Stuart Burnham(vk1980)United Kingdom
Is that a big number? That's the question that is frequently asked on one of my favourite podcasts (BBC's More or Less, it's a statistical look at numbers in the media, generally). In essence it simply means taking something in context; 1000 isn't really that big number if you're talking about the number of books in your local library. But it is when it comes to the number of blog posts written by someone on BGG. Not counting official BGG news posts there have been (that I can spot, going through the records) only four that have reached this number.
Today, this post, marks the 1000th instalment of It Beats Watching The TV making it part of quite an exclusive little club.
Ain't that grand?
I'm pretty proud of getting this far. In fact I think I'm supposed to receive some sort of official little plaque and get a handshake from Aldie now at a presentation ceremony somewhere. The invitation must've got misplaced somewhere in my geek mail I guess?
I couldn't quite think of what to do to mark this milestone but I wanted very much to say thank you to all of you reading. It's quite odd to consider that there are people regularly checking in to see what I'm rambling or ranting about each day. I hope that it has, on occasion, made you smile or made you think. I don't think I'd have got anything like this far without the thumbs and the feedback. Cheers.
So, to celebrate this and to give something back I'm going to offer up a little gift to a random reader. There have been no tags of games in this post so, as close as I can assume, all of you reading this are people who are subscribed to this blog. If you give this post a thumb you will be entered into a random draw that will take place, shall we say, this coming weekend? On Saturday 13th Jan I will use a random number generator to pick one of you to win a game or game related prize that I will send to you at my cost, wherever in the world you are (due to geography I will be able to be a little more generous should the winner reside in Europe rather than the rest of the world, I hope you understand). Mrs B will arbitrate and record the draw, if anyone wants verification of veracity. I will add a comment to this blog sometime on Sat 13th with the result and will contact the winner via Geek mail to arrange as well.
Good luck and once again, whether you've been coming here since the early days or are a recent reader, thank you so much for dropping in, it's meant a lot to me.
A daily blog about games, family and occasionally random other things. Well, it gives me something to do, and you something to read doesn't it!?
- [+] Dice rolls
Companies want to make money, in fact they are obliged to make profit if they are to exist in the long term and for the executives to remain in employment. So they need to sell product, or service, or whatever it is that they do. They need to become very good at it. Things that are or were counter-culture or underground or niche or nerdy or geeky, like, um, modern boardgames are presented and marketed at a target audience to maximise profits, and in increasingly successful ways. And aided and enabled, championed even, by uber geeks.
Science fiction and fantasy have always been genres that have been, if not dismissed, then certainly looked down upon to a degree by society at large. The Lord of the Rings was a hippie's favourite book and something for the lonely teenager or college professor to read for private pleasure. Inventive sci fi writing had been around in short or long form for decades before Star Wars broke out and stormed the popular consciousness in a way never seen before (or, arguably, since). Whilst that "franchise" and, of course, Star Trek became huge stalwarts of the sci fi world they were still not deemed to be of much artistic merit. But they sold. They sold shitloads of stuff to the fans. Conventions and toys and costumes and books and videos and bed covers; if you could think of it you could probably buy it with a Star Wars/ Trek logo branded on it. As those who were kids when these things were fresh grew up though they did not "put away these childish things" however. And as their disposable income grew they sought new ways to spend it on products associated with their favourite characters and spaceships and stories.
And the big companies noticed. And they acted.
Nowadays there are many huge franchises competing for a share of the market in the cinema, on the bookshelf, the videogame download, the TV screen; every entertainment executive wants to "find" the next Game of Thrones (which has been right under their noses for nearly 20 years!). Everything super heroes and dragons and traditionally 'geek culture' is big bucks these days as companies have worked out how to effectively target this market. And in other smaller markets, like the boardgaming one, there are small, boutique, niche companies using similar strategies to appeal to the (Boardgame) geeks who are fuelling the demand and driving the sales. A subset of these are Uber Geeks and they wield, somewhat unwittingly, great power.
I'm starting to observe something going on that has echoes of the comic market back in the day, appealing to a Pokemonesque "gotta catch 'em all" mindset that is more prevalent in the uber geek. Masses of spinoff titles, crossovers, special covers, premium reprints were spewed out (yep, still meaning comics right here!), appealing to the completionist weakness that afflicts many. In some ways this type of marketing was similar to that which made women feel that there was something 'wrong' with the way that they looked and it'd all be fixed if they just bought this particular product; both are preying on insecurities.
There are a flood of games that hit the market each year, making it increasingly difficult for a 'standard' solid game to receive critical or commercial success. Giant conglomerate of the industry Asmodee recently bemoaned that games like Quadropolis and Yamataï came and went with little fanfare and were somewhat lost in the shuffle. (Personally I found both of those games were merely ok rather than good and that might be more indicative of their sales performance.)
Some say, with good reason, that "a rising tide lifts all boats," but that does also make it more difficult for something to stand out.
So how do you sell product in that environment?
Do board game geeks actually like playing games or do they just enjoy getting boxes in the post? This was an incredibly insightful comment that I heard made on the most recent SU&SD podcast. There seem to be an increasingly large number of people who are forever acquiring games, more games than they will ever get to play regularly. These people are being fed by, for want of a better word, hype. And in turn they generate hype themselves on social media and places like BGG that feeds others. There is a rush to get hold of that latest release before anyone has read genuine objective appraisal of its merits.
"The FOMO is strong with this one" is a normal state of affairs now. And then there are breathless and earnest reviews of games that haven't even been made yet on Kickstarter where people are writing in depth appraisals on things that they are financially incentivised to champion; a recent poster on a FB group asked for people to click through to the funding page via his review link as the more that were tracked back to him the more likely he was to earn free games and, potentially, cash in the event of certain funding goals being reached. Admirable honesty, but still a shitty practice that doesn't help the potential buyer at all.
So now we are at the stage where those who are the most enthusiastic and/ or acquisitious (my word, I just invented it), the uber geeks, are getting their buttons pushed in ever more effective ways. Add ons to KS campaigns such as special exclusive "not at retail" scenarios, solo enabling rules and modes, art books, box sleeves, upgrades to components - all of these remind me of my time in videogame retail when the uber geek could be persuaded to part with £150 for their copy of what was essentially exactly the same game that could be purchased for under £40 - "but this comes in a metal tin, with an art book, a making of DVD and a special figure of the protagonist all housed in a presentation box!"- the very people who were being fleeced into paying (a lot) extra became the biggest champions of this practice. They spent more and more on buying totally superfluous extras to things that they didn't then play enough, because the preorder campaign for the next great thing was already underway. But they needed to maintain the charade that these things had "value" so as to validate their purchasing decisions and to try and be able to recoup money when they needed the cash to fund the next greatest thing ever. Sound familiar?
I know I'm sounding all grumpy old man here, but I'm far from the only one seeing this. Ignacy wrote an excellent piece the other day talking about his concerns, and that man has a great track record in making and marketing product in this industry.
All of this is a very long winded way of me ultimately saying that the uber geeks who see themselves as the discerning taste makers in this hobby are actually being carefully manipulated into being passive consumers, who not only pay through the nose for the privilege, but smile and enthuse about it, recruiting ever more others to the cause. And because it's been so wildly successful you're going to be seeing it a lot more, making it ever more difficult to find a "good" game.
- [+] Dice rolls
Ah, the light Civ game; something of a holy grail genre it seems. There is such a desire amongst many of us to find something that encompasses the entire breadth of human history with a variety of options and great strategic depth, but that will play in ninety minutes or less. Not asking much is it?
The Flow of History is a sixty to ninety minute card game that sees players build a little tableau of coloured cards that represent military, government, structures, scienctific knowledge, wonders, leaders, etc - all that you'd expect. There are symbols that power up actions and (may) grant end game victory points. There are abilities on the cards in addition to these symbols which you can enact on a turn, or grant ongoing benefits. Newly acquired cards of the same colour must cover up (the top part of) the card currently on display however, so the power and powers of different players shift as the game progresses; warmongers may suddenly become pacifists and great in game benefits may need to be covered to enable some decent scoring later on.
These cards are acquired through an interesting bidding system - you place resource tokens on a card in the display that you wish to take, but then you have to wait until it is your turn again before you can complete the transaction. In the intervening time your opponents can "snipe" it away however, paying you the bid that you had placed on it and allowing you to take more from the supply (there is a simple formula to determine how many, and you can power it up via cards). This means you might place a bid on a card that someone else wants in the hope that they'll snipe you, allowing you to net the funds you need to get a card you really want later.
This great bidding system highlighted the biggest flaw in the game for me however. It's not, by any stretch, a two player game. In fact the box clearly states that it's for 3-5. But there was a two player variant using a dummy "banker" that you both control which quickly became official and was incorporated into the TMG version that was Kickstarted last year. That I backed. And then picked the original up cheap on a Facebook group, you know, as you do...
You see not only is the short playing time light Civ game a general gamer's grail, but something that uses cards with powers and upgrades and plays well with two is a bit of a personal one for me.
Despite what Rahdo and many others have said to the positive I found this game deeply uninteresting with just Mrs B and I playing. She really did not care for it either. And, barring a few exceptions (see trick takers), a game that doesn't play well at two really shouldn't have a place in my collection - the opportunities to play with more will be too infrequent, even belonging to an active games group. I've no doubt that this would be a fun and interactive light civ game with three or more but the two player experience is, in my opinion, rank bad (not only the banker, but there are a multitude of "attack all" cards that are neutered by only having one person to target) and the "plays with two as well" is simply slapped on to aid sales. A shame.
And so I shed a tear and will be selling on this, and my KS new edition when it arrives.
(Bonus points awarded to anyone who's read the book I'm referring to in the post title.)
- [+] Dice rolls
When you've been gaming for a few years it's pretty usual that games come and games go from your collection; although there are a few who are apparently incapable of ever removing a game from theirs, preferring instead to build increasingly bigger storage areas! Inevitably there are pangs of regret as something much loved but perhaps played out, or maybe never getting to the table, is parcelled up and passed on. This is all natural.
But for some "gone games" the pining for their cardboard charms increases and reconciliation attempts are considered. They say you should "never go back" and that may be true in love and career but is it when it comes to board games?
The first game that I can remember departing and that I still carried a torch for was Ra. This is now such a treasured trophy game of mine that even though it doesn't get played that often I will never consider showing it the door again - it's simply too good and I know exactly how it pleases me, it doesn't matter that I'll only sample it's delights two or three times a year, that's enough for true cardboard love.
This post percolated up in my mind after receiving a gift voucher (Amazon) for Christmas and I was trying, in those quiet days between Christmas and New Year, to decide what to spend it on. There were plenty of books on my wish list (and indeed a biography of Napoleon was part of the order) but not too many games. After a little searching my heart was sent all a-fluttering when the charming For Sale, cheekily clothed in an alluring new french outfit, reminded me of the good times we once shared.
I think that I traded this one away, far too hastily, in the first Math Trade that I ever got involved in. What a fool I was, for this is an almost perfect filler game, full of fun and laughter with a delightful turn on the table. I'm not usually a fan of the cartoony look when it comes to many things (except, er, cartoons...) but it kind of suits this sassy little game. If you've not got a copy then I'd urge you get one asap, teach it in less than a minute and play it in less than 15, a game you can take anywhere.
There has been another that has fallen into this category, Kingdom Builder, which was an early love that was sent packing, then came back to me via a trade a couple of years later. Unfortunately we couldn't work things out satisfactorily (no one else ever wanted to play) and so we had to spilt again, and for good I fear.
There are a few other loves that have passed on that I regret waving goodbye to. I'm looking at pictures of them now and then, remembering the good times we had and wondering if we could make a go of it again. The one that is really starting to stir the soul is Viticulture Essential Edition, I think that I was too hasty in sending it away after Mrs B dismissed it having played it just the once (she can, just occasionally, get it wrong) and maybe our paths will cross again sometime this year.
You must have some regrets, and some that you've gone back to, do tell...
(I suppose I should get around to setting up a geeklist for this, but I don't have the time this morning. Maybe later this weekend...)
- [+] Dice rolls
Back to work, and back to regular games night on the same day; every cloud and all that eh? I took along The Palaces of Carrara, which I haven't played for a fair few weeks and I'd imagined would be perfect for this crowd; relatively thinky yet simple to teach and pick up Euro game that plays in 60-90 minutes (including all your set up and rules explaining and whatnot).
Anna and John I were both keen and we spent an enjoyable time buying bricks and constructing buildings with them. As Anna correctly said during our play "for a game that only gives you one of three actions to choose from per turn there's an awful lot to think about!"
Also during that play there was one of those 'out of context comments' overheard from the next table;
"I'm only accepting people of the right colour on this mission with me"...
John III had brought his wife along to GfaL and they were playing Cosmic Encounter with James and Laurence. I do like this game from time to time but, obviously, wasn't involved. Soon again I hope.
Above you can see my hilariously dull picture of what is (usually) such a raucous and colourful game.
Another game that is also dull in pictures, for a different reason, is Azul. As you're all making the same pattern every single photo looks basically the same and it's tricky, for such a pretty game, to make it photogenic.
I'm trying, see, to be a little creative with them...
I had plenty of opportunity to do so as the game was played (at least once) by every single one of the 10 gamers in attendance. If that's not (yet another) seal of approval for this excellent, excellent game then I don't know what is. Simply brilliant.
If only all the pictures didn't look the same though...
...well, maybe not all of them end up looking quite the same....
...as you might imagine there was a rather colourful turn of language that accompanied this particular situation (John III being the unlucky/ poorly planned recipient of this shafting)!
"It's called Azul because that's what you'll be calling your opponents!"
- [+] Dice rolls
Not content with actual games and the arbitrary rules and restrictions that they impose upon the player, gamers the internet over are striving to impose increasingly more convoluted and restrictive challenges upon themselves with all manner of things to sign up and commit to.
10 x 10's, no new games in 2018, no games purchased until the pile of shame is removed, play 100 new to you games, achieve 1000 total plays, 365 different games played, 9x3x4(+10x10), have sexual relations with at least 12 different games, play the entire BGG top 100, play a game every day of the year, around the world in 80 plays, solo challenges, play every game you own, get your H index above 20 etc, etc, etc.
Talk about putting yourself into a straight jacket!
I do actually have some form in this respect - I attempted a 10x10 in 2016 and, predictably, failed miserably. Of course I did, as will the vast majority of people attempting any of those challenges above, people who are far enough into this hobby to have accounts and be active on BGG, or who are members of boardgame Facebook groups are predisposed to wanting to play (and purchase) a great many different games. Tying oneself to a set of games at the start of the year and earnestly vowing to play them all a certain multiple of times misses out the biggest single factor that will impede the completion - new games, hundreds and hundreds of releases throughout the year, not to mention all the second hand games that you'll encounter in sales groups and on EBay, and then there's all those that your friends (real life or virtual) will expose you to and get you playing.
And I can't imagine how it must feel to force yourself to play a game just to keep a streak of plays going, even though you're ill or tired or busy or dealing with life.
Erm; says the guy who's coming up on 1000 daily blogposts...
Look, you do whatever you wish, go mad and sign up to something, drive other people mad by incessantly posting about how your challenge is progressing on social media (well, for the first 2 weeks of Jan at least, then you and everyone else will no doubt begin to forget about it!), just don't suck the joy out of playing games because you "publically committed" to playing something 10 (or whatever) times and then discovered that you didn't really like it after play 3...
- [+] Dice rolls
You can't really get more Knizia than a game where you use currency to acquire the same currency and/ or other currency for victory points which is equal to the value of the currency, less 100, unless you've got more than 200 in which case it's the full face value, and then 100 bonus points per set of 20's and 30's in the same currency.
Money! is a slightly odd bidding game but a very intriguing and (possibly) unique one. 2 sets of 4 cards are flipped face up and players then form bids from 1 up to however many they currently hold before all revealing at once. The highest bidding player then gets first choice and swaps their bid for either of the 2 sets OR for another player's bid (or just takes the bid back into hand and does nothing). This then goes around the table in descending bid order until everyone has taken a turn. Refill the pair of 4 card offers and keep going until the deck runs out.
Essentially this is a hand filtering set collection game with a lot of open information, if you can keep track of what others are picking up and collecting. Getting high cards of a currency you are not collecting is great for forming a high bid but then once used an opponent could pick up to use to get them over the 200 point threshold, which is a huge deal. Collecting the three 20's and/ or 30's in each currency is nice for a 100 point bonus but if that's all you are trying for you run the big risk of being left on a small score or maybe even 0 points for that currency (if you only get 2 of each). That there are only 9 cards in each currency (3x20, 3x30 and 1 each of the 40,50,60) make it fairly easy to track what players are picking up, even if only roughly. The hidden information is in the starting 6 cards that a player has, and what is yet to be revealed from the deck. A few 10 value coin cards round out the deck, along with a 0 value "bluff" card for each player. You need to pay attention and you need to be a little clever and able to calculate costs and benefits on the hoof.
It's not really much to look at but is a very solid little card game that we all enjoyed playing at home. Mrs B was sure that I was winning, I was convinced she was and yet Billy had almost doubled our scores! (The rules suggest playing 3 games and aggregating the scores for fairness.)
I could see it being a bit of a problem if playing with someone prone to AP but if you like playing quick and sharp then this is a winner.
It's also pretty cheap and easy to track down an old copy.
Money; It's a gas!
- [+] Dice rolls
Nice Province You've Got There Governor; Be A Shame If Someone Marched A Couple of Legions Into It, Eh?
02 Jan 2018
After some unsuccessful attempts to persuade any at the regular gaming group to give Time of Crisis: The Roman Empire in Turmoil, 235-284 AD a first spin I finally got it to the table at home. Admittedly offering up a Euro/ Wargame hybrid from GMT that I'd never played before with the caveat "yes it's going to be about 3 hours but they'll be a fun 3 hours" wasn't perhaps the best pitch in hindsight. I can now say, with some amount of authority, that whilst it might be a reasonably long game it is pretty straightforward, damned interesting and full of great opportunities for both long term strategy and tactical capitalisation. Having played this game with just 2 I am incredibly keen to play with 3 or 4 as I can see that the game will be even more enjoyable.
There are much better write ups of this game elsewhere on BGG but what I will attempt to explain here is the way that the game made me feel when I tried it out. There are only a few ways to score points/ legacy in the game, so you feel comfortable in the direction you need to take. There are only a few (9) types of card that you can purchase to supplement your deck, so you understand what you can potentially do and what your opponents can do and this means you aren't worried about any metaphorical rabbits being pulled from a hat. There are some event cards but they are not particularly punitive and affect (usually) all players, so you don't feel hard done by. There is certainly a chunk of randomness with where barbarian invasions may come from but this is all printed on the board, so you know where they're going to hit if they become active - they're also a source of points if you are able to defeat them - and this means that you can add a degree of control to your risk/ reward part of the game.
This is even more prevalent still in the senate votes when you try to take over another province and install a governor to gain you legacy (and new card purchasing power) - you know, via a simple formula, how many votes you need and as you gain a vote on a 2+ you can feel fairly confident. A master stroke of design here introduces the "exploding sixes" concept (re-roll any 6 again, and again and again potentially) which means that just 4 dice could be worth a shot at gaining 6 votes (excellent statistical analysis *here* from Martin G).
This all gels together to make you feel confident in taking actions, but not certain, and also allows for unlikely and incredibly entertaining swings of fortune, which might sound out of place in a 3 hour strategy game but feels perfect and appropriate given the theme, setting and mechanisms.
What this game does superbly is to set up a simple framework (become Emperor, gain the most legacy, although doing the former doesn't guarantee the later), with clear direction given to players about how to go about achieving those goals and with enough variety to allow different strategies to be employed and, even more importantly, evolve organically throughout the game. It all makes sense. It's tense, its clever, it's fun, and it is one of the very best games I've played in recent times.
I'm going to keep asking you all to play you know....!
- [+] Dice rolls
Yeah, if you think you're getting anything remotely sensible from me today then you haven't been paying attention! Happy 2018 everyone, I hope it brings you the weight loss/ new job/ taking up that hobby/ sorting out your finances/ meeting "the one"/ stopping buying too many boardgames/ reading more books/ having more sex/ travelling to that place etc. that you meant to do in 2017 but kinda slipped away.
Thanks for checking in, I'm probably still sleeping off my hangover and will see you as normal tomorrow.Something something boardgame related...Something something else boardgame related...
Cheers everyone from all the Burnhams and (totally non gaming but great drinking) friends! Longtime readers might recognise my very good pal Trevor, who would've stood up for the photo if only his legs still worked (another few glasses and he'll believe they do...!)
- [+] Dice rolls
A short retrospective today, as is traditional at this time of year I think.
Gaming wise it's been superficially a pretty good year with a total of 719 plays of 270 different games. That sounds impressive but in hindsight that hasn't been an especially satisfying way of enjoying gaming. There have been far too many once or twice plays of games that just weren't that much fun or that interesting. This has squeezed out opportunities to play things that either I know I enjoy or to explore further those games that were intruiging but only played the once. Sometimes, of course, these were games that were not my copies and so serendipitous timing would be required to enable further plays! The most enjoyable gaming experience was probably during the summer when I was off work for a couple of weeks and before we went away in the second of those Mrs B and I left Orléans set up on the table and really explored the Orléans: Invasion expansion scenarios, especially enjoying the titular co-operative one. Having the time and space to repeatedly play one game really allowed us to get a deeper understanding and appreciation of it. The game has been "on rest" since, but that is no bad thing. In fact I think I'd enjoy more of this arrangement with midweight games over the coming year.
I didn't go to the UK Games Expo, nor Essen, nor any large scale gaming event/ convention. At the time I felt anxious and that I was missing out but apart from the opportunity to grab a couple of games earlier or that haven't yet filtered through to wide retail release I don't think I'm genuinely lacking here. Of course there is the social side of these events but the cost to travel and stay over to enable that socialising makes it prohibitive for me. Perhaps I should see if I could help out with any exhibitors in return for bed and board at something like this in future?
In "real" life it's been a pretty standard year, with everything seemingly as it was at the start of 2017. That is not going to happen in 2018, there are changes that need to be made in work and my personal life.
This year I've started including iOS games where I've been playing against other people in my tallying - this has most notably skewed the data with regards to my plays of Race for the Galaxy and 7 Wonders, both of which I was involved in the beta testing of, and I played these constantly, racking up large numbers that far outstripped plays of other games. I did get in a few tabletop plays of these titles as well but only 6/7 of Race and possibly only 2/3 of 7 Wonders. The brilliant thing about gaming in App form I've found is that it makes it so much easier to get "over the hump" of learning a game properly and allows you to experiment and explore with a volume of plays. This has also been notable with aiding my learning of Twilight Struggle to a point where I am, at least, no longer incompetent and bewildered! I hope that we see more big, complex games available digitally over the next year, I've already got Terra Mystica and Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization ready and waiting to be launched and learned on my iPad.
It's clear from the five & dimes list that I've played a lot of fairly light games the most. This makes sense given the groups that I'm involved with and the short windows of opportunity to play at home that are available these days. A good, light, 2 player (specifically or otherwise) game with some challenge is always going to have a chance at finding a home in my collection. I'll be looking more closely at these types over the next year and less at bigger box multiplayers. I imagine that a core of 20 "big" games would be more than adequate to see us through a year of gaming at home and in my groups, allied to a diverse collection of sub 60 minutes card and light games.
I doubt very much that is what my shelves will look like however...
So farewell to 2017 then. You weren't as shit as 2016 generally, nor 2015 personally, but I really need 2018 to be a darn sight better. I can't just hope for that though, I need to get off my arse and do what I can to affect some positive change!
Hope you all have fun this evening ringing the new year in!
- [+] Dice rolls