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.