Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What goes into a review?

Well I timed myself last night.  To generate THIS REVIEW for Terra Prime, it took me about an hour.  And really, that was pushing it.  I think I would have liked about another 30 minutes to do more editing and touching up.  In particular I would like to have put more in about my wife's views.  And yes, I can still go back and edit it, but I'm not really in a big hurry for this one.  Especially since it appears it will be only so-so popular in the long run.

An hour on a review is still pretty hefty work.  I know the guys that do the video reviews have to spend longer, but still.  I don't know if I'll ever reach that gold review microbadge in my gaming career.  Most indicators point towards no.  I can be proud of the ones I do put out though.

Things I have learned:

Negative reviews don't get thumbs.  People want to be convinced to buy a game.  If you bash on it, you will mostly just pull out the defenders and make an ugly flame war.

Pictures get you more thumbs than almost anything.  EndersGame over on BGG does reviews almost made totally of pictures.  They are very good reviews, but a lot of their appeal is the pictures.

Reviews of popular games are more popular.  Duh.  Especially those with few reviews.  It's that whole supply and demand thingie.

I like my review criteria.  I was thinking about adding something about playing time since that wasn't in there yet.  I might just toss it under "frequency of decisions".  I'll probably dedicate another post just to talking about the review criteria.

Anyway, is there something I'm missing to make a first class review?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Terra Prime - Pros and Cons

Got in a second game of Terra Prime with the wife tonight.  How'd it go?  Let's break it down.

Pro#1 - Box open to box close was 60 minutes.  That included setup and tear down.  Very good news compared to our 120 minute first excursion.

Pro#2 - Scores were close.  Nobody got totally blown away by the Aliens.  We equally explored and delivered.  I won by about 10 points.

Pro#3 - The game did feel different this time.  For one, we never had a green colony.  There was only 1 green planet in the hexes chosen, and it was on the red edge of a yellow tile.  Means fulfilling demand tiles was a bitch and had to use rewards to pay for things.

Pro#4 - Made better use of the bribe method of getting rid of aliens.  Less VP (By a lot.  Since you don't get a reward and have to lose resources to do it.), but also a lot less actions.

And then the cons:

Con#1 - We both ended up doing more or less samey things.  Explore some, deliver some.  It didn't feel as diverse as the first time.

Con#2 - The turns were so staccato.  I really don't like having some turns where it's just "move, pickup, move".  Sitting at Terra Prime in the middle of your turn and trying to figure out how many actions you've taken is annoying as shit.  This is code for the turns were not smooth.

Con#3 - My wife in particular got annoyed at being able to plan 3 turns in advance and then taking 5 minutes to play those out due to play time.  She knew she wanted to drop off cubes on the way to TP and go colonize the one dang Green world.  I was going a little slow on my turns and it was basically boring the crap out of her.  I can only imagine that feeling would get worse with more players.  There just wasn't a large number of important decisions per minute of playtime.  The important decisions were at the macro level "grab a cloaking device with some cube space to bribe some aliens and settle distant colonies".  But the decisions that dominated the playtime were the micro ones: "should I give up my last action so I can pick up this cube that will respawn or just go ahead and pick it up on my way back through".

So, in the end, I don't think Terra Prime is for us.  I think our copy shall join the giant math trade going on over here:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry X-Mas

Short post today.  It's X-Mas after all :)

Got a play of Homesteaders in.  You can read the session report here:

Summary: Enjoyed it a lot.  It will definitely see some more table time in the near future.  Very little fiddle to the play actually.

My wife surprised me with a copy of Conquest of the Empire.  Basically a game I'd always wanted to play and just could never bring myself to get.  She even offered to play it with me today, which I might just take her up on :)

Have a jolly time everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Terra Prime initial thoughts

So I actually got a chunk of new games right before X-mas.  Bad me.  Bad me.  I ended up with Terra PrimeHomesteaders, and Chinatown.  Thus far, I've only gotten Terra Prime to the table.

So, how was Terra Prime?  Well, it went pretty good.

The best part was customizing your ship to fit how you want to play the game.  Want to fight?  Toss on guns.  Want to be a shipper?  Put in some cargo holds.  Want to explore?  Toss on some actions and some cloaking.  This alone will probably get me to try the game again.

The playtime went really long for us on our first game.  I have hope that it will come down to at least the 90 minute time range by our next try.

The graphics were very solid.  The components were okay.  I had to let them dry out and then replace the energy cubes.  After that they didn't get in the way of playing the game.

Really, the only downside that really bugged me was the sheer number of bits.  Of course, I pretty much will never own Agricola due to the number of bits, so take that with a grain of salt.

Next up will be Homesteaders.  I've been working on a player aid over here:

I hate trying to skim across the table to check out all the buildings.  I couldn't handle it in Endeavor either.

Monday, December 21, 2009

2 of 4 X-Mas Complete

That's right.  I live the Christmas fun.  The movie "Four Christmases" was not good.  It was however poignant.  I now exercise my rights as a grown individual to stretch the four parties over a week instead of 1-2 days.

This weekend we did my Mother and Father.  There are plenty of siblings there.  They like to game.  What did we play?

Say Anything - Probably the star of the weekend.  It played fast and gave out many "chuckles-per-minute".  I do wish they'd included 2 distinct sets of questions.  We spent a lot of time combing through the question cards for questions that would bridge generational gaps.  (Many of my siblings simply do not have a "Favorite band of the 80s")  I definitely think at least one of the families may be picking this one up.

Eat Poop You Cat (Paper Telephone) - Still works great with teenagers.  It will get naughty, so you be the judge of when they're old enough.  I always enjoy seeing my siblings' artwork.

Apples to Apples - I have totally burned out on this.  My copy is sitting far away in the spare room away from my game cabinet and it will stay there.  Really, it's an okay game, but 40+ plays later I can't take it anymore.  However, I did find one nice thing I didn't notice before.  With curious teenagers you get a real chance to explain some of the cards like "Challenger Explosion" and "Lenin's Tomb".  It was actually a neat little teaching tool.

Dixit - I'll be damned if one of my brothers isn't the Dixit master.  Every time he was the judge he always got *some* of us to pick his picture.  I however, sucked ass.  Cool game though, they enjoyed it.

Set - There is much truth in the saying that you can get better at this game.  My wife and I have played a lot.  We SMOKED my siblings.  They eventually caught on in the second game, but we still wiped the floor with them.

Next up is trying out my new copies of Homesteaders and Terra Prime.  I just need to nudge Alex Rockwell on what the unofficial 2-player variant for Homesteaders is :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Filler Super Fillers

There was lots of discussion about a year ago about "Super Fillers".  Defined as "a game that fits inside 60 minutes with as meaty of experience as possible"

Well, last night we got some "Filler Super Fillers" which would be to me: "a game that fits inside 20 minutes with as meaty of experience as possible".

What did we play?

Ra: The Dice Game

Plays in 20 minutes tops with 2-plays.  Also does it very well.  I may still lean towards Roll Through the Ages, but I think there's plenty of room for both in my collection.  I at least want to come back and keep playing it.

Last night I finally started to analyze my decisions on a "points / die" basis.  You come up with some cool trade offs.  I'm sure Knizia meant for all of that to happen.

For example, the first Civilization you get is 5 points for 3 dice.  A 4th dice for a 2nd civilization is 0 points, but does enable you do get back to 5 for 3 or 10 for 4 the next time around.  Of course, you also have to value taking up 2 slots on the civilization track to bump your opponent.

3 Suns is just 3 points, which really isn't super efficient.

The river is lotsa cool.  Each river *could* be 3 points, but you also have to get it flooded with takes 3 dice for no points.

Anyway, it's a lot of fun little trade offs in the details.

Fairy Tale

Broke out the replacement copy my secret santa sent me.  Super awesome!

We played our standard 2-player variant.  Deal SEVEN cards per player.  For the first 2 rounds of drafting, draft 1 card and trash 1 card from the hand.  This gives the players more cards to peruse.  Since in a 3+ player game you see far more unique cards than in a 2-player game.

How did I do?  My wife schooled me.  Of course, she played a "Hunt All Evil" thinking it flipper her evil cards.  Actually, no, it left them alone but killed a critical "Unflip 2" card I had just played that turn.  Doh!

This is just an excellent little card game.  Sometimes I think I would like it to last a little longer, but then I just shrug and deal a new game.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2-Player Zendo Continued

I never really concluded my last post and Seth brought up some good ideas in the comments, so I thought I'd just keep rambling on the subject.

First of all, yes, the 3d6 was intended to be hidden from the student.  The complete rules of the variant proposed by "Adam McD" were originally posted here:

And he had something similar to "if the student fails too much then both players lose".

I just don't like that rule though.  I mean, when playing with my wife it would work just fine since we're both primarily focused on having a good time, not on winning.

Hrm, so the biggest issue is giving the student too much incentive to just give up and make stupid guesses.  That means we should really weight him towards wanting to get done early.  How about this:

If student gets it in:
#Koans < (Target - 2):  Student gets 4 points
#Koans Within Target ± 2: master gets 1 point
#Koans = Target: Master 1 more point (2 total)
#Koans > (Target + 2): Student gets 1 point

That should really push the student to *want* to guess it quickly.  I still worry that if the 3d6 was actually ~16 then the student would stop having a reason to try and just shoot for the bomb to get 1 point.

Or conversely, once you have the lead, why not just bomb every student and master.  You can obviously bomb as a student, and you can make an insanely arcane rule to bomb as the master.

Hrm, or how about just say screw it.  If a student bombs it, declare that round null and immediately play another round with the same roles.  Of course, as soon as the student has made ~8 guesses they would probably just intentionally bomb instead of trying to answer.

Maybe the glitch should be determining who was doing the bombing.  Was it the master or the student?  I can't really lay the blame based on who is leading, because then the loser would have incentive to bomb it just as much as the leader.

The only other source of information is the balance of true and false Koans at the point of bombing.  Is there reason to believe that a balance of true and false is indicative of an easier or harder rule?  I think I may be on to something here.  But which way?  Is it easier to have a single case to compare against many?  Or is it easier to have many cases to compare against many cases?  I'll have to research this some and revisit it friday.

(I asked about rule easy/hard and balanced true/false over on bgg here:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2-Player Zendo

Well here's just a mess.  I need me a Zendo fix, but mostly I play 2-player.  And are there any good 2-player variants?  It doesn't really appear so.

It was hard as heck to find Kory Heath's official variant.  And after finding it... I'm horribly unimpressed.  It basically boils down to:

Each player simultaneously plays the student and the master.  All Koans are marked twice.  The marking on your side is correspondent to your rule.  The first player to guess the other's rule is the winner.

Now that's just horrible from a game theory stand point.  Make the hardest rule you can imagine and win.  Zendo for me isn't about making the hardest rule possible.  Instead, it's about helping the Students have a good time and make those leaps of intuition.

Another variant posted on the forums is at least more promising:

Take turns being student/master.  Master secretly rolls 3d6.  Master chooses rule that should take student the number of Koans equal to the result of the roll.

If the student gets the rule in less Koans, they earn the difference.  If they fail then they earn nothing *and* the master loses 3 points.

So it seems good in some ways.  You will have varying difficulty rules.  The master has reason to try and hit the target.

I just think it breaks down when the student has already built around 10 Koans.  At that point, isn't it just safer to intentionally be wrong and give the master -3 points?

So, I shall try to formulate some new variant here.  And it might be harder than I think.

Let's start with the promising bit of the 2nd variant.  Take turns being master and have a target number of Koans = 3d6.  Then what do we want to have the scoring do:

1. The student should *always* want to guess the rule as quickly as possible.
2. The master should want the student to take exactly 3d6 koans.

The issue arises that for the student to want to guess quickly, their reward relative to the masters should always be declining.

But at the same time, if the master is always gaining in potential for a new Koan then they will always want the student to keep building new Koans indefinitely.

Gah, I've wasted 10 minutes coming up with ideas and failing.  I shall revisit this again later.  Unless someone out there has a brilliant breakthru!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wood for (Video) Games

Just took delivery of the second guitar for the new PS3 rock band setup yesterday.  What kind did I snag?  A friggin' Rock Axe!  I didn't buy it from Amazon though, I don't think it's worth that much of a premium.

Why did I buy it?  Because it's a friggin' guitar with little game controller bits added in.  It's huge compared to the other controllers, but it feels nice and powerful.

Now, out of the box the actual fret buttons were supposed to be crap.  To fix that, I went ahead and shimmed them like in this HOWTO.  My wife obviously thought I was crazy for buying a controller that was humongous and had to be fixed before you could even use it.  I just thought I was being geeky.

How did it play in the end?  Very very nice.  The strum bar in particular is of very high quality.  I wouldn't recommend spending more than $30 on one, but if you can find it for that price again it can be worth it.

On a funny side note.  I know board game Prototypes don't need to be fancy.  But I've just found the fun of Windows ASCII codes with the ALT button:

Part of me wants to go and replace:

4VP if 5+ Red


5+ Red 4

Just because it looks cooler :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ghosts in the Rules

Played a little Rook last night.  The whole concept of Rook gives me the giggles for the most part.  It's a deck of cards, with all the faces removed, so some religious nut can go to bed at night and not feel guilty for playing cards.

Now, I realize these days it has actually evolved past that.  But that was the original purpose of the game.  I'm also annoying that they left in "Aces are high" since when removing the face cards they mapped the face cards to "1".  Riiight.

It got me to thinking about other card games with oddball rules left over.  I think my most recent example was refreshing myself with house rules for Double Sheepshead.  I haven't played this since an exchange student in high school taught it to us.  Here are some of the oddballs:

1. If you capture an Ace♦ played by your opponents, score a point.  (Doesn't sound odd until you learn you don't actually know who your opponents are until they are revealed at some unknown point in time.)

2. If you capture the last trick with a Jack♣, score a point.

3. If you capture an opponent's Jack♣ on the last trick, score a point.  (I actually think the above two rules are pretty cute.  But really, who thought them up?)

4. If you win a trick worth 40+ value, score a point.  (Basically has to be all aces and 10s.  Happens occasionally on an off-suit, but weird ass rule to have.)

5. 10♥ is highest trump, or not, depending on house rules.  (Very odd rule since the other option is for the 10♥ to just be an off suit)

Anyway, I'm always fascinated by history of card games.  I actually geeked out my hosts last night mentioning all the names of "Oh Hell" I could remember.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rigged the PS3

All the boxes from black friday finally arrived.  What did I do?

1. Stripped the hard drive out of the new PS3.
2. Put in a new 500GB Western Digital.
3. Booted up the PS3 to learn there is no OS on the firmware.
4. Went and downloaded PS3 OS onto a flash drive.
5. Booted the PS3 and loaded the OS off the flash drive.
6. Setup an online Playstation account on my PC (Access to keyboard)
7. Tied my Visa to my Playstation account.
8. Slapped the old PS Hard Drive onto some rail adapters to get it to a 3.5" standard.
9. Dug through tons of cables in closet to find a SATA power adapter.
10. Slapped old PS Hard Drive into HTPC.
11. Spent some time finding SATA toggle in HTPC Bios.
12. Got the data Drive registered in HTPC, Double the drive space! Woohoo!
13. Back on PS3, go through LONG setup process.
14. Got correct audio/video settings out of PS3.
15. Get correct audio/video settings on Onkyo receiver
16. Get PS3 signed onto wireless network (Very easy)
17. Sign PS3 into prior created Playstation Network ID.
18. Unpackage Rock Band 2
19. Put in RB2 disk, go through auto-update.
20. Unpackage Guitar
21. Use Guitar to calibrate audio/video on RB2.
22. Fix RB2 audio output settings (Not Dolby Digital by default)
23. Test RB2, it rocks.
24. Open and load RB1.  Try to export songs, fail.
25. Go buy export key from Playstation Store (Use Visa tied to account automatically)
26. Get songs exporting.
27. Cook dinner.
28. Tack out RB1, never touch it again.
29. Put back in RB2, test buying a song.  Works great.
30. Put together drums and test them, flawless.
31. Play some songs with the Missus when she got home.

Wheh!  That only took about 2.5 hours :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jambo - Check

So I got another "long unplayed" checked off yesterday: Jambo.

How has it aged?  Very well thank you.  It was still a very close fought battle.  I pulled over the finish line at 62.  But then my wife unloaded 5 goods in her last turn to match me and take the win.  Good stuff.

I currently have the first expansion of Jambo.  We sort of played with it last night.  What do I mean sort of?  Well, there's a lot of bits to it:

New People / Artifacts / Animals - We definitely use these.  However, there are no new Wares, so to play the expansion you actually need to remove similar cards to keep the ratio the same.  The author actually has some suggestions as to what he likes to remove, and we stick fairly close to this.

Huts/Relics - Never tried them.  Add new mechanics I'm not really looking for.

So there's another expansion out now.  Do I snag it?  It's cheap enough.  And I have played Jambo 10 times now and don't think that number will stop.  But what does the next expansion offer?  Some cool new Ware cards that feature new combos and some "wild" goods.  But if I include those, then I have to include all the cards I got to remove when adding the first expansion.  And some of those cards removed were ones my wife and I just did not enjoy.

Surprisingly, it wasn't the "take-that" animal cards that we wanted removed.  It was the odd-ball auction cards that caused a large hiccup in gameplay.  My wife just doesn't like auction games hardly at all, and tossing small-scale auctions into a 2-player economic card game was not her idea of fun.

Sooo.... will I get the 2nd expansion?  Maybe.  If I see it in my FLGS I'll probably cave.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas Trees are Up

Turkey Day is over here in the USA.  That means it's full speed consumerism and more noble holiday festivities.

We've already got our trees and lights up.  We've got an auxiliary tree in the front room.  A "champagne" colored tree picked up in the after x-mas sales last year.

So, what will be under our tree this year?  Probably no games actually.  I participate in the BGG Secret Santa just so I'm not tempted to buy any or put any on a wishlist.  Not like I need any new games anyway :)

Secret Santa came early, but he was a real winner this year.  He helped me fill in some gaps with 10 Days in Asia and another copy of Fairy Tale to replace the one I traded away.  Thanks a ton secret santa!

I also have some hope still that my copies of Homesteaders and Terra Prime will make it here by Dec 25th.  That would be a pleasant surprise.

I did abuse some Black Friday deals on Friday.  Got a fairly complete PlayStation 3 rig for the basement.  Just need to wait for the delayed Amazon gift card kick back so I can order the final peripherals.

Happy holidays everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Different Definitions of "Need to Play"

Yea, so BGG was down when I was writing this.  You know how it goes.  Information withdraw.  It hurts.

Instead I was playing around again on friendless's great information page here:

That should starve off any information needs for awhile.

I thought it would be interesting to go through and talk about the different ways to determine what I "need to play" based on Friendless' stats.

1. Owned and Unplayed

Yea, I don't really own any of these.  I do have one map of a self published train game, Coast-to-Coast Rails.  I could probably get this played at a family game day.  Other than that I'm rock solid on no owned and unplayed.

2. Owned and Played Minimally

There's a fun stat about "Count how many owned games you've played 10+ times.  Now find the same number of games you've played the least.  What's the most you've played of a game in the least category?"

Or in more palatable terms:

I've played 24 Games 10+ Times
I've played 24 Games 3 or less Times

That 3 is the important number that Friendless encourages people to raise up.  The easiest way to do it is to play your seldom played games.  And for those, I have 24 to choose from :)  Many of them 2-player even.  Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation sounds like a good candidate here.

3. Haven't Played in Ages

This is the pile I've been hitting on recently.  I'm currently itching for some Jambo or Ra even.

I did nail off Blokus Trigon last night.  My wife kicked my ass.  Such strange subtlety in that game.  I'm not sure I'll ever master it, and that's just fine by me.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey Time

Well the holiday season is upon us.  It starts with some turkey, and moves on to consumerism central.

And my BGG secret santa is so efficient he's already getting his present to me tomorrow.  He's told me to go ahead and open it... but if I leave it closed then I'm not tempted to buy anything since it may duplicate what is in the box :)  Decisions decisions.

All the BGG.con guys are back at work and posting their experiences on geeklists.  Lots of good reading if you have the time.  It definitely makes me think I'd like to attend BGG.con next year.  I think I just may at that.  It's all about gaming.  I enjoy GenCon because it's in my backyard, but GenCon is all about the exhibit hall, and that's just a different focus.

I also have taken some time to work on my neglected games that I own.  Instead of the ones I have only played a couple times, I decided to spend some time on those I haven't played in ages.  Friendless has a great tool to track this over on his extended stats page:

It led me to play:

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper - Still really solid.  I'm glad I got a spare of this one while it only costs $10.  And yet I don't regret picking up the $45 copy I've had for a couple years.

Scripts and Scribes - I still love this game.  My wife still dislikes this game.  *Sigh*

Go - Still a great game.  Just so unforgiving on disparate experience levels.  Not a great couples game.

Friday, November 20, 2009

BGG.Con Woes

Sounds like a great time in Texas.  Too bad I'm not there.  :(  At least I can follow along with the new GeekBuzz system:

I'm rather surprised to see Factory Manager at the top.  The rules on that one were rather rough.  Maybe I should give them another read.

I got in another couple games of Equilibrium last night after a long day at work.  I nailed a new high score of 51. I think part of it was good luck to nail a 11-9 split in 2 colors.  True, I was trying for it, but still to nail it on the head was lucky.  With an 11-9 split you can score a ton of the high value cards, and I had most of them down.

Still, when we played again, I again hit a 11-9 split on the head.  This time I only got ~37 points.  My wife actually whooped on me that game with 45ish points.  It's interesting that our scores seem to be creeping upward.  I should really try for maybe a 5-5-7 split and see if I can score the 3-color and 2-color bonuses at the same time.  Hrm hrm hrm.

That's all for today, busy day at work!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Recognizing Designers

So I know the board game community online is a lot better about recognizing designers than the publishers.  It's a pretty recent phenominon to see designers' names on boxes in US Department Stores.

I decided to see how much discussion I could drum up with a big geeklist about designers over on BGG:

In that list I explore designers that have 2+ games in my collection.  I spent a lot of time writing it so I'm going to use that as an excuse to keep this blog entry short.

What did I learn from doing it?

I'm really sad that it appears Kory Heath is mostly focused on iPhone apps instead of board games now.

I mix up Gunter Cornett and Thorsten Gimmler.  Neither designer is a one hit wonder and yet neither of them have done enough to really stand out.  Of the two, I think I like Cornett's designs more in general, but they both just seem solidly okay overall.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Equalizing Equilibrium

Another post back on my prototype of Equilibrium.

Back from the very beginning I've been focused on trying to make a few different divergent strategies work in Equilibrium.  Primarily I've focused on making the 1, 2 and 3 color strategies balance out.  And I think I've been doing a pretty good job at that.

But somewhere along the way I stopped comparing the different score cards individually and just looked at them in the whole.  This works for basic long term strategy, but it means that a given hand of 5 cards might not offer that interesting of a choice.  For example I had some score cards that gave 4 points and some that gave 7 points and I had them cost just the same.  Now the 7 point one was riskier, but not by a great deal.

So I decided I should step aside from my own calculations and just view the "efficiency" of all my score cards and try to bring them into loose alignment.  After a little tweaking I came up with the following chart:

The cost and reward are very straight forward.  (Cost = How many cards are removed from your deck.  Reward = VP earned for playing it)  The "Risk" is a little more ambiguous.  I arbitrarily defined the riskiest card as a "2" and the safest card as a "1".  And then I filled in the others as best as I could estimate them.

Then I calculated the "efficiency" as Reward / (Cost + Risk)

And when I first did it, man I was all over the board.  Had some values at 0.8 and some at 1.5.  After some tweaking (primarily) with cost and reward I got everything into a 1.1 -> 1.3 range for the most part.  I got to play one round with these new figures and I do think they added a lot to the game.  In particular for a given hand there is a higher chance of an interesting decision upon which score card to play instead of just hitting the most obviously efficient one.

Yea, you still probably want to play those 12+ vp ones, but the lowly 4-vp for 5+ cards looks a lot tastier at their cheap price.

I also had to reign in the "guess" cards since they were way ahead of the efficiency curve.  And then I had to fix the "7+ of two colors" card some.  It had to be neutered to 8 VP for game balance, but then I needed to go back and lower it's cost so it still was at least somewhat efficient.

Anyway, if Seth is reading this I'm probably nearing a point that I'd like him to try it out again.  It may be another few weeks until I'm happy enough to spend the time printing off another prototype, but then again, I know he and a lot of other people are partying it up at BGG.con right now too :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wonderland Fillers

Yea, short post today, sorry folks.

Read some rules that intrigued me this morning.  Check out:

Alice in Wonderland Parade

Yea, the theme is completely unrelated to the gameplay.  I really enjoy simple card game fillers like Circus Flochati / Coloretto etc.  And this one sounds like a fun new entry.

Ironically I was going to attempt to design a game that had:

A push your luck card collection mechanic.
Conflicting set collecting scoring.

And low and behold, here comes Alice's Parade straight from Essen with both of those components already there.

It can easily be played with a Stichen / Rage deck, so I'll probably give it a go sometime this weekend.

The "tension" is this:

6 suits of 0-10.  You collect these cards over the course of the game.

Low score wins.
Each collected card is worth it's face value.
*IF* you have the most *CARDS* of a suit, those cards are only worth 1 point each regardless of face value.

So some fun majority fights go on.  The card collection mechanic is much rougher.  Anyway, go give it a look.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Business Cards Blow

No, this isn't going to be a post about networking.  Instead it's a post about prototyping.  I was browsing the local Sam's Club and came across a great deal on DIY business cards.  $5 for 100 sheets of 10 cards each.  You just print on them and then tear along the nice perforation.  I thought, "Hey, that'd sure save me some time cutting out cards for prototypes..."

So I bought them.  I spent an hour or two the first night making up a template I liked.  I did it in excel just so I could apply some formulas and conditional formating to the color of the cards.  By the end of that night I thought it was all laid out nicely.

Then the next night I went to print them.  Gah!  That was madness.  Mainly the printer kept wanting to start the image right at the edge of the paper instead of the 0.5" margin I told it.  After an hour of curses, I finally figured out it couldn't register the edge of the paper correctly since there was that perforated fold near the edge.  So I did a slight fold vertically down a long fold to trick the printer into better registering where the paper began.

That did the trick nicely and the template more or less lined up with the business cards.  So I printed off a deck and went about punching it out.  Took no time at all.

Then I tried to solo a round with the new deck.   Horrible.  Couldn't fan the cards.  Couldn't shuffle the cards.  Complete crap.

So I wasted more than a few hours, ink and perspiration just to learn I should have stuck to making decks my old way.

Bah humbug.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Casual Card Counting

Card Counting.  Such interesting language connotations.  Cheaters.  Skillful probability manipulation.  Just annoying.

Can I count cards in BlackJack?  Yes and no.  I know how to do it.  I have the ability to train my mind to keep a running count.  I haven't invested the man hours to actually hammer the skill into my brain.  And I don't think I ever will.  I just don't like the atmosphere in a casino and I'm happy with the money I make in my day job.

Do I count cards in casual gaming?  It depends.  Probably the most classic case is in Acquire.  You can play with open or closed stocks in Acquire.  When I play with closed stocks, I usually strive to track most player's holdings.  Can I track everything everyone owns?  No.  Not even close.  But really, I'm usually only deep into about 3 companies.  And so I really only need to track what other players have invested in those 3 companies.  And usually I'm only competing with 2 other people per company, so I'm usually tracking 6 numbers in my head.  That's doable, but it does mean paying strict attention to what other players purchase on their turn.

What brought this up?  I played a couple games of R-Eco with my wife a few nights ago.  R-Eco has the curious feature of being able to exactly track what cards an opponent has added to their hand.  This means that if you "count cards" you should be able to know almost exactly what your opponent has to play with.  (There is a minor glitch where their first 3 cards are unknown, but they generally dump their entire hand at some point and you can know for certain from that point onward.)

In the first game of R-Eco, I played like normal, not really tracking her cards unless she picked up 4 red in one go and I knew she could blast red.  I got creamed.  I dumped early and got all sorts of the undesirable goals.

In the second game I counted cards and tracked her hand.  It made a huge difference.  I knew what colors to not leave low hanging fruit on.  I knew what colors to clog up with trash to make her dump.  In the end, I won handily without even dumping.

Will I count cards the next time I play R-Eco?  Probably not.  It adds a bit of an unfair advantage if one player does and the other doesn't.  I'll do it occasionally though.  It's a fun challenge and a good mental exercise.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trade Values Ahoy

Well, another big math trade broke out on the geek HERE.

I've avoided the last few or just turned in blank want lists.  This time I think I'll test the waters with a reasonably high value item.  I threw up Imperial / Sylla / Machu Picchu combo.  The last two I want to clear off the shelf.  And eventually I want to own Imperial 2030 so base Imperial can go.

I tried the whole "Choose 2 of 3" thing.  I wonder if it will work.  It theoretically appeases more people.  It also might scare off some people by the complexity.  Supply and demand in a math trade is fickle fickle business.

I actually think I'm going to go hunting for a nice copy of El Grande.  I've only played it once, but over time I've come to appreciate the idea of "euro-classics" and I definitely think El Grande belongs on that list.

I'm also going to try and stick hard on a "don't buy games until they're 12 months old".  Mantra.  We'll see how that goes.  It's not like I'm demanding a 2-3 years old limit.  But 12 months can still seem extreme.  And of course I've got a couple pre-orders coming soon that already break that.

Also, pretty neat recommendation geeklist tossed up today over HERE.

It uses your paired preferences between 10 popular games.  He makes it interesting though since he lines up very similar games:

Dominion vs RftG
Agricola vs Le Havre

So I suppose he went for the most discerning pairs he could.

Anyway, it's a cool list.  It exposed my Knizia side and highlighted how I'd probably like most of his classics more than the average gamer :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Machu Picchu - Careful What You Wish For

Well, after not playing any biggies for awhile, suddenly I get a couple "big boxers" in.  Last night I played The Princes of Machu Picchu with my wife.  It was actually us playing judge, jury and executioner.  I'm looking to clear out some more cabinet space but wanted to test out some games that were almost on the chopping block.

The deciding line of the argument?  Afterwards my wife said:

"We played Machu Picchu for over an hour and a half and my head doesn't hurt in the least."

She then went on to say she got more brain burn out of 30 minutes of Metropolys or Race for the Galaxy.  This was her way of saying "why did we play that?"

And I'm pretty much with her.  I don't have to have a good brain burn, but if I'm not getting a brain burn I better be getting something else such as laughter and tears.  Especially if a game lasts 90 minutes.

And after playing Machu Picchu again, I think I get more brain burn in Lost Cities or Battle Line.  And those games last 20 minutes.

So what was up with Machu Picchu?  This is the third and probably the last time I'm going to play it.

Moving the bits just takes too long.  To generate goods I have to turn in units of corn and take back units of goods.  And I probably do this 4 times per game round.  Then I turn back in some of them to place Incas.  I turn back in some others to buy Priests and Virgins.  I know other games have this whole currency exchange, but they don't take up the whole dang game with it.  In Puerto Rico for example you don't turn in Coins to Produce Only Indigo.  That would just take too long.  And all that time is *not* adding decisions.  In Machu Picchu almost every good is always worth more than a single unit of Corn; unless you are desperately low on Corn which is your own dang fault.

It's like he tried to go for Micro Turns.  And yes, the choice each turn is fairly Micro, but the execution of it can be tedious.  Especially the market.  I realize it's a nice way to balance out the supply and demand of resources, but giving a player unlimited buy/sell in a single turn is just asking for Analysis Paralysis.  I was suffering of it myself.  And each buy/sell involves another transaction with the Corn Bank.  I swear over 60 minutes of the 90 minute playtime is just pushing corn back and forth.

The strategy isn't really *deep*.  Get Incas -> get Priests / Virgins -> get Cards.  Choose cards that match your Incas & Priests and Virgins.

I realize that sometimes the whole "Spanish Victory" might threaten.  But really, it hasn't in the 3 games I've played.  Hell, it hasn't even made it into the last day yet.  Why?  Because I'm efficient about getting all my Incas down early and churning up a boat load of resources.  I suppose I could avoid doing this, but then another player would and they'd be ahead of me on resource generation.  Last night my wife would have won if the Spanish had conquered.  But she knew they weren't going to by the 6th or 7th turn so she had to help buy out the Priests & Virgins or she would lose horribly.

Teaching the game is a real chore too.  For some reason the score cards really mess with people.  I really want to just say "It's a Sumproduct of the Active Symbols on your cards crossed with your Incas and Priests / Virgins".  Some people understand that and move on.  Others get distracted by the big pictures on the score cards.  I honestly never even noticed the big pictures on the score cards until someone asked me what they meant.  I eventually figured out they were just large representations of the small highlights on the left.

There are other odd gotchas:

There are two distinct places to set up Incas that allow access to mutually exclusive Inca areas.

There is one place to buy Priests but two different places to Sacrifice to the respective types.
And yet the Virgins have one place to buy and one place to sacrifice.

The board regions still mess with me every time I play.  The Llama field being connected to that Watchmen's Hut; I always miss that.  The map shouldn't be a game of Hide and go Seek.  I think it would have been better done with Areas connected by lines.

How did the last game play out before it hit the trade pile?

My wife and I opened with quickly getting 3-4 more Incas down.  I continued pounding the Incas until I had them all down by turn 4-5ish.  My wife slowed down and yoinked a Virgin to claim a couple extra early cards.  This let her focus on Llama Inca scoring and dumped all her remaining Incas in the Llamas slowly over the rest of the game.

She eventually bought out the Condor Priests and I bought out the Puma Priests.  I then leveraged my resources to really ramp up card production.  I didn't have much common symbols on my cards, but I also had a minimum of two Incas in every production area so that wasn't a big deal.

I bought out the final Priest and Virgin at the end of turn 8.  My wife scored a whopping 6x5=30 points on Llama incas.  My sheer number of cards and consistent 4-5 vp per card netted me 5 more points than her in the end.  We both ended in the 60-70 point range.

Are there some redeeming qualities of the game?  Yea there are a few.

The bits are AMAZING.  When you get a llama, you get a Llama!  That's just above and beyond in these days of euro cubes.

The idea of the micro turn is very solid.  There are no phases to the game.  Each player just continues taking turns until the game ends.  All the "sun tile" does is trigger the renewal of the Production and Sacrifice regions.

There is tension in the order of production.  If you are placing incas this turn you'd like to get them down before production hits.  That's sometimes hard to do.  It's also rough sometimes when you run too low on corn and an opponent forces a production you can't benefit from.  (Fairly easy to avoid by selling to the market when you get low though...)

There is tension in card collection.  The early Priest/Virgins give the best ramp up the card track.  The more Priests/Virgins that are bought the worse they perform.  That's a rough bit of diminishing returns to deal with.

The Market actually does work at equalizing out Supply and Demand of resources.  If a production region is short on Incas, you better believe the Market price for those goods will soon Skyrocket.  In my final game I really wanted to shift one of my Shirt Incas because they weren't matching my scoring Symbols.  I didn't do it though because there were only 3 Incas collectively in the Shirt District and the Shirt prices at market had already hit the upper limit.  It was better to churn more shirts so I could afford the Puma dudes that did match my Symbols.

So, after all that, my final verdict is "Meh".  It's heading to the trade pile.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Well, I got my wish.  Went to a game day, played a big game of Liberte.

What did I think?  Solidly MEH.  For starters, only one person had played before, and he'd played incorrectly.  So we spent a little over an hour figuring out the rules.  The written rules were rough, and the player aids were contradictory in places.  And we wanted to play the "Dagger Variant" which later I learned was proposed by a guy named Dagger instead of having to do with Backstabbing.

My biggest issue?  Frickin' tie breaks.  There were WAAAY too many tie break situations and way too many different ways to resolve them.  Usually you had to resolve by sacrificing a card from your display.  But sometimes it was a once around.  Sometimes it was a repeated sacrifice.  Sometimes it had to be a general.

Beyond that?  The elections took way too long.  Why is this an issue?  Because there are NO decisions in the election process.  Occasionally there is an interesting tie break situation, but even most of those are forgone conclusions.  Otherwise it was upwards of 5 minutes just to figure out who earned a handful of VP.  Boooorrring.

Other issues?  Who the heck let the purple region and purple cards let get published?  They are not even close.  We played a whole turn before we realized one region was empty because we didn't realize we were assigning two colors to a single region.  Inexcusable.

How did I do?  I jumped to first on the beginning turn and retained my lead until the last scoring when another player tied me.  How did I do it?  I just played a crap ton of cards and spread my influence everywhere.  Just like any other area majority game.  Did I pay attention to who was winning the election?  Nope.  I just concentrated on efficiently getting pieces on the board.  I never drew cards (maybe 1 or 2 the whole game.)  Why?  because I was going to get my hand refilled at the end of the turn.  Why waste my actions to fill something that would happen anyway?

Did the other players hate on me?  Yes, quite a bit.  How did I weather it?  Mostly I just didn't combat them. I concentrated on empty regions and stayed away from Paris and most of the VP spaces.  I did squeak out the first battle, but after that I stayed out of the battles since my Generals would have never lived.

Was there anything redeeming?  Ummm... actually, the more I think about it, no not really.  The theme was sorta cute, but really didn't come through.  The alternative game end conditions were slightly threatening, but not really.

Yea, this was totally not a classic for me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Game Days

I'm going through a bit of withdraw.  I've missed a month of game days at the local meet up on Sundays.  Basically this means I haven't played an 90min+ gamer's game in that long of time.

I'm thinking it's definitely time to rectify that this weekend.  My first choice of game would be Endeavor.  That's one I just haven't gotten to the table since GenCon.  Bad me.

After that would be Imperial.  I've only played that Gem once and have been dying for a chance to go at it again.  And I still want to upgrade to Imperial 2030.  My wife is going to give me so much crap about that one.

I also think I'm going to re-instate the family game day once a month at my house.  It's true we end up playing mostly fluffy things, but some meaty things still pop up.  Most of my wife's family are big Acquire heads from way back and are always up for a game of that.  I also have some people that humor me with games of Ra.

But at the same time the family is always up for some Wits & Wagers or Say Anything!.  (Which on an odd note.  I went to a client's office building and saw workers walking around the hallways carrying a copy of Say Anything.  I don't know if it was team building or lunch fun; but either way it was awesome!)

Anyway, hopefully by Monday I'll have some actual gaming to talk about :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Sweet.  Just had a fire alarm in the office.  Best part of it?  The door at the bottom of the stair well was locked.  That's right.  We piled an office building into the stair well, went to the bottom, and couldn't get out.  We had to go back up a floor, out to an ESCALATOR, and then go out the front door.  Sweet job people.  Sweet job.  At least it appears it wasn't a real fire.

Anyway, Essen is over.  All hail mary, Essen is over.  Didn't really see too much come out that I just got to have.  I did see a whole lot of solid reporting though.  I'm always amazed at the number of people who take the time to write about all the games they tried.  It's no small thing to do so I'm very thankful to them all.  I know some people on BGG get tired of all the Essen geeklists.  But c'mon, my use of BGG is pretty much:

1. Shoot the shit with friends
2. Find new cool games I want to try

And essen geeklists completely fill in #2.

I also spent some time last night mocking up a player mat for the chip version of dominion.  Mainly just because I tend to lay my "hand" out on the table when playing with chips.  And without defined play areas I tend to mix up the action cards I've played with the chips still in my hand.  You can check out an ugly version of it HERE.

If I like playing with it after a few more tests then I'll probably add a little color and some logos to give it a little more polish.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dominion Seaside - I was wrong

I spent some time this weekend making a nice set of Chips for Dominion Seaside.

And then spent a couple games exploring just the Seaside action cards.

Okay, I was wrong.  It's actually quite the interesting expansion.  The duration cards add some flavor and uniqueness to the expansion.

The idea of a duration card is that it sticks around for one extra turn.  Most of them are worded something like:

Now and Next Turn: +$2

So you get $2 and $2 next turn.  Now, before someone goes, "that's better than a gold"!  No, no it's not by a long shot.  Why?  Because you want to have critical turns in Dominion.  You are unlikely to ever reach a point when you can draw $8 every turn.  In fact, you'll probably never hit a point you draw $7 every turn (although this stuff is possible with a tiny chapel deck.)

What you'll probably do is end averaging $6 per turn.  But $6 isn't enough to get a Province.  But you're only getting an AVERAGE $6 per turn.  In reality you're probably alternating having a $4 turn followed by a $8 turn.  You want that streak-ness.   And to get it, it's always better to have Gold.  Why?  Because that's going to clump $3 of buying power into a single turn.

So why all this rambling?  Because I'm trying to point out the weakness of duration cards.  Duration cards spread their power over a couple turns.  They help you have a couple *slightly* above average turns instead of an explosive turn followed by a boring turn.  Unfortunately that means you might be reaching $7 two turns in a row instead of $6 one turn and $8 the next.

Even so, the Duration cards are fairly priced.  The Caravan is a Laboratory spread over two turns, and it costs $4 to the Laboratory's $5.  The jump form $4 to $5 is quite large in cost (See the rational for the "Feast" card) so you can see that the Laboratory isn't nearly as powerful when it's spread over two turns.  But then again, the Caravan doesn't cost as much.

And then the obvious glitch, that if you hit a reshuffle with the Caravan in play then it's going to sit out on one cycle of your deck.

Anyway, if you get a chance to try Seaside, I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Essen 2009 Craze

Yea, it's smack in the middle of the Essen game fair.  Lots of good reporting going on around the intertubes.  Probably my favorite report each year goes on over at the G@mebox:

Kulkmann's G@mebox

So everyone is going to pound on the big releases.  I thought I'd mention a couple without much fanfare:

Priests of Ra

Supposedly pretty much Ra with two sided tiles.  When you draw them, you choose the side.  Pretty cool really.  I *think* it would add a little more room for strategy.  More likely it would just add an extra decision every turn.  Beyond "Auction or Draw".  Still, I'm a sucker for Ra related.


I really wanted a copy when it was released last year.  But the import premium was just too much.  I still believe that if a game is good enough it will eventually get a domestic release.  Well, it hasn't hit domestic YET, but it did get picked up by a big publisher and has really been making the rounds this time.


This one has been available for a little while.  You can order it on the cheap from the company's website.  It's a definite "Deck Building" spinoff.  It's auction driven, and some worry about a runaway leader.  Meh.  It does it Ra style where you keep going until everyone has run out of resources, so everyone will probably get something.

Anyway, busy day at work so back to the grindstone for me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lunch Gaming

So I've been playing cards at lunch for over 4 years now.  I only started logging my plays this year.  I felt bad about inflating them in the past, but then I decided that was silly.

We have a stockpile of just plain decks of playing cards.  We go through them on a semi-regular basis since we play them right after eating on a sometimes grimy table.

So, what games are hits and misses for us?


This is the one we can most agree upon.  It's not quite bridge, but it's still an advanced trick taking game.  It requires accurate bidding and careful play.  It can be hard for newbies to pick up because it is hard to differentiate when you should try to set the other team or when you should just dodge bags.  It's that lovely grey area that makes it such a great game.


This one has really only taken off this year.  I introduced it a little after Christmas.  I had to do it in bits since the whole rules are rather intimidating.  We play without the special cards, but it doesn't lose much IMHO.  It also works passably well as a three player game.

My fellow actuaries still have niggles with bomb priority. We've mostly switched to "bomb on your turn".


Probably the best 5 player game we've come up with.  I'm so-so about it.  There is some strategy.  The bluff on figuring out who the partner is makes up most of the game.  The card play isn't *that* complicated.  It is interesting that some hands you just are going to have high point value cards that can't take any tricks.  For those hands the whole play for you is just figuring out who to give the points to.


No.  Not the 4-player version.  That one's just too simple for our tastes.  The double deck 6-player bidding monstrosity of Euchre.  3 Player teams and whole lots of bluff.  You pretty much have to bid more than you can take and count on your partners for 1 (or 2 or 3).  It's quite a bit of fun.

Oh Hell

Haven't played much of this one in awhile.  Mainly because it's everyone for themselves.  Much more fun to be on teams like all of the above games.  (Even with shifting teams like sheepshead.)  Still, it is a challenge and always fun when you play down to 1 card.

We've played a few more in our day.  Such as Big Three, Cribbage etc.  The only one we haven't tried that I'd like to give a go would be:


A game firmly in the "fishing" family of card games.  But this one is tailored for a standard deck of playing cards.  It also works well with partners.  Hrm hrm hrm.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fins Circling Dominion

Well, they finally released the rules for Dominion Seaside.  You can download them HERE.

So... what do I think?  Meh.  Pretty much Meh.

Biggest disappointment?  Additional components.  Each player now gets 3 player mats.  Additionally, there are a bunch of cardboard "coins" and cardboard "embargo" tokens.  This was a card game right?  What happened to sticking with cards?

Other disappointment?  Way too many cards that "+1 Action, +1 Card, Small Side Bonus".  I just don't find these "cycling" cards all that interesting.  All too often you would have just been better off buying a dang Silver instead of them.  (What, you'd rather play the cycle card and draw another Copper... good for you.)

Duration is the new big card type.  What does that mean?  It's a PITA card the remains in play until your next turn.  Kind of a "quasi-permanent".  That just sucks the simplicity of "dump everything into your discard".

Also, how many questions some up about the dang Throne Room?  Every new set has a mess of interactions that confuse even the seasoned gamer.  Who let that dang card get into the base set?

So, what cards actually look like fun?

Ambassador -
"Reveal a card from your hand.
Return up to 2 copies of it from
yourhand to the Supply.
Then each other player
gains a copy of it."

I would buy the Ambassador just to clear out coppers and shove coppers into my opponents.  That's just being very harsh on their efficiency.

Discard 3 cards."

Very nice card.  With 3 extra cards in hand, I know I'll have 3 I'd like to discard.  Only costs 3 even.  Sucks that it takes your hand size down to 4, but it does leave you an out for when you draw action cards with it.

"You may reveal a Province card
from your hand. If you do, gain a
Gold card, putting it into your
hand. Otherwise, gain a Silver
card, putting it into your hand."

Probably a win more card.  But it does make sure that you keep your deck full of big money.  The more I think on it though, it's definitely a "win more".  (In that if you are fulfilling it's requirements, you're probably already winning, so you should have spent the resources on something that would get you into a winning positions.)

Anyway, I'll still probably mock up a few to put on my chip version.

I'm very sad there's only one more VP/Action card.  Those were my favorite.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Secret Santa 2009

It's that time of year for board gamers:

  BGG Secret Santa 2009

And yes, I'm already signed up.  I suppose more than a few people might pass this year with a tough economy, but I've always found that BGG-SS has saved me money.  From the moment I sign up I try very hard not to purchase any games.  That means almost 3 months of not spending any dough on games except the one I purchase my target.  I think that's a fair deal.

I did concede to shipping to the USA only this year.  I've done a couple overseas ships in the last couple years.  It's really not too bad, usually I just buy from an internet store over there.  The money conversion rate and the VAT when shipping over boarders is a little rough.

Anyway, one of the fun sides is setting up your own wish list so people can get you something.  I can't really highlight Essen releases since they won't be available over here.  Instead, you get to go through what's available and pick from that.  Also, your selections should be "Ticket to Ride"ish in value.  So here's what I've got listed:

Fairy Tale

I love this game.  I just included it in a trade as filler, so I need another copy back now :)

Steam Barons

I haven't gotten to play much Steam.  But this has a really cool USA map and sweet train meeples.  Yea, it also has the whole 18xx style investment rules, but I really don't think I'm going to go there.  I just want to see Indianapolis back on the map :)


I got to try this game out at GenCon.  The actual game play is pretty darn sweet.  The components are complete crap.  Still, it's not too expensive.  If I did get it, I can see myself making a hobby out of generating a replacement set of bits.  It wouldn't be too hard :)

Burger Joint

It doesn't look quite as deep as I was hoping, but there are still a couple different strategies to try.  And it is a focused two player economic game.  So... yea, I'll give it a nod.  Besides, Joe Huber is a nice guy.

Villa Paletti

I realize it's only a little above Jenga, but dang it, it does still sound fun.  It's one I could get the family to play. Although really I just want to spend the dough and snag the full sized PitchCar.

I'm not actually going to put Dominion Seaside on the list.  I like my chip version of the base two sets, and frankly the preview cards have sucked a lot of ass.  It seems like most RioGrande games are jumping the shark after a single expansion these days.

Side blurb on Equilibrium

So I did get a set of public score cards made up and printed last night.  I went with "9 VP for 8+ Red" style.  So really, in 2-player, it becomes "9VP if you have 8+ and your opponent doesn't" which still seems reasonable to me.

If it works out, I'll have to rebalance the different strategies again.  In particular I'll probably have to make the bonus for 5+ of 3 colors much larger.

I also tried just adding the new cards instead of replacing something, bringing the deck size up to 60 cards.  I'm hoping the extra cards will squeeze out a couple more turns in each game.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Honeymoon Equilibrium

Got in some playtesting of Equilibrium tonight with the wife.  Things went really well I think.

The biggest change?  We brought in the "honeymoon" rules.  What that means is:

Originally, at the end of each turn you trashed one card and cycled one card to the bottom of your deck.

Now at the end, you show the top card to your opponent without seeing it yourself.  They say "Trash" or "Cycle".  You do what they say, and then you do the opposite for the next card without revealing it to anyone.

So, what does this do?  It makes you *have* to pay very close attention to what your opponent is doing.  It can be quite the conundrum.  Sometimes it's easy when they're going all one color and you really want to deny them that color.  You just trash any of that color and have them cycle the others hoping to trash the sweet color.  Othertimes it's a lot trickier.  Do you trash off a card that could be a big score card for them if it cycles back, or do you cycling and hope to hit something better?

Anyway, I think it added a lot of interaction.  My wife even said "You mean I have to pay attention to what you're doing now?"  From now on, I'm definitely leaving in this rule.

For multiplayer, I'd do:

Show to the opponent on your right.
Guess Score Cards look to the opponent on your left.

That way the guess cards work on the same person you are making the trash/cycle decision for.

I personally still have a lot of fun recording guesses when played, but I could see making guesses just in real time right during scoring.

Other cards:

Attachment - 3 VP if Next Score Card is Fulfilled

This was a lot of fun.  It was efficient so you wanted to play it.  But then it bent all your decisions on what card you played next.  You really didn't want to throw down the big point risky ones next, but yet you did so you could win...

Single Use - Others Trash 3 - Cost 2

Was used.  And was nice.  I think the cost was rough though.  I'm thinking it would get played more as "Others Trash 2" with "Cost 1".  But then wouldn't it be just almost identical to the "Pay +2" card?  I mean, my wife and I found reason to play it as the "Trash 3" version, so maybe I shouldn't mess with it.

Other Ideas:

For public score cards, I'm just having a rough time.  To play a public card, you'd have to have a very real expectation of only you scoring it.  Otherwise why would you bother investing resources in something that didn't give any return.  (If everyone scores it, than you basically paid for crap)

A way around it might be for the public score cards to give more variable points.  Sort of a "Everyone may discard Red Cards from their deck for scoring".  Ohhh, well, maybe not public, but that's a cool private one.

Heh, dang it.

Maybe a public be "He who plays the most of this card scores 3 vp per copy of this card played by all".  Still seems a little odd.

Gah.  I'll keep thinking on the public score cards.  Maybe I'm just missing something.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Equilibrium - Risk, Reward and Cost

So just vetting out some more design thoughts for Equilibrium.

I'm working on adding some more cards to the game.  I sketched out some over the weekend, but didn't spend too long on the game theory of them.  I thought I'd spend some time today to logic out the exact cards.  Of course, playtesting will always show I screwed up something.

So, what needs balanced:

Risk - Just how likely are you to get the reward?
Reward - Just how big is the reward?
Cost - How much does each card cost?  (Need to count the card itself and the card you trash.)

So let's start with some of the base ones that have already been balanced:

4 VP if 5+ Yellow - Cost 2

So really, this card costs 4.  (2 discarded, 1 trashed and itself)  It has a small reward, but it's not very risky since it's easy to maintain 5+ Yellow in your deck.  And the cost is what I would like to be "average".

7 VP if 9+ Yellow - Cost 2

So, from the first card we've increased the risk and the reward but kept the cost constant.  That seems nice and fair to me.

11 VP if 5+ of 3 Colors - Cost 3

Hrmph.  Well this one can be trickier.  So the risk is definitely elevated.  And by all means the reward is boosted.  But then so is the cost.  Really though, the cost only went from 4 to 5, not a huge increase.  I think it's okay enough since the risk isn't that high.

8 VP if 7+ of 2 Colors - Cost 3

And here's the toughy.  The reward isn't really that hot.  And the risk is reasonable.  But the cost is up.  And yet playtesting and modeling has shown this one to be about balanced.  Why?  Mainly because it compliments having two colors scoring their "6 for Most" and "7 for 9+" cards, which is the bomb.

So what about the new fangled ones?

12 VP for First Pair - Cost 2

Well, 12 VP is a lot, but not really when spread over 2 cards.  The risk is about right.  You may never draw a second or your opponent may beat you to the pair.  The cost is 8 cards for 12 VP.  I think it's all around fair. Heck if I really know.  I need to be careful about putting in too many cards that don't depend on what you have left if your deck though.  I was a little uncertain of this card at first, but the first play with it still seemed pretty solid.

5+3 VP For Guess - Cost 1

Yea, this one is hella-risky.  It's not easy to figure out how many of each color you have left yourself, let alone your opponent.  And realistically, you're just going to get the 5 VP.  And the cost is very small.  BUT it's just a fun card.  So I want people to use it.  That's why I think I'll keep the cost suppressed.  And it's still pretty darn risky.  I don't think I need to change it.

3 VP for First - Cost 2

I just don't think this one belongs.  There is NO risk.  None.  You can't not score for this when you play it.  So why would it be a decision?  I suppose just because I make it horribly inefficient.  3 VP for 4 cards.  Still doesn't seem inefficient enough.  The "4 VP for 5+" still has some risk and it only nets you 1 more VP.  Of course, it's not *much* more risk.  Hrmph, it's a toughy.  I think people will think this is a no-brainer to play.  I'm pretty convinced it's not that awesome.  Probably a bad idea overall.  Probably needs to be tossed.

+3 VP if Next Score - Cost 1?

This was going to be an "Attachment" card.  It automatically attaches to the next score card you play.  It then takes on the riskiness of that card.  Should the cost/reward be the same as the 4VP/4Card base score cards?  I'm thinking so, thus the 3VP for 3 Cards.  Of course, that whole "VP for First" card looks really good with this one :(  Still, I rather like it.

Unplayable "Double Card"

I also had the idea of a card that can't be played, but is worth double if left in your deck for scoring.  I'm worried everyone would just forget it though, so I need to do something fancy with it's coloring to make it stand out.  But really, would it be that cool?  I mean, it would let you play a little longer.  But it would make deciding to pay with the non-collected doublers really obvious.  So it actually wouldn't add any decisions and would make scoring trickier.  Gah, suppose it really needs to be cut too.

Permanents vs Single Use

Originally each color had a perfect balance of Permanents vs Single Use cards.  I think I'm tossing that out the window.  In particular, I think the "attack" cards work better as single use so your opponents don't have to keep remembering to suffer each turn.  I also like the yellow bonus cards to always stick around.  In fact I rather like the "attachment" idea up above.

And lastly, I really wanted to bump the deck size up to 60 cards to see if I could get another couple turns out of the game.  I'll have to think hard on what cards to duplicate.  Hrmph.

Polishing off designs is hard work.  Dang Mondays.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Passing on Wargaming

Wargaming.  Where the grognards live.

So I've played a fair share of "entry" wargames in my time.  I've played:

Memoir 44
Combat Commander: Europe
Conflict of Heroes
and numerous little post card games.

And pretty much all of them have failed to hold my interest.  Why?

1. Way too much comes down to rolling dice.

Yes, you do need combat resolution.  And yes, some randomness helps.  But I don't want to read and learn that many rules just to see if I can roll 2 higher than you.  That's drab.

2. Game moves too slow to feel the theme.

Sure it's like playing a war movie.  In SUPER SLOW MO.  When someone shoots, it shouldn't take upwards of 2-3 minutes to figure out if they hit anything.  Snooze.  Yes, even Memoir is annoying in figuring out dice and applying hits and accounting for terrain.

3. Games take too dang long

I like 40 minute games.  I enjoy 90 minute games.  I like good 120 minute games.  I just don't generally like games over 120 minutes.  There are exceptions, but they just aren't there.  Of the above games... Memoir fits in the 60 minute slot.  In that 60 minutes... just not a lot happens.  Probably because 10 minutes of that is setup and tear down.

4. Exceptions are the norm

Wargames seem to be built on chrome.  Every rule pretty much translates into a dice modifier.  When I'm doing: 1d6 + if(x,2) - if(y,1) etc etc I'm not having fun.  And I'm cool playing math games.  Not "Let's see who remembers the modifier" games.

So... what "wargames" have I enjoyed?


Is it abstract?  Yes.  Is it the best wargame I've ever played?  Yes.

If you can't see the two armies fighting over blood soaked terrain then you are not looking at the same game.  I haven't played nearly enough Go.  Mainly just because it's not that inviting to the casual player.  But man do I respect it.


Yes it's longer than 2 hours.  But dang it, it does all the rest right.

There are basically no exceptions.

The combat is far more than "Compare two dice rolls"

The map is *Fascinating*

It does other things wrong still, but I forgive most of them.

What wargames should I still try?

Napoleon's Triumph

If the combat rules weren't so damn confusing, I'd be on this in a heart beat.  An awesome map and diceless combat with alternate victory conditions.  Yes please!

Up Front

If only because it promises to be mercifully short.  Too bad the rules look like a bitch...  And of course that MMP hasn't gotten off their asses and published this cash cow.

Anyway, so that encompasses my path to and through wargaming.  I'm pretty much done with it.  I'm probably missing some great gaming moments, but I'm not crying over it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Revisiting Some Old Favorites

Over the past week I've played some "old" favorites with the wife.  I thought I'd take a post to say how they've held up.

Fairy Tale

I can't really say why this hadn't been played in such a long time.  After breaking it out I realized just what a fun game it was again.  There's plenty of double think and the decisions come fast and furious.  And enough of the cards feel and score differently that it's not the same game every time.

I actually forgot to play with the better 2-player variant.  Deal 10 cards to each player.  Draft 1 and trash 1 each time until you end up with 5 cards.  You can downsize it to 7 cards and just trash the first two passes.  It adds more hating ability and lets you see more of the deck (Like you would with more players.)

Anyway, it's a real winner you should try.

Blue Moon City

The first of the 2007 "Super Fillers".  How'd did it go?  Just fine actually.  This one has always been an odd beast though.  It's just so danged hard to figure out how to play optimally.  Is it worth sneaking one cube in to finish another player's building?  You get great return for your investment, but they might not be able to complete it without you for quite some time.  So you're giving them their return now instead of later.  Gah.  It's just a mess.

I agressively cycle my cards.  I try to never use a "1" card to help on a building.  It's just too inefficient.  I also really like the "Extra Scoring Stone for +1 Crystal" and will clog up my hand with one I'm not willing to let go.

We didn't play with the PnP expansion buildings this time.  They actually are  alot of fun, but one of them does feel a little broken.  The one that gives you +2 cards just for ending your turn there.  We decided last time that we would play it as "+2 cards if you do NOTHING else and end your turn there".  Otherwise you can just bulk your hand up for 2-3 turns and then go dominate the board playing all 3s to build buildings.

Oh, and we played the original dragon scales rules.  When they run out, ALL scales are returned, even if you only had 1-2 and didn't get anything for it.

Anyway, I think it's held up well.  shame about having so many variants and gotchas sometimes though :)

Notre Dame

And for another 2007 "Super Filler".  I think this one holds up well enough.

There are a couple glitches though.  There are some things you *must* do to win.  I usually don't like that, but I can handle it here.  Here's a list:

1. You almost must get all your cubes from the supply.  Passing on getting your cube space full is almost suicide.

2. You must have money to bribe a character every turn.  That means you need at least 6 more money than you started the game with.  If you fail to bribe a character even twice, you are probably going to lose.

3. You really should keep your rats in check.  It's not that hard and there are very few ways to make up for letting them wreck you.  (It is possible to go a message heavy strategy and ignore the rats.  They keep pulling cubes from your carriage space, but that's okay since you only need 2-3 cubes there to keep working.)

4. You really need to know what fancy score cards come out when.  In particular:

A. The person who gives VP for messages comes out in the middle 3 rounds, so if you do messages you want to do them early.
B. The person who gives 2 VP for each 2+ Cube region is in the middle 3 rounds.  He can be a lot of points.
C. The person who gives 3 VP for each 3+ Cube region is in the last 3 rounds.  He can be a big windfall of points.

So, these are all things you *MUST* do.  Now how about things you can do to earn points.  Well let's hit on some of them:

1. Notre Dame is okay.  It's not great.  If you get the chance to score it on your own, then take it.  Also, do NOT leave yourself without money by paying more than you can afford.

2. The Park is okay, IF you can get two cubes in there during the first 3 rounds.  If you only get two in there towards the middle of the game, it's just not good enough return.  But if you get them in early it can be a big boon over the course of the game.

3. The VP space really only has one good way to use it.  And that's the "Move 3 Cubes" character.  After you bank up on money or cubes, just use that character to move all those cubes over to the VP location.  And hey, if you stack it deep enough then that "VP for each cube in region with most" character in the last 3 rounds is huge.

4. Messages.  These are generally the bomb.  I don't go out of my way for them, but I do value them as dang dang solid.  You can snag the resource you need, or just go pure points.  And if you go early you can get a big payoff from the message reward character.  This is also about the only path that can still earn VP with rats running rampant.

5. Rats.  I should just mention that keeping your rats under control is a huge boon.  It's not so much the 2vp loss as it is the cube loss.  Rats have a better return than almost anything above.

Anyway, it's fun to play with options 1-4 above, but that's only 4 options.  You might hybridize a *little* bit, but Notre Dame is a game that rewards specialization instead.  So really there are only so many things to try and do.

But still, it plays darn fast and there is some thinking to be done still.

And that's it.  I wonder what oldies but goodies we'll yank out next...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gear Probabilities

So Seth Jaffee from over on Cumbersome Blog gave Gear Burn a try last night.  I really appreciate him trying it out, and he had some great feedback on it.

One of the big things he mentioned was how rough the gear probabilities were.  Right now, I just have a player roll a number of d6's (Six-Sided Dice) equal to their gear.  So 2d6 in second, 3d6 in third etc.

Then a player looks at the largest value showing on a single die; that is their speed.
Then a player looks at the smallest value showing on a single die; that is their maneuver.

This works out really well on the margin.  Each time you shift into a higher gear your speed will increase and your maneuver will decrease on average.  But the question is of course are there enough dice rolls to average out?  The answer is.. kind of.

The biggest glitch is probably first gear.  A uniform distribution from 1-6 has a dang high variance for a race game.  It can really suck to be 5 spaces behind after the first turn :(

I'm going to define a new stat too, the difference between the average speed and maneuver in a given gear shall be the "drift".  This is how much closer to the wall a car will veer.  It doesn't need to appear in the rules, but it does need to be addressed when designing the math behind them.  Anyway, the drift is always zero for a single die.  But that drift jumps fast when moving from 1d6 to 2d6.  The drift goes up 2 units for only 1 unit increase in speed.

So, Seth played once with the just Nd6 gears, but then tried replacing them with a more interesting distribution of dice.  I'll outline it below, but the most important differences were:

1. The drift and speed increased at about the same amount.
2. The speed kept increasing at at least +1 for each gear.

The downside to Seth's?  Not everyone has a d3.  Also, the jump from 1st to 2nd was weak compared to the rest of the gear jumps.

I thought I'd just go ahead and outline a lot of different gear possibilities and calc the math on them.  The results are in this chart:

So, what does the above chart say?

Original - Yea, it looks pretty crappy when shown in this light.  I'm definitely moving away from that.  1st gear was highly variable and 3rd vs 4th gear didn't matter at all.

Seth - Pretty solid really.  I'd like to see the margin smoothed out a little more.  The drift per speed is still pretty flat between 3rd and 4th.

Fixed Pairs - Rather oddly, the Drift doesn't increase nearly as fast as the speed.  I'm afraid this would come down to who could roll double 10s in 4th.  Also, the drift per speed is just flat.  Might as well run top gear.

Simple Additive - Here we start with what I call "additive" styles.  This is because each consecutive gear just adds one die to the prior gear.  Would be easy to make and hardly require any dice at all.  Simple additive actually has some very nice characteristics. Except for 4th gear, it keeps roughly the same absolute drift numbers from the original design.  The drift per speed is pretty close too; hopefully that means the maps wouldn't need much tweaking.

Big Base Additive - Starts with 2d4 and then builds.  Really harsh drift numbers, even drift per speed numbers.  Probably couldn't go very fast on this one.  The speed/drift margins don't look much better than the original :(

Slow Additive - Here is probably the most promising to me.  It's got steadily increasing marginal speed boosts.  3rd and 4th gear should still feel very different, and 4th should bring more danger.

Anyway, this is way too much information for a simple dice game.  But hey, the math is fun to some of us!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stubborn Designer

This post will at least be partly musing about my game Equilibrium.  Tasty Minstrel Games are considering publishing it, but want some more interaction.  I already discussed forms of interaction in an earlier post, so I'm not going to re-hash that.  Instead, I'm going to try and reason out some more "communal score cards" since Seth over at TMG has had some luck playing with them.

What's the theory?

A score card that *you* play to the center of the table, but everyone could score.

What are some working examples?

You know those score tiles added in the first Race for the Galaxy expansion.  That's pretty much exactly what they are thinking.  Only the players get to choose them.

How are the RftG ones designed?

Some work on the "Most" principle.  Others work on the "First" principle.  The inverses would of course work (Least and Last).

What parts of Equilibrium could have "Most" / "Least"?

Well, the quantity of each color left.  This one was obvious and these score cards existed from the very beginning.  They work well.

Total quantity of cards left in the deck.  It'd have to be a reward for "Most" since a reward for "Least" would encourage someone to play until their deck was gone.

# Of Permanents? - Not really since there's only 3 permanents in the game.

# Of Fulfilled Personal Score Cards? - Don't want to award "most" since that would be a "win more" situation.  Could reward least, but that would maybe encourage someone to play out their deck...  Still, it could be worth it.

What Parts of Equilibrium Could have First / Last Goals?

Well, I went with the really simple "First to play a pair of these" cards so far.  They seemed to work well.
You could do something simple like "First to play one" cards too and just give a paltry 2-3 VP for them.

You could do "First" or "Last" to quit.  That would add a little more tension to who goes out when.

You could do "First after..." cards.  Such as "First to play a Public Score card after this..." sort of thing.  But resolving ties would be a biyotch.  Maybe "First person to be the only player to play..." would work.  That could be interesting.


So, after those musings, what types of cards could make the cut?

3+3 for Most Red/Blue/Yellow
3+3 if Most Cards
3+3 if Least Personal

3 VP for First
12 VP for First Pair
4 VP for Next Permanent
4 VP for Next Public Score Card
3+3 VP if Quit First

This design theory can be tough :P