Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Since the signing of "Magnificent Marvels" in August, I had resumed posting weekly here about our design progress, about first impressions of various new and upcoming games, and especially about notes on game theory. At this point, more pressing opportunities demand my attention, so rather than continue to assemble an essay every Monday, I intend to shift my focus to other avenues of board game hobby exploration and creativity. I am grateful this Thanksgiving for my readers and their feedback. I will remain active on Twitter at @PaulOwenGames. Until another time when I have more to share, I wish everybody the best.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Notes on combining sequential and simultaneous moves

As part of a series of discussions on Games of Strategy, I've written here about games with sequential moves - those in which players "take turns" and each decision is made with full knowledge of the opponent's last decision - as well as games with simultaneous moves - those in which players make decisions not knowing which option an opponent has selected. Continuing our exploration of game theory, Dr. Wictz and I further discussed games that combine sequential and simultaneous moves.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Top ten games with my wife - 2018 edition

Four years ago I was inspired to identify the top ten games that my wife and I liked to play together. We've played a lot of games since then, and added a lot of games to our collection. So I thought I'd revisit this question. We found it very difficult to narrow the list down to ten; there are a dozen not listed here that we could easily have included instead.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Highest-rated out-of-print games - 2018 edition

Four years ago I identified the top five out-of-print games on boardgamegeek. Since then, a number of games have found new life as reprints, so I thought the topic worth revisiting to see what's "hot but hard to find."

Monday, October 29, 2018

Notes on simultaneous-move games with continuous strategies

My recent posts on game theory have focused on games with discrete strategies, which is to say that players are faced with a finite number of choices for each decision. Some time ago, in our colloquium on games of strategy, Aaron Honsowetz, Austin Smokowicz, and I discussed games with continuous strategies (also on video) - those games in which players choose a value on a spectrum, such as a price to set on a commodity. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

European board games before Catan

Game designer Rob Newton asked on Twitter what people would consider "classic literature of the board game world." Fellow designer Jonathan Weaver responded in three categories - citing Chess and Go as "ancient literature," Monopoly as "classic American literature," and then added, "whatever the predecessor of Catan is would be classic European literature." Some time ago, I was inspired to go back and look at what board games Americans had available to them when Monopoly arrived.  Now I was faced with a similar question for Europe before Catan. I already knew that Clue was originally English and Risk came from a French design, but Weaver's response made me realize that I really couldn't identify other European games released prior to 1995. Surely Catan couldn't have been the first popular European board game, so I felt that some self-education was in order.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Notes on games with mixed strategies

In an earlier post regarding theory of simultaneous move games, I concluded with an example of a game between two tennis players that did not demonstrate a Nash equilibrium between its two pure strategies. Sam Hillier: Consulting Philosopher more recently elaborated on the topic with an excellent post on mixed strategies. Whereas I had approached the question of an equilibrium for a single tennis shot and concluded that none existed, a tennis match of course includes many shots, so players have an opportunity to invoke a weighted mix of shots and defenses between the two options.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Spies vs spies: First impression of Cold Warrior

I have long felt that the Cold War represents a rich thematic opportunity for board games. Yet I can identify only a handful of games set in that NATO-Soviet contest of diplomacy, espionage, and brinkmanship that rank in the top 1000 of boardgamegeek.* Into this cloak-and-dagger arena the new designer Wes Crawford introduces Cold Warrior (artist Jimmy Malone, published on Game Crafter).

Monday, October 1, 2018

Quick draw: First impression of Death Pit Duels

In the world of head-to-head two-player battle card games, I'd be hard pressed to name a more distilled, purified entry than Death Pit Duels (designer Bryan Johnson, publisher Frost Forge on Game Crafter).

Monday, September 24, 2018

Notes on simultaneous-move games, and an exploration of the Stag Hunt

Some time ago, the design team of Dr. Wictz and I started discussing the book Games of Strategy by Dixit, Skeath, and Riley.  I wrote on a couple of topics:
In this post, I'd like to address simultaneous-move games with a specific focus on pure discrete strategies. (We recorded our discussion on this topic in April of last year.)  I recall such games represented in my earliest readings on game theory in the form of a decision-payoff matrix.  In a two-player game in which each player makes a single decision from among a finite number of choices, without knowledge of the other player's decision, the decision-payoff matrix labels the rows with one player's options and the columns with the other player's options.  The corresponding cell for a given combination of decisions yields the payoff to both players.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Magnificent feedback

Playtesting is crucial to any successful design, but the tricky part has often been which feedback to accept and which to ignore. Keith Ferguson and I really thought we had "Magnificent Marvels" nailed down when we pitched it at Origins and eventually signed it with Hexagram 63. The publisher identified some modifications for us to explore, so Keith tested some changes out at WashingCon and again at The Island Games, our friendly local game store. The changes that Hexagram 63 requested seem to work well, but some other feedback that Keith received surprised us somewhat. We have to look hard at where to make changes and where to stick with our original design.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Bidding and game theory

I have been thinking about the game theory construct for the share auction in Chicago Express (designer Harry Wu, publisher Queen). The question isn't only one of absolute valuation but also one of the interactive decision-making in the auction. That thought led to consideration of the auction as a game-theory problem.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Magnificent spreadsheets

There was a bit of a comparative discussion on Twitter among a few game designers about the use of spreadsheets. For my part, I find them useful in maintaining balance in a game's economy, in the relative values of different components of the game. In "Magnificent Marvels," Keith and I recognized the need to be sure that the different components with widely varied point values would need appropriately balanced building costs, and we put together a spreadsheet to try to manage that.

Monday, August 27, 2018

No end in sight

My friends and I played Axis & Allies: 1914 recently, and while I had fun, I was disappointed and irked about a fundamental design flaw in the game end conditions. The rules require one side to capture two opponents' capitals, of which one must be Paris or London (for a Central Powers victory) or Berlin (for an Allied victory). After five turns and eight hours, we had reached something of a stalemate - or at least a realization that the end of the game was still a long way off.

Monday, August 20, 2018

"Magnificent Marvels" signed

Almost two years ago, I recounted an initial foray into a collaborative design with Keith Ferguson. We have come a long way in those two years, and that work has paid off. On August 6, Hexagram 63 Game Studios announced that we had signed with them to produce "Magnificent Marvels," our contraption-inventing game. Keith and I are excited to be working with Anthony Racano and his team to make "Magnificent Marvels" a reality on the tabletop.