Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Second Coming?

Can Caylus become the #1 game on Boardgamegeek?

These are the discussions that certify people as boardgamegeeks.

So, speculation. Why is Puerto Rico the #1 game on BGG? Why was The Princes of Florence the #1 game before that? And why do people think Caylus is The Second Coming?

First off, Caylus has not been released in North America by Rio Grande Games. It looks like it will appear sometime in November, barring delays. The copies people have access to now came from Spiel 05 in Essen. Therefore, the pool of people with access to the game is very limited. It has 88 BGG ratings.

To challenge for #1 over the long haul (i.e., when it gets over 2,000 ratings) Caylus will have to appeal to a wide cross-section of gamers. This is the interesting quality of Puerto Rico, which has the second-most ratings in the BGG database with 4,636 (only The Settlers of Catan, currently ranked 20th, has more at 5,357). That's a huge number of ratings. From personal experience, PR can be enjoyed by everyone from casual players to those looking for a deep strategic game. Interestingly, wargamers seem to not be fond of PR since it's a system game - i.e., it filters interaction through a system and has no direct interaction. It's quite unusual for a game to be useful as both a gateway game and a serious, heavy Euro.

Another quality of PR is that it plays reasonably well throughout its player scale, 2-5 players with the alea 2P variant. This flexibility means that more groups are able to fit it into their gaming plans, and thus it sees a lot of table time. Along these lines, there is a nice scale to PR's speed. It can be played as a 20-minute 2P filler, a 45-minute 3P sprint, or as a 120-minute 5P defensive struggle.

The Princes of Florence shares many of the above characteristics. It's also playable as both a gaetway game and a deep thinker, it scales nicely from 3 to 5 players, and it can be a 60-minute 3P game or a 105-minute 5P game.

Both PR and PoF are also available online at Brettspielwelt, which helps.

Secondhand information indicates that Caylus plays a bit longer than PR or PoF, and its ability to scale from 2-5 players and its acceptability as a gateway game is still unknown. Time will tell. Fearless forecast: Caylus gets into the Top 10 briefly, then drops back down into the 15 to 30 range. Could be wrong, since I still don't understand why Power Grid is rated so highly. Oh well, that's what Geekbuddies are for.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Gamewire ceases transmission

In an announcement that stunned the boardgaming hobby, Rick Thornquist announced that The Gamewire (or at least The Gamewire by Rick Thornquist) is no more.

Adam Hill, the proprietor of Gamefest, has indicated that The Gamewire will continue, but without the full-time work that Rick put into it, the continued quality of the content is in doubt.

More than ever, gamers looking for news and information on boardgames will need to turn to Boardgamegeek, which is becoming increasingly difficult to use effectively as the influx of members continues.

I join the hobby in thanking Rick for his efforts over the past years in bringing us the latest and hottest news and information on the games we love. The Gamewire by Rick Thornquist will be missed.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Im Schatten Essen

The whole boardgaming hobby stopped over the last weekend, with most of "those in the know" monitoring the web for information filtering out of Essen, Germany. Spiel '05 is of course the largest boardgaming event in the world, and many new titles are debuting there. Some of those able to make the trip have been generously providing updates. As usual, Rick Thornquist is on the forefront. The Gamewire has Rick's impressions of the hot releases, and of the event itself. Pierce Ostrander is maintaining a set of links to other blogs and news sources over at Boardgamegeek.

So far the games that I had my eye on appear to be in the "ok not great" class, which is about what I was expecting. This continues the trend of 2005 being a weak year for games, with no clear blockbusters or must-haves from major industry names and companies, and a lot of interesting niche from smaller publishers.

It's interesting to hear that the E&T cardgame is in fact E&T in cardgame form. While I think I'll eventually pick this up, there is not real motivation to play a card game when you can play the real thing. Hazienda is a more likely early purchase, but since it falls into the "same-y Euro" category (which I'm not opposed to, but the theme here isn't one that sets the world on fire), it's not a priority over adding reprints of proven older titles like RA, Stephensons Rocket, Medici and maybe Reef Encounter to your collection. Mesopotamia seems interesting, but since its designer is more known for fluff (Wrede) than for strategic games, and it's coming from a publisher with an unproven track record (Phalanx), it's definitely a wait-and-see situation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Unexpected Gaming, and an Unexpected Game

8 October 2005

The weekend looked bleak for gaming. I was flying out to Singapore early on Sunday for three days of meetings, and didn't think I could make game night at The Lily Pad. My dear wife prodded me to go, however, because she knew I needed the distraction. Game night charges my batteries and gives me the social and creative outlet that I don't get at work. I just had to make it home early to catch some sleep so I could catch my 8am flight out.

9 October 2005

Large turnout at The Lily Pad, but the game that made it to the table once again was Traumfabrik. Sadly, I found that my camera had died in the two weeks that I didn't use it, so I was unable to start taking my customary game night pictures again.

There were eight people so some teaming up was necessary since everyone wanted to play. We haven't had a hit this big since Puerto Rico. My memory is starting to fuzz out from the volume of T-fab plays we've been generating, but I do remember that Nix and Tala curned out the night's biggest film - a $200 million box office smash with Nicole Kidman starring as Maximus in the Martin Scorsese-directed Gladiator.

I was attempting to grasp the timing of T-fab but again it eluded me. I got one film completed early, a decent $100 million production of Braveheart with Ashley Judd in the lead role (hey, it was a night of strong female lead characters). After that I was unable to complete a second film, falling one tile short of getting my huge Raiders of the Lost Ark production into theaters. The film ran out of cash, and my pathetic total box office take of $300 million put me firmly into last place, over $200 million behind the fourth place WB of Erik and Annie. Pathetic.

T-fab is giving me the hot Reiner flashes that I got from Taj Mahal and Modern Art - I can't seem to win the damned game, and I struggle to do well. All the hallmarks of what usually is a great game in my book. It helps that we all have so much fun playing the game.

I had to leave just as Princes of Florence hit the table. Regretfully, I headed home, visions of jesters and builders dancing in my head as I listened to Mark Jackson talk to Mike Siggins about Freidrich in the car.

10 October 2005

Sunday, I arrived in Singapore. The first thing that appeared on my Blackberry after I turned it back on was a message from Wilson Tan confirming our meetup to play. Things were looking up. After settling in the hotel I grabbed a cab and heading for the best FLGS in Singapore, Paradigm Infinitum. I was famished so I stopped by the Burger King in the store building's basement and ran into the people I was to meet - Wilson and Siow Hwee and their loverly wives Shih Huei and Janey, plus little Becky.

The stop at Paradigm looked uneventful. They had some new stuff in, but it was uninspiring. They had Dungeon Twister, but I don't have a lot of use for 2P games. Besides, it's got plastic miniatures and is "expandable". Those are always warning signs. Adding those factors to the new designer and a publisher without a good track record and it's a pass for me.

The other game I was taking a good look at was the Face 2 Face Games reprint of Reiner's Rheinlander. Now this is a game that's got a decent reputation, but from the information on the Geek I was pretty sure that I didn't need it in my collection. Reiner's already staked out a sizable chunk of my mid-length, mid-weight games with Traumfabrik, Modern Art, Through the Desert, Samurai and Colossal Arena, plus Euphrat & Tigris to a certain extent. I knew I was going to get RA in a few weeks. I'd rather wait on Stephenson's Rocket and Medici in 2006. Besides, the SG$100 price tag almost made me choke considering the component issues of the game.

There were some other interesting items scattered around. A copy of Struggle of Empires was on display, but not only was it more expensive than Rheinlander, I wasn't interested as Martin Wallace is currently on might "don't bother" list until he puts out a game better than the tepid Age of Steam. Another interesting item was a copy of the OOP RGG reprint of Goldseiber's Mississipi Queen. Too bad I'm not into race games at all. I'll probably play it, but I wasn't about to buy it, OOP or not. Siow Hwee had it and wasn't too impressed. Finally, Wilson pointed out a copy of the lui-meme werewolf cards, The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow, on the shelf. I've always thought that having a nice set of werewolf cards just to drive the theme home when the occasion arose would be useful, so I took that.

While Wilson was off lecturing a friend of his he ran into on the salient points of our hobby (the fellow ended up with Bang! and Coloretto I think, which wasn't bad), I noticed a blue box with the Hans im Gluck logo on one of the shelves. Expecting some lame game, I pulled it out. Reiner Knizia. Clash of the Gladiators. Wow, another OOP game.

Now, this isn't exactly one of Reiner's Finer Games by the BGG rating scale. Not really surprising, because this is a Reiner Dicefest. Now, the good doctor does do dice games, and he does them well. Exxtra, Easy Come Easy Go, Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck... They're all light dice games. Besides, Reiner wrote the book on dice games. So this game, with its theme of gladiators duking it out with wild animals and each other in the Colosseum - yeah, that's right up my alley. The design appeals to the old-time AD&Der in me, so it became my purchase for this trip. I think the game group will enjoy it.

So, I paid for the games and they gave me a big pastic bag so I could put the Kosmos La Citta the Wilson gave me in trade for Java into it along with my new purchases. This was turning out to be a good trip.

We went over to Wilson's office to play a game. Wilson's office had a nice meeting room with a large table. The game of the day was Euphrat & Tigris, which I promised to teach complete with theme. :-) After about 20 minutes of rules, we were off. Siow Hwee had played before, so his seating to my right was something I took note of. Not that it much mattered in E&T but it was good to be prudent. After the initial Kingdom buildups, I erected a Political/Commercial Monument to the north of the Tigris. Siow Hwee waged war and succeeded in exiling my King, but my Trader held his ground, lasting the entire game entrenched beside the Monument. A huge was for Agriculture was waged to the east, and I successfully ejected Siow Hwee's Farmer from the area, following that up with destroying his Priest's power base. The gods were smiling down on the Archer Dynasty.

Siow Hwee attacked a couple of times, both ending in futility. Janey: "he's not a very good player." Laughs all around. Apparently Janey kicks Siow Hwee's butt in E&T.

Endgame had a couple of large wars smack in the middle of the twin rivers. Wilson was doing very well, but I knew he had the same problem as I did - we were both weak in agriculture. The difference was that I had accumulated three treasures. Hoping that that would be the difference, I ended the game by accelerating time.

I had barely won with a score of 8. Siow Hwee had 6, Shih Huie 5, and Wilson 4. It was a very good game for the first time of Wilson and Shih Huei.

We all had to be somewhere, so we packed up with promises of playing more games when I next made the trip to Sing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Games Journal

A lot has been said about the decision of Greg Aleknevicus to cease production of the webzine The Games Journal. I think Yehuda Berlinger illustrated how I feel about it on the Gone Gaming blog.

It was indeed a serious issue that very few articles we being submitted. The Games Journal was driven by contributions - Greg, while an excellent and fairly prolific writer, could not have written all the content by himself. This was discussed in a recent episode of Mark Johnson's Boardgames To Go podcast where Greg was a guest. Yehuda had known for a couple of weeks that TGJ was shutting down. That means Greg might have already known that he was going to turn off TGJ when he talked to Mark on the show.

This is all pointing to the recent explosion of media on the German boardgaming hobby, which Mark has mentioned many times on his podcast. With so much creative energy being directed to individual gamer weblogs and podcasts, and into BoardGameGeek, The Gamewire and other boardgaming websites, there was less available energy that Greg could call on for submissions. It doesn't really matter that the content type is very different. Most weblogs are less formal than the average TGJ article. Most of us just type up the recent game night events, or dump current thoughts onto the electronic page. There's very little in the way of researched, edited material which was one of the most valuable features onTGJ (Yehuda linked to several of them above).

In closing, I'll miss having TGJ around. I was never one of the first to hit the site when publishing time came around, but when I did visit I burned through all the past issues that I'd missed.

I do feel that it's pretty silly for so many of us to be mourning its demise now when we never did direct any creative energy into submitting content. Now it's too late, and all we can offer is condolences and thanks.

Thanks to Greg, TGJ's editor, Frank Branham, TGJ's publisher, and all the contributors over the years.

The Games Journal, July 2000 - September 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Second Coming

RA is back.

Reiner Knizia's RA was the first game in alea's popular big box line, and it's been one of the most sought-after Euros since it went out of print. There was much rejoicing when uberplay announced that it was going to reprint it, followed by grave concern (as grave as you can get about a boardgame anyway) when a change of theme was explored.

In the end, RA returns almost unchanged from its original incarnation. There are minor component tweaks, such as a helpful little symbol on some of the tiles to remind the player that they're "permanents" and slightly larger tiles and board. Oh, and the box is not alea's box so you completists won't find satisfaction here.

For the people who just want to play the game with friends and family, a little glimmer of Christmas just arrived. For the game speculators, I hope you dumped your RGG RA for the old $100+ ebay prices because the new game can be had for under $25 online. That's a great price for a great game.

Kudos to Kevin from Eagle Games (who are uberplay's distributors) for posting pics of the new RA:

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Awards - Yay?

The International Gamers Awards, which is I try to equate to the Golden Globes (since the Golden Globes are given out by the Hollywood Foreign Press), have announced their Eurogame winners for 2005. Well, ok, maybe the IGA hasn't attained the status of the Golden Globes when ranged against the Academy Awards of this little hobby (aka, the German Spiel des Jahres). And they use a funky voting system to determine who wins the award (scroll to the bottom of the linked page to see it). It's sort of a least common denominator thing. It's as good a method as any other.

So. I'm going to ignore the 2P award since (a) I have no idea why 2P gets a category of its own while there is no 3P, 4P, 5P, 6P and 7+P award, (b) War of the Ring is touted on its box to be a 2-4 player game, which should disqualify it and (c) they just gave an award to a Risk descendant whose production values have utility issues. Aaaaanyway.

Ticket to Ride: Europe is perhaps the best representation of a least common denominator. It's a rehash of a game that's already won a lot of praise from the LCD gaming crowd. If the IGA was going to pick a "good game" as Greg says they aim to do, then I think they did their job. No one is going to argue with Ticket to Ride: Europe.

At least it was better than that horrible "me too" pick, St. Petersburg, in the previous year.

So, for 2005, the three awards were:

SdJ: Niagara (fits the high luck, "low thought required" family game profile of recent SdJs)
DSP: Louis XIV (does its main audience, the strategy gamers, a service here)
IGA: Ticket to Ride: Europe (the safest pick, a very effective LCD game)

Nothing surprising in the winners, all appealing to the markets/audience of the respective awards. No risks either, as all three come from major publishers (Zoch, alea, Days of Wonder). Was it only five years ago that the SdJ took a risk and picked the best award winner in its history, the Kramer/Kiesling masterpiece Torres?

As I said, 2005 is/was a crappy year for games (depending on which "season" you're using).

Postscript: There's a low buzz around Caylus. I read the rules. I'm not impressed. The whole thing seems fiddly to the extreme, with a lot of special things going on depending on where your "workers" are placed. Of course, this is all just from a rules reading. The game may be much better in play, but I'm not getting on the bandwagon just yet despite what Rick Thornquist's rating is. (And I can identify with Rick's tastes - the man has the correct opinion on Taj Mahal!) I wish there was more information on Hacienda, which is looking like the only hope for a good big box strategy game from Esson 2005.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Free Games (and good ones too)

How often do you get a chance to win good games?

There are two contest running that have pretty good prizes.

The first is the Cafe Games TEMPUS giveaway on BoardGameGeek. Tempus is a Martin Wallace game that's going to debut at Essen. Those of you who like Wallace's games should be happy with the opp to win one of 12 that are going to be raffled off. All you have to do is answer the 10 multiple choice questions posed by Cafe Games guy Morgan Dontanville. Yes, they're not easy. Yes, you can Google. No, you're probably not going to get them all right even if you Google. Guessing also works I guess, I got 7 of 10 without consulting The Oracle. For each correct answer you get a chance to win. For those of us who aren't impressed with Wallace games, it makes great trade fodder, so why not join? All you need is a BGG account. (Who am I kidding, if you're reading this, you're already a BGGeek.)

The other is the contest Tom and Joe are running on the podcast The Dice Tower.

All you have to do is send Tom and Joe an email with the Top Five Games You Think Their Listeners Hate the Most. The contest is patterned after Richard Garfield's "What Were You Thinking." You get more points if your opinion matches that of the other people who send in entries. The prize? Reiner Knizia's Beowulf - The Legend, published by Fantasy Flight Games. Along with that you also get a poster autographed by Reiner and artist John Howe, best known for his Tolkein work. That's a damned good prize, and it's well worth the email.

As we say in Amun-Re, free is good. Unless it's an all-farmer province in the third year of an epoch.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A trip to the Game Store and Game night - 1 October 2005

I haven't had the chance to drop by the local game store in over a month (but have dropped by game stores in two other countries - go figure). I was hoping that they'd have something new. Well, they did. Manila. At around US$60.

You have to be kidding. I know it's cool to have the name of your city on a nice looking boardgame, but $60? You'd think they were selling Traumfabrik - a German published, OOP game that's really really good.

I look around the store and there's nothing new other than the latest trivia games and Monopoly flavors. No one's bitten on the other Ravensburger Torres they had left (they marked it down 5% from the ~$60 I paid for the other copy). On the interesting side, they marked down slightly shelfworn copied of the RGG Bucket King (around $18) and the Eurogames Clippers with the much-maligned components (around $25). Bucket King isn't a game I'd keep in my collection, but it would make a nice gift to a casual gaming family, or one with kids. Clippers is intriguing, being perhaps the only Alan Moon game with no luck or randomness. There's the component issue that Alan himself was complaining about, and which Greg Scholesser panned. Still, some of the comments on the Geek say that the problems are solvable, and the game itself isn't bad.

I may go back for either or both of those sometime later this month. I'm pretty sure they'll sell out their Crainium before anyone else even picks up either of those Euros.


Game night had Traumfabrik returning to the table. This time, I had Noel Tiangco's modern english paste-ups on the tiles using weak sticker paper. I'm hoping that they won't do any permanent damage to the tiles. I tested them on the tile frames, leaving them stuck for close to a week before peeling them off. No problems.

Anyway, there were too many laugh out loud moments during the game. My first film had Samuel L. Jackson, Shaft, Mace Windu, Jules the Assassin... playing Peter Parker in Spider-Man. With Tim Burton at the helm (over $100 million at the box office). The most awful film of the night had Dana Carvey and Ben Stiller starring in Braveheart, with John Carpenter directing. Its box office take was as awful as that sounded ($30 million). The night's best film was Paramount's Raiders of the Lost Ark, raking in a cool $200 million at the box office, plus another $100 million after its Academy Award wins. That big film was powered by Tom Cruise and Halle Berry. My best film was the $120 million box office hit The Sixth Sense with Cameron Diaz and Toby Maguire. No, I don't know who saw dead people. Ask Ang Lee, he directed the thing.

Nix, who was heading Paramount, blew us away with $890 million in earnings at the end of all four sweeps. I came far behind in second place with $600 million. We agreed that Nix was able to time his forays into the market well, conserving resources and striking when the other four studios had depleted their finances. Traumfabrik is definitely not as light as its reputation portrays. While it's pretty simple at first blush, there's a lot going on in terms of timing, the composition of the lots, the closed economic system, and the way players try to complete their film projects. I'm sure we'll continue to play this every game night.

Next, we had a choice between playing a game new to the group (In the Shadow of the Emperor, Louis XIV, or Maharaja) or playing an old favorite. The old favorite won out so Puerto Rico returned to the table after an unusually lengthy absence.

Five player PR is not one of my favorite games. There's a noticeable lack of control, and the trading house timing can seriously whack you several times sending you to the back of the pack. This is exactly what happened to me, and I got locked out of the trading house for the first four trading cycles. Ouch. To catch up I did the only thing I could - craft repeatedly until the coffee boat (I had a coffee monopoly) cleared. From there the building timing was against me so I skipped the factory-harbor-wharf segment of the game and proceeded directly to the large buildings. Tala had the same idea. We each ended up with two of the big ones, while Nix was milking his factory/harbor setup on the boats. The game was very painful, as is usual for 5P PR, but the scores were close. Tala won, with myself and Nix right behind, a single point separating the first three places.

Next week: More Traumfabrik, and the Princes of Florence. It'll be a short night for me as I'm flying back to Singapore on Sunday morning. On the good side, I'll get to collect La Citta from Wilson and see what new stuff Damien has. Oh goody, more games, no increase in gaming hours. Sigh.