Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Guillotine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guillotine. Show all posts

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Years gaming

The holiday season continues with more socializing around boardgames.  On New Years Eve, our friend Sheila D. hosted Glenn W., Jeff W., Kathy and me for dinner and games.  After a wonderful Mexican rice bowl dinner with shredded beef, we sat down to spend the last six hours of 2013 playing games.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

WBC: "Ethics in Gaming" revisited

At WBC on Thursday last week, Joel Tamburo hosted his annual seminar on Ethics in Gaming.  This was my second opportunity to attend.

I arrived a little late and found myself in the middle of a conversation on the interpretation of rules
Signing of the Constitution of the United States
U.S. Government.  Public domain
ambiguities.  Not entirely a matter of ethics, the question on the floor seemed to center around whether an unaddressed action in the rules should be allowed (because the rules don't prevent it) or prohibited (because the rules don't allow it or provide for it).  Peter, an attorney, likened the question to that of Constitutional interpretation, whereby some people hold that rulings on Constitutionality ought to depend on the intent of the founders at the time that they wrote it, as best we can determine from other writings at the time.  Others hold that interpretation of the Constitution necessarily changes with the times, and so it is with game rules:  It doesn't matter how the game designer wanted you to play the game; what matters is how the players want to play.  So, then, the question became, does the designer's intent matter?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ethics in gaming: Reflections on the WBC seminar


[While on vacation in North Carolina, in anticipation of going to the World Boardgaming Championships in Pennsylvania in a few weeks, I scheduled a re-post of one of my most popular articles, a reflection on the "Ethics in Gaming" seminar from the 2011 WBC convention.  Originally appeared 15 August 2011]

Last week at the World Boardgaming Championships, Joel Tamburo led a fascinating seminar on ethics in gaming.  I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at the directions that the conversation took.  Right away, the group explored the question of whether it is ethically acceptable to lie in the course of a game.  The immediate example that came up is Diplomacy, a game only half-facetiously blamed for ruining good friendships.  A consensus emerged that there is an understanding that in a game like Diplomacy, lying is an expected part of negotiation.  Although success requires alliances, winning sooner or later requires betrayal.  So as long as it is understood among players that lying is - or can be - part of the game, then that becomes part of the game's acceptable code of ethics.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What to pack for a vacation


[While on vacation in North Carolina, I scheduled this re-post of my vacation boardgaming selections from last summer.  Originally appeared 29 July 2011]

We recently went on a vacation in the West Virginia mountains for some white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and a zip line canopy tour.  (ACE Adventures, if you're interested.)  In the absence of internet and video games, we anticipated the need for some quality family downtime in the cabin.  So of course that means boardgames!

Last time we went, three years ago, we brought Uno and Guillotine, both of which were successful choices.  This time we wanted more options without having to bring the entire game closet.  So we put together a packing list of games that most of us like.  Everybody got to pick at least one game.  We wanted to have at least three options each for two, three, four, or five players.  At least three of the games had to be accessible to the youngest of us (ten years old).  We were mindful of space limitations, but we didn't necessarily cramp our style if there was something we really wanted to bring.  Here's the list we came up with:
This turned out to be a great list for several reasons, not the least of which is nearly all the games fit in a small tote bag.  (At one point I had 7 Wonders on the list, but the box is a bit bulky, and we already had plenty of options.)  The nice thing about this selection of games is that it has variety, nobody has to play if they don't want to, but we can always find options for any subset of the five of us.

So what did we actually play?  Well, Car-Go Othello got a lot of action during the six-hour drive to West Virginia.  The brilliance in the design of this game is that there are no separate parts.  The board (a six-by-six simplification of the eight-by-eight original Othello) has an integrated rotating piece for each space on the board.  Each space can be rotated to show a green blank, a white piece, or a black piece.  The game can be passed back and forth without risk of something falling on the floor of the car and getting lost under the seat (as happened with Travel Scrabble).

Whirlpool randomizer from
Uno H2O Splash
In the hot tub at our cabin, Uno H2O Splash got a lot of action.  Here is another clever production idea to solve the problem of a challenge game-playing venue.  The cards are clear plastic, printed in such a way that one side shows only the card face, the other only the card back.  The game plays like the familiar Uno with a water-themed twist:  Certain cards have a "splash" icon that, when played, require the next player to take a spin on the "whirlpool," a device rather like a small "Magic 8-ball" with an eight-sided die inside to yield a random outcome that the player must perform.

Sample page from Ace of Aces
Another brilliant game design that got some action was the old classic World War I dogfight game Ace of Aces.  This game requires neither board nor cards but is played with just a pair of books through which players flip from one cockpit view to another as they try to outmaneuver one another and get into firing position to inflict damage on each other's aircraft.  While I was in the Navy, I played this game many times with my chief engineer because it was so well suited to the tight confines of a submarine wardroom.  My sons each successfully chased me out of the skies, but in both cases I was able to escape with my badly damaged plane before being shot down.

We did play a few conventional games during our down-time in the cabin.  Incan Gold played out to an exciting finish, when our ten-year-old left the ruins with the artifact and the lead on the final mission, forcing the rest of us to play out the round until scared away by monsters and leaving him with the win.  Our Pirateer session saw a crazy round in which every player touched the treasure at least once before our ten-year-old stole the treasure on a perfect snake-eyes die roll and brought it home to his harbor just a few turns later.  My wife beat my 18-year-old son and me in Black Jack (using cards from Chicago Cribbage and money from Incan Gold) when she kept betting all her money to get out of the game but kept winning hand after hand.  My wife just destroyed me in a two-player session of Citadels, which is nevertheless still my favorite game right now.

And, oh yes, we were in the mountains of West Virginia, so we did plenty of white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and zip-line canopy touring during the gaps between boardgames.

Six days until I go to World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Family games - what works for both adults and kids?

As parents of boys spanning eight years in age difference, we've struggled to find family activities that work for all of us.  Naturally, my first choice for an indoor occasion is to play a boardgame - anything we can all agree on and enjoy.  In my experience, a game that appeals to kids as well as the adults in the family does not come along often.

The other day we tried a little game that my son got for his birthday called Pictionary Card Game (designer Brian Yu, publisher Mattel).  Unlike the original Pictionary, which requires players to draw diagrams and pictures, the card game has a set of pictographs - little cards with icons, sketches, and other abstract or symbolic drawings that can be combined or manipulated to prompt teammates to come up with the intended answer.  There are two levels of play - adult level, where the answers that teammates need to guess require a certain familiarity with culture and turns of phrase (like "Yellow Submarine"), and kid level, where the answers are more generic (like "ruler").  Each answer has an associated category (like "school supplies" for "ruler") so that players have a general idea of what they're trying to guess.

Sample pictograph cards used
in Pictionary Card Game
What we found was that when adults play with kids at the kids level, the adults will start shouting a range of generic answers to the category before the "clue-giver" has much chance to assemble the pictographs into any kind of clue.  For example, when "school supplies" was announced, people started calling out "paper," "pencil," "eraser," "chalk," etc.  In several cases, the right answer was stumbled on in a matter of seconds.  So the conclusion I reached is that PCG probably works well for kids among kids, and for adults among adults, but not in a mixed setting of adults and kids.  Other word-association games that have not always succeeded to bridge the adult-kid gap include Catch Phrase (which the kids love but which the adults tend to dominate) and Taboo.

Games that have worked well for us in a broad age range setting include Clue, Apples to Apples Junior (though not the original Apples to Apples), Pirateer, and Guillotine.  In larger groups, we've had success with Are You a Werewolf? as long as the participants are comfortable in a player-elimination game.  (If the group includes kids who are sensitive about getting "voted out," then Werewolf won't work.)

Trains Planes and Automobiles fits the bill as a family past-time in a group spanning a broad mix of ages - even more successfully than I expected when I first conceived and developed the game.  I am frequently and pleasantly surprised by the positive reactions I get from both children and adults when I demonstrate it at conventions or hear from people who have played it at home.  I mentioned in my last post that it had become a favorite of our friends' son and that they love the fact that they can get together and play it as a family without having to drag people to the table.  I think the principle reason is that TPA rewards good decision-making enough to keep grown-ups engaged but also has enough luck and balancing elements to keep everybody in contention for the whole game.  Kids feel as though they have a good chance to win, while adults enjoy playing a real game that is more than just a roll-and-move luck exercise.

Familia quod ludit una manet una.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ethics in gaming: Reflections on the WBC seminar

First of all, many thanks to DiceHateMe and Monkey238 for their mention of Man OverBoard and Trains Planes and Automobiles on their podcast "The State of Games."  It was great to meet them both and try out Viva Java, which I described in my "Third Day at WBC" post.  I'm very excited for their venture into game development, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for them.

Last week at the World Boardgaming Championships, Joel Tamburo led a fascinating seminar on ethics in gaming.  I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at the directions that the conversation took.  Right away, the group explored the question of whether it is ethically acceptable to lie in the course of a game.  The immediate example that came up is Diplomacy, a game only half-facetiously blamed for ruining good friendships.  A consensus emerged that there is an understanding that in a game like Diplomacy, lying is an expected part of negotiation.  Although success requires alliances, winning sooner or later requires betrayal.  So as long as it is understood among players that lying is - or can be - part of the game, then that becomes part of the game's acceptable code of ethics.

Ethical issues can emerge when games bleed over into real life, however.  If someone's feelings are genuinely hurt by a twist of the knife in a game, it raises the question of whether even perfectly legal game-play can cross a line if it damages personal relationships.  It happens that not all games are for all people; some people refuse to play Diplomacy because it is just too cutthroat for them.  That makes sense, too, because presumably the point of a game is to have fun; if playing under a code of behavior that permits back-stabbing ceases to be fun (for an individual), then the game (for that person) ceases to be worth playing.  I have had two episodes in which perfectly legitimate moves in games actually hurt people's feelings - people very close to me - and led me to adjust the way that I play to accommodate the relationships that I have with the other players.

Another interesting aspect of games that involve lying can bleed over into real life as well.  Sometimes we learn how to lie, or how to detect lying, by playing games in which good lying is rewarded.  Bluffing might be considered lying, so a person who develops skill at poker might also be honing social skills that can be used to take advantage of other people.  One member of the seminar raised the question whether it is morally proper to play a game that practices and develops the "skill of sinning," such as becoming more adept at lying.

I shared an experience I had as a junior office aboard a submarine in the Navy.  It was the custom of the wardroom to get together occasionally at the Officers Club for a game of Liar's Dice.  At one particular session, I was alarmed to learn that I was remarkably good at lying to the captain.  I could just imagine being in a situation at sea in which it would be easier to lie to the captain in the middle of the night than to tell him what was really going on, and I didn't like thinking that I could actually pull it off.  (For the record, I never did, of course.  The Naval Academy Honor Concept is quite clear on this principle.)

I was surprised to learn about games that encourage stealing - Cosmic Encounter, in particular.  I don't mean games like Clue: the Great Museum Caper, in which one player is an art thief who moves around the museum attempting to steal paintings.  I mean that the game motivates a player under certain circumstances to swipe game pieces - like money from the bank - and keep it if he or she can get away with it.  As the others in the seminar described the roles in this game, it struck me as odd and a little outside my comfort zone in terms of what a game should be - or at least, the kind of game I like to play.  And a few others in the group, who were familiar with Cosmic Encounter, said they don't play it for that reason.

The discussion also turned to the question of inappropriate game themes.  I know of parents who discourage or prohibit their children from playing wargames as impersonal recreations of killing on a large scale.  There is some merit to this position as a matter of conscience.  But everyone present at this seminar was quite comfortable with wargames.  One theme that did come up as questionable, however, was that of the murder of an individual.  Joel posed the question regarding the game Kill Doctor Lucky, in which players compete to kill the fictional Dr. Lucky without being detected in the murder.  The tone of the game is humorous, but some might find offensive the notion of trying to get away with murder as the object of a game.  The group did not settle on a firm consensus on this point, though no one singled out Kill Doctor Lucky as an objectionable game in its own right.

I brought up Guillotine as another game with a potentially questionable theme.  Players represent executioners during the French Revolution competing to execute the most prestigious nobles.  The game even includes a few true historical figures - King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre.  But the rendering of the nobles and the action cards and the nature of the game rules are so comical that the game comes off as light-hearted, despite the rather morbid theme.

Subsequent to this discussion, I recently ran across a review of Letters from Whitechapel, in which one player attempts to carry out the role of Jack the Ripper while the other players try to apprehend him.  I find this game a little more disturbing than Kill Doctor Lucky and Guillotine for several reasons.  First, Jack the Ripper was a real serial killer, and his victims were real women.  The notion of playing this role by moving around the board attempting to kill prostitutes crosses a line, for me, because it represents a ruthless real-life murderer who was never caught.  Second, the game art sets a dark, somber tone, not at all a light-hearted deflection of the nature of the theme as in Kill Doctor Lucky or Guillotine.  Had I known about this game at the time of the seminar, it would have been an interesting addition to the conversation.

Surely there are few themes more objectionable to depict in a game than the Holocaust, and yet I'd read an article about a game called Train based on that very topic.  Actually, to be fair, Train wasn't so much a game as a work of art, or a psychological demonstration.  Still, it goes to show that there are some places in history that just aren't appropriate for re-visiting in the form of a game.

(c) Looney Labs
Used by permission
I think the overarching theme that developed from this seminar was that games have their own internal codes of ethics, but that as social exercises, they can also affect relationships.  On the one hand, if someone pulls off a brilliant betrayal in Diplomacy or manages to completely deceive all the villagers in Are You a Werewolf, then the rest of the players can only shake his hand and congratulate him on a game well played.  To some extent, though, trust relationships are formed or developed over games, and their social effects can bleed over into real life.  So we need to be mindful, when we play, that the people and the relationships linger after the box gets put away.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Games that even the in-laws can play

Okay, to be fair, my mother-in-law may not be a convention-going serious Euro-gamer, but she likes to learn a new game or two, and she has really come to enjoy Settlers of Catan and Guillotine.  Even my father-in-law will jump in for a session of Word Thief.  So when they came to visit over the last several days, while the oppressive heat kept us indoors most of the time, the board game closet got visited quite often.  I had the opportunity to introduce them to a few games that they really seemed to enjoy.

First of all, I gave my in-laws a copy of Trains Planes and Automobiles and took the opportunity to show it off in true family-game fashion.  Although billed as a game for two to six players, I included an optional rule for seven or eight players.  So with both in-laws, three sons, my wife, and myself, we launched into a seven-player session - the only shortcoming being that I had to provide a spare game piece from another game to accommodate the seventh player.  I must say that as the game designer, I do very badly at my own game.  I kept chasing stories in locations accessible only by automobile - Vicksburg, Ciudad Juarez, and Phoenix* - while others jetted around from airport to airport, racking up assignments.  My oldest son Patrick overcame a late start and beat everybody to the final assignment to win the game.  I have to say, we all had a great time, and I'm really hoping to be able to demonstrate this game in the Junior Events room at World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania starting tomorrow.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Our game sessions over the last several days were frequent and fun.  My 15-year-old, usually so impulsive in push-your-luck games, turned out to have perfect timing in Incan Gold and won that game hands-down.  My father-in-law and other two sons pushed a lot of poker chips around the table playing Blackjack, in which my ten-year-old ended up winning his grandfather's house and car (or would have, if the titles were on the table). We had a great session of Apples to Apples that included Patrick's girlfriend.  My wife demonstrated her unstoppable command of word games in Word Thief.  We had several really fun games of Guillotine, which is always good for a laugh.  I was very pleased to engage my mother-in-law in Reiner Knizia's Ingenious, which is both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying - so much so that she insisted on a second game immediately.  And, finally, we introduced the in-laws to the notion of a co-op game with Pandemic, which we lost when the Player Deck ran out before we were anywhere near curing the black disease.  Our family has now managed to lose Pandemic in all three possible ways.

So the in-laws' visit became a smorgasbord of boardgaming fun.  The summer heat was never really a factor as we found great entertainment right in our own home and in the good company of family.  And that's what vacations are really all about.

* Now, I should note that I'm perfectly aware that you can fly to any of these places today, and might even have been able to do so fifty years ago.  But for purposes of making TPA interesting, I only put airports in about a third of all cities on the map, and provided rail service only to another third.  So there are many cities on the map that, in the game, can only be reached by car.  That's what makes it a challenge.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What to pack for a vacation

We recently went on a vacation in the West Virginia mountains for some white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and a zip line canopy tour.  (ACE Adventures, if you're interested.)  In the absence of internet and video games, we anticipated the need for some quality family downtime in the cabin.  So of course that means boardgames!


Last time we went, three years ago, we brought Uno and Guillotine, both of which were successful choices.  This time we wanted more options without having to bring the entire game closet.  So we put together a packing list of games that most of us like.  Everybody got to pick at least one game.  We wanted to have at least three options each for two, three, four, or five players.  At least three of the games had to be accessible to the youngest of us (ten years old).  We were mindful of space limitations, but we didn't necessarily cramp our style if there was something we really wanted to bring.  Here's the list we came up with:
This turned out to be a great list for several reasons, not the least of which is nearly all the games fit in a small tote bag.  (At one point I had 7 Wonders on the list, but the box is a bit bulky, and we already had plenty of options.)  The nice thing about this selection of games is that it has variety, nobody has to play if they don't want to, but we can always find options for any subset of the five of us.

So what did we actually play?  Well, Car-Go Othello got a lot of action during the six-hour drive to West Virginia.  The brilliance in the design of this game is that there are no separate parts.  The board (a six-by-six simplification of the eight-by-eight original Othello) has an integrated rotating piece for each space on the board.  Each space can be rotated to show a green blank, a white piece, or a black piece.  The game can be passed back and forth without risk of something falling on the floor of the car and getting lost under the seat (as happened with Travel Scrabble).

Whirlpool randomizer from
Uno H2O Splash
In the hot tub at our cabin, Uno H2O Splash got a lot of action.  Here is another clever production idea to solve the problem of a challenge game-playing venue.  The cards are clear plastic, printed in such a way that one side shows only the card face, the other only the card back.  The game plays like the familiar Uno with a water-themed twist:  Certain cards have a "splash" icon that, when played, require the next player to take a spin on the "whirlpool," a device rather like a small "Magic 8-ball" with an eight-sided die inside to yield a random outcome that the player must perform.

Sample page from Ace of Aces
Another brilliant game design that got some action was the old classic World War I dogfight game Ace of Aces.  This game requires neither board nor cards but is played with just a pair of books through which players flip from one cockpit view to another as they try to outmaneuver one another and get into firing position to inflict damage on each other's aircraft.  While I was in the Navy, I played this game many times with my chief engineer because it was so well suited to the tight confines of a submarine wardroom.  My sons each successfully chased me out of the skies, but in both cases I was able to escape with my badly damaged plane before being shot down.

We did play a few conventional games during our down-time in the cabin.  Incan Gold played out to an exciting finish, when our ten-year-old left the ruins with the artifact and the lead on the final mission, forcing the rest of us to play out the round until scared away by monsters and leaving him with the win.  Our Pirateer session saw a crazy round in which every player touched the treasure at least once before our ten-year-old stole the treasure on a perfect snake-eyes die roll and brought it home to his harbor just a few turns later.  My wife beat my 18-year-old son and me in Black Jack (using cards from Chicago Cribbage and money from Incan Gold) when she kept betting all her money to get out of the game but kept winning hand after hand.  My wife just destroyed me in a two-player session of Citadels, which is nevertheless still my favorite game right now.

And, oh yes, we were in the mountains of West Virginia, so we did plenty of white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and zip-line canopy touring during the gaps between boardgames.

Six days until I go to World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My top ten card games

Inspired by Dice Tower Episode 206, Chris Norwood (GamerChris) recently posted his favorite card games.  Since inspiration begets inspiration, I thought I'd explore the topic myself.

Before I get into my top ten list, I'll mention that the definition of a "card game" might be ambiguous. I think Alhambra qualifies, for example, because the card play (among four suits or "currencies" of a range of values) drives the purchase of the tiles that are placed for scoring. But I wouldn't include games that just "have cards in them," like Agricola or Clue, because card play isn't the primary aspect of the game (even if they are essential to the mechanics). I'm not sure how to write the definition of a "card game," but I'd be curious to know people's thoughts on which games are close to the frontier between card games and "other games" and how you decide on which side of the boundary a game falls.

My honorable mentions would include:

Chrononauts: A goofy title from Loony Labs that my wife really seems to like. I prefer Martian Fluxx, but this one is also a likeable game.

Incan Gold: I'm always fascinated by the way teenagers play push-your-luck games, so this is a fun one to play with my kids. I never know what they're going to do.

Guillotine: The artwork in this Wizards of the Coast title still makes me chuckle.

Triumvirate: A recent discovery that I am only beginning to appreciate

Mille Bornes is a nostalgic favorite that has fond memories going way back to when I was growing up.  It was a family favorite then and still sees the light of day from time to time even now.

So, my top ten card games:

10. Alhambra: I used to dislike this game because I thought it had a "run-away" aspect to it, in which an early leader was hard to catch. That is, until I thought I'd run away with a game in the PrezCon semifinals and then lost somehow in the final scoring. Perhaps I completely misplayed near the end, but I prefer to think that my worthy opponent had a more subtle appreciation for the game and how to score big without leading in many categories.

9. Munchkin: My kids have taken a sudden recent liking to this game, and I like anything I can get my kids to play. Another good one for laughs.

8. Empyrean, Inc. This is a regular go-to game for my wife and me, a surprise hit we received as a gift. We love this game so much that we started to wear the cards out, so I bought a backup copy.

7. Martian Fluxx: A genius little game from Loony Labs. What a crack-up.

6. Down in Flames III: Zero!: A very clever card-play mechanism for air combat

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
5. Race for the Galaxy:  This is a game I want to like more than I do. My wife and I found all the symbols confusing and frustrating, and we haven't played it since. Having said that, I'd still like to try it with a fresh (patient) group and find out why people rave about it.  (San Juan is worth mentioning here as something we explored as an alternative to RftG, but I think we found it a little simplistic and perhaps disappointing. We kept thinking, "Why don't we just play Puerto Rico instead?") 

4. Battle Line: Great mind-bending game with my wife, except that she always wins.  What is up with that?

3. Condottiere: I haven't had a chance to play this nearly as much as I'd like. I fell in love with it in just one session. I wish I could play it a lot more to fully appreciate it.

2. Pacific Typhoon: Very fond of this game with a bigger group of people. I love the historical photographs. Very clever game-play structure that motivates some pretty lively negotiation.

1. 7 Wonders: Currently my favorite game of all. I will play this at the drop of a hat.  Will Wonders never cease?