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How to Force Your Kids to Become Gamers

Nate Owens
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Garland
Texas
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It’s a common misconception that when you have kids, you don’t have much time to play games. This is untrue: you don’t actually have time to do anything. Oh you may pretend that you still get to play games. You’ll buy them and promise to play them. You’ll participate in forum discussions. But you’re now the guy who goes to game night for an hour and a half, and then leaves early. But all is not lost! You’ve figured out a way to literally create gamers, and if your anything like me (i.e. a man) it was totally painless. So what better time to get started on those budding gamers than in their youth?

Take it from a guy whose children are at this stage, there’s no such thing as “too young” when it comes to creating gamers. Kids are enthusiastic and easily fooled, which is really all we look for when we want to make someone into a gamer. Besides, you’re around them all the time. Who are you going to play games with? Your wife? I’m pretty sure mine is still angry at me from that “painless childbearing” joke. And though your children can’t yet speak, read, or perhaps even walk, there’s no reason to start them on drivel like Candyland, Cootie, or 7 Wonders, all of which are highly inappropriate for intelligent adults. No, they’re ready for the big stuff right now.

So here are some simple ways you can adapt some of your favorite games into a bonding experience with your infant and/or preschooler. Don’t be timid. Dive in there and form them in your super-cool image.

Dominion

Dominion made popular every game publisher’s favorite genre: expansions. In this classic, players shuffle cards until they are done and someone wins or something. Dominion has nearly forty expansions spread across several boxes and parallel universes, and the true collector will break the laws of time and space to procure them all. Kindly, the publisher has never provided an adequate way to store all of these cards, unless you count requiring the player to add a new wing on their house as a way. This is a good thing, because it provides what is surely the richest experience of Dominion: figuring out how to organize your cards.

This is a great time to draw your kids into this particular sub-hobby. The best part is that kids know what to do without being told. Simply follow their lead. The first step is to remove every box and dump all of the cards onto the floor. It’s just that easy! Next, get on your hands and knees and inspect each card individually. Be sure that you have just eaten a fudgesicle and wiped your hands on your bare legs. If the cards don’t stick to your knees, go eat more fudgesicles until you feel sick. Then crawl back into the room and keep sorting the cards by placing them around the living room. Our family likes hiding them under furniture and in DVD cases.

Some will recommend card sleeves for this, but I find that they detract from the full experience.

Die Macher

Die Macher is a game that captures the thrills of (wait for it) the German electoral process. This may surprise you, but German children are politically savvy enough to hold office and host highly-rated talk shows. While we Americans prefer childish men to run our country, Die Macher is a great way to teach your children that the Germans do things in a different, and therefore wrong, way. Your kids can become well-versed in such timeless issues as sitting quietly and dropping pieces on the floor.

This last part is where the real joy of Die Macher comes in. You can make a race out of it, especially if you have two children, say ages eleven months and three years. The three-year old can sit at the table and efficiently (how German!) sweep all of the cubes and cards onto your carpet. Then the race is on! How many pieces can you get before the eleven-month-old crawls around and eats every cube on the floor? Just as in the more-alluring-than-it-sounds “adult Die Macher,” you can mark the results on a dry erase board for everyone to see. If there is a discrepancy in the scoring, keep in mind that there is a way to confirm the results. It’ll just take about 12 hours, some dedication, and may require you to make sure you don’t accidentally count any cubes from other games in the results. Or you could count them, and play an exciting variation on Wallenstein, but that’s for another column.

Pandemic

Matt Leacock’s 2008 cooperative design was a grand slam with people who like to boss other people around. You must organize with your fellow players to find a way to keep the world from collapsing in a maelstrom of the sniffles and terrible nightmarish diarrhea. I can see all you parents nodding knowingly: odds are you’ve already played what I like to call Extreme Pandemic.

Extreme Pandemic is far easier than you think. Simply put your kids in daycare for about 90 seconds, and then bring them home. Their eyes should now be pink and crusty. Congratulations, Extreme Pandemic has begun. It has several advantages over vanilla Pandemic, in that the panic of spreading disease suddenly becomes far more real. Instead of passing cards to each other, you’ll get to follow your children all over the house and make sure that they don’t rub their eyes and then pick their brother’s nose. If you have already played the “Airlift” card and taken your kids to the doctor, you will have the added challenge of holding them down and spraying eyedrops all over their face. Please note that in this version, the “One Quiet Night” and “Resilient Population” cards are entirely ineffectual. You win when everyone catches it and you all need to stay home at the same time.

When that happens, you’ll reflect on how close you’ve all become thanks to board gaming. Perhaps you can celebrate by watching Go Diego Go for six hours straight and eating nothing but breakfast cereal.

This piece was originally published on my blog, The Rumpus Room, and on Fortress: Ameritrash. To read my more recent work, visit The Rumpus Room or check out my articles on F:AT.
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Tue Nov 19, 2013 4:49 pm
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Geekway to the West, 2012

Nate Owens
United States
Garland
Texas
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This was originally on my blog, The Rumpus Room.

After a few months of anticipation and several nights without enough sleep, I’m finally back from my escapade to St. Louis, and the Geekway to the West con. This was my first con, since it was well within driving distance for me. After a good friend of mine talked it up last year, I decided that this year I would make the trip myself. Was it worth the miles driven and hotel prices? I would say that it absolutely was worth it, at least eventually.

See, it was not exactly what I expected, at least not initially. In my head, it would just be an enormous 4-day game night, where you would stand around and decide what to play. In my head, I assumed that I would have the ability to play just about whatever I wanted, since there would be a huge game library and over 300 potential opponents. As it turns out, this was not exactly the case. The experience was still positive, but it was much more loosey-goosey than I anticipated. Instead of being able to just jump from one game I chose to another, it went more like this: play a game, wander around for 15 minutes looking for another one. If you see something you want to play, you insert yourself in by asking if you can join. You might find some friends playing something, but if you’re new to the scene it’ll largely be trial and error. This even proved true with scheduled games. I put myself down to play about six games before I even arrived in St. Louis. It turns out that all but one of them fell through for whatever reason. Maybe someone’s previous game ran long, maybe someone isn’t back from lunch, maybe they just didn’t feel like playing. So if you’re the type who likes everything organized and all in a row, that might frustrate you. But if you can roll with the punches and be willing to play everything by ear, then you’ll find a lot of games that you didn’t know you loved, and probably make some pretty cool friends in the process.

That trial and error can result in some dud experiences, to be sure. On my first night I ended up playing Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Petz, the spiritual successor to Dungeon Lords. Dungeon Lords had a good start for me, but it quickly faded down the stretch. So I was excited to see if Dungeon Petz could correct some of my perceived problems with the first game. Turns out it wasn’t a great experience. That’s not altogether because of the game (although I suspect that, like its predecessor, it’s overly complicated without a ton of payoff), but rather the circumstances of the session. No one knew how to play, so they just busted open the rule book and read from it to set up. About halfway through that explanation I knew that it’d be a rough game, because it added a full hour to our time together. And it wasn’t a very outgoing group. I sort of felt like I might have been inconveniencing them with my presence, because I didn’t get more than two sentences spoken to me that weren’t some form of explanation or rules reminder. It was kind of painful, but thankfully that didn’t end up being a theme of the whole weekend.

Vlaada Chvatil was probably my designer-of-the-weekend. Aside from Dungeon Petz, I also got to play Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, and Mage Knight. Galaxy Trucker is already a favorite (I’ll write it up one of these days), but I was also really impressed with the other two games, both of which were new to me. Space Alert is a real-time cooperative game, complete with a CD soundtrack and barks out transmissions to the players. It’s hilariously difficult, and I played with a really fun group. We bungled our way through three training missions and had a grand old time. Mage Knight is a different kettle of fish altogether. It’s massive, epic, and heavy. Think of it as the standard quest/adventure game, but with deck-building as the key mechanic for leveling up and advancing your character. It’s an effective mix, even if the game can sometimes be very puzzle-like. I came away from Mage Knight very impressed, so it’s a good thing I managed to score the only copy for sale there. Expect this one to get the full review when I’ve gotten a better handle on its complexity.

One of the hot games of the con was Eclipse, the new space empire game that has taken BGG by storm. Since it was one of the possible prizes at Geekway, it saw a lot of play from people who hoped to win it. In fact, this was the first of my five scheduled games that ended up falling through. I spent most of the weekend trying to get it in, and finally did it on my last night. It was just a three-player game, and I didn’t have a very good start. I ended up drawing a lot of tiles that made me fight enemies early on, and I assumed I would be bringing up the rear as the game went on. But when all the scores were tallied, I was tied with the other loser, just one point behind the winner. That restored what was initially going to be my only real complaint, one of balance with fewer players. It turns out it was mostly unfounded, so this one gets another thumbs-up from me. If you want a less fragile and more playable version of Twlight Imperium, you could do a lot worse. It focuses much more on the economy and tech, and much less on combat and metagaming. That will not be to some people’s tastes, but it does mean that the game plays quite well with less than a full compliment. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.

And of course there were a lot of games I already knew that saw the table. Lords of Waterdeep affirmed its position as a solid Eurogame, if a little familiar. Alien Frontiers remains the best use of dice in a Euro since The Settlers of Catan. Of special note was a two-player game of Twilight Struggle, which I lost as the US in Turn 4. It was noteworthy because it was the first time I have ever seen anyone win by controlling Europe. It’s nice when a familiar game can surprise you, and it’s always a pleasure to get Twilight Struggle in, especially against someone who already knows how to play. Also played was the German classic, Wallenstein. It’d been about three years since I played so I lost pretty badly, despite the fact I was the only person at the table who hadn’t been drinking all day.

I also got to try Dominant Species for the first time. This hit from GMT is a big ol’ heavy game about evolving a kingdom of animals (reptiles, arachnids, etc.) to make them the best suited to their environment. I was the only person who had never played, but I had a good teacher (thanks, Kit!) and soon grasped what was going on. I liked this one a lot. I find myself drawn to heavier games like this in recent days, and Dominant Species fit the bill to a T. Next time GMT has a sale I might have to put myself down for this one.

The biggest surprise of the weekend came just before I left. Sitting with some great folks from Oklahoma, we tried our hand at King of Tokyo, the new and hard-to-find dice game from Magic designer Richard Garfield. I’ve heard a lot of press about this one, but it’s hard for me to get that excited about a dice game, since my favorite of the genre is probably Roll Through the Ages. I mostly just like that game, so expectations were a little muted for KoT. Turns out it really is that much fun. It’s hard to explain what was so engaging, but it’s an intoxicating blend of risk-taking, player confrontation, and good old-fashioned trash talking. We liked it so much that we played it three times straight. I eagerly await the reprint for this one. If there was any justice it would have been made by a mainstream company so that it would be in Wal-Mart. That way everyone could play it and have as much fun as we did.

But in the end, Geekway was mostly about the people I got to meet. I had an awesome game of Blood Bowl: Team Manager with Tom and Caleb. I even got to meet Jay Little, the game’s designer. I had a blast playing King of Tokyo with John, Ashley, Caleb, and Caleb’s wife. (Whose name I forget. Sorry!) I had a terrific game of Kingdom Builder, of all games. I wish I could have played more with that crew. I even got the chance to playtest a new design by another guy named Nate called Biomechanic Dino Battles, and offer my input on the game. It was great to make a ton of new friends and to connect with people who I’ve only ever met online.

Will I be back next year? I certainly hope so. There was a whole realm of tournaments and competitions that I barely touched, and I wish I had taken part in those. And I definitely want the chance to get in touch with my new friends outside of just interacting on BGG. So if you don’t have anything going on, and if the Mayan Calendar doesn’t kill us first, want to make the trip to St. Louis with me next year?
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Wed May 23, 2012 2:51 am
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Creatures of Emotion

Nate Owens
United States
Garland
Texas
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Whenever an old game from the 30-40 years ago gets reprinted, there will always be a chorus of people who just don't get it. Maybe their tastes just don't jive with those of the 1980s, or maybe they just get tired of hearing people gush that their favorite game is back in print. Either way, the complaints will eventually migrate from griping about luck and game length, and eventually they will start to complain about the game's fans. What moron would like a game like this? Why did we wait so long to get this game back in print? Why are people so excited? They are clearly blinded by (cue dramatic sting) NOSTALGIA. And sometimes, it cuts the other way. If a reprint contains a couple dramatic changes, fans of the old game will complain about the new changes. Fans of the new version will again say that the old guard is complaining just because of nostalgia. Call the former "Talisman Syndrome" and the latter "DungeonQuest Syndrome."

That accusation rankles me for a variety of reasons. I don't much like the implied insult that people aren't capable of seeing past their own memories to make an informed opinion. But what really mystifies me is this: why is it a bad thing to like or dislike a game based on nostalgia? Heaven knows there are games that I like now almost totally based on my memories of enjoying the game in the past. If I discovered Ticket to Ride today, I would probably not give it a second look. But I discovered it when I got into the hobby, and I still retain a fondness for it even after my own tastes have moved on. Sometimes fond memories will cover up a multitude of shortcomings, and a game will still be great fun. If someone is having fun playing a game, no argument about mechanics or whatever will overcome that fact.

The argument against nostalgia points to a larger attitude that we see all the time in the board gaming world: we aren't comfortable admitting that it is in emotional pursuit. Sure, lots of people will point out how much they like a game because it makes them think. And we like to pretend that our thoughts on games are the final word in the hobby. If you dig around Boardgame Geek enough, you will eventually find threads complaining or rejoicing about whatever game is in the Top 10 of the BGG rankings. We like to believe that our pastime is one where logic and objectivity rules the day, and anything that violates that is incomprehensible.

But everywhere you look, you see that gaming is an emotional pursuit. If someone likes the thinky cerebral part of a game, it's because it thrills them at a certain level. It's the same principal as when someone gets a charge from roleplaying or rolling a D12. Both are perfectly good reasons to like a game, but both are emotional responses. We don't play a game because its great, it's great because we play it. The quality of a game is not wrapped up in some Platonic ideal that exists outside of ourselves. The greatness of a game is relative.

And sometimes, there just isn't a reason for why we like a game. Several months ago, I played my first game of Caylus with a couple friends. I was prepared to be bored to tears, pulled down by endless rounds of cube-pushing. Turns out, I liked Caylus. I found myself engaged for the entire game, and the strategic decisions were compelling. It was abstract to a fault, but I didn't mind. I was swept up in the mechanics. A second game confirmed my suspicion: I enjoyed myself quite well. It seems strange for someone who usually seeks drama and narrative to enjoy such a game, but there it was. I would have to play a couple more times to figure out my opinion, but for the time being I'm willing to chalk it up to simply being one of those things.

This seems like an obvious point, right? We already make all entertainment choices based on emotion, or at least logic based on emotional knowledge. We like whatever movies we like, watch stupid TV shows, and root for terrible sports teams. We like to call them "guilty pleasures," as is we're ashamed that our own tastes don't follow a direct progression. But we at least accept it as a fact of life in the media we consume and enjoy.

And yet, as gamers, we're uncomfortable with this part of ourselves. We have a hard time accepting that other people will like a game simply because they liked it when they were children. We don't want to admit that our favorite games might not be the best for everyone, so we argue over which one is objectively better. Some people even like to complain that a reviewer didn't approach a game "objectively," even if that completely flies in the face of what a meaningful review is.

It's this refusal to acknowledge our feelings that holds the hobby back. A new gamer who loves Monopoly might love to learn Puerto Rico, but he may never try if someone informs him that he's been wrong about one of his favorite games all these years. And if we worship at the altar of mechanics, we discredit the other part of games that make them fun. A good auction can make a game enjoyable, but so can also come from narrative, setting, components, interaction, or some mysterious x-factor that we don't quite understand. A game's greatness is not the product of a formula. If it were, we'd all have the same favorites.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not advocating some squishy let’s-all-hold-hands viewpoint. One problem with the current field of game criticism is that we are too gentle. Phrases like “not for me” or “not my cup of tea” are far too prevalent in game writing. That’s not just shoddy criticism, it’s shoddy writing. And I have never cared for the classic forum defense of “that’s just your opinion.” Well of course it is. The point of discussion about art is not to convince other people, although that certainly happens. The point is to understand why we feel the way we do, and to learn how to understand other people. That some people are incapable of doing that without acting like children is fact of the internet, but that doesn’t mean it has to make up the bulk of the dialog. This is particularly true in gaming, which I suspect is probably one of the most over-educated hobbies out there.

But maybe we’d get a little closer if we could admit that we aren’t always using our heads when it comes to games. Instead, our heads arrive at a place where they understand out heart. That’s the first step not only to civilized discourse about games, but also to a vibrant varied community that embraces all styles of games.

More circular logic is available at my blog, The Rumpus Room.
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Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:00 pm
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Child's Play

Nate Owens
United States
Garland
Texas
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Like many gamers, I live in hopes that my two-year-old son will one day want to play games with me. A lot of gamer dads harbor this wish, because it means that we will have at least one other person to play games with us when we’re too busy being dads to actually get together with our friends. I like to think that he and I will one day create opposing armies in Summoner Wars, and run them against each other. I want to teach him Settlers of Catan, finally proving to his mom that it’s an awesome game. And if he becomes appreciative of history like me, I’d like to see how well he does at stuff like Twilight Struggle. This is such silly speculation when he’s only two, but a lot of other gamer dads would be lying if they said they didn’t think about these things.

But unlike a lot of other gamer parents, I don’t want to MAKE him play games. It’s my hobby, not his. If he ends up loving interpretive dance (something that would please his mother no end), and wants to be a dancer, then I will stand by him every step of the way, make it to every recital, and be so proud of him. And if he loves to play board games with me, I’ll count it a blessing and enjoy those moments too. But I’m not going to decide his interests for him. So you can imagine my surprise when he started coming up to me and sayiug, “Game daddy?” He then will point downstairs towards our game shelf and begin the descent down the stairs to pick one out.

This is partially adorable because he’s now at an age when he learns new words every day. Among these words is the phrase “Pace Hoke,” which every Blood Angel should know means “Space Hulk.” I haven’t yet reviewed Space Hulk (though I almost certainly will someday), but this is the grail game in my collection. Though out-of-print, I was able to find a used copy for a very fair price, and even though I don’t play it constantly, it’s still a favorite. It is also now a favorite of my son, who finds the slavering aliens on the box cover to be very cool. He loves the floor tiles, which he knows are put together like a puzzle. And he likes the miniatures, which are decidedly not child-friendly. They have jagged pointies all over them, and they are designed mostly to be looked out and painted, not handled by a toddler. He picks up a handful of dice and derives great pleasure from hucking them into the box lid. And he likes to look at the fancy color pictures in the rule book (I do too, since the miniatures in there are all painted).

You’d think I’d be a wreck letting a toddler play with the most expensive game I own. But he does very well. He picks them out of the foam, looks at the pieces, and fights the Space Marines against the Genestealers. He puts them back when I ask, and then asks for me to open the plastic bag full of tokens. He dumps them out, picks through them, then helps me put them away when we’re done. And when he’s done with Space Hulk, he picks out another game to open and play with. His particular favorites include Nexus Ops (which also has cool plastic pieces), Ticket to Ride Europe (“choo-choo”), and Fearsome Floors (which lets him build his own bad guy).

He has no concept of the rules to any of these games. He merely knows that they are daddy’s toys, and that if he asks politely, daddy or mommy will play with him. At first, I admit I only tolerated this ritual. I paid a lot of money for these games, and I put a lot of time into curating a collection of which I’m pretty proud. But my son is perceptive enough to know that daddy just owns a bunch of toys. They are silly boxes, filled with very expensive cardboard and plastic, that are used for play. I may put on airs and act like I’m doing something constructive with my time, but it’s just another way to play with my friends.

It’s very easy for an adult to forget this. I once read a thread on Boardgame Geek proposing that we say we “tabled” a game instead of “playing” it. The rationale was that we are adults, and we therefore are above things like “play.” This was deservedly met with derision by most of the other users, but more of us have this attitude than will admit. We like to find games with lots of pieces, rules, and drab graphics, and act like we are sharpening our minds. We are, but that’s not why we’re doing it.

Before this gets too goopy, I know that we’re adults here. When we were kids, we reasoned like kids. When we are adults, we move on to things that are more grown up, even while we keep playing games. And that’s a natural thing. But it’s easy to let that transition rob us of some of the joy that comes from gathering around a table with your loved ones and friends and laughing and cracking jokes while you play. And it’s easy to forget that those toys aren’t an end unto themselves. They ideally exist to facilitate social interaction. The best games promote that, and the worst ones fight against it. When I’m with my son, every game is just a big toy for us to play with together.

And while its fun now, it makes me even more excited for the future. Not just what games we will play together, but all of the other joys our lives will share. I’m glad that even at this young age, we have something we can share.

Read more sappy stuff like this at my game blog, The Rumpus Room.
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Thu Feb 9, 2012 3:22 am
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A Trader Among Us

Nate Owens
United States
Garland
Texas
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This may surprise you, but game blogging is not a great way to make a living. I expected piles of money and beautiful women, but that has so far not been the case (aside from the beautiful woman I married, but I don’t think that was because of my blog). Because of that, I don’t have a lot to spend on games. Combine that with an almost-two-year-old son at home, and my gaming dollar is stretched pretty thin. So when I want to get a new game I do a lot of sleuthing. Unless there’s some recent windfall of cash, I usually buy used games, either from friends or people online. And of course, I trade my games.

In fact, I’ve developed a reputation among my gaming buddies as the guy who trades everything away. That’s understandable, because I really do love trading. It’s a great way to get new titles onto your game shelf for little or no extra money (less the amount of the original game). And it’s a skill that every gamer should hone, because it gives you far more bang for your buck. There’s much less risk involved in buying a game when you know you will likely be able to get it to someone else for something you like more. So here’s some tips to become a great trader:

Get over your collection
When someone gets into the hobby, they tend to buy a lot. Since a new gamer is only just forming their tastes, they will often buy something that they end up not liking. Even if you do like a game, a constant influx of new titles will mean that you may only play a game once or twice, then let it collect dust on the shelf. But of course, you can’t get rid of the game, right? You’re trying to build a collection, and other people like to play it, so its worth holding on to.

Bull, I say. I have many good friends who feel this way, but I respectfully disagree. You may be building a collection, but it’s a collection for you (and maybe a wife and kids). If you don’t love a game, it can probably go. And if your friends own the game anyway, you can usually play their copy as often as you’d play your own. It’s surprising how few games you need in your collection, and if you do get rid of a game and regret it, you can probably just get it again later on. A couple of years ago, I bought a used copy of the Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Lords, a fun management game set in a cool dungeon environment. It was a fun game, but I began to wear out of it after about five games. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get rid of it yet, but I was able to find a good trade for it. And the truth is, I’ve never regretted making that move. The essential games in your collection probably comprise a very small percentage.

And even if you love a game, it’s pointless if you never play it. It’s not there to be a museum piece. There are many people who would have the time or group to play the game as often as it deserves. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t played the game in over a year, it’s time to think about trading it.

Strike while the iron is hot
Gamers can be idiots. When a hot title comes out, and then sells out, there will be about a four-month window where a game will be in enormous demand with almost nothing to fill it. A reasonable person would know that the game will be back in print in a few months, and bide their time. But a gamer will pay or trade something ridiculous to get it, often overplaying their hand. You can use this mental illness to your advantage.

When a game falls out of print and isn’t available in stores, it will almost always get reprinted. Many publishers have a reprint cycle, where they print a small amount, let it run out, then print more a few months after they run out. But there are those who just cannot wait for three months. If you were one of those people who found the game early, you can flip it for way more than you paid. Even if you really loved the game, you will probably be able to find another copy in a few months at regular retail. It’s true that some games go out of print forever, but if it sold out that quickly most publishers will want to print more.

Last year, a friend of mine was one of the first to buy 2010′s forgettable hotness, 7 Wonders. Like I mentioned above, the game sold out its initial print run, and then was unavailable for all of four months. But in that four months he was able to trade his $45 game for two copies of Memoir ’44, plus all of its expansions to that point. That’s almost $300 worth of game. True story.

Find a good local game group
This hobby is primarily a social one. We form connections with those in our community who have different tastes from us, and that’s a good thing. It allows us to try games before we buy them, which is important when possible. It allows people to test genres that they otherwise would avoid. And its great for trading.

Trading in a group offers one great advantage: if you liked the game, you can still play it. It makes letting go of a title you liked much easier. And if you have a big enough group, you can try your hand at a math trade (more on those later). Some game stores have organized groups that can be a great resource for trading. If they have a mailing list or a Facebook group, it’s always nice to test the waters and see if there are any nibbles for your unplayed games.

Find a good online community
Boardgamegeek.com has a lot of faults, but one of the best tools the site offers is its trade function. You can list which games you own that you are willing to trade, and what games you want to receive. It’ll match you up with users around the world who want the games you have and have the games you want. This can be something of a mixed bag, however. Some BGG users have raised pedantry to an art form, and I suspect that a couple are actually computers who don’t understand human interaction. Because of that, many users do not have any interest in trading through BGG, and will ignore all requests sent their way. Check profiles to see if someone mentions their attitude towards trades, and always send a personal message before a trade request. It’s just more polite. You will probably get turned down for many requests, and some people might negotiate a different trade. That’s fine, and a polite refusal is almost always better than no response at all.

Other boardgaming sites have active forums, and that can be a good place for established members to find trades and bargains on old games. Fortress: Ameritrash has a very good forum for this. I’ve bought many coveted games from those forums, and they also do one or two math trades a year. Which brings us to…

Math trades!
Math trading is one of my favorite things. They can be organized either within a local group, among online friends, or even during a game convention. It’s a fun way to get new games, and also provides a kind of cheap thrill of then unknown.

Imagine you and your friends all have a list of games you don’t want, and you put them all in one huge list. Then for every game you added to the list, you say what OTHER games on the list you would accept in trade for your game. Do this for each of your games, and you have a list of games that you will take for your old games (called a “want list”). Everyone makes a list like that, and then someone who’s running the trade feeds all the want lists and the master list into a computer program. The program then spits out a series of trade loops that will result in games going to new owners:

Nate has PUERTO RICO and wants IMPERIAL
Brad has COSMIC ENCOUNTER and wants PUERTO RICO
Colby has IMPERIAL and wants COSMIC ENCOUNTER

See what happened there? The computer would tell Nate to give Puerto Rico to Brad, and to get Imperial from Colby. Brad gets Puerto Rico from me, and gives Cosmic Encounter to Colby. Everyone gets something they want.

When the results and trade loops are given, there will likely be a big meeting where everyone arrives and makes the trades in person. This could be at game night, or it could be a big convention. Some groups (like Fortress: Ameritrash) ship the games to each other, usually agreeing to pay a certain amount of the postage. Every math trade is different, but a good runner will lay out any peculiarities and rules beforehand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

The best part is that you can place your precious games in the trade with no fear of them going away. I’ve sometimes posted games that I love in a trade, just to see if it would entice other people to post more games that were attractive to me. If nothing catches my eye, I can simply say that there are no games I’m willing to trade my game for. A word of advice though: don’t put something on the list unless you actually want it. Most trades will try to get the most trades for the most people, so if you tagged some derpy game to the end of your list, thinking you’d never get it, don’t be too sure.

A couple words of warning
Don’t overestimate the appeal of your game. If you keep getting turned down for trades, there’s a good chance that you are asking for too much. Remember, different things are worth different amounts to different people. The best trade I ever made was when I traded a copy of the pleasant Zoolorettofor a copy of the much more interesting (and then out-of-print) Nexus Ops. I definitely got the better half of that trade, but the other guy didn’t feel taken. He got a game he wanted, and I got one I wanted. Value is much more relative than most gamers will admit.

And if you trade a lot online, postage can add up. There have been some titles that I’ve moved two or three times before I finally arrived at a “keep this forever” game. That’s not a very efficient way to do things, but sometimes it happens. Bear this in mind.

So there you go, the Rumpus Room’s guide to trading. It’s a terrific way to get new titles and remove old ones you don’t play anymore. I definitely recommend this for the cash-strapped gamer, or for those who find they have a lot of games they don’t ever enjoy. Your collection will be a lot leaner, but it’ll also be a lot meaner.

Read more articles at The Rumpus Room, so I can finally fill this subscriber-shaped hole in my soul.
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Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:12 am
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The Rumpus Room in 2011

Nate Owens
United States
Garland
Texas
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This will make a lot more sense if you read The Rumpus Room, my game blog for attractive people.

Man, Christmas can really clog up the month of December. At least that was the case for me. After my last entry, the entire month kicked into high gear, and I barely had any time to play games at all, let alone review them. Like many gamers, I got a few choice items for Christmas, like these:

thumbsupThunderstone: Dragonspire – Thunderstone is a deck-builder that takes the time to be more of a full-length game than either Puzzle Strike or Dominion. The dungeon-y theme is not exactly original, but it’s well-integrated. The card artwork is also really good, full of dark fantasy and things like that. Overall, it’s a good game. Expect a review of this one once I get in another play or two.

thumbsupHaggis- I reviewed Tichu a few months ago, and it’s definitely my favorite card game. The issue is, it’s strictly for four people. Oh, you can play three-handed, but it’s clearly a popsicle-stick-and-duct-tape solution. Enter Haggis, the recent climbing card game designed specifically for two or three players. Like Tichu, it’s cheap and deep. Unlike Tichu, it’s not quite as intuitive or natural. But that’s not a bad trade-off. It’s a challenging, rewarding game, and I’m glad to have it in my collection.

thumbsupTelestrations - You may have played Telephone Pictionary, or the same game by it’s much more evocative name “Eat Poop You Cat.” Essentially, each player illustrates a different phrase, then the next person interprets that drawing without reading the original phrase. That interpretation is then drawn by the third person, and so on. I’m not normally a party game kinda guy, but this game is pretty hilarious. It also violates a cardinal rule of party games that I have, which is to never buy a game that you can reproduce at home with paper and a pen. But it doesn’t bother me much here, because the dry erase boards and markers in Telestrations are hilarious imprecise. It makes everything look like a cave drawing, and that only adds to the wild progressions in the game.

thumbsupThe Ares Project - Essentially, this is a real-time strategy game in card-game form. You take control of one of four factions, and then build up troops to attack your opponent. I’m very excited about this game, because it is highly asymmetrical. And when I say “highly,” I mean it: aside from the basic rules, each faction actually has their own rule book as well. From reading the rules, this one looks very deep and very fun, but it’ll be a bear to learn and teach. However, every sign points to a game that will be worth the trouble. I love asymmetrical games, and this might be the new king. Only time shall tell.

thumbsupSummoner Wars: Jungle Elves and Cloaks - I don’t know if I’ve discussed Summoner Wars much, but it’s a pretty terrific game. Each side sets up card on a grid, and each card represents a unit in a battle. It’s a lean/mean design, and the expansions for it have been universally excellent. The sixth and seventh factions released, the Cloaks and the Jungle Elves look ready to continue this tradition. I never play Summoner Wars as often as I’d like. In fact, I’ve come close to throwing it in the trade pile a couple of times. Then I play it and fall in love all over again. Because of my infrequency of play, I tend to buy expansions a good 8-12 months after they come out. I should really get the Master Set soon, though…


So there you have it: those are games that you can expect to read reviews on in the future. So what else can you expect from the Rumpus Room in 2012?

thumbsupFirst of all, I will return to my 1-2 updates per week. The holiday season wasn’t kind to either my gaming time, or writing inspiration. Usually the early part of the year allows for more free time, and hopefully a re-establishing of my writing schedule.

thumbsupSoon (probably in the next couple of weeks) I’ll write a “best of 2011″ article. This won’t be the best new games, since I’m sure I’ve barely played enough to come up with many favorites. Rather, it’ll be the best of “new to me,” something other authors have done and that I really like.

thumbsupI’d like to write more “commentary” articles, like the ones on game ratings and theme that I wrote earlier this year. These are normally very challenging for me to write. I feel like I’m getting a pretty good handle on a reviewing style, but I tend to think of the best commentary when working with other people in a dialogue. That was certainly the case with my “You Don’t Know Theme” article, which borrowed heavily (perhaps too much) from a thread on Fortress: Ameritrash. I’d like to hone the skills to write those kinds of articles on a regular basis, perhaps one a month. I don’t like setting rules on what I will and won’t write, but this is a personal goal I have.

thumbsupAs a behind the scenes item, I’d love to gain enough clout to be able to get some review copies. Let me be open: this is not to get free games. It’s more the only way that I can deliver current relevant reviews without breaking the bank. I buy new games very infrequently, and only after some thorough research. This is partially to keep my collection lean, but really more a product of very tight finances. I trade and buy used so that I can pinch every gaming penny. The problem is, I review things I own, and that means I probably like them. I don’t mind writing positive reviews, but they don’t push me very much. Secondly, it’s hard to be timely in reviews when I buy after many people have already played and formed their own opinions. Heaven knows I don’t really have the time to game more than one night per week (maybe two), and we aren’t flush with space to keep games. And as every reviewer knows, you get way more crappy games than good ones. But I do feel that unless I come upon some enormous windfall of cash, this is probably the most likely direction the Rumpus Room will go, just so that the site can grow. For the time being, I’ll just keep plugging away on what’s already in front of me. I shouldn’t run out any time soon.


Thanks to those of you who have stuck with the Rumpus Room through my first year, including those first couple months before I really focused on board gaming. I feel like I’ve been able to put my passion for gaming into written form, which was my goal the whole time. I’m still learning, obviously. I could stand to change up my review style, and I still feel like I soften my statements a little too much. But game-reviewing is a field with lots of mindless chatter, and not much competent writing. I hope I’ve been able to add to the conversation. Here’s hoping that 2012 sees some great things for The Rumpus Room!
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Wed Dec 28, 2011 2:24 am
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This Game Is Not Yet Rated

Nate Owens
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Garland
Texas
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About a month or so ago, I traded for the very excellent game, Imperial. I’ve played twice now, with another game to come this weekend. So far, I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen. It’s tight, nuanced, intense, and very rich. It’s got loads of interaction, but it’s not so open that the game is fragile. So as I do with any game that has gotten a few plays, I go on Boardgame Geek to rate it, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what rating it should get.

This seems trite, and it is. I mean, no one is holding a gun to my head and asking me to rate a game on a scale of 1-10. And it does nothing to improve my enjoyment of a game. I would still love Cosmic Encounter, even if it never occurred to me to rate it at all. And yet there I was, staring at the little module on Boardgame Geek, and thinking about how I wanted to rate Imperial.

So why rate games at all? I can only speak for myself here, so bear with me. For my own part, it helps me organize my thoughts on games. When I’m able to understand my own ranking scale, sometimes a numerical rating helps me to articulate my own opinions on the game. Here’s a rough idea of my own ranking system.

thumbsup10 – These are games that I would consider to be classics. That usually means that I just enjoy the game that much (as is the case with Innovation), or that the game is mechanically amazing (like Acquire). Usually, it’s a combination of the two. Want an idea of what I think are the best games of all time? Look at my 10′s.

thumbsup9-8 – Here we get into games that are really great, without any major issues for me. There might be a small-ish problem that prevents them from raising any higher, or there may just not be quite as sublime for me. Either way, these are games that will usually get a recommendation without any caveats.

thumbsup7-6 - This is the realm of “good-except-for.” I will say they are good games, but that recommendation will always be followed by an “if” or a “but.” I try not to hold onto any games that fall below this threshold. And if it’s falls here, it’s dangerously close to the trade pile.

thumbsup5-1 - For me, there isn’t much difference between these five rankings. If I don’t like the game, but I could have with just a minor adjustment, then that’s probably about a “5.” Go down by degrees from there, and it bottoms out with a game that is painful to play, which would be a “1.”

(I only use whole numbers in my rankings. One could split hairs all day long, so you need to draw the line somewhere. I also cannot fathom the difference between a game that is ranked 9.1 and one that is ranked 9.2.)

Sometimes the rating helps me understand my own thoughts, but it’s never the totality of my thoughts on that title. If you’ve read my reviews, you know that I don’t put a rating in the actual review. There are a couple of reasons for that. The more basic one is that whenever someone puts a rating on their review, everyone plows to the end to see what they thought. The review itself usually isn’t read at all. My hope is that a well-written review will speak for itself perfectly well. I’m probably not good enough to really pull that off, but I went to the trouble, so I’d like for people to read the whole thing. But the bigger reason is that opinions aren’t numbers. My feelings on games aren’t clear-cut, and neither are anyone else’s. If someone wants a quick thought on a game, then that’s what they can get from my ratings on the Geek. I also haven’t reviewed nearly as many games as I’ve rated, so it’s a good way to get a basic idea out there without too much fuss or time on my part. But if you want to know the more nuanced feelings that the game engendered, then the review is what you want, and when I write a review, that’s what I’m trying to impart.

Looking at my little rating breakdown, I’m sure that some readers will see it, and say that it’s purely opinion. Well done, you’ve finally figured out how game ratings and reviews work. In the absence of many solid standards about game quality, the only thing I can go on is my own opinion. A game could be really well-made and look terrific, but if I didn’t enjoy the game, that’s really all there is. We obviously all hold games to a certain standard, but that standard will be different for everyone.

So why am I even writing about this? Well, to some extent its the board gaming world we live in. Boardgame Geek has moved the hobby more and more towards an obsession with numbers and rankings. It does very little good to rail against that, so I hope that by discussing it, we can elevate the conversation a little. There will be those who have no use for ratings at all, and that’s bully for them. For my own part, I like the process of organizing my thoughts on games that I’ve played, and I like learning about how others do the same thing. It fosters a greater understanding of the people with whom I game and discuss games, and this hobby is always best when we focus on the people around us.

This was originally posted to my REAL game blog, The Rumpus Room. It's for cool people like me, and probably you.
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Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:34 pm
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