Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

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.
In that brief characterization, the concept of the game as a Blackjack variant completely undermined the premise of the game as a representation of fellow Samurais defending a village from invaders.  From that point forward, Samurai Spirit was a card game with art, rather than an adventure conflict using cards as a participation medium.  The theme became secondary.  Moreover, as a co-operative exercise, its appeal as a game diminished drastically for me.

This perspective illustrated to me that an easily abstracted (i.e. weakly themed) co-op game loses its appeal.  The corollary follows that strong theme is more important to motivate co-op gameplay than it is to motivate competitive gameplay.

A few examples and counterexamples might help to explore this thesis.  Some of the most successful co-operative games thrive on their themes.   
Besides Samurai Spirit, a couple of other interesting counterexamples illustrate the premise that weakly themed co-op games don't hold up:
The illusion of anything interesting going on dropped off very fast. Draw a card, see how many hit points you lose. Roll to hit. Draw a card, see how many hit points you lose. Roll to hit. Over and over.
So, if strong theme is so important to enjoyment of a co-op game, why are abstract competitive games still successful and engaging?  I'd hypothesize that competitive games derive their excitement from the challenge of the competition itself.  An abstract game provides a ruleset and framework for that competition; theme is secondary to the gameplay.  A co-op, on the other hand, poses the players against a game system rather than against each other.  It may be that puzzle-solving in a co-op format doesn't offer compelling competitive engagement, so a strong theme is necessary for players to lose themselves in the fantasy of danger or a narrative story arc. 

This observation helps me prioritize the thematic basis for "Reactor Scram," the co-op that I'm currently working on.  Fortunately, early feedback at UnPub playtesting events suggests that players really do feel as though they are racing to prevent a nuclear disaster.  I want to make sure that I maintain that thematic linkage as I continue to polish the gameplay mechanics.

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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Boardgame news of the week: Exploding Kittens

Okay, stop the presses.  This is the news item that we'll be talking about all year.  Out of nowhere, a card game has taken Kickstarter by storm and attracted (at this writing) over 106,000 backers to drop a modest $20 to $35 each - totaling over $4.1 million - on what amounts to a wacky-themed push-your-luck game - Exploding Kittens (designed and published by Matthew InmanElan Lee, and Shane Small).  It has already broken crowdfunding records for board and card games and shows no sign of slowing.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thinking ahead

Our first game of Legacy: Gears
of Time
My beautiful wife Kathy gave me a copy of Legacy: Gears of Time (designer Ben Harkins, publisher Floodgate Games) for Christmas.  She trounced me in our first game, and last night I eked out a one-point victory in our second game.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Statistical review of seasonal effects on Kickstarter funding

Lately, as I've been compiling notes each week for the Kickstarter report on the Dice Tower News podcast, I've come to notice an evident seasonal pattern:  fewer boardgame projects tend to fund on Kickstarter this time of year.  In recent weeks, the number of projects likely to fund has been particularly low.  Do longer-term statistics bear out my recent observations?

Friday, December 12, 2014

The game time conundrum revisited

A couple of years ago, I looked over my game collection and sighed at the number of games that hadn't seen the attention they deserved.  I wrote a post listing games that I wanted to spend more time on, even as I realized that as long as leisure time is limited and the game collection is big, there will always be neglected games on my shelves.  It's a topic worth revisiting from time to time - both because it's interesting to see how the list has changed (and how it hasn't) and because it's helpful to look at the collection with fresh eyes and think about resurrecting a few titles that might bear dusting off and playing again.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday gift meta-guide

The reader looking for boardgame gift ideas for the upcoming holidays may find recommendations from an overwhelming variety of sources.  Rather than add to the noise, I thought I would help organize it with my own meta-guide of boardgame holiday gift guides.  What follows is a consolidated list of sources, including the categories for which they provide recommendations, as well as a summary of highlights at the end.  I hope the reader finds this meta-guide helpful.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A look back at hip-pocket wargames

I just saw the documentary Game On: The World Boardgaming Championships, by Alex Dunbar of Wind-up Films, which featured (among other things) the progress of a young competitor in the Ace of Aces tournament.  And just yesterday, my friend Paul R. just contacted me, now that we are working in the same building, about getting together for a game (which we haven't done in far too long).  It occurred to me that with proper planning, we could play a wargame on a lunch break.  Both of those events reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago on what I called "hip-pocket wargames" - those that you could pull out and play on relatively short notice.  So what follows is a re-post of that blog entry, which might be new for some of my more recent followers.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Most highly-rated out-of-print games

I was listening to The Geek All-stars Episode 87, in which Dan Patriss and his band of merry geeks list their Top 11 Stefan Feld designs, and someone mentioned in passing that a few of these well-regarded games are relatively unknown by game hobby newcomers because they have been out of print for some time.  That got me to thinking about how many excellent games are difficult or impossible to obtain because no publisher is printing them.  Hence the inspiration for today's post - a survey of the most highly-rated out-of-print games on boardgamegeek.com.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Top ten games that I play with my wife

Quite some time ago, Chris Norwood posted a list of his top ten games that he plays with his wife.  That list in turn was inspired by The Dice Tower podcast Episode 189, in which Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer shared their own top ten games that they play with their wives.  Those lists are both several years old, but the topic is timeless, so I thought I'd confer with my wife Kathy so that we could compile our own list.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Spring and summer photos

As October begins and fall sets in, I thought I would look back at some of games I got to play over the last six months.

My friend Grant G. gave us Goa for Christmas, and Kathy and I really like this neo-classic Euro.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 3: Who else has asked this question?

I'm certainly not the first to question the disproportion of men to women in the boardgaming hobby.  Here are just a few recent efforts (and one not-so-recent) to shed light on the question in one form or another.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 2: Who are the women that design games?

Last week I started to consider the question about why it seemed that there were so few female game designers.  But that post admittedly begs the question:  Is it actually true that game designers are disproportionately male, or is it just that male designers are simply better known?  I decided to actively identify women designers and some of the games they've designed to see if I could validate the notion that they are rare - or if not, to investigate why they are not as well known as male designers.