Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, August 12, 2016

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

This summer we're headed to the North Carolina Outer Banks for a week at a beach house.  We just threw together a list of games to bring based partly on recent acquisitions, partly on old favorites, and partly on family stand-byes that we think we can get the normally reluctant sons to play.  Here's this year's packing list:
- Splendor
- Jaipur
- Dead of Winter
- Evolution: Climate
- Last Spike
- New Bedford
- Bang! Halo
- Survive: Escape from Atlantis
- Munchkin

- Qwirkle Cubes
- Pie Factory
- Diner
- Incan Gold
- PowerMage 54
- Love Letter
- Loot Letter
Past years' vacation packing lists:
2015 Bermuda cruise
2014 southwest Virginia
2011 West Virginia mountains

Friday, July 22, 2016

Can one house rule make an old game new again?

Replacing the dryer with one that was two inches wider led to having to move a shelf unit.  Which meant unloading all the old games from the shelves.  Which meant going through all the old games and deciding which to keep and which to dispose of.  Which meant rediscovering games that perhaps deserved a second look.  Which led to trying a 20-year-old game that I'd picked up at a PrezCon auction thinking my wife would like it but never actually played - 221B Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes and the Time Machine (designer Jay Moriarity, publisher John N. Hansen Co).

The game includes 20 different mysteries that appear to be actual historical cases (hence the loosely-applied "time machine" theme).  My wife and I played the first one, The Mystery of the Black Dahlia.  We read the opening story introduction and then raced among about 20 locations to uncover clues and determine the four elements of the crime - the killer, the motive, the weapon, and the victim's secret.  The first of us to solve the problem and then return to the "time machine" (the space in the center of the board) would win the game.

What I appreciated about this game over all other "deduction / crime-solving" games is that the game does not abstract the mystery among a set of discrete options with a process of elimination in the way that Clue, Alibi, and Mystery of the Abbey do.  All the elements require some degree of actual reasoning and inferring logical conclusions from available piecemeal facts as they emerge.  Even the opening story hints at which locations on the board might provide significant early clues.  There is a real tension in trying to tie the evidence together and make sense of it before the opponent does.

The only interaction among players is in the use of badges (locks, really) and keys.  Each player may hold at most one lock and one key, and starts with one of each.  Upon leaving a location, a player can leave a lock on the door, which requires an opponent to spend a key to enter the location.  More locks are available at the FBI Building (we're not in London any more) and keys at the Locksmith.  In a two-player game, this interaction doesn't amount to much, other than to slow down an opponent from discovering a valuable clue (or to bluff as to the significance of a location).  I can imagine locks and keys getting a little more activity with more players.

The weakness in the game is that like Clue, the game forces players to roll a die and move on a grid to get from one clue-revealing location to another.  A sequence of bad die rolls can leave a player with several consecutive unproductive turns. And the movement decision is not generally arbitrary.  Clue distribution among the locations appears to have at least some significance to the locations themselves.  Sometimes clues refer to other locations.  So there is some real reading between the lines when deciding where to go next.  Depending on die rolls becomes all the more bothersome when movement is so crucial to the process of solving the crime. This adherence to an obsolete mechanism would hold the game back significantly - if it were not for one fortunate aspect of the game board design.


Every location on the board is exactly six spaces from at least two other locations on the board.  That means that on a roll of six, a player can simply decide to which nearby location to move next and read the corresponding clue.  The simple and obvious solution to getting bogged down with die rolls between rooms is not to roll the die at all but allow players to move six spaces every turn.  Then area movement rather than roll-and-move governs the game (perhaps more in the manner of Mystery of the Abbey), and the board becomes a simple network of locations in which each move is a commitment toward one part of the board and away from another. 

One reviewer actually suggested this assignment of six spaces to every roll.  I'm convinced that it will speed up play and eliminate the caprice of dice luck.  Kathy and I are looking forward to our next play of this game sans dice.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kramer and Kiesling recommendations

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted my realization that I have no games in my collection that are designed by Wolfgang Kramer nor Michael Kiesling, arguably two of the biggest designer names of our time.  They collaborated to design such high-flyers as Tikal, Torres, and Maharaja.  Kramer also designed El Grande, Princes of Florence, and Colosseum.  So I solicited recommendations from Twitter followers, and here are the titles that came up:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Perspectives on Origins 2016 - Friday 17 June

Continued from Part 1, Thursday 16 June

East India Company
My primary purpose at Origins was to pitch "East India Company" to publishers.  At noon on Friday, my first appointment went well, but the publisher had issues with some of the liberties I'd taken with history in terms of which commodities were produced at which colonies.  I'd certainly made some "convenient assignments" in the interest of making the math work in the gameplay, but he seemed to think I'd gone too far and ought to revisit the historical basis of the game.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Perspectives on Origins 2016 - Thursday 16 Jun

Keith Ferguson and I drove to the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday 16 June.  Most of what I recorded at Origins manifested in the medium of tweets.  What follows are a few highlights, and as the opportunity arises, I may elaborate on some of them.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Dice, Dexterity, and Tactics: A One-play Review of "Barrage Battle"

The application of dexterity to combat resolution in modern game design appears to be an emerging phenomenon, the Western-themed Flick 'em Up the most notable example.  Raechel Mykytiuk and Matthew Kuehn bring a new innovation by blending dexterity with the card-character skirmish format of such games as Up Front and Summoner Wars in the fantasy-themed combat game Barrage Battle, currently on Kickstarter with a funding date of Friday June 24. 

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.

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?

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.