Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Incan Gold. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Incan Gold. Show all posts

Friday, August 22, 2014

Third annual-ish "What to pack for a vacation"

I like looking into which boardgames work for taking on family summer vacations.  The last time I looked at this question was July 2012.  This year we have plans to visit points of interest in southwest Virginia - the Skyline Drive, Lexington, the Natural Bridge, and Monticello.  We specifically will be leaving laptops at home.  Anticipating some quality family downtime, of course that means boardgames.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Boardgames by candlelight

Early this week a sequence of winter storms came through northern Virginia, and my house lost power for about 45 hours.  My kids were pretty bored without their usual sources of electronic entertainment, but one nice thing about boardgames is that you don't have to plug them into the wall.  So as we sat by the fireplace trying to stay warm, we broke out the games and had a reasonably good time by lanterns and candlelight.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

WBC 2013 Friday: Gryphon and Avalon Hill

Continuing my saga from yesterday's post...

Vendors
Friday at the World Boardgaming Championships was the first day that the vendors set up shop, and my friend Keith Ferguson was eager to be there when the doors opened.  Somehow I got the Friday morning schedule wrong and missed out on competing in a morning tournament, so I went to the vendors' hall instead.  As soon as I walked in, I saw the Gaming Nomads booth with Incan Gold (designers Bruno Faidutti and Alan R. Moon, artist Matthias Catrein, publisher Gryphon), which my family had been playing using a makeshift homemade version.  For $20, it seemed reasonable to get a copy of the real thing, since it gets some play in my house.  I overheard someone ask for Salmon Run (designer Jesse Catron  artist Eric J. Carter, publisher Gryphon), which I didn't even know they had until they pulled it out from under a low shelf, so I picked that up, too.  Finally, I decided to get Pergamon (designers Stefan Dorra and Ralf zur Linde, artist Klemens Franz, publisher Gryphon Games), which has been on my wishlist for a long time but which I just never picked up until now.  So I bought three Gryphon games from the first vendor I saw.  I decided discretion was the better part of valor at that point, and turned around and walked out again before my credit card got any other bright ideas.

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, August 26, 2011

Revisit: Incan Gold and game theory

[I've been on business travel this week, so in the absence of original material, I'm reposting an article from last spring when I was first discovering Incan Gold.]


We had a family session of Incan Gold this afternoon [original post 16 April 2011].  An interesting development came up when my wife Kathy and I had bailed out of an expedition, and only my two sons Liam and Corey remained to explore the ruins.  One instance each of three different monsters had been turned up, which meant that there was a very real possibility that a second monster of one type would appear and scare the remainder of the party out of the ruins at any point.  But then an artifact showed up, and a very interesting stand-off ensued.  By the rules of the game, if there are two or more people in the expedition, neither gets the artifact, and it stays on the card.  In a subsequent turn, if exactly one of the remaining two people decides to return to his tent, he gets all treasure left on cards from previous turns - including the coveted artifact.  If both players turn back, neither gets the artifact, and the round is over.  If both continue on, both continue to share discovered treasure but risk encountering a monster and losing everything.

What followed was an almost comical staring contest between the two of them to try to figure out whether the other was going to stay or return, and therefore whether to return (in hopes that the other was staying, which would leave the artifact to the returning player) or stay (and keep any subsequent treasure for oneself).

The decision to turn back or to continue is simultaneous among remaining players, so the result is a fairly classic game theory problem, in which the outcome of a decision depends upon an opponent's simultaneous unknown decision.

Own decision  Opponent decides to stay  Opponent decides to go
Stay          Turn over another card    Opponent gets artifact
Go                  Get artifact          Nobody gets artifact


Since "Turn over another card" is mutually risky or mutually beneficial but in no case advantageous for one player over the other if both players stay, then game theory would conclude that the only logical decision would be to go.  But if both players decide to go, then neither gets the artifact.

The piece that's missing in my decision table above, however, is that if either player stays, another card will be turned over, to the risk or benefit of the player(s) staying.  So there might be an advantage to staying if a player perceives a potential treasure greater than getting the artifact.  But that's really unlikely, in fact, so the stand-off will typically end up in both players going back and neither getting the artifact. Having said that, however, the game actually plays unpredictably, and perceived risk and reward tend to rule over cold logic.

We've really come to like this risk management game.  I'm apparently way too conservative, however.  I came in last today, and Corey (10) beat us all.  (I seem to recall that he ended up with the artifact more than once, by the way.)

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.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What to pack for a vacation

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.

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?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Incan Gold and Game Theory

We had a family session of Incan Gold (or, more precisely, my home-made knock-off) this afternoon.  An interesting development came up when my wife Kathy and I had bailed out of an expedition, and only my two sons Liam and Corey remained to explore the ruins.  One instance each of three different monsters had been turned up, which meant that there was a very real possibility that a second monster of one type would appear and scare the remainder of the party out of the ruins at any point.  But then an artifact showed up, and a very interesting stand-off ensued.  By the rules of the game, if there are two or more people in the expedition, neither gets the artifact, and it stays on the card.  In a subsequent turn, if exactly one of the remaining two people decides to return to his tent, he gets all treasure left on cards from previous turns - including the coveted artifact.  If both players turn back, neither gets the artifact, and the round is over.  If both continue on, both continue to share discovered treasure but risk encountering a monster and losing everything.

What followed was an almost comical staring contest between the two of them to try to figure out whether the other was going to stay or return, and therefore whether to return (in hopes that the other was staying, which would leave the artifact to the returning player) or stay (and keep any subsequent treasure for oneself).

The decision to turn back or to continue is simultaneous among remaining players, so the result is a fairly classic game theory problem, in which the outcome of a decision depends upon an opponent's simultaneous unknown decision.

Own decision  Opponent decides to stay  Opponent decides to go
Stay          Turn over another card    Opponent gets artifact
Go                  Get artifact          Nobody gets artifact


Since "Turn over another card" is mutually risky or mutually beneficial but in no case advantageous for one player over the other if both players stay, then game theory would conclude that the only logical decision would be to go.  But if both players decide to go, then neither gets the artifact.

The piece that's missing in my decision table above, however, is that if either player stays, another card will be turned over, to the risk or benefit of the player(s) staying.  So there might be an advantage to staying if a player perceives a potential treasure greater than getting the artifact.  But that's really unlikely, in fact, so the stand-off will typically end up in both players going back and neither getting the artifact. Having said that, however, the game actually plays unpredictably, and perceived risk and reward tend to rule over cold logic.

We've really come to like this risk management game.  I'm apparently way too conservative, however.  I came in last today, and Corey (10) beat us all.  (I seem to recall that he ended up with the artifact more than once, by the way.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Intrigued by Incan Gold?

I just learned that my son Liam - the teenager who couldn't stop and who lost all his loot to the monsters in every round of our first game of Incan Gold - taught the game to his little brother and his friend yesterday afternoon, and the three boys had a great time playing it.  So I guess that means he wasn't put off by the game after all.  Good sign!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poor Man's Incan Gold

I read an entertaining review yesterday of Incan Gold (designers Bruno Faidutti and Alan Moon, publisher Fred Distribution's Gryphon Games).  I really like risk management games (also known as "push-your-luck games"), even though I'm pretty bad at them.  (I got eliminated early in the Can't Stop tournament at PrezCon, which my buddy Grant G. won.)  In the case of Incan Gold, players advance into an ancient ruin to find and share treasure but risk encountering monsters that can force them to drop their loot and run.  At any point, each player has an opportunity to take his share of the loot back to his tent, which guarantees that he keeps what he has but means that the players who continue get a bigger share of whatever additional treasure turns up.

I found the mechanics and components to be straightforward enough that I could recreate the gameplay (if not the artwork) with simple gaming components.  From a normal deck of playing cards, I assembled the two jokers, the twelve face cards, and one each of black ace, two, three, four, five, seven, and nine, and red ace, three, four, five, and seven.  Each player gets a different colored pawn, and a set of poker chips serves as gold treasure.

In my version of the game, the aces and number cards represent treasure.  Black cards are worth their face value in gold (with an ace representing a value of one).  Red cards are worth their face value plus ten (so that the red seven is worth 17).  Jokers represent single artifacts worth ten each.  Face cards represent monsters.

[What follows is a description of the rules of the game, but the review I read illustrated them nicely and with a touch of humor.]

The game consists of five rounds.  Each round starts with the deck being shuffled and a card being turned face up to start the journey into the ancient ruin.  If it is a treasure card, the players divide the loot equally.  Now, players have two piles of money over the course of the game.  One pile is their "loot bag," which is where they add found loot but is also what is at risk of being dropped if a monster scares them away.  The other pile is their tent, which is where they dump their loot bag when they decide to leave the ruin and keep what they've found.  Treasure in the tent can never be lost.

When treasure from a treasure card is divided evenly among the players, any remainder is left on the card.  Each player now has an opportunity to decide to go back to his tent and keep the money in his loot bag, or to keep going deeper into the ancient ruin in search for more treasure.  This decision is simultaneous among all the players.  The way it is executed is that all players take their pawns and put both hands under the table.  All players then place one closed hand on top of the table.  When everybody is ready, all players open their hands.  A hand with a pawn in it means that the player has decided to go back to his tent; an empty hand means that the player has decided to continue with the expedition.

If any players decide to go back to their tents, they divide evenly among themselves any treasure that had been left on any cards so far in the expedition.  Then they move all the treasure in their loot bags to their tents, and they are done for the round.  If any players decided to continue with the expedition, they place their pawns on the table next to the face up cards, and another card is drawn and placed face up alongside the last one.

If the card drawn is a face card and it is the first face card of that suit (spade, heart, diamond, or club), then nothing happens.  Players again decide whether to continue or to turn back.  If the card drawn is a face card and it is the second face card of that suit, then all players who are still in the expedition lose all the treasure they have accumulated in their loot bags, no one gets any of the treasure left on any cards, all the cards are shuffled into the deck, and the round is over.  (Players that had previously left the expedition and returned to their tents suffer no loss.)

The Jokers represent special artifacts.  When a Joker is turned up, poker chips representing ten gold are placed on the card.  An artifact can't be divided among players, so if more than one player is still in the expedition, the ten gold stay on the card.  Later, if exactly one player leaves the expedition and returns to his tent, he can retrieve the ten-gold artifact along with all the other treasure still on cards.  If two or more players leave the expedition simultaneously, none gets the artifact (because they squabble among themselves), and it stays on the card.

A round ends when all players have returned to their tents or when a second monster (face card) of a suit is turned up and scares everybody out.  After five rounds, the player with the most treasure in his tent wins.

My son Liam, my wife Kathy, and I tried out this home-made knock-off of Incan Gold yesterday evening, and Liam bolstered my working hypothesis on teenagers and risk assessment.  He was always still in the expedition when the second monster of a suit came up, so he ended up with no treasure after five rounds.  I ended up winning because I adopted a thumb rule of bailing out of the expedition when three different suits had turned up; in my mind, the risk of getting a second monster of any of those three suits was generally too high to justify hoping for more treasure.  Often, I was the only one to leave the expedition, so that meant I got all the leftover treasure on the cards at that point for myself as well.

As I looked at the card distribution, I noticed that most of the treasure cards are prime numbers or at most the product of two prime numbers.  I find that significant because the intent of the designer seems to have been to try to have some remainder to leave on the card after the treasure is divided among the players, at least more often than not.  (There is no six-, eight-, 12-, or 16-gold treasure card, which would frequently divide evenly among a typical number of expedition members.)  The interesting effect is that as the expedition progresses, the motivation to bail out becomes stronger; not only does turning back allow a player to keep what he has in his loot bag and avoid the risk of a monster, but it provides the added "carrot" of picking up some or all of the leftover loot on the previous cards.