Thursday, December 25, 2008

Brief overview series - what do you want to see?

This time around, I'm giving you the opportunity to send in feedback. I know a lot of people appreciate the brief overview video series I've been doing. What I want to know is - what games would you like to see in my brief overview format?

If you would like to request something, take a look at my stash over at BGG and comment on this post to make your request!

Because of other projects in my life, I've had less time to post here on GotT, but I'd like to know what to work on next, when I get time for another brief overview video. I had been planning on doing Treasures and Traps next, but I'd like to hear from you first!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gaming maturity

Today we hear from the Games on the Table Psychology Dept once again.

The issue at hand: gaming maturity.

A human begins as a few cells. He grows into a fetus, then into an infant, then into a toddler, a preschooler, a school kid, a teen, an adult, a mature adult, an old timer.

Other things have a process of maturation as well, including gamers. Today, we'll look at some of the fascinating things that take place as a person develops from a board gaming infant (non-gamer, or NG) into a board gaming adult (gamer). (For the sake of this article, we won't delve into the topic of gaming seniors - the wargamers).

One feature of a gaming infant is the amount of information they are able to process. As an infant takes comfort in the familiarity of its mother, so do NGs take comfort in the one eurogame they've played. You're likely to hear a gaming infant say something like, "Can we play the bean trading game again?" or "I liked that train game. Let's play that." That first play of Ticket to Ride was a new challenge for the NG, who until recently had to invest very little mental energy on roll-and-move board games and party games. They were happy just to get through that first play of a light strategy game, and to see that they were able to compete, or even win. In this early stage of development, the gaming infant will either feel overwhelmed and continue to drink the milk they were familiar with (party games and such), or she will realize that some of those solids Mommy and Daddy have been testing on her are actually quite tasty. In fact, she'd like some more.

The gaming toddler/preschooler will be able to handle many more solids - maybe three or four gateway games. They're finding new flavors they enjoy all the time, and they may have even pinpointed a few flavors they don't like. "Well, it looks like she doesn't like auction mechanics. We'll save those for other people."

Some people will prefer to stay in this state for a long time. They just don't like the mental strain of any strategizing heavier than that required for Winner's Circle.

Soon, though, many players will become gaming children and teens, appreciating the knowledge and experience they've gained, eager for more. They are accepting of all types of new experiences, just taking them in with abandon. There's a big gaming world to discover, and nothing is holding them back as they make increasing sense of it.

Finally, we reach gaming adulthood. The gaming adult stands out in a couple of ways. First, the mature gamer has had enough time and experience to recognize the nuances and details of her tastes. She likes dice, but only as used in two certain games. She prefers blind bidding when bidding must be done. She finds that her mind functions best with elegant games like Carcassonne, as opposed to more rules-heavy theme-rich Fantasy Flight games. She's learned how to make sense of all the information available on Board Game Geek to help her make try and buy decisions.

And now we get to the most telling sign of gaming maturity: winning and losing. Gaming children have not yet learned how to deal with conflict and loss. It's personal, hits deep, and can put them in a long-term bad mood. The gaming infant, child, or teen may react in any number of ways. He may be passive aggressive, he may walk quietly away from the table, he may blow up and even yell, he may whine about unfairness and bad luck, and he may even plan for revenge. To the gaming youth, winning is a pride issue. "If I don't win, I'm a failure and the voices in my head will berate me. If I do win, I'm a success and people will love me."

Just as adults learn humility through relationships and a sense of perspective, so does the mature gamer. After a good amount of time and thought, the "adult" gamer realizes that his personal value is not dependent on winning or losing. He learns to appreciate the pleasure of the gameplay itself, the mental exercise, and to appreciate the victories of other players.

Having spent a good many hours surfing BGG, our Psychology Dept noticed that some gamers speak with a certain defining maturity. They will say things like, "For me, the play is the important thing. I don't care if I win or lose. Why should I? Games are about the recreational fun and the interaction with others." They also read horror stories of players flipping tables, throwing game components, and verbally abusing other humans. Additionally, immature gamers are reported to take winning as an opportunity to gloat or talk smack. These, dear reader, are telltale indicators of one's gaming maturity.

For good reason, many gamers have become fond of this famous statement from the board game world's most prolific designer, Reiner Knizia:
When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.
"Knizia nailed it," says our Psych Dept chair. Mature gamers have learned that winning is the purpose of playing a game only because it's written into the rules as the goal for success. Nowhere do the rules state that one's value as a human person is determined by whether he wins or loses. Thank you, Dr. Knizia.

I will close by once again reiterating our long-time slogan here at GotT: The fun is in the playing, not just the winning.

Now go play like an adult.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The importance of urgency in roleplaying

Out of several roleplaying sessions, you're likely to have one or two stand-out, highlight sessions. Yesterday was such a day for our group.

The PCs have been attacked numerous times during this adventure. Each time, the attack is performed by covert and unseen enemies. There has been no clue as to who is after them, or why. Until recently....

After a mid-night onslaught against the PCs, in their inn room, by 10 superbly strong men, the PCs interrogated one of them who was still conscious after the skirmish. The attackers all spoke with strange, slurred, incomprehensible speech. But this one fellow managed to utter one word, which sounded like the name of a person they knew - the head of the craftsmen's guild. The man who had welcomed them to town and given them a free booth for the craftsmen's convention.

That was two sessions ago. The following session, the players were all fired up to go find this man and do some serious talking, even though it was the middle of the night. They located the guildmaster's house and snuck around the back. Using Elros' energy magic, all three PCs hovered safely over the 10-foot wall surrounding the courtyard at the back of the house. Rwake then proceeded to climb through an open window into a small study. At the same time, Leo worked the complicated lock on the back door until it successfully unlatched. Then, as Leo opened the door, much to the PCs' dismay, alarm bells started ringing from the top of the house.

That is where we began yesterday's session. Immediately, there was a sense of urgency. The guildmaster's house was rigged with an automated alarm system that only someone like him could have crafted. The PCs heard viciously barking dogs coming down a hall toward them, accompanied by yelling voices.

This urgency was great. I was moving things along pretty quickly, in real time. I didn't want the players to have too much time to meta-game the scene. They came up with a couple of options - fight or flee. Leo and Elros chose flee. Rwake chose to stay and fight, to be consistent with his character. He requested a compel, which I honored, and he got a fate point for it.

Running back through the courtyard to the 10-foot boundary wall, Elros launched Leo and then himself over the wall, after which they both rolled successful stealth checks, keeping to the shadows outside the wall. A moment later, someone loosed three muscular attack dogs into the study where they had smelled an intruder - Rwake. Trapped in a corner between two sets of shelves, he quickly launched a paralyzing dart into one of the dogs before they lunged at him with teeth and claws.

Taking some damage, Rwake realized things were unmatched. So he decided, "I'm going to use my staff to vault over the dogs, then make a quick flying leap out the window." I asked him to roll, and his roll was a success. On the way out the window, he slammed a shoulder and twisted an ankle, but he made it out alive. Two dogs quickly ran around to the back door which Leo had left open in his retreat and darted for Rwake once again. The poison from the dart had left one of the three dogs disabled inside the house.

Elros, per Leo's recommendation, was now doing a pullup on the wall to see what was happening on the other side. Using pure mental power, Elros wielded more energy magic to float Rwake back over the wall. As Rwake left the ground, he narrowly avoided the thrown ax that someone from inside had just thrown at him through the doorway. He made a successful stealth check when he landed, and all three PCs retreated to the back of the building to come up with a plan. The sounds of locals and constables echoed from the front of the house now.

All this time, the players felt the need to keep moving, to plan quickly, and to avoid being seen. They would be regarded as criminals now, if they were seen or caught.
They were almost certain they had been seen heading this direction earlier in the night. They decided that their only option was to find an answer behind the mysterious attacks before they could be found. They couldn't risk being caught.

A young urchin named Vonny Jaywhistle whom they had earlier befriended happened to be in the area that night and gave the PCs a "Pssst!" from behind a nearby building. The PCs joined him and found out that some of Vonny's friends had reported seeing the guildmaster enter his nearby warehouse earlier that night. The PCs stationed themselves in small tree-enclosed area within sight of the warehouse and took a few minutes to plan their next course of action.

Everyone came away from this session feeling good about it.
Whether they were correct or incorrect in their suspicions, the players had an idea of what they wanted to do. They had a reason to move quickly. The law would now be their enemy unless they revealed the greater criminal. They had avoided unnecessary combat. Rwake had earned a fate point in the process. For the first time in a long while, they had a solid sense of direction, and much was on the line.

It's hard to line this kind of thing up. But this session reminded me how helpful urgency is to an adventure. We all came away pleased and eager for the next session.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where have I been?

I realize that I haven't posted for a while. The reason for this is that I only have so many time slots where I can write for Games on the Table.

One fact you may or may not know is that I am a composer. Lately, I've had so much music to compose that I've had less time to devote to Games on the Table. If you are a listener to the podcast The Dice Tower, you will know that I just finished the new orchestral Dice Tower theme music in time for episode 128. If you would like to hear this theme in its entirety (about 3:15 in length), Tom played it all the way through in episode 128. From now on, you'll only hear short clips in Dice Tower episodes and in Tom's Dice Tower videos. You'll notice that Tom's video reviews include jazz music. This is a jazz arrangement of the main melody from The Dice Tower Theme that I finished shortly after, per Tom's request. So head over to the Dice Tower podcast and listen to episode 128. If you like the Dice Tower Theme, I'll have it available as a download from my website in the future, and Tom might make it available as well. I still need to polish up the final release of this track.

Right now, I have two priorities for Games on the Table. First, you seem to enjoy the brief overview videos and I like making them, so I hope to keep producing those from time to time. Second, the Geek at the Table interviews have been really interesting, so I'd like to do more of those. I'm not sure how frequently I'll be able to post with the amount of time I'm spending in the studio, but I'll try to keep the content coming.

If there is some other type of content that you enjoy and would like more of, please let me know. And if you listen to the samples on my website and like my music, why not consider hiring me to compose for your internet media?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Brief Overview video #8: Bohnanza

Here you go: episode 8 in my Brief Overview series. This was probably the most difficult game to briefly explain to date. The game is easy to play, easy to teach, and easy for noobs to pick up, but trying to do this video was just more difficult than usual for some reason. I think it worked out well in the end. Enjoy!

There they are!

You may remember, a few weeks ago I wrote a post called "I ordered these?"

I am pleased to announce that my group's game order finally arrived. We placed the order with Boards & Bits on May 15th, and the order arrived on August 1st, two and a half months later.

This time around, one guy picked up a copy of Cartagena II, and another guy picked up Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory, R-Eco, and Treasures & Traps: Expanded Realms 1.

As I mentioned before, the Race for the Galaxy expansion was one of the games holding up the game order. Finally, after repeated delays, Tom from Boards & Bits decided to pull the RftG expansion out of everyone's pre-orders because it was now said to have an estimated delivery of September.

Soon after this event, standard RftG came back into stock and the order shipped. A few days later, the sweet, sweet box arrived on my doorstep. Usually, my wife will get me on Skype while I'm at work so I can see her unbox the games and show them to me. This time, we waited until I was home so I could dig out the gold with my own hands.

Besides RftG, I also finally acquired a copy of the cooperative game, Pandemic, and Treasures & Traps: Expanded Realms 1. Speaking of which: sometime soon I'm going to write more about Treasures and Traps and what an under-appreciated and unknown game it is. Really, it's very fun and I think lots of people would like it, if they only knew about it. More on this later.

The weekend we received the games, my wife and I logged five plays of Pandemic and seven plays of RftG. The games were so enjoyable. We interrupted our always-in-progress alphabetical play-through of our collection to pile up a few plays of our new games. I was very pleased with this game order because we had waited for so long and because we hadn't ordered games in months. This was the antithesis of our Thebes/Caylus Magna Carta game order (two games I traded after very few plays). I was so relieved to find that not only I loved both new games, but my wife was having a blast as well. We were both always eager for one more play of RftG.

A couple weeks have gone by now and we've logged 11 plays of Pandemic and 15 plays of RftG. Most of these have been played with my wife (both games are great with 2 players) and a few have been played at work with my Board Game Wednesday group.

I'll briefly summarize my early impressions of the games.

Treasures and Traps expansion: Every player now gets a role with an ability. There are some interesting new cards, especially the Prism treasures.

Pandemic: An amazing design that simulates 4 deadly diseases spreading throughout the world while the players are a team of characters trying to find cures for them. You travel a lot, and you treat diseases. Working together, you race the game to find all four cures. 1 way to win - 3 ways to lose. The game has built in tension that is wonderful.

Race for the Galaxy: Combos, combos, combos. Much like San Juan, but with much more going on. The theme is awesome, especially when your play is accompanied by some good John Williams music. There is unique artwork on every card, really pulling you into the space theme. I can't fathom the amount of playtesting this game must have taken to perfect. Right now, I rank it as a 9 on BGG, but it just might become the first game I rate higher than a 9. I'll reconsider after a load of plays. There is so much card interaction in this game. Very tasty.

I was very pleased with this game order and I'm glad it came soon enough that I hadn't forgotten I ordered it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Geek at the Table Interview #2: Isamoor

Thanks to BGG user daveroswell, I have a new name for this interview series: "Geek at the Table". It seems like a fitting name, so I'll stick with that. Thanks for your input, Dave!

This is now the second interview in the series. This time, we speak with the man whose avatar inspires the adventure fan in all of us: Isamoor. (All of my words are in bold text.)

When did you become a board game geek and what drew you into the hobby?

I've been a board gamer for a long time. Unfortunately, I played a whole lot of bad mass production games in my childhood. Some of my earliest fun times were designing scenarios for HeroQuest or playing in some chess clubs at school.

In college I did a decent amount of party gaming. There were good ones and there were bad ones. I'll always have a soft spot for electronic Catch Phrase though. I can't play my copy any more since I have maybe 60% of the clues memorized.

I met my lovely wife during college as well. And her family happen to be some big gamers. They introduced me to the absolutely classic game of Acquire. I played Acquire with them a half a dozen times before a Google search for it landed me on BGG. It all went down hill from there.

I'm mostly through my complete fascination stage. I've quit trying to get my wife's family to play the complicated strategy games. I've learned more about my own tastes in games. I've also joined a great game club here in Indy where we play pretty much all the Euros under the sun. The great host (Dave Koch) has a bad case of the Cult of the New, so I get to try out all the new fancy titles without buying them. He's been a card carrying member for many years now, so I don't think that'll end any time soon.

HeroQuest was one of my earliest and heaviest games as a kid as well. My friend bought the base game, I bought the expansions. That was also my first roleplaying experience. I have lots of great memories of playing HeroQuest. I can still get my wife to play with me sometimes.

Your gaming club sounds great. You are in the situation we all would like to be in - you have a chance to try every game before you buy.

What is the significance of your avatar? I have to say, every time I see you post on BGG, I get a quick jolt of glee because I'm an Indiana Jones fan, and you've chosen a great pic for your avatar.

I too am a large Indiana Jones fan. During my teenage years, I watched the Indiana Jones trilogy and the original Star Wars trilogy over and over and over.

Me too.

I'm still a large Harrison Ford fan and have seen most of the movies he has been in. Additionally, I've lived in the great state of Indiana for all my life, so I thought an Indiana Jones avatar was a great pick. I briefly toyed with a Jack Sparrow avatar, but it just seemed too cliche at the time. I stuck with an iconic character that has been around for much longer. (Which I'm glad I did. The "Pirates" sequels just were not up to snuff. The original will remain a classic for me however.)

Harrison Ford is always good. He was excellent as Linus in Sabrina. I agree about the Pirates sequels. My wife and I really liked the first movie, but then the writers really took a dive the with second and third movies.

How would you order all four Indy movies from most to least favorite? Did you like the new Crystal Skull movie?

Here we go:

A. The Raiders of the Lost Ark: The original is still the best. I absolutely *love* the great chase scene with the trucks. (I also have a soft spot for "Stagecoach", which inspired this stunt). Marion was a great character. John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott were some of my favorite supporting actors of all times. Both of them were sorely missed in the recent sequel.

B. Last Crusade: Sean Connery rocks. 'Nuff said. The whole interplay between Connery and Ford just made this movie. Around me, "The dog's name was Indiana" is still a favorite quote. As is "He chose poorly."

Sorry to correct you, but I believe the correct wording is: "We named the dog Indiana." ;)

C. Crystal Skull: I applaud the effort, but it's just not the same. It definitely nuked the fridge. (Look it up, almost as great as jumping the shark.) I did love the extended chase scene towards the end. A great homage back to the stunt men of old. The movie just took itself too seriously in parts and didn't have as memorable of characters. I like Shia and all, but he just didn't work for me. Give me River Pheonix any day. The plot was rather weak as well. I didn't mind the aliens, but the Russians just weren't menacing. Oh no! Communism! Pushaw. There are much worse things out there.

Here I disagree. I think they took an excellent approach to the new movie. I felt that Spielberg and Lucas were taking a lighter approach to this movie. If you are familiar with the pulp genre, this movie doesn't seem too out there. Nuking the fridge is exactly what happens in pulp, which is the genre Indy fits into. Crazy stuff like that happens all the time in the roleplaying game Spirit of the Century. That's what makes it fun. I like that Spielberg and Lucas were willing to give us blantant, unrealistic, over-ther-top action adventure. This is the kind of movie I would love to see more of. I enjoyed the story, and thought Shia LaBeouf was the perfect addition to the story. I'd love to see him as the future Indy. I'd say the movie doesn't take itself seriously, which is what made it so fun. But hey, everyone has their own tastes.

D. Temple of Doom: Actually the first Indiana Jones I ever saw. Turned me off from watching the others for *years*. Kate Capshaw was a shrieking mess. Harrison Ford was still strong in the movie, but it wasn't enough to save it. Also, dropping it down to the scale of a tribe of cannibals really lost the epic feel of the other movies.

I agree. Temple of Doom just missed the mark for me. The cultic stuff just wasn't cool. I'd say Indy 1, 3, and 4 are probably all equally sweet for me at this point. Thanks for your Indy thoughts.

I can tell from your "Plays Games with Lover" microbadge and from your profile text that you love your wife. How long have you been married? What is something you've come to appreciate more and more about your wife, having been married all this time?

I've been happily married for almost 2 years now. I dated my wife for 4 years prior to that though, so we've been together quite a while. The more I live with her, the more I appreciate her strong-willed independence. I love her for the way she lives her life and wouldn't want her to be any different than she is.

One of your microbadges says, "When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning." - a quote from game designer Reiner Knizia. This sounds a bit like my own gaming philosophy. Talk about this quote and its significance to you.

I'd appreciated the quote for quite awhile. Then I finally saw the microbadge and new I had to have it front and center. The badge is a three tier podium with each space labeled #1. I really should go find the designer of the badge and tip them.

For me, it's just a perfect quote. I don't play games to try and demonstrate intelligent superiority. I play games because they are fun. I love interacting with other people, but I also love exercising my problem solving muscles. Games provide a very good medium to do both. So for me, it's fun to try and win, but it's not the winning that draws me back.

Well said.

It's just such a better past time than watching TV in my opinion. I also spend a great many hours reading books, but books let me escape into my imagination. Books also help you grow as a person since you can vicariously learn so much from the experiences of the characters you read about.

You also have the "I love all games!" microbdage. What are some features of games that you don't like? Are there any mechanics or game features that you avoid?

Funny you should bring that up. I think I need to find a new badge that says "I love all types of games!" I definitely was a little more newbish when I bought that badge. I've gotten a little more picky recently and will actually avoid some games. Still, if a friend wants to play a game, I'll play anything with them. I just am a little pickier about what I suggest.

I don't generally like worker placement. It's way too passive aggressive for me. If you want to fight, let's do it to the death. Otherwise how about we find a different form of player interaction. Worker placement just causes the optimal move to be blocking way too often for my pleasure. I'd rather a game be an set of incremental improvements. Not a turn order dance of annoyance.

I also dislike downtime. I avoid many of the primary causes. I don't always like Variable Turn Order for this reason. If someone says "Who's turn is it?" twice in a 10 minute period, I'll doubtfully ever play that game again.

A while back, I created a geeklist called: "When fans are compelled to defend a game's flaws: games which provoke rabid defense." You were one of the main contributors to that geeklist. So, first of all, thanks for contributing. Second of all, what made you get in on that geeklist? Were you already somewhat familiar with the Criticism vs Fanboy Retort scene?

Thank you for a fun idea for a geeklist. I generally try to contribute to any amusing open-ended geeklists I see out there. Community interaction is how some of the best content comes about.

I do stay pretty up to date on most "goings on", which includes all the "Criticism vs Fanboy" jazz. It's usually most prevalent in the replies to reviews. I read a lot of reviews and usually stick around for the commentary. I try to maintain an unbiased opinion. At the same time though, where there's smoke there's fire. If you see the same topic appear in multiple places, there's usually a grain of truth in there somewhere. Personally, I try very hard to be objective in my own reviews. I know I've been guilty of being the "fanboy retort" to other reviews on occasion. Still, I know I always appreciate having the other side present down in the comments.

Your collection shows that you currently own 101 games. Do you envision this increasing, or are you getting rid of games as you acquire more?

Gack. I did just cross the 100 mark didn't I? Well, here's the deal. I have one armoire. It sits in the library. That's supposed to be the limit of my game collection. Thus was the agreement with my wife. Now, there is a slippery slope about sticking to that agreement however...

First, we gave in and put the kid centric games over in a spare bedroom on a bookshelf. There's still plenty of space there for the moment.

Next I confiscated a freshly purchased trunk to place our KosMos 2-player collection in. I got a little overzealous there though and my wife made me give half of that back. I'm just starting to feel the space constraints again though. I'll probably convince myself to get rid of a goodly number of games again. The problem is I've been drifting towards collecting more and more card games since they don't take up much space and are really cheap.

Oh the pain. Oh the pain.

You have posted frequently in the Race for the Galaxy forums. Talk about your feelings and experience regarding Race for the Galaxy.

I suppose I have. Most of my feeling upon the actual game can be read in my extensive review here:

As for my own relationship with the game, I sure was lukewarm when I first got it. I played it a couple times and tossed it on the trade pile. It sat there for a couple months while I ran it through some math trades asking for some big ticket items. Eventually I came back two it and really fell in love with it. It's not perfect, but I do give it a positive review.

As for the actual game forums, I think some people have *WAY* too much time on their hands. The card by card analysis is bad enough, but then the intricate strategy articles and discussions are way too much for me. I stay out of all of those and just play the game.

On your profile, you mention that the things you value most in a game are (and I quote):
  1. Fun! I'd better be smilin' or yellin' by the end of it.
  2. Meaningful decisions! I like to make important choices turn after turn.
  3. Quick Playing / No Downtime! I like my games to keep moving at a brisk pace.
I think this very well sums up my own preferences. Can you list 3 games that easily fit this description? Can you also list 3 games which are clearly in violation of this?

My favorite fits:

A. Schotten Totten: Still my favorite after a year at the top. My wife and I have played close to 40 games of this and it still hits the table. The stress of committing before you are ready and then hoping to draw the right cards is just too much fun. We always end up yelling and smiling by the end of it. At the same time, every decision is important and the game moves quickly.

B. Race for the Galaxy: Not quite as much pure *fun* as others, but very enjoyable. I enjoy watching my little empire grow over the course of the game. I like seeing the pieces come together into a cohesive whole. I also enjoy the *tons* of meaningful decisions and very fast moving game play.

C. Uptown: A recent addition, but definitely fits the bill. There's always cussing and laughing when pieces start getting smacked. Additionally, there really is a lot of thought that goes into what piece to put where on each and every turn. And the people I've played with have kept it to a very brisk pace.

Near Misses from perfect:

A. Brass: Brass is many great things, but it is not fast-moving. There is a lot to think about and the turn order is constantly shuffled. I appreciate how smoothly the components work, but it still just takes a little too long to play the game. I still enjoy it though.

B. Pick Picnic: I also love this game. It's among the most "fun" that I play. I love when the game shifts into quick negotiation mode. When they turn south, out comes the die!!! Still, the decisions aren't really *that* deep and meaningful here. It's true that some players will consistently win by understanding and predicting the group think, but many of the games still just come down to chance.

C. Magna Grecia: MG has lots of meaningful decisions all squeezed into a very short play time. However, there's usually not a lot of laughing and yelling going on in this game. I still have moods where I want to play the deeply analytical games, they're just not my absolute favorite.

With whom do you most often play board games?

Most definitely my wife. The vast majority of my collection can be played two-player. We usually get in 2-3 games over the course of a work week in the evenings. I'm sure this will change as children are introduced.

(I guarantee it.)

But then I just have to wait a few years and stock up on some good children's games.

I play about bi-weekly with a great gaming group here in town. They play much of the medium to heavy euro jazz out there. I also play a lot of the light to party games I own with my wife's family.

Do you play video games or roleplaying games?

I don't do traditional RPGs, but I've played pretty much all types of video games. I've avoided MMORPGs just out of fear of addiction. I loved the older Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid games. In recent years, I've played a lot of the America's Army FPS. I still play in AA leagues 1-2 nights per week. I play many adventure games with my wife. Just recently we picked up Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and that is FAR too addictive.

Do you currently have a favorite board game? If so, why is it your favorite?

My favorite is probably still Schotten Totten. It just does so much right. Multiple paths to victory, simple rules, tough decisions, exciting game play, easy to get into. I could go on and on, but then I would bore you.

My wife and I had the Battle Line iteration of this game. My wife didn't like it much, and I was neutral about it, so we traded it. I imagine we'd like Schotten Totten more.

If something great happened in the board gaming world today, what would it be? (In other words, what would be your ideal wish for the BG world today?)

I wish Wal-Mart would carry Ticket to Ride. I don't need to see Race for the Galaxy on the shelves at my local department store, but I just don't see how such a great family game as Ticket to Ride hasn't caught on.

A more realistic wish would be for more games to use innovative mechanics. I enjoy many games that are just piles of mechanics tossed in a blender, but I really enjoy the more innovative ones. Uptown is a great example of an recent innovative game. Sure, it seems a little Suduko like, but it's really a very unique game.

If you had something valuable to teach or share with new board gamers, what would it be?

Find a local board game group. If you can't, make a local board game group. Games will only take this hobby so far. Good friends take it the rest of the way.

That's some good quote material.

Realize that there is no "best game". There are only "best game for the current situation". Don't try to force a game onto a group. Play something they are open to.

What would you say is or has been your most significant contribution to BGG and/or the board gaming world?

Sadly, none of my contributions have been that unique. I've written some good reviews, but they're probably a little more analytical than most people would like.

The contribution I am most proud of would be this geeklist: Food for Thought - Logic Gone Astray.

In there I tried to identify the most common logical fallacies applied to board games. It still irks me to this day when people tell me a perfectly shuffled deck of Magic the Gathering should never experience mana screw. I also can't handle the "dice owe me some sixes" argument. Unless I really don't know someone, I usually speak up anytime someone makes one of these mistakes in my presence.

What kind of world view do you hold? What is the purpose of life and the cosmos?

I most appreciate Buddhism in my day-to-day life. Buddhism has a very pragmatic world view that doesn't sugar coat very much. At this point in my life, I don't worry too much about my purpose in life. In living my life, I try to concentrate on having fun and not causing other people suffering. I recognize that oftentimes hard work now pays off with extra enjoyment later, so I also don't skimp in my work just to play more. I enjoy discussing other world views and religions, but I actively dislike any other view that judges me lacking for my own beliefs. I don't really worry about the purpose of the cosmos. I already know the answer to it all is 42.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Geek Interview #1: IronMoss

This is the first in a new series of interviews you will only find here at Games on the Table. I got to thinking: most interviews you read involve well-known people like game designers and publishers and the like. But I realized that the average game geek is typically just as interesting, or more so. So I've decided to bring you exclusive interviews with common members of the Board Game Geek community. Here, you'll get an inside look at the lives of those you see in passing every day while surfing on BGG.

I tried to think of a catchy name for the interview series, but nothing has stuck yet. Ideas I had were:
  • "Who's that geek?"
  • "The geeks you never knew"
  • "Meet the geek"
I'm open to opinions on this. If you have a better idea to name this interview series, leave a comment.

So how do I select the lucky geeks for my interviews? It's somewhat random really. I look for BGG users I've seen from time to time commenting on geeklists, thumbing items, posting articles and reviews, etc. I look around threads and say, "Hey, that user looks familiar. I'll interview him." Every geek counts, and each human life is interesting, so anyone I choose will be worth it.

Today, I begin this new interview series with a user you've probably seen thumbing items right and left: IronMoss. (All of my words are in bold text.)

When did you become a board game geek and what drew you into the hobby?

I believe there’s just something about the genetic make-up of folks that really draws them to this kind of hobby. I’ve enjoyed playing games as long as I can remember – still recall playing Uncle Wiggly with my grandmother at her house and playing various card games with my mom when I was young. Middle school saw Chess and role playing games come to the fore. By high school, several friends and I had picked up Car Wars, Battletech and a few old hex-and-counter wargames. Axis & Allies saw a lot of action during college.

Post-college featured the occasionally “party” game (which are all perfectly good fare), but I really did not (re)catch the gaming bug until I stumbled upon a Wizards of the Coast store (which, of course, was going out of business). I picked up the Limited Edition Carcassonne and Guillotine. They immediately relegated Trivial Pursuit to the back of the closet. And since then, I’ve been branching out to try all sorts of games.

It is clear from your geekbadge and microbadges that you love trail running and distance running. What is it that you love about running and what keeps you going? Distance running is difficult after all.

Running delivers a lot for me. Heading out onto the trail for a run is a terrific stress reducer / head clearer. The sense of accomplishment from finishing a long run is great. The fitness level that one can maintain is terrific – both in terms of the weight that you keep off and the increase in overall health.

I try to change my ‘running objectives’ each year. Several years ago, I wanted to focus on shorter distances, which involved a lot of speed training and resulted in my first sub-20 minute 5K (19:45) in my life. One year, after coming off a couple of injuries (most notably a stress fracture), I simply wanted to stay healthy for 12 months (which I did). This year, I set my sights on our local 50K (~32 mile) trail race. And although I wasn’t much to look at by the time I finished, I did finish the race.

I’m not sure I’ve met many folks who are both avid boardgamers and runners, but I find a lot of similarities with the two communities. Both tend to feature more introverts than extroverts. Both feature people of fairly even temperaments and long attention spans. And I don’t think I’ve met anyone in either community that I don’t like.

What is the significance of your avatar?

My nuclear symbol avatar represents my undergraduate degree – Nuclear Engineering – which I earned at the University of Virginia in 1991. Although I’ve been doing mostly systems engineering for the past decade, I remain a great supporter of nuclear power production.

You have an Orchid Enthusiast microbadge. How did you get into orchids?

The Orchid Enthusiast microbadge is actually my only contribution to BGG’s mircobadge offerings, so I’m pleased that someone noticed. [We actually boast 3 orchid lovers now at BGG.]

A good friend got me started with orchids ~15 years ago. Over the years, I’ve picked up a new one here and there. I now have a couple dozen Phalaenopsis (most common indoor type) and one Dendrobium.

Orchids are just spectacular when in bloom. And I think it’s neat that you may go many, many months between blooms, but when they do, the flowers may last a month or more. Fortunately, we have a sunroom in the house that the orchids seem to like. [Even more fortunately, my wife has allowed me to keep most of them there.] I have a few images in my BGG gallery of some of our orchids in bloom.

I like the game Masons. You've given it a 9.25, which is higher than the average rating for this game. You've also written a strategy article for new players. What is it about Masons that makes it so enjoyable for you?

Masons has a lot of attributes that put it right in my wheelhouse. I enjoy abstract strategy-esque games with just enough luck that you need to manage. And I love the sense of timing that you need to be successful at Masons. One must assess how to best influence board development, strategically position yourself to replace cards as needed and know when to score your best cards. I’ve seen games where very few scoring opportunities present themselves, and the winner is in the 30s. And I’ve seen the other extreme where the winner is well over 100.

Masons has been implemented on, which has proven to be a terrific venue to play on-line. I’m often in at least one 3- or 4-person game at the site.

With whom do you most often play board games?

Most weekends during the year, my wife and I gather with another couple – do dinner, set the kids off to play and sit down for a boardgame or three ourselves. As the prime gaming instigator in the group, I’m very impressed with the number of games that our little group has played successfully. We’ve enjoyed a lot of Euro games over the past several years. Recently, we’ve played a lot of Railroad Tycoon (on the Eastern US and Europe maps) and Imperial.

During the week, I try to sneak in as many games with our two girls as we can fit. We play a mix of traditional kids’ fare (e.g., Rat-a-Tat Cat, Crazy 8s) and some slightly more advanced games (e.g., Ingenious, Blokus, O Zoo le Mio, Hoity Toity). Although I’d rather play games that push the envelope just a little bit, I’ll play whatever they request.

I see that you have the "Plays Games with Children" microbadge. What are your favorite games to play with children?

My favorite games to play with the kids are the ones that aren’t made exclusively for kids, yet our girls can play and win against the adults. I was incredibly tickled (and a little jealous) that one of our girls was the first to win at Blokus by playing all her pieces, including playing the one-block piece last. In a game of Ingenious, one of the girls was a mere 1 point away from maxing out in each of the six colors enroute to a commanding win. We’ve had similar good experiences with Coloretto, Hey! That’s My Fish! and 1313 Dead End Drive.

Of course, the girls also have their favorites – Rat-a-Tat Cat is their most requested game. And I am (almost) always willing to play any game for which they ask, including Twister.

Do you play video games or roleplaying games?

Years ago, I played games like Doom, Sid Meier’s Civilization II and III, Wizardry VIII and Railroad Tycoon III on the PC. I’ll still break out Civilization III every once in a while.

My roleplaying days ended several decades ago at the conclusion of high school. I had a great bunch of guys with which to play D&D, Call of Cthulu, Vigils and Vigilantes, Twilight 2000 and Top Secret back then. I still have several of the D&D books, but I don’t foresee playing again anytime soon.

As of now, you've given almost 10,000 thumbs-ups on BGG. I think it's great because people deserve that encouragement. Talk about your thoughts on "thumbing" BGG items.

When I first started contributing to BGG – mostly images – I was a little uncertain as to whether anything I was submitting was any good. EndersGame sent me a note with some nice words of encouragement along with a few ‘thumbs’. For me, a little positive feedback went a long way to keeping me motivated to keep contributing.

In turn, I’ve tried to return the favor to the BGG community. Since I know a little bit about photography, I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple of years reviewing the new image submissions, as well as many of the existing galleries. And I’m very pleased to say that I’ve seen many, many very impressive images, running the spectrum of artistic, creative and informative. I can only hope a few of my thumbs helped encourage people to continue contributing.

I can tell you that I've been encouraged by your thumbs-ups. The effort to post items is certainly more worthwhile when there are people like you there to support the effort.

As of now you've contributed 301 images to the BGG image database. That's a lot of pics. Do you invest a lot of time and energy into photography? When snapping shots of board games, what is your goal?

As an undergraduate, I served as the photography editor on our daily student newspaper. Taking, developing and seeing your own photos in newsprint was really a neat experience. I particularly enjoyed doing sports photography – especially (American) football, lacrosse and basketball.

Since then, other than some scenic vacation stops and family snapshots, I really had not done much with the camera. BGG provided a great outlet for exercising my creative photo ‘muscles’ again. I don’t have a lot of time to take photos, but when I have a little bit of time (and some good lighting), I’ll sneak out the digital camera to shoot a few images.

And although there are MANY better photographers than me at BGG, I just enjoy taking useful images of games that are under-represented on the site. I’m particular proud of the work I did to provide images to many of the ‘standard deck of cards’ games that previously had few to no images in their galleries.

Do you currently have a favorite board game? If so, why is it your favorite?

Historically, I always loved playing the ‘engineering’ games like Battletech and Car Wars. Designing your own mechs / cars for battle prior to actual game was almost as fun as playing. Sadly, it may be a while before either of those games see the light of day again.

Currently, I have really taken a liking to Railroad Tycoon. It has enough going on to feel complex, yet it’s relatively easy to teach. It is has great replayability with the set-up changing just enough to make you rethink your strategy each time. The board and components look fantastic (and, as a bonus, my board never exhibited any warping). And its expansion (Rails of Europe) may even make the game better.

If something great happened in the board gaming world today, what would it be? (in other words, what would be your ideal wish for the BG world today?)

I believe that it’s already happened. The development and proliferation of so many new games / gaming groups / gaming venues over the last decade has been impressive. However, the spread of so much information about the boardgaming hobby – all of which has been facilitated by on-line boardgaming resources (of which BGG may be the most prominent) – has been the real engine (by my way of thinking) that has powered the expansion of the hobby.

I have been amazed (and pleased) at how I’ve been able to travel for work over the past several years, yet – with a few clicks of the ol’ mouse – find a FLGS in the city where I’m staying that hosts a regular boardgaming night. I’ve met a lot of interesting and avid gamers and been able to try games that I’ve only heard about previously. I have also found local groups that play on a regular basis. It goes without saying that I’ve learned an incredible amount about games, that I would have otherwise never heard of, from various on-line boardgaming resources.

Looking back a decade or two ago, if you didn’t already have ‘your guys’ nearby and available to game, finding a group with which to enjoy the hobby was definitely a non-trivial exercise. And if you’re local gaming store didn’t carry a particular game, you may have only discovered its existence by chance.

If you had something valuable to teach or share with new board gamers, what would it be?

Games are very much like art. There are many different genres of games and not all genres are appreciated by everyone. I would just encourage folks to try as many different types of games as practical to help gain a sense of the features of games that they enjoy. Once you discover what game features that you like, you will be amazed at the wealth of games from which to choose.

What would you say is or has been your most significant contribution to BGG and/or the board gaming world?

I try to play as many games with my daughters as practical. If both of them can grow up with an appreciation of boardgaming and a healthy interest in playing different games, I believe that will be a great contribution to the hobby.

What kind of world view do you hold? What is the purpose of life and the cosmos?

Not sure that I spend much time thinking on the cosmos-level; however, if my daughters grow up to be independent, happy, good people, I will have considered my time on the planet to have been successful.

Thanks to IronMoss for the interview. If you would like to know more about IronMoss, look him up on BGG and take a look at some of his contributions.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Brief Overview Series Ep. 7: Coloretto

It's been a few months, but I finally got around to finishing another episode in my Brief Overview series! This time around, thanks to a request on BGG, we're taking a look at one of my favorite games, Coloretto, by Michael Schacht.

Brief Overview series Ep. 7: Coloretto

You will notice that I've added a little theme music. Let me briefly explain. Long ago, my friend Jack and I were preparing to start a video podcast series called "The New Box" about board games, similar to what the guys at Obsessed With Gaming do now. Only, we were going to have discussion between the two of us regarding the game we were reviewing. We were well into working on the first episode when we were confronted with the difficulty of schedule matching and busy-ness. We decided to bail on the project before we got in too deep. We just couldn't realistically handle the load.

I had already composed and recorded the first part of a musical theme for the show. So, I remembered about this piece of music as I was working on the Coloretto video. I went up to the studio, touched the piece up a bit, cutting it down to one statement of the melody and ending it at that. I mixed the piece and exported it to audio, then I imported it as an opener and closer for the video.

So there you have it - a jazz theme composed by yours truly. This little piece is now the official Brief Overview Series Theme.

What will be the next brief overview video? I am always open for requests. If you would like a brief overview of something from my collection, comment here or email me at the address posted on the right side of this page.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pulp Gamer at GenCon

Today, I'm writing to support my like-minded gamers over at Pulp Gamer. Here's a quote from their About page:
Pulp Gamer has been putting the microphone to use since July of 2005 to promote non-electronic games, such as board games, card games, and roleplaying games. We believe in the friendships forged around the game table, the skill set our children quickly acquire from gaming, and the joy we can share together.
These avid podcasters share the same love of tabletop games as I do here at Games on the Table. Pulp Gamer produces a large collection of gaming podcasts, so you may want to go and see what they have to offer.

This year GenCon Indy 2008 is taking place August 14-17. The team from Pulp Gamer is well-prepared with not 5, not 10, but 20 events devoted to gaming podcasts and blogs.

So, if you're obsessed with gaming, and have no problem getting to Indianapolis, Indiana for four days, you can learn a truck load of valuable information about blogging and podcasting in our hobby at these events.

Speaking of gaming podcasts, BGG user jostrand has created a geeklist of board game podcasts that you might want to look over if you're interested.

And, to be fair to the roleplayers out there, you can visit a website devoted to RPG podcasts at

Friday, June 27, 2008

A tough dice-ision

I've discovered a duality in myself. I like dice, and I don't like dice.

I'm a board gamer who is hesitant to play games where randomness or luck play a large part in determining the winner of the game. Why is this? Because most games take about an hour to play. If I'm going to sit at a table, believing that I'm contributing to my position by my own decisions, I don't want to find out after an hour that I was deluded, that in fact my position was only as good as my luck. This contributes in large part to my diminishing desire to play Ticket to Ride. There is nothing in that game to keep first-timers from winning. That can be good sometimes, but not all the time.

The reason I mention randomness is that it is the primary purpose of dice. Dice are there to throw in an element of chance. With chance comes the potential for favorable and unfavorable outcomes - good and bad rolls, we call them. The benefit of this is that it adds tension to a game. We know that there is potential for a good roll, and so we shake the dice up and throw them across the table hoping to see the most favorable outcome appear when the dice come to rest. This tension and release stirs something in us that is emotionally pleasing. The same is true in music. The composer builds the music to a point of tension or dissonance, and then resolves it to something more consonant. This process has great power over human emotion. So, this is the strength of chance. This is one reason we enjoy the use of dice as humans. This is what I like about dice personally. I like the unpredictability of them.

And yet, I don't like the unpredictability of them. I think what I like is when dice add an element of neutral randomness as opposed to graded randomness. A good example of what I'm calling "neutral randomness" is the game Masons. In this game, you roll a set of three dice on your turn. While you may have favorable outcomes in mind based on your cards, there are no objectively better rolls. The dice just tell you what colors of houses and towers to build. Then, you need to decide how to best place those items. This is a neutral randomness at its best. No matter what I roll, the other players can't look and say, "Oh, nice roll!" or "Bummer. That roll was terrible."

I think graded randomness is easier to implement, which is why it is more common. Additionally, graded randomness adds the tension of hopefulness, as I mentioned earlier. The problem with graded randomness is that there are objectively better rolls. Anytime this kind of randomness enters a game, there enters the ugly beast called Bad Luck. This beast can gobble a player up at any time if graded randomness is on the table. This fact is what, I think, keeps many gamers from enjoying a host of dice-based games. If the Bad Luck beast can override your planning, then your effort at good play feels like a wasted effort. In many game, high rolls are best. If you roll low all game, which is possible, you simply can't compete. Few things can suck the fun out of a gaming experience like that.

So why am I going on about dice? Because I have been considering the purchase of a few dice games. Specifically,
I have played the computer versions of Kingsburg and To Court the King many times. I have yet to play Airships, but I've read about it and find that it has the same attraction as the others. What I'm attracted to in these games is how they require the players to strategize using dice rolls. These games have mechanics that put a clever spin on using dice. They all use a graded randomness, but offer a way to mitigate the extremes.

My goal is to discover whether or not I should purchase or trade for one of these games. I'll look at each game and explain my hesitance to get myself a copy.

Image by BGG user MonkeyMagic
I'll start with To Court the King because it was the first of the three that I learned to play. I discovered this game on BSW. I was immediately drawn in by the great art, and the seemingly masterful design. "This game uses dice, but you can mod them with abilities!" I thought. I am a big fan of unique abilities in games. But there is one important factor for me: all abilities should be equally valuable when used in the right context. A great example is Citadels. This was the euro game that pushed me even more into the hobby than Settlers had. I have played it many, many times. At various points, every character has seemed very useful to me. Whether it be the Architect or the Bishop - they both have their place in the right context. That is masterful design. Thank you, Mr. Faidutti.

After playing game after game of To Court the King, and reading about strategies on BGG, I discovered that I was winning almost every game by using the same characters every time. Half of the characters had no place in a winning strategy! Had the designer worked it so that every character was equally valuable in a winning strategy, I would have picked up the game right away. But I don't like winning by a formula. (This formula is attested to by others, by the way.)

But there are still things I like about To Court the King. I like that there are so many dice. What starts out as 3 dice becomes 5, 8, 10 dice by the end of the game. You're rolling a big handful of dice and then modding them with your abilities. These two aspects are what give the game its strength. I only wish the designer had doubled the playtesting and ironed out the "winning formula" wrinkle. I really wanted to buy this game, but I just can't get myself to do it. I wrote an entire post about my To Court the King struggle, if you want to check that out.

Now onto Kingsburg. I began researching Kingsburg a couple months ago. At that time, I discovered an excellently implemented computer version with solid AI (which is actually so good that I have won maybe 1 out of every 5 games). I quickly discovered that I liked this game. First, there is great artwork. I love all the unique characters sitting in their chairs, ready to help you for the right dice fee. Then, add in a tech tree. This took me back to the days Warcraft III, upgrading buildings to gain added bonuses. I love the idea of upgrades. I also think that the element of keeping your military strength up is a good way to add in an extra layer of strategy. The fun decisions in this game relate to the fact that you only have so many seasons to work and build new buildings. This forces you to choose between any number of good options. Similarly, you are forced from round to round to decide how to allocate your dice. Do you spend them all on one powerful ability? Or do you split them up to maximize your yield?

Image by BGG user garyjames

And yet despite all of these strengths, I can't bring myself to buy or trade for the game. Why? Game length. Over time, this has proven to be the biggest factor in limiting what games I buy and play. My wife and I just don't have time to play through a game that goes longer than an hour. Any of you with a number of small children will know what I mean. The other place I play is at work, but we only have an hour during lunch. The listed time for Kingsburg is 90 minutes. When I play on the computer, games are much shorter. Perhaps 20-30 minutes. This is perfect for this game. The computer takes care of all the logistics, computing, rules policing, and movement of game pieces. The AI takes lightning fast turns, so there is no AP. It's my turn, then....hey, it's my turn again! And again! And again! This is the way to play Kingsburg. I can't imagine sitting at a table for 90 minutes with this game, especially with players APing. The game doesn't have enough going for it to make it worth 90 minutes. If the real life game played in 30 minutes, I'd grab it right away.

Image by BGG user cleonhard
And finally, we come to Airships. I only discovered this game last week. This game is a game that you probably wouldn't discover unless you stumbled over it. There was just no marketing for this game. I was immediately intrigued when I read about this game. I watched a great video review of the game. Here was another game where strategic use of dice was the central mechanic. Many player comments stated that they liked it more than To Court the King. The game reportedly plays in a short time, and it fairly light. This is exactly the kind of game my wife and I have been needing more of. As our kids require more attention and time, we have less and less time to sit down and play Pillars of the Earth or Lost Valley. We need more fillers. So, Airships seems to fit the bill in that respect.

But then I looked at the rating and some of the comments. The average BGG rating is 6.5/10. I have made a pact with myself not to buy games that have an average BGG rating less than 7.0. I've always paid for it in the past when I've broken this pact, unless the game is a filler or a kids' game. Then, when perusing user comments, I see some people explaining that the game is lack's enough challenge, lacks replay value, and lasts too long, especially if someone has AP. So now I'm sitting right on the top of the fence, as I have been with To Court the King for so long. The game sounds fun, but is it? Will it provide repeated enjoyment for my wife and me? I'd probably be willing to trade for it, but not buy. The problem is, hardly anyone owns this game, let alone having it for trade.

I decided to run a poll and see what players thought - people who had played all three. I asked which game was their favorite out of these three. Here are the results as of this writing:

GameVote PercentVote Count
To Court the King23.7%22
All three are equally good.1.1%1

It is clear that the majority of players prefer the heavier Kingsburg. I agree that this is a good game. But I don't have 90 minutes to play it. This forces me to choose a shorter game. To Court the King and Airships are much closer in votes. I've read a whole slew of comments and there are those that prefer Airships, and there are those that prefer To Court the King. My feeling is that I would like them equally. I'm guessing I would lean toward Airships because it doesn't have the problem I found in To Court the King where half of the cards are useful, and half aren't. And, since my wife and I are looking for lighter, shorter games, Airships seems to fit the need best.

I'd love comments. If you have thoughts or opinions on this topic, please post. I'd love to hear what you have to share from your experience with these games.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I ordered these?

In the past, I have made it clear that I prefer buying board games online. There are very few FLGS's where I live - they've all pretty much shut down. Although I would still probably never walk into a FLGS and lay down the cash for a board game, I have recently been required to confront the downside of ordering online.

I was organizing a game order for my group, as I tend to do every couple of months. Over a period of several weeks, people slowly decided what they wanted and sent me their requests. Once we qualified for Boards & Bits' half-price shipping, I placed the order. (Yes, I am still willing to buy at Boards & Bits, even though they scrapped their free shipping policy. Their prices are that good. Although I do suspect that going through Fair Play Games and using their price matching policy might be even cheaper.)

This time around, I ordered the expansion for Treasures & Traps - a game that has seen a reasonable amount of play in my group. But I also ordered two other games and one more expansion. Perhaps you've heard of them. One of the games is called Race for the Galaxy. And since the expansion is soon to be released, I ordered that too. The other game is called Pandemic.

If you've been interacting and perusing on BGG like I think you have, you've heard of these games - a lot. After plenty of research, I finally decided to grab these two games. Race for the Galaxy holds high interest for me because it is like San Juan, but with a space theme and some additional features. San Juan is one my favorite games, so Race for the Galaxy is sure to please. Many gamers have debated the multiplayer solitaire aspect of this game. My wife and I both like these types of games, so that's another reason Race for the Galaxy should prove to be a good purchase.

I have been looking for a cooperative game for a long time. There are very few co-op games out there, and those few are too long or have too limited a player range. Suddenly, this year, Pandemic came crashing onto the scene, proving itself to be well-liked, while solving the issues I had with other co-op games. Co-op games sound very fun to me, so I'm eager to try Pandemic.

But, if you have been following the news regarding these two games, you will know that, due to great popularity, they are both currently out of stock at every common online game store. During the weeks that I was building up the shopping cart for our group game order, I watched and watched. The games I wanted were in a constant state of "Pre-Order". I finally decided to go ahead and pre-order the games because I wanted to make sure to get a copy from the next batch. At the time, the games were estimated to arrive at the end of May or in June. "Sure, I can wait that long," I thought.

Unless you're a dedicated fan of FLGS's, you probably know what it's like for a gamer who is waiting with eager anticipation for his new treasures to show up at his doorstep. It's like the kid who can't sleep on Christmas eve. (I actually knew a kid who once barfed on Christmas eve because he was so excited.) It's like the day of your wedding - those hours leading up to your bride walking in the door and down the aisle. It's like waiting for that child to be born during the final hours of a long labor. You know the impending good will inevitably arrive, but the wait feels like an eternity.

Well, May flew by like an empty UPS truck. Pretty soon, "the Checkups" kick in. You know how it goes - my expectations weren't met, so now I'm online every day, checking up, scouring relevant gaming sites for updates, any information that might explain how much longer this wait will be. I visit Boards & Bits - Status: (3 on order). So I go to to see if they've received any new special information from Jay at Rio Grande Games. No news.

BGG, as usual, had the best information I could find. Crazed and rabid Pandemic buyers are posting every few days, wondering when the game will hit stores again. Zev himself posted (for which all were grateful), explaining that the new printing of Pandemic was stuck at customs. Whew - at least we knew where the game boxes were. At least we could sit and imagine the games sitting there, ready for examination. The games were physically existent - it was only a matter of time. But, Zev also informed us that the current run of Pandemic was already spoken for and pre-orders were eating up the supply. He had already ordered a third printing of the game. Boards & Bits reported that there would not be enough copies of Pandemic to fill all pre-orders. I cringed.

Then one day, I checked Boards & Bits again, as was my habit, and to my astonishment, my (3 on order) had been changed to (2 on order). I had made the cut. A copy of Pandemic was officially mine, stashed safely in my box of goodies at the Boards & Bits warehouse. I reported this pleasant news to my wife, then went back to wondering when the Race for the Galaxy games would show up.

As of now I'm still waiting. There is no hint of news anywhere. The estimated date of arrival moved from May to June, and now to July. What is going to keep it from moving back to August and beyond?

Here's how I picture the scene at Rio Grande Games headquarters. It's April 2008 and Jay is meeting in his office with his team. "Okay team," he says, "as you all know, Race for the Galaxy has pretty much sold out everywhere. I have another printing planned for October."

One bright team member says, "People on boardgamegeek are rabid, Jay. They want updates. They want to know when Race for the Galaxy will be back in stock at retailers."

"Log on under my account and tell them we're aiming for May," Jay replies.

"Um.........May? But you just said--"

"I know what I said, Gary. But we need to keep these people on the edge of their seat. Tell them the expansion is planned for June. Each month will go by, and we'll just keep quiet. Then they'll celebrate when October comes and the game is back on the shelf."

"How are we going to explain this? Those geeks are pretty bright, Jay. They might lose confidence in our predictions."

"Just tell them that we had to stall for the sake of 'perfecting the product'. Make up some junk about our attentiveness to high quality artwork and top-notch components. Maybe throw in something about polishing up the rules."

"Hmm. Okay," says the assistant. "I guess that might work."

Do I believe any of that? Nah. I think Jay Tummelson is great. The reality is, he does make the best games out there, and I trust him. He's responsive to inquiries and he participates in the gaming community. But imagining scenes like this are just one way to pass the time while I wait for my games to ship.

To look at the bright side, I might just find myself pleasantly surprised come October, when the doorbell rings and I discover a big box of games on my doorstep.

My wife: "This box is full of games."

Me: "Games? Did I order these?"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Gripe 'N Win

One thing I've discovered in my few short years as a gaming hobbyist is that the boardgaming table is a great place to watch various fascinating aspects of human psychology manifest themselves. So, today, from the Psychology Department here at Games on the Table, I offer some feedback regarding a common gaming phenomenon which our well-trained staff has termed "The Gripe 'N Win".

I'm sure you've seen it before at your own gaming table. You're half way through a game, and Hank, trying to maintain composure as a mature adult, voices a complaint. He got hosed by one or more other players early in the game, which explains why he is in last place. In fact, his position is so bad (he claims) that there is really no point in staying in the game. But to be a good sport, he'll keep playing.

From here on out, Hank probably won't say much. He might continue to make statements about just how unfortunate his position is, or how he would be winning right now if things had gone differently. He might even be pouting, red in the face, or avoiding eye contact.

But about three quarters through the game, he makes a well-planned move and his prospects improve a bit. Wait, there's another good move. Hold it - he's not in last place anymore. Now, he's in second place. It's the last round, and . . . the game is over. Scores are tallied, and who emerged with a victory? You guessed it - Hank.

The look of relief is apparent on Hank's face, but he won't visibly celebrate. He's hoping that somehow, magically, everyone has forgotten his earlier whining. In fact, he might even downplay his victory. "Whew, that was a close one. Good game, everyone. I got lucky there at the end. If Charles had taken that space from me on his last turn, I would have lost. Nice playing, guys." With a victory under his belt, Hank is pleasant, genial, and ready for the next game.

So, here we saw two very different personalities from Hank: the grump and the humble victor. Hank's attitude is contingent upon his position in the game - his chances of victory.

Here at Games on the Table, our motto is: "Play for the fun of it, not just to win it." This has been my motto from very early in my gaming days because it quickly became apparent to me that breaking this rule was a good way to spoil the gaming session. In our example, Hank had succumbed to the false belief that "This game isn't going to be fun if I lose. Especially if I feel like someone hosed me." So he griped. Then he won. Then he ate a nice rich piece of humble pie.

This is, then, what we call "The Gripe 'N Win". Watch out for this. I'm sad to confess that I've done it. Anyone who can admit to committing The Gripe 'N Win can testify that it leaves you feeling childish and guilty. You might even wish that you had lost, so that you can better justify your bad attitude to others, and more importantly, to yourself. That brings up a good question: had Hank lost, how would he have behaved?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Faery's Tale Actual Play:
Liza and the Jewelled Brooch, Part 3

This is part three in the actual play report from the Faery's Tale game I'm running for my wife. Last time, Liza and Cherry had exited the underground tunnel and once again picked up on the trail left by Markle in the dirt.

Having located Markle's trail, Liza races ahead, certain that she can catch him up - he's toting a large bag after all - fatigue has to set in sometime.

After running for several yards, they see ahead of them in the darkness a big, lumbering, oafish night troll. He is moving in the exact same direction they are going. Liza sees this as an opportunity for a free ride. [This was impressive roleplaying to me. My wife has some clever ideas. Some players may have chosen to find a way to take the troll out - defeat him. But not Liza! Fighting trolls is a job for sprites. Liza is a brownie - she has a different approach.] She turns invisible and darts forth, hoping to reach the troll and grab a shred of his gnarled pants. She whispers to Cherry to follow along, but out of view. She hears the troll mumbling to himself: "Yummy faery snack. I find you, little faery." He has apparently spotted Markle, and is trying to catch him for food!

Liza runs as fast as her little brownie legs will carry her, hoping to catch up to the night troll. [I thought this would be somewhat difficult, considering the size difference, so I rated it at Tricky (2). She rolled no successes.] Liza finds that she's gaining on the troll, and then - TRIP! - her foot catches on something, and she goes down with a high-pitched yelp. The night troll stops and turns around, looking. His nightvision allows him to see everything at night as if it is daytime. Fortunately, Liza is invisible. The troll says, "What is it? Is it a faery?" He sniffs the air and scans the area for a few moments, then turns back to his original pursuit.

Liza becomes visible again so that Cherry can locate her. She waves Cherry over and whispers her next plan: "Pick up some pebbles, fly up, and throw the pebbles down as hard as you can onto some big rocks to create a distracting noise! Maybe we can get the troll to head off in a different direction, off the trail!" Cherry whirs off to the side of the trail, into the trees and throws the pebbles down onto a boulder. They bounce down the side of the boulder, clicking along the way. The troll looks in the direction of the sound and sees Cherry's pixie dust floating down among the treetops.

Now, the night troll faced a dilemma - which faery to pursue. [I figured this would be a relatively simple decision, even for a big oaf. After all, one faery was flying around, the other was stuck on land. So I rolled for the troll against a Mind challenge of Easy (1). He achieved 1 success.] The troll gave up on the idea of chasing after the pixie and returned to his pursuit of the brownie. The hesitation was time enough for Liza to catch up to a range of about 10 feet behind.

"There you are, little faery. Now I will get you," the troll says. He has apparently spotted Markle. Liza puts her energy into racing forward as fast as her little legs will carry her. [I had her roll a Body challenge of Easy (1) to see if she could catch up to the troll. She succeeded.] She gets under his feet and jumps up, grabbing a loose tatter hanging from his pant leg. [I had the troll roll a Mind challenge of Easy (1) to see if he could sense the tug at his leg. He failed.] The troll doesn't feel the brownie's weight on his pants. Liza becomes visible momentarily so that Cherry - a few yards back, high in the air - can see her. She can't tell whether or not Cherry can see her from that distance, but Cherry still seems to be following the troll anyway.

The troll finally catches up to Markle, reaches down to grab him up, and - WOOSH! - Markle is gone, making his bag invisible as well, which is difficult but possible for a brownie. The troll pats around on the ground frantically, grabbing at the air, hoping to grip the invisible brownie. [When brownies are invisible, they retain their physical presence, so theoretically, the troll would feel an invisible brownie if he touched it. But in this case, Markle's had found a way to edge himself out of the way, carefully making sure to lift his bag instead of dragging it, which would have left a trail.] The troll kneels down and pounds the dusty ground in frustration. "I'm tired of faery. I will find something else to eat," he moans. [I later decided that I should have made it a Tricky (2) challenge for the troll to find the invisible brownie. But, it's probably better for the story that he didn't find him, and the troll isn't controlled by a player, so the consequences of his actions don't matter as much as they would for a PC.]

Liza drops quietly from the troll's pant leg and turns invisible again. Once the troll has retreated a reasonable distance, she reveals herself until Cherry locates her and flies down to join her. After a moment, they hear the familiar scraping sound of Markle dragging his bag a few feet away.