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Subject: My Dream Book: 10 top games from the last 12 years, with 30-40 pages of strategy for each. rss

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Nick Bentley
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This is a repost from my blog

Abstract games are at their best when players take the time to learn and share strategy, and though we're in the middle of an abstract-game-design renaissance, even some of the best modern abstracts remain strategic mysteries.

So I have this dream: a book featuring 10 of the best abstract games designed this millenium, with say, 30-40 pages worth of strategy discussion for each.

How to choose the 10? If it were up to me, I'd limit the candidates to games without chance, and I'd focus on games with good "architecture", meaning games which are finite (or likely soft-finite), balanced, decisive, conceptually "unified", and with the simplest of rules and equipment.

The only game that would be a lock for inclusion for me is Slither. Oust should probably also be in there, along with Arimaa, and TZAAR, IMO the one profound game from the Gipf Project. I'd love to include Quoridor as well, but sadly the published version is from 1997, and there's an unpublished version which predates that by decades.

Beyond that I don't know. No doubt there'd be a lot of arguing about which games should be included. I can already hear my fellow designer Mark Steere groaning about Tzaar.

It would take a loooooong time to put together such a book, because there would have to be an effort to develop strategy for each game before writing anything, and most of the games don't have much recorded strategy (except for Arimaa, which already has its own whole book, and Hex Oust, which has a little online strategy guide to start from). Perhaps the effort could be made in collaboration, with the designers and best players of each game contributing the ideas, and the author/editor focusing on presentation and language.

If I were writing the book, I'd also include one of my own games even if it doesn't deserve to be there; if I'm going to the trouble I'm gonna reward myself for it. (Self-Indulgent Bonus Chapter, I'd call it)

Anyway this is all a daydream because I don't know how to frame the idea to attract a wide audience. It's not worth pursuing without a plan to solve that problem. I'd love to get suggestions in the comments about how to do it.

One thing of which I'm certain: I'd make sure the language was uber-understandable and non-technical. I'd make sure that an uninformed 14-year-old could read it without breaking a sweat. I wouldn't go deep into strategy esoterica, but rather focus on the big, defining concepts for each game.

I'd also make it funny because there's never a reason not to be funny.

Perhaps the book could be launched in conjunction with a year-long tournament with prizes for the winners at the end, administered through the igGameCenter. The designers of the featured games could be asked to contribute to the prize-hopper to defray costs.

On the off chance that this post generates a lot of interest, I might get serious about exploring the possibility, so if you're interested, let me and world know in the comments.
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Russ Williams
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I guess a book would be cool, though to be honest, I think I'd be just as happy if strategy articles showed up in the game forums here at BGG, for example. I.e. I'm more likely to be interested in reading 40 pages of strategy of the specific games I'm into, not 10 specific games that a jury or panel of experts or whatever selects. But the latter could be cool too indeed. Given the paucity of strategy articles, I guess any progress in this area would be good!
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Nick Bentley
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russ wrote:
I guess a book would be cool, though to be honest, I think I'd be just as happy if strategy articles showed up in the game forums here at BGG, for example. I.e. I'm more likely to be interested in reading 40 pages of strategy of the specific games I'm into, not 10 specific games that a jury or panel of experts or whatever selects. But the latter could be cool too indeed. Given the paucity of strategy articles, I guess any progress in this area would be good!


Totally agree.

Although part of the purpose of the book would be to introduce the charms of abstract strategy games to a wider audience, which online articles can't accomplish as well, imo.
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Russ Williams
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milomilo122 wrote:
Although part of the purpose of the book would be to introduce the charms of abstract strategy games to a wider audience, which online articles can't accomplish as well, imo.

That's a good point indeed. (As long as we're dreaming, we'll dream that the book gets wide distribution into mainstream book channels...)
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Nick Bentley
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russ wrote:
(As long as we're dreaming, we'll dream that the book gets wide distribution into mainstream book channels...)


...also that I'll grow 4 inches at the age of 34, and inherit a warehouse full of chocolate.
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Rob
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I like your style of pipe-dream. If such a book existed, I would be very interested in reading it. I wonder if there would be some motifs in strategy that would appear in the process of analyzing a number of such games together, as you're suggesting.
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Dr Caligari
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Something that might help satisfy that dream, and something I have wished and lobbied for, would be a reprint or a collection of articles from the now defunct Abstract Games Magazine.

Since it hasn't been published in a long time, there would be nothing on newer games, but in its' day it had numerous articles, analyses, strategy tips etc. of abstract games, both classic and modern.

There was an effort to collect old issues and make them available, and in the process links to some of the articles were posted as they could be located with the Wayback Machine. See thread for details, and please let us know if you do write this book!.
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Calvin Daniels
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A few thoughts.

1) Entrapment over Quoridor

2) You might be better off having 5 pages on each Gipf

3) I'd suggest you develop your 'game list', then approach 1-2 players from BGG with a lot of game experience to hammer out a strat paper. You could try a BGG poll for that.

I'll mention Pacru / Ordo / Hive / Cannon

4) Kickstarter is a way to help finance.

5) This will never make money, but you might take one dollar a sale to go into some game fund for kids, or to support BGG or something.
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David Lame
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I had similar thoughts about a dream book. My dream was slightly different. It featured more games in less depth. Then, I actually started writing it, and discovered just how incredibly difficult it was to move from concep to reality.

It wasn't worth it, but I hope someone else does it someday.
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Pablo Schulman
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Well, What about talking with well-known players of each game or even the designers?

I know that Rich Gowell, designer of Entrapment might help. He's very solicitous in playing and teaching his game for novices.

Quinn Swanger
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is a very good player of Ponte del diavolo. Also
Michael Turner
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is the author of a good strategy guide with a lot of patterns and shapes in the Ponte del Diavolo entry. Martin Ebel (the designer) lurks a lot on the entry.

A guy called Larry Shiller was about to write a book on Quoridor strategy, but never wrote it AFAIK. He is the creator of the Shiller Openning.

You yourself wrote a guide about shapes and patterns in Ketchup.

Christian Sperling

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plays Hive a lot, maybe he can help?

Stephen Tavener has a great strategy guide for Zèrtz...






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Avri Klemer
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Keith Carter
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has worked on a a strategy guide for Cannon.
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Nick Bentley
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Thanks all,

these posts have given me additional ideas about how to effectively pursue this project. I've gone from having no hope that such a thing could be done successfully, to having a small hope. I'll do some additional research and if any of the new ideas show promise, you can be sure I'll publicize my effort by posting here again.

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Rich Gowell
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Hey Guys. I'm honored that Entrapment was mentioned in possible connection with a project whose aim is so "rarefied". Whether or not my game would make the cut, I think a book along these very general lines is a great idea. I must say that my instincts would lean more toward something like the other notion mentioned above, namely a book more diverse in its selection, with substantially less material per game, whose primary aim would be to introduce more of the world to the harvest of abstracts reaped over the last fifteen years or so. A book like the one the OP envisions could be great if well written, but its audience, for certain, would be small, in virtue of the depth of strategic analysis offered (ie. 40 pages times ten games = a 400 page tome). Sure there exist fourteen year olds who could penetrate such a thing, even without breaking a sweat, but they are relatively few and far between, and probably already in the "choir", as it were.

A book that covered more like two dozen games from the last fifteen years (a time frame I suggest not merely because it allows for Entrapment's possible inclusion :-), but because a cross-genre look at the ranking lists on BGG seems to indicate that the "design explosion" began to get cranked up in the midnineties), with each game getting perhaps four to eight pages of text and photos (100 to 200 pages total), could provide an enticing and satisfying survey of a more comprehensive list of the "good stuff" that has come down the pipe in abstracts over that time period. If designers can provide anecdotes about the invention and evolution of their creations, so much the better. Great photos would add enormously to the aesthetic quality of the production. A brief overview of strategy would be good and fine, but I would keep a tight cordon around this part, because in a book with this aim it can quickly become a "cart before the horse" scenario. I'd rather take John and Jane Q. Public, who've only seen chess and checkers, and create something with both the beauty and information necessary to open their eyes wide. Of course it would be something that BGGers of all stripes would enjoy as well.

With the advent of so called "vanity publishing", turning this all into the equivalent of a beautiful coffee table type book is no big deal. My kin have already created a number of beautiful books "about" trips, and also one "about" my kids being the "wedding kids" for my brother in law's wedding. They look fantastic, and I'm sure no scary financial outlay was involved.

Anyway, my two cents. Would love to see something like this come to fruition. My life has been nuts of late. But as things calm down, if I can be of any assistance, I would love to, so please let me know. Best Regards.
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Rich Gowell
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I do think a book more nearly akin to what the OP envisions could be pulled off, and could be great as well. For what it's worth, I'd take the following tack. Pare the selection down to six from ten, and have the choice for inclusion reflect a desire for each primary sub-genre of abstracts to be represented. So, perhaps, just as examples, one could have Quinamid represent set creation/n in a row games, Con-Hex represent connection, Ordo represent "traversal", and then, given the diversity of movement and capture type games, select a diverse threesome to represent this. Maybe Zertz, Hive, and then...oh..I don't know.....maybe one starting with a vowel to contrast with z and h (e say), and as many as three syllables to contrast with the others each having one. Lol, I don't know, but anyway some sixth game. The choice here would be rightly contingent on someone or someone's having the ability and willingness to do the in depth strategy "chapter" justice. Could be a cool compendium (200 - 250 pages).
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Calvin Daniels
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Within reason, more will be better for 2 reasons, appealing to more gamers if a game they play is included, and you can get away with shorter pieces.

Getting 30 pages on Hive might be a stretch for example, and shorter is less work for writer, so they are more likely to take it on.

Of course having 2-3 writers offer thoughts on a game is good too.

The bug thing, make it games which would make it something people want.

ConHex is a fine game, but more people play Tzaar or Hive so more potential readers/buyers.

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No matter the number of games chosen for such a book, I think it would be wise to include a list of similar games after each primary entry. So for example, after the article for ConHex, you include a list of other connection games -- and perhaps a few sentences describing each.
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Jesse Fuchs
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This is a very good example of this sort of book—it's got the usual suspects like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Cluedo, but it also has some less mainstream stuff like Ploy, Tri-Tactics, The Sigma File, etc. And the writing is generally very good: Diplomacy inventor Calhamer explains his own game, and David Parlett and the editors of Games & Puzzles magazine take a lot of the chapters.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0860020592/thedetecta...
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Kevin Garnica
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I'm gonna give some love to Epigo, one of my (very) few abstracts I own...
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Rich Gowell
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In light of some of Calvin's good points, how about this. Twelve games, half of them the most popular of their subtype to the extent it can be determined (stacking: Tzaar, n in a row: Ingenious, tile place/ move: Hive, etc.), each paired with a somewhat "hidden gem" exemplar of the same subtype (stacking: Attangle, n in a row: Quinamid, tile place move: Micropul, etc.). A tight limit of twenty pages per chapter/article (at absolute most twenty-five), for a total of 200-250 pages of strat goodness + meet and greet newness. Just a thought.
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Russ Williams
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richgowell wrote:
n in a row: Ingenious

Ingenious doesn't seem like an n-in-a-row game to me, i.e. a game in which you win by making n-in-a-row (e.g. Tic-tac-toe, Yavalath, Connect 4, etc). In Ingenious, n-in-a-row is just a means toward the goal of finishing with more points.

More fundamentally, I assume/hope the dream book (should it become a reality) is about pure abstract strategy / combinatorial / perfect information games / whatever label one wants to use for that (i.e. not games with randomness and hidden info)...
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Rich Gowell
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Ooops! Point taken. Ingenious occurred to me off the top of my head because I know it has sold 1.27 bazillion copies, or whatever. But I agree wholeheartedly, no luck, no hidden information.
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Calvin Daniels
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Just be aware 20 pages is a lot.

Assume 300-350 words a page. Without illos you are talking 6000-7000 words. That may not sound like a ton, but think about that in terms of say Hive.

Also illos while needed, will add some cost so you may need to limit.


I too would suggest you do some form of grouping, with focus on 1/2 main games, and a shorter piece of two on related games.

The shorter pieces could be 5-pages, or less, but serve as an intro strategy for players.

I would not limit sections to game types though.

As an example Gipf give you 6-related games, all of them popular.

So too would games by Dieter Stein.

To be relevant, you might want to throw some criteria ideas out fort some feedback/vote

1- must be designed this millennium (2000 or later)

2- must have a 1000 owners on BGG

3- must be perfect info game

4- Game must be commercially available as of 2012 (this helps new readers access games)


etc

once criteria is established, you can move to coming up with a list.
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Rich Gowell
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Yeah, a number of ways to parse it up, and the Gipf series as a whole does seem to warrant inclusion. Likewise, Dieter Stein has many excellent creations.

By the way, as we write this, international Hive champ Randy Ingersoll is putting the finishing touches on a 160 page strategy book for his beloved pastime!
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Conan McNamara
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Go for it!

The event that get me back into boardgaming was discovering a book on backgammon strategy in an old shack being demolished. It was an incredible read, I didn't really know how to play backgammon before, but I figured it out while reading it. I was enthralled thinkinging about probability and decision making factors. Next chance I got I went online to read up on other sweet strategy games...

I like a good read about game theory almost as much actually playing the game.
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Calvin Daniels
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a Hive strat book... great to hear
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