Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Trains Planes and Automobiles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trains Planes and Automobiles. Show all posts

Friday, August 14, 2015

WBC 2015

Keith Ferguson and I drove up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania last Thursday for our annual pilgrimage to the World Boardgaming Championships.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

WBC 2014 Friday: WS&IM loss, Acquire victory, and EIC demo

Friday August 8 was the day that the Vendors' Area opened at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so Keith Ferguson and I headed there as soon as the doors opened to see what we could find.  I had a few specific games in mind, and I was fortunate to find immediately the one at the top of my list, Concordia, designed by Mac Gerdts and published in the U.S. by Rio Grande.  I was initially attracted to this game simply because the title, after the Roman goddess of harmony, shares the name of the protagonist in my wife Kathy's series of historical murder mysteries.  Reviews led me to believe that I would appreciate this game in its own right, so I look forward to giving it a try.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WBC 2014 Thursday: TPA and a day of not winning

Last week I conducted my fourth annual pilgrimage to the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the summer highlight of my gaming year.  I had a fairly loose schedule in mind, with only a few key tournaments that I specifically wanted to hit.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 2: Friday

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Continuing my recap of PrezCon from a couple of weeks ago, Friday turned out to be a long and eventful day.  I started with Saint Petersburg (designer Michael Tummelhofer alias Bernd Brunnhofer, artist Doris Matthaus, publisher Rio Grande), a game that I never get to play as much as I would like.  I finished third in a heat of four players - not surprising given the level of competition I typically find at PrezCon for this game.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Friday, August 17, 2012

WBC: Acquire and acquisitions

Early in our game of Acquire.
I had a majority holding in Worldwide
(the purple hotel to the right), but
that wasn't enough to prevail
One of the great things about game conventions is that I get to play games that I never play at home.  One of those is Acquire (designer Sid Sackson, artist Kurt Miller, publisher Wizards of the Coast), which I played at WBC last week with Roger B. of Providence, Rhode Island, and the GM, Cliff Ackman of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  I first learned Acquire in a demo at PrezCon some years ago, and even bought a copy on eBay, but didn't give it much thought until my friend Rebecca E. remarked on it in comparison to Chicago Express last year.  That comment, plus a Little Metal Dog Show endorsement as a "stone cold classic," re-fired my interest, and I made a point to play Acquire at PrezCon last February.  I am definitely on a learning curve with this game.  I love the tense jockeying for majority shareholder investment, although I think that the tile draw aspect can introduce too much of a luck factor sometimes.  In our game last week, Roger couldn't draw a tile to start a hotel chain to save his life.  I thought I played reasonably well, but not well enough to beat the experienced Cliff.  I do very much enjoy Acquire, though, and I hope to get to play it more often.

Monday, July 30, 2012

East India Company: More playtesting, more adjusting

My family and I did another run-through of "East India Company" this weekend with my wife, my 19-year-old son, and my mother-in-law, of all people, who isn't afraid to learn something new from time to time.  I made some adjustments to correct the issue with the pace of the game this time, and I wanted to see how effective they were.

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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

PrezCon: The first casualty of battle is the plan

PrezCon!  I get excited just thinking about the name.  My favorite convention.  So convenient to northern Virginia, such a friendly and yet competitive gaming community.

I felt a little burnt out after five solid days of PrezCon last year, so this day I'm going for just four days; I'll arrive on Thursday and go through Sunday.  My gaming friends Keith F., Brian G., and Tom S. will arrive a day ahead of me, on Wednesday.  My buddy Grant plans to arrive in time for the first events on Monday evening and stay the entire seven days.  Hard core, baby.  I don't know how people do a solid week of intense boardgaming.  People like that must pace themselves better than I do.

Excerpt of my PrezCon
schedule ... for now ...
Every year I go to the PrezCon website and agonize over the schedule.  Every year I carefully prioritize my gaming preferences and put together a perfectly-crafted sequence of events that will take me from breakfast to midnight of solid gaming for the duration of my stay.  And it seems that every year my plan flies out the window within two hours of arrival.  I always seem to get re-directed to some new discovery and find myself playing something I never thought I'd try.  I think that's the magic of a game convention - the impetuous spontaneity of pick-up games and demos and vendors and auctions.  Grant said he's given up on even trying to make a plan.  He just plays as the spirit moves him.  All the world is his gaming table, and all of us merely opponents...

I've written this before, but I'm not afraid to repeat myself.  The best advice I ever got when approaching PrezCon came from Convention Director Justin Thompson:  "Learn at least one new game; buy at least one new game."  I have three demos in mind for games that I want to learn this year:
  • Acquire
  • Small World
  • Command and Colors: Napoleonics
1976 3M Edition
I'd actually seen a demo of Acquire (designer Sid Sackson, artist Kurt Miller, publisher Wizards of the Coast) once before, at my very first PrezCon, and bought a copy on eBay shortly thereafter, but never got a chance to bring it to the table.  But when Little Metal Dog Show explained why Acquire deserves the title of a "stone cold classic," he reminded me of how much I liked what I saw in that game years ago.  So now I'm going to blow the dust off the box and get reacquainted with this Sid Sackson masterpiece.

Grant is running Small World (designer Philippe Keyaerts, artist Miguel Coimbra, publisher Days of Wonder) at PrezCon, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never actually sat down and played the game before.  So I'm setting SW as a specific "learning goal" for PrezCon this year.

Cover Design by
Rodger B. MacGowan
Copyright ©2010
I also want to get my hand back into wargaming.  Now, the Richard Borg series of historical strategy games (Battle Cry, Memoir '44, Command and Colors: Ancients, Battle Lore) aren't exactly the kind of hard core Avalon Hill / SPI wargames I grew up on, but they will scratch the itch for now.  And I haven't done Napoleonics in a very long time, so Command and Colors: Napoleonics (designer Richard Borg, artist Rodger MacGowan, publisher GMT) seems like a good new title to learn.

As for buying at least one new game, well, I'll bring my wishlist, but there's no telling what I'll come home with.  Here's my top seven, in no particular order:
  • Fairy Tale
  • Le Havre
  • Chicago Express
  • Traders of Carthage
  • Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War
  • High Frontier
  • Saint Petersburg
Finally, of course, I'll be demonstrating Trains Planes and Automobiles three times at PrezCon.  I've mentioned before that PrezCon has a special place in my heart as the place I sold TPA two years ago, so it's nice to come back and show it off as a finished product.  The family game format is a little off the conventional PrezCon path, but I'm hopeful that for a few people, it will be the new game they learned at PrezCon, and maybe one or two will even pick up a copy.  I just want people to have fun playing it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Design inspiration

Working trademark for
"Gold on Mars"
Missing Unpub2 on Saturday inspired me to set aside a "designer day" of my own.  Since I had today off from work, I decided to sit down with "Gold on Mars" and nail down all the loose ends in my design.  My goal was to have a playable prototype by the end of the day.  I didn't quite get there, but I did get a good draft of rules for the commodities market written up and settled on the actual commodities and price structure that I think will work.  Everything will change with playtesting, of course, but I like my first cut to represent enough thought and planning that when it goes to table for the first time, it plays at least roughly well.

Space travel is still my major sticking point, and I wish I'd spent more time on it.  I think I finally settled on some rules for how much fuel is required to get to each planet, and how much fuel must be carried (or produced in situ) for the return trip.  I just don't want to get hung up on making players do too much math, or end up with such widely disparate transit costs among planets that a degenerate strategy develops to ignore distant mining sites in favor of those closer to Earth.

Another concern I have is the risk of a jackpot mining operation resulting in a runaway leader.  Mining is necessarily speculative, and has to have a major upside potential to justify the expense and risk of space travel, but if one player hits it big and others have mines that run dry, then the game simply ends up being an exercise in dice and card luck.  So once I do have a prototype, the first few playtests will have to expose the luck factors and point me in the direction of redesigning and reworking game elements to make it a contest of thoughtful risk management, more than just luck or puzzle-solving.

I do love a challenge.


Beer, wine, and Citadels
We did a fair amount of family gaming over the long weekend.  Saturday night saw us break in my dad's copy of Trains Planes and Automobiles.  We had a fun five-player session that saw the lead change hands several times before I finally won - almost entirely with railroad cities and without a single airport.  Sunday night we played a seven-player Sour Apples to Apples (publisher Mattel, strangely missing from mattel.com).   A Christmas gift from our oldest son, SAtA, like the original AtA, is a fun game for a big group.  (Lesson learned:  There's a big difference between the adjectives "immoral" and "immortal.")  And this evening, Kathy and I played another two-player session of Citadels in which she proved once more that she is living rent-free inside my head - and sometimes she even pulls the levers, tugs the strings, and pushes the buttons in there.

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, November 29, 2011

PrezCon Demos - 23, 24, 25 Feb 2012

I am elated to report that I will be demonstrating Trains Planes and Automobiles at PrezCon at the DoubleTree Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia on Thursday 23, Friday 24, and Saturday 25 February 2012.  PrezCon has a special place in my heart, because that's where I first demonstrated the game in 2010 to Worthington Games and we sealed the deal with a handshake on the spot.  Before long, Worthington's new BlueSquare Board Games had released TPA as the first in its line of family games.  Seeing it on the PrezCon schedule has got me all juiced about game design again.

It's time to get back to work and turn some digested ideas into real playable prototypes.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Congress of Gamers Part II: Flummoxed Families and Punchin' Planes

I spent the latter half of my day at Congress of Gamers entirely in the game design room.  There I met John Moller of Car Trunk Entertainment.  He and I talked quite a bit about our philosophies on game design.  Rather than go into details on some of John's thoughts, I'll hold them for a subsequent post.

On to the games then:  John first showed me his game Flummox (artists Bill Bricker and Darrell Louder, publisher Clever Mojo, planned release March 2012), which involves taking actions and activating cards to move a marker (the "Flummox") among the players' arrays of cards in an effort to score points by having the Flummox end up on one's own array - or cause an opponent to lose points by putting the Flummox on his or her array, depending on whether the Flummox is "good" or "bad" in that turn.  I found this game to be a fun exercise in logic and tactics, vaguely along the lines of Guillotine from the standpoint of manipulating the arrangements of cards to gain points and thwart opponents  I think John's action-driven mechanism is a little more elegant than Guillotine, which depends on a separate action card deck to manipulate a line of nobles.  In Flummox, a player may exercise only one of four actions and then activate only one of two cards on the ends of his or her array in order to move the Flummox or modify the players' arrays on the table.  The cards themselves have only a few different characteristics and types, but they combine in a way that makes for some fascinating conundrums.  I really look forward to trying this game again.

John also showed me his design contest entry Family Reunion, a rather bizarre little game that I came to think of as a cross between Concentration and a kind of two-dimensional Guillotine.  (Maybe I just have Guillotine on the brain today.)  Again, this one provides a neat logical challenge, but I found the unique behavior of each family member's card to be a little overwhelming, at least in a first playing.  I imagine I would get the hang of it before too long.  I like the game, and I want to try it again as John refines it, but I can't decide whether I like it as much as Flummox.

John was good enough to try Trains Planes and Automobiles with me, along with Tim, who'd played it once already.  This would be my third demo of the day.  I think I was tickled just that Tim wanted to play it again.  For the second time that afternoon, I had ridiculous card luck with airline tickets.  Usually, games I've played have all been close, and I always lose.  At Congress of Gamers, I was winning by substantial margins.  I think I'm going to pay close attention to the course of the games I play to see whether card luck is too strong a factor.  Right now I still think that card luck can be mitigated with good flexibility and use of the discard-replace rule (or even the trading rule, which no one seems to use).

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
After dinner, Tim Hing, T.C. Petty, and I got The Speicherstadt out of the game library.  Tim had played before, but T.C. had not.  I had only played in two-player sessions with my wife Kathy at home, so I was looking forward to playing a three-player game.  The Speicherstadt has a nice bidding mechanic in which demand for available cards determines their prices.  The first bidder for a given card has the first opportunity to buy, but at the highest price.  If he elects to pass, the next bidder in line has an opportunity to buy the same card for one coin less, and so on until a bidder decides to buy the card for the available price (or the last bidder passes, in which case the card is discarded).  Money is very tight in this game, and bidding from a strong position can count for a lot if the right cards come up for sale.  I did very well in this game with a dominating position in firemen and the completion of some pretty hefty contracts.

T.C. then demonstrated Good Ol' Punchin' Planes, a prototype two-player game on the hilarious premise of pre-World-War-I airplanes that race alongside one another while pugilists stand on the wings and engage in fisticuffs.  Simultaneous card play determines both the relative motion of the two aircraft and the trading of blows between the two fighters.  Terrain obstacles over the race course (yes, these airplanes fly very low) present additional hazards to the pugilists, such as bridges, telegraph wires, and a barn.  I played against Josh Tempkin, moderator of the design contest, who managed to achieve a more crowd-pleasing performance than I did and therefore won the event.  Afterward, Josh and I had some ideas for TC to give a little more depth to the "combat" part of the game, but I have to say that it was good for a hearty laugh more than once during the race.

Upcoming posts:  What I bought and sold at CoG, and notes from a conversation with designer John Moller

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Congress of Gamers Part I: Best laid designs

My plan for Congress of Gamers was to demonstrate Trains Planes and Automobiles once and then move on to the usual Eurogaming fare (Carcassone, 7 Wonders, Agricola, Settlers of Catan) for the rest of the day.  Strangely, it didn't work out that way.

Parker Brothers
1971 edition
Waiting for the main events to get started, I played a pick-up game of Mille Bornes (designer Arthur "Edmond" Dujardin, artist Joseph le Callennac, publisher Winning Moves) with young Josh and his father John.  I've always liked MB for sentimental reasons.  My family played it when I was growing up, and it brings back fond memories of my Mom (almost as much as Clue does).  Those memories were even stronger yesterday, because John and Josh had the same 1971 edition MB that was our first family copy of the game, with a chartreuse plastic card tray.  Theirs was an obviously well-loved copy, because the cards showed the wear of many, many plays.  It is especially appropriate that MB should be the first game I played yesterday, because its card-play mechanic provided the inspiration for the Travel deck in TPA.

I had time to play Can't Stop, the first entry in Mark Love's "America First" tournament series at CoG.  Clearly, I am way too conservative in my dice rolling in this terrific push-your-luck game.  I came in last place at a table of four players (with Phil and two more Joshes) because I just couldn't bring myself to be as aggressive as they were in the dice rolling.  The three central columns - sixes, sevens, and eights, were finished early, which made all subsequent dice-rolling risky.

I set up for my TPA demo later that morning in the same gaming room where the Stone Age / Ticket to Ride / Vegas Showdown Eurocaucus event was going on.  I had only one taker - young Josh from our earlier MB game.  (I didn't see as many kids at CoG yesterday as I thought I'd remembered seeing in earlier years, but perhaps I'm mistaken.)  Josh enjoyed playing, and the game attracted some attention from a few others in the room.

After lunch, I hooked up with TC Petty (designer of Viva Java, which I'd playtested at WBC last summer) and his friend Tim.  We had some time to kill, so I introduced them to TPA.  They seemed to like it, despite my ridiculous card luck with unlimited mileage airline tickets.

At this point, I made a pretty fundamental change in plans for the day.  Instead of playing Carcassonne or De Bellis Antiquitatis, I decided to head to the game design contest hosted by Josh Tempkin.  There I met Darrell Louder, whose unpublished prototype Compounded was ready for a run-through.  I sat down at what turned out to be a six-player game, the first time Compounded would ever have been played with that many people.

I have to say that I really like what I saw in Darrell's design.  As chemists, players accumulate crystals that represent elements (hydrogen, oxygen, etc), claim eligible compounds (hydrogen peroxide, sulfur dioxide, etc), and then allocate elements to those compounds to complete them for points, increased abilities, and new functions.  Compounds in progress can be undone by lab fires or an excess of oxygen.  What really impressed me was the way that the end-game conditions came together.  Game end is triggered by any of three conditions - running through the deck of compounds twice, scoring at least 50 points, or completing three of four experiments (solid, liquid, gas, or "wildcard").  In our session, all three conditions were met almost simultaneously.  Although the game was a bit lengthy for six players (five of whom were new to the game), I was hard-pressed to suggest any tweak to shorten the game duration that wouldn't disrupt the balance among the game elements.

Next post:  CoG Part II - More adventures in the game design contest room

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Trenes Aviones y Automoviles: Will TPA expand south to Latin America?

I've been very excited by the early positive response to the release of Trains Planes and Automobiles.  Most recently, my brother in Buenos Aires is trying to get a copy smuggled in a suitcase with one of the in-laws.  And the idea got me thinking:  Is it too early to work on an expansion?

The idea to expand TPA to other continents came up in conversation with Worthington/BlueSquare even before we had the deal nailed down.  We were both excited by the possibility, and I think our initial thought was that Europe would be the next venue for TPA if the North American version took off.  But for some reason, the exotic Caribbean islands and Amazon jungles have really got my creative juices flowing again, and I'm starting to lay out what the map would look like for a Latin American follow-on.

I'll tell you, though, I'm learning some serious geography in the process.  If I keep to the current map size and scale, there's no way I'll fit all of South America on a single map.  I'm thinking I'll actually do two new maps - Central America (which would also include the northern third of South America) and southern South America (which would include the major cities of Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires).  The interesting thing will be how the geography of South America affects game play.  I have to believe that large swaths of the Brazilian rainforest as well as the Andes Mountains are impassible, which makes air travel that much more important.  But there are few heavily inhabited islands south of Panama, so theoretically everyplace should be accessible by car ... true?

Anyway, it's just great to be excited about game design again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trains Planes and Automobiles available online!

The September 15 newsletter of Worthington Games announces the debut of their new family/Euro game label, BlueSquare Board Games.  And the first game in the BlueSquare lineup is Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, designed by yours truly!  And I love the retro postcard art by Sean Cooke.
As news correspondents in mid-twentieth-century North America, players race from one news story location to another to complete exclusive assignments and scoop each other to the next big story.  Players travel by air, rail, and highway to locations around the continent and the Caribbean.  The first player to complete seven assignments wins the game.   
This game is fun for parties of adults, kids, and families and was a huge hit with players at the World Boardgaming Championships.  Trains Planes and Automobiles retails for $40.00 and comes with pawns, cards, mounted board, and rules.  It is available to order from http://bluesquareboardgames.com.   
Trains Planes and Automobiles will make a great Christmas gift for the whole family!
I'm very excited about this announcement.  Other forthcoming BlueSquare games are

  • BrainDrain - cross words with your family and friends to score the most letters (available for pre-order)
  • Mazedom - create an ever-changing maze puzzle to entangle your opponents (coming soon)
  • Antarchy (I love the title of this one) - lead the ant colony in search of culinary delights that will satisfy the queen's ravenous appetite (coming soon)

Saturday evening, my good friend Jeff W. invited us over for a dinner party and insisted that I bring TPA for a spin.  The six of us - all grown-ups (according to our drivers' licenses) - had a great time, and as always, I was surprised to see how close the game turned out to be in the end.  I feel that it strikes just the right combination of luck, thoughtful play, and lead balancing mechanics that keep the game fun, even when stranded at the airport in Bermuda in bad weather ... or in Thunder Bay, Canada, with a broken-down rental car.  Everybody was in it to the end, and I love games like that.

I hope more people do, too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Final day at WBC

Yesterday was the last day of the Boardgame Players Association's World Boardgaming Championships 2011.  A record 1642 people attended WBC this year.  I met other designers, developers, and of course many gamers, including quite a few familiar faces from PrezCon.  And of course vendors, who were good enough to thin out my wallet in exchange for a few additions to my game shelf:

(c) Worthington Games
Used by permission
I've had my eye on Tech Bubble (designer Mike Nagel, artist Sean Cooke, publisher Worthington Games) for quite a while now.  We've really enjoyed push-your-luck games like Can't Stop and Incan Gold, so what I read about Tech Bubble makes me think it will fit right in.

Some time ago I did a survey in earnest for two-player games that my wife and I would enjoy, and Jaipur (designer Sebastien Pauchon, artist Alexandre Roche, publisher GameWorks) came up pretty high on the list.  DiceHateMe had a pretty funny review last April, including the following comment that caught my attention:

  • Jaipur - while sometimes frustrating because of the luck of the draw in the Market - is incredibly fun. Why? I honestly have no idea. There are some games that, if dissected, the parts would make most game scholars scratch their heads and utter a collective “huh?” However, put those parts together and a rare synergy occurs. This is the magic of Jaipur. 

I love games like that.  I happened to see it for 20% off at the convention and picked it up.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
And then I got to the Z-man booth.  As my good friend Grant G. said, "I never met a Z-man game I didn't like."  I was really hoping to find Traders of Carthage, but apparently that's been out of print for a while.  But I did find The Speicherstadt (designer Stefan Feld, publisher Z-man Games) an auction trading house game that I've had my eye on for a while but which sold out at PrezCon last February before I could make up my mind to buy it.  Luckily I wasn't so indecisive this year.

I needed even less deliberation to pick up Farmers of the Moor (designer Uwe Rosenberg), also at the Z-man booth.  This extension to one of my favorite games, Agricola, adds horses and peat to the farm.  I expect Farmers will bring a little "aroma" to our Agricola sessions.

I had, unfortunately, blown my budget by the time I got to the Stronghold Games booth, where I encountered Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War (designer Robert Abbott, publisher Stronghold Games).  Oh, baby.  The DiceHateMe review of this cloak-and-dagger deduction game really brought out the evil laugh in me.  But how do you indulge your inner spy when you've got a bag full of games already?  Well, fortunately, Keith F. felt the same Cold War nostalgia I did.  (Oh, wait, he's not nearly as old as I am ... Keith, what grade were you in when the Berlin Wall fell?)  Nevertheless, Keith picked it up, somehow confident that he'd be able to get me to play it with him a few times.

Keith, Brian, and I sat down for two last games of the weekend - Trains Planes and Automobiles and Citadels, two more games that Keith bought on my recommendation.  (What a trusting soul.)  At the last minute, as the vendors were boxing up inventory, Brian ran back and grabbed a copy of Pandemic, because Keith and I knew that he wanted to buy it; he just needed a little encouragement.

So all in all, the three of us managed to stay entertained.  We drank beer, we competed in tournaments, we played games till 2:00 in the morning, we bought bags of games ... and yet none of us went home with a plaque.  Oh, well.  There's always PrezCon.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Second day at World Boardgaming Championships

Friday morning, I ran a session of Trains Planes and Automobiles for several kids in the Juniors Room between tournaments.  Laurie W. of the Junior Events staff at WBC had played it with me yesterday, and she talked up the game among the kids to help spur interest.  The kids that joined me at the table had a good time learning and playing TPA and really liked it.  Later in the day, I played TPA with my friends Brian G. and Keith F., each of whom had already bought a copy.

I had some free time to try another round of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, and was surprised to learn that I was in the running for the quarterfinals.  I took the opportunity to play another session to try to boost my chances of qualifying.  In our scenario, I had two British 74-gun ships-of-the-line (SOLs), and my opponent had equivalent ships.  From the first turn, I could tell this was going to be an unusual game.  My opponent opened with an innovative tactic; he sent one of his vessels upwind and the other downwind as I approached in order to attempt a rake on one end or the other of my line.  I am rather traditional in my tactics and refused to separate my ships but maintained a close order line in an attempt to overlap fields of fire and concentrate on a single target (as I had against Robert yesterday).  

I focused my fire on one ship's rigging to reduce his maneuverability and render him unable to tack upwind and rake the rear of my line.  Suddenly he turned toward me, rammed my rear ship, and attempted to board it - something I really did not expect.  What followed was a bloody melee over several turns in which my crew barely prevailed.  He fought to the last man in a the battle that left my rear ship with only an eighth of its original crew standing.  Meanwhile my lead ship was engaged in a pounding point-blank exchange of broadsides that left both his downwind ship and my lead ship in danger of striking.  My rear ship freed itself of the grapples from the now-empty, drifting enemy vessel, and re-joined my lead ship.  I was able to engage his remaining vessel from both sides and deliver the decisive blow that force her to strike her colors.  At the end, we both agreed that it was one of the most exciting WS&IM battles either of us had played in a long time.  Unlike the previous day's victories, which seemed to some degree products of dice luck, I felt as though I won Friday's battle largely through tactical discipline.    

I entered the Alhambra tournament, which was very well attended.  I had a strong second-place finish among the six very friendly players at our table (including Laurie W. of the Juniors Room).  As it turned out, only first-place finishers would qualify for the semi-finals, so I was out of the running for Alhambra.  

A little later in the day, Joel Tamburo hosted a seminar on ethics in gaming, an engaging discussion on a rich topic that I will explore in more detail in a later blog post.

That evening, I saw a demonstration of GMT's Washington's War, which looks like an interesting game that explores the efforts of Great Britain vs. the Continental Congress to win the hearts and minds of the colonists during the American Revolution.

Keith F. had seen a demonstration last year of a game called Wartime, an as-yet unpublished real-time board wargame.  Josh Tempkin of Tall Tower Games has it for demo here at WBC again this year, so Brian G. and I had the opportunity to try it out.  The game involves perhaps the most innovative mechanism I can remember seeing in a long time - a set of multiple egg timers for tracking when pieces may move.  All play is simultaneous and open, and the game involves no luck at all.  Players simply move and attack as fast as the egg timers allow them to.  The gameplay gives new meaning to the phrase "fast and furious."  We finished our first game in nine minutes.  It felt very much like a real-time video game, but in the format of a boardgame.  We learned subsequently that later that very evening, Josh sold the design to a publisher.  We look forward to seeing the production version when it comes out.

The three of us got together for a late-night session of Stone Age and were joined by Debbie, whom we had not met before but who saw us setting up and asked to join us.  Stone Age falls into the worker-placement category of Agricola or Pillars of the Earth, but it has some novel scoring mechanisms that take some getting used to.  I really enjoy the game but am reluctant to buy it only because it is another bird of that feather, so to speak.

On our way out, we ran across a game of Lifeboat that was being played by Chris and Cherilyn, the creators of the Dice Hate Me blog and podcast.  It was great to meet them in person.  They plan to have playtest sessions of two of their games on Saturday, so I hope to try them out, time permitting.

My Saturday plan currently consists of joining the WS&IM fleet action, a multi-player event in which each player controls two ships in a large naval battle.  There are several demos I want to see during the day, and the WS&IM semifinal and final will be later that afternoon.  If I take leave of my senses, I may participate in the midnight Wartime tournament, just because that game looks like so much fun.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First day at World Boardgaming Championships

A quick summary of yesterday's events:

I started in Wooden Ships and Iron Men with a single frigate engagement against Tim Hitchings, the event coordinator.  I won largely due to die luck; for a good stretch of the game, I couldn't roll lower than '4,' and he couldn't roll higher than '3.'  It's hard to lose under those conditions.  

I followed with a match-up against Rob from Alexandria, VA, my two Spanish 80- and 74-gun ships-of-the-line (SOLs) against his similarly rated vessels.  I won that engagement as well, partly due to basic naval gunnery tactics (concentrate both broadsides on a single target, take down one mast, then switch fire to hull and blast away) and partly due again to die luck (although not as egregious as in the frigate battle).  I was by no means unscathed; through effective use of chain shot, Rob completely demasted my 80-gun SOL.  At one point he tried to perform an end run by pulling his rear SOL out of line and upwind, away from my fire, then rigging full sails, and attempting to sprint around the far side of his lead SOL to turn down wind and attempt to set up a rake on my rear SOL.  I was pretty tight with my line and maneuver, though, and managed to re-form my line along the wind in such a way that instead of firing on my rear, he faced a combined broadside as he made his attempted raking maneuver. Meanwhile, I was able to keep up the barrage on his lead SOL until she struck her colors.  At that point Rob felt that he was unlikely to pull out a win (particularly under tournament time constraints), and he conceded the battle.

I had an opportunity to introduce Trains Planes and Automobiles to Laurie W. and Jenna S., the adults running the Juniors Room.  (There were few children present at the time, and those were all engaged in other games already.)  The adults seemed interested in learning a new family game, and it went over very well.  I'm optimistic they will look for it in the Vendors Room tomorrow, when Worthington Games will have it available for sale.

I competed in the 7 Wonders tournament at a very fun table of seven people, including Stefan from Montreal.  I came in a very close second place (112 points over two games).  There were 25 tables and 42 seats in the quarterfinal, so my strong second-place finish qualified me for the quarterfinal.  Unfortunately, there I had my worst showing ever, with 36 points and a solid lock on seventh place.  So that was it for 7W for me this convention.  

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher delivered a seminar that amounted to a summary of his lecture notes on game design, with a great deal of Q&A and interaction among the audience members, who included Joe Angiolillo, designer of Objective Moscow and Operation Typhoon (although he denied deserving credit for that latter title), among others.  It was a rich and fascinating session that ran so long that I skipped the Agricola heat scheduled for later in the evening.

After my friends Keith F. and Brian G. finished in Agricola (Keith won his table), we went over to the open gaming area, where I introduced them to Citadels.  Keith won our game, a victory I think I could have snatched from him if I'd properly played the assassin against the architect (rather than the warlord), which would have prevented him from building his eighth district and getting sufficient bonus points to outscore me.  Curses!

Today's plan includes more WS&IM, more opportunities to introduce kids to TPA, Alhambra (or maybe Agricola - there's a conflict), demos of Tikal and Washington's War, a seminar on gaming and ethics, and opportunities to play Battleline, Ingenious, and Liar's Dice.  

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.

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.