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Updates on Cards & Crates

I wrote a post at the very beginning of this year about my history with playing cards: A Personal History of Naked Card Playing (Death to Sleeves)

I've written multiple posts over the course of the year directly or indirectly about "minimalism" and the not-so-good feeling of having too many unplayed games. Here's the current list of unplayed games in the house:

I was looking at a stack of copies of unplayed games this morning, thinking to myself that I just don't have the desire right now to play many of these games at this moment. I know that these things come in waves so I'm not really worried. There's a good chance that I'll be playing half a dozen of these unplayed games this very weekend. It's good for me to get these games played. I think that the last time that I lived in a place with zero unplayed games was probably 2005. I've actually begun to cull books as well, but that's its own separate challenge. I'm on something like the Kondo 20-year plan.

So, if I'm not so excited about the unplayed, what games have I been thinking about and/or playing?

I was inspired by bootleby's My Expertise III geeklist to create my own similar list. My list includes a running joke (hey, aren't jokes supposed to be funny?) about playing all of the games mentioned immediately. I didn't actually play more than a few games that day (Duell, King's Valley, Chartae), but I did get every one of those games out of the cabinet and stacked them together, impressed by what a great small collection they made. I could be happy with just this pile of games.

There was another geeklist on the front page dashboard about modern 2p abstracts that led me to the Connect6 page which led me to russ' review of Connect6 which led me to all of russ' reviews which led me to his review of Mini Shogi, a Shogi variant I was aware of, but wasn't high on my "radar", which I am now hoping to play soon. Part of me is excited to play Mini Shogi. Another part of me is screaming, YOU MUST FINISH PLAYING ALL OF THOSE UNPLAYED GAMES, and that's really the problem; not the unplayed games themselves, but the feeling of having some obligation to unburden myself.

The simplest way to destroy that feeling is to get through the unplayed games and continue to stay firm in my new policy to play every incoming game within two weeks of receiving it. The acquisition itself isn't the problem (though sometimes it is). It's the acquisition without playing that is problematic.

What have I acquired in the past couple of weeks? A few things.

I have purchased two different decks of playing cards, 2 copies of each deck, one for me and one for the Secret Joker Exchange. I would post pictures here, but won't for fear of lurking Jokers.

I purchased a copy of Qwixx while at Target. This was an impulse buy, but I knew that it would go over well with the kids. I taught it to three of them the day after purchasing it. They have since gone on to play it more without me, which is always the best sign that a game belongs in the house.

Another trade happened. My copy of Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation for Formosa Flowers and Secret Moon. Those two games should be arriving today or tomorrow. Getting rid of Meltwater was another tough decision that many here may think was the wrong decision. It is undoubtedly a good game, maybe even a great game. It is rare that a game can successfully make an argument through gameplay, through mechanisms. Meltwater succeeds in its evocation of a shrinking world and the despair of mutual destruction, the meaninglessness of any sort of "win" under these circumstances. It really is brilliant. And the gameplay is strong enough for the game to be an interesting challenge apart from the theme (as if this were possible). After all that praise, though, I just didn't find myself wanting to play it. It's a bit of a bummer. If I wanted a 2p head-to-head game, I was always going to pick another game, or at least in practice I always did pick another game. So it left the collection.

I exchanged a few very pleasant messages with Daniel Zinn, the person behind The Blue Rings Custom Skat Deck. It was immediately apparent that this deck is a true labor of love for him. His love of Skat and his wanting to share that love with the largest possible audience is really infectious. Daniel recognized my own enthusiasm for custom decks and my interest in learning Skat and offered to send me a Blue Rings deck that he already had printed and laying around. He did not expect a review or ask for any publicity (and I'm not kidding myself that I really have any influence here). He just saw that I was excited and wanted to share something that he loves with me. I happily accepted his kind offer.

So, I received the Blue Rings deck. I watched Daniel's videos, which are quite good (and the reference cards included are also nice), but I still struggled with the bidding rules. I read Parlett on Skat, but that didn't help so much. Finally, I broke down and turned to a Skat iPhone app and just played repeatedly. I had seen both bootleby and Sean mention playing card game apps to learn games and figured it was worth a try. You know what? It worked. Not only did I learn the bidding rules to Skat, it helped break down the barrier I had in considering the Jacks (the Rings in the custom deck) as the highest part of a named trump suit and helped in cementing the Ace-Ten-King ranking.

I felt good with the rules myself, but still felt overwhelmed teaching the game to my family. The truth is that I still haven't done so.

What I did do was use the Blue Rings deck to play Officers' Skat with my 10yo daughter. This helped to teach her the rankings of the cards. There is a lot more luck in Officers' Skat than in true Skat, but it was still plenty of fun and worked as it should. We played with a simplified scoring system, just 2 points awarded per won game, which is one of the variants listed on that wiki. I added in "ramsch" and "kontra" and "re" as she became more confident.

Daniel recommended playing the game with my family without bidding at all for a while. It seems counter intuitive as a gamer to do this, because bidding is the very heart of the game, but it really does make sense to do this to teach the game. Introducing a complicated bidding system on top of a complicated ranking system is just too much. It was too much for me, as I've already noted. I had to use repeated play against an AI to understand it myself and I did so because I was determined to learn the game. Someone without that desire and determination would just give up.

The good news is that the Blue Rings deck really does make the ranking much easier to learn, eliminating that barrier. The toughest part of the design must have been the Rings, which are (almost) always trump, but malleable in their suit. This was the only thing that my daughter struggled with. I had to remind her a few times that her rings were actually the trump suit color. That said, I think that the Rings design as-is is about as good as they possibly could be. I'm really impressed by the design.

So, here's that Kickstarter link again. There are only a few days left. Pick up a copy for yourself if you have any interest at all in Skat.

My copy of Doublehead Kids hasn't arrived yet, but it's good to see that others have started to receive copies in the States.

I do absolutely love this "trend" of updating traditional games with more functional aesthetic designs. Boon is another one that I love, maybe my favorite in terms of aesthetics, but to be fair this is a simpler game to update since there is a fixed trump suit. I've given myself a free pass to purchase any of these sorts of updates, which is why I didn't feel at all guilty when I just recently purchased a copy of Vivaldi after seeing Rob comment on it. These decks may not be finding a huge audience, but they are at least succeeding in easing me into further exploration of traditional games. I'm personally glad for this.

I'm painfully aware that this is already a long post. It's a giant wall of text without any pretty pictures to break things up. I had taken photos of my 10yo playing Officers' Skat with the Blue Rings deck with me, but I accidentally deleted them, because, well, technology. I guess I'm going "all in" now and just committing to the wall of text.

Here's an update on the card games that I have played so far this year. I won't even comment on these as I've already done so throughout the year. All I'm doing here is listing them all in my current order of preference, splitting the games into two lists, Modern and Traditional. Here we go.

New-To-Me Modern Card Games Played in 2020 Ranked
1. Schotten Totten
Modern Art Card Game
Heul doch! Mau Mau
Air, Land & Sea
The Bottle Imp
Marshmallow Test
Duck Soup
Ugly Christmas Sweaters
Zero Down
Nytelyfe Solitaire
Potato Man
Wig Out!
Greedy Kingdoms
Bucket Brigade
Familiar's Trouble
Bargain Hunter

Knizia is still king.

New-To-Me Traditional Card Games Played in 2020 Ranked
1. Hearts
Oh Hell!
Sheepshead (Boon)
Skat (The Blue Rings)
Poker (Follow the Queen)

Hearts still has my heart. I greatly enjoy trick avoidance.
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Fri Nov 13, 2020 1:30 pm
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Once Buttoned, Twice Shy

Remember back when I took a chance on some Button Shy games at PAX Unplugged? Then I came home and played Circle the Wagons and In Vino Morte and was instantly in love with this small company. Several solo plays of Sprawlopolis followed. By the end of December I was convinced that Button Shy was something special.

I backed them on Patreon at the $20 level, excited to join their "Board Game of the Month Club".

January 1st came and I paid $20. But I didn't receive anything in return.

February 1st came and I paid $20. Still didn't receive anything.

March 1st came and I paid $20. Still no package in March.

This was somewhat upsetting, but I hung in there. Jason Tagmire gave updates, explaining why things were delayed, and I accepted them, but it was still difficult to be $60 in the hole with no tangible showing for it. I was happy to be supporting the company, but I wasn't just doing it selflessly. I wanted (and expected) the promised "rewards" for my support.

Finally, the last week of March, I received a welcome packet.

From gallery of trawlerman

From gallery of trawlerman

From gallery of trawlerman

And I'm glad I stuck around for it.

I spent time this afternoon playing the included games.

I'm not a solo gamer, but I was this afternoon. I spent a couple hours learning and playing Chain Mail: Adventures of Earthshine, which is a sort of puzzly dungeon crawler. It's fairly crunchy, but still straightforward. Most of the learning curve was checking and re-checking icons and procedural stuff. Even though it's not the sort of thing that I'd have ever chosen for myself, I had a lot of fun playing it. My understanding is that this was the Button Shy featured game of the year last year, with each month's packet including new content, new locations, quests, characters. This wasn't something that I'd play regularly, but it's definitely something that I could enjoy committing myself to once a month on a cozy afternoon. I hope that this year's game is just as good if not better.

From gallery of trawlerman

The roll n write, Lockpicks, was just alright. It passed some time pleasantly. I'll probably never play it again.

The biggest and best surprise was the minigame, Adder. It's not in the database (yet; I submitted it earlier today) so I can't link to it. I wish I could point you somewhere where you could find this to purchase or as a print n play. Because it's great fun.

Adder consists of 9 cards, one card placed in the center, four cards to each player. The cards are then used IN REALTIME to construct a moving snake-ship used to chase and capture either the head or tail of the opposing player's snake-ship. That's all. It's brilliant. I played it three times with one of my daughters, then got out of the way while my children played with each other. The laughter that the game generated was enough to justify every penny that I've sent along to Button Shy. This little game reminded me why I love and, maybe more importantly, TRUST, the Button Shy design/development philosophy. Minimal rules. Maximal fun.

From gallery of trawlerman

So, I'm still in. Happily in. I'm committed to $20 a month for all of 2020. The delayed January and February packages are reportedly on their way soon. I can't wait to tear into them.

My title is an obvious play on the phrase Once Bitten, Twice Shy, but I only picked it because it was a fun pun, not because I'm at all shy in my support. If I've been "bitten" by Button Shy, well, it has been in the best possible way. And as far as "twice shy", I'm even more enthusiastic, doubly so, right now than I was at the beginning of the year.
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Thu Apr 2, 2020 2:56 am
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Mancation 2019 Addendum

(I've posted every day this week. Crazy. It's time to take a break. But first....)

More videos and photos will surely surface.

I share this video to show the darkness beneath the cool report.

This was from a late night Yogi play. We may have been a bit unfair in our judgment. Parthe may have responded a bit too heatedly.

But it produced this video. Thanks, Mike.

Warning. Parental advisory. Etc. Repeated f-bombs. Play this video at your own risk when there aren't any little ears around.

If that doesn't make you instantly buy a copy of Yogi, I don't know what will.

If you need more convincing, here's my favorite Amazon review of Yogi:
this game may have dislocated my ear plus my right rib. do not recommend. i am also a divorcee as a result of playing this game.
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Sat Dec 14, 2019 9:00 pm
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The One Game --> Ramblin' 10 Games Exercise --> Pax Pamir 2e Non-Review

Long post. You've been warned.

I've always been a little bit envious of those who have found their game.

The Chess and Go players. The ASL players. The Magic and Warhammer players. The D&D and Powered by the Apocalypse players.

You know who they are. The people devoted to One Game. The people who meet regularly with other people to play their One Game.

They might dabble in other games, but their heart belongs to the One Game. The majority of whatever spare "hobby time" they have set apart is set apart to that One Game.

I don't have One Game.

If you're here on BGG, I suspect that you don't either.

I like learning new games with new rules. I am (perhaps cursed to be) always interested in the Next Game.

But I also do have definite tastes, my own tastes, that are not identical to the tastes of the gamers around me. One purpose of this ramblish post is to begin to attempt to identify just what sort of gamer I am with what sort of taste.

Can I sum up my tastes in one sentence?

I'll give it a go.


I love deep games with simple rules that provide for direct player interaction and reward repeated play.


This morning I worked my way through a "you can only keep ten games-- what are they?" exercise. I went with my gut.

Here's the list of Ten.

Magic: The Gathering
Dungeon Crawl Classics
Tigris & Euphrates
Combat Commander
Blood Rage
Age of Steam

What do all of these titles have in common?

That's right. Direct player interaction. Deep with simple rules. They encourage and reward repeated plays.

The 2 player games are obvious. Your moves in Shogi and Go directly influence my moves. Likewise with Magic and CC. The difference in the former two and the latter two is obviously the luck element. Shogi and Go are perfect information games with no luck element. Magic and CC both depend on the draw of the card. Because of this, there is uncertainty, which can create swinginess, but uncertainty is also the magic ingredient in great narrative moments, which the latter two provide in ways that the former do not. The key, though, is that what I do always affects what you do, and what you do always affects what I do. Sometimes I crave the Narrative, sometimes I don't need it at all, but I always want the direct player interaction.

Dungeon Crawl Classics majors in narrative swinginess, embracing both the messy chaos of player agency and the unbendable decision of the dice. Player choices matter. A lot. So do the dice rolls. A lot. Importantly, the game does not exist at all without high level player interaction.

Tigris & Euphrates is my favorite "German Game" (back when "Euros" were, wait for it..... Elegant), followed closely by Tikal. What do these games have in common? Player interaction. A shared board that players are creating and fighting over. T&E has that feeling of riding the chaos, surfing through other's actions, trying to survive into the future, not as any particular Civilization, but as the Spirit of Civ that can succeed through rises and falls and more rises and more falls. Tikal has a vicious opportunistic streak, as one acts to build and control something worthwhile, or maybe even better, muscle one's way into someone else's work and make it one's own, regardless of the feelings of the original occupant. It's all about maneuvering and counter-maneuvering. Direct interaction.

Blood Rage and Root are each variations of Dudes on a Map. Dudes on a Map pretty much means Direct Player Interaction. Your Dudes have something that I want. I send in my Dudes to try to take that something from you so that it's now mine. Root is better at the deliciously shifting emergent alliances. Blood Rage is better in its impressive Thereness. Maybe the miniatures shouldn't matter, but they do. The gameplay is strong. The Toy Factor is just as strong. Root is cute and aesthetically pleasing, but Vikings and Monsters win when I want to send in my toys to bash your toys. The interaction in the draft is more subtle than other direct player interaction, but the interaction is definitely there, and what was indirect and subtle in the draft becomes direct and explicit in the following turn.

Finally, Age of Steam. AoS is the outlier here, and I haven't played it enough to know if it's truly a favorite, though I have enjoyed each play. Maybe the main thing is that right now I want to spend a lot of time exploring it. But it's definitely the outlier. In all of the other games above, there are rules in place that allow me to use my pieces to harm your pieces. There are no rules in AoS for blowing up your opponents' trains or rail network. There's no way to steal their money. I admit it. There is no strict player interaction in the sense of destroying the opponent. But even so, AoS has some of the meanest, nastiest indirect player interaction possible. The auctions can be brutal. The track building can easily shut someone out of what they have been working on.

So, yeah. Direct player interaction. I love it.

But interaction isn't the only shared attribute of these games. Another one is a simple, elegant set of rules. CC probably has the most "fiddliness" in some little exceptions depending on scenario, but the core rules are fairly simple.

It's pretty obvious to me that I like games with a fairly low rules overhead, games in which the complexity emerges from the gameplay and not from conquering the rules. Each of these games demand MEANINGFUL decisions that matter Right Away, but also have lasting consequences into the future of that game play. Some choices are more important than others, but every choice always matters. This element distinguishes these games that I adore from simple "take-that" style games with obvious choices and dull gameplay.

Another common attribute is playtime. I do enjoy some long and epic games, but my normal time preference is between fifteen minutes and four hours, with an average of 1.5 to 2.5 really being the sweet spot for any game for me.

One last common attribute that I'll identify is that all of these games provide me with some sort of clear identity with pieces belonging to me that represent my control on the shared board and my influence over the board and over other players. (The one almost exception to this is DCC, which is "theater of the mind" with no real board or pieces except as occasional visual aids; but this being noted, it is very clear in everyone's shared "theater" that each player controls a distinct character -or group of characters- that takes up space and exerts real influence in its imagined world.)

The "Ten Games Exercise" was inspired by a thread on the BGG Minimalism Guild which was in turn inspired by geeklists of the same idea, which can chase their inspiration back to ancient campfire listmakers.

Ten games is too few for me. But, somewhat surprisingly to me right now, not by much. I could be very happy with only the above ten games and, importantly, willing opponents, even if it meant never playing another game besides these ever again in my lifetime, which it wouldn't. The biggest omission in the list is the lack of card games. If I could cheat and add a #11, it would be a deck of playing cards (If I could cheat further than that, it'd be a board game sized box full of several different types of decks).

What's my personal Minimalism Threshold, the cap on the collection that would be "Just Right"? I'm not sure, but I suspect that it's less than or around 50 games. When I made my Top 50 list earlier this year, I already knew that it included games that I could live without owning, games that I like but that I'm okay with the idea of never playing again. The 50 list had plenty of fluff in it. But I think that something like 20 or 30 would still be too few. I need a couple dozen spots for the heavy hitters, but I also need a couple dozen spots for filler card games and other important family games.

I currently own 180+ games (which number includes my kids' games, which I have mostly for them, not me). I'd like to get that number down below 100 by the end of the year. No more purchases. Cull more games. Play what I love.

Which brings me to the true topic of this post.

Pax Pamir 2nd Edition.

It's a new game. I shouldn't have bought a new game.

What's worse, I'm going to keep it. I should be culling games instead of keeping games. I should be playing games that I already love instead of chasing the Next Thing. And yet.....

I wrote all of the above as a sort of oblique defense of Pax Pamir 2e. Because I think I kinda love it.

I still need to explore it much more, but it seems to be the type of game that fits right in with all of the "keep only Ten" list of games above.

I haven't played PP 2-player yet, but I suspect that it will play well at 2. Like Shogi and Go, there is no luck involved. Like Magic and Combat Commander, there is the random input of the cards, in which you need to re-assess the board state and respond appropriately. There is also the similarity of building for card synergy and exploiting powerful card combinations. There isn't the freedom of improv of DCC, but there is a strong narrative that is developed in PP, which to a large extent is crafted entirely by player choices. Like T&E, the board state can change drastically from turn to turn. It's about anticipating and outmaneuvering other players, constantly reading the board state while also reading the mental state of the other players. Like Tikal, PP is about taking several turns of positioning for a decisive move that will lock in points for you alone. Short of that decisive move, it's at least about maximizing your own position while doing your best to harm your opponents. Like in Blood Rage, PP is about gaining cards that work well with other cards to execute a plan that affects the board state. Like Root, PP encourages emergent alliances, but only to a certain extent, with betrayal in the near future always a safe assumption. Like AoS, PP can be as much about blocking your opponents actions, with your optimal action sometimes being the slightly suboptimal action that hurts your opponent while doing something to help yourself.

I've only played Pax Pamir 2e once. That was just last night. I've been thinking about it ever since. Unfortunately, the regulars at my weekly gaming group didn't care for the game as much as I did. And they are the three guys in the group MOST likely to enjoy the game. So it goes.

The game doesn't stand a chance with too many others locally (with one exception, another local gaming friend that I'm currently trying to schedule a session of PP with; also, maybe it's weird, but I think that I may get the privilege of being the first dad to write a session report of playing Pax Pamir with his three teenage daughters if all goes well and work in the garden gets finished soon--it'll happen sooner or later, but the summer is tough).

So, that's it. I definitely haven't reviewed Pax Pamir 2e. I haven't really told you anything about it at all. What I have told you is that I like certain games and I like Pax Pamir 2e. Pax Pamir has a reputation as a "heavy game," which it is, but it's heavy in the same way that Tigris & Euphrates is heavy. It's not an efficiency exercise. It doesn't feel like work. Once you've got the rules down well after a couple of plays, it feels very much like a rowdy game that you can play with your friends while drinking beer (which is an important attribute that I enjoy in games that I didn't mention above)!

If you like any of the ten games that I've mentioned, give Pamir 2 a chance.

If you like direct player interaction, give Pamir 2 a chance.

If you like meaningful decisions, give Pamir 2 a chance.

If you don't mind the tactical nature of responding to a whirlwind of cascading chaos (such as the external conflicts in T&E), indeed if you actually enjoy it, give Pamir 2 a chance.

If you like a rich background setting and don't mind contributing some shape to a developing narrative, give Pamir 2 a chance. (It can be played abstractly without any attention to the theme, but the theme is perfectly achieved.)

If you like a simple set of rules which lead to complex game depth, give Pamir 2 a chance.

If you like emerging alliances or you just like screwing over your friends and gaming buddies, give Pamir 2 a chance.

Finally, and this is no small thing, if you appreciate a well-produced game, in which the components are lovely to look at and to handle, functional and beautiful, give Pamir 2 a chance.

After one play, Pax Pamir is not my One Game.

It didn't make its way into my "only Ten games to keep" list.

But, significantly, after only one play, it has wormed its way into my ongoing "50 to Keep List". It's not leaving my collection any time soon and I'm eager for repeated plays, soon and often.

It has all of the marks of a game that I'm likely to fall in love with.

I'm already falling for it.
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Thu Jun 27, 2019 3:05 am
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