Thursday, September 29, 2005

2005: A Crappy Year for Boardgames

Yeah, I know it's only October, and Essen is around the corner, but isn't 2005 (and you might want to include the latter part of 2004) just a crappy year for boardgames?

I got this feeling when going over the SdJ, DSP and IGA lists of nominees and winners for the year. Ick, I say. So, I ask the Geek to give me a listing of all games published in 2005, with a rating of at least 5 and at least 30 raters. I'm chucking all the wargames and expansions, because those don't count. This is what I get:

TI3e - You have to be kidding. 2ed was better than this.
Ticket to Ride: Europe - A rehash. Didn't much like it's daddy either.
Shadows over Camelot - Wouldn't you rather play Werewolf?
Travel Blokus - Zzzzzz.
Arkham Horror - Horror is right.
Munchkin Fu 2 - Bayesian rating of 6.79, 35 ratings. What are these people smoking?
Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean - Brand new. Reports say and rules read: Too many cards, too much luck
Louis XIV - Won the DSP. Might be the best game on this list, which is a relief.
China - Reprint. Didn't much like Web of Power, so pass.
TATATA! - Haven't heard anything, don't know anything, don't really want to know.
Wings of War: Watch your back - Featherlight sequel. It's daddy was ok, nothing great.
Kreta - Steffan Dorra area control game. The dark horse on this list, flying under the radar.
Manila - Gambling game. I wish they called THIS Puerto Rico, and THAT game Manila!
Carcassonne: The Prin... awww fuck it's crappy Carc again.
Roma - New 2P Queen game. Interestingly good remarks from key people (Mike Siggins) but it's 2P so I don't care too much.
Nexus Ops - Hasborg dicefest kiddie dreck.
Tower of Babel - Reiner's Hans im Gluck big box game is an auction/area control middleweight. I think this should get better over time, sorta like Samurai.
Palazzo - Reiner's alea midi box game is an auctionish lightweight. What a letdown.
Fjords - 2P Carcassonnish game. Pass.
Axis and All.... yech.
FFFF - I'm not typing that, and it's Friedemann so pass.
Dungeoneer: Forsaken Desert - Forsake this game.
Control Nut! - Trick taking game, probably worth a look if you like that kinda thing. I don't.
Attacktix Star Wars Kiddie Game bleh
Manifest Destiny - Pass.
Diamant - If this cost as much as Bluff, I'd probably get it despite its parentage. It costs as much as a big box game, so forget it.
Risk: Star Wars - why do people still buy this thing?
Australia - Kramer+Kiesling+Ravensburger=pale shadow of the Mask Trilogy. Too bad.
Ars Mystery - LIttle publisher, but I'd try it if there was an opp.
Amazonas - Lightish card game. Too many of these things around.
Walk the Dogs - SimplyFun fluff.
Poison - Another light Reiner card game.
Monsters Menace America - See Nexus Ops
Go West - Hey it's a Colovini game. I'd play this given the chance.
Pickomino - Another light game.
TransEuropa - Given how bad TA is, why bother?
Anachr... CCG right? Pass.
Verflixxt! - Not bad. Not good, either.
The rest are the same: Gone Fishing, Ice Cream, Coloretto Amazonas, Sword and Skull, Pimp: the Backhanding, SPANC, Clout Fantasy.

Yep, 2005 stinks. And as I noted a few entries before, Essen looks pretty grim for good thinking-man's games, with just Hazienda and E&T das Kart looking promising.

Why Games Need Editors

I was listening to the latest Wingin' It podcast from Michael and Evo over at The Dragon Page, and one subject resonated with me on more than one level.

One of their listeners called in and asked for advice on getting published. Having read more than one self-help book on the publishing and film businesses, I already knew what Mike and Evo and Joe and Summer were going to say. And they said it.

Take your first novel, short story, screenplay, what have you, and stick it in a drawer. Take your second effort, and do the same thing. And your third. And your fourth. Then maybe, maybe you can take your next effort and send it to an editor. Not your spouse. Not your friends. Not anyone who likes you. Send it to someone who'll look at it and take it apart and tell you exactly where it sucks and ask you what the heck you were thinking when you wrote scenes 12, through 28, and what were you smoking when you wrote scenes 33 through 41?

You need someone who'll tell you that your dialogue is stupid and that NOBODY TALKS LIKE THAT (hello George Lucas), and where your plotting is full of holes, and where your characters are so paper thin that you can read the newspaper they're holding through the back of their head.

If you give your draft to someone to read, and they don't tell you any of the preceding, then you can discount that person's opinion. They're not helping you.

What's this doing on BoardGameBlog and not Everyday Insight you ask?

It's here because there are so many games out there that need this kind of editing. Sure, a flawed game can have a cult following. You can equate War of the Ring to The Matrix Reloaded - it thinks it's good and smart and has a lot of shiny bits to keep the kiddies interested, but once you look at it from a structure standpoint, it falls apart. You'll never convince the kiddies of that though because The Burly Brawl (all the dice rolling and the theme and action cards) was So Damned Kewl and it Roxxored!

Look at games that I can assume have gone through an editing process, like the stuff published by Hans im Glueck (Bernd Brunhoffer) and alea (Stefan Brueck). They tend to be "tighter" than the indy stuff from, say Friedemann Freise (see Funkenschlag and even Power Grid). That's the additional value that an editing process can give. It doesn't mean that every game they produce is perfect - alea can have Mammoth Hunters, just as JK Rowling can have The Prisoner of Azkaban. Even Reiner has his clunkers and those go through his own stringent editing process along with that of his publisher.


Yes, yes. I know. You write for your audience. People who read Danielle Steele won't likely be reading HP Lovecraft, just as people who enjoy the superficially-themed War of the Ring dicefest won't likely enjoy a luckless, chromeless-themed brainburner like Torres with all 10 Action Cards in hand.

In the end, all is subjective, and Britney Spears (with her legions of fans) is just as valid a recording act as Coldplay.

Analysis Paralysis: When You're Not Smart or Decisive Enough

(Warning: Those easily offended can piss off.)

Let me be blunt. Analysis paralysis is caused by a mismatch of a game which demands brainpower, and a player who lacks the brainpower to recognize what's going on AND make a decision on what he wants to do.

I'm tired of games being criticized for this. You choose to study rocket science, you'd better have the brainpower. You want to play Java? You'd better have the brainpower. Otherwise, please stick to Settlers where you toss the dice and ask people if they have wood for sheep (cue Butthead here) and don't need to think.

So, translating: If you see a comment about a game that claims it causes analysis paralysis, it means "this game is too hard for me and my gaming group." If you see a low rating along with that comment, that means "we're not smart enough to play games that demand more thought, in a reasonable amount of time." Or maybe "we're smart, but we're not decisive enough and need to spend gobs of time sifting through each option repeatedly."

Don't blame the game.

You know, if the game causes analysis paralysis, you should rate it HIGHER and aspire to be able to play that game in its indicated playing time. Once you do that, you can claim that you've either become smarter or more decisive or both.


I finish this post, look at BGG and what do you know, a Geeklist on analysis paralysis and timers. If I post this on BGG, the propriety police will jump up and down, so I'll say it here. If your players can't play the game properly without a timer (i.e., they're not smart or decisive enough), step down a bit. Try something will a lower difficulty level, then "graduate" to the real games.

The negotiation games like AGoT and ToG, you have the same problem as the fellow who asks "got wood for sheep?" ten times before giving up. Decisiveness is required. If the deal isn't there, more on instead of wasting time trying to harangue people because you think you're smart enough to pull to wool over their eyes (you're probably not if you're taking that long). Or conversely, tell the player who's badgering you to do what he wants to piss off, you're not interested.

But RoboRally? You have to be joking. After you've taken a bit of damage your moves get locked anyway. What's the problem? Wallenstein? TORRES?! Torres is a lightning fast game especially without all ten cards in hand. When you know the game and have all the cards, it gets even faster because you have the means to do stuff! Princes of Florence? Goa?! Sheesh.

The absolute worst one is Citadels. What the heck takes people so long to pick a role? It's not like you can guess which character is going to get assassinated or pickpocketed, so why the fuck are you waffling? Five seconds to choose a role, no more. That's why I gave this one up on BSW - the time it took people to choose roles was infuriating, simply because there THERE IS NO INFORMATION to base your pick on! It's a Faidutti game for crying out loud. Bruno doesn't make games with agonizing decisions! I think he'd go into convulsions if he knew that people were suffering from analysis paralysis over one of his games.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Game Night - September 23 2005

It was a great relief to have a game night scheduled. We'd finally get to play some of the new games I'd been stockpiling over the past month.

The most anticipated game was my newly-acquired copy of Traumfabrik.

Some memorable things:
We popped the Traumfabrik CD into the player, and it was a wonderful mood-setter for the game. Form the opening strains of In the Mood, which almost everyone in the room surprisingly identified, to the Sinatra tunes that were playing while he was considering offers from the studios, the CD proved that little touches do enhance the gaming experience.

My highest-rated film was The Ten Commandments starring Grace Kelly, which was rather hilarious because Grace Kelly in a loincloth was good, but if she had a beard, that was bad.

The worst film for most of the game was a $5,000,000 box-office disaster filmed by a no-name director, starring Reiner Knizia.

That was unbelievably beaten by a $3,000,000 stinker filmed by another no-name director and starred in by Henry Fonda.

Eventual winners Frog and George had the film of the night - King Kong with a $3,000,000 special effects budget starring Marilyn Monroe. No, it wasn't the biggest box-office hit, but it was the most appropriate casting. They avoided the mistake of casting Norma Jean as the monkey and using CGI to animate the Fay Wray.

Final scores:
Frog/George - $71m
Rick - $70m
Nix - $60m
Erik/Annie - $58m
Monch - $56m

Post-game agenda - come up with custom tilesets. Make Keanu the Reiner of that set.

Nix, Frog, George and I decided to go for one more game, and I broke out my new copy of Verrater. I'd played the game a few times on BSW, some time ago.

It was an interesting game as we were all grappling with the quirky double-loop timing of the game, with the start player passing clockwise and the strategist and alliances flip-flopping the combat rhythm in a strange, disjointed waltz. I turned coat three turns in a row, sandwiched between a couple of building turns. Everyone else concentrated on being the Strategist or a flavor of the Diplomat.

When the dust cleared, the most traitorous one emerged victorious. I won the game with 27 points.

So, our all-German edition game night was a rousing good time. T-fab will almost certainly grace our table again next session, hopefully with some variant tiles.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

When the Wishlist Runs Dry

Gerald asked me an interesting question in the Geek of the Week feature on BGG. After my last buying spree, what were my top five games that I wanted to add to my collection that were in print?

I had this piddling little list to answer:


So, three card games and two 2P abstracts are all I have left. 2005 has been a tremendously weak year in terms of meatier games that I'm interested in. Louis XIV and Shadow of the Emperor was the extent of additions. The Essen list is also looking very weak, with only Kramer's Hacienda, and Knizia's E&T das Kartenspiel looking like they would merit a second look.

(I must admit to being very cool on Martin Wallace games. Similar to Friedemann Freiese's games, Wallace games feel just short of being completed. His best game, Age of Steam, is a pale shadow of 1830 and has a theme-breaking mechanism that I can't abide. So I really have no interest in Tempus or Byzantium.)

The saving grace is the reprinting of Reef Encounter and RA in the short term, and Medici, Stephenson's Rocket and Taj Mahal in the medium term. (Though I already have the RGG Taj, and am wary of Reef Encounter because it might be like Power Grid - a good game, surely, but clearly not yet polished.)

One can only hope that Reiner has a gamer's game in the works. Otherwise, 2005 will be one of the weakest years for German games in a very long time.

I suppose that this is a good problem to have. My narrow interest in types of games keeps my collection (and related things like spending and space) sane. :)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Torres on Boite a jeux

It's no secret that I rank Torres as one of the best games around. I enjoy everything about the game: the fun theme, the simple mechanisms, the elegant gameplay, and one of the most fitting graphic designs around. Torres is perhaps the best awardee of the Spiel des Jahres award ever. Considering the medicre picks that they have made since then, that seems unlikely to change soon.

I was ecstatic when the Franch gaming site Boite a jeux implemented Torres recently. I immediately recruited my online gaming group, affectionately called The Four Friends, and we launched into playing Torres. (The Four Friends are Mary Weisbeck, Chester Ogborn, Gerald Cameron and myself.) We've been playing multiple games of Torres, in different variations, for several weeks now and I haven't tired of it yet. I don't think they have either. I pray they haven't because this game has legs unlike any others.

Image hosted by
A game of Torres on BaJ; as usual The Four Friends are locked in a tight struggle.

I can only compare my Torres fever with the other four top games in my rankings - The Princes of Florence (playing this occasionally on BrettSpielWelt is like giving a thirsty man a drop of water), Euphrat & Tigris (which we've played heavily on BoardGameGeek), Puerto Rico (which I've played heavily on BSW as well but have given up on due to my irritation with the other players on the site), and the unassailable Magic: the Gathering.

If any readers out there would like to play Torres, register on BaJ and drop me a line. You can even pick the variant; I enjoy them all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Derk and Aldie over at BoardGameGeek did me a huge favor when they started up their podcast, then known as GeekSpeak. It was a radio show on MP3 all about boardgames. Now I knew nothing about Adam Curry or the whole podcasting thing at that point, but the new car I had been given at work had a CD player that had an MP3 decoder, so I tried it out. I downloaded the first installment, burned it onto a CD, and have listened to every episode ever since. I even began doing a log of the shows as a Geeklist. (The list is no longer up-to-date, unfortunately. I may update it at some point in the future.)

Podcasts have now replaced radio and audio CDs as my companions during my hour-long drive to work. Several podcasts with boardgame content have joined GeekSpeak, now renamed BoardGameSpeak, on my car stereo. I thought I'd say a few words about each.

The Dice Tower (TDT) is hosted by those two funny boardgame-playing Americans based in Korea, Tom and Joe. TDT is a spiritual sibling to GeekSpeak in that you have two guys who play well off each other. Well, ok, I think Tom and Joe do it better as Aldie tends to disappear a lot during shows. Granted, GeekSpeak usually has a guest, while TDT is usually just Tom and Joe. The hook here is that Joe is primarily a wargamer, and Tom is primarily a Eurogamer. Warning - this show is not for newbies. Game titles are mentioned at an alarming rate, especially during the weekly Top 10 lists. Have BGG up and ready to search to figure out what games the guys are talking about. Recently, TDT has been running contests to give away games. So far, they've given away Conquest of the Empire, Santiago/Primordial Soup, and a couple of wargames from Wellington. That's more than enough reason to listen and participate!

Boardgames To Go (BGTG) is Mark Johnson's show. He started out with a one-voice format, and that still is his default show type, but lately he's been having various second voices on his show, from fellow gamers to his wife and kids. I found Mark's earlier shows to be rather boring, but since I could relate to the content, I kept downloading and listening. Lucky for me, as the quality of the shows has been improving rapidly to the point that BGTG is now the first show I listen to when I have a freshly-burned CD of podcasts in the car. Mark's recent innovation - whole shows focusing on just one game, are now the podcast I look out for. The first two, on Entdecker and Medici, were all about two games I haven't played and don't own. The Medici show that had Dave Arnott as co-host was outstanding, and I've placed Medici on my "will definitely buy" list as soon as the RGG reprint appears. I just downloaded the newer show, on Verrater, a game I just acquired last week and have played a bit on BrettSpielWelt, and I'm looking forward to hearing that one. Mark's shows are now can't-miss programming as far as I'm concerned.

BoardGameSpeak (BGS) has suffered a bit in its recent shows as Aldie and Derk concentrate on getting BGG.CON organized. The last few shows have been interviews with various persons during a convention, so the sound quality has been poorer than the studio-recorded shows. One weakness of the BGS format is that the show is only as good as the guest, and sometimes the guest tanks the whole show. I haven't been interested all that much in the last two guests, Friedeman Freiese and Andrea Meyer, so I skipped large chunks of those shows. Still, BGS has produced some excellent shows in the past, especially the ones that had Reiner Knizia, Alan Moon and Mark Jackson on as guests.

Have Games Will Travel (HGWT) is a newish podcast from Paul Tevis. This is a hybrid show that features both boardgames and RPGs, but the boardgame coverage is suited for people new to the hobby. (Unlike the three previous entries here.) Most experienced Eurogamers won't really care about a review on Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride, but for those who just happen on Paul's show, it's a good way to become familiar with the base games of the hobby. Paul uses a single-voice format. His latest show, which I haven't listened to yet, has a review of Reiner's mighty Euphrat & Tigris. That's going to be an interesting listen.

Geek Fu Action Grip (GFAG) is barely boardgame related. Host Mur Lafferty's background seems to be primarily in RPGs, but her husband Jim Van Verth is an old-school game designer. Mur adores James Ernest and his Cheapass Games, and crayon rail games. Not much for Eurogamers or wargamers here in terms of game content, but Mur is entertaining and her "being a geek essays" are fun to listen to so I keep tuning in.

Roll 2d6 (2d6) is a new podcast which also encompasses RPGs. They talk mostly about American-style boardgames and RPGs, but the last episode had a mention for Settlers of Catan so I'll keep listening until the content I follow runs dry.

All Games Considered (AGC) is a show I listened to when it first came out. Not only were the first few shows rather devoid of boardgame content, but the hosts were overly self-referential and there was far too little content delivered for the time the podcasts were taking. I no longer listen to this show.

Monday, September 19, 2005

BGGeek of the Week

Jim Pulles dropped me a note last week asking me if I was willing to answer some questions in the new "Geek of the Week" feature over at BoardGameGeek. He had been the previous subject, and before him was my Aussie mate Melissa Rogerson (can you call Aussie gals "mate"?) That's pretty good company, so I said yes.

"Geek of the Week" was started by Andrew.

On another note, here's a link to Chester's article on the Die Macher saga that I referred to in the last post.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

New games, no game time

I've been working and travelling for work so much in the past couple of months that I've been able to buy new games in Singapore and Malaysia, but haven't been able to get them to the game table.

The last three trips to Sing, as partly chronicled here, netted:

Through the Desert
Louis XIV
In the Shadow of the Emperor

My more recent trip, to Kuala Lumpur, netted:

Traumfabrik (!)
Magna Grecia
Maharaja: Palace Building in India
San Marco
and on a whim at the airport, Squad Seven.

I was very surprised when Mac Edwin, Kuala Lumpur's eurogame pimp daddy, mentioned over email that he had T-fab in inventory. Not even Fab-d-Traum, T-fab, which meant a 100% chance that the audio CD would be in the box. Even at US$70, the highest price I've ever paid for a eurogame, it was not something I was going to pass up. (Besides, T-fab goes for $50-60 in the US. With shipping to Asia and a small margin, it's definitely not unreasonable for a game that's OOP and unlikely to be republished in the same form in North America.)

Magna Grecia I owe to my good Geekbuddy Mary Weisbeck, who lists it as her #1 game. Despite her strange fascination with area control mechanisms, I consider her recommendations rock solid and MG already looks very good. I don't even think the graphic design is awful. It's not great, but it's not a dealbreaker.

I've already played Maharaja (John Peter's copy) and I like it. As I was telling Jasen Robillard on BSW the other day, it's a practice in creating order out of chaos. The blind action selection mechanism and the changing roles can be overcome with good, visionary play. Make no mistake, Maharaja does offer control. In this case, however, it is not straightforward and it has its pitfalls.

Speaking of chaos, my buddy Gerald Cameron wanted to know what the hell an Alan Moon area control game was doing in my collection. Despite the games of Mr. Moon having a dismal record in entertaining me, I had to have it for two reasons. First is the Alessandra Cimatoribus graphic work on the game, which is nothing short of gorgeous. Other than the original Torres, she hasn't done any other boardgame work. The other is the Solomon Draft mechanism, which makes the area control nature of the game an afterthought. I loved this mechanism back in my Magic tournament days, and it is enough to make this game good. I can even overlook the use of the die.

Verrater's a game I've played on BSW, and along with its sibling Meuterer, a game I'm happy to own for US$10.

Finally, Squad Seven. I had looked at the game's entry on the Geek via some Geeklist in the past, and recalled that it was a quirkly action game. It was priced at 25 Malaysian ringgit, which is something like US$7 or so. It was a lone marked down copy in the airport toy shop. How could I leave it there? Anyway, I check it ouot and stuff it into the game bag I was toting. As I approached the X-ray machine it occurred to me that Squad Seven ad a toy gun in it. Uh-oh. I quickly moved it between T-fab and Maharaja in my bag and hoped for the best. It went right through the KL X-ray check. Good. In the Sing stopover, it again went through the X-ray check with no incident. Phew. I had visions of having to explain a suction-cup gun to airport security by running around a table and shooting stand-up figures while listening to jungle sounds on the airport sound system.

Image hosted by
The game and toy gun that might have gotten me detained.

Anyway, my gaming group is going to have to endure a steady diet of new games over the next couple of months. By then, I figure that we'll be ready for the arrival of Chester Ogborn's copy of Die Macher, slowly floating its way over here on the slow boat. More on that as the arrival becomes imminent.