certainly compare total prices before buying. Some buyers determine where to buy based on loyalty, even if it costs more. Others of us, as much as we like our buying experience with one seller, will still buy from the seller who has the best price.

It's a bummer that shipping costs have forced Tom into the position of having to revoke one of Boards and Bits' benefits. It's a small change, but a change nevertheless, and a negative one.

Still, Tom's prices are so good that he might still have the edge over other sellers. And, if you are doing group board game orders, that $5.50 will be easy to split up for minimal damage.

So, the change in Boards and Bits' shipping policy is not big, but it's not a good change for the buyer. While good for the seller, it may be just enough to make buyer's think twice about where to buy.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fate: Dark and Stormy report #10

After skipping one week, we were back around the table, continuing the deadly battle against the monstrous spider, deep in the underground passages of Hightower tor.

When last we saw Leo, he was on the ground, having been thrown from the spider's back. Now, he sat up, noted the spider's shaggy back and quickly devised a plan. Reaching into his pockets, he pulled out a phial of sticky potion and threw it so that it splashed all over the spider's hairy back. Then, reaching into a pouch of flammable powder, he tossed a handful onto the layer of sticky substance. Leo ended his turn shouting to his party members, "The spider is flammable! Hit him with fire!"

This is an example of a maneuver. This maneuver placed a temporary aspect of "flammable" on the spider. Below, you can see Leo standing next to J's newly acquired specialty Fudge dice, a gift from gaming buddy AC.

Still enraged by having been stabbed by Elros in the belly (last session), the spider shot his head down to chomp Elros in his hideous pincers. Elros only managed a +1 on his dodge, while the spider rolled a total of +3 for Melee. Elros spent a fate point to gain +1 on his roll, giving him a total of +2. Elros managed to roll mostly out of way, but stumbled on some cocooned carcasses underfoot, giving the spider an open window to deal 1 stress with a bite to the hips.

Rwake, having burned the webbing off of his legs, leaped up, grabbed his knife from the ground, and ran at the spider, brandishing a burning torch. Crossing one zone (-1 to his action), he threw the torch over the spider's head, hoping to ignite its back. He could have tagged the "flammable" aspect, but didn't, and I didn't think to recommend it, but I really should have. Rwake gets a -1 and spends a fate point to bump it up to 0. The spider got a +4 with its Athletics skill and managed to skitter to the right, avoiding the torch and positioning itself with its back to the wall, assessing its attackers. The torch landed on the ground in front of Leo. Below, Rwake runs up to throw his torch.

Recognizing his window of opportunity, Elros quickly wielded a burst of Energy magic to toss the torch once again at the spider's back. He rolled and modified total of +6. The spider, attempting to evade the torch by hiding, managed only a +2. For some reason, I used one of the spider's aspects (I can't name it here because the players don't know the spider's aspects) to add 2 to the roll, which was futile since it only got the spider's attempt up to a +4. So, having needlessly wasted one of the spider's fate points, the spider scurried backwards, climbing now up the wall, butt first. The torch got close enough to set the flammable spider aflame. This maneuver gave the spider a new temporary aspect of "On Fire". This replaced the "Flammable" aspect. Screeching out, the spider hastened its upward climb, keeping it's many eyes on the adventurers below. Below, Elros wields magically throws the torch at the spider.

Leo, using his "Close at Hand" and "Anything Goes" stunts, pulled some old rotten daggers from among the corpses at his feet. Achieving a total of +5 with his thrown weapons skill, he flung the daggers upward. I had set a difficulty for this attempt at Fair (+2). One dagger hit missed, while the other made contact with one of the spider's eyes (eye contact?), inflicting 3 stress to the spider.

On the spider's turn, it managed a +2 on its Climb skill to get a few more yards up the wall, now approaching the ceiling. All above them, the PCs could only see blackness and no sign of the ceiling. But the flames on the spider's back allowed them to keep tabs on their foe.

Rwake, thinking to use his understanding of creatures, attempted to listen to the spider to see if he could guess at what the spider's intent might be. I decided this was a long shot, and therefore gave it a difficulty of Superb (+6). Rwake rolled a -1 and gave up the attempt.

With the spider at a safe distance for the moment, Elros began discussions with his companions about possibly leaving the spider and abandoning this battle. I remembered that Elros had an aspect called "A Score to Settle", which is based on a rivalry from his past. I decided that this would make Elros unlikely to leave a conflict behind. So, I took this opportunity to compel his "A Score to Settle" aspect. He accepted my compel and received a fate point for it. This was very exciting for me because it was perhaps the first time we have ever seen a compel worked out in one of our Fate adventures. I was surprised to see that someone was actually trying to do something that went against their nature. I jumped on this opportunity, just to watch a compel work itself out. So, Elros decided to stay in the room and pursue the spider to the finish.

Elros, using Energy magic again, attempted pull to pull the spider down from the ceiling. The rest of us felt that this was not likely to realistically work out against a spider in its element. But, I finally reasoned, Elros has Energy magic as his highest ranked skill (+5) on the skill pyramid. This is what Fate is about. It may not be likely for an ordinary adventurer to pull a giant spider down from its webs with magic, but for a Fate adventurer, this kind of feat is quite possible. Characters in SotC are intended to be the best of the best, beyond normal humans. That's how we are using PCs in this adventure. So, I told him to go ahead and try. Elros rolled a +5 total. Dissatisfied with this result, he used his "Educated at Prestigious Highcloud Tower" aspect to reroll, this time getting a +6. Against the spider's +5 Climb roll, this gave Elros 1 shift. I decided this was enough to pull the spider's front legs loose. The spider was now dangling face-first, hanging onto the ceiling by its back legs.

Leo fished around in the corpses, this time finding an old rusted dirk. I set a difficulty of Great (+4), against which Leo rolled a +5 for thrown weapons skill. The spider took yet another injury to the face - 1 stress.

At this point, the players were wondering how I was going to play out the fire. After some discussion, I finally looked at my cheat sheet on my GM screen and saw that there are some fire rules. Using this table, I decided that the spider would now take 2 stress from the fire licking its exoskeleton.

The spider now pushed off the ceiling with surprising speed, dropping straight down to land on Elros. Elros rolled Athletics to dodge the attack, achieving a mere +1. Spending a fate point, he notched it up to +2. The spider rolled a +3 for Melee, smashing Elros with one leg as Elros rolled out of the way, taking 1 stress. That made it two close calls for Elros this session.

Next session, we'll see what Rwake plans to do about the flaming, furious, massive spider.

Week after week, J takes nice pictures during the session for me to use on these session reports. This week, he managed this very nice shot of his new Fudge dice, placed among a scattered pile of fate point counters. These new Fudge dice are very befitting J's style. I'm very happy for him.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thebes: Is this game worth playing?

A few weeks ago, when I first acquired the game Thebes, I wrote a post called "Thebes: What's in the box?". In that post, I mentioned what a beautiful game it is and briefly mentioned that my wife and I enjoyed playing it after a couple plays.

Today, I am going to tell you my impressions after 6 plays. 4 plays have been 2-player, 2 plays have been 3-player. If you are like me, you want to know whether a game is worth buying. Hopefully I can help you make your decision regarding Thebes, if you're still on the fence.

Here's what I admired after a couple initial plays:

- Theme integration: the theme was tied into every part of the game, and the archaeology theme was attractive.
- Visuals: art and components are as good as they come. I love Michael Menzel's artwork.
- Collection mechanics: During the game you hoard lots and lots of cards and tokens to store in your area.

Here's what I admire after 6 plays:

- Theme integration
- Visuals

As eager as I was to purchase this game, as excited as I was to play it at first, and as much fun as it was the first few times around, I am sad to report that I am no longer having much fun playing Thebes. Let me explain.

The most common complaint on BGG about Thebes is the luck factor. What I mean is, when you dig at the dig sites (dip your hand into the bag of tokens) you can be really lucky and score lots of good treasures, or you can get unlucky with a handful of dirt. This is not a problem, in my opinion. This luck factor actually works well with the theme. The game sticks to the theme in every other way so why not here? Realistically, if you do more research, an excavator has a better chance of digging up better artifacts, in a more efficient manner. But even if you have the most research, you might dig and dig only to find nothing. This is well-represented in the game, and doesn't pose too much of a problem. Some people who despise luck in a game will quickly be turned off by this aspect of the game - enough so that they might bail on the game after one play. Really, watching someone dig up all the good stuff, while you pull nothing but dirt, can be very disheartening.

But, that's not my problem with the game. I didn't mind the lucky digs so much. There are other ways to gain points, and you have control over how you manage your time and invest your efforts.

The game really plays out in two areas. As would be true in real life, you research, then you excavate. You can choose how often to excavate, but the meat of the game is researching. Researching looks like this: move your meeple to a city or stay where you are, then draw one of four cards. You do that a lot in this game. If you are going to enjoy playing Thebes, you need to enjoy the process of researching. There are lots of things you can collect during the researching part of the game, including:

- special knowledge
- general knowledge
- rumors and legends
- assistants
- shovels
- congress meetings
- cars
- zeppelins

And, by a different process, you can participate in exhibitions, but it still feels like research. This variety of card types is a strength of the game. It gives you lots of ways to formulate your strategic goals. Working a lot on one thing will inevitably mean you have to sacrifice others. As I mentioned above, you have to enjoy this part of the game to really have fun. I found that after 5 plays, this wasn't fun for me anymore. It didn't feel tedious necessarily, just not rewarding. It didn't feel like well-spent time. It felt like an exercise with little point because the decisions weren't heavy, tricky, or important.

For me, the decision-making in a game is one of the most important aspects. If my decisions don't feel important, the game can feel more like going through motions than actually using my brain for the sake of gaming enjoyment. I want my decisions to matter. I want to feel the tension between options. Which choice will benefit me most? Which choice is strongest for my position and long-term goals? While Thebes gives you a smidgen of this, it is not very stimulating. Too many of my decisions felt like, "Okay. Sure - I guess I'll go dig now instead of grabbing 2 more special knowledge over in Moscow." or "Congress card or 3 special knowledge for Egypt? Do I really care? Both would benefit me. Eh, I guess I'll take the congress card. Yay." Your card choices will matter if you make obviously poor ones. But, good decisions seem to usually be apparent, as in Ticket to Ride.

Well, after having made my sad decision that the game had lost its flavor for me, I decided not to play the game anymore, shelving it and preserving it as trade material (unless my wife decides she wants us to keep it, of course). After a couple weeks had gone by, the game was selected for our Boardgame Wednesday meeting. I joined the Thebes group, resolving to give it another go. Someone else in the group owns the game and so brought his copy.

The three of us started playing and for the first couple rounds, I actually found myself thinking, "This game's not so bad. It's actually kinda fun." Shortly thereafter, I realized, "Wait. I'm not having fun." The rest of the game only drove home what I had learned after my first 5 plays. Thebes was still an unrewarding game in a beautiful package.

Once I find something that interests me, I hope to trade Thebes away to someone who will really enjoy it.

Now, before I finish, I have to explain a comparison I can't ignore: Thebes vs. Mykerinos. Surely, you are thinking, "Those games are totally different!" You're partly correct. Let me show you why I make this connection.

First of all, these games share the excavating theme. It permeates every aspect of Thebes, and is only pasted on to Mykerinos, but it is there nevertheless. But, let me tell you why I would almost always choose Mykerinos over Thebes, when I'm looking to play an excavation game.

Thebes is light weight, unrewarding, and lasts 60-75 minutes, on average.

Mykerinos, on the other hand, is medium weight, very rewarding, crammed with meaningful decisions at every step, and plays out in only 45-60 minutes. It is certainly one of my favorite games.

With these two games side by side, I can't imagine why I would ever choose to play Thebes unless the following were simultaneously true:
  1. I was too mentally exhausted to think through the strategies of Mykerinos
  2. There were no other games available to play
  1. The people I was playing with needed a lighter game than Mykerinos, or already knowingly disliked Mykerinos
  2. There were no other games available to play
The likelihood of one of these two scenarios ever happening is so low that I can't see when I would choose to play Thebes. Now, if it was my wife's turn to pick a game, and she chose Thebes, fine. I'll play because that's how our system works. When you pick a game on your turn, we play it. Although, coincidentally, my wife doesn't like Mykerinos one bit, so I intentionally never pick that when it's just the two of us. =)

So there you have it. A review from someone who started off as an eager fan of Thebes, and eventually became uninterested. I'm hesitant to get rid of a game containing Michael Menzel art, but if it's not going to get played, it does no good on the shelf.

Keep in mind, I know many people really enjoy this game. My guess it that many people will also find that the game will lose its luster after more plays. The only way you'll know if this game is good for you is to try it two or three times and see if the mechanics strike a chord with your brain. For me, what started out as a lush chord eventually lost its resonance.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thankgiving gaming

For Thanksgiving, I took my family over to spend the day at my sister's house with a bunch of family. Once we had settled down and there seemed to be enough people sitting around, I asked if anyone wanted to play a game. No one seemed all that eager at the time except for my brother-in-law. So, I decided it would be fun to teach him San Juan in a 2-player setting.

We sat down and I began explaining the game when my sister (wife of my bro-in-law) pulled up a chair. I asked her if she'd like to play, and she decided to join in, making it a 3-player game.

My sister is what I would consider to be a non-gamer. My brother-in-law is a gamer who is good at strategizing in games. He's usually willing to play, but he tends to brain-burn with his decisions. The games they have played and liked are Ticket to Ride and Bohnanza.

It was an interesting session. I was fully enjoying it, as always. The other two seemed to be distracted with other conversations and such, which kept them from fully engaging. There were a few times when someone would ask, "Okay, what just happened? Is it my turn?" NGS (non-gamer sister) and CGB (casual gamer bro-in-law) didn't take long to grasp what was going on. After a few rounds they understood how each role worked. They asked me questions all throughout the game about what they should do, and what would be a good move. I helped as much as I could. San Juan can certainly bring lots of questions on a first play, with the huge variety of buildings and abilities.

CGB was the first to complete 12 buildings. I had 11 and NGS had 10. I was the only one who had built more than one 6-building (Guild Hall and City Hall). After scoring standard victory points and chapels, CGB was in the lead. When we counted 6-buildings, I pushed ahead. NGS was the only one with a palace, but she was far enough behind that it didn't help her. I came out with a 1-point lead, ahead of CGB.

I think the game felt a bit heavy to them, especially while trying to stay involved in the surrounding conversations. The experience taught me that you really have to gauge the kind of gamers you are planning to teach, and what their current ability to focus is at that time. To really enjoy a game, you have to be able to focus. The heavier the game, the more focus required, unless you're experienced at that particular game. A party game would have been much more appropriate at the time, I think.

We didn't get back to gaming until after dark, when one of the three little children had gone to bed and everyone had polished off their pie. This time around, everyone agreed to give Winner's Circle a go.

Everyone was somewhat tired at this point, so Winner's Circle fit the bill perfectly. The game is so easy to teach and has very few rules. In essence, "Place bets. Roll die. Move horse." Players this time were my two party-gamer parents (not so much into strategy games), NGS, and my gamer wife. Everyone, including my dad, who can always think of something better to do than play games, understood how the game worked quickly. My dad even won the first race with well-placed bets and lucky rolls.

The second race found my mom and me on some of the same horses, as we had been in the first race. This time, we managed to pull ahead, and now my mom was in the lead, so she started the third race. Everyone who chanced being the only better on a horse found out how risky that is, never getting their horses past the finish line. In this last race, my mom and I were on a couple of the same horses again. The rolls came up lucky for us and my mom had a triumphant win with $2000. I was second place.

This was NGS's first play of Winner's Circle. She commented that it was added to her list of games she liked playing from our collection. For those of you who have similar family or friends, take note: Ticket to Ride, Bohnanza, Winner's Circle. Anything I can get my sister to request is a good gateway game.

I was happy to have fit two games into the day, considering how many people there were, with little kids running around, and much food preparation taking place. It was a day of blessings as we thought about how thankful we were for God's rich blessings in our lives. It was a great Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My board gaming story: Noob to Group Organizer

I have been a game teacher and game group organizer for a couple years now. It all began when I visited a FLGS which carried a stock of designer board games. At that time, the only designer game I owned was The Settlers of Catan, as did a handful of other people I knew. I had no idea how huge the board gaming world really was, but I very much enjoyed playing board games or card games whenever I had the chance.

So, while browsing the game selection at the FLGS, I gleefully read the backs of many boxes, eagerly searching for a potential buy. Of all the games I looked at that day, the most interesting was Bruno Faidutti’s Citadels. I didn’t buy the game that day, but I went home and started researching on the Internet.

This was when I first discovered Board Game Geek. I looked around the site briefly and reminded myself to come back later. At the time, I was intent on researching Citadels, so I went to the Fantasy Flight Games website (I had stored away the name of the Citadels publisher in my memory). On the FFG website, I browsed to the Citadels page where they had a free PDF of the rules for download. I read the rules, decided the game sounded fun, ran it by by my wife, and resolved to buy it.

I went back to Board Game Geek and read in the Citadels forums that some people prefer to sleeve their Citadels cards in Yu-Gi-Oh sleeves. I still remember that day: my wife had our only car. I asked her to go over to the FLGS and pick up Citadels. She picked me up from work that evening, and we headed over to the comic store to buy some sleeves. On the way home, I began sleeving the Citadels cards while my wife drove us home.

My wife and I quickly found that we enjoyed playing Citadels as a 2-player game. Shortly thereafter, I arranged for a several of my co-workers to meet me for a game of Citadels at lunch. This was the beginning of a string of lunchtime Citadels sessions. We were soon averaging 5-6 players regularly.

Having newly opened eyes for the world of board gaming, I decided to look at the game section at Walmart one day. In the card game section, I saw a little box with cartoony pirates on the cover - Loot. It said “Reiner Knizia” on it. I remembered reading his name on BGG and so figured maybe this would be a good game. The price tag was $4.98 (or something), so I purchased it. I quickly introduced this game to the lunch group as well, and we found that we had a blast with it.

It was around this time that my friend Jack and I started researching games like rabid beasts, as our eyes were increasingly opened to the gaming goodness that was out there for the grabbing. We communicated about our BGG research every day, and before long we were putting together our first group game order on Thought Hammer.

We found that we were having consistent lunch sessions at least once a week during the lunch hour at work. We work in an IT department, so there are plenty of geeks who enjoy various forms of gaming. After enough weeks of this arrangement, Jack and I decided it might be worth organizing a format for the weekly gaming sessions. This was the beginning of what eventually came to be known as Board Game Wednesday (BG Wed for short).

Jack and I began acquiring more games (as the addiction kicked in...), and inviting others in the group to do the same. We continued placing group game orders to expand our collections. Jack and I were the predominant buyers, while others would get in every so often with perhaps one game they had played and found they liked enough to buy.

Today, BG Wed is a smooth flowing machine. Here’s how it works. Every Monday or Tuesday, I send out an email to the group, including a list of all of the games in our combined collection. This list is organized by weight into three categories: Filler, Light, and Medium. Every person in the group has the opportunity to vote. If they have a game in mind that they know they want to play, they send me a vote for it. If they don't care what we play, they don't vote. All the votes come in to me. Usually 2-5 votes come in. We call the players who send in votes “champions” - they’re championing a game. This is where Jack comes in. Jack maintains a Ladder of Champions, which is just a table containing a list of:
  • all players
  • when they last won or lost a vote
  • how many times they have won or lost when championing a game
When a game you vote for gets played, you get pushed to the bottom of the ladder. Whoever is at the top of the ladder gets priority when they champion a game.

When the votes come in, I look to see which voters are at the top of the ladder. Then, I look at the games they championed and decide how many games we’ll be likely to play considering the number of players we are likely to have that week. Sometimes we can have two or three games played simultaneously depending on how many people show up, and how many players can sit at one game. Then, I send out an email saying which games we will be playing (those chosen by the players highest on the ladder), and I include a number of slots for players to fill in their names for the game they want to play. This way, we can have the groups organized before we meet up on Wednesday. Every so often, the number of players expected to show up can be unpredictable, and we’ll just each bring a couple games and pick one when we meet up, but this is not a common occurrence. We jokingly call this the "arm wrestle" method.

"Let's play my game!!"
"No, MY game!!"
"No, MINE!!!"

Fortunately, the group is pretty chilled out, and we quickly and peacefully select a game.

One of the guys in our group set up an online wiki for us. We use this wiki to track our gaming statistics. One page includes a table of:

  • every game we have
  • how many players each game can handle
  • who owns each game
  • how many plays each game has had
  • when the last play was
Another page is just a simple list of every game we have, ordered by weight (depth of gameplay), as I mentioned earlier. The last page is a statistics page where Jack keeps track of various figures, including:
  • who has won the most plays for each category of game
  • the Ladder of Champions
  • the First Buyer’s Club (how many games each person has been the first to introduce to the group)
Until a few months ago, we were writing brief session logs for every game we played. It turned out that no one was reading them, so Jack and I finally gave up the effort and bailed on logging sessions.

So there you have it - an overview of how I got into the hobby of board gaming, how Jack and I organized a gaming group, and how Board Game Wednesday works.

Currently, my game collection includes almost all games that support two or more players. I also have a handful of 2-player only games. This is because I play primarily with my wife. BG Wed is nice because it gives me a chance to play my games with more than two players, and an opportunity to play other people’s games without having to buy them myself. It’s also a fascinating opportunity to observe different types of gamers and the different ways their brains function with various games. This interaction with others is what makes the hobby so enjoyable. Playing with real people is a chance to talk, share, joke, and get to know one another while engaging in a mentally stimulating activity. Play for fun, not just to win!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My favorite gaming podcasts

I have tested various podcasts in my life, and have bailed on many. There are lots of fair podcasts out there, but few great ones. After trying out a number of podcasts about my interests, there are only three that I continue to listen to regularly. These three podcasts are worth the time because they always offer something new, they offer information that will benefit me as a gamer, and they are fun to listen to on account of the interesting or funny commentary given by the hosts. Two of these podcasts are boardgaming podcasts, the third is a podcast for game masters of RPGs.

I have listened to The Dice Tower for a long time. I quickly came to enjoy the loads of information presented by Tom Vasel and his co-host, Sam Healey. The Dice Tower hosts are missionaries in South Korea who find time to put together excellent shows.

Tom is into almost every type of board and card game. He has 1000+ games in his collection. He publishes his personal top 100 games every year (this year he did the top 200). He is also a prolific game reviewer. You can read his reviews on a number of different websites, but I usually read them on Board Game Geek.

One of the features which first drew me in to the Dice Tower podcast was their top ten lists. Every episode includes a top ten list from the hosts or from their guests. Of course, when it comes to taste, there are going to be many different preferences, but I always enjoy hearing the top ten lists from these guys. Typically, the top ten list presenters are people with vast gaming experience either in general, or in a specific genre of games.

They used to do reviews, but fortunately, those seem to be few and far between now. Listening to reviews in audio form was very boring for me. I'm glad this part of the show seems to be somewhat absent now. I'm much more interested in brief opinions than lengthy explanations of gameplay, which can be difficult to visualize.

The Dice Tower also runs contests, which typically have easy ways to enter. Winners usually win a new game.

They also have some great guest spots on the show, giving listeners the chance to hear interesting commentary from experts in the gaming world.

I highly recommend this show. It comes out every two weeks and can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store in standard or enhanced format (has pictures embedded).

The Spiel is a fun podcast by two eager game lovers - Stephen Conway and David Coleson. These guys run an enthusiastic show every two weeks, from their "padded cell in Indiana". They use an enhanced format loaded with pictures. The show is very well-crafted and organized, featuring the same segments each time.

They have a feature called "The List". This is a collection of games they own, but have not yet played. Their goal is to eventually get through them all. They will talk about these games each show, as they play them and mark them off the list.

Other interesting features include:
Game Sommelier: one of the hosts is given the challenge to find 5 games fitting a particular need
News and Notes: keeping us up to date on relevant gaming news
Backshelf Spotlight: giving lesser-known games some attention
Truckloads of Goober: a section about games with lots of components, or unique components
Name That Game: a contest with clues which the listeners must decipher to figure out what game the hosts have in mind

One thing you should know: these guys are not very critical. They love almost every game. It is rare to ever hear them dislike a game. If you want to know the good points about a game, David and Stephen are sure to find them.

This is a very fun show, and you will hear lots of information about lots of games. Don't miss it.

The third podcast I listen to regularly is the Sons of Kryos. This is a podcast targeting game masters (GMs), hosted by Jeff Lower, Judd Karlman, and Storn A. Cook. They tend to discuss mostly indie titles. These guys have tons of experience running a huge spectrum of games. They have loads of tips for GMs, as well as detailed thoughts and discussions about every facet of roleplaying, in terms of both playing and GMing.

They also post interviews from cons, and have the occasional guest. If you are a GM looking for pointers from the masters, download this podcast and give it a try.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Fate: Dark and Stormy report #9

After a few weeks off, the whole team was back together to pick up our adventure through Hightower tor. This week, it was Leo's turn to start us off.

Leo, pleased with his new sword, attempted to hack at the nearest spider leg he could get to. I approved the use of his Fists skill for this attempt. His Fists skill (+2), a +1 roll, and a -1 (supplemental action to get up and run at the leg) gave him a +2. Here, I mistakenly rolled using the spider's Endurance skill, which we later decided wouldn't really be the correct roll. I should have simply given the task a difficulty, or had the spider fight back with something like his Melee skill. The spider's roll, in any case, came up a +5. Leo did no damage. Below, you can see Elros and Leo positioned for attack. Our makeshift spider was quickly prepared by Llama before the game.

The spider now lifted a leg to squash Leo, rolling a total of +5 for Melee. Leo rolled for Athletics, hoping to dodge the blow, rolling a total of -1. Leo's player, J, said, "Having been trained in this type of dodging by Sporren, Leo is likely to get a successful dodge". So, using his "Trained by Sporren" aspect, J rerolled, acquiring a +3 total. I informed him that this wasn't enough to dodge the spider's +5 attack. J used Leo's "I've still got what it takes" aspect, saying, "Leo doesn't want to fail in front of his younger party members, he puts in extra effort to use the spider's leg to push off of and move himself out of the way." Adding +2 for his aspect, and spending a fate point, Leo successfully used the spider's leg to pull himself out of the way of danger, rolling to the side.

Rwake, still wrapped in webs up to the waste, pulled out a 10-inch dart, dipped it in spicy hot chubo juice, and loaded his blowgun. Aiming for the spider's eyes, he shot, rolling a -1. The spider rolled a +3, a fact I disclosed to Llama, Rwake's player. Llama used Rwake's "I can blind both eyes of a snake. With one shot. As it strikes." aspect to attempt an improved blowgun attack, paying a fate point. He rerolled, getting a +1 this time, still not enough to succeed against the dodging spider. Below you can see Rwake back in the hallway, launching his blowgun attack.

Elros harnessed as much Energy magic as he could and channeled it at Leo in an attempt to lift Leo up onto the spider's back. I decided the difficulty would be Great (+4) for this feat. After all, he didn't have much time, Leo was a relatively heavy item to lift, and he was trying to lift Leo a long way up with a lot of control. He got a base roll of -1, added his Energy Magic skill of +5, and spent a fate point to invoke his "Trained at Prestigious Highcloud Tower" aspect to add 2, giving him a total success of 2. In my magic system, this is called a Level 2 spell. Because he had rolled a high Resolve check before casting, the spell did no composure stress to him. Leo soared up and landed directly on the back of the monstrous spider.

Leo used his Close at Hand stunt to pull a chisel and hammer quickly from somewhere on his person, with no supplemental action deficit. He felt around for a joint in the spider's exoskeleton. Then, jamming his chisel into the joint, he began hammering it with all his might. Again, I allowed him to use his Fists skill (+2), since this seemed like close range melee combat to me. I gave this attempt a difficulty of Great (+4) because, according to the SotC table of breaking things, the exoskeleton was agreed by all to probably have Great thickness. Leo rolled a +2, giving him a total of 4. He would need more than that to do damage.

Elros wanted to help, so I allowed him to use a feature of Fate 2e: to spend two of his own fate points to give a +1 to Leo's roll. This gave Leo one shift, which I counted as damage against the spider. SotC experts may find some errors with my GMing in here. I admit I may not be right on with the rules, but for our group, flow and cinematics are more important than looking up rules during the session. I run my rulings by the group before using them, and they approve. Here's Leo on the huge spider.

The enraged spider screeched again and reared back to throw little Leo from his back. The spider's roll of +2, plus his Melee skill of +4, gave him a total of +6. Leo rolled a +3 for Might to hang on to the spider's hair, but lost his grip and flew back several feet to land on the hard ground, amidst piles of cocooned corpses. Stunned, he took a moment to look around and decide what to do next.

Rwake, finally fed up with his stationary state, lit a torch and burned up the webs still binding his legs, saturating the area with an acrid stench worse than burnt hair.

Elros had managed to stay safely positioned in front of the spider during all of this, and now decided to use his skill as a swordsman and attack. His initial roll was not great. But with his Swordsmanship skill and his "Never good enough" aspect (for which he spent a fate point), he boosted it up to a +6, remembering his humiliation at being defeated by the king's champion all those years ago. Strengthened by his resolve to succeed, he leaped forward, aiming a deadly stab at the spider's exposed underbelly as it launched Leo from its back. I set the difficulty of damaging the underbelly to Good (+3). This gave Elros 3 shifts. The spider took 3 damage. The sword had pierced the spider's belly, but not deeply.

We begin next time, once again, with Leo.

This was a great session. First of all, we were glad to finally be playing again after the few weeks off. But on top of that, everyone contributed to a very creative and cinematic session. AC always works hard at making Elros' actions interesting, and he really delivered today with his "make Leo fly" action. Then, on top of that, when J took the camera, he delighted us all by having Leo pull out a chisel and hammer of all things! All in all, it was an exciting session, reminding us all what a great hobby roleplaying is.

Spirit of the Century: actual play reports on

On the Fate Yahoo group, some GMs have posted links to actual play reports. "Actual play" means they are recording sessions of actual gameplay, the way I record them here on Games on the Table. Some are in text form, some are in audio form.

Someone recently posted a thorough actual play thread for Spirit of the Century on The campaign is called The Empire City Centurions. Read it here.

I appreciate when people take the huge amount of time required to write detailed accounts like this. If you are still learning Spirit of the Century, these types of actual play reports are useful for learning the mechanics by watching them in action.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Brief Overview Series Ep. 2: The Downfall of Pompeii

I'm posting a bit earlier than normal this week.

Today, I posted the second video in my "brief overview" series. In these videos I explain the basic workings and features of the game to give viewers an idea of whether or not they would like to purchase the game, or just to familiarize players with the game before their first play. The first video in the series was for the game Oltre Mare. Watch the video here. People seemed to find this video useful, and a few people asked for more of the same.

So here's a brief overview of The Downfall of Pompeii. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

TimothyP's Board Game Buyer's Guide - Part 2

After posting a link to my original Board Game Buyer's Guide, I received much useful feedback from gamers on the BGG forums. Some notes from that thread have been added to my original post, and I will deal with the rest here. To see which games were tested, and the results of the first post, go to the Board Game Buyer's Guide - Part 1.

It was desired by some people that I take a look at more stores than I had originally covered in my testing. My first test was based on stores that had gained my attention in one way or another and had seemed to be either popular stores, or stores with great prices. A few other stores were recommended in the thread on BGG, so I decided to add four of these to my testing. I ran the same tests with these online stores as I ran on the original post. I chose four stores that seemed to be recommended more than once. Some of these I had seen before, some I had not. The new stores on the list are:
NOTE: My tests included United States websites only.

First, let's get to the results. Then, I'll give my new notes.

I have removed the entry for "Local Game Store" and have instead changed it to "List price" since that was my original intention. When considering best and worst price, I exclude List price as a contender. These tests are about stores. List price is just for reference.

Here are the new results for the Large Order test.

Best price: Boulder Games
Runner-Up: Fair Play Games
Worst price: Funagain Games

Here are the new results for the Mid Size Order test.

Best price: Boulder Games
Runner-Up: Boards & Bits
Worst price: Funagain Games

Here are the new results for the Single Game Order test.

Best price: Time Well Spent
Runner-Up: Boards & Bits
Worst price: Funagain Games

  1. These were all calculated assuming the games must ship to southern California. Some prices might vary by a few dollars depending on where you live. Since Boulder Games is in Georgia, their shipping is quite high to California. On the other hand, they could use a simple flat shipping cost like Thought Hammer.
  2. Fair Play Games and Time Well Spent were calculated assuming these stores would be willing to price match, as is their policy. The lowest prices were always found at Boulder Games.
  3. The Large Order test for Time Well Spent was estimated because they didn't have all the games in stock. I could be off by a dollar or two in either direction. Either way, Time Well Spent is in the top 6 for this test.
  4. Neither Boulder Games nor Game Surplus carry Battleground Fantasy Warfare. At Boulder Games, I substituted Cutthroat Caverns: Deeper and Darker, and at Game Surplus I substituted 6 Nimmt. These were the same price as BGFW starters on other game sites.
On with the new notes!

First, I'll look at the four new stores I tested this time around.

Faithful Fans

By far, the store that received the most discussion in my BGG post was Boulder Games. This was a very interesting discovery for me. I didn't remember hearing about them before, but it turns out they have many faithful fans. I was surprised to find that they were the lowest on stock of all the stores. Aside from not carrying BGFW, Boulder Games was initially out of stock on 4 games I needed for my testing.

But this brings up one of Boulder Games' strengths. I talked to Jim, who manages Boulder Games, and asked him to run my tests for me since I couldn't add some items to my orders. Jim kindly agreed and ran tests for my large, mid, and single game orders. So, thanks to Jim, I got the results I needed for these tests. He also mentioned that much of the stock was on order and arriving sometime soon.

Another problem I have with Boulder Games is the web interface. It is very minimalistic. It is easy to search and find games, but there isn't a very good shopping cart system, nor a wishlist of any kind. The site is nearly devoid of images, using text for everything. I also found that I couldn't create an account on the site and have it remember my shopping cart. But again, Jim mentioned that the website will be receiving an overhaul sometime soon. It is in the works.

Jim also told me that the reason they don't stock BGFW is that they don't sell collectible-type games. So if you're buying CCGs, Boulder Games is not your store. Jim prefers to stock eurogames and wargames.

I also didn't like that I couldn't easily get shipping estimates on this site. I found that I had to get through several other more time-consuming phases of checkout first. Jim indicates that he intends to rework the whole system to make it more user-friendly.

Despite a few little flaws, the site is functional and has many dedicated users. Why? Because Jim is so good to work with. Besides the fact that Boulder Games typically has the best prices on games, Jim is very involved with his clients. He communicates on BGG, and he took the initiative to contact me about my testing. Jim wants to run a great game site, which is clear by the way he interacts with the gaming community. For many people, I think this would be the deciding factor in making Boulder Games their game store of choice.

Other nice features of Boulder Games are shipping coupons and permanent price matching. I really wish they would use a simple free shipping system instead of coupons, but hey, any discounts are nice. I think their permanent price matching system is one of the coolest things I've seen. Essentially, if Jim finds out about a lower price on the internet, he matches that price on Boulder Games - permanently. He is dedicated to always having the lowest prices.

Here are some comments from my Buyer's Guide thread on BGG regarding Boulder Games:
“Just to add - kudos to Jim and Boulder Games. They had a system problem due to the traffic they got from the sale they had. But Jim stood by the deals and is getting my full order together.” - Eric Robinson
“I would also like to add a pat on the back to Jim @ Boulder Games as he honored the order I was trying to put in. Not only did he go out of his way to email me almost immediately upon me posting I had a problem but he went far beyond what he had to as a retailer to make me as a customer happy. This was also my first order so it wasn't as though I was a long time customer of his. However he now has me as a more than loyal customer and I have made sure to let the people in our game group know to put the orders in with him and his company.

Great job Jim and Boulder Games

A very happy customer.
Jason” - Jason Wingo
Clearly, Boulder Games is in the running for the position of Ultimate Game Store.

The Other Stores

Superhero Gameland had great prices, great stock, and free shipping on orders over $99. This is the best free shipping deal among the stores tested. They also sell comic books, graphic novels, books, card supplies, and comic supplies. Even though they have the best free shipping minimum at $99, their base prices are not enough to give them an edge. All it would require is one more game to reach the $125 limit at other stores.

Troll and Toad is a very interesting store. They show up in the listings when you search on, and they have a huge stock, and their site is very good. They just have tons of stuff you can buy. They have board games, out-of-print games (for very high prices), CCG singles, action figures, miniatures, RPGs, and gaming supplies. In terms of stock, Troll and Toad is the clear leader. They also have competitive prices on everything. They have an updated front page, many payment options - almost everything you could want.

The problem with Troll and Toad is that their shipping rates are very high. After all your savings on low-priced games, you make up for it with shipping costs. If they had flat shipping rates and/or free shipping options, they would be a more of a contender with our low-price leaders. The shipping cost on the Large Order test was $21.98. Compared to Free, that's a high price.

Game Surplus was the most uninteresting site of the new batch. Sure, they have a clean web interface, accounts and shopping carts, reasonable prices, and adequate stock. But they don't seem to shine in any area. They don't have free shipping options or discounts, they were out of stock on two games, backordered on one game, and they don't carry BGFW at all. I had a really hard time finding a substitute because their variety of games was lacking compared to other sites. I finally found 6 Nimmt to be a good sub for BGFW in the Large Order test. Game Surplus is certainly a good site to buy games from, but it can't compete with some of the other prominent stores. Some sites really sell themselves - Funagain, Time Well Spent, Troll and Toad, Boards & Bits. Game Surplus is not one of these. Their site seems to get the job done, and that's all.

Thoughts on the Large Order test

In the case of large orders, you are going to save almost $10 off any other store's price by going to Boulder Games, or going to Fair Play Games and having them match Boulder Games' prices. The main feature to consider when placing a large order is free shipping. This makes all the difference. As I mentioned earlier, Boulder Games has a coupon policy, which is still confusing to me. I would almost favor Fair Play Games for this reason alone. I like to know I'm getting an easy-to-understand free shipping deal. I'm sure Boulder Games has a good reason for doing it the way they do, but I'm speaking from the viewpoint of the consumer. As the consumer, I want low prices and ease of use.

If Fair Play Games refused to price match, Boards & Bits would be my next stop.

Keep in mind, with large orders, quantity and variety of stock are the most important factor of all. If you are purchasing 10 games, you need a store that has all of them in stock, or a store that allows pre-orders, like Thought Hammer. If my test was a reality, I would probably have purchased from Thought Hammer because they had a low price and pre-ordering. Almost every site in the test was out of stock on at least one game. Most stores were out of 2-3 games. And two stores would have been excluded simply because they don't carry BGFW.

Thoughts on Mid Size Order test

The top results were similar to the large order test. No real surprises here. One thing to note here is that Superhero Gameland made it into the top 5, pushing Time Well Spent down. You'll also notice that, even with price matching, Fair Play Games slides down a couple notches once you remove the free shipping deal. If you are ordering from Fair Play games, you really want to aim for free shipping. This is true of many stores. When you remove free shipping, there are only two stores that consistently stay low-priced: Boards & Bits and Thought Hammer. This is because of their flat shipping fees. In terms of price, Boulder Games was the top contender again.

Thoughts on Single Game Order test

This was the most surprising test to me. Time Well Spent launched to the top this time. This was the result of two factors. First, they were willing to match Boulder Games' low price. I even got an e-mail response about this. Their quote matched my calculation. Next, their shipping for a single game is pretty low, probably because they are in Colorado and I'm in California. I think this test would likely show different results for buyers in different ares of the US. But, for me, Time Well Spent had the best final cost.

Another interesting turn of events was watching Boulder Games fall down to 6th place on this test, essentially swapping positions with Time Well Spent. The killer for Boulder Games was the shipping fees. But, to keep things in perspective, we're talking about less than $2 difference here. I would confidently order from any of the top 6 here, if they had the game in stock.

The amazing thing to me was that Funagain Games actually took last place, taking the final cost $5 above list price. They were consistently at the bottom of the charts. Unfortunately, their prices don't match up to the quality of their website. The best way to buy from Funagain would be to visit one of their two stores in person and eliminate shipping costs.

My conclusion: Most important store features and my choices for best online game stores.

Important feature #1: Stock

The best stock of all stores was found at Troll and Toad.

Important feature #2: Price

The best base prices of all stores were found at Boulder Games. Jim deserves attention for his policy of always having the lowest prices. Runner-Up for lowest prices is Boards & Bits.

Important feature #3: Shipping fees

The best shipping rates of all sites were found to be Boards & Bits with free shipping over $125 and flat shipping of about $7.50 on other orders. Runner-Up was Thought Hammer with free shipping over $125 and flat shipping of $8 on other orders. Superhero Gameland had the best free shipping plan at $99, but no flat shipping rate for orders less than $99.

Important feature #4: Website design and features

The most feature-rich or well-designed sites were, in alphabetical order: Boards & Bits, Fair Play Games, Funagain Games, Superhero Gameland, Thought Hammer, Time Well Spent, and Troll and Toad. All but two stores delivered very well in this area.

Important feature #5: Involvement and communication with the community.

Of all the game stores included, the only two that communicated on BGG or with me personally were Tom from Boards & Bits, and Jim from Boulder Games. I can also testify from experience that Thought Hammer has very good support and communicative staff. One BGG user describes an opposite experience with Thought Hammer. If you would like to read it, go to the thread on BGG.

I find it very difficult to choose a best game store. I'm not sure it's possible, and it seems that it might vary depending on where you live, in some cases.

One thing I know for sure - when shopping online, any of the top 6 stores are a good choice. They consistently had the best prices. None of them have as good of stock as Troll and Toad, but if they have the games you want, you shouldn't have to look beyond these 6.

Of these 6 stores, I think you can further narrow it down to the stores which made it into the top 4 on any test. This eliminates Superhero Gameland, making the top 5 stores (alphabetical order):
  • Boards & Bits
  • Boulder Games
  • Fair Play Games
  • Thought Hammer
  • Time Well Spent
On the tests, Time Well Spent only made it into the top 4 once, and Boulder Games made it twice. If we're going for consistency, that leaves us with these games as the top 3:
  • Boards & Bits
  • Fair Play Games
  • Thought Hammer
These stores were consistently in the top 4, making them the overall best. All of them tend to have a great stock and a broad variety of games and gaming items.

Fair Play Games only beat the other two stores one time, using price matching. Despite their many qualities, Fair Play Games is not as consistently inexpensive as the others. That brings us to the top two stores:
  • Boards & Bits
  • Thought Hammer
In every test, Boards & Bits is one notch above Thought Hammer, narrowly surpassing it. With slightly lower flat shipping rates, imports, and great community involvement, my vote for the #1 overall game store goes to:

Boards & Bits

But, we can't forget that it was a different site who always had the best base prices. Even though they were out of stock on many games, and more limited in variety, among some other weaknesses, my vote for the ultimate game store in terms of low prices goes to:

Boulder Games

So here's the final word after two rounds of testing:

TimothyP's Top Game Sellers
Consistent Best Prices
Overall Best Game Seller

If you have questions or comments, please post them!

To reiterate my position: I know that this is not the most comprehensive test ever. I know that there are other good game stores online. I know that there are variables which could change the results of my testing. I know that other people have had different experiences than I have with the stores tested. This test was to inform readers of my own discoveries in my personal search for the best online board game sellers. I do not claim that this is the best or more thorough and accurate test of this kind ever to be done. If you are unhappy with some aspect of my testing, you are welcome to run your own tests. This was tested and recorded for those who will gain some benefit from it. If you disagree or don't benefit from it, I can't help you. Please continue doing things the way you prefer to do them. I have spent weeks on this and do not intend to devote anymore time to it. I found the answers I wanted. I cannot meet everyone's personal needs or preferences.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Board games that look sweet, but I'll probably never play

I have done lots of research on BGG and elsewhere since I got into the board gaming hobby a few years ago. I think what drives me is the belief that maybe, some day, I'll find the perfect game for me. Perhaps there is some game I would deem worthy of a 10. I have yet to find the perfect game, but that doesn't matter because I just love gaming. There are some really crummy games out there, but the experience of sitting with other people - typically acquaintances of some type - is the real beauty of tabletop gaming. And so, I continue on my search for interesting and unique games, always hoping to find something unlike anything else in my collection, something new to stimulate the brains of those I share the game with. I desire to maintain a diverse collection of really enjoyable games for all different moods and player types.

In my searching and listening, I have discovered many very interesting games, and have played many of them. But there are some that, despite how fun they sound, or how cool they look, I know I will probably never play. That is the point of this list.

You'll find as this list goes on, that time is usually the biggest deciding factor for me. In my current state of life, I have a wife and little children. I find that chunks of time for gaming are few and far between. My wife and I typically have to work to plan 1-hour slots for gaming. In my gaming group at work, we play during the lunch hour. Between work and home, I find that I am really limited to buying and playing 1-hour games. We often have to cut games short during the lunch hour at work because some of our games would take us over the hour. In addition, I find that I actually prefer shorter games. When a game hits the 1.5 to 2 hour mark, I find that it feels too long. This is partly what eventually turned me sour toward The Settlers of Catan. Every game was going for about 2 hours, for any number of reasons, often because of players with AP. In light of the little I was getting out of the experience, this reality became less and less worth it for me. So I have consistently ordered games with a listed time of 60 minutes or less ever since I became more serious about collecting games.

I also find that most of my relatives, friends, and people in my gaming group at work, are somewhat casual players. There are probably a total of 2 people I can think of who would like sitting down for a full game of Tigris and Euphrates or other heavy eurogames. This is another limiter in my game selections - I have to make sure people will play with me. Since the most popular games in my collection are lighter fare - such as Ticket to Ride and Bohnanza - I need to keep game weight in mind. I tend to choose light to medium weight games. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how short Mykerinos was for the weight of the game. If only more games with heavier weight could be that short.

Now, whether or not I would try the games in this list is not important. I'm sure, given the right opportunity, I'd give any game a whirl. I'm trying to think here of games that I am not likely to ever play, regardless of whether or not I'd want to.

Twilight Imperium 3E

I recently went to Stephen B. Wessels' site because it was mentioned on the Dice Tower as the website of the month. The fellow who did this site is amazing. He put up an image-heavy full-game demonstration for people to read through. I hadn't taken much time to look at TI3 before, but I can tell you, these components look nice. The coolest feature, to me, was the art of the races. There were some large-looking cards which each included an image of one of the races in the game. This art was very good. I also thought the planets on the hex tiles looked sweet. Each one was unique and colorful. Then, there were lots of cool-looking spaceship bits - I'm assuming they're plastic. It looks like the theme of this game could really pull players in.

But I have heard a lot about this game and decided long ago that I would never play it. The reason: game length. Even if the game is awesome, I would never have a chunk of time to finish a game of TI3. And I'm not a very big fan of space / sci-fi, outside of the Star Wars movies. To top it off, the game looks very complicated. I know that I - or anyone in my gaming groups - wouldn't want to be the one to learn and teach it.

Descent: Journey in the Dark
Return of the Heroes

These three games fit in the category of "sweet-looking fantasy games that take way too long to play". The components look great, and I really like the fantasy genre. I still have Heroquest and have a great time whenever I get a chance to play it. But this type of game takes so long that it's hard to find a chance to play it.

Blue Moon City / Blue Moon

This is a case where I can't play the game on principle. Being a follower of Christ, I have a real concern for modesty and honor in regard to females. In my research, I discovered that these games contain disrespectful art depicting women with scant clothing and unrealistically proportioned bodies - the imaginings from the desires of a man's mind. I am discouraged to see how common this is in today's fantasy art, in general. This was one of the main reasons I got rid of the game Castle - it had inappropriate art and themes, IMO. I just can't support what I consider to be morally wrong. So, despite glowing reviews, I can't bring myself to play the Blue Moon games.

Shadows Over Camelot
Pirate's Cove
Mystery of the Abbey

These 3 games fit in the category of "Why did Days of Wonder shoot themselves in the foot?" or "Why limit your audience?" I am not saying that these games aren't fun. I am saying, I wish I could play them, but certain features keep me from playing. In the case of every game but Colosseum -
they just take too long to play. I wish they would have found a way to cut each one by at least 30 minutes. I even borrowed BattleLore from a friend once. But my wife and I never played. Reading the rules took me forever, and then, there was just never a time slot to set up the whole thing and learn to play a single battle. In the case of every game but BattleLore, the minimum number of players is 3. That seriously limits the amount of play this game can get in the average home where the kids aren't grown up. Since I play primarily with my wife, I need games to handle 2 players. I wish Days of Wonder would have found ways to build in 2-player play.

The components of these games look awesome. I love deduction, but 120 minutes for Mystery of the Abbey? I like the pirate theme, but 90 minutes and a BGG ranking of 6.8 don't make Pirate's Cove worth it.

The Traders of Genoa
Elasund: The First City of Catan

These 3 games fit in the category of "fun-sounding eurogames that are too heavy and too long to get much play". I'm certain these games would be fun if my wife and I had time to learn them, and complete them. But when you have little kids running around like wild animals while gaming, the play time gets drawn out. I have a feeling we'd never finish a game once we sat down. "Well - that was fun getting through half of a game. Oh well. Time to clear off the table and set up for dinner."


This game looks and sounds fun, and my wife and I both really like card games. But the player limit is 3-4. That reminds me of why it was so hard to find chances to play Settlers. 3-4? Couldn't they have found a way to accommodate more? I suppose not, but still....


Another piratey game that looks like it would be fun to try at least once. Short play time, nice components - but it suffers the curse of the player number. 3-5 players means no play in my house.


This looks fun. I like puzzles quite a bit. My fear is that for the cost, the replay value would quickly diminish. I had wanted to purchase this game for a while, but reading enough comments and reviews, I decided this didn't sound like the kind of game we'd be pulling out again and again for years to come. From the look of it, I can't see how you would exhaust the game's options before long.

There are probably other games that would fit this list for me. And I may have the odd chance to play one of those in this list someday. But for now, this is the list of those games that were easy to nail down.