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Views & Reviews with Ender

Featuring game trivia and talk, and comprehensive pictorial game reviews

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The Postcard Box Games Series: A big triumph for a little publisher

Ender Wiggins
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There is a well known saying that good things come in small packages. When applied to boardgames, that old adage couldn't be more true of the Postcard Box Games series, published by Indie Boards and Cards. Run by active BGGer Travis Worthington, Indie focuses on publishing and distributing small home-grown games, enabling them to reach and be appreciated by larger audiences. Despite its inconspicuous size and relatively new status as a publisher, Indie has been responsible for some of the newest hotness here on BGG. The Postcard Box Games series consists of three popular titles - Triumvirate, Haggis, and The Resistance - all of which have garnered considerable and well-deserved attention and generated very favourable reviews.

Their quality is immediately obvious from the look of the games themselves, which are small but immediately endearing boxes of an identical size. Have you ever had that experience where you picked up a book and you knew just by the way that it felt in your hands that it was going to be a good read? Well that’s how it feels when you pick up these postcard box games the first time – the box just feels good, they've got a quality look and feel, and are of an ideal size for portability and convenience. But more importantly, you have the immediate impression that they that contain potential – the potential of generating good gaming experiences and lasting memories. And that indeed proves to be the case when we bring these games to the table. Here's a short overview of the three games in this series, and what they offer.

Triumvirate (2009)

The first game in the series is Triumvirate, and being Travis Worthington's own design, to some extent it is the flag-ship for the Indie Board & Cards line. It was originally a self-published game that appeared in a much more humble form, only to be recast with lavish components when the Postcard Box Games series came to be. So why does it deserve our attention? As it is, most of us are always on the lookout for good two-player games that play reasonably quickly and feature satisfying game-play. If you're a fan of traditional type trick-taking games, you'll be well aware that there aren't many trick taking games that meet these criteria and work well with only two players. So when one comes along that does, it's worth taking note - and Triumvirate is one such game.

But while Triumvirate has some trick taking elements that make it appeal to people familiar with more traditional card games, it features an indirect style of trick-taking play that sets it apart. The unconventional aspect of game-play is that you win by supporting the colour you think will win the most tricks, not by winning the tricks themselves. Oh yes, did I mention that it has a theme too? It's pasted on, admittedly, but it does work - at least on the level of making the game become more than just pure numbers. The aim of the game is to secretly pledge support (by setting aside point cards) for one of the three Roman leaders - Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. These are represented by three coloured suits ( red, yellow, and black), and players must try to make that suit win the most tricks. The interesting part is that what matters is not which player wins those tricks, but which colour. Genius! This indirect trick taking mechanism makes for very interesting and subtle gameplay, and there's good elements of bluffing, as well as potential for clever tactical and strategic choices. Admittedly Triumvirate's strength is also its weakness, because the indirect trick taking mechanic is not for everyone - it will primarily appeal to people who enjoy trick taking games and who are prepared to stick it out after their first game.

Altogether it's an innovative and thematic trick taking game for two players that actually works, and really does live up to its billing! So if you enjoy the nuances of trick taking games, and are looking for something to play with two players and are prepared to try something unconventional, definitely go check out Triumvirate! I enjoy it immensely.

Want to learn more? See my full review on Triumvirate: mb An innovative and thematic trick taking game for two players that actually works! and mb A guide to the new edition


Haggis (2010)

Haggis - which happens to be the subject of my latest review - is the second entry in the Postcard Box Games series, and was designed by Sean Ross. It is not a trick-taking game in the conventional sense, but is part of the climbing game family, along with the immensely popular Tichu, which can rightly be considered an esteemed parent of Haggis. Unlike Tichu, which excels as a partnership game for four players, Haggis is designed for 2-3 players, and is widely regarded as doing a superb job of bringing Tichu-like play to a table with less players.

The object of the game is to try to be the first to empty your hand of cards, thus earning points for the cards left in your opponent's hand. In the course of play, you capture the specific scoring cards in the tricks you win. But to really ramp up the fun factor and the excitement, the points that you acquire in this fashion can be further supplemented by betting that you will be the first player to divest yourself of all of your cards. The `betting' at the start of each round just increases the stakes and adds to the tension. Tricks require playing combinations of cards like sets and sequences - concepts that will be somewhat familiar from games like Rummy. But in Haggis each player also starts with three wild cards, and not only can these help you make sets and sequences, but they can also be played together as `Bombs' - essentially big trumps that beat all other combinations of cards, and virtually guarantee you the trick. Bombs help you retain the lead, but come at the cost of giving up the cards from that trick to your opponent. In most cases retaining the lead is worth this cost, because it can help you ensure that you go out first, and so make your bet or stop your opponent making his.

If you are already familiar with climbing games or are an ardent Tichu fan that's looking for something to play with just 2 or 3 players, then you most definitely want to check out Haggis. If you enjoy traditional type card games, you should also give this a close look, because it could well become a modern classic. Once again there are quality components with attractive artwork, and the gameplay itself is tense and exciting, and leaves a lot of room for skill. I've loved Triumvirate from the get-go, but I have to concede that the indirect trick taking mechanism sometimes makes it harder to find willing opponents - that's less likely to be the case with Haggis, which has proven to be a real hit with most people it's introduced to.

Want to learn more? See my full review on Haggis: mb Introducing a Tichu-inspired Haggis You Won’t Want to Hurl!


The Resistance (2010)

The most recent title in the series is The Resistance, which is a social deduction game designed by Don Eskridge, in the style of the ever-popular Werewolf.

In the game, players assume the role of either a Resistance freedom fighter, or a spy for a repressive government that is trying to thwart the efforts of the Resistance rebels. The fun part is that these roles are assigned secretly. Players must then together vote on which of them goes on a mission, which will either pass or fail - the outcome depends on the secret votes cast by those who go on the mission. But this is where the heart of the game kicks in: players will use discussion, deception and intuition in an attempt to identify the members of the opposing force and ensure victory for their team.

It comes in a small pocket-sized box and consists largely of cards, but wow, if ever there was potential to pack an incredible social game experience in a small box, this is it! This is a party game that may prove to become one of the most popular and one of the best. It's a superb social game, very similar in feel to the well-known Mafia or Werewolf - but arguably better. How could a social game be better than Werewolf? Well, for one thing, there's no player elimination. There's also room for more deduction, because players have more data to work with, based on how players vote and the outcome of various missions. It also handles smaller groups, from as few as five or six players. If you enjoy social games with hidden roles, and if you're a fan of Werewolf in particular, The Resistance is essential - I highly recommend it!

Want to learn more? See my full review on The Resistance: mb Potential winner of the next Golden Geek Award for Best Party Game


Join the discussion: Have you played any of these titles, and if so, what did you think? If you haven't played any of these titles, then which one looks the most appealing to you based on the above, and why?
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Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:44 pm
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How Board Games Can Help You Learn Swahili

Ender Wiggins
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Since I've been playing boardgames, I've learned my fair share of new words. Words like "meeple" quickly become part of a gamer's standard vocabulary along with expressions like "analysis paralysis" and "gateway game". Terms like "worker placement" and "area control" take on a whole new meaning, especially when combined with newly mastered words like "grognard" and "turtling", and acronyms like FLGS, F2F, and PBEM.

But that's not what this is about. Boardgaming can also help you learn foreign languages. Including ones that you're likely never ever to use. I'm not talking about games with multilingual components, or ones that come with rules in English, French and German. No, let's talk Swahili!

Hello Swahili! According to the world's most `reliable' and student-endearing encyclopedic resource (Wikipedia), Swahili is "a Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of the Indian Ocean coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, including the Comoros Islands. Although only 15-20 million people speak it as their native language, Swahili is a national, or official language, of three nations: Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Within much of East Africa, it is often used as a lingua franca." So now you know.

So how have board games helped me learn Swahili? Well, I've discovered that the titles of several games are pure Swahili. I've come across two so far, but I'm sure there must be more. And I want to know what they are - and I'm sure, so do you! Boardgames and Swahili - an essential dissertation topic coming soon to a university near you. Speaking Swahili is, of course, an essential skill that every gamer should aspire to acquire.

Jambo means `hello' in Swahili. How do I know? Because the game rulebook told me so. And how appropriate, because Jambo was one of the very first games I purchased after discovering eurogames. Hello to modern gaming indeed! And a fun two player card game it is - in some respects this proved to be my `gateway' game to other two player hits from Kosmos ... and much more. When reviews and comments about the game made frequent mention of Jambo's cards having `CCG-like abilities', I wondered what on earth this mysterious CCG acronym was all about. Guided by curiosity and impeccable BGG research, so began a new path of discovery along the road of collectible card games. That was in 2005 - fast forward a year, and along with several of my friends I had dived deep into the world of Magic: The Gathering, the grand-daddy CCG of them all. Hello eurogames, hello CCGs, thank you Jambo! This "Jambo" was proving to be a rather powerful word, and was opening up a whole new world for me!

The second Swahili word I learned from board games was Ubongo. After purchasing this game, you understand, my Swahili vocabulary suddenly doubled. Amazing! (Even if it did just mean going from one word to two!) "Ubongo" apparently means "brain" in Swahili. Perhaps the idea is that Ubongo is a brainy game? Certainly it does require using your brains, but fortunately it's not one of those ultra-double-think-brain-melt type games that incapacitate the AP types, or require a supply of oxygen close at hand when playing. Ubongo is more of a puzzle kind of game that's played real time and has a unique appeal, not least because you get to learn another Swahili word from the game title!
Want to know more? See my full review of Ubongo: mb I-Bongo, U-Bongo, We-Bongo in the Congo - how board games are helping me learn Swahili

So that's how board games helped me learn Swahili, and how a Swahili word proved to be a magical "Open Sesame" that opened up a cave of gaming treasure for me. Even Ali Baba would be jealous.


Join the discussion: Please don't tell me that boardgaming is only going to teach me two Swahili words! Are there any other games whose titles are Swahili, or perhaps can otherwise help one learn Swahili? Has boardgaming helped you learn any foreign words or other languages?
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Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:47 am
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A New Series of Family Games: an overview and links to reviews

Ender Wiggins
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Since the end of last year, Gryphon Games has been putting out a new series of titles geared towards the family market, and the games are ones that tend to be more substantial than the ones in their bookshelf series, without becoming heavy-weights. They've given it the stunningly creative title: the Gryphon Family Games series. Ok, maybe not quite so creative. But that doesn't mean that the games aren't much good. They are all quite different, but none of them feels like a traditional euro, and they all have something unique to offer. Here's an overview of the three games in the series so far, starting with the newest game - which I happen to think is the best of the bunch.


Pastiche (2011)

The most recent game in this series is Pastiche, which was released in the last month. Designed by Sean D. MacDonald, it is a wonderfully themed and beautifully produced gateway style game for 2-4 players about mixing colours to re-create famous paintings. It's gorgeously produced with stunning components, and is an outstanding family game that has proven very accessible, by offering relatively straight forward game-play without sacrificing a high fun factor or meaningful decisions. The game has an intriguing mix of various mechanics, among them being: tile placement, set collection, trading, and hand management.

The basic concept is that players must place hex tiles which feature dabs of colours, and depending on how these hexes are placed adjacent to existing hexes, new colours will be created. Through careful hex placement and trading, players must try to acquire the colours needed to complete commissions for famous paintings. Each of these `commission cards' is a quality and thick tile featuring a well-known artistic work, beautifully reproduced. It looks fantastic, and the mechanics mesh quite well with the theme.

Pastiche is intended to be family friendly, and it has the right mix of ingredients to be a successful gateway game, and I can even see potential for it to get nominated for gaming industry awards. We've played it about a dozen times, and continue to be impressed, despite it not being a heavy game. Here's the comprehensive pictorial review that I just posted in the last day:

Want to learn more? See my full review on Pastiche: mb A work of art in every respect, and the ideal family or gateway game


Bridgetown Races (2010)

Bridgetown Races requires players to use different methods of transport to navigate the city of Portland, Oregon, in an attempt to cross as many bridges as possible. Think capture the flag, but in an urban setting, and using bicycles, buses, taxis, streetcars, and more.

It isn't the kind of game that will appeal to everyone, but it's a good family type game that even offers enough challenge to satisfy gamers, especially those who enjoy games which involve logistics and puzzling out an optimal route (think Elfenland). In the process, there's a high degree of interaction. For Portland people it is a must-have simply because of the theme, and because it's not an inherently bad game by any means.

Bridgetown Races isn't going to supplant popular euros in the BGG Top 100 any time soon, but there's enough here that's different from the usual to make it worth a few plays, and it's perhaps designer Carey Grayson's best effort thus far. As an added bonus, it also plays quite well with just two players.

Want to learn more? See my full review on Bridgetown Races: mb Anybody Up For A Game of Urban Capture the Flag?


Charon Inc (2010)

The first in the series was Charon Inc., which is a reference to one of the moons of the planet (?) Pluto. In the game, players assume the role of CEOs (here's hoping that the corner office and six-figure salary will be included in a later expansion) of a space-age mining corporations that are leading the rush to colonize and mine the moon Charon. As a player, your job is to lay claim to the various mining regions of the moon and, utilizing the resources you collect, construct various buildings that will ultimately earn you victory points at the conclusion of the game.

The components are quite nice, and there's some interesting area control mechanics, combined with a choice of special abilities players can compete for each round. The heart of the game is about placing flags to stake your claim in areas on Charon, which in turn will get you the gems (minerals) needed to complete various point-scoring buildings - represented in the game by cards. The theme is arguably pasted on, but using flags for the claim-staking area control mechanic does give the game a certain charm.

Charon Inc is not something for the AP-prone, and won't suit the tastes of every group, but there are certainly going to be gamers who really enjoy this style of game. Also be aware that the game will feel quite different depending on the number of players (2-5).

Want to learn more? See my full review on Charon Inc: mb Is Pluto a planet, do meeples have souls, and other existential questions about this new Essen release


Of all the games in the series, I believe that the newest release Pastiche is easily the strongest entry, on the levels of theme, components, and gameplay - so if you want to get acquainted with this series, that's a good place to start.


Join the discussion: Have you played any of these titles, and if so, what did you think? If you haven't played any of these titles, then which one looks the most appealing to you based on the above, and why?
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Wed Mar 16, 2011 9:01 am
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Deceptive Merchandising? Amusing Lessons From Promotional Pictures Of Games

Ender Wiggins
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When browsing the images for the game Celtica some time ago, I couldn't help but notice that there were only two or three pictures of people actually playing the game. The contrast between a promotional picture from the publisher and a real-world picture from a gamer couldn't be more striking! Here are those two photos:

The kinds of people that the publishers want us to think play Celtica:



The kinds of people that actually do play Celtica:



Wow. Talk about bringing us down to earth and back to reality! Or is this like a before-and-after series, the second picture showing us how things turned out 10 years later in the real world, when the men have acquired beards and bellies, and lost both the glamour and the girls?

There's a lot of scary things about those photos! And I'm not just talking about the facial hair on display in the second picture. Or even the non-conformist people types in the background! No, let's also talk about that first picture! Isn't it disturbing that they've made the box lid look so ... big (compare with the second picture)? And that they've generously awarded it so much space on the table, forcing all the good-looking gamers (models?) to be cramped together at close quarters in less than optimal game-playing conditions? Now look at how they're holding their cards, particularly Mr Blue-Shirt ... And check out who is gazing at who - what exactly is the relationship between the four of them anyway?

Just what is it that the publishers want us thinking when we look at promotional pictures like the one for Celtica? And how far removed is this from the reality of game night at Bob's, or the scene pictured in the second photo of real-life gamers?

The kinds of people that play Haggis

On the other hand no promotional picture could quite do justice to the roller-coaster emotions of a real-life gaming session of Haggis that I enjoyed on Valentine's Day with my darling wife. What a fantastic two-player card game this is! While the spartan artwork on the box cover oozes elegance and class, it gives no indication of the surprisingly tense gameplay that lies therein. I won't repeat all the excitement here, but just direct you to my session report, which should make for an entertaining read.

Read the full story: mb The perils of serving Haggis for a date-night on Valentine's Day: an eyewitness report


Join the discussion: What other rash and grossly unjustified conclusions can we come to about Celtica and the people playing it based only on these two photos? Let speculation run rife! Which of these groups would you rather game with, and why? And what are some of the most amusing board game promo pictures you've come across?
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Thu Feb 17, 2011 10:35 am
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Dominion Becomes a Millionaire, and Player-vs-Player Combat in the Next Generation of Deck-Building Games

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The Success of Dominion

From Rio Grande's latest newsletter comes the startling statistic that Dominion and its expansions have collectively sold more than one million copies when summing sales across all languages. One million plus! Does that make designer Donald X a millionaire? At any rate, with two expansions being released this year, that staggering number is only going to grow, and as Dominon slowly makes inroads into the mainstream, it's surely primed to become a mass market cash cow. Make no mistake, deck-building is in. While Dominion owes a lot to ideas borrowed from the grandfather of CCGs, Magic the Gathering, and other games in that genre, there's no doubt that by successfully taking these concepts to the world of modern board games, Dominion has helped father an entire new genre of its own.

Who would have guessed that the game would have such an impact when it first appeared in 2008? It's interesting to look back at some of the discussions about the game after it first made a splash at Essen that year. I dug up some old correspondence with a gamer friend, who wrote me at the time: "Oh, have you checked out the game Dominion which got released at Essen -- I think it looks pretty enticing. It is available by pre-order right now at a few places for 30 bucks. I am very, very tempted to consider pre-ordering it. I am certainly convinced that it would be an awesome game." Was he ever right! Mind you, I didn't take much convincing - here's what I wrote in reply: "Dominion looks perfect for us! Especially with our MtG background! A must-buy, methinks!" We both ended up pre-ordering it, and were among the first to have it in our hands when it hit North America. After playing it intensively for a few days, Dominion became the subject of one of my first ever comprehensive pictorial reviews - this in turn went on to be one of the most thumbed reviews of all time on BGG, so I'm personally indebted to the game as well! Here's part of my concluding commments in that review: "The unique mechanics, interesting decisions and potential for synergistic play, combined with quick game-play and remarkable replayability/variety all really make this game the success that it is proving to be. Overhyped? Maybe, and perhaps somewhat unfortunately so. Because only time will tell whether the game can maintain its current momentum and what people will be saying about it in five years from now. But there's no doubt that Dominion is something special."

Since then, Dominion certainly has proved to be something special. In an unprecedented fashion, it cracked the BGG Top Ten in a matter of less than a month - something that not everyone was happy about (see here) - and hasn't looked back since. Its list of conquests includes the coveted Spiel Des Jahres, and many a Game-of-the-Year-Award in many a country. Now barely two years down the track, it's already a millionaire, and shows no signs of slowing its pace. Congratulations Dominion!

Want to learn more? See my full review on Dominion: mb So you're wondering about the game with 500 cards that everyone is talking about


The Sons of Dominion

While the Dominion train has enough momentum to support new expansions rolling out on a semi-annual basis, the amount of new deck-building games emerging all the time means that the genre is quickly becoming crowded for the rest of the field. Big names like Thunderstone and Ascension: Deckbuilding Game quickly placed themselves as strong contenders in the new market, but the question for publishers wanting to add a horse to the deck-building race is fast becoming: do we have any chance of getting a good run? And can we bring anything new to the table? Are there any future prospects for the offspring of Dominion? The good news is that there are new and exciting deck-building games that are still emerging, drawing on the richness of the ideas and gold that can be mined from the wealthy heritage of CCGs.

Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than with Heroes of Graxia, the 2010 release by Petroglyph Games. It's a deck-building game that certainly owes a great deal to Dominion for much of its mechanics, but offers a very fresh approach to the genre by incorporating significant elements from games like Magic the Gathering, most notably the notion of player-vs-player combat. In contrast to the 25 different kingdom cards amongst the 500 cards of Dominion, the 240 cards of Heroes of Graxia feature more than 50 uniquely different characters, equipment, spells and monsters, and they're also packaged in a much more compact and portable box. The artwork is quite stunning and attractive. Heroes of Graxia clearly owes an enormous debt to Dominion in game-play, for example, the basic concept of building up a deck; spending money from cards in hand to buy face-up cards and put them into your discard pile; discarding your complete hand and drawing five new cards at the end of your turn.

But while the core of the game is something familiar and proven, from there it forges its own path in a new direction. First of all, cards can be used either for their gold value, or for their special ability as a unit, equipment or spell - so you'll rarely feel thwarted by the luck of the draw. But the biggest change is the addition of player-vs-player combat. Once you put characters into play from your hand, they remain in play, so that you can build up an army with units, improve them with equipment, and then use this well equipped legion in combat against monsters and other players. It's a brilliant concept that's interactive and innovative, and has a lot to offer. Unfortunately it's not entirely without flaws, and you will find some concerns about excessive math in calculating legion strength, and mixed feelings about how effectively the player-vs-player combat works. But there's some interesting and good ideas here, and we've had enormous fun with it in the dozen or more times we've played it, particularly with older boys and teens. And with reports that the publisher is further polishing their product with improved rules, and planning to add a sequel later this year, it can only get better. Also looming on the horizon is the imminent release of Nightfall, another deck-building game featuring inter-player attack. The future looks bright for the sons of Dominion.

Want to learn more? See my full review on Heroes of Graxia: mb A Dominion-style deck-building game with MtG-style player-vs-player combat


Join the discussion: What has your experience with deck-building games other than Dominion been? What do you think the future holds for deck-building games?
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Fri Feb 11, 2011 2:24 am
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In Defense of Buying and Playing a Bad Game

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So maybe you've figured out that one of the games you own is pretty disappointing. Maybe it wasn't the hit you expected. Maybe it wasn't your style. Maybe it was poorly designed. Whatever the case, it's a dud. Here in BGG-land, it sometimes seems that the worst thing on earth that could happen to you is for you to end up with a game (perish the thought) that stinks. Maybe you even have a hard time admitting that this has happened to you. Obviously it's better if you can prevent this happening in the first place. But I'm here to tell you that it really doesn't matter if it does happen from time to time. That's what this is about: therapy for disappointed gamers. Let's turn our disappointment into a triumph!

Let's begin by outlining some reasons why you're better off buying and playing good games. It's not hard to make a case for that: why play a bad game if you could be spending the same time playing something better? That's why we all usually consider our purchases carefully, trying to get a good game, the best game, even the grail of the genre. Of course, this is the ideal. But in reality it always doesn't turn out that way. Sometimes we end up buying something that sounds good, only to find after several plays that it just doesn't work for us. But that doesn't mean it's the end of the world. Now that we've got the case for buying better games out of the way, let's consider some of the reasons why buying and playing a bad game isn't quite as bad as we sometimes make it out to be.

14 Reasons Why It's Not The End Of The World If You Find Yourself With A Dud

You can trade it. Just because it wasn't the right game for you, doesn't mean it's not the right game for someone else. Maybe it just wasn't your taste. Perhaps there's someone else out there who wants the game, and you can trade it for something that you do like!

You can sell it. It might not be your kind of game, but perhaps someone out there is hankering after your rejected baby, and willing to drop some money for it. Money that you can use towards a new and well-researched game that will naturally defy any classification as `bad'!

You can re-purpose it. Strip it of components! Maybe you can redirect the money or tokens or dice, and use them for other games. Even Monopoly money or hotels can find a new purpose in life in another game. And pawns and dice are always useful. If you have a decent size game collection, you're bound to find some new use for the remnants of your Bad Game.

You can give it away. You might not like it, but then again, you're a professional eurogamer aren't you? Perhaps your neighbours kids will like it. Or that nephew or niece in South Dakota. There's bound to be someone who can enjoy something about it, even if it's the twin four year olds at the park using the pawns and dice to make up their own game. There may even be people who really will enjoy it. Seriously.

You can destroy it. This one isn't going to go over well with everyone, and if you're one of the naysayers, please just skip over this and pretend you didn't see it - go straight to the next item, do not pass Go and do not collect $200. But once in a while a game comes a long that is really bad. Really, really bad. So bad that the world will be a better place without it, and without any memory of it. If that's the case, don't fret. Have fun with it! Purge and cleanse! Get some mileage out of it! Put it in your blender. Drive over it with your friend's car. Smoke it. Feed it to the neighbour's dog. Throw it off a building (if you need help with this, ask Tom Vasel). Write secret messages on the money and put them in random library books. Whatever it takes - turn it into fun!

You can recycle it. Put it in your blue box or whatever recycling system your country uses. Maybe they'll even use your rejected paper and cardboard to make new games! Better games! I like the sound of that! Maybe that makes this a better option than the previous one.

You can warn others about it. Make it your mission to protect other gamers from making the same mistake that you did, and spend their dollars elsewhere. Chances are you're not the only one on planet earth who is going to conclude it's a bad game, so consider yourself as performing a public service to other gamers by saving them from needing to make this discovery the hard way.

It's still entertained you. Maybe not quite in the way that we hoped, but the fact remains that often it has still offered some entertainment value. For me, part of the fun of games is opening the shrinkwrap, exploring the components, and figuring out how the game works. Even if the game is a dud, I can still honestly say I've had fun doing this. And even if I play it three times and never again, it's still fun figuring out how the game works, and trying to decide whether or not it's a Good Game or a Bad Game - at the end of the day, I've still had 3-4 hours of fun. Okay, we're not talking here about Really Bad Games, with artwork drawn by kindergarten kids, or game-play that's a cross between an evil Monopoly and an ugly Tic-Tac-Toe! But you know, in most cases I have to admit that some fun was had on the journey to discovering that my new game was bad.

It's still decent value for your money. Let's say your bad game cost $25, and you spent 3-4 hours figuring it out and playing it a few times. That's still pretty good value for money. Take the family to McDonalds, and you'll be paying a lot more than that, for less than 30 minutes of satisfaction - not to mention the cholesterol intake! At least with your bad game you've been entertained for several hours, and you have a game you can trade, give away, or re-purpose. So buying the bad game wasn't a complete waste of time or money!

It gives you variety. Most of the time you'll prefer to pull out something else, to be sure. But once in a while, maybe you're looking for a change, and don't mind spending 20 minutes playing that less-than-stellar filler, just for a change. It helps make your collection look more impressive than it really is, and perhaps on the odd blue moon you'll pull it out just because you can.

It may be uncle Bob's favourite game. Yes, I know that you really don't like Phase 10. Nor do I. But the fact is that there are people out there who insist on playing it, and it's even their favourite game. So if old uncle Bob comes over, I don't mind humouring him by pulling out his favourite game. It's good character building for me, and let's face it, if I'm only doing it for half an hour, even I can handle that and have a good time. And uncle Bob will love me for it. That's a kind of value that you can't measure in dollars and cents.

It won't be bad for everyone. In the gaming world, "Bad" is almost always subjective, and your view of bad is rarely going to be a universal or objective experience. When I first got into eurogames, I thought Balloon Cup was a fantastic game. Now I've been exposed to countless other games, and discovered that there are many other two player games that are even better than Balloon Cup. Does that make Balloon Cup a bad game? Comparatively speaking for me at this stage of my gaming career: yes. But for someone just being introduced to eurogames, they might think it's fantastic! So it might be "bad" merely from the perspective I have as an experienced gamer; but someone only exposed to rummy might think it's incredible, and get immense enjoyment out of it.

It improves your character. Granted, not every bad game is going to be character building. But perhaps there's a lesson in not always getting what you want, and learning to deal with disappointment, and pain, even the pain of a bad game. Yes, believe it or not, your bad game might just help make you a better person!

It improves your experience as a gamer. Even bad games help increase your understanding about game mechanics and design, what works and what doesn't. To begin with, it makes your other games look better! Chalk it up as part of learning, and part of growing in your own understanding of game design and game tastes. It enlarges your knowledge of games and gaming, and enables you to partake in conversations about games in a richer and more meaningful manner.

So you see, all is not lost if you've bought and/or played a bad game. But perhaps the challenge is not so much with the bad games as with the mediocre ones. While you have good reason to do something with your `bad' games, the mediocre games sit politely and obediently on your shelf, mostly untouched. It can be hard to bring yourself to part with mediocrity, precisely because it isn't really `bad' as such, and it's the lack of something obviously offensive or objectionable that causes them to linger as long as they do. What to do with them?


Join the discussion: What do you do with your bad games? What about the mediocre ones? What is the worst thing you've done with a game? And finally: Is buying and playing a bad game really so ... bad?


(NB: I originally posted some of these ideas in a GeekList on April 8, 2010)
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Thu Feb 10, 2011 4:48 pm
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Fantastic Family Fun With New Releases From Friedemann Friese

Ender Wiggins
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I don't actually own a great many games designed by prolific green-haired designer Friedemann Friese. In fact, I hardly dare admit it, but I've never even played what is arguably his magnus opus, Power Grid. I know, the shame! (go ahead and convince me I might like it!) But I have played some of his newer releases, and my purpose today is to shine the spotlight on a couple of Friese's games that were released at Essen 2010, and haven't got a great deal of attention here on BGG.

They may not be considered `hot' by BGG standards, but perhaps there's a good reason for their somewhat lukewarm reception, and it's not that they're bad games. In my experience with Friedemann Friese's games - at least, with two of his most recent ones - it seems that they can take a couple of plays to properly appreciate or `get'. This means that most people getting a single taste-test of them at a game convention aren't likely to be raving about them in their first impressions, being too quick to wander away in search of other candidates that might satisfy their taste as part of the cult-of-the-new. The result is that the unassuming Friese games tend to fly under the radar, with less noise being made about them. So let's make some noise, shall we, and get to the games!

Fürstenfeld (2010)

First up is Fürstenfeld, which first appeared at Essen 2010, and is now available in English from Rio Grande Games. To use the designer's own words, "This is a deck-building game but in a different kind of way." I call it "deck-unbuilding", because you start with a deck of 28 cards and slowly thin it as you buy and build various building cards from your deck onto your farm.

The brewery theme isn't the deepest, but I like it because it's somewhat non-conformist. Players manage a farm which supplies ingredients (spring water, barley, and hops) to local breweries, which in turn will earn players the finances to better develop their landholdings and eventually build a palace. The aim is to generate enough income to buy and build the six Palace cards (akin to the Province VPs in Dominion) from your deck, and the first player to do so wins the game. But in addition to the requirement of careful hand management and deck management, the real appeal for me was the interactive and clever market system that drives the financial aspect of the game - prices for goods vary depending on supply and demand.

It's not a deep or heavy economic game by any means, but for something that plays in 45-60 minutes, it offers a considerable dose of fun. Particularly with the advanced game (which is how Friese designed the game to be played), there are more decisions and more control than meets the eye. I think the game has suffered somewhat of a bad rap from people dismissing it too quickly as depending on luck-of-the-draw after only playing the introductory and beginner form of the game - which was intended only as a temporary stepping stone to the `real' game.

Want to learn more? See my full review on Furstenfeld: mb Friedemann Friese unhinges Dominion-style deck-building by adding beer

Famiglia (2010)

Famiglia is a clever little card game for two players that also was released at Essen 2010, and the chief notable feature of the box is that it looks like a cigar box. Very amusing and clever! I admit that I was initially very sceptical about the game, and the mafia theme and artwork didn't help matters. But if you can overlook the fact that cards with tattooed mobsters might not be ideal candidates for a family-friendly game, there's a remarkable little hand management game to discover here. It has deck-building and set collection elements, offers fresh mechanics, and comes in an attractive package.

The cards feature four families, and players try to recruit more powerful and higher point scoring cards using a type of pyramid scheme: the usual way this works is that you need two cards of the same value and colour, in order to get the card of the next highest value in that colour (e.g. you'd need two yellow 2s in order to take a yellow 3 from the Street). The basic concept of the game may seem rather simple, and it would indeed be boring if that's all that the game offered - but what really makes this game shine is that three of the four families have special abilities which allow you to exchange cards, reduce their value, or act as wild cards.

It can take a few plays to click, but when it does, you may find yourself playing multiple sessions in row! The theme and artwork won't please everyone, but those who aren't put off by this will find something that rivals some of the best of the Kosmos two-player series. Famiglia is certainly one of the best new two player card games I've played in a while. And yes, Aldie and Derk's names really are featured as characters in the game!

Want to learn more? See my full review on Famiglia: mb Friedemann Friese's deck-building pyramid scheme (featuring Aldie & Derk)

Further Friedemann

The other Friedemann Friese titles I own are older games - Turbo Taxi from 2005, and Fast Flowing Forest Fellers from 2008.

Turbo Taxi was originally released in 2000 with a different theme and with the name Flickwerk. It's a puzzle-like Ubongo style of game, and in the newer rethemed version players race to place tiles representing streets into a fixed 3x3 grid, so that the streets align and so that two taxis can get to their respective destinations. You can become very skillful at playing, and some people are just better at puzzling than others - I tend to get trounced when playing this in competition with the nimble fingers and quick minds of all the females in the house.

Fast Flowing Forest Fellers is also a race game, but of a more casual and family-friendly sort. Players are racing to get their two lumberjacks to the end of the river the quickest. It's card driven, but features lovely components, even lumberjack meeples, who are riding logs and must dodge various obstacles and shove other players aside while taking advantage of river currents in their quest to get to the end first. Over the last couple of years we've owned this, this has proven to be an excellent gateway game, and it's often come out with non-gamers - several of which have gone on to buy it for themselves.

Want to learn more? See my full reviews:
mb If you enjoy real-time or simultaneous puzzle games, you'll love this! (Turbo Taxi)
mb Fabulous and Fascinating Floating Fun For Families and Friends From the Famous Friedemann Friese Featuring Fearless and Frolicking Forest Fellers Flowing Furiously Fast (FFFF)


Join the discussion: Are there more games in the Friedemann Friese stable that I'm yet to discover and enjoy? Perhaps, and by all means tell me which ones you think I might like. Which Friese games are your favourites, and why? And while you're at it, perhaps take a closer look at Furstenfeld and Famiglia to see if any of them might be right for you.
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Thu Feb 10, 2011 5:44 am
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Ender's advice upon entering the battlefield of gaming blogs

Ender Wiggins
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"Whatever your gravity is when you get to the door, remember -- the enemy's gate is down. If you step through your own door like you're out for a stroll, you're a big target and you deserve to get hit. With more than a flasher." Ender Wiggins paused and looked over the group. Most were just watching him nervously. A few understanding. A few sullen and resisting.

First day with this army, all fresh from the teacher squads, and Ender had forgotten how young new kids could be. He'd been in it for three years, they'd had six months -- nobody over nine years old in the whole bunch. But they were his. At eleven, he was half a year early to be a commander. He'd had a toon of his own and knew a few tricks, but there were forty in his new army. Green. All marksmen with a flasher, all in top shape, or they wouldn't be here -- but they were all just as likely as not to get wiped out first time into battle.


Those were the opening paragraphs of the award-winning short story "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, as it first appeared in the August 1977 issue of Analog.

The opening of my blog isn't quite as profound, nor is it likely to be as successful. But it does share something in common with the young recruits described in the story. Some nervous watching and anticipation as we try this fresh new `blog' feature here on BGG. Just hoping that we won't get wiped out first time into battle with it.

So what's all this about then? From time to time I might post a few thoughts about specific games or gaming in general, spotlight some good games that you might have overlooked or not know about, feature some of my pictorial reviews or other content I've posted here on BGG, or share other trivia and talk relating to games or boardgamegeek. Maybe I'll even tire of it at some point and delete the whole thing. But for now we're off and running. Consider subscribing if any of that seems interesting to you.

As we apprehensively make our first entrance into the battlefield of gaming blogs, I'll leave you with one final word of advice: whatever your gravity is when you get to the door, just remember -- the enemy's gate is down.
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Thu Feb 10, 2011 2:44 am
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