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The Thoughts of Chairman Tone.

Things that spill out of my head.

Archive for Anthony Simons

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Finally finished my Eclipse review!

Anthony Simons
United Kingdom
Royal Wootton Bassett
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There's a lot there; took me ages:

Eclipse: New Dawn for the Gamer.
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Sun Jul 29, 2012 9:08 am
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Short Review of Pret a Porter

Anthony Simons
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It must be good; because I came in last.
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Fri Mar 16, 2012 8:54 am
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Life is Not a Game!

Anthony Simons
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Royal Wootton Bassett
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Life is a short paragraph, made up of harsh and colourless sentences written by authors unknown, punctuated by the commas and stops of delightful episodes of happiness.

If you get to write one of those sentences, then you've really achieved something!
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Wed Jun 8, 2011 6:47 am
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It's for Charity, Mate!

Anthony Simons
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Royal Wootton Bassett
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Alright, time for a little bit of a moan; at the risk of once more being considered typically English.

There are a lot of charitable institutes in the UK, from BHF through Cancer Research, to Age UK and the ubiquitous Oxfam. They're all good causes, usually run by unpaid volunteers and are frequently a good place to go if you're looking for old boardgames (I have found one or two grails in places like this myself).

They're also bad in a few ways; they tape up boxes to hold them shut, they occasionally don't check items properly and they are filling our high streets! But the worst thing I can think of is the pricing!

Sure, most of the time they see boardgames as rubbish; they're a relic of the recent past that nobody really wants because of computer and video games. But sometimes they get the impression that something is really collectible; it's usually a false impression created by a quick perusal of Ebay or some such second-hand guidelines, and the result is that I often walk away saying "no thanks".

Before anybody starts saying "it's for charity, what's the matter with you?", let me first point out that this should have nothing to do with the pricing of items. The items are donated, they are priced (those that make it past - dare say it - the beady eyes of the volunteer staff) and then they are placed on the shelf. The key word is "donated". The fact these items are given to them for free makes me begrudge their robbing me blind by charging way over what it is worth and hiding behind the word "charity".

It's less of a problem with boardgames, however, and more an issue, IMO, with clothing, music and video. I have often turned up my nose at a CD or DVD on account of the fact I can generally get a new copy cheaper! It's just completely unfathomable why they price things so high, and then look at customers oddly when they declare something as being way too expensive!

IMO, if they're going to try to charge online auction rates to customers walking into a bricks-and-mortar store, then they should be prepared to accept refusal.

I am in a miserable mood today, aren't I? Well sod it, I don't care!
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Wed Apr 13, 2011 1:06 pm
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Getting In Touch With My Feminine Side

Anthony Simons
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I bought a copy of Workshop of the World, Ragnar Brothers' take on the British Industrial Revolution, at last year's UK Games Expo. I had played a demonstration game first; and despite a clear component issue, I was very keen to get a copy. Workshop is one of those games which manages to strike an excellent balance between theme and playability; something, I am happy to say, the Ragnars have a good reputation for. I'm looking forward to their next title; of course, Angola has been resurfacing (and it's something I'd like to try out), but I mean their next "new" title.

Yes, I said "component issue". It's probably not something you haven't heard or experienced already, if you know Workshop. There are three types of coin; small copper-coloured counters which represent £1, mid-sized silver-coloured counters which represent £5, and HUGE saucer-sized gold-coloured counters for £10. Those saucers are all well and good until you try to make an in-the-fist blind bid; then everybody knows you have at least £10 in your hand because you can't make a fist properly! Women are particularly at a disadvantage, with their (generally) smaller hands.

This weekend, I thought to myself, "How can I possibly put this game on the table in the presence of females and expect them to play?" You see ladies; I'm always thinking of you (and not necessarily in the way you thought I was thinking of you - although I am undeniably a bloke of the most masculine order). So I decided to find a way to save women the embarrassment of trying to close their delicate hands over a dinner-plate.

I keep a lot of spares out of old games; as I suppose most obsessive compulsive gamers do. Amongst these, I found a set of counters; a slack handful in various colours and of the same size. Clearly, it just wouldn't look right if I threw in a load of green, red, white, blue and yellow counters to replace the gold Frisbees; so I had to find some way of colouring them.

I checked my paints and found the gold was lacking severely. Bronze worked fine, but that, the copper and silver just wouldn't have looked right. I sat down and thought about ways of getting the gold to look better; painting on undercoats in white or yellow, buying a can of spray paint, perhaps using different components altogether. I went off to Chippenham town to see what I could get.

As I wandered the clothes shops with Mrs S, answering tactfully when she asked questions such as "Which colour do you think suits me best?" or "Will this go with my leggings?" or "Does my bum look big in these wellies?"; I suddenly saw the perfect solution - nail varnish! It's durable, it's relatively inexpensive, and it comes in gold!

I could see the prices were a touch high for the good stuff in the shops, so I made my excuses and left for a nearby market stall. As I rummaged through a bucket of discount nail varnish pots, I could feel the stall-holder's eyes on me. Actually, I could hear him thinking too; thoughts like "Either he's a transvestite, a glam-rocker, or he's under-the-thumb."

Alas, there were a number of different golds, so I had to approach the stall-holder. I said, thoughtlessly, "Which gold do you think is best?"

"Oh," said the stall-holder, "you should take the one on the right with your dark complexion." I hurriedly snapped up the silver and bronze pots I was looking at, and took the gold on the right.

So you see, the sacrifices I make so that all players can have a good game experience have no bounds. Two to three coats later, I now have a lovely, gold set of counters to replace the Ragnar's town hall clock-faces; but will I ever be able to show my face in Chippenham town again?
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Sun Apr 10, 2011 10:28 am
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Cult of the Old?

Anthony Simons
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Sometimes I despair; I look at all those lovely games I have bought in the past, and wonder why. It's especially true of the games that just don't get played at all.

The trouble is, games are meant to be enjoyed. If I went along to my regular group and said, "Tonight, we're playing this one. It's been sat on my shelf for so long, gathering dust, and we just have to get it played. Let's get the shrink off and start punching the bits out," then the group would happily oblige. However, if I do this too much, I get the sense that they would get rather annoyed; too many unknowns and you're bound to pull some real crap out sooner or later.

A case in point was Origins: How We Became Human. I met the designer and publisher, Phil Eklund, at Essen in 2007; he is an impressive game designer, utilising the medium as a means to impart his knowledge of prehistory (amongst other fields) upon us lower academic echelons. His prior publication, American Megafauna, was a rather "old-school" simulation of natural selection amongst prehistoric animals.

With Origins, he did a grand job of meeting in the middle, between his simulative ideal of representing the rise of the human race from a number of ancestral species, and the modern Euroesque mechanisms which would appeal to the current boardgame hobbyist market. The problem with such a project is that the designer has to tip the balance one way or the other - it is not possible to provide a detailed simulation and abstract it to the point of playability.

When we finally tore the shrink of the card deck, the game lasted about an hour before abandonment due to player distaste. The game was - well - completely underdeveloped. It made a fine educational tool, but it just wasn't what our group expected or needed; to become that would require some serious development (either the game or the players - take your pick). Besides, Settlers of the Stone Age gave a more accessible, more playable game on the same theme. I traded it away, together with the unused expansion.

At least Origins got played. You see, half the problem is me. I buy the game, then when it comes to some table-time, I procrastinate - again and again. Episodes like the Origins one are not encouraging, so more and more I find myself sticking to what I know; so I end up looking at that unused purchase - or even something I just haven't played in a while - and saying to myself, "Why would I want to play X when Y does that so much better?"

A good thing for me? Probably; it means I will get more from the games I already have, rather than feeling the need to buy something new.

A good thing for the industry? Well, one gamer hardly makes a difference; but I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling like this. In the short term, it's bad for the industry; in the long term it's good. Fussy and particular consumers will drive the design quality up, and we'll end up with better designs to choose from. It's already happening, and I think we're a long way from the saturation level.
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Thu Apr 7, 2011 7:03 am
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EXCLUSIVE!* - Shock Boardgame Anachronism on BBC Four!

Anthony Simons
United Kingdom
Royal Wootton Bassett
Wiltshire
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So there I was, watching the BBC Four production of Hattie, a biopic of Hattie Jacques during her marriage to John Le Mesurier, when up comes a scene with a boardgame close-up. The camera then tilted up to the family, where Hattie and John were about to announce to their two young boys that they were about to be divorced.

The game was Exploration, a fairly famous game which was eventually published by Waddingtons in 1970; the earlier version was first published in 1967 (apparently by the designer). I suspect the copy they had was a Waddingtons version; in any case, I surmised it could not have been there because:-

HATTIE AND JOHN WERE DIVORCED IN 1965!!!

It was a very unusual relationship they had, Hattie taking a live-in lover while they were still married and everything being so hush-hush. But to my knowledge, neither of them were time-travellers!

WHAT A CARRY-ON!!!

*Exclusive for those who never spotted it the first time this drama was shown, a couple of months back!
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Tue Mar 29, 2011 11:55 pm
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Not Feeling too Well...

Anthony Simons
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Tony's thought for the day:

Jesus said, "It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

I say that today it would be easier for me to s*** through the eye of a needle than to pass water into the bucket.

Yes folks, you guessed it; I've had a rotten night and an early morning. Where's that Dioralyte?
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Sat Mar 26, 2011 8:11 am
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Failsafe for Killer Strategy?

Anthony Simons
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Perhaps I worry too much; perhaps it's just not as big a deal as I am making it out to be; but I cannot help but feel rather dejected when a game I particularly like for its variety of approaches seems to buckle under the strain of one particular strategy.

I recently acquired a copy of Navegador, last year's rondel-based offering from the inimitable Mac Gerdts via Eggertspiele. I think it's a fantastic game; it does for me what I wanted Endeavor to do, and it's a great strategic experience. But one player in our group is starting to clock up consistent wins through a church-building strategy.

By the time the rest of us realise what she's doing, it's usually too late to easily prevent it, so on we go pursuing other approaches. Maybe I have missed something; Alexfrog's excellent strategy article would seem to point towards a couple of options, but the best I could come up with was trying to force the game end by exploration to reduce the church-builder's chances of putting their engine into overdrive (and forcing game end through building). The closest success I have had is a gap of eight points.

One hopes this is just a touch of initial panic on my part, and that the approach proves to be about as guaranteed as the corn strategy in Puerto Rico. I remember how folk first thought this was almost insurmountable, until they discovered the various choking points that could be used to quickly undermine it.

Still, regardless of whether or not it is a problem, I am rather concerned about the church-building strategy. If it truly cannot be beaten (even with some difficulty), then it would seem my first impressions of Navegador are wrong; the game is less about Portuguese exploration and more about - well - building churches. That bothers me; to the extent that I might as well be packing up the game at turn six, when one player has built their second church.

Of course, I'm not going to give up on the potential strategies just like that; for example, to date there has not been much rondel skipping. The probable reason is that it costs a ship for each extra space in this game; and ships are a valuable commodity for progression. There's only one thing for it; I am going to have to play this game much more. Yes, I think I'm gripped by it; compelled to find a way past the church-building. I must be missing something...
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Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:27 am
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Abstracting the Firefight

Anthony Simons
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A couple of months ago I set down some rules for a skirmish system. They're still rather sketchy, and sooner or later I intend to make a set of components to properly test them with. Initially I tried them out using parts from other games, but those components were not entirely suitable.

The design intent was (and is) to produce a squad-level wargame which can be played as fast as a real firefight (or as near as is practical). The first means of abstraction had to be fire and the effects of fire; second was movement and positioning of units; combining these elements provided the opportunity to fill in the gaps.

I decided that casualties, morale and initiative were of primary importance; but often checking their effects takes an inordinate amount of time. Therefore, to cut down on the time taken determining such effects, I used a fixed pool of tokens. As players spent them for actions and to apply fire effects on enemy troops, the total available would fall. At the point they held less than their opponent, initiative would pass to the other player.

Movement would require a fixed cost for the terrain, with one token applied to the moving unit (as movement draws fire); also, the extra cost of tokens equivalent to those already applied reflected the added difficulty of advancing a suppressed unit.

Effective fire required a number of tokens applied to the enemy unit (by the firing player) depending on the effectiveness of the unit firing (adjusted for terrain). There would also be a cost to fire, equivalent to any tokens which had been applied to the unit (for either effective fire from the enemy or to cover the fact the unit had moved).

Effective fire would also require spotting; a unit could only be spotted if it already bore tokens (from movement or effective fire) and was within the LOS of the firing unit.

When both players had depleted their tokens to the pool or to the board, the turn was considered over and a single roll would ascertain morale and casualties for any given unit, reducing the number of markers on that unit. Then units are retreated, removed or casualties applied, before tokens are replenished and the next initiative determined.

As far as terrain goes, I decided the use of a hexgrid in a relatively unconventional manner was the way forward. Each hex would effectively have twelve facings (through the points and sides) and thirteen positions (including the hex centre). Movement was based on moving a complete hex or less, with each such movement taken individually to allow op fire from the enemy (the only action allowed without initiative).

I feel it works well and works fast; but have a lot of tweaking to do before I present it to anyone (including its own set of maps/units). One of the aspects that needs work is the probability of a single player dominating the battlefield too easily; I am working on this, but it will take some time before anything sees the light of day.
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Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:03 pm
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