Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Race for the Galaxy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Race for the Galaxy. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gameplay vs. simulation

A favorite debate among my friends and me is the question of realism vs. playability.  Last spring I touched on this topic briefly in a post following a game of Rail Baron in which I reflected on changes in game design practices since the 1970s.  My friend Paul R. is a strong advocate for realism in strategy games.  He approaches a game as a model of real-world decision-making.  If you look at the Avalon Hill marketing from its heyday, much of the appeal came from the concept of putting yourself in the place of Napoleon, Lee, or Eisenhower to see whether you would be able to match or exceed the achievements of the great leaders of the past.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thoughts on approachability

[I'm still on vacation away from the internet, so today's is a re-post of an excerpt from an article from last October.]

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
This week our friendly neighborhood Game Parlor in Woodbridge is having a 20%-off moving sale on nearly everything that's in stock, so the other day I picked up Race for the Galaxy (designed by Thomas Lehmann, published in the U.S. by Rio Grande).  I'd had this on my list since I'd solicited my friends for two-player game ideas to add to our afternoon game session library.  I'd had a lukewarm experience with it at Congress of Gamers a year or two ago, largely because the people I played with were very experienced players and not altogether patient or thorough in explaining the rules.  But I read so many good things on boardgamegeek about it - especially in light of our fondness for Puerto Rico (designed by Andreas Seyfarth, also Rio Grande), with which a number of reviewers compared it - that I thought it was worth a try.

I was very methodical in going through the rules myself and then reviewing them with Kathy.  I think as we played the first time through, we agreed that we understood the mechanics of the game, and the goals, and even how to devise a strategy.  The thing we found frustrating in our first play-through was the abundance and density of symbols on the cards and their varied significance.  I think we went around two or three times on how the "Contact Specialist" worked.  I'm sure veterans of this game are used to the conventions and know what to look for and how to apply the symbols to the game mechanics, but we were each struggling to understand what we were looking at as we played along.  Both of us are confident, though, that's a game that we can learn and come to appreciate.  I'm looking forward to trying again.

There's a lesson here somewhere for me as a game designer, I think.  It's one thing to have a game that is complete in its rules integrity and components, that is a beautiful construct in both form and function, that aficionados come to appreciate for subtlety, nuance, and replayability.  But what about a game's approachability to the novice?  The analogy I think of is a mansion on a mountaintop.  It can be a marvelous engineering construction, stunning in appearance, awe-inspiring in surroundings, luxurious in furnishings ... but if visitors have to climb a rock face to get there and appreciate it, not many people will try.  So I'm coming to appreciate that even an intriciate, complex game needs to have a welcome mat, an entrance ramp, some way of introducing the novice to the game.

Agricola family board
RftG does this to a certain degree, with pre-selected starting hands for the players.  Settlers of Catan has its beginner's board layout; Agricola has its family game.  I remember Avalon Hill developed a rules construct called "Programmed Instruction," in which rules were divided into sections that built on one another.  The new player could read the first section, then play a scenario that depended only on the  rules in that first section.  A second section would introduce more rules, components, and options and would be followed in turn by more scenarios.  Starship Troopers and Tobruk, among others, had this kind of graduated rules approach. 

I don't know; am I asking too much?  Is it reasonable that a gamer should struggle with a game the first time through, until they say, "oh, that's how that rule works," or "that's what that card does"?  Every first-time player of Agricola goes through this, surely.  It's not that I want to play simple games; I just don't want learning a new game to be a struggle.

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?