Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

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.

A fairly lively clientele filled about a dozen tables, and an energetic atmosphere filled the coffee shop, almost like a gaming convention.  Several tables hosted role-playing games, one had two players setting up The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and a number of tables toward the back had a Magic: The Gathering tournament in progress.  The table that caught my attention held a Star Wars X-wing battle in progress with three X-wing fighters against a VT-49 Decimator and a TIE Interceptor.  I had a nice chat with the guys playing the game, who were very friendly but clearly experienced players. 

I looked around the store, and was immediately struck by the well-organized presentation of every game in the inventory.  Games were grouped thematically, or by genre, or by franchise - in all cases clearly assembled in a way to appeal to people who like games of a certain type by associating similar games together.  Displays were neat, full, and well-lit.  I was really impressed; this was by far the most appealing, attractive game store I have ever visited in my life.

The Wizard's Tower expansion to Castle Panic very nearly came home with me, but the thought of squeezing a game into my luggage for the flight back made me put it back on the shelf. 

I would be remiss to neglect mentioning the tremendous variety of coffees and teas that are available; the establishment is a coffee house, after all.  But I must admit that I was preoccupied with the boardgame side of the business, so I didn't even stop for a cup of decaf.

The young man and woman behind the counter happily answered my questions about their boardgame cafe.  They've been in business for about eight years and have plans to expand to a second store in Littleton.  They are extraordinarily friendly and really made me feel welcome. 

Although I didn't end up playing anything during my visit, I found the atmosphere entirely welcoming and a lot of fun.  I look forward to visiting Enchanted Grounds the next time I'm in town, and I would encourage any gamer to make a point of stopping by if they should happen to find themselves in the Denver area.

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. 

I decided each side should have 90 points – 45 for each of the two Imperial players and 30 for each of the three rebel players.  My son Liam has always been a huge fan of Boba Fett, so he took the Slave I with that pilot and several upgrades, including an ion cannon and a disruptor mine.  He partnered with my wife, who took the TIE fighters, also heavily upgraded.  The rebel squadron they faced consisted of my sons Patrick, with the Y-wing, and Corey, with the two Z-95s, and myself as Biggs in the X-wing.

The Slave I turned out to be something of a tank in this fight.  Early on, the X- and Y-wing and one of the Z-95s achieved target lock on the Slave I, and we unleashed a volley of proton torpedoes.  We reduced its shields somewhat but didn’t do any real damage.  My X-wing flew past the Slave I and performed a Koiogran maneuver to get into a tail chase on it.  Mindful of his mine, I tried to maintain my distance while chipping away at Slave I’s defenses.  Then came the tactical maneuver worthy of Boba Fett: Liam performed a Koiogran to end up nose-to-nose with the X-wing.  He fired his ion cannon at point-blank range, with the result that the X-wing would travel straight and slow on the next turn.  By this point, its shields were gone and it had already sustained damage.  On the next turn, the Slave I glided past the unmaneuverable X-wing and dropped a mine in its path.  The resultant explosion blew Biggs into oblivion.

My family picked up on the rules of the game fairly quickly.  One source of confusion stemmed from the symmetric appearance of the TIE fighter model.  At one point, Kathy plotted her maneuver thinking that her fighter was facing in one direction when in fact it was facing the other.  The result was that she flew away from the action and had to take several turns to get back in the fight.  The result wasn’t devastating, however.  By that point, she had destroyed one Z-95 and her other TIE was in pursuit of the other.  Before long, the Empire made short work of the rest of the rebel squadron and won the game.

We all really enjoyed this game, and the best part is that we have a new favorite for family game night.

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.

The Game Vault is a spacious gaming location with a clear emphasis on Warhammer 40K, Magic: The Gathering, and Flames of War.  They carry a respectable board game selection and have plenty of tables suitable for the genre, so the site was well-suited to our playtesting with no mutual interference with the miniatures gamers that filtered into the store over the course of the day.

East India Company
Keith Ferguson and I arrived first, and we were presently joined by Jarrett as well as the Dr. Wictz design team of Austin Smokowicz and Aaron Honsowetz.  A fellow named Anthony who was waiting for a WH40K partner agreed to join us as well, and we launched into our first game of the day, "East India Company."  This was my first playtest with a new set of action cards that I'd added for historical flavor and player interaction.  The cards find their inspiration in John Keay's The Honourable Company, the history of the East India Company that I'm reading.

It seemed that the temptation to buy and play action cards was strong, as several players bought a card almost every turn.  My intent is that the decision to purchase a card isn't automatic but is something of a calculated opportunity for an advantage that may or may not pan out.  As a result of card play, France (Aaron) opened the Japanese silver market and the Dutch (Anthony) opened the Levant overland trade route, while interlopers absconded with significant profits from the English (Jarrett) and Spanish (Keith) trade in India.  The Spanish also armed their ships, which protected them from pirates (though too late for an early loss of silver to Barbary pirates in West Africa).  In the end, the Spanish won, but without showing a profit.  All other players ended up losing money over the course of the game, a consequence possibly of over-investing in action cards (of which the Spanish bought only two).  Interestingly, France adopted a deliberate bankruptcy strategy, which proved viable since French captains  could sell goods oversees to the Levant traders without showing their deadbeat faces in European ports.  All the same, France finished fourth out of five, suggesting that if borrowing-and-fleeing is a legitimate strategy, it still needs work.

French attempt to corner the silver market
Photo by Austin Smokowicz

All in all, I was very pleased with the playtest of the new cards.  I have some refining to do, but I'm mostly gratified that the cards didn't break or prolong the game.  Also, I keep getting the comment that the game ends too quickly, but I'm reluctant to prolong the game after all my effort to contain the duration.  So I'll take that comment under advisement.  The bottom line is that I was very happy with the playtest session and got some good notes.

Santa's Workshop
Anthony moved on to his WH40K game, and we were joined by Greg, who had been to UnPub 5 and was interested in trying out some games that he had missed in Baltimore.  So we sat down for a round of Keith Ferguson's "Santa's Workshop," a holiday-themed worker-placement game that I think is very tight.  Players run teams of elves in Santa's workshop and seek to outdo each other for Santa's approval by fulfilling the most Christmas wish letters and feeding the reindeer.  During the drive down, Keith expressed concern about a runaway winner problem that came out in a recent playtest relating to the use of plastic as a substitute material in toy manufacture.  He made some adjustments, and I decided I'd test whether the "plastic strategy" was still degenerate.

Keith had made some other changes since my last play of the game.  The direct conversion of coal to victory points (putting coal in stockings of naughty children) had been over-powered in the previous version; Keith had simplified and toned down the mechanic in a way that turned out to be very understated in this session.  My plastic strategy worked at first, and I jumped to an early lead at Santa's first inspection with nine bonus points for having the most gifts completed.  Over the game, nearly all my toys were constructed entirely with plastic, and I never needed additional coal to purchase higher-quality materials.  The strategy is limited, however, by the number of plastic pieces that a worker can take in a round, and that limitation properly throttled the effectiveness of a single-minded strategy.  I ended up finishing third, suggesting that plastic is a viable scoring method but not sufficient all by itself for a winning game.  Greg won with a focus on many smaller toys and a big bonus at Santa's final inspection.

As a game, I think "SW" is ready to go to a publisher.  Keith acknowledges, however, that his theme is his biggest obstacle to publisher acceptance.  Gamers who would appreciate the worker-placement depth would overlook it for the theme, whereas families expecting a light, kid-friendly family game featuring Santa's elves would be overwhelmed and disappointed by something too complex.  He needs to reconcile the game he wants to make with the theme that inspired it and come to terms with what will be necessary to make the game a reality.  I really hope he does; I've enjoyed it every time I've played it, and this is a game that should be published.

Fairies tiptoe past light sleepers and cats
Photo by Austin Smokowicz
Tooth Fairy Frenzy
Jarrett almost didn't bring out his game, but we managed to coax him into showing us "Tooth Fairy Frenzy," a light but tactically interesting game in which players are fairies competing to get the most teeth from a five-by-five array of sleeping children.  Fairies start with fairy dust, some of which they must convert to coins to leave under children's pillows for each tooth.  The decision of how much dust to convert to coins before entering the mortal realm is the heart of the decision-making in this game.  Fairies enter the array of children's bedrooms and must spend fairy dust to move from room to room to avoid waking the children while replacing teeth with coins.  Obstacles include light sleepers (who may wake easily), heavy sleepers (who wrap themselves around their pillows and make it difficult to get to the teeth), cats (self-explanatory), and books of fairy tales (which fairies can not resist stopping to read).  When fairies don't have sufficient fairy dust to move or coins to leave for teeth, they must jump *poof* from the mortal realm back to fairy land, where they can obtain more fairy dust and prepare for their next tooth-hunting venture. Once all the teeth have been taken, the fairy with the most teeth wins.  Excess fairy dust is the tie-breaker.

I was pleasantly surprised at the tactical nuances of this game.  Teeth with crowns are worth double and so are the focus of most fairies as they accumulate fairy dust and venture further into the mortal realm.  Fairies must plan their moves to the extent that they can with the risk that other fairies may undermine their plans by getting there first.  There is also an interesting mechanic by which fairies can slow one another down by moving nearby and forcing them to spend more fairy dust to leave children's bedrooms.  In our game I obtained a sleeping mask, which made it easier for me to traverse the bedrooms of light sleepers without waking them.  I ended up tied for first with Aaron, who won the tie-breaker because he had a huge stockpile of fairy dust at the end of the game.

Jarrett has a surprisingly good game here, and I would love to see it get to print.  We all agreed that it is a nice, accessible, short game with an appealing theme that any number of small publishers should be happy to consider.

Keith, Paul, Austin, Jarett, and Greg playing "Hoboken"
Photo by Aaron Honsowetz

I played Dr. Wictz's "Hoboken" once before, at UnPub 5, and really liked it.  This mutual investment game requires players to cooperate in pooling resources by buying and selling shares in hotels for which they hold building permits.  Rather like Chicago Express, players end up with portfolios of shares of companies that pay dividends, and the most successful investor is the one who most cost-effectively generates income.  An interesting twist to "Hoboken" is that income arrives in the form of blocks of hotel guests - low-paying vacation families, mid-paying business travelers, and high-paying rock stars and corporate executives.  Potential customers start at one end of the strip and stop at the first hotel that will accept them.  There is a push-your-luck element in which the majority shareholder of each hotel decides to accept the guests or pass them along to the next hotel in anticipation of a better-paying client.  The risk is that bedbugs may infest a vacant hotel before a paying client is accepted, meaning that the hotel receives no income for that round.  Meanwhile, a hurricane approaches the New Jersey shore, threatening to end the game but promising an insurance payment to shareholders at the end.

I love games that involve valuation and speculation, and "Hoboken" fires on all those cylinders.  The negotiation phase is a lot of fun, almost a stock-trading floor vibe of people trying to buy and sell shares in each other's hotels before the timer runs out.  Early on, Keith somehow managed to have a portfolio strictly larger than mine (meaning that he matched me share for share, plus had an extra at one hotel), which meant that his income would always be larger than mine until I changed the situation.  I tried to paint Keith as the guy that the other three of us had to beat ... until we all noticed at mid-game that Greg was majority shareholder at almost half the hotels on the strip.  Toward the end, shares were trading pretty heavily, but when the dust cleared, I won by a very narrow margin.

"Hoboken" is probably much more marketable than the other Dr. Wictz design, "Post Position," on which I've written so much.  "Hoboken" might still need some tweaking, and they are collecting metrics on their playtest sessions to evaluate what adjustments to make.  I sensed that the counter mix among bed bugs, families, business travelers, and rock stars made for very little decision-making as to accepting or passing guests.  All in all, I think they'll have a publishable game within the year if they can identify the right tweaks that the game needs.

Keith and I agreed that we had a really solid playtest afternoon, and we were grateful to Jarrett for putting the event together.  I expect that after the summer conventions, we'll look at another opportunity to get an UnPub mini event set up.

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. 

Kathy's initial proposal, "Let's just play a worker placement game," prompted me to go back and see just what games we have that might have scratched that itch.  An advanced search on boardgamegeek made this question easy to answer.  These are listed in the order that I would most prefer to play:

We are fond of every one of these games.  The only caveat might be that Belfort doesn't seem to work well for just two players.  

The next obvious question is, what worker placement game would I want to get next?  Here's what I've got on my wishlist that I've specifically called out for the worker placement mechanic:
  • The Manhattan Project
  • Myrmes
  • Pret-a-Porter
  • Snowdonia
  • Carson City
  • Caverna: The Cave Farmers
  • Fields of Arle
  • Sun, Sea & Sand
  • Praetor
  • Russian Railroads
No doubt I've missed more than a few, but there are, you know, so many games and so little time.

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.

Shep's Games is a nice little FLGS run by a young couple who opened the business about a year and a half ago.  They don't have a lot of inventory on the shelves, but it is clearly a store run by gamers for gamers.  The games that they do have are well-selected.  Many are highlighted with a little sign on the shelf that say, "As seen on Geek and Sundry's Table Top."  They also have a substantial collection of Dungeons and Dragons books and Magic: The Gathering cards, the typical series that might reasonably help keep a store in business.  The back half of the room has a few tables with a fairly substantial open gaming library of options to "try before you buy."

Quality, if not quantity, on the
shelves at Shep's Games
Shep said that Thursdays were usually busy, but at the time I walked in, there was only a group of four playing Settlers of Catan.  I sat down to watch, hoping that they would finish early enough that I might get a chance to play something with them afterward.  It turned out that Shep was sponsoring a boardgame league in which regulars would come and play games to accumulate points on a weekly basis, and this Settlers game was an event in that league system.

One other person came into the store shortly after I sat down to watch, but she sat at another table, ate her dinner, and did homework the entire time I was there, so my hopes to start a separate two-player game didn't pan out.  I chatted with Shep and his partner for a while, and went back to watch what turned out to be a longer-than-average Settlers game.  The session finally ended around 7:30, but unfortunately closing time was 8:00, and no one expressed any interest in playing a filler for the remaining half-hour, despite such candidates like 7 Wonders and Splendor in the open gaming library.  A few more people came into the store late, looked at games on the shelves, and chatted with the people who had finished the Settlers game, but it became clear that I wasn't going to get to play.

I got up to leave, and one woman said, "Did you enjoy watching us play?" or something like that.  I said I did, and took my leave.  It occurred to me on my way out that that was only the second time that anyone other than Shep had spoken to me the entire evening.  The first time was when I asked if I could watch, and one of them said, "Sure."  Other than that, I might have been invisible for all the interaction I had with anyone at the table.

Maybe it was my personality, but it occurred to me also that I was still wearing my tie and overcoat from when I had been at work.  I hadn't gone back to the hotel room to change because I had worked so late and because I was so interested in getting to the game store and not missing any action.  As I was leaving, one of the customers actually said, "Goodnight, sir."  So I realized that these younger people in their very casual setting might have been a little put off by my business attire.  At Game Parlor Chantilly, where I used to play after work, it is not uncommon for government contractors and others to show up in a tie, or at least in some kind of business casual.  I didn't think about it at the time, but perhaps I looked like didn't belong there at Shep's on Thursday night, a long way from home, alone among friendly gamers in a friendly game store.

Shep's is a nice little venue, humble but "growing" as Shep said, with a thriving community of players.  I would encourage anyone who finds himself or herself in Aurora to stop by.  But next time I'll change out of my tie and into my jeans. 

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.

Naturally, I was thrilled to have Richard Launius play my game, and I was eager to get his feedback.  He read through my rules as we waited for Lesley and Rob to join us, and he surprised me by saying that he hates writing rules and never writes them until he absolutely has to - usually when the game is done and the publisher asks for them.  My design style is exactly the opposite.  I have to write the rules to keep my thinking organized.  Invariably I discover flaws in my concept of my own game when I try to draft rules and uncover inconsistencies.

The playtest went very well.  I got some good suggestions from all three players, including the addition of a turn-record track that indicated insurance payouts (instead of the payout table based on tile count) and some general improvements to the map.  Now, although Richard freely admitted that "EIC" was not his type of game, he had some helpful insights.  I had introduced a new, simpler rule for tariff houses, but he felt that they needed clarification - specifically that tariffs are paid from the bank, not from other players.

Overall, Richard thought that the game was good, it was fun, it made sense - but that it wasn't publishable.  By that, he meant that a publisher wouldn't buy it because it wasn't distinctive enough.  For the big publishers like Asmodee or Rio Grande - and he emphasized that I should always design with the big publishers in mind - they have their own in-house designers, and if I bring them something that they could have designed themselves, then they won't buy it from me.  I need to bring them something unique, with a hook that gets their attention, that they couldn't have done in-house.

He gave me some specific recommendations about adding historical context, adding event-driven market price changes, and adding impasses to impede player actions.  He also thought that the big ships were overpowered, having both speed and capacity, and ought to be slower.

I am not at all discouraged by his comments.  Rather, I'm inspired to take "EIC" up a notch and really make it sharp, really give it some interest.  I don't think I'll implement all of his recommendations, because I think some of them depart from my overarching vision of the game, but I like the idea of bringing it up a level and really making it something that catches a publisher's interest.

Aaron Honsowetz, designer of "Post Position," stopped by, and I chatted briefly with him about Richard's comments before going on a short break.  When I returned, Aaron was already explaining the game to another group of four interested players - Tyler, Chrissie, Johann, and Rachel.  (I had already met Johann at the Designers Dinner the night before.)  So I took over the explanation and launched into another playtest.  This second game also went well and completed in just 75 minutes, comfortably under my target time.

They had some interesting ideas about opening up more markets in the colonies.  The recommendation I really liked is giving players only half the value of ships at the end of the game, rather than full credit.  That way they will have to think of ships as assets only if they anticipate making back enough money to justify the investment.  Otherwise, buying a ship represents very little capital risk.  Another interesting idea was to add one or more "Pirate" tiles to the tile bag, so that pirates would come up at truly random points during the game.  I might experiment with that idea.

So in my four-hour Saturday table slot I completed two very helpful playtests, including some invaluable notes from a highly successful professional designer.  That feedback was exactly what I'd come to UnPub to find.

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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feminism discourse: Why are women the exception in boardgame design?

Susan McKinley Ross at
2013 New York Toy Fair
I've recently come to consider seriously why most of the game designers with which I'm familiar are male.  I became more aware of this observation when I learned of a couple of women who won game design awards over the last few years and realized how unusual it seemed to me at the time - specifically, Susan McKinley Ross, who won the 2011 Spiel des Jahres for Qwirkle (which I only learned of when Tom Vasel interviewed her last November), and Leslie Scott, who won the 2012 TAGIE for Excellence in Game Design for Jenga.