Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gaming in a hospital room - revisited

A little over four years ago, I wrote a couple of posts on what works and what doesn't when playing games in a hospital room or waiting room.  We find ourselves in a similar situation this week, although the medical circumstances are decidedly more serious.  All the same, it is helpful to revisit the principles that make for a good pasttime under such trying circumstances - portability, compactness, simplicity, humor, interruptibility, and brevity.  What follows is an amalgamation of highlights from the two posts:

September 14, 2011

What worked:  Pass the Pigs (designer David Moffatt [or Moffitt] of the original title Pig Mania, now available as Pass the Pigs from publisher Winning Moves) is great for cheering up a hospital patient for a number of reasons.  It is terrifically portable.  It requires very little space on which to play and no set-up to speak of.  It requires little mental and physical effort to take one's turn.  It's good for a laugh.  The game can be interrupted easily without consequence.  It finishes quickly.  It lends itself easily to a re-match if "the pigs are against you" in the first round.

We also brought Uno, which, if we'd played it, I think might have worked almost as well.  There's a little more difficulty in sitting up in bed and holding a hand of cards, depending on the circumstances (like an IV or an awkward bed configuration).  But again, Uno doesn't require a lot of thought or effort, it's good for a laugh, and it interrupts easily.

January 28, 2012

I had the occasion this week to while away time in similar circumstances, and we settled on Monopoly Express (designers Garrett Donner and Michael S. Steer, publisher Hasbro) as a not-bad alternative when conditions don't allow the kind of space that board and card games typically require.

Monopoly Express
photo Hasbro 2007
First published in 1991 as Don't Go to Jail, the dice game Monopoly Express was re-released in 2007 in a round plastic container that is rather difficult to open.  This inconvenience is a blessing in disguise, because it allows ME to be thrown into a bag and taken anywhere without concern for lost pieces.  The container also serves as a dice tray, and it was this feature that made the game work so well in a surgery waiting room.  My wife and I were able to play this game on the seat between us without worrying about pieces rolling onto the floor.

Monopoly Express board
photo posted to boardgamegeek.com
by Chris Blakely
The "board" is a round plastic disc with recesses for placing dice to score points.  The game itself is a "push your luck" game along the lines of Pass the Pigs, $GREED, or Can't Stop.  Three dice have only "Go to Jail" policemen, "Go" green arrows, or blank faces.  Seven other dice have colors and denominations on each face that correspond roughly to familiar properties on a Monopoly board.  A player's turn consists of rolling the dice, putting any policemen on the board, and then also placing on the board a combination of colored denominations that offers the best prospects for scoring points.  Completed sets are worth more points than the sum of individual dice and also offer the opportunity to add the "house/hotel" die to the mix on the next roll; houses and hotels add greatly to the score.  A player can re-roll remaining dice or stop at any time and score the results of the turn, but if a roll turns up the third policeman, then the player scores nothing that turn (like a "pig out" in PtP).

The value in this game isn't the twist on the push-your-luck format, and certainly not its very small addition to the deluge of Monopoly titles in the world.  Its real value is its extreme portability and quick play.  This week it got more action than PtP because it doesn't even need a flat playing surface.  At a time when we all needed a little cheering up, ME helped pass the time in a pleasant, undemanding way.

This week

We now have a second game in the "Express" series - Clue Express - which I'll be bringing back to the hospital, assuming we have the inclination to play a game under the circumstances.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Games for a one-armed mother-in-law

My mother-in-law was in a rather severe car accident a few weeks ago.  She is home from the hospital and recovering from surgery to her elbow, arm, and hand.  We plan to visit soon, but we are faced with a dilemma:  What three-player games are appropriate when one player can't easily hold a hand of cards and really only has use of one hand?

Sure, we could contrive a card holder or other contraption to facilitate a card game (like one of her favorites, Citadels).  Sure, we could just have her look at her cards with one hand and set them down and pick one out to play it.  But we'd really rather just play games that don't require any accommodation at all - games that don't play any differently when a player only has the use of one arm.

I hunted through our collection and came up with the following list of options that are suitable to my m-i-l's level of play and appropriate for three players:
  • Garden Dice:  Allowing for rolling dice in a dice tower one-handed - especially since she would only have to roll them once per turn - I think she would enjoy this pleasantly themed, challenging but not overwhelming game.
  • Forbidden Island:  Since we play with cards face up on the table, there's no hand to hold, and as a co-op, it makes a fun family option.
  • Maori:  I was surprised when my wife suggested this one, because I didn't think she liked it very much, but this clever tile game is appealing in both appearance and gameplay.
  • Carcassonne:  Playing the tile you draw means there's no hand of tiles from which to choose, which makes this neo-classic a perfect option.
  • Machi Koro:  It has a similar feel of gameplay to Settlers of Catan, which the m-i-l likes, but with no hand of trading cards to hold on to.
  • Ingenious:  She likes this Reiner Knizia abstract, and the tiles are propped up in a Scrabble-like tile rack, so this could work.
  • Camel Cup:  We seem to remember that she has played this race-betting game before and enjoyed it.
  • Last Spike:  This recent Mensa Mind Games winner is a new favorite with us, and the tiles stand up of their own accord.  Come to think of it, Scrabble tile racks might make this one even easier to manage.
There might be a few others, but I think our packing list will come from these eight options, all of which are good games, and all accessible in every way that matters.

Friday, April 15, 2016

UnPub 6: Adjustments to "East India Company"

"East India Company" demo at PrezCon 2016:
(l. to r.) Darrell Louder, T.C. Petty III, Paul O.,
Matthew O'Malley, Jessica Wade
Photo by Chris Kirkman
I had demonstrated "East India Company" to a publisher at PrezCon last February, and came away realizing that the action cards I had added since UnPub 5 last year still needed some balancing.  I was also dissatisfied by the amount of down-time I observed (although the players hadn't complained about it).  In anticipation of UnPub 6, I made three significant changes:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ninja Countdown: A one-play review of San Ni Ichi

In the quintessential neo-tradition of first-time game designer/publishers, Ironmark Games has successfully crowd-funded and released debut designer Mike Sette's rather fascinating little trick-taking game with a Ninja martial arts theme.  San, Ni, Ichi, whose title translates from Japanese as "Three, Two, One," features simultaneous card play with a rock-paper-scissors resolution mechanic.

Friday, March 4, 2016

PrezCon 2016: Pillars of the Earth final

(c) Mayfair Games
Used by permission

I ran the tournament for Pillars of the Earth (designers Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler, artists Michael Menzel, Anke Pohl, and Thilo Rick; publisher Mayfair) at PrezCon again this year.  This worker placement game is based thematically on the Ken Follett novel of the same name.  Players compete to contribute the most to the construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral.  They have at their disposal a team of unskilled workers for collecting sand, wood, and stone, and for working in the wool mill for money.  Players can pay or recruit a team of up to five skilled craftsmen to use those raw materials to contribute to the cathedral's construction.  Metal is also available but more difficult to come by.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift Meta-guide

Plenty of people have plenty of gift ideas for the holidays, so rather than compile my own list to add to the rest, I've assembled my second annual collection of holiday gift guides with recommendations from all over the blogosphere.  At the end, I'll highlight the most frequently recommended games from all these lists.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Controversial themes

This week I happened across an old State of Games podcast in which Chris Kirkman, Nat Levan, and the Dice Hate Me crew discussed the potential backlash from Nat's whaling-themed game, New Bedford.  The discussion addressed why people might have difficulty with a game based on hunting and killing whales.  For my part, I'm very fond of the game, and I think its historical setting and the chit-pull mechanic that models the depletion of the whale population lend the proper respect to the topic.  In short, it's not a controversial theme for me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Boardgames in the Backyard 2015

Today is probably the last pleasant day in northern Virginia for a while - perhaps our final opportunity for a boardgame in the backyard this year.  Here's a reflection on games we played out back this season.

19 June - Mr. Jack, a terrific deductive duel

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bachelor weekend

My wife is at a writers' conference in North Carolina this weekend, which means it's just us guys in my house - my 19- and 14-year-old sons and me.  I'm thinking Friday night is Star Wars X-wing, with the 19-year-old as Boba Fett in the Slave I against the 14-year-old and me flying X-wing and Z-95s against him.  Two against one, but we're not afraid.  [Update:  We did indeed play X-wing, although I flew a Y-wing rather than Z-95s.  There was no escape for Boba Fett this time, as a proton torpedo from my pursuing Y-wing delivered the fatal blow, even as he deployed a mine in my path.]

Friday, September 25, 2015

Kickstarters that should have funded

The proliferation of boardgames on Kickstarter is no secret.  In preparing the Dice Tower News Kickstarter report, week in and week out, I find countless boardgames and card games that don't fund.  Many fail to fund for understandable reasons - many never coming close - but from time to time a campaign that seems to have everything going for it somehow falls short of the mark, goes unfunded, and has to return to the drawing board.  I thought it would be interesting to reflect on a few of those "projects that should have funded" as cautionary tales that remind us that nothing on Kickstarter is a sure thing - and perhaps to begin to understand why.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fourth annual-ish "What to pack for a vacation"

Each summer I'm in charge of deciding which boardgames to take on family summer vacation.  The last time I looked at this question was August last year.  This year we are going on our first cruise, so packing space is a premium (and perhaps table space as well). My first thought for games that are easy to pack are card games, and then I brainstormed a few other ideas.  I shopped the list around my family and dropped the ones they weren't interested in.  We settled on the following:

Friday, August 14, 2015

WBC 2015

Keith Ferguson and I drove up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania last Thursday for our annual pilgrimage to the World Boardgaming Championships.

Friday, July 24, 2015

UnPub 5 Saturday - playtesting other prototypes

[Apparently I'd written this entry last February after UnPub 5 but never posted it.  Then this evening I accidentally published it.  For better or for worse, here it is.]

After two playtest sessions of "East India Company," it was time for me to make the rounds at UnPub 5.  The great thing about a convention like UnPub is the people you meet.  I spent a good part of the weekend chatting with Bruce and Mike of The Party Gamecast and playing a few games with them, including Red 7 and Marcus Ross's Discount Salmon (which was fun though not my style of card game).  I had the opportunity to talk with Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games, Andy Looney of Looney Labs, Luke Peterschmidt of Fun to 11 Games, Mike Lee of Panda Game Manufacturing, and Diamonds designer Mike Fitzgerald.  That is what a convention experience is all about.  But I also played some games:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Importance of theme in a cooperative game

Future Wolfie of iSlayTheDragon recently reviewed Samurai Spirit (designer Antoine Bauza, artist Victor P. Corbella, publisher FunForge).  It seems like an interesting game - I've got it on my wishlist - but a couple of sentences in Future Wolfie's review jumped out at me:
In a way it’s like a cooperative version of Blackjack, with much better art and a few special powers thrown in the mix. But that’s what it really boils down to in a sense: trying to hit a maximum total card value without going over.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Enchanted Grounds

I was on business travel again this week, so I did a little research beforehand and found that there is a boardgame cafe in Denver called Enchanted Grounds.  Moreover, on Monday night they were hosting Star Wars X-wing, so I made a point of heading over there after work.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Star Wars X-wing family shoot-'em-up


Last week my oldest son was in town to visit, and I was glad to get to the table Star Wars: X-wing (designers Steven Kimball, James Kniffen, Corey Konieczka, Jason Little, Brady Sadler, and Adam Sadler; publisher Fantasy Flight Games) for the first time since I acquired it last December with a Christmas gift card.  My whole family enjoys Star Wars, so I was optimistic that I could get them interested in playing.  I’d supplemented the base game with Slave I and two Z-95 Headhunters, and my wife gave me a Y-wing for my birthday, so we had enough ships for all five of us. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

UnPub Mini Fredericksburg


Saturday Jarrett Melville organized an UnPub Mini event at The Game Vault in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  This event was a nice informal gathering of game designers and playtesters at a friendly local game store that turned into a solid success.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Worker placement inventory

Part of Kathy's killer combination
This afternoon my wife Kathy just wanted to play a worker placement game.  We settled on our old favorite Agricola (designer Uwe Rosenberg, artist Klemens Franz, publisher Z-Man).  We played with the 'K' Deck, which we haven't done in a while.  She had a killer combination of Plowman, Market Woman, and Greenhouse, which together meant she was swimming in grain and vegetables by the end of the game. She also had two big pastures and a lot of animals at the end, plus a large wooden hut.  My big points came from major improvements that included the well and the stone oven, a stone hut, and a lot of grain thanks to Acreage.  But my unused spaces and neglect of animals meant that she won the game, 40 to 31. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Shep's Games

Work has been crazy lately.  It interferes with my gaming at home, playing with my friends after work, my weekend gaming opportunities, my podcasting, and my blogging.  I spent the last week on business travel in Denver, Colorado, and I was determined to find some way to get some gaming contact after-hours.  A little internet searching turned up Shep's Games, and on blind faith I showed up there at about 6:00 pm last Thursday hoping to find some open gaming.

Monday, February 16, 2015

UnPub 5 Saturday - East India Company

Saturday 7 February was the first full day of UnPub 5, the unpublished game prototype playtesting convention that has grown dramatically in the last four years.  I split a Tag Table with Tony Miller, and by mutual agreement, I took the table first on Saturday.  I was glad to do so because I really wanted Lesley Louder to get a chance to play "East India Company" before she had to leave the convention early.  When Lesley's husband Darrell, the convention director, heard that I was setting up a game of "EIC," he had Richard Launius (Arkham Horror, Elder Sign) join us.  Rob Weaver made our fourth.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

UnPub 5: Friday

Keith Ferguson and I are at UnPub 5, presented by Ad Magic at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland.  Darrell Louder has really cranked up the gain on UnPub this year, with a terrific new location and a slate of activities for the pre-convention Designer Day, which just concluded Friday night.