Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Clue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clue. Show all posts

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.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Can one house rule make an old game new again?

Replacing the dryer with one that was two inches wider led to having to move a shelf unit.  Which meant unloading all the old games from the shelves.  Which meant going through all the old games and deciding which to keep and which to dispose of.  Which meant rediscovering games that perhaps deserved a second look.  Which led to trying a 20-year-old game that I'd picked up at a PrezCon auction thinking my wife would like it but never actually played - 221B Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes and the Time Machine (designer Jay Moriarity, publisher John N. Hansen Co).

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gaming in a hospital room - revisited

A little over four years ago, I wrote a couple of posts on what works and what doesn't when playing games in a hospital room or waiting room.  We find ourselves in a similar situation this week, although the medical circumstances are decidedly more serious.  All the same, it is helpful to revisit the principles that make for a good pasttime under such trying circumstances - portability, compactness, simplicity, humor, interruptibility, and brevity.  What follows is an amalgamation of highlights from the two posts.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Reading all the rules

I can't count the number of times I've gotten rules wrong in learning boardgames.  It seems as though every time I learn a game for the first time, I get something wrong.  Even worse, I am often the person in the group charged with reading the rules and then explaining the game to the other player(s), so I propagate my misunderstanding to other innocent souls.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I have an Alibi

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved.
Seth Jaffee's misfortune is my good fortune, I must admit.  Seth (designer of Eminent Domain and Terra Prime) suffered a personal setback that motivated him to auction many of his games to raise money.  Among the things with which he was gracious enough to part was a copy of Alibi (designers Darwin Bromley and Jim Musser, publisher Mayfair Games) - a copy, as it happens, that he'd never got round to playing.

For my family, Clue has been a multi-generational favorite.  Whenever we'd go home to visit my mother, we'd play it on the kitchen table.  I lost count of how many different copies and editions we went through.  My kids enjoy playing it even today.  Clue is not what you'd call a great game in the context of the boardgame culture, but it has great sentimental value and meaning as a focus of family get-togethers.

Nevertheless, recently, we have been looking for another mystery game for some variety, as Clue has betrayed its  age and repetitive nature with so many playings.  Based on a review by BoardGameGeek "Tim," I had added Alibi to my wishlist as "a bit more interesting than Clue, though not compellingly so."  It seemed worth taking a shot to bring Seth's unplayed copy into our household and see if it couldn't get some attention.

My two teenage sons, my wife, and I played our first game this afternoon.  At first, the task of adding emotion (motive) to the customary questions of murderer, location, and weapon seemed only a minor complication - until we realized that there are ten suspects, 18 locations, 18 weapons, and 18 motives to eliminate, as well as time of day (morning, noon, or evening).  Whereas Clue has 21 cards from which to determine three, Alibi has 78 cards from which players must discern which four describe the murder.  Daunting, indeed.

But of course the game works very well, and in many ways very differently from Clue, which is what we were really hoping for.  Questions can only be asked that have a number as an answer, and only of one other player.  Rather than ask (as in Clue), "do you have Colonel Mustard, the knife, or the dining room," a question might be, "How many weapons do you have," or "How many blunt objects have you seen?"  Even more dramatically different is that players are required to pass one or more cards to the left after each question is asked, so that some cards eventually get seen by some or all players.  

Three "Auto" location cards.
(c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved.
Bonus points are awarded for exposing full sets of categorized clues.  Cards are organized in sets of three - for example, three different guns, three different "sharp objects," etc.  Players are therefore motivated to expose such sets of three to everyone at the table, e.g. "The victim was not killed in the Auto" while laying down all three Auto cards (Front Seat, Back Seat, and Trunk).  Finally, the winner doesn't have to make a perfect accusation - just outscore his or her opponents in the accuracy of his accusation (positive points for correct elements of the murder, negative points for incorrect elements).  

The result is a game that requires completely different approaches and strategies to deduce a near-correct answer well enough to outscore one's opponents.  In our game, our 16-year-old initiated the end-game with what turned out to be a correct accusation, but my wife tied his score because she had exposed higher-scoring card combinations.  Everybody agreed that it was a fun, approachable, and different take on deduction games, and we are likely to play it again soon.  I am sorry for Seth that he had to give it up, but he may like knowing that his copy has found some fresh life in its new home.

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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mother's Day in the Museum

One of my wife's requests for Mother's Day was a family game.  Now, in my family, negotiating a consensus on a game to which everyone agrees is not easy.  I gave our two younger sons a list of 60 four-player games that we owned, that my wife likes, and that are age-appropriate for my youngest (ten-year-old) son.  I told them that they could each eliminate up to twenty games from the list.  That left twenty or so from which Kathy could choose.  She settled on three options, and from those the boys agreed to play Clue: The Great Museum Caper (designers John Labelle and Thomas and Dave Rabideau, publisher Parker Brothers).  (Surprisingly, this was not an easy process.)

This 1991 title was a gift from one of my siblings many years ago, and it has become an old reliable family favorite in my house.  Despite the title, this game is not at all a variant of the traditional and familiar Clue.  Rather, the game is a terrific mix of co-operative and competitive gaming.  Each player gets one chance to be the art thief, who by hidden movement attempts to make his or her way through the museum, steal paintings, and escape the other three players, who attempt to coordinate their efforts to catch the burglar.  The player who escapes with the most paintings in his or her opportunity as the thief wins the game.

The non-thief players ("detectives") can coordinate their efforts and have at their disposal video cameras and motion detectors, but the sensors don't all work at the same time and they are not sufficiently numerous to cover all the paintings vulnerable to theft, let alone all the numerous escape routes by which the thief can exit the museum.  The thief can disable cameras and motion detectors and even turn off the power to the entire security system, but he or she can get cornered if careless and end up caught red-handed by the detectives.

The really exciting aspect of this game is the hidden movement.  Sneaking around as the thief, who is always vulnerable to discovery and capture, makes for very suspenseful play.  The other players, meanwhile, feel as though they are fumbling around, trying to find the burglar somewhere in the huge museum with limited lines of sight and inconsistently functioning cameras.  The advantage goes to the last player to be the thief, because that person knows exactly how many paintings are necessary to win the game.  Our customary family rule, therefore, is that players take turns as thief from oldest to youngest.

As the oldest at the table on Mother's Day, I was the thief first.  I made my way through a back window into the center room of the museum, where I disabled a camera, then stole a painting.  Everyone knew basically where I was once the first painting was removed (they are each alarmed and so alert the detectives when "lifted").  I was able to make my way into the red room in the back of the museum - my favorite escape route, as it has two doorways for entrances and two windows for exit.  It also happened to have two paintings, so - in full view of the camera in that room - I stole both paintings in the red room.  Luckily for me, the detectives were moving slowly (due to low die rolls) and the first window I tried was unlocked, so I was able to escape with three paintings.

That turned out to be enough, as it happened.  When my wife was the thief, I happened to stumble upon her after only two turns and caught her before she laid her hands on a single painting.  Each of our sons ended up getting trapped in a room - in my youngest son's case, the power room, when he tried to disable the entire security system.  So as the only successful thief, I won the game (and some notoriety for catching Mom on Mother's Day).

It was admittedly a success born of a little dice luck and a little lucky guesswork, but that didn't take away from the fun and the suspense of playing.  We really like this game.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eagerly anticipated box art

Hey, I just got a note from my publisher with a first cut on the box art for the "eagerly anticipated game."  They've got a good artist, and he's done a great job capturing the flavor of the game.  The company has also created a new trademark, apparently for their family game line, to distinguish those titles from their traditional wargaming base.  So it's all very exciting to see come together. 

It's a little intimidating to think about how important box art is to the sales of a game, but I guess that's a fact of the marketplace.  For my part, I'd like to think the outside of a game box doesn't drive my purchase decision.  To me, the most important factor in deciding whether to buy a game is whether I've played it before.  Second is whether someone has recommended it.  Third is seeing it demonstrated, as at a convention, for example.  Fourth is whether I recognize the designer or publisher and trust that I can buy something "untried" just because of their reputation.  Seldom will I buy a game based entirely on the box, but I have done it before, and with some success (as Can't Stop) as well as with some disappointment (as Clue: Secrets and Spies).  Conversely, I've seen some games I would never put money down for, just because the outside was so poorly done. 

I'm curious to know how many people there are who will buy a game just based on what's on the outside of the box, and what they look for.  I also wonder how big a company has to be to spend time, money, and effort on real research to analyze customer reactions to box art and appearances. 

A funny thing just occurred to me:  All else being equal, I think I'd be willing to pay more for a game if it felt heavy when I picked it up.  That sounds dumb, but it's important to recognize one's own human foibles, and that's one of mine.  I specifically recall a conversation at HistoriCon with the president of one wargame company in particular.  They have some excellent naval wargames, but as we discussed the latest release and why it was priced the way it was, I casually reached down and flicked the corner of the mapsheet with my thumb.  The map was essentially a glossy poster paper mapsheet, not hard-mounted.  Mind you, the graphics were terrific, and the reputation for the series of games is excellent, but to me, if I'm going to pay a lot, it has to weigh a lot.  That's dumb, but it's true. 

Something to think about if I ever get into the production end of the business.