Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The game time conundrum revisited

A couple of years ago, I looked over my game collection and sighed at the number of games that hadn't seen the attention they deserved.  I wrote a post listing games that I wanted to spend more time on, even as I realized that as long as leisure time is limited and the game collection is big, there will always be neglected games on my shelves.  It's a topic worth revisiting from time to time - both because it's interesting to see how the list has changed (and how it hasn't) and because it's helpful to look at the collection with fresh eyes and think about resurrecting a few titles that might bear dusting off and playing again.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday gift meta-guide

The reader looking for boardgame gift ideas for the upcoming holidays may find recommendations from an overwhelming variety of sources.  Rather than add to the noise, I thought I would help organize it with my own meta-guide of boardgame holiday gift guides.  What follows is a consolidated list of sources, including the categories for which they provide recommendations, as well as a summary of highlights at the end.  I hope the reader finds this meta-guide helpful.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A look back at hip-pocket wargames

I just saw the documentary Game On: The World Boardgaming Championships, by Alex Dunbar of Wind-up Films, which featured (among other things) the progress of a young competitor in the Ace of Aces tournament.  And just yesterday, my friend Paul R. just contacted me, now that we are working in the same building, about getting together for a game (which we haven't done in far too long).  It occurred to me that with proper planning, we could play a wargame on a lunch break.  Both of those events reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago on what I called "hip-pocket wargames" - those that you could pull out and play on relatively short notice.  So what follows is a re-post of that blog entry, which might be new for some of my more recent followers.

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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Top ten games that I play with my wife

Quite some time ago, Chris Norwood posted a list of his top ten games that he plays with his wife.  That list in turn was inspired by The Dice Tower podcast Episode 189, in which Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer shared their own top ten games that they play with their wives.  Those lists are both several years old, but the topic is timeless, so I thought I'd confer with my wife Kathy so that we could compile our own list.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Spring and summer photos

As October begins and fall sets in, I thought I would look back at some of games I got to play over the last six months.

My friend Grant G. gave us Goa for Christmas, and Kathy and I really like this neo-classic Euro.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 3: Who else has asked this question?

This post is the third in a series of three essays on the topic.
Part 1: Why are women the exception in boardgame design?
Part 2: Who are the women that design games?

I'm certainly not the first to question the disproportion of men to women in the boardgaming hobby.  Here are just a few recent efforts (and one not-so-recent) to shed light on the question in one form or another.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 2: Who are the women that design games?

This post is the second in a series of three essays, following
Feminism Discourse Part 1: Why are women the exception in boardgame design? 

Last week I started to consider the question about why it seemed that there were so few female game designers.  But that post admittedly begs the question:  Is it actually true that game designers are disproportionately male, or is it just that male designers are simply better known?  I decided to actively identify women designers and some of the games they've designed to see if I could validate the notion that they are rare - or if not, to investigate why they are not as well known as male designers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feminism discourse: Why are women the exception in boardgame design?

Susan McKinley Ross at
2013 New York Toy Fair
I've recently come to consider seriously why most of the game designers with which I'm familiar are male.  I became more aware of this observation when I learned of a couple of women who won game design awards over the last few years and realized how unusual it seemed to me at the time - specifically, Susan McKinley Ross, who won the 2011 Spiel des Jahres for Qwirkle (which I only learned of when Tom Vasel interviewed her last November), and Leslie Scott, who won the 2012 TAGIE for Excellence in Game Design for Jenga.

Friday, September 5, 2014

My candidates for the 2014 Dice Tower Top 100

(c) Queen Games
Used by permission
The Dice Tower is soliciting People's Choice votes for its annual Top 100 Games.  At the risk of exposing my idiosyncratic taste in games, here are the twenty for which I voted:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Confusion: Do I get it?

(c) Stronghold Games.  Used by permission
I've been enamored of Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War (designer Robert Abbott, artist David Ausloos, publisher Stronghold) for a long time - partly for the cold war theme, partly for the bakelite components, but mostly for the really clever "reverse Stratego" mechanic of knowing what your opponent's pieces can do, but not your own.  Keith Ferguson picked it up the last day of WBC 2011, and we've played it a few times since - most recently during open gaming at WBC earlier this month.

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, August 16, 2014

WBC 2014 Saturday and Sunday: WS&IM fleet action, Acquire semifinal, and demos

One quick go-back on my earlier posts recounting my World Boardgaming Championships experience this year:  The very first thing that Keith Ferguson and I did Thursday morning, on our way to the registration desk, was to bump into Josh Tempkin of Tall Tower Games.  He spent a good part of the convention demonstrating several of his games:
  • "WarTime," which I've written about before as a fascinating, innovative real-time wargame involving sand timers
  • "Throne Dice," which surprisingly I still haven't taken the time to play
  • "Commissioner," which I learned at UnPub 4 as "Lesser Evil"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

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

(c) Rio Grande Games - used by
permission
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.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Second annual List of Shame: The Unplayed Games of 2014

Last year about this time, inspired by Chris "GamerChris" Norwood, I posted my "secret shame" - a list of unplayed games sitting on my shelves.  When I did that, I thought surely, I am now motivated to work my way down this list and play all these games - or pass them along to someone else who will.  Surely, in the next year, say, I will have played nearly all my games and the list will be shorter.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

UnPub Mini Chantilly Recap

Last Saturday, Keith Ferguson ran an UnPub Mini event at Game Parlor Chantilly.  (I helped a little.)  We had about twelve designers and about 20 gamers playtesting over the course of the 11 hours that the store was open that day.  It was about as successful as we could have wanted.  For my part, I got to playtest "East India Company" and "Reactor Scram" one time each, as well as to play about four other games, though there were many more I wish I could have played.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

More designers for 21 June UnPub Mini in Chantilly, Virginia

As I mentioned in a post on May 8, there will be an UnPub Mini event this Saturday 21 June at
Game Parlor
13936 Metrotech Drive
Chantilly, VA 20151
We now have a full slate of eleven designers lined up, so we have plenty of opportunities for gamers to come and try out new game design prototypes and provide feedback to the designers.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Leaner, meaner "Company"

I've been giving some thought as to how to streamline "East India Company."  There are a few approaches I can take.  The scientist in me wants to make one change at a time and test each change independently.  I've heard at least one designer specifically recommend that approach so that you always know the effect of each specific design change.  But my gut tells me to identify the essential core elements of the game, eliminate everything else in one big purge, and then see if anything should be added back in, painstakingly, one element at a time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

East India Company returns to the shipyard

Last February I mentioned that I'd submitted a prototype of "East India Company" to a publisher at UnPub 4 to evaluate for publication.  I just heard back from them, and they
do not find it to be a good fit for our upcoming releases. At the end of the day, the play time and complexity does not create a conducive product for a broad success, as the trends are leading away from complex play and longer play times.
I can certainly accept that evaluation.  Game length has been a challenge with "EIC" since its inception, and it certainly is complex.  Given the nature of today's game market, I agree that its appeal as it currently stands would probably be somewhat narrow.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Luck, skill, and research

Last week I opened a discussion on my effort to quantify game characteristics.  I had in mind that I would explore this question on my own, somewhat in a vacuum, based on my own experience and opinions, as something of an exercise to see what defensible conclusions I might reach.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thoughts on quantifying game characteristics

Gamers tend to characterize games in terms of luck vs. skill, replayability, lightness vs. depth, and so forth.  These qualitative assessments help us to evaluate what we might like or dislike about a game before we've played it ourselves, or help to consider which games might be appropriate for a specific social, tournament, or convention setting.  These characterizations also help in establishing design goals and parameters as well as assist publishers in determining which potential titles will fit within their product line.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reactor Scram: early playtesting

I have finally started working in earnest on a co-op idea I've had percolating in my mind for the last few weeks.  The theme is that the players are workers in a nuclear reactor plant whose maintenance has been neglected, until finally the bad day comes when everything seems to break at once.  The goal is to get the plant into a "safe condition" without melting down a core or irradiating any of the workers.

First prototype of "Reactor Scram"
I ran a couple of solo playtests.  I won one and lost one, which made me think that I've got the initial balance at least coarsely in the right neighborhood.  What surprised me was how quickly each game completed - roughly ten or fifteen minutes per game.  I usually have the opposite problem with the games I design - play times that run way too long.  Right now I've got a game that takes more time to explain than it does to play.  So I want to figure out some way of extending the gameplay as well as the "story arc" so that I'm not just "making it longer" for the sake of making it last.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Winter photos

A quick gallery of games played over the last three months:
Agent for one of the Lords of Waterdeep in the Jester's Court to recruit thieves...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 5: Finals

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Saturday of PrezCon was a wonderfully full day of gaming.  It started at 9:00 AM with a game of Power Grid (designer Friedemann Friese; artists Antonio Dessi, Lars-Arne "Maura" Kalusky, and Harald Lieske; publisher Rio Grande), which I love but really don't play well.  We played on the original map of Germany, and I started in the north, where I found myself immediately in competition with Henry Ho.  I think the two of us beat each other down pretty aggressively, stealing cheap connections and forcing each other to leap-frog one another in order to expand, so we both ended up finishing poorly.  James Henderson, against whom I'd also played Acquire earlier in the week, narrowly won our game over Joe Rudmin in second.  I placed third powering 12 cities.

Monday, March 24, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 4: Social gaming

Part of what I love about conventions is re-connecting with gaming friends as well as meeting new people.  This year at PrezCon, I got to meet in person Dan Patriss, whom I'd heard many times on the Geek All Stars podcast.  He was with Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games, and Friday night we got together with Stephanie Straw, T.C. Petty III, and Darrell Louder for a couple of late-night games.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 3: Pillars of the Earth final

As I mentioned in my previous post, I ran the Pillars of the Earth tournament at PrezCon again this year.  I had two heats totalling 14 different competitors in five games.  Four of the five qualifying winners showed up for the final:  Shane McBee, Philip Shea, Jeff Thornsen, and Tom Snyder.  I have really come to enjoy watching tournament games, because I get to see some real high-level play.  This year's final was no exception.

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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 1: Thursday

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed four days at my favorite gaming convention, PrezCon.  There were several hitches this year, a few things that didn't go right, but nevertheless I had a great time.  The next several posts will share some highlights.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lorton Monopoly Tournament

By way of background, Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) is a local charity that looks after the basic needs and means to self-sufficiency of low-income individuals and families in our area.  In support of LCAC, the real estate agency Ron and Susan Associates sponsors an annual Monopoly tournament as a fund-raising event.  I had the opportunity to participate in Ron and Susan's Seventh Annual Monopoly Tournament last weekend at the Workhouse Arts Center, a converted prison facility that now houses an art gallery and studio spaces for local artists.  Ron Kowalski (of Ron and Susan Associates) worked for Hasbro at one time and is something of a Monopoly enthusiast.  The event was very well run, and the setting in an art gallery was very pleasant.  Lunch was catered by Glory Days.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Alesia

About three weeks ago, my friend Paul R. invited Grant G., his brother W.J., and myself to his house for a game of the classic Caesar: Alesia (designer Robert Bradley, publisher Avalon Hill).  This hex-and-counter wargame revisits the Gallic attempt to break the Roman seige of the fortress at Alesia in September 52 BC.  I'd read an English translation of De Bellis Gallicus by Julius Caesar, so I was somewhat familiar with the battle and its context.  The interesting aspect of the battle is that the Romans had formed a double ring of fortifications around Alesia - an inner ring to keep the occupants of Alesia from escaping, and an outer ring to defend the Romans from other Gauls attempting to break the seige.

Monday, February 3, 2014

UnPub 4 Part III: Sunday publishers

Publishers' Panel
Sunday of UnPub 4 opened with a pancake breakfast sponsored by Eagle and Gryphon Games and a panel discussion featuring eight publishers in a question-and-answer format.  UnPub convention director Darrell Louder moderated the panel.  Panelists included

Sunday, February 2, 2014

UnPub 4 Part II: Heartland Hauling and Ten-acre Farming

"Great Heartland Dice Game" with Tiffany Bahnsen
and Adam O'Brien (r.)
Great Heartland Dice Game
I was tremendously pleased to get to meet Jason Kotarski (Great Heartland Hauling Company) in person.  I got to playtest his dice-game spin-off, "Great Heartland Dice Game," with Shawn Purtell, Adam O'Brien, and Tiffany "Socially Inept Gamer" Bahnsen.  This was a fun variation on GHHC, kind of Yahtzee with cows.  Actually, there is an element of resource management, since having a gas reserve makes it possible to re-roll dice and score more effectively.  It's also possible to sell of extra dice to other players for gas.  The result is a clever little filler game that deserves a publisher's attention.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

UnPub 4 Part I: Pitching and playtesting

I spent Martin Luther King weekend at UnPub 4, the fourth annual unpublished games convention for designers in Magnolia, Delaware.

Friday night - designers dinner
I had the privilege of an invitation to a designers and publishers dinner the night before UnPub, which I attended with my friend and fellow designer Keith Ferguson ("Santa's Workshop").  It was so great to see so many other designers and publishers again, many of whom I hadn't seen since UnPub 3 last year.  UnPub founder John Moller passed the reins to Darrell Louder (designer of Compounded), who hosted the designer-publisher dinner and directed the UnPub 4 convention admirably, with the able assistance of his wife Lesley Louder, Stephanie Straw, and other volunteers.

Friday, January 10, 2014

An evening after work

A number of my friends typically get together after work almost every Tuesday for gaming at our local game store, Game Parlor Chantilly.  I don't typically make it as often as I like, but this week was a pleasant exception.

(c) Rio Grande Games.  Used by permission
I arrived early and met my good friend Glenn W., who happened to have a copy of Lost Cities (designer Reiner Knizia, artist Claus Stephan, publisher Rio Grande) in his car.  I'd played this once or twice at PrezCon years ago, so I was familiar enough with the rules to get reacquainted pretty quickly.  We jumped right in and played one hand while we waited for others to show up, and I think I won by a pretty narrow margin.  Most importantly, this re-exposure has rekindled my interest in picking this up as a candidate for Kathy and me to play during our frequent cocktail-hour games.  For some reason it had fallen fairly low on my wishlist, but now I really think it's a good option - not quite as brain-burning as Battle Line, but still a good two-player card game to try out.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Years gaming

The holiday season continues with more socializing around boardgames.  On New Years Eve, our friend Sheila D. hosted Glenn W., Jeff W., Kathy and me for dinner and games.  After a wonderful Mexican rice bowl dinner with shredded beef, we sat down to spend the last six hours of 2013 playing games.