Knowing a game as intimately as a lover: that's Slow Gaming. I'm no fan of the cult-of-the-new. I like games with genre-defining mechanics, beautiful bits and massive replayability.
27 Oct 2013
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04 Oct 2013
Anyone able to bring me back a couple of games and promos? I'm happy to pay upfront and buy anyone who volunteers a bonus free game!
I'm interested in any, or all of:
Galaxy Trucker: Latest Models
Caverna: Cave Farmers
Keyflower: The Farmers
Hive: The Pillbug
Agricola All Creatures Big and Small: Even More Buildings
Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends
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In my last blogpost, I discussed my take on the ten games that you should buy if starting a game collection.
I soon realised it was incomplete. Where were the dexterity games? The tile-laying games? Perhaps ten games aren't enough. Here are four more games that every gamer needs to try.
11. Carcassonne is in the traditional trio of so-called gateway games along with Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. This simple popular tile-laying game has numerous spinoffs, including winter-themed and prehistoric edition, and a billion expansions. There's even a dexterity expansion where you attempt to knock out or 'seduce' your opponent's meeples. Oh, and Carcassonne bling like clocks, fluffy meeples and coasters. Alternatives: Alhambra, Qwirkle.
12. El Grande is currently out-of-print, but it's THE classic and never-bettered area control game for three to five players. It won the Spiel de Jahres in 1996 and, although it's not as easy to learn as Qwirkle, it'll deliver hours of replayable fun. Alternative: Rattus - El Grande in 45 minutes with more luck and cartoon rats. Rattus is great with two players.
13. PitchCar. Everyone needs a dexterity game. Crokinole is the best out there, but a board is expensive. PitchCar is a decent runner-up. Alternatives: Villa Paletti, Tumblin' Dice.
14. Tigris and Euphrates. For a deep combat game with and simplish rules, you can't do better than Tigris and Euphrates. It's civilisation building and conflict boiled down to its basics. You will be building cities, establishing monuments, gaining influence, and destroying your enemies. Alternatives: Nexus Ops.
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Game reviewer Tom Vasel and friends last week posted their top ten 'games that you should buy if you're starting a game collection'. The lists included some real oddities, including Pillars of the Earth - a game I've never seen discussed or played.
Top Ten Lists are always problematic since gaming groups vary enormously in interests, skills and size. There's no point recommending Cosmic Encounter to a couple or Kahuna to a large family group.
Not to be dissuaded, I've come up with my own 'Top Ten'. These are games that I'd recommend to a new gamer.
1. The Resistance. If you want a game for ten, you can't do better than The Resistance. It's simple, social and comes in a small box. Alternative: Dixit.
2. King of Tokyo. The classic 'silly short game (with dice)'. King of Tokyo has appealed to everyone I've played with, including my middle-aged mum. Alternative: Qwixx.
3. Agricola is the game that grows with you. It has family rules for beginners, standard rules for experienced players, extra card packs, and the components can be upgraded with stickers, Fimo farmers and wooden sheep. The graphic design is charming and the success of games like Farmsville reflects the public's love for everything agricultural. Alternative: Lords of Waterdeep.
4. Hanabi. Everyone needs a cooperative game and this is the simplest and best. It plays with any number, is instantly comprehensible, and very replayable. Alternative: Pandemic/Forbidden Desert.
5. Settlers of Catan. The ultimate negotiation and economic game. Settlers is a modern classic for good reason and, despite the grumblings on BGG, it hasn't been superseded by newer games. If you get bored of the base game, there are numerous expansions.
6. Ticket to Ride is an ubiquitous modern board game and every self-respecting gamer should try it once. Alternative: Thurn & Taxis, Elfenland, Airlines Europe.
7. Hive is among the best modern abstracts for two. It's portable, indestructible and replayable. Alternative: YINSH, Blokus (with more than two)
8. Power Grid is another modern classic that every gamer should try once. This one is, I suppose, the game Monopoly wishes it was. Alternative: Acquire.
9. Dominion has many critics, but it's the entry point for the popular genre of deck-building games. The numerous expansions add replayability once you've discovered the big money strategy in the base set. Alternative: Puzzle Strike - Dominion with attacks.
10. Lost Cities is BGG's most-recommended two-player game, but I struggle to recommend it. I play mainly with two and it isn't interesting to anyone beyond non-gamer couples. My desert island two-player game is Blue Moon, also by Reiner Knizia and sadly OOP. It's simple, tactical and elegant. I've played the base set of two 30-card decks 12 times and still feel there's depth to explore. This is more surprising than you'd imagine - the decks are simply numbered cards with the occasional special power. Once you've mastered the base game, there are countless expansions. Alternative: Yomi - pure, simple, portable, and supports its own tournament scene.
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22 May 2013
The nominees for the Spiel de Jahres 2013 - German Game of the Year awards - were announced yesterday. The Spiel is the world's most prestigious board gaming award. Its goal, according to its website, is to "promote games as a cultural asset to encourage gaming amongst family and friends". In short, it's a German family gaming award for innovative games.
I own numerous Spiel de Jahres nominees and they're among my favourite games. Last year, I was delighted when Kingdom Builder won the award. This year, I agree with two-thirds of the Spiel nominees, but I would have made some changes to the Spiel and A LOT to the Kennerspiel. So here's my own Spiel de Vee 2013!
My three nominees for the Spiel de Vee 2013 are:
Escape: Curse of the Temple
My recommendations are:
My three nominees for the Kennerspiel de Vee 2013 are:
Legends of Andor
My recommendations are for:
Lords of Waterdeep
Mice and Mystics
About my SdV nominees
Hanabi is among my favourite games and possibly the best cooperative game ever invented. It's gone down well with everyone - gamer and non-gamer alike. It's extremely simple, but devious. You draw cards and try to complete a set of five, but you can't see your own cards. The other players can only tell you the colour of your cards or the number. And there's only a limited number of clue tokens. Run out of clue tokens and you all have to start discarding cards to get new ones... Unfortunately, there's only one 'five' of each colour in the set. You can imagine the tension, misinterpretation and 'aggghh, you discard the blue five' face-palming.
Augustus I haven't played yet, but Roman bingo with special powers is an original and intriguing idea. A worthy contender for the Spiel.
Escape: Curse of the Temple is a light, real-time cooperative dice-rolling game that takes just ten minutes to play. I love this game. We've played it five times already and I don't see it getting old anytime soon. It's silly, it's fun and it's original. I can see it getting widely copied. I don't understand why it lost out to Quixx, which seems a 'meh' variant on Can't Stop without the nice bits or press-your-luck element.
About my SdV recommendations
I haven't played Love Letter, Castellan, Africana, Divinare, Forbidden Desert, La Boca or Riff Raff. However:
Love Letter is apparently a great family game, e.g. here. It's a simple idea, but apparently lots of fun with beautiful art and a lovely velvet bag.
Castellan was reviewed very positively by Father Geek. Again, a great simple idea with ample strategy. Unfortunately, I don't think it's been released yet.
Africana has been compared to a more satisfying [thing=9209]Ticket to Ride[/thing].
Forbidden Desert is a follow-up to the wonderful family coop Forbidden Island. Forbidden Island is Pandemic without the clunk - a simple streamlined game with a cool exploration theme and beautiful components.
La Boca and Riff Raff were expected to be on the Spiel shortlist and they were. I'm not going to disagree...
Divinare is a simple, but attractive, bluffing game with a novel tarot card/medium theme. Again, just the sort of game the Spiel judges are looking for.
Qin I love on the iPad. It's strategic, but extremely simple. For me, it's a return to form for Reiner Knizia and reminds me of Through the Desert and Samurai. I don't know enough about Rondo to judge if it's better, but - from the review in Spielbox - it sounded a bit bland and with far fewer strategic options than Qin.
Little Prince: Make me a Planet. I love this game. The theme is sweet and quirky, the graphic design is lovely... The gameplay concept is simple, but gameplay is satisfying enough for gamers. You draft tiles and build a 16-tile planet with four characters. The tiles feature sheep, volcanoes, baobab trees, and so on. Each character gives you points for, for example, sheep of different colours. The skill in the game is forcing your opponent to take tiles they don't want!
Now we come to the Kennerspiel de Vee. My picks are COMPLETELY different from the committee, and I don't know if that's because they have to pick German titles. Needless to say, I'm not going to be playing Palaces of Carrara or Brugge anytime soon with casual gamer friends. What a bland and unimaginative choice! Dull, dull, dull all round... Why don't they just recommend chess and have done with it.
Legends of Andor has - from what I've read - an innovative tutorial system and a family-friendly questing theme. The graphics are beautiful and I genuinely think it's a great game for a casual gamer family looking for something more complex than the Spiel.
Mice and Mystics. Why, oh why, is Mice and Mystics not on the Kennerspiel list? Presumably because it's not published by a German company, but instead by the US's Plaid Hat Games. That's a shame really, because it's a perfect Kennerspiel candidate. More complex than Qwixx, but a solid family cooperative game.
Fantastiqa is - for me - a clear Kennerspiel de Vee nominee. It's a family version of Mage Knight or A Few Acres of Snow - a deck building, questing game with a family-friendly fairy tale theme. With four players, players work in teams to complete quests - a perfect mechanic for adults playing with young kids. It's unlike any other game I've played and has brilliant quality components. That said, it's a few steps up from the Spiel de Vee/Jahres and should only be attempted by a family who want something a bit more advanced.
I couldn't find much to put in this category, but I've got two recommendations.
Goblins Inc seems - from the Spielbox review - to be a cross between Galaxy Trucker and La Boca. Teams of two compete to build crazy machinery... and then break it again. I can imagine a German family with teenage kids having a great time with this title. With younger kids, a child and parent could pair up to build the machines.
Zombicide is a great coop that appeals to people who don't enjoy horror and don't like zombies. That would be me and my non-gamer mum. It's simple, without the billions of chits and card decks that plague many so-called Ameritrash games, and the numerous missions add replayability. A step up from the Spiel, but definitely a casual game. The graphics could theoretically traumatise a child gamer, but I'm sure they've seen worse on TV.
Lords of Waterdeep isn't especially or original, but it's an incredibly well designed and solid worker placement game. It's easy to introduce, easy to learn, runs smoothly, has a light-touch fantasy theme, and is good fun with everyone who's played against me. It works well with 2 or 5 players. Basically, it's very very solid and no one is going to have any complaints if they drop it in their shopping basket along with some sauerkraut.
Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures is a simplified version of dog-fighting game Wings of War. Rethemed with cartoon characters, there's no question that it would be popular with a stereotypical family. The only downer is its collectible nature and the Star Wars theme.
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26 Apr 2013
Michael Barnes' blogpost ranting against modern eurogame design, and Samo's thread about people-first gaming got me thinking...
Which games count as 'people-first'?
I've started a geeklist for games I think are 'people-first'. I'd love additions and suggestions for games I've listed, which should be removed.
UPDATE New geeklist created based on Martin's feedback. I've tried to narrow discussion down to 'games in the style of early German-style games'. Hopefully, this should capture 'people powered' without being too vague.
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24 Apr 2013
I've wanted to read Michael Barnes' Cracked LCD blogpost titled "the game that ruined eurogames" for a few months now. The intro on the Fortress Ameritrash website seemed to sum up my views on modern eurogames. Namely, they're often not interesting or fun.
Sadly, I couldn't read the full article. It disappeared with the GameShark website. An email to Barnes to request a copy elicited no response.
Today Qwertymartin published the article for posterity, saving me emailing Barnes again.
Barnes claims Princes of Florence ruined German board games:Michael Barnes wrote:It strikes me that this game, released in 2000, was kind of the turning point where the "German game" era sort of ended and the "Eurogame" era began...and all of the really great stuff that the European designers had been doing for like, 20 years prior was suddenly undone and Eurogames began their descent into a brown morass of over-designed, linear, and anti-interactive designs.I agree that modern euros are less accessible and interactive, and more like scripted mathematical puzzles, than pre-2000 games. Games like Troyes and Trajan are a cluttered mess of mechanics and lengthy rulesets. Stone Age is based on a simple spreadsheet with calculable optimum strategies. Two-player At the Gates of Loyang was like doing sudoku. We were in the same room, solving the same pre-set puzzle, but it was certainly wasn't a game. Caylus Magna Carta, meanwhile, is an exercise in accountancy - 60 minutes of calculating the most mathematically efficient way of converting one resource into another.
If you go back and play some of those pre-PRINCES Eurogames, it's kind of suprising how awesome a lot of European designs were...and it's no wonder that the games attracted a new international audience because they were damn good. And original too- there was much less artistic cannibalization than there is now.
But after PRINCES OF FLORENCE, it all turned into games that look and play like something designed exclusively for grumpy, boring old men. The aesthetics, format, and gameplay styles that PRINCES mainstreamed in the hobby wound up driving Eurogames to ruination.
Seriously, if I liked accountancy that much, I'd do it for a living...
I used to own most of these games. I've traded them away. My first game of brown-sludge-financial-market-fest-with-a-historical-dude-on-the-box Navegador, for example, was about as fun as root canal surgery. I can never get that 45 minutes of my life back... Nope, I didn't finish the game.
Among my favourite games, meanwhile, are Spiel de Jahres Award winner/nominees and euros published pre-2000. For example, El Grande, Tikal, Mexica, Torres, Tigris and Euphrates, Settlers of Catan, Maharaja, Kingdom Builder, La Citta and Thurn and Taxis. They've got simple rules, strategic depth, enough luck to keep it tense, gameplay that emerges from the players' play styles, and - in the case of Settlers - trading.
So do I blame Princes of Florence? Not quite. My theory is eurogame design spiralled down a rabbit hole in the late 1990s when German games were imported en-masse to the US market.
A few months ago, I read Eurogames: The Design, Culture and Play of Modern European Board Games by Stewart Woods.. The first few chapters give a history of the modern euro.
Woods explains that Germany has a culture of family board gaming. He quotes games journalist Rick Thornquist, who wrote in 2004 about the Essen board gaming event:Quote:If you got to Origins or GenCon [US Conventions] it is mainly a gamer type of convention and you do mainly see gamer geeks, but Essen is not like that at all. It's very much regular people, families, teenagers, kids... it's everybodyHe presents several historical reasons. But the upshot is that, German designers in the 1970s, were:Quote:mandated by culture and commercial considerations with designing games anyone could play - thus the need for short, concise rules, manageable playing times and acceptable themes.The Spiel de Jahres Award, founded in 1978, is a perfect example of how German gaming culture rewards family-friendly games.
In contrast, gaming in the US was a niche activity for hobbyists. They played wargames in the 1960s, RPGs in the 1970s, computer games in the 1980s, and collectable card games in the 1990s. These games have several features in common: they are complex, require a large leisure time commitment, and have huge rule sets. In the late 1980s, a major complaint about Avalon Hill was it "produces games for people who love rules more than they love play”.
German imports like Ravenburger’s Wildlife Adventure and Klaus Teuber's Adel Verpflichtet were eagerly received on rec.game.board, a precursor to Boardgamegeek. Woods writes that their "short playing time, high player interaction, clever rules, attractive and functional components – made a big impact on gamers used to ‘long, turgid stuff’ like Civilisation."
But it didn't stay that way for long. The success of El Grande showed that more complex gamers' games had a market. From then on, Woods argues:Quote:Designers working in the US increasingly opted to incorporate Anglo-American taste for highly thematic gameplay with perceived European elegance. As eurogames increased in popularity among gaming hobbyists, designs became increasingly more complex, straying from the family-orientated fare that had typified early German games. Exemplar of this is Andreas Seyfarth’s game of colonisation and development in the new world, Puerto Rico (2002). Although too complex to be awarded by 2002 Spiel des Jahres, which for the first time went to a dexterity game, Villa Paletti, Puerto Rico proved more popular with the international gaming community than in Germany.So there we have it. A one-paragraph description of why post-2000 eurogames are more complex and less fun than earlier games. They're designed for US hobbyists who grew up with 4,000 pages of rules exceptions and artillery look-up tables. They're often non-interactive puzzles because hobbyists - unlike German families - are more interested in the game than the people they're playing with. They don't need to provide wall-to-wall fun. And, like any lifestyle game, they're niche, inaccessible and require a time commitment to learn.
It doesn't bode well for the future...
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07 Nov 2012
Games like Chess and Go have been played forever, while some Top 100 games will slowly disappear. Can we know which of the Top 100 will be still there in ten years? And which games can be enjoyed for 10, or even 10,000, plays? These are interesting questions. And I’ve developed a nifty tool to answer them, which might help you choose games with long-term replayability.
Below is a plot of recorded plays each month for four board games: El Grande, Metropolys, Caylus and Vasco da Gama. El Grande was among the first Eurogames to hit the UK. Caylus is a modern classic. Metropolys, also from Ystari, is good but not genre-defining. And Vasco da Gama? Tom Vasal threw it off a roof for being unoriginal, dry and boring.
Look at the graph and you’ll a spike of plays when Caylus, Vasco da Gama and Metropolys got released (El Grande emerged before BGG). That’s driven by the Cult of the New, buzz, hype – whatever you call it.
What’s interesting is what happens next. Let’s look at a Log graph.
Metropolys and Vasco da Gama follow a uranium-style decay curve. After the initial buzz, they lose regular players. Vasco da Gama, unsurprisingly for a mediocre disposable game, disappears quickly from gaming tables. The half-life is a meagre 12 months. That means that, if most players play once a month, half the regular players of Vasco da Gama were gone within a year. Metropolys retained interest for longer: 39 months before it was hitting gaming tables half as often.
Compare this to El Grande or Caylus. El Grande is hitting the table more than ever before. Whether this is due to a Golden Age of board gaming or simply more BGG Users recording plays, I don’t know. Yet El Grande was released in 1995 – 17 years ago.
Plays of Caylus have flatlined: it’s as popular now as in 2006. At current rates, plays will have halved in a massive 3,000 years, which raises the question: Will Earth's first intergalactic war be fought over an aggressive play with the provost?
There are other games that show similar patterns, not all in the Top 100. Merchants of Venus is getting 30 plays month-in-month-out, despite being out of print for decades. Plays of Incan Gold have flatlined like Caylus, Tsuro has recently gained popularity – presumably due to TableTop – while The Climbers is routinely played, despite being hard to obtain.
What does this mean for you? The answer’s simple. If you’re on a budget and interested in replayability, why not calculate decay curves to see if your next purchase has long-term staying power?
Calculating a half-life is easy in MS Excel. Simply find the table of ‘everyone’s plays’ on BGG, calculate the Log (the LN function in Excel) of number of plays, and calculate the slope (SLOPE function) of the Log graph. The half-life, the number of months before the game gets played half as often, equals LN(2)/SLOPE.
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