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.