Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Prototype fever

Prototype art for English galleon game piece
As I mentioned Monday, this week is prototype week for "East India Company."  I've designed the stickers that will go on the ships and player tokens.  I picked up some bass wood and spray paint at Michaels craft store.  Last night I uploaded some updated gameboard art to the Superior POD website so they could finish my order and, I hope, ship it by tomorrow.

This evening I cut 25 "ships" out of the 1/16"-thick bass wood.  The next step will be spray painting all the wooden pieces in the five player colors.  I'm having a lot of fun spending time on the physical components; my first prototype was a very rudimentary hand-drawn paper affair - functional, not pretty.  It's nice to take the time to put together something that I hope will be nice looking as well as fun to play.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Favorite 2011 game

The following tweet inspired this post:

In that spirit, my Best Board Game of 2011 is Trajan. Last Will is a close second. Lots of games tied for third. Lots more unplayed.

Gil H. designed Prolix (artist Gary Simpson, publisher Z-man).  His tweet made me wonder, "how many 2011 games did I buy, and which would be my favorite?"

So as it happens, I bought seven games published in 2011:
  • Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles
  • Belfort
  • Scrabble Turbo Slam
  • Sour Apples to Apples
  • Star Fluxx
  • Struggle for Catan
  • Trains Planes and Automobiles
So, the self-serving answer to the question would be that my favorite 2011 game should be Trains Planes and Automobiles.  And I do like my own game, but the fact is that TPA isn't the first of these seven that I'd choose to play.  It would be my first choice to play with kids, even over SAtA.  

But my favorite game of this list would have to be Belfort.  That's a game that has some depth and potential.  It's funny to find myself picking this game as my top acquisition of 2011 publications, given that Kathy and I found it less than satisfying as a two-player game.  But I was so impressed with it in the five-player session after work last week that I think it deserves top billing for last year's releases.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Battle Line in the Back Yard

Back yard setting for Battle Line
Fall is really our favorite time of year for sitting out back in the yard.  We have a fire in the firebowl, we set up cocktails and snacks, and play a small game on the little glass table outside.  This evening, after I got home from work, we sat down to beer and wine and Battle Line (designer Reiner Knizia, artists Rodger B. MacGowan and Mark Simonitch, publisher GMT).

I really like this game.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say Battle Line is my favorite Knizia game.  It's perhaps the most knife-edge card game I know.  You really never want to waste a move in this game, never want to make an unnecessary commitment of a card to a slot.  It's playing the odds, it's card luck, but mostly, it's calculated risk-taking.  Not exactly a push-your-luck game, BL is really a strategic game of options and opportunity cost.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Prototype progress

The last week has seen a lot of preparation for Congress of Gamers and the UnPub ProtoZone event on Columbus Day weekend in Rockville, Maryland.  I've been putting together a new prototype for "East India Company" in anticipation of getting some playtesting and exposure of the game in an exhibition environment.  My son helped me with the basics of Adobe Photoshop to put together a nice map layout.  I've got an order in to Superior Print-on-demand (Superior POD) for a mounted version of the mapboard that I hope will be ready in time for CoG.  Meanwhile I've been assembling materials to make up some nice game pieces.  So it has all been coming together, and I look forward to showing off my work-in-progress.

My focus has been more on constructing the prototype than on refining the gameplay, so the rules tweaks that will be in place are the ones I identified at the last round of playtesting at WBC.  I hope to get more comments and improvements out of the CoG designers room.  From there I should get a sense of how close to pitch-ready the game really is.  I'm getting pretty excited about EIC, and I look forward to sharing my excitement in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Building Belfort

(c) Tasty Minstrel Games
Used by permission
This evening after work, Frank H., Brian G., Mike R., Keith F., and I got together and cracked open Belfort  (designers Bamboozle Brothers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, artist Joshua Cappel, publisher Tasty Minstrel).  I had played a couple of times in its two-player form but never finished a game all the way through because my wife Kathy and I just didn't find it altogether engaging.  I hoped that perhaps the game would be more fun with more players.

Most of us are fairly familiar with the usual Euro game mechanics, and we found that Belfort is replete with those worker-placing, resource-gathering, building-constructing, area-occupying, hand-managing functions that characterize the genre.  Oh, and there's elves and dwarves and gnomes.  (Sure, why not?)  I'd set up the game by the time the fifth of us arrived, so we launched right into rules explanation and got started.  We had the occasional, "oh, I didn't know that" moments where yours truly hadn't quite explained the rules clearly (although I swear I said everything I said I said), but generally the gameplay went well.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Was Alexander the Great a runaway leader?

This afternoon, Kathy and I played Alexandros (designer Leo Colovini, art by Grafik Studio Kr├╝ger [website in German], publisher Rio Grande), which was a gift from some years ago.  Although we hadn't played in a while, we've both done well against each other, so it was fun to bring back to the table.

Alexandros is a semi-thematic game of area control and card management with an interesting mechanism for moving the neutral Alexander piece around the map of his empire and carving it up into provinces for the players to occupy and tax.  The map is clearly recognizable as a representation of the extent of Alexander's empire, and the roles of the players as generals fits with the historical fracturing of his empire.  Beyond that and the Hellenistic iconography, the game is fairly abstract. The decision space isn't very large, but it can be a brain-burner.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Boardgame landscape 76 years ago

Last year I wrote about the shortcomings of Monopoly as a case study for game design.  I caveated my criticism of the game with the observation that it is still among the best-selling games of all time.  One reader commented that there might not have been a lot of competition for Monopoly when it first caught fire as an American staple.  Re-reading that post inspired me to have a look at what boardgame options were available back when Parker Brothers introduced Boardwalk and Park Place to the gaming public.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day weekend gaming

We marked the three-day Labor Day weekend celebrating American workers with several boardgaming sessions.  (In other words, we commemorated work by playing.)

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
Friday evening, Kathy and I had our friend Theresa H. over for a game of Puerto Rico, one of our very favorites but one that we seldom get to play in its original three-to-five player form.  The three of us ended up very close in shipping and building points, but Kathy won with a strong showing of bonus points from the fortress and city hall.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thought processes and algorithms

I was recently asked to help design the Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm for an iOS app based on a boardgame with which I am familiar.

[I admit to a pet peeve regarding the use of the term "AI" to represent algorithm-driven characters and players in computer games.  I consider Artificial Intelligence to be much more sophisticated than simple state-driven rule sets.  Few if any computer and video games are truly artificially intelligent.  But that's okay.  I accept the terminology for what it is - adulteration of the English language.  There.  I've said it.  Now I can let it go.]