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The Next Great American Game

Ender Wiggins
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Introducing The Next Great American Game


Let's be honest, most of us can be sometimes be game snobs - I know I can be at times. If someone tries to convince us to play Monopoly, we can be dismissive, sometimes even condescending and arrogant towards the unenlightened and unwashed masses. After all, they're under in the illusion we still live in a dinosaur age and think that there's something good about roll-and-move games. So if someone has made a 1980s style roll-and-move game, and thinks it's going to be The Next Great American Game, we're ready to spit on them, or at least have a few laughs at their expense. We've seen more than a few failed Kickstarters by such individuals, and often considered them entertainment.

But now imagine that you are that person. That's the premise behind Doug Morse's 80 minute film The Next Great American Game (2015), featuring game designer Randall Hoyt. By his own admission, Randall is not really a game designer, but just a creative guy who has designed a game that he's passionate about, and which he is convinced will be the Next Big Thing. In the film, we follow his determined real life quest to get his traffic-jam themed game "Turnpike" published, and accompany him to a series of disappointing meetings with game publishers, as Randall comes to realize he's made a 1980s game that nobody in today's game industry wants to buy. There's disbelief and disappointment as his dreams are shattered - or can his game be changed in a way that it will find a home with a publisher somewhere?

Randall isn't the only one on the path to enlightenment, however; we are. What is it really like to be someone who thinks he can make it in the world of modern game design, but has no clue about the state of the hobby as it is today? How hard is it to crack the world of the publishers, gain their ear, and better yet gain a contract? This film does a marvellous job of putting us in Randall's shoes, and takes a sympathetic look at a man and his mission. In Randall's case, he's also bi-polar, and the complexities of his mental health also feature in the film, helping make him a sympathetic figure that we come to identify with or at least feel compassion for. Rather than laugh at his ill-informed optimism or chuckle at the misfortunes we see inevitably heading his way when he pitches his game in search of a contract at GenCon, the Chicago Toy Fair, or Origins, by the end we'll feel bad for spitting on him, and perhaps have a bit more sympathy for the unenlightened. Putting me on the other side of the gamer fence for a change made me cringe and feel uncomfortable at times, but in a character-building way.

What do I think?

This film has value in a number of respects, not least as the personal story of a man and his battle to overcome adversity in pursuing his dream. It helps that Randall speaks very candidly about his personal struggles to the camera, and his insights are often thought-provoking and insightful, even if at times they are also painful for us to watch, knowing the inevitable rejection that will come. Given Randall's high ideals for his game, we occasionally feel like we're watching a train wreck about happen, especially as he enters the competitive world of game publishing. We're not at all surprised to see his naivety crushed, as publishers make no bones about the fact that they need to meet the needs of the hobby market, and that his game doesn't really make the cut. The strength of the narrative about Randall's personal journey prevents this from becoming a purely documentary style look at the game publishing world. Not only does it help sustain our interest with a story-line, but it also shows us what this world looks like from an outside perspective, one that we typically don't consider or think about. I also found it fascinating to see in action some of the big name publishers that we often read or hear about like Steve Jackson, Dan Yarrington, and others, and as a gamer I really enjoyed those segments of the film.

This film and its extras should be essential viewing for an aspiring game designer looking to crack the market, but will also be of great interest to any gamer wanting to get insight into the larger world of the board game industry. You might enjoy watching this even if you just want to watch a modern real-life story of a bi-polar amateur game designer who slowly comes to realize his dreams are turning to dust, and who pursues his goal despite the odds. As a story, it's a good one. Without giving away too much, I can say that the film doesn't end in the train wreck you might expect, but there is a note of optimism as one of Randall's other game designs does get some success. More importantly, by the closing credits, I felt that Randall wasn't the only one on the path to enlightenment, but I was too; he'd earned my respect and sympathy, and just maybe changed my own way of perceiving others outside the hobby.

Where can you get it?

There are several options for purchasing this film, with a basic level digital download starting at $14.95. While it's not inexpensive, the price does reflect something of the significant costs that Doug Morse incurred in travelling to many locations in order to make this film. Most gamers will want to go for the higher levels, which give access to several hours of insightful interviews with big names in the industry, including Steve Jackson, Alan Moon, Reiner Knizia, Klaus Teuber, and more.

View the trailer below, and get the film from the BGG store (DVD) or the official site (digital download).

http://www.tabletopmovie.com


Join the discussion: To what extent is snobbery an issue in the board game hobby? What are some appropriate ways to deal with `unenlightened' individuals convinced they've discovered America's next great game? And if you've seen the film, what did you think of it?

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Wed Jun 24, 2015 2:32 pm
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An Interview

Ender Wiggins
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The folks from `He says She says' reviews, Ryan and Amanda (Magus & Princess), are doing a series of `He asks She asks' interviews with a number of individuals in the gaming industry, including designers, developers, publishers, and more. As part of that, they asked to interview me about reviewing, gaming, faith, and BGG. If you want to read more of my thoughts on those topics and more, check out the interview which they've posted here:

A He asks, She asks interview: Top BGG reviewer EndersGame

Thanks to Ryan and Amanda for this opportunity, and best wishes to them as they continue their series of reviews and interviews!

N/A

Update: Ryan & Amanda have since left BGG, deleting all their contributions, including a number of interviews such as this one. For archival purposes and historical interest, you'll find this interview re-posted in its entirety here:

A He asks, She asks interview: Top BGG reviewer EndersGame
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Wed May 30, 2012 11:23 am
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Spiel des Jahres 2012: Have the awards jumped the shark, and are the winners getting less complex?

Ender Wiggins
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By now most people have seen the official nominees for the 2012 Kennerspiel des Jahres and the 2012 Spiel des Jahres, along with the games that weren't nominated to win but were still recommended by the jury. You've probably also come across the usual circus of discussion that typically follows this announcement, with many folks voicing the usual criticism that the nominations are a joke, out of touch, irrelevant, or ridiculous. I'm not going to join this circus, but I would like to offer a contribution to this discussion, and I'm especially interested in exploring the criticism that the complexity of the winners is decreasing over time.

The Awards in General: How important are they?

First of all, folks somewhat new to gaming may wonder why these awards are even regarded as being a big deal to begin with, and how relevant they are. That's a fair question, given that they are German awards. The question becomes even more pressing considering that it's quite rare that deeper strategy games get nominated. No wonder that each year inevitably we see a repeated discussion about the apparent irrelevancy and idiocy of these awards.

In actual fact, these awards are a big deal, although we should be honest from the outset and simply concede that they very likely are not at all going to be of high relevance to the serious hardcore gamer who wants to see his favourite heavy strategy game from the past year being recognized. Sorry folks, that's just not going to happen at the Spiel des Jahres, because that's just not what they're about! These awards are specifically geared to family style games, and so in general the nominees and winners are games that need to be fairly accessible to the average consumer, and have to be suitable for the mass market - the average German consumer and German mass market that is. We need to recall that the eurogame revolution in the 1990s originated in Germany, and even today that's still where the heart of the gaming industry is to be found. Furthermore there are other awards in Germany that recognize more complex strategy games, the Deutscher Spiel Preis being the most notable one, which typically crowns as winners what we commonly dub as "gamers games", including Agricola (2008), Caylus (2006), and Puerto Rico (2002). In contrast, the Spiel des Jahres is specifically geared toward a slightly different market, at a threshhold not far removed from what we often call "gateway games". With this in mind, it shouldn't at all surprise serious gamers that many of the jury's choices are not challenging enough by the standards of strategy veterans in the gaming hobby.

So why are they important then? Even if they're perhaps not of the greatest relevance to the serious strategy gamer who has advanced well beyond the threshold of gaming, they are certainly relevant to a slightly different market that's looking for something easier to play. In fact, the Spiel des Jahre awards have a huge impact on sales, especially in Germany, but also far beyond its borders. A publisher whose game wins the coveted Spiel des Jahres award has the luxury of including the winning logo on his products, and this credential will inevitable correspond to a huge increase in sales, one source suggesting it can generate sales of up to a half a million copies world wide. From the perspective of the designer and publisher, winning this award is the equivalent of a small coup in the gaming market, and they can count on it continuing to drive significant sales in years to come. This by no means does a disservice to the gaming community; on the contrary, while serious strategy games may seem to get the cold shoulder from the Spiel des Jahres jury, what these awards do accomplish is help introduce many new folks to great games for the first time, and as such they play an important role in expanding the hobby game market.

The Awards This Year: What got nominated?

So what then about the awards this year? In recent times the folks behind the Spiel des Jahres award have taken a slightly different approach, by adding a Kennerspiel des Jahres category in addition to the traditional Spiel des Jahres category, in order to accommodate games that are slightly more complicated and yet worthy of recognition. The first beneficiary of this new award category was 7 Wonders in 2011, which beat out the other two nominees, Strasbourg and Lancaster. Perhaps the first hint of this concept was already evident in 2006 and 2008, when Caylus and Agricola were each awarded a special prize for Best Complex Game.


The nominees for the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year are Adam Kałuża's mountain climbing game K2, Andreas Steiger's entry in the Kosmos series Targi, and Inka and Markus Brand's novel take on the worker placement genre Village, which features graveyards to help you deal with the mortality of your meeples and of course earn points. As an aside, it's good to see Kosmos getting back into the limelight, with two of their other games making the recommended list for the traditional Spiel des Jahres category as well.

The nominees for the traditional Spiel des Jahres category in 2012 are Stefan Dorra and Ralf zur Linde's Eselsbrücke, Donald X. Vaccarino's Kingdom Builder, and Rüdiger Dorn's Las Vegas. Kingdom Builder is already quite widely known, and Vaccarino's enormous success with Dominion certainly has done his designer credentials no harm. The other two titles might be somewhat unfamiliar for many gamers, but the designers are all established veterans whose names many of us will recognize.

In addition to these nominees, the jury also have the habit of recommending a number of other titles that weren't nominated but are still worth recognizing. I won't repeat them all here, but suffice it to say that you'll find a complete list here:

Kennerspiel & Spiel des Jahres 2012: All the Nominees and Recommended Games

The Awards Over The Years: Is complexity decreasing?

As happens almost every year, you'll see detractors and critics pan the nominees and recommendations, suggesting biting criticisms ranging from accusations that the jury are out of touch with modern gaming, that the typical family gamer is evidently getting more stupid over the years, that the jury that dispenses the awards is clearly corrupting the definition of a family game, and that the Spiel des Jahres awards have jumped the shark. We've already made a case for the fact that the awards need to be evaluated for what they are: not as a set of Grammys for the greatest and best games in the eyes of geeky hardcore gamers (which, let's face it, is most of us), but to recognize quality games that can be picked up and enjoyed by your typical family with granny and the kids. Oh, and let's not forget that some of the hardcore gamers are going to enjoy them as "lighter" games, "gateway" games, or "fillers" too!

But having said that, is there any truth to the contention that the complexity of the award winners is decreasing over the years? I decided to find out, by using the average BGG weight as a guide. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the average BGG weight is determined by BGG users who vote using a 1-5 scale (Light, Medium Light, Medium, Medium Heavy, Heavy), from which an average is calculated. As a relative scale of comparison, it can be quite useful despite its criteria being somewhat nebulous and hard to define, because for the most part it is the same people who are making comparisons and assigning these values.

Some numbers

James Fehr kindly pointed out that the average BGG weight of this year's crop of Kennerspiel nominees is 2.5, and the Kennerspiel recommended games is 3.0, while the average BGG weight of this year's Spiel des Jahres nominees is 1.7, and the Spiel des Jahres recommended games is 1.6. So how do the numbers for this year's crop compare with earlier years? Well, I looked them up, so you can see for yourself:

2011 1.7 Qwirkle
2010 1.3 Dixit
2009 2.4 Dominion
2008 1.6 Keltis
2007 1.9 Zooloretto
2006 2.3 Thurn and Taxis
2005 1.8 Niagara
2004 1.9 Ticket to Ride
2003 2.1 Alhambra
2002 1.2 Villa Paletti
2001 1.9 Carcassonne
2000 2.9 Torres
1999 2.9 Tikal
1998 2.2 Elfenland
1997 1.7 The Mississippi Queen
1996 3.1 El Grande
1995 2.4 The Settlers of Catan
1994 2.0 Manhattan
1993 1.3 Liar's Dice
1992 2.0 Um Reifenbreite
1991 1.8 Wacky Wacky West
1990 1.9 Hoity Toity
1989 1.7 Café International
1988 1.6 Barbarossa
1987 2.0 Auf Achse
1986 1.5 Heimlich & Co.
1985 2.8 Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
1984 2.2 Dampfross
1983 2.0 Scotland Yard
1982 1.3 Enchanted Forest
1981 2.4 Focus
1980 1.8 Rummikub
1979 2.0 Hare & Tortoise


Note that while perceptions of "weight" may have changed over the years, the figures in the above list are all based on what people from recent years think about the weight of the games mentioned, so these numbers are a fair reflection of current opinion. The 4000+ votes that combine to give the 1995 winner Catan an average BGG weight rating of 2.4 are all from the last decade, and probably the vast majority are from the last number of years when BGG membership has grown significantly. Having 4000+ people suggest that Settlers of Catan's weight is on average between "light medium" and "medium" is a fair indication of what people today think about its complexity.

Admittedly the average BGG weight ratings of newer games is somewhat unreliable, especially if they haven't had many users assign them a weight rating yet. In comparison to Settlers of Catan, last year's Spiel des Jahres winner Qwirkle has an average BGG weight rating of 1.7 that is based on only 300+ votes. This means that these voters think it's between "light" and "light medium", slightly leaning toward the latter, but for the most part these are the same people who contributed to Settlers of Catan's weight rating of 2.4 . So despite the smaller sample size, this result is still based on enough data to give a reasonably good point of comparison, and it's quite safe to conclude that most people think Qwirkle is "lighter" than Settlers of Catan by comparative degree of 1.7 to 2.4.

Some conclusions

So what does this mean when we look at all the numbers going back to 1979? Would earlier winners not stand a chance of being nominated today, and are the awards being dumbed down, as some have suggested? I don't think so. It could be argued that the three heavier-weights on the list, Torres (2.9), Tikal (2.9), and El Grande (3.1), were out of character from previous years rather than the norm. It's clear that since its inception, the vast majority of Spiel des Jahres award winning games had an average BGG weight of 2 or less, with a few notable exceptions being the three just mentioned. Over the last 25 years the only other winners that have an average weight greater than 2 are Catan (2.4), Dominion (2.4), Thurn and Taxis (2.3), the last two of which were both fairly recent winners! In that regard a fairly good argument can be made that the games nominated and recommended for the Spiel des Jahres award this year and in recent years are quite in line with previous years - aside from the three years when the jury opted for more complex titles. If the complainers had been around in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they'd have had reason to complain about the lightweights that were recognized at that time too! Could the "problem" of decreasing complexity be less real than we imagine?

As for this year's Kennerspiel nominees and recommended titles (average BGG weight of 2.5 and 3.0 respectively), they nearly all appear more complex than previous winners, if their current numbers are any indication of their complexity. In that respect adding a separate Kennerspiel category seems to be a good move, in order to recognize games that ordinarily might be considered just beyond the kind of complexity that the jury is looking for in winners of the Spiel des Jahres award. At the same time it's still true that the Kennerspiel games are a long way from being hardcore strategy games. And that's fine, and I doubt that the jury would want it any other way, because recognizing complex strategy games is what other awards are for, whereas the Spiel des Jahres awards are still intended to be a family oriented award geared towards the mass market, with the Kennerspiel going to slightly more advanced games that are just a step up above the usual complexity of the winners. I expect we'll see this trend continue in future years, and I see no reason to complain about it, because it only helps make it possible for a greater variety of games to get recognition.

A Proposed Perspective

So what does all this mean for gamers and how we should view these awards? Well, let's try to be fair when we assess the Spiel des Jahres awards, because we don't help anyone by using the announcement of these nominees as a platform for game snobbery. Instead, why not treat them with some respect, recognizing that they're not firstly of all geared towards folks like most of us. Maybe it's the critics who are the idiots, rather than the jury who are very much achieving what they've always tried to do. Perhaps there's a higher road for us to travel, and that's to be grateful for how the Spiel des Jahres awards accomplish exactly what they set out to do, which is to bring great and accessible games to the family market. And let's be honest, even the hardcore strategy gamers among us need something lighter to play once in a while, even if it is with grandma or the guys at work. And maybe, just maybe, when the occasion suits, there's even a Spiel des Jahres winning game that's just right for us.


Join the discussion: Do you think that the complexity of the Spiel des Jahres nominees and winners has changed over the years? And in your opinion, how relevant are these awards for the gaming industry today?
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Thu May 24, 2012 11:43 am
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Tacky Christian Games: Where the theme gets in the way of the game

Ender Wiggins
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I'm a Christian. So I'm going to like any game with a Christian theme, right? Wrong.

(Disclaimer: This article is primarily going to be of interest to Christians, and I know that there are many of you here on the site who are interested in the kinds of questions raised by it. You're welcome to participate in this particular discussion if you're not a Christian, but I'd respectfully request that we keep closely on topic, because this is not the place to initiate RSP debates, but only to discuss the particular issue of evaluating Christian themed games from a Christian perspective. So please ensure that the discussion remains positive and respectful.)

The problem with many Christian games

Most of us are well aware that there’s an unfortunate and all too frequent reality that applies to many games which have a Biblical or Christian theme, and that's mediocre game-play. In other words, despite a thick coat of Christian paint, you can't hide the fact that there's a very poor gaming engine underneath. While such games might prove appealing from a pedagogical standpoint, they are frequently so substandard in terms of gameplay that they prove too painful to be worth playing. Apparently some publishers seem to think that Christians will love anything that's overtly Christian in flavour, independent of whether it's actually a good product when judged purely on its merits as a game, and it seems that there's more than enough consumers willing to take a punt on such a product too. Granted, most of the folks who frequent boardgamegeek.com aren't going to be fooled that easily, because what we look for in a game is a solid gaming experience, and we're well aware that while the theme might enhance the nurturing of such an experience, a good theme alone does not a good game make. But aside from Christian remakes of Catan (The Settlers of Canaan) and Carcassonne (The Ark of the Covenant), how many Biblically themed games that are actually outstanding games in their own right can you think of? I think I've made my point.

A second problem that afflicts many Biblically themed games is that in an effort to provide a theme that's going to be attractive to people who take the Bible seriously, the well-intended game goes overboard in handling the theme to the point that it trivializes the divine revelation of the Bible. Any attempt to incorporate Christian themes does come with many pitfalls, because there is always the potential to mishandle Biblical truth or deal with it inappropriately. An example of this is the Redemption CGG, which in my estimation suffers this fate. While Redemption CCG's effort to bring Biblical characters and events to life on playing cards is in itself laudable, this has the very real potential to trivialize the Bible, and in some instance even to create theological problems (see my review where I make a case for this, and also a further article in which shortcomings in the graphic design are identified). In some instances the theme even has the potential to break down, or worse, to become disrespectful, a problem that can be compounded by the artwork. As a result, sometimes the "Bible edition" of a popular game doesn't end up adding anything positive to the original game, but sadly only serves to make it worse.

The solution for Christian games

General principles

So what's the solution? Well to begin with, to have any enduring value, a Christian game should first and foremost be a good game. In other words, before we start talking about the paint, let's make sure that the engine is a good one. Let's not compromise quality just because we like the paint colour.

Secondly, if a game is going to have a Biblical theme, it should handle it carefully and respectfully. Anyone who considers the Bible to be the Word of God will surely agree that its content is weighty, and this leaves little room for cheesy ways in handling serious truths, or for trivializing divine instruction. It's not impossible, but it sure takes a lot of wisdom to do it right.

A case example

An excellent and recent example of a game that does get this right is the new worker placement game from Philip duBarry and Minion Games, Kingdom of Solomon. It's themed around - surprise, surprise - King Solomon and his kingdom in ancient Israel. Players are governors during Solomon's reign, responsible for overseeing some of his building and expansion efforts, by collecting resources and constructing buildings, including the beautiful Solomonic temple. This is a theme that will feel like an exciting novelty to most of us, because it's a radical departure from the standard fare we've come to see, where some themes seem beaten to death at this point - go talk to Tom Vasel if you want examples. All this makes Kingdom of Solomon stand out by virtue of its theme, not just among worker placement games in particular, but among euros in general, and this historical flavour rightly gives it immediate appeal especially to Jews and Christians.

But while the theme is one solidly rooted in Biblical history, and skillfully woven into the game-play, the game doesn’t make the mistake of becoming tacky, preachy or trying to convey a religious message by means of cheesy mechanics, or at the cost of excellence in the game design. For me personally, my Christian convictions will naturally enhance my appreciation for this particular theme and this particular game, but it needs to be recognized that Kingdom of Solomon is first and foremost a good game, strong enough to stand on its own merits and compete with the rest as a game. Let's face it, being a Christian doesn't mean I'm going to like other hobbies just because you give them a Christian coat of paint. Similarly, I like the gaming hobby because I like games, so if you expect me to enjoy a Christian themed game, it needs to be a good game first of all. Fortunately, Kingdom of Solomon really is, in view of the particularly interesting ways it works with the worker placement mechanic. The good news is that while the theme does bring aspects of the Biblical narrative to life in a respectful way, it doesn't at all compromise quality of game-play.

All this means that Kingdom of Solomon is a fully independent and well designed worker placement game that has the maturity and quality to stand on its own two legs, without needing to rely on the theme as a supporting crutch. Granted, it just happens to have a solid Biblical theme, although it's not one that is so over the top that it will send those who are unfamiliar with the Bible running and screaming. But it sure is refreshing to discover a Biblically themed game that is a satisfying, medium weight euro, and that can go the distance on its merits as a game. A game of this sort has real potential to get some mileage in the Christian market, and in my opinion deserves to make its mark there, but the good news is that its appeal should stretch well beyond that. For this accomplishment the efforts of designer Philip duBarry are ones that Christian gamers like myself should applaud, support and encourage. I've just posted a review of Kingdom of Solomon, and I highly recommend you check this game out:

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Successfully bringing the excellence of Caylus-style worker placement to Bible times

A deeper solution for Christian gamers

But there is another solution for Christian gamers on a quest for good games, one which is independent of finding a good game with a solid Biblical theme, although efforts to produce such games are certainly welcome and deserve to be applauded. And that's to come to the realization that for the most part the elements that make gaming a positive activity for Christian families and groups usually have little to do with the theme. Certainly there might be games that have to be excluded from play by virtue of their objectionable theme or artwork alone. Similarly there might be games that particularly commend themselves for play by virtue of a particularly positive theme - as was the case with Kingdom of Solomon. But for the most part a Christian approach to games is about the spirit in which it is played, the lessons that are learned from it, and the place that it has in one's life - and that includes demanding high standards from the game-play as well.

Perhaps this could be considered a "redeemed" approach to boardgames, when they are played to God's glory and for our neighbour's good, and when they are enjoyed as a gift from God, and none of this especially demands having a Christian theme. This approach gives room for coming to a positive assessment of and enjoyment of boardgames that more importantly meet the criteria of being quality products on the level of design and components as well, and not merely theme. For me and my family, this redemption of boardgames will be more successful when playing something tried and true like Catan than a game that's overtly Christian but where the gameplay disappoints.

Fortunately this means that Christians have many options when it comes to selecting good games. There are many wholesome games to choose from that don't necessarily have a Christian theme, but give families the opportunity to have an enjoyable gaming session together, and offer good quality gameplay. Sure, Christian gamers will like a good Christian game. But in the end what we really like is a good game - any good game - that we can play as Christians. Now please excuse me, I'm off to go play another game of Kingdom of Solomon, followed by a rousing game of London.


Join the discussion: What's your take on Christian themed games, and what has been your experience with them? Can you think of other examples of Biblically themed games that also pass the test of being quality game designs in their own right?
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Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:37 am
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Ender's 2011: An Overview of 50 Great New Games That You Should Know About

Ender Wiggins
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2011 has been a great year for gaming.

I was fortunate enough to play around 50 different new games over the last year, many of which were newer releases. To round off the year, I've compiled and posted my complete overview of the new games I was able to play in a geeklist, along with ratings and a brief synopsis of each game. Check this list for discussion on the individual games:

mb Ender's 2011: An Overview of 50 Great New Games That You Should Know About

A big thank you to all those who read any of my reviews over the past year - I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for your support and interest. And my best wishes to everyone for 2012!

-Ender





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Wed Dec 28, 2011 4:37 pm
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100 Session Reports: A retrospective and highlights

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A full six and a half years after posting my very first session report to BGG, I've reached a new milestone: mb 100 Session Reports! Report #100 had to be something special to mark the occasion, so I chose a memorable session of Arkham Horror played with my good friend the Masked Man - a game which for us personally marked the end of an era. Here it is:

mb The Masked Man's very last game. Goodbye my friend. [my *100th* session report!]

You can find the complete list of all my session reports here: Ender's session reports [Most Popular] [Most Recent]

This retrospective is simply a self-indulgent look back at the last six and a half years of writing the occasional session report, to reflect on what worked and what didn't, and to highlight some of my personal favourites. My session reports fall into six main categories, which I've listed below along with a selection of some of the most popular in each:

1. Pictorial illustrations of game-play

A total of 14 session reports fall into this category, and these proved to consistently be the most popular. These include my most thumbed session report of all, which is of the game Innovation. I'm also pleased with how my illustration of the gameplay of Richard III: The Wars of the Roses turned out, particularly since exploring a block-wargame was something new for me. I suppose what accounts for the success of these reports is that they help show people how a game worked, so they can visually see the game in practice. Some highlights and some of my own personal favourites:

142 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn of Carl Chudyk's innovative new civilization-themed card game
103 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample game of 2 de Mayo
102 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn as a weakened King Henry VI fights desperately to save London!
76 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Let's learn how to play Haggis!
60 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Some sample plays from an innovative two-player trick-taking game

2. Creative reports of game-play

I really enjoy creative writing. Sometimes the muse just flows, and I get into the groove and the words just appear readily. Even so, in most cases a good session report receives the benefit of much editing and tinkering before it is finally published. Session reports are especially rewarding when they convey a sense of story, and some of my favourites attempt to recreate the drama and tension of real-game experiences. I'd like to think that I have some sense of humor, and that this also contributes to making these fun to read. Some highlights and some of my own personal favourites:

95 thumbsup A pictorial report of my first ever block war game: a man and his 13 year-old son take a thrilling ride back to medieval England
71 thumbsup The perils of serving Haggis for a date-night on Valentine's Day: an eyewitness report
50 thumbsup New World Records: Celebrating the 2008 Olympics with Knizia's Decathlon
37 thumbsup Rewriting History: the intense and hilarious drama of my best ever game that I didn't even play
37 thumbsup Sherlock Holmes and the Dastardly Case of the Dead Druggist: a dramatic pictorial report

3. Pictorial reports of game-play

A picture can tell a thousand words. In some instances my retelling of the story relied heavily on the pictures, so that the visual images constituted the majority of the report. These are some of the picture-heavy reports that seem to have been enjoyed over the years.

111 thumbsup A pictorial report of our first game: the adventures of a man and two children, in their valiant quest to defend the king's city
100 thumbsup Extreme Scrabble: Taking Scrabble to where it's never been taken before!
67 thumbsup A giant sized version proves a big hit with seniors at an outdoor garden party (with pictures!)
44 thumbsup Introducing three children to the city of Belfort (a report with pictures)
35 thumbsup A Tale of One Family and Three House Fires (a pictorial report of three games with the Family rules)

4. Gaming with the Masked Man

The last three categories of session reports all recount various gaming adventures with three good gamer friends of mine. The first of these is the infamous Masked Man, and no less than about 30 session reports regale some of our adventures together. Please don't be too intimidated by the pictures - you may find that the stories of these games have more charm and humour than you'd expect!

44 thumbsup The Masked Man goes homeless and hungry after drafting his beloved Cube (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #25, Week 10)
37 thumbsup The Masked Man helps usher in a new error* in the anals* of human history (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #14, Week 5)
31 thumbsup The Masked Man fiddles while Rome burns (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #11, Week 3)
20 thumbsup The Masked Man meets the world's ugliest San Juan themed tablecloth (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #21, Week 8)
18 thumbsup The Masked Man & an invisible friend revisit the world's worst tablecloth (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #22, Week 8)

5. Gaming with my buddy Scurvodsky

I was fortunate enough to spend an entire week on holidays with my friend Scurvodsky and his family, and we got in a lot of games during this time together. Here are some highlights of the 10 session reports that resulted:

24 thumbsup In which Ender plays his first ever game of Tigris & Euphrates
22 thumbsup Will 1960 fade into obscurity in 2012?
20 thumbsup The tension that is Agricola - but do I like it or not?
19 thumbsup Ender revolts against the game: Why should I play for 3 hours and not even finish Turn 1? (with pictures)
16 thumbsup Family fun with one of the very best euro/wargame hybrids (includes a Mare Nostrum review)

6. Gaming with the random gamer at the cottage next door

Finally, I also spent a week on holidays with another friend, and this also generated about 15 session reports. These were among my very first session reports, so they were briefer for the most part - but the games they record were certainly no less interesting!

14 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #1 Lifeboats
11 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #3 Vikings
4 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #4 Pandemic
5 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #6 Age of Empires III
4 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #8 Attribute

The future?

In closing I mention that Mozart78 has been doing a herculean job in going through every single session report on BGG and awarding what he calls the "Excellence in Session Report Writing Awards." I've been fortunate enough to have my session reports chosen a few times, and you'll find a list of the winning sessions here:

mb Excellence in Session Report Writing Awards winners

Will I write another 100 reports over the next six and a half years? I have no idea. But one thing I do know: reading over some of these reports reminds me of the wonderful experiences games can generate and the lasting memories they can create. For me, session reports help me preserve something of an experience that is precious to me. And that, really, is what gaming is about for all of us isn't it?


Join the discussion: Do you ever write session reports for games that you have played? Why or why not? What do you think is the value of session reports on BGG?
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Tue Dec 6, 2011 9:13 am
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Deceptive Merchandising: Amusing Lessons From Promotional Pictures Of Games (Part 2)

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Back in February I posted an article on this blog about the humour in some of the promotional pictures put out by game publishers.

With that still fresh in my mind, it was with great interest that I recently read about The Table of Catan, a custom made and officially licensed table for Settlers of Catan, available at www.tableofcatan.com. After all, who wouldn't want to own a piece of exquisite craftsmanship like this, with the official Settlers of Catan brand? Well... maybe not every gamer, but you have to admit that the custom table actually looks rather impressive!



But now what I found rather amusing were the accompanying promotional pictures on the website. They raise all kinds of existential and pressing questions about the game, and about the game group pictured there! Questions that deserved to be asked and answered by the BGG community!

Exhibit A: Game Board



Questions like:

● Why is a four player game being played on the larger 5-6 player board?

● Why did the green player place her starting settlement alongside the desert and a 3, when there were so many better options?

Exhibit B: Game Group (Part 1)

But wait, we're not done yet:



At least now we've got five players in the game. But there are some odd things going on:

● Why is the lady wearing green sitting in front of the card bank instead of in front of her own colour?

● Why is the lady with the dice about to roll right on some settlements and roads, and cause chaos on the board? And are the other players laughing because they think that doing this is some kind of sick joke?

● Where are all the men gamers? Or is this a ladies night?

And perhaps most important of all:

● WHO LET THE LITTLE KID WITH THE DRINK THAT CLOSE TO THE BRAND NEW TABLE???!!!

● And what's with the sausage rolls on the game table, and so close to the board?

Exhibit C: Game Group (Part 2)

But we're still not finished. Because it gets better:



Order is restored, because dad has arrived! Notice that the game state has not changed at all since the previous picture! Yep, it's exactly the same game. But what has changed is the presence of dad, and the absence of all the food and drinks. Which raises all kinds of new questions:

● What happened to the cans of coke that two players were enjoying in the previous picture? Evidently dad has enforced his "no food or drink at the game table" rule. Did they get to finish their drink?

● What happened to the little girl and her mother? Did they get evicted from the game and the house because of the kid breaking the `no drinks' rule?

● Where is the fifth player? What happened to the lady rolling the dice in the previous picture - did she get sent home as well? And did she take the dice with her?

● Why did the ladies wearing blue and brown get to change places mid-game? In my world that's called cheating!

● Why are the other players all looking at and smiling at dad? Are they sharing a secret joke at his expense?

Inquiring minds want to know!


Join the discussion: What other pressing questions deserve to be asked when you see these pictures? And can you come to any grossly unjustified and thoroughly speculative conclusions in an attempt to answer any of these questions? Let speculation run rife!
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Tue May 24, 2011 4:07 pm
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Photo Caption Contests and Personal Milestones

Ender Wiggins
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"What a BRAIN BURNER!"
- asutbone
A New Photo Caption Contest

I've run several BGG Photo Caption Contests over the years. There have been some excellent entries and winners, and over 150GG of prizes have been awarded. Here are some of the winning entries that I've especially enjoyed from previous contests:


"Hmmmmm, so THIS is where my college fund is going. - Kodos


"The third day of a convention often takes its toll on the mind. In this shot, a sleep-deprived gamer checks his camel for line of sight." - cbs42

Want to see previous contests and all the winning entries? See the complete list here:
mb BGG Photo Caption Contest series

Now the BGG Photo Caption Contest returns, and for this edition, I have again picked a number of pictures that are themed around gamers and their antics. Please join in the fun, and share some of your humor, or just enjoy the wit of your fellow gamers! There are some GeekGold prizes to be had!

Want to join in? Find the current contest here:
mb BGG Photo Caption Contest #5: Gamer Antics



A New Personal Milestone

So why another contest? Well I figured the timing was right, since last week (Friday, May 13, 2011) I reached two significant milestones with respect to my BGG contributions on the same day: 100,000 thumbs, and 10,000 images! Yes, I'll be the first to admit that it's ridiculous - but there you have it!

I decided that running another photo caption contest would be another way of thanking the BGG community at this time. BGG is a place where we can meet and exchange ideas and information about a hobby that we mutually enjoy. In many respects what makes it such an enjoyable place to frequent are these reciprocal connections and exchanges of material, and the willingness of gamers around the world to share their contributions with fellow enthusiasts. It's really the cumulative contributions of a multitude of diverse users that helps make this site the incredibly useful global resource that it is!

To humour myself, I compiled a retrospective of some of my own contributions over the years:

mb Ender's Greatest Hits: Celebrating 100,000 thumbs and a platinum meeple mb

mb Crossing the 10,000 Images Milestone: Some of my favourite pictures



Thanks to everyone who has ever given a `thumb' of encouragement to any of my contributions over the years. And I'm grateful to everyone here for making BGG what it is!
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Tue May 17, 2011 12:56 am
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The BGG Picture Museum Project: Great Game Photos

Ender Wiggins
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It's no secret that I love photos. While I like contributing pictures myself, what I especially enjoy is admiring the stellar work of others - and there are some superb photographers on BGG! Unfortunately, some of the fantastic pictures on BGG disappear into obscurity and vanish from the public eye shortly after they are submitted, especially if they are for relatively unknown games. For this reason, since 2008 I've been engaged in a personal and completely unofficial project to create a BGG Picture Museum, highlighting some of the great images here on BGG, and showcasing some of the wonderful aspects of gaming.

Here are links to the ten Photo Albums that make up the series so far, along with some sample pictures from each album to whet your appetite. The most recent one (Old Photos of Vintage Gaming) was just posted today.

mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #1: Playing Games in Strange Places



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #2: Playing Games With Unusual Opponents



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #3: Playing Games on Super-Sized Boards



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #4: Playing Games in Different Cultures



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #5: The Unbridled Emotions of Children



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #6: Games Masquerading as Food



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #7: Playing Games at the Beach



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #8: Playing Games with Seniors



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #9: Lest We Forget (Remembrance Day / Veterans Day edition)



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #10: Old Photos of Vintage Gaming (just posted today!)



To all of the BGG users who submitted the great pictures featured in these photo albums: I salute you! Keep up the fantastic contributions! Many of the photo albums also have public additions enabled, so you are also welcome to add any great pictures that you think deserve to belong to these photo albums.

Want to be notified when a new Photo Album comes out? Subscribe to this list:
mb The BGG Picture Museum Photo Album series


Join the discussion: What are some things that you appreciate about the pictures here on BGG? Do you have any ideas for "themes" that I could use for future photo albums?
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Thu May 12, 2011 3:55 pm
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Life as a Golden Reviewer: Interviewing the Big Boys

Ender Wiggins
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Tom Vasel. Greg Schloesser. Neil Thomson. Matt Drake.

These are some of the big names on BGG, all of whom have written over 200 reviews, and have been long-standing members of the site. There are well known video reviewers that I admire too - Scott Nicholson, Jeremy Salinas, and UndeadViking to name a few - but none of these have produced quite the same astounding volume of reviews, over an extended period of time, as the above mentioned names have. At any rate, they've used a different medium, which is equally valuable but in a different way, and today I'm just zeroing in on written views.

The Golden Reviewer microbadge is awarded to those who have written 100 or more reviews (separate badges are being adopted for video reviewers). As of last month there were only 17 veteran BGGers who qualified for the circle of golden reviewers.

mb Golden Reviewer

So what do these folks have to say about games and reviewing? Last month I decided to find out by interviewing them. Check out what they had to say here:

mb Introducing your Golden Thumb Reviewers: an interview with some of BGG's most prolific reviewers


Join the discussion: What do you consider to be some of the hallmarks of a successful review? What do you think about the diversity of review types and styles on BGG?
(You'll find some of my own answers to these questions on the above-mentioned GeekList.)
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Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:13 am
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