Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Second annual List of Shame: The Unplayed Games of 2014

Last year about this time, inspired by Chris "GamerChris" Norwood, I posted my "secret shame" - a list of unplayed games sitting on my shelves.  When I did that, I thought surely, I am now motivated to work my way down this list and play all these games - or pass them along to someone else who will.  Surely, in the next year, say, I will have played nearly all my games and the list will be shorter.

Well, not so much.  In the last year, I've added ten games to my collection that I haven't played yet.  On the other hand, of last year's list, I have since played four and got rid of six.  So this year's "list of shame" adds ten games and deletes ten.  I really haven't made any ground at all.

The bad news:
Games I've acquired in the last year but haven't played:

  • Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords - well, actually, this isn't my game, but a gift to my sons who haven't played it yet
  • Dixit - bought used at WBC last summer because my family saw it on "TableTop," and they like Apples to Apples, so I thought for sure they'd want to play this one
  • Junta - another used acquisition at WBC, picked up because I'd heard about it on a podcast and thought it sounded like a good social game with my group - but the rules seem kind of convoluted after the first read-through
  • For Sale - got this recently at a local game club charity auction because I'd heard good things about it on a number of podcasts, but just haven't got it to the table yet
  • Settlers of Catan: The Card Game - another charity auction acquisition, but this is the German edition, which means I need to download the English rules before I can learn it
  • New England - bought at PrezCon auction this year, but because it isn't a two-player game, my only real opportunity is with my after-work group, and we already have many games to play as it is.  I really need to make a point to learn the rules, talk it up, and bring it in one of these Tuesdays.
  • Yspahan - another charity auction pick-up, based on a strong Dice Hate Me recommendation as a 2011 Discovery of the Year Runner-up, but apparently the two-player rules are a variant on the normal 3-4 player rules, which I haven't tried out yet
  • Pit - first came to my attention when I was surveying games that had been around before Monopoly, have also heard good things on podcasts, picked up used at WBC, somehow never got this out for a group or casual game
  • VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game - very recently got this from the Kickstarter campaign.  I'm sure I'll play it soon.
  • Angry Dice - came with VivaJava Dice - same story

The good news:
Games from last year's list that I have played
  • Sparta, a two-player abstract that Kathy isn't so crazy about
  • Sequence, which has become a semi-regular for our afternoon game sessions
  • Viva Java, a great larger-group game
  • Acquire, which we played at a dinner party with friends and which also made an appearance at the PrezCon tournament
Games on last year's list that I've since passed along to other gamers via the PrezCon auction
  • Stock Market Guru
  • Top Secret
  • Alexander's Generals
  • Battle of Nations: Encirclement at Leipzig
  • Operation Grenade
  • Rivets
The old news:
Games that were on the list last year and I still haven't played:
  • Sushi Roll, a gift that my youngest received for Christmas
  • 007 Scene It?
  • James Ernst's Totally Renamed Spy Game
  • Beans, a card game with beans - really, no idea where this came from
  • Tripoley, which might actually have been my wife's before we got married
  • Cowboys, picked up because my sons had expressed an interest in Western-themed gaming
  • Here Come the Rebels, the second game in Avalon Hill's Great Campaigns of the Civil War series
  • Tech Bubble, a Worthington Games push-your-luck title
  • Aces and Eights, that Western theme again
  • Universe, picked up from a friend when I got a science-fiction RPG itch, along with...
  • Metamorphosis Alpha and
  • Traveller
  • Axis and Allies: Pacific
  • Name 5 
  • Square Shooters, a dice game where the faces of the dice represent playing cards
  • Sorry Revenge Card Game
  • Frag - skirmish game that I bought for my teenager at a Congress of Gamers bring-and-buy
  • Zombie Dice
  • Spearhead, which I picked up when I was on a micro-armor kick
  • Horse Foot Guns, a Phil Barker gunpowder-era miniatures rules set  
  • 30-second Mysteries, which I assumed my wife the mystery writer would like, along with ...
  • 221B Baker Street
  • Successors, the Avalon Hill game on the Wars of the Diadochi
  • High Frontier, Phil Eklund's 2010 ridiculously realistic space exploration game
  • Origins of World War II, which I played avidly as a teenager, then traded to a friend for PanzerBlitz
  • Masterpiece, the Parker Brothers art auction game, which my family played frequently as I recall
  • Stock Market Game, published by Whitman, which I really liked playing in junior high school
  • Senet
Okay, so this year, I really have to make a point to play some of these and get rid of the rest.  Games are not meant to gather dust!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

UnPub Mini Chantilly Recap

Last Saturday, Keith Ferguson ran an UnPub Mini event at Game Parlor Chantilly.  (I helped a little.)  We had about twelve designers and about 20 gamers playtesting over the course of the 11 hours that the store was open that day.  It was about as successful as we could have wanted.  For my part, I got to playtest "East India Company" and "Reactor Scram" one time each, as well as to play about four other games, though there were many more I wish I could have played.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

More designers for 21 June UnPub Mini in Chantilly, Virginia

As I mentioned in a post on May 8, there will be an UnPub Mini event this Saturday 21 June at
Game Parlor
13936 Metrotech Drive
Chantilly, VA 20151
We now have a full slate of eleven designers lined up, so we have plenty of opportunities for gamers to come and try out new game design prototypes and provide feedback to the designers.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Leaner, meaner "Company"

I've been giving some thought as to how to streamline "East India Company."  There are a few approaches I can take.  The scientist in me wants to make one change at a time and test each change independently.  I've heard at least one designer specifically recommend that approach so that you always know the effect of each specific design change.  But my gut tells me to identify the essential core elements of the game, eliminate everything else in one big purge, and then see if anything should be added back in, painstakingly, one element at a time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

East India Company returns to the shipyard

Last February I mentioned that I'd submitted a prototype of "East India Company" to a publisher at UnPub 4 to evaluate for publication.  I just heard back from them, and they
do not find it to be a good fit for our upcoming releases. At the end of the day, the play time and complexity does not create a conducive product for a broad success, as the trends are leading away from complex play and longer play times.
I can certainly accept that evaluation.  Game length has been a challenge with "EIC" since its inception, and it certainly is complex.  Given the nature of today's game market, I agree that its appeal as it currently stands would probably be somewhat narrow.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

Luck, skill, and research

Last week I opened a discussion on my effort to quantify game characteristics.  I had in mind that I would explore this question on my own, somewhat in a vacuum, based on my own experience and opinions, as something of an exercise to see what defensible conclusions I might reach.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thoughts on quantifying game characteristics

Gamers tend to characterize games in terms of luck vs. skill, replayability, lightness vs. depth, and so forth.  These qualitative assessments help us to evaluate what we might like or dislike about a game before we've played it ourselves, or help to consider which games might be appropriate for a specific social, tournament, or convention setting.  These characterizations also help in establishing design goals and parameters as well as assist publishers in determining which potential titles will fit within their product line.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reactor Scram: early playtesting

I have finally started working in earnest on a co-op idea I've had percolating in my mind for the last few weeks.  The theme is that the players are workers in a nuclear reactor plant whose maintenance has been neglected, until finally the bad day comes when everything seems to break at once.  The goal is to get the plant into a "safe condition" without melting down a core or irradiating any of the workers.

First prototype of "Reactor Scram"
I ran a couple of solo playtests.  I won one and lost one, which made me think that I've got the initial balance at least coarsely in the right neighborhood.  What surprised me was how quickly each game completed - roughly ten or fifteen minutes per game.  I usually have the opposite problem with the games I design - play times that run way too long.  Right now I've got a game that takes more time to explain than it does to play.  So I want to figure out some way of extending the gameplay as well as the "story arc" so that I'm not just "making it longer" for the sake of making it last.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Winter photos

A quick gallery of games played over the last three months:
Agent for one of the Lords of Waterdeep in the Jester's Court to recruit thieves...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 5: Finals

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Saturday of PrezCon was a wonderfully full day of gaming.  It started at 9:00 AM with a game of Power Grid (designer Friedemann Friese; artists Antonio Dessi, Lars-Arne "Maura" Kalusky, and Harald Lieske; publisher Rio Grande), which I love but really don't play well.  We played on the original map of Germany, and I started in the north, where I found myself immediately in competition with Henry Ho.  I think the two of us beat each other down pretty aggressively, stealing cheap connections and forcing each other to leap-frog one another in order to expand, so we both ended up finishing poorly.  James Henderson, against whom I'd also played Acquire earlier in the week, narrowly won our game over Joe Rudmin in second.  I placed third powering 12 cities.

Monday, March 24, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 4: Social gaming

Part of what I love about conventions is re-connecting with gaming friends as well as meeting new people.  This year at PrezCon, I got to meet in person Dan Patriss, whom I'd heard many times on the Geek All Stars podcast.  He was with Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games, and Friday night we got together with Stephanie Straw, T.C. Petty III, and Darrell Louder for a couple of late-night games.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 3: Pillars of the Earth final

As I mentioned in my previous post, I ran the Pillars of the Earth tournament at PrezCon again this year.  I had two heats totalling 14 different competitors in five games.  Four of the five qualifying winners showed up for the final:  Shane McBee, Philip Shea, Jeff Thornsen, and Tom Snyder.  I have really come to enjoy watching tournament games, because I get to see some real high-level play.  This year's final was no exception.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 2: Friday

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Continuing my recap of PrezCon from a couple of weeks ago, Friday turned out to be a long and eventful day.  I started with Saint Petersburg (designer Michael Tummelhofer alias Bernd Brunnhofer, artist Doris Matthaus, publisher Rio Grande), a game that I never get to play as much as I would like.  I finished third in a heat of four players - not surprising given the level of competition I typically find at PrezCon for this game.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 1: Thursday

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed four days at my favorite gaming convention, PrezCon.  There were several hitches this year, a few things that didn't go right, but nevertheless I had a great time.  The next several posts will share some highlights.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lorton Monopoly Tournament

By way of background, Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) is a local charity that looks after the basic needs and means to self-sufficiency of low-income individuals and families in our area.  In support of LCAC, the real estate agency Ron and Susan Associates sponsors an annual Monopoly tournament as a fund-raising event.  I had the opportunity to participate in Ron and Susan's Seventh Annual Monopoly Tournament last weekend at the Workhouse Arts Center, a converted prison facility that now houses an art gallery and studio spaces for local artists.  Ron Kowalski (of Ron and Susan Associates) worked for Hasbro at one time and is something of a Monopoly enthusiast.  The event was very well run, and the setting in an art gallery was very pleasant.  Lunch was catered by Glory Days.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Alesia

About three weeks ago, my friend Paul R. invited Grant G., his brother W.J., and myself to his house for a game of the classic Caesar: Alesia (designer Robert Bradley, publisher Avalon Hill).  This hex-and-counter wargame revisits the Gallic attempt to break the Roman seige of the fortress at Alesia in September 52 BC.  I'd read an English translation of De Bellis Gallicus by Julius Caesar, so I was somewhat familiar with the battle and its context.  The interesting aspect of the battle is that the Romans had formed a double ring of fortifications around Alesia - an inner ring to keep the occupants of Alesia from escaping, and an outer ring to defend the Romans from other Gauls attempting to break the seige.

Monday, February 3, 2014

UnPub 4 Part III: Sunday publishers

Publishers' Panel
Sunday of UnPub 4 opened with a pancake breakfast sponsored by Eagle and Gryphon Games and a panel discussion featuring eight publishers in a question-and-answer format.  UnPub convention director Darrell Louder moderated the panel.  Panelists included

Sunday, February 2, 2014

UnPub 4 Part II: Heartland Hauling and Ten-acre Farming

"Great Heartland Dice Game" with Tiffany Bahnsen
and Adam O'Brien (r.)
Great Heartland Dice Game
I was tremendously pleased to get to meet Jason Kotarski (Great Heartland Hauling Company) in person.  I got to playtest his dice-game spin-off, "Great Heartland Dice Game," with Shawn Purtell, Adam O'Brien, and Tiffany "Socially Inept Gamer" Bahnsen.  This was a fun variation on GHHC, kind of Yahtzee with cows.  Actually, there is an element of resource management, since having a gas reserve makes it possible to re-roll dice and score more effectively.  It's also possible to sell of extra dice to other players for gas.  The result is a clever little filler game that deserves a publisher's attention.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

UnPub 4 Part I: Pitching and playtesting

I spent Martin Luther King weekend at UnPub 4, the fourth annual unpublished games convention for designers in Magnolia, Delaware.

Friday night - designers dinner
I had the privilege of an invitation to a designers and publishers dinner the night before UnPub, which I attended with my friend and fellow designer Keith Ferguson ("Santa's Workshop").  It was so great to see so many other designers and publishers again, many of whom I hadn't seen since UnPub 3 last year.  UnPub founder John Moller passed the reins to Darrell Louder (designer of Compounded), who hosted the designer-publisher dinner and directed the UnPub 4 convention admirably, with the able assistance of his wife Lesley Louder, Stephanie Straw, and other volunteers.

Friday, January 10, 2014

An evening after work

A number of my friends typically get together after work almost every Tuesday for gaming at our local game store, Game Parlor Chantilly.  I don't typically make it as often as I like, but this week was a pleasant exception.

(c) Rio Grande Games.  Used by permission
I arrived early and met my good friend Glenn W., who happened to have a copy of Lost Cities (designer Reiner Knizia, artist Claus Stephan, publisher Rio Grande) in his car.  I'd played this once or twice at PrezCon years ago, so I was familiar enough with the rules to get reacquainted pretty quickly.  We jumped right in and played one hand while we waited for others to show up, and I think I won by a pretty narrow margin.  Most importantly, this re-exposure has rekindled my interest in picking this up as a candidate for Kathy and me to play during our frequent cocktail-hour games.  For some reason it had fallen fairly low on my wishlist, but now I really think it's a good option - not quite as brain-burning as Battle Line, but still a good two-player card game to try out.