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Looking back at gaming and 2012

Mark Schlatter
United States
Shreveport
Louisiana
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I haven't tried this before, but I thought I would review my gaming for the year, just to see what pops out.

Go

My goal is usually to play 78 games of Go a year (or three games every two weeks). I was pretty busy, so I only played 71 games. Of those, 46 were face-to-face, 17 were on Dragon Go Server, and 8 were on Kiseido Go Server. I won 50 of those games, but much of that is due to playing a few weaker opponents who don't like taking handicaps. I started the year somewhere between 10 kyu and 5 kyu, and I'm still there --- unfortunately, I haven't had much time to do problems or study.

Everything else!

d10-1 7 Wonders was my only other game with at least 10 plays, mostly due to it being a favorite in my gaming group. I've finally turned the corner on really liking the game, primarily for two reasons. First, I think the 7 Wonders: Cities expansion adds a lot without slowing down the game (unlike 7 Wonders: Leaders which works, but always has us asking "where is that in the rules?"). Second, I started looking at the game as complicated rummy, especially in the 3-4 player game. I just enjoy seeing the hands move around the table and removing what might help others. Favorite win: I earned 77 points (with 44 coming from science).

d10-2 Innovation and Innovation: Echoes of the Past got some play with two players. To me, this is the closest thing to Cosmic Encounter in a card game, and I really want to play more often.

d10-3 The bread and butter: I love economically based Eurogames, so I enjoyed my regular games of Power Grid. I also bought and played twice Ora et Labora, which has all sort of currency conversion goodness. A single play of Navegador convinced me I need to play more --- the combo of a market and a rondel is hard to pass up. And Alien Frontiers got some plays (once with almost all the expansions).

d10-4 New games with
Mark Goadrich
United States
Conway
Arkansas
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Mark and I regularly try out new games. The best games from this year were Hawaii (a very interesting mix of mechanics), The Castles of Burgundy (nice use of dice), and --- best of all --- Carolus Magnus (almost abstract, but with a nice bit of theme).

d10-5 Blast from the past: I had traded for an original copy of Kings & Things a few years ago, but only got around to it this year. I was a bit concerned about the rule set (and we did have an issue or two), but it was a real blast! Huzzah for Tom Wham!

d10-6 So I'm always a Cylon: Yes, I played Battlestar Galactica and proved to be metal (or whatever the heck they're made of), but I preferred the speed and arguments in The Resistance --- the current version is much easier to play with. A great experience with the right large group.

d10-7 I taught and played Kingdom Builder and wish I could decide on this game. It has the simple ruleset I like, but I'm often horrible at it, and I can't figure out why.

d10-8 Lots of get-togethers this year. I helped host four Shreveport Bossier Board Game Days (more information at http://www.facebook.com/shrevegameday), made it to my first Dallas Games Marathon, and showed up at some meetings of the Red River Gamers (http://www.facebook.com/groups/121544494529708/). No trip to BGG.CON yet, but I find it tough to match a teaching schedule with the con schedule. Happily, there's more and more gaming around Shreveport.

d10-9 Really? I like that? Given my preference for simple rule sets and most Eurogamey goodness, I was surprised to have a few great gaming experiences that were off the beaten path. First off was Road Kill Rally --- I was pretty much determined to not run over pedestrians and find the whole thing a tad crass, but there's a good game engine. Moreover, it was a blast seeing my friends go crazy with the racing. Second off was Cards Against Humanity, which I thought would have no appeal to me whatsoever. However, it was cool being judge as my friends tried to match my sense of humor. And it felt great determining when a fart joke would best please an opponent. You have to have the right group and the game might overstay its welcome, but it was a memorable experience.

1 Digital gaming: I have been pretty addicted to Tichu on the iPod, but I've only played against AIs. But by the end of the year, having gotten on GameCenter, I ended up playing Le Havre and a boatload of Ascension: Storm of Souls. It's still not as good as face to face (and I can tell my focus is not as strong), but I like the ability to play more games.
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Sun Dec 30, 2012 7:48 pm
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Analyzing pick up and delivery games (with some love for Merchants of Venus)

Mark Schlatter
United States
Shreveport
Louisiana
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I have been thinking recently about the pick up and delivery games I play with a focus on the determined and undetermined parts of each game. Let me show you what I mean:

First example: Railways of the World. In RT, the topography is determined --- you know where all the cities, mountains, rivers, etc... are. The routes are not yet determined, but will be set by the players. The demand structure (who wants what where) is basically set at the beginning of the game by drawing cubes. You might have some cubes drawn later depending on cards or actions, but roughly 80-90% of the demand structure is set. So, overall, a lot is known. In some ways, RT is the closest (of the pick up and delivery games I play) to a perfect information game. Sure, you have hidden rail barons and random cards, but most of the game is open to all.

Second example: crayon rail games. I play Martian Rails and Iron Dragon (cause apparently I don't do crayola without a genre). Like RT, the topography is set, except for some random events. (I'm looking at you, space elevator!) The routes are not yet determined, but will be built by the players. The demand structure, however, is not nearly as open as in RT. While everyone knows who makes what where, who wants what where is randomly determined and segregated among the players. What I know has to be delivered may have no influence on what you do.

Third example: On the Underground. It's more route building than delivery, but you do have to move the passenger around. It's another game where the topography is set, but note that routes are much more determined by the map. You can't connect any station to any other station, and thus you don't have the same sense of freedom as in a crayon rail game. And the demand structure is open (we all see the cards), but changes quickly and randomly.

So all this leads me to Merchant of Venus. In MoV, the demand structure is set --- you know who wants which goods. The routes are set (except for telegates) and are not under the control of the players. But unlike the above games, the topography (who lives in each system) is not determined. What this means is that you have a pick up and delivery game with a strong exploration focus. You never explore in a crayon rail game, because the focus is on the route building stimulated by the asymmetric demand structure. But in MoV, you must explore first.

Now, there are some dangers to this mixing of mechanics. Because you have a random assignment of systems, it might be that one explorer might discover an ideal mix of systems to carry out deliveries. But, if that happens, everyone sees it. Moreover, the chit system for goods ensures that a highly profitable run can't be used forever.

But the example of MoV does prompt me to wonder: are there other pick up and delivery games where exploration has such a strong role? Can you leave even more of the game undetermined? Are there good pick up and delivery games which have undetermined topography and routes? And can you leave all three initially undetermined?
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Wed Nov 23, 2011 5:27 pm
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Changing my thinking on 7 Wonders (or how to deal with perceived low agency)

Mark Schlatter
United States
Shreveport
Louisiana
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I've now played 7 Wonders three times (after observing a game once), and my thinking has definitely changed on the experience.

My first game was with 5 or 6 players, and my basic strategy was to maximize what I had using the card draws. The problem with that strategy is that your ability to change your circumstances decreases as the age progresses. Now, mind you - that's a regular occurrence in many games. You often reach that last turn realizing there's not much to do, and your only chance (if any) to win is based on your best choice of a very limited set of tactics. However, 7 Wonders is probably the first game I have played where you are so obviously limited in choices near the end of the game by the structure of the game itself. (That's the "low agency" referred to in the title.) I prefer a game where your choices open up as game plays progresses, and I found my first game fairly frustrating.

The other negative was the distributed scoring --- that is, the notion that your score depends on a number (seven?) of different factors. I can keep track of several score factors if I have some visual help (e.g., the VPs from shipping, buildings, and special buildings in Puerto Rico --- you can look around at stacks of chips and purple tiles). But even with the military tokens and wreaths, I find it hard to visually assess scores. Like Agricola (a game I dislike), you spend a lot of time scoring to find a winner as opposed to "seeing" a winner.

Okay, enough negativity. My second game was with five players, and I received Olympus as my civilization. That gave me a great short term goal: build the second stage of my wonder so I can have free builds (which I got in two of three ages). The result? More agency and a greater sense of involvement in the game. I also paid much more attention to the resources of my neighbors' neighbors (in the hopes of directing trade my way). Basically, if I can follow an economic strategy, I like to, and it didn't turn out badly this time.

Third game. Unlike the first two games, this game was with my regular gaming group and was only four player. And a neat thing happened --- as a group, we started tracking hands of cards as they traveled around the table. Basically, we were either checking how much we had screwed the person to whom we passed (e.g., Roger complaining that I had passed him a hand of two identical cards) or wondering how someone else would make the difficult choices (e.g., Jarrett started with a monster hand of purple cards). The result was much more social and much more interesting as a game.

I still get concerned about how much agency you have in the game, and I wish that the icon use was clearer (I haven't seen a game yet where a new player hasn't shown a card to someone to get an explanation). But I'm starting to see more I can do in the game and more ways to enjoy the game. (Probably a good thing, given my friends' interest in it.)
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Wed May 4, 2011 9:27 pm
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