Matt's Board Game Back Room

Join me in my cozy little back room filled with games! Ooh and ah at some new releases. Learn about some more recent games. Or, look back at some older and classic games. From Euros to Ameritrash, kids games to grown-up games, easy to intense - nothing much is ignored in Matt's Board Game Back Room! (Updates will be cross-posted from my blogspot blog - click my Blogger microbadge to go there now)

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STATE OF THE BACK ROOM - The Oregon Cup, Thrifting Nirvana, and TtR: Northern Egypt results!

-matt s.
United States
Eugene
Oregon
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Gosh, it's been a couple of weeks since I last wrote a blog post. I guess I've been busy with 2 different trips, one to Washington last weekend for a wedding and family reunion and one the week before to Ashland, OR, and The 1st Annual Oregon Cup my friend Chris's house. Plus, we had an auction leading up to The Cup and had to work in some time to package and ship games.

Also, for The Oregon Cup, I was requested to do the geeklist writeup - which you can find here: The 1st Annual OREGON CUP - 'Down to the Wire'

THAT took me a while to write up and I guess is sort of a very long blogging entry.

To summarize, The Oregon Cup is a sort of Olympic Decathlon of gaming - we play 10 games and get 1000 points for first place and proportional points after that. After 10 games we determine who the winner is! You'll have to read it to find out if I won or not....

So, here's the STATE OF THE BACK ROOM as of last evening:

From gallery of tasajara


As you can see there's been some thrifting going on although Midgard, Merkator, Luna and Unbongo Extreme are all new games - recent purchases or gifts (which I still haven't opened). I seem to be doing a lot of thrifting lately. I think it has cascaded since mid-June and early-July when my wife OFFERED to go into thrift stores to see what they might have! She seems to have become quite the good-luck charm for me in thrifting. Our initial finds included an unpunched Power Barons, a complete copy of Space Dealer in German, Clue Master Detective, Powerpuff Girls: Saving the World Before Bedtime, Scrabble: R.S.V.P, Risk tin edition (has cool plastic boxes for the pieces that I'm using to make Risk Express), and 10 Days in the USA in mint condition.

Since then I've also found 2 more Clue Master Detective games, a Clue: The Great Museum Caper, another Scrabble: R.S.V.P. (which I've been using the dice to make custom Risk Express games with), an unpunched Heroquest: Return of the Witch Lord (got if for $2.99 and sold it for $40 in The Oregon Cup auction), and a complete Water Works. Ahhh, Thrifting Nirvana! But wait, there's more!

So on the table you see 2 Inner Circle games. If you read my profile this was a game I had as a kid and my parents got rid of when I moved out. For some reason something intrigues me about it's maze-like quality and how the number of pawns get whittled down on each passing level - I don't know, it's just a great mechanic. Yes, I know the game is mostly a solvable puzzle with a memory component, but so what? It's fun!

Anyhow, the first one I found in Washington for $0.38. But, it was missing some pawns. Someone on the parts list offered to send me some pawns but the colors don't all match. I accepted, but then yesterday I found ANOTHER copy at our local Goodwill! It had ALL the pawns, but the boards were all warped. I'm thinking I can use the remaining parts for my own game of some sort.....I'm just letting that roll around in the back of my head for now.

Also, while in Washington this past weekend, my wife found Sly which is a collection of 6 games by Sid Sackson which uses the same board and pieces for all 6 games. I'm really interested in trying all those games out...it's a very interesting piece of history.

Speaking of game collections, I also found Stonehenge: An Anthology Board Game for $1.00 which contains 5 board games using the same components and includes games designed by Richard Garfield, Richard Borg, Mike Selinker, James Ernest and Bruno Faidutti. It is missing a couple of discs but I'm certainly interested in trying some of these games as well.

You can also see 2 Jumanji's here that I'm combining into one good game as well. When I got it I probably should have left it as it really doesn't have a lot of value game-wise or money-wise. BUT, it might be a fun game to put into the 'Scout' game box that I've been putting together. I'll have to do another post about that later as that's another story.

Well, let me put some MORE stuff on the table that I found just yesterday along with the Inner Circle:

From gallery of tasajara


I found a Heroscape Marvel: The Conflict Begins which is complete and like new. I found a Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie about 2 months ago but have yet to get it out and play although I WAS thinking about it the other day....hmmm, perhaps I need to think about games I want more often - the same thing happened with Clue: The Great Museum Caper.....weird. (what game should I think about now? ah, I know! Advanced Civilization.....come to me.....!)

Anyhow, I also found not 1 but *2* copies of Bandu - neither were complete, BUT the missing pieces were mutually exclusive so I have a full set now and one that is missing 6 pieces. All of these could be resold for decent amounts of money, but I don't have any intention of selling them - at least not yet. Funny, I just sold a bunch of stuff off and now I'm finding more interesting games...

Oh yeah, one last thing...I found a game called Vector Chess which doesn't appear to be in the BGG database so I'm going write it up to add it:

Board Game: Vector Chess


Board Game: Vector Chess


The instructions are deteriorating so I'm going to have to make an electronic copy of them that I can post those in the game entry.


Well, I finally got around to picking a winner for the Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt map and cards - and the winner is:

Logan Mann
United States
Spanish Fork
Utah
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redtraingreentrainbluetrainyellowtrainblacktrainpurpletrainwhitetraincoolmeeplelaughlaughmeeplecoolwhitetrainpurpletrainblacktrainyellowtrainbluetraingreentrainredtrain

I'm very happy to see he's a big Ticket to Ride fan and has pretty much all the different versions of TtR.

As an added bonus, I noticed Logan doesn't have an Avatar yet so I'm sending him 30GG as well to help him get one.

Thanks to everyone who has been thumbing my posts. I'm not holding a contest this month...but perhaps next month!

Thanks for stopping by! Good luck if you go thrifting!
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Thu Aug 11, 2011 8:31 am
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THE CREATIVE GAMER - Making Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt (Part 2 / 2)

-matt s.
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Eugene
Oregon
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Earlier this week I posted about designing TtR: Northern Egypt for the TtR $10,000 design contest. This is the continued story....

------------------------------------------------------
So, this is the version I left off with during my last post about the TtR:NE map:

From gallery of tasajara


This is the map that was printed out in a large format and got some testing in. In conjunction with this map I create a ticket template, printed out sheets of 9 of these, then started penciling in a variety of ticket routes with appropriate values and bonus locations.
From gallery of tasajara

So, I have to put in an admission here for those that may be wondering - yes, this map got some play testing, but honestly, it was not a lot. There wasn't a ton of time before the April 15th deadline. I would have loved to play a lot more but I probably didn't work hard enough to rally more testers. That being said, I spent a lot of time evaluating the map and taking cues from existing maps.

Still, initial tests of this map showed a couple of things:
1) Playing 2-player worked really well - the map was VERY tight and interesting.
2) The tickets with bonuses were interesting to play - it forced you to re-think whether you wanted to go for the bonus or not and possibly how to chain the tickets differently to get those bonuses.
3) The biggest issue was it was obvious the map was NOT going to accommodate 4 or 5 players, and possibly not even 3 players - it needed more double-routes and links between cities where they didn't exist now.
4) Some of the tickets were either over-valued or under-valued and needed some adjustments.
5) I forgot to include a score track (not a big deal for a first pass, but kind of obvious)
6) The middle of the map felt a little too tight.
7) The Suez canal multiple routes on the side were confusing, especially since we weren't actually using them in the game.

Overall, I was actually surprised at how well it played! I was really afraid it was going to totally suck.

One thing that was really interesting was I knew I was getting behind in tickets and points, so I decided to go for the long Giza Mines link to get some points. I was 1 card away when the game ended so I was very close to getting it. The 57 points for that link would have put me close to winning, if not over for the win (yes, I was THAT far behind - my excuse is that I was distracted just 'watching' the game in action for one of it's first trial runs)

Something else that was obvious was that it could take a while to move across the middle of the maps as there were a LOT of 1 space links.

So, the first things to clean up were:
1) Expand the map to include more links.
2) Lengthen some of the links to have more spaces.
3) Double up more of the links.
4) Open up the middle of the map a bit more.
5) Add a score track!

The first order of business was adding the score track. This was necessary to further define the boundaries of where cities and links could sit on the map.

Rectangles seemed 'natural' at first since the other maps use them, but it didn't seem to fit the theme well. Hence, I came up with the use of pyramids (triangles) instead. And, I applied a brick texture to give them a pyramid feel. It's not the best texture but it worked for my purposes here:

From gallery of tasajara


From gallery of tasajara


Then, I needed to adjust the existing links to pull them away from the score track a bit. I also started to open up the middle, expand in some areas and trim in other areas. Notice I also got rid of the multiple Suez Canal links and made it a single long route.

All these adjustments were initially done just by moving the cities around to simplify the process. You can see this in the next image where the cities all look out of place.

From gallery of tasajara


Next, it's time to re-create the links between the adjusted cities. Something I had run into putting the map together initially was all of the routes were manually constructed and aligned, segment by segment. This was ok for tweaking after initial placement, but revamping the map in this way made it a problem.

So, I figured out you can create your own brushes in Xara and apply them to lines. Thus, I made new 'brushes', one for each color of links, plus gray for the wild links and a special multi-colored brush for the line.

Then, I started a new layer for the new set of links and started sketching them in as simple lines. Next, I applied the appropriate colored brushes to each line and adjusted them to fit. The great thing about this was that I could stretch or shrink the length of the lines to get more or less links! Here's the middle of that initial conversion process:

From gallery of tasajara


And here it's starting to take shape. You'll notice that many of the dead ends have been eliminated. This gives multiple ways into a particular city creating competition for them. Combine this with the right balance of tickets and it should create tension without making players feel like they're completely stuck trying to get somewhere. Obviously at some point, if you wait too long, you WILL be stuck, but you need the option of having at least one alternate/backup plan.

From gallery of tasajara


It was fun to start bending the lines to make them fit and give it a more organic feel rather than just a bunch of straight lines going everywhere. And with the new brushes applied to the lines, it made it SO much easier to manipulate them in this way and experiment a bit more to get the right look.

From gallery of tasajara


Here we have a couple of tweaks including changes to some of the link colors for better color distribution.

From gallery of tasajara


And some more tweaking of colors and position. Something I was trying to achieve was making sure there was enough of each color and an appropriate distribution of link lengths for each as well. Also, I wanted to balance the long links going to the Giza mines with other links that used the same colors. Thus, you have to make the decision to use those colors to complete your tickets OR take a risk and go for the extra points. What will you choose to do?

From gallery of tasajara


The version above is what ended up being the last version I created before submitting it to the TtR contest. We got a couple plays of this version in before it had to be rushed off.

One thing my Mom suggested was for an additional link across the middle between Tanta and Al Hayatim to give at least one more possible option to move across the middle of the map. Of course I had to accommodate my mommy

Also, during one play with some more heavy-duty gamer friends (who find TtR a bit light I think), Robert showed how the game could potentially be broken (typical Robert ). He immediately went first for the Suez Canal garnering 37 points. THEN, he proceeded to get the longer Giza Mines link netting him another 58 points, thus giving him 95 points fairly early in the game while the rest of us were scratching out small points. Little by little we gained on him.

By the end of the game he ended up losing by maybe 5 points as Lorna had completed several tickets, most with bonuses. Robert had a difficult time with his tickets and only completed one of two of his starting tickets. This was because they were a bit longer and the rest of us had tied up the board while he focused on the longer links.

I was pleased to see that his wasn't necessarily a winning strategy. However, it was a bit demoralizing to the rest of the players AND it was perhaps a bit too dangerous/over-powered.

Thus, I later decided to reduce the point values from following the usual scoring pattern down to 27 and 39 respectively (still a good chunk of points, though). Unfortunately, I didn't do this on the map sent in to the contest and probably should have....

From gallery of tasajara


Also, I found that the unusual names (to American eyes at least) were difficult for people to interpret with the font I was using. I really like the look of it, but it's difficult even for ME to read the names. So, I changed the city names to use a more standard looking font (no, it's NOT Comic Sans! Or Helvetica!) You can see this on the map above as well.

So, that's the progression of the map.

Now, as to the tickets, I'll give you a quick rundown: I liked the idea of having the map on the ticket and showing exactly WHERE the cities were on the map. None of the versions of TtR tickets have made me completely happy - there is always some level of confusion as to WHERE on the map you need to look for the cities.

This was particularly important with these tickets because not only do you have the two normal endpoint cities, you also have the BONUS city as well, and you need to be able to easily distinguish between them.

So, once I had the final map completed, I could use a copy of it to make the tickets match. I decided to standardize the location of the end point and bonus city names on the tickets, then highlight each city on the ticket and draw an arrow to each to make it perfectly clear.

Here's the progression to the final ticket design:

From gallery of tasajara

Initial base design

From gallery of tasajara

Adding color and highlights

From gallery of tasajara

Increased font sizes and eliminated confusing/unnecessary labeling

From gallery of tasajara

More labeling cleanup - final version

From gallery of tasajara

Another example of the final design

From gallery of tasajara

Back of the ticket



Phew! That was a bit of work just writing it all up. Luckily I saved copies of everything as I progressed so I had a good record of the progress.

That's a technique I learned many years ago when I started doing computer drafting and has carried through everything I do on the computer...saving FREQUENTLY and using SAVE AS judiciously. There's nothing like spending 2 hours on something and making a ton of progress and then losing it all because of some computer glitch.


Well, there's one more small chapter to this story. First, I uploaded the map to Zazzle and have made it available there

And, the tickets are available on Artscow.

For Zazzle, sometimes they have percent off discounts which will save you a bit if you look for those sales.

For Artscow, if create an account with them ahead of time, they regularly send coupons to get custom decks for cheap with free shipping - that's the ideal way to get a deck if you don't mind waiting. Note that this is a FULL deck, but you actually are getting 2 sets of tickets. If you want the other half to be something else just remove the duplicates and add in whatever other cards you want...of course you'll have the same ticket back so you could change that to something generic if you wanted.

Here's the map mounted in a 22.5"x34" poster frame:
From gallery of tasajara


and a pic with some trains on it:
From gallery of tasajara


This shows a prototype and final ticket:
From gallery of tasajara


And the back of the final ticket (unfortunately I didn't zoom in close enough - I've fixed this in the Artscow card project):
From gallery of tasajara


Well, that's the end of this journey. Hope you enjoyed it! I know I had fun putting it all together.

You can also just thumb this blog entry (and any I've posted in July) to be entered into a drawing at the end of July where I'm giving away a copy of this map and a set of tickets.
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Wed Jul 27, 2011 9:48 am
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STATE OF THE BACK ROOM - What's on the Table? (Dominion storage solution, Risk Express and some creative pics)

-matt s.
United States
Eugene
Oregon
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What's on the table today? Or rather, what happened to the table? Well, I was cleaning out the garage a bit over the weekend and wanted to try to get all 6 of my chairs into the room. So, I got most everything picked up and stacked back up on the shelves. Then, I moved the table a bit - at an angle so that I could maybe get the other 2 chairs on the ends. And, that seemed to work. Now, it's all in there and it's sort of tight but I think it works.

From gallery of tasajara


Well, I did until I had Bob over and it wasn't really set up properly with the side tables for drinks. So, I had to move stuff around a bit to make it work.

So, it's a little crowded in the room and I'm still figuring it out. But I like the dynamic feel of it at an angle. It also opens up a little space around the shelves.

Anyhow, we'll see how the room works out this way.

You may have noticed that box on the side table. That's my box of Dominion. I just updated it with more dividers to fit Dominion: Cornucopia into the box. I also created labels to give it a cover and sides - it's been a plain brown box since I put it together back in December (I think) and I wanted it labeled so others would know what's inside.

Here's the box:
From gallery of tasajara


And here's how it looks inside:
From gallery of tasajara


I have uploaded all the files and they are STILL pending (they've been pending for at least 4 days now I think - hopefully they go through soon). Actually, most of the dividers were already uploaded but I did a few small fixes, re-adjusted the pages for more flexibility in printing, and added some new additional dividers - all based on requests from other users.

I'll post the links to the files here once they are approved.

Also, you can see there's a small red box on the side table as well. That's my newly created Risk Express. I built it from the cards, box and bits from the big round tin edition of Risk

Here's the tin edition that I started with:
Board Game: Risk
Board Game: Risk


Here's what the end product looks like:
Board Game: Risk Express


I 'pimped' it out a bit more by re-using the player pieces to indicate point values. The cool thing about this is that at the end of the game each player has a line of soldiers in in front of them indicating their score...plus it just adds to the theme a bit more.

Board Game: Risk Express

Board Game: Risk Express


The dice are made from RSVP letter cubes with stickers applied. They fit very nicely into the little box.

Speaking of those letter cubes, here are some creative shots I had fun taking:
Board Game: RSVP

Board Game: RSVP

Board Game: RSVP


While I was feeling creative, I also tried some 'action' shots rolling the Risk Express dice:
Board Game: Risk Express
^^ This is my favorite ^^ - I love the look of the shadows.


From gallery of tasajara

From gallery of tasajara

From gallery of tasajara


Well, that's just a quick update for this week. This weekend I hope to get Part 2 posted with more images and details about the Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt map.


Finally, if you thumb this post and come back to thumb ANY BLOG post of mine this month (July) I will be giving away a copy of the final version of Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt + cards that we submitted to the TtR design contest. Don't forget to check out all my posts for this month! Good luck!
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Fri Jul 22, 2011 9:09 am
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THE CREATIVE GAMER - Making Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt (Part 1)

-matt s.
United States
Eugene
Oregon
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Before I get into the subject at hand, I would like to point you to an auction that my friend Chris put together. Four of us are getting together for a gaming weekend next week and leading up to it we're having a 'combined shipping' auction. The auction link is: CLOSED 4-in-1 Auction (175+ games) - ends Jul 26th Please take a look around and see if you like anything.

--------------------------------------------------
So, you may or may not have heard about the $10,000 Days of Wonder Ticket to Ride design contest earlier this year, but I did mention briefly in a previous blog post that my wife and I both immediately had some ideas for possible entries when we first heard about it back in February.

My idea centered around a 'toy' train idea where the routes would take you around a house between various rooms and even into and around the backyard. A couple of things appealed to me about this idea: 1) it was family friendly, 2) I thought maybe it could be scaled for more or less players by using just inside vs. outside vs. Combined: 3) it could be done with several boards or as a series with different types of homes around the world, each having culture specific details, etc.

My wife's idea was an interesting twist on the basic game - each destination ticket, in addition to having the regular point value for connecting the 2 cities, would also have a BONUS city and related point value. If, in addition to connecting the two regular cities, you also connect the BONUS city into the network (i.e. all 3 cities are somehow connected), you get the additional bonus points.

I really liked both of these ideas when we first thought of them.

Well, time went by and we didn't do anything about it. No research. No design. I didn't even really read the entry form in detail more than once. I felt like we were kind of letting it slip by us.

Finally, around April 1st I started thinking about it again - I knew the deadline (April 15th) was coming up fast. I really liked my wife's idea. Actually, I liked my idea, too, but hers was fundamentally better in terms of introducing something DIFFERENT and yet still being the same game. It actually added a new dimension with a simple change. I subsequently mentioned it to some friends who have helped playtest it and the idea got them excited about it, too.

So, the next order of business was the location and map. She initially had an idea for a couple of possible map locations, one of them being Egypt. So, I started doing research on it. It turned out that Egypt is actually very rich in railroad history. I suppose perhaps many places have some level of railroad history, but this area seemed to really have some interesting background. In addition, I found a map of sorts that showed many actual city/station locations for a railroad system! It made a great basis for a somewhat historically accurate map.

The other important thing was a certain density of cities for her idea to work well. This location had exactly what I was looking for to exploit her idea to the fullest.

After discovering all of this, my interest suddenly went off the charts! It was time to start designing...

First, I started with my graphics program of choice: Xara Extreme 4 (or just Xara). This is an older version of a vector based program I've been using for years and haven't bothered to upgrade in the last couple of go rounds (looking at the new features on their website I just might consider)

It is a program I love because it's relatively simple yet still powerful, flexible and has a good range of options. It is primarily a vector based drawing program but it has some terrific shading, shadowing, and transparency capabilities. In addition, you can bring in pictures (jpg, gif, etc) and integrate them with what you are working on, or use them as textures, etc. It also has layering, multiple levels of undo, object grouping, an object alignment tool, and a host of other features.

Anyhow, I've used it consistently for a variety of projects over the years and it has done pretty much everything I've asked of it outside of actual photo manipulations, enough so I haven't bothered looking for anything else to replace it.

So, for this project I started with a virtual sheet of paper the size of a standard TtR board (approximately 21"x31"). Sorry, the image is a bit 'light' looking but if you look carefully you can see the general shape of the board squares.

From gallery of tasajara


Then, I underlayed a screen capture I took of the online map that I found of Egypt showing real existing train lines. Now, initially I was hoping to do a full-map of Egypt. However, the southern part of Egypt just didn't have enough interesting things going on. But, in the area of the Nile River basin, there was a LOT going on. This seemed to be fertile enough ground to build this map on.

Next, I started mapping out the routes between them using rectangles of similar size to an actual TtR board.

From gallery of tasajara


The map image I put on one layer and the tracks on another so that I could turn on/off one or the other as needed. The use of layers became more and more important as I went on due to the variety of different objects required for generating the map.

From gallery of tasajara


Next I started to emphasize the links and cities and pushed the map to the back. Two ideas that you can see some emphasis on is the Suez canal link on the far right (linking Suez and Port Said directly). Notice the multiple 'lanes' - my initial idea for this was an 'advanced' option that allowed each player to have their own separate track. When completing any other link on the board, an extra card could be played to add one train to the Suez canal on their track. I didn't have this idea fully developed but liked the option to have 'more options' for an advanced version.

Also notice on the far left a long link to the Giza Mines; it's significantly shorter than the actual line, but is intended to simulate it at least. I really like the long link on Nordic Countries and was sort of taking advantage of that city and actual rail link to create a similar feature. My idea here was to NOT make it part of any tickets but make the points significant to make it a possible risk worth taking, or possibly even as a catch-up mechanism for people that are in a tough spot.

From gallery of tasajara


The cities started getting labelled and the routes were created to try to get some balance in their lengths. The city names on the underlay map seemed to be either older names and/or official Egyptian names for the cities. I did some searches on Google maps and used the names I found there. I love the interesting sounding names - Zagazig, Obeed, Qasabi, Dumyat. You can see I also started fitting in some double routes in various locations. This doubling up of links became the theme over time as I progressed through the map making...

My initial idea was to try to keep the links strictly to the realistic links and see how that ended up coming about, but that also had to change to properly accommodate the board as an actual game board.

From gallery of tasajara


One interesting fact about the real Egypt rail line is the ability to purchase different levels of tickets depending on how fast you want to get through. The cheapest tickets require many stops between start and destination. More expensive tickets take you more directly to your destinations. To simulate this a bit, I included several places where, to get between two cities, you can take a bunch of short links between each city, or you can take a longer more direct link. This isn't a 'perfect' simulation of this, but I liked the idea and it seemed to make for interesting routing in certain areas, especially around the Cairo area.

Next up was to mark the cities. I make a simple shaded circle/button and set about defining where each specific city was located.

From gallery of tasajara


Now, I wanted to clean up the map a bit so I started graphically defining the outline of Egypt. I traced the outer edges and shaded it a bit to give it a touch of depth.

From gallery of tasajara


Then, I pushed the back behind the board grid and gave it a bit of color...

From gallery of tasajara


...and cleaned up the track links a bit...

From gallery of tasajara


...and the rest of the board (including adding the Nile River)...

From gallery of tasajara


Now, it's time to start coloring the links. Of course, I started with red (since it's my favorite color). I initially had some problems managing the links - the main reason being that EVERY SINGLE RECTANGLE on EVERY link has to be managed separately. That's a LOT of adjustment when I want to move stuff around. A major pain really. But, I will come up with a solution soon. For now....it's a bit of a grind adding the color and making adjustments. But, I'm starting to like the look of it now.

From gallery of tasajara


I should stop here for a second....I KNOW I shouldn't be focusing too much on 'how it looks' BUT, I can't help it. It's the perfectionist in me wanting to make it look as good as possible regardless. Ultimately, I know we're going to enter this in the TtR Design contest, and I know that submitting the actual map isn't required, but *I* want something nice and presentable. Ah well, I'm having fun with it at least!

So, more color gets added. A lot actually. I did some counting of numbers of tracks on the original TtR board to get a feel for how many links of each different length and each different color and try to go for similar proportions.

From gallery of tasajara


I decided the font needed to change to something more fitting to the theme. The plain brown background didn't seem quite right either. So, I found an interesting, decorative font and applied a texture to the map and did a bit of other tweaking.

From gallery of tasajara


You'll also note that I added the point chart. Notice the 8, 9 and 11 train links! Those are HUGE points. As you will find out in the next post, the points may have been a bit TOO HUGE!

Well, that's it for now. Up next is showing what the initial tickets look like and reports on some play-testing.

Oh, one more thing - if you thumb this post - and come back to thumb ANY BLOG post of mine this month (July) I will be giving away something special/game related at the end of July (I'm trying something new to see if I can encourage readers to let me know if they read my posts here on BGG or not since 'hits' are not actually available on BGG) - the prize will be a copy of the final version of Ticket to Ride: Northern Egypt + cards that was submitted to the TtR design contest. Yes, it's official, the prize this month WILL be the final version of this map + tickets. Don't forget to check out all my posts for this month! Good luck!

BONUS: For reading this far, if you thumb the header part of the auction geeklist: CLOSED 4-in-1 Auction (175+ games) - ends Jul 26th those thumbs will count as entries for the free item drawing as well. Thanks for stopping by!
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Tue Jul 19, 2011 10:44 am
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STATE OF THE BACK ROOM - The Tour + Mess on the Table!

-matt s.
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Well, I've been inviting you all to my Board Game Back Room for the past 6 months (5 months almost to the day on BGG) but I still haven't given a proper tour of 'The Back Room' other than the small pic in my avatar and the slightly larger one on the blogspot site, although I did post a few pics to the shelf pron geeklist a while back.

So, when you come in our house and go down the main hall a bit, there's a door to the garage here:
From gallery of tasajara


The gauntlet when you first enter the garage - please ignore the cat boxes (yes, 4 boxes for 3 cats - supposedly this is the ratio you're supposed to have according to somebody, probably some shadowy kitty litter exec or something)
From gallery of tasajara


Inside the garage is a big mess. Well, it's not THAT bad, just sort of a mess - it's somewhat organized and you can at least walk through it. Just ignore that....unless you want to buy something (NOTE: We are doing a BIG combined BGG auction later this month and a couple of the games on the table might be in it...)
From gallery of tasajara


I just looked closer and there's not really much to see in that pic I guess other than a bunch of boxes. On the table is Skirrid and Power Barons....

Here's the wall that we had built to create an art studio for myself back when we first moved into the house.

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


The original garage was actually deep enough for 2 cars on this side. This seemed like a spectacular waste of space, so we converted it. Now, here's a small shop area where I get to fix things my kids break. Or fix game boxes in need of repair. And, oh yeah, any manly stuff my wife needs done gets done here. Well, most of it....

I wanted a door with glass in it so that light from the room would help light up the garage, and also it kind of makes a connection between the garage and the room. You can also see if someone is trying to sneak up on you.

Well, here we go inside....
From gallery of tasajara


You will see some art supplies and various paintings strewn about in here. See, before I got into board games (and predominantly before I met my wife, got married, had kids and otherwise mucked up my wide open schedule for doing stuff I want to do) I was really into oil painting. I still am 'into' oil painting, except I never get around to actually doing it. It always seems I have a gazillion other projects for my free time now, usually related to gaming.

Here's an example of the last painting I was working on:
From gallery of tasajara


Ah well. I keep telling myself I'm going to sit down and paint again but it still doesn't happen very much.

Here are some shots of some of the paintings that you get to stare at when sitting at one side of the table:
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


Oh yeah, there's a crokinole board on that wall as well...I sometimes forget I have it hidden back there. Need to pull that sucker out again soon....

Lower down on the floor is this Pachinko machine that my dad bought 20 years ago.
From gallery of tasajara


It was in my room growing up and now I have it but never play it. I need to get it working again as my son is very interested in it.

Notice the back wall here is painted black.
From gallery of tasajara


When I was putting together the room I didn't want bright colors that would reflect on paintings and affect the look of them. But, I also didn't want a completely white room either. So, I decided one wall would provide some nice contrast if it was all black.

Also notice the 'square' motif going on - square window, square sconces, square block shelves, square wall....

To contrast that, I have a round ceiling light for the center light.
From gallery of tasajara


I LOVE the light rays coming out of it...I ordered the light online and noticed this cool feature, but the picture did NOT do it justice. Having it in the room makes me happy for some reason.

I also have adjustable lighting like you might see in a museum or art gallery (in fact, it sort of gives that art gallery feel). The only problem is that they are all halogen lights and they get HOT. Which, of course, heats up the room quite a bit which is good in winter, not so good in summer.

We have air conditioning pumping into the room, but sometimes it isn't quite enough.

We did put in an exhaust fan (primarily to vent out an paint odors, etc) and sometimes I turn it on to help pull out the hot air.

Over here we have my movable art rack.
From gallery of tasajara


(oops, it's kind of a crappy pic) It's big and heavy and pretty much stays right there. It has all sorts of sizes of canvases that I've gotten for good deals here and there. Poor things, they just stare at me blankly all day long.....sorry, couldn't resist.

You can also see part of a wooden shelving rack from the daughter of my wife's long-time friend who passed away from cancer a couple of years back...it's a nice small reminder of her and I like it despite it being slightly wobbly and a little inconvenient with the slats.

I think it's a plant stand but I use it for storing various gaming supplies, plus my nifty scanner up there on top.

Well, that's it. How do you like the room?!

Oh yeah!

I still have to show you all the games and related 'stuff'!

Here's the game wall.
From gallery of tasajara


That is SUMO shelving. It has a honeycomb center which makes it really strong and which allows it to hang out from the wall like that. I love the look of it.

However, I still really worry about it though...sometimes it creaks and I fear it will fall and crush me with the weight of a 100 boxes. I sometimes have nightmares of the entire wall coming crashing down on my, boxes flying everywhere. Sometimes I even think just before I come into the room "I wonder if all the shelving is still up on the walls". And, it always is. Yes, the clips holding it up are all drilled directly into the studs and I added an extra bracket in the middle of each to give it a bit more insurance.

But I still worry.

Further down on that wall there is a low shelf where more games are stashed as well as gaming parts, boxes and some art supplies.
From gallery of tasajara


That shelf is there because we had to build over the exposed foundation wall -- well, we could have left it exposed it wouldn't have looked nearly as nice. this also allowed for insulation and -- the 'floor shelf'! I actually really like it for keeping smaller stuff off the floor and out of the way.

To the left of this pic on the same wall are a couple is a craft cart my wife gave to me when she decided she didn't need them which I stuff all sorts of extra gaming bits and dice into, plus my gaming bowls and my dice tower.

From gallery of tasajara


There are also two small totes full of all my smaller games that take up space on the shelves inefficiently. They're also great for grabbing to take with me to game nights and other events.

Above that on the wall is a white board for writing down possible games for the evening when game night is at my house.
From gallery of tasajara


Here's the gaming table. This is from a couple of days ago when I was sorting through a thrifted copy of Clue Master Detective.
From gallery of tasajara


Here's what is looks like at this exact moment:
From gallery of tasajara


These are items I'm gearing up to put in the BGG auction I mentioned earlier. I'll post here on my blog once the auction goes live. I just have a few items in it (actually 13) but my other friends have another 125+ items in it.

I got this table for $40 from a Craigslist ad. The table cloth is an irregular one that I bought with 2 others (black and tan) from an online store that was clearancing them out.

Here's one of the 6 gaming chairs I got from St Vinny's last month for a grand total of $12.50!
From gallery of tasajara


They were just what I was looking for: cheap, padded, with arms, and cheap. Did I mention cheap?

Hiding behind the table on the back wall is this other 'floor shelf' that has a set of speakers, some knick-knacks, art supplies and other goodies.

From gallery of tasajara



Hiding even further behind the table is a stack of unopened games....
From gallery of tasajara


Next up after the thrifting stuff and updating my Dominion card dividers for Cornucopia is getting these opened as well as the new version of Factory Fun!

Well, that's the grand tour! I've got a lot of stuff crammed into this room, but I love it! I'm considering trying a different layout with the table but I think I'm going to have to keep it like it is now as there isn't too much room to maneuver. The new chairs crowd the room just a bit because of the arms on them, but I love having arms on my chairs so....it's worth the bit of inconvenience.

Thanks for stopping by! Now go out and enjoy the nice summer weather before heading in for a nice game or two!



Oops! Almost forgot! If you thumb this post - and come back to thumb ANY BLOG post of mine this month (July) I will be giving away something special/game related at the end of July (I'm trying something new to see if I can encourage readers to let me know if they read my posts here on BGG or not since 'hits' are not actually available on BGG) - it will either be a copy of the Ticket to Ride map (in Northern Africa) + cards that my wife and I created and submitted to the TtR design contest OR it will be a really nice hand-made copy of Bongo! (made by me!)
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Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:31 am
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HOT BOX - 'Navegador' (What's in the Box?)

-matt s.
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Hello! Glad you could stop by again today! I want to show you one of my new games that I'm really excited about!

I had the opportunity to try Navegador on my last day @ Gamestorm 2011 earlier this year. I really enjoyed it. There seemed to be many different paths to victory and the score came out very close in the end (I squeaked out a victory although I think the experience players let me backtrack on one turn where I bought a spice factory a little too early on and they suggested I shouldn't).

I love the rondel! I love the achievement multipliers! I love the exploration aspect! I love how the market works!

I loved it enough to pick up my own copy of the game. Last weekend I finally got around to getting it punched and then played (well, we didn't quite finish the game but we 'saved' it with pictures so we can finish the next gaming session).

Anyhow, I took some pics while opening it. Here's the process of opening and punching it:

From gallery of tasajara

Box cover - Henry the Navigator, um, navigating...


From gallery of tasajara

Back of the box (there he is again!)


Why Henry the Navigator? Well, according to the booklet inside the box: "The explorations along the African coast guided by Henry heralded the Age of Discovery."

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

You know the drill - 2 cuts at the corner, then peel the plastic!


From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

The moment of truth.... (alas, no box fart )


There's something weird that I pay attention to that not everyone does. No, not box farts! Everyone loves those! It's how well the box top and bottom fit together. Some fit really tightly. Some come off easily. Some are JUST tight enough to cause a box fart. But, it seems to require a certain box HEIGHT to actually cause a box fart. The right combination of tightness and height brings you the joy. And, sometimes you don't get a fart when pulling it OPEN but when you go to CLOSE it....fttttt....ahhhhh. laugh

From gallery of tasajara

First look inside


I love the smell of fresh, clean cardboard and ink when first opening a box. I've always loved the smell of fresh paint and this is akin to that. I remember having a scratch-and-sniff book that actually had paint smell on one page and it was one of my favorites. I also enjoyed the gasoline and oil scratch-and-sniff stickers I found one time and had those all over my school folder one year.

But I digress...that smell of a fresh, new game is something pleasurable for me. That is why I take joy in getting a new game, not only for the excitement of something new to play, but also opening it and seeing what's inside, smelling the new smells, punching the pieces and sorting it all out.

So, let's see what we've got here:

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

The quick reference sheet, and the unpunched chits

From gallery of tasajara

Really fantastic looking board - love the old style map look


The board is well laid out with the market on one side, the buildings on the other side, the workers and privileges at the top, and the rondel in the middle near the bottom. Plus, the spaces you travel through to explore the Mediterranean Sea are cleverly laid out such that as you progress different goods come into the game plus it also works as the game 'timer' at the same time.


From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

The bag of bits, plus the rule book and an historical booklet


The booklet titled "Navegador: Historical Figures of Portugal" is interesting as it's just informational and not specifically relevant to the gameplay. It's nice to see effort like this put into a game - it definitely adds to the 'feel' of it.

Here are the figures discussed in the booklet (which is in English and German):
* Henry the Navigator
* King Manuel I
* Bartolomeu Dias
* Vasco da Gama
* Pedro Alvares Cabral
* Afonso de Albuquerque
* Francisco Xavier


From gallery of tasajara

Everything punched and ready to play!


And finally, here's the near end-game position of the game I played with my friend Bob last Sunday:


From gallery of tasajara

Near end-game position in a 2-player game


If you haven't played Navegador yet, I would suggest you give it a go if you have the opportunity. It is thematic, rewards long-term planning, has several different ways to play (and that changes, it seems, with different numbers of players) and yet, the choices on any given turn aren't overwhelming due to the rondel!

I've really enjoyed playing this game and look forward to more plays in the near future (hopefully).

And, if you can't play this game, I hope you get to explore some other new or interesting game soon instead.

BTW, if you thumb this post - and come back to thumb ANY post of mine this month I will be giving away something special/game related at the end of July (I'm trying something new to see if I can encourage readers to let me know if they read my posts here on BGG or not since 'hits' are not actually available on BGG) - it will either be a copy of the Ticket to Ride map (in Northern Africa) + cards that my wife and I created and submitted to the TtR design contest OR it will be a really nice hand-made copy of Bongo! (made by me!)
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Fri Jul 1, 2011 10:27 am
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TIMELY TOPICS - Time to Game, Time to NOT game

-matt s.
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I was looking at my most recent posts and realized I've only posted twice this month! I've come to the realization that I probably will only be able to post once per week writing to the depth I've been writing in the past. This month has been particularly bad as I've been particularly busy.

And, I have a hard time just writing shorter posts in a quick manner as normal blogs tend to be written. However, I've seen other blogs with fairly short posts and they can still be interesting.

So, I'm going to try to fill in shorter posts about topics of interest without going into to much detail.

I can already see this is going to be tough for me.

So, my topic today is TIME. More specifically NO TIME to play games because life has just been too busy. I know this happens to many people and that's why I wanted to talk about it.

May and June are traditionally busy for our family due to birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, etc. This year it was PARTICULARLY busy as the kids were also doing softball/baseball plus dance classes. So, I decided to look back at the calendar and give the breakdown since June 13th (my last post):
* Ceremony where my daughter 'graduated' from Elementary school to Middle school
* 8 kids' baseball or softball practices
* 10 kids' baseball or softball games
* 4 kids' dance performance dress rehearsals
* 2 kids' dance performances
* 2 birthday parties for my son (one for 10 kids, one for family)
* 1 additional birthday party for my daughter to attend
* clean the house
* grocery shopping
* mow the lawns - twice (and it desperately needs it again now but will have to wait a bit longer)
* kids' field day on last day of school
* parents visiting in town
* cook full barbecue for 10 family members
* Father's Day
* 12th Wedding Anniversary
* Trip to the Oregon coast (had to cut this short to only 1-1/2 days
* Dinner out for my son on his actual birthday
* Birthday pictures @ JCPenny
* Son's baseball pictures
* Scouts awards/crossover ceremony and potluck

I think there was some other stuff too. And yes, that really was all crammed into 16 days! A couple of the days were absolutely non-stop.

Yes, I did manage to get a couple of games in this past weekend, mostly with my son and a couple of great games with my friend Bob on Sunday.

Unfortunately I missed the EGG Game Day on Saturday due to 2 baseball/softball games that exactly broke up the day enough that I couldn't fit in the EGG day.

I definitely work to try to find time to get some gaming in (I want to get all my games played as much as I can, right?), but I also work to balance that with regular life. My wife feels that I have been spending too much time on gaming related activities. It may definitely be the case that I spend a lot of time thinking about games, playing games, making game player aids and custom pieces, playing games, reading about games, buying games, taking pictures about games, writing about games, and playing games.

But I also feel like I'm not shirking my other duties to my family. I could just as easily spend all my time around TV or movies or rebuilding cars or whatever. It's the hobby I enjoy most so I can't help spending a lot of time on it.

I think the key is finding the right balance - when to game, and when to NOT game.

My wife has pointed out that conventions can be a problem. Gone all day for 2-5 days, maybe a couple of times per year. I admit that taking time off from work to go to the Gamestorm convention each spring is somewhat of a problem. No, a rather big problem really. I definitely feel guilty being gone for that amount of time, and it really irks me that it happens during Spring Break when the kids are off from school. I love going but it costs money and takes away from family time. Next year will likely be a break away from Gamestorm for me as a result.

Beyond conventions is the weekly gaming. If I could I'd be playing games every day, but that's just not happening. I've been very lucky to find lots of different gamers available in my area. I can usually coordinate gaming with someone on my own schedule. The important thing is to find an appropriate time.

In the past, I would have someone over when my wife would go out and do something with one of her friends or her mom. However, this became a problem because sometimes the kids needed managing (showers, homework, dinner, etc) and this conflicted with focusing on gaming and being a good host to my guests. Ok, mostly the gaming for me as most of my friends are understanding that I have kids to deal with. Anyhow, I would get frustrated and sometimes didn't give the kids the attention they deserved. But, I've been learning how to better balance that and take the time needed to get them going without being frustrated...as I said my friends are understanding. I still don't like leaving them sitting alone for extended periods though.

But, we are making a shift now so that either my wife or I will be available to make sure the kids get the attention they need. I also need to cut back a bit on how often gaming occurs. Or, at least try to keep gaming with friends to once a week or every 2 weeks, with maybe an extra day here or there, and then squeeze in gaming as appropriate with the kids. My son in particular seems to really enjoy gaming and has been getting into it more and more, although my daughter loves certain games like Dominion, Thunderstone and Stone Age.

I used to be able to get my wife to play games, but she seems to have backed off more and more lately. I even put together a Ticket to Ride based on her design idea that we entered into the TtR design contest, but I think she only played it twice total. Of course, I only played it a handful of times as well.

It's just not her thing so I don't try to push it on her anymore and encourage her to partake in activities she prefers instead.

Well, that's all I've got. I'm sure if I came back tomorrow I could write a ton more, but I'm trying to keep it shorter, right? Well, that failed I guess...

I'm curious as to how others manage their game time versus personal time. I suspect single people and people without kids will likely have more time to fit gaming into their lives, but whether that's true or not I have no idea.


BTW, check back for my next post. I'm going to start offering a monthly prize drawing to everyone that thumbs my blog posts in a month and thumbs to this post will count as entries for the prize I offer in July. And, yes, it will be game related! You'll have to wait for my next post to find out what it is!

Now, go find some time and play a game. I know you've got a few milliseconds in your schedule for at least a filler!
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Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:40 am
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10+4 Questions with Antoine Bauza about '7 Wonders'

-matt s.
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This is only my second 10+4 interview with a game designer about a specific game they have designed - I've been hoping to do more but haven't been on the ball about pursuing more. My first one was with Sean Ross about his game 'Haggis' and I got some really great responses from him.

The concept of the 10+4 interview is to ask 10 questions, then after receiving the responses, ask 4 follow-up questions.

For this 'interview' I asked Antoine Bauza if he would answer some questions about his game '7 Wonders' and he graciously agreed to do it - well, he said he'd try to when he had a bit of time. My initial timing of asking him was just a couple of days before the Spiel de Jahres announcements. And, once I saw that 7 Wonders had been nominated I knew the chances were low that he would have the time to get back to me - surely he would be swamped with more important inquiries.

Much to my surprise I got responses back - first asking me to send my questions to his email address (rather than via BGG) then he let me know what timeframe he would respond in.

Now, my 'method' for the 10+4 interview is to send 10 questions then 4 follow-up questions after receiving the responses. However, it seemed to me that based on his schedule, getting a response for the 4 follow-up questions might be inconvenient to expect those back anytime in the near future - completely understandable considering the circumstances. So, a week after I sent the 10 questions I sent the +4 in hopes he might be able to respond to them all at once.

And, yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to get his response! With all 10+4 questions answered! Well, I didn't get DIRECT answers on the first 4 questions (see below for details) but I was still very happy to have gotten his response at all. I was truly impressed that he made the effort for little ol' me and my blog.

Anyhow, here are the questions and answers with some of my commentary interjected for explanation and more detail.

(Read the interview....)
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Mon Jun 13, 2011 12:19 pm
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FRESH BAKED - 'Qwirkle' by Susan McKinley Ross (Review) - Lucky Charms the game, or Brain Food for the Avid Gamer?

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Ok, here goes. I don't want to hear any complaining that I'm looking to get a bunch of attention due to my writing reviews of first '7 Wonders' and now 'Qwirkle', recent Spiel de Jahres nominees (well, Kennerspiel de Jahres for 7 Wonders).

From gallery of tasajara

Qwirkle box cover


Honestly, it's purely coincidence. I will freely admit that I did the 7 Wonders review and timed it with the nominee announcements only because I'd just opened and played the game and it worked out well that way. HOWEVER, I did not also intend to open, play and review Qwirkle just because it was nominated as well.

As fate would have it, several days prior to the announcements, I literally opened and took pictures of BOTH games on the EXACT same day. Seriously! When I saw Qwirkle was on the SdJ list I was astounded, not only because of the openings foreshadowing the announcements, but I was also thinking "Hasn't Qwirkle been out for a while?!" Who would have guessed (well, here in the US at least) that it would be nominated or even considered? I mean, it was first released in 2006! Well, apparently it was just released in Germany in 2010, thus qualifying it for the SdJ.

Anyhow, that's my story and I'm sticking to it! And, in case you don't believe me, I can show you the timestamps on the pictures. Actually, here they are:

From gallery of tasajara

File properties as proof...


After the announcements, I considered sending Susan McKinley Ross (Qwirkle's designer) an interview request but then I heard Garrett's Games podcast from Kublacon over the Memorial Day Weekend (which included her, Richard Borg, and Aldie) and knew that it was pointless then as I wasn't going to top that...there might be a few interesting questions to ask, but I don't think I'll pursue it at this point.

But, I can still do a review, right? Ok, now that I've gotten that out of the way, here's my review.

THE REVIEW
Qwirkle is a very simple game in terms of rules and it sounds a bit like Scrabble (the similarities here are undeniable, although there are definite differences as well):
On your turn, play tiles of various colored symbols from your hand to form 'words' (the rules call them 'lines' but 'words' makes more sense when describing it, especially for Scrabblers)
* All the tiles you play must legally create or extend ONE existing word.
* It's possible to also create/extend branching words, just like in Scrabble.

Score points based on the word(s) you create.
* You get 1 point for every tile in the word you create or extend, even if you only added 1 tile.
* If you create/extend additional words branching off of that word you also get 1 point per tile for those words (thus, some tiles might be scored twice, once per word they are in)
* You can also earn an additional 6 bonus points for completing a 'Qwirkle' which is a 6 symbol word (the maximum length)
* There are no other bonuses.

That's it!

Ok, sorry, there's a bit more info that's important to know:
The tiles have 6 possible symbols consisting of 6 possible colors on them.
* There are 3 sets of these tiles.[/b]
* Thus: 6 symbols x 6 colors x 3 sets = 108 tiles, so 3 of each color of each symbol.
* This is important to remember, especially as the game draws close to the end as you know what tiles haven't been played yet and, conversely, you can determine if ALL tiles of a particular symbol and color are out.

From gallery of tasajara

The sealed block of tiles you get (3 layers of the same set of tiles)


A WORD consists of one of two things:
* x different symbols, all of the same color (where x = 2 to 6)
* x of the same symbol, all of different colors (where x = 2 to 6)
* NOTE: x different symbols of x different colors is NOT a legal word - each word has one and ONLY one similar attribute - symbols OR colors.
Thus, the smallest word you will create is of length 2 and the longest word you will create is of length 6, making a range of 2-6 points per word PLUS 6 more points in the case of a 6 tile word. Of course, creating branching words will give you additional points although getting huge scores in 1 play doesn't happen very often - I think the biggest score I saw was 15 --> 12 for completing a Qwirkle (6 tile word w/ bonus) + 3 for also extending a 2 symbol word by 1 tile.

The only other thing to know is that there is no board and there are no doubling or tripling bonuses outside of the Qwirkle bonus (which is effectively a doubling bonus).

Board Game: Qwirkle

Example end of a 2-player game


Wait, you can't play that!
The first thing we noticed when playing Qwirkle was the difficulty in understanding what is and isn't a legal 'word'. In Scrabble, the dictionary TELLS you what is and what isn't legal (i.e. you 'know' what words you can play). In this game, it's just gibberish - thus likely the reason for calling them 'lines' in the rules as you can't read them like words. Sure, you could list them all out, but a simple description is generally all that's necessary. Regardless, it's still easy to get a little confused until you get the hang of it.

Board Game: Qwirkle

My Dad contemplating his move mid-game.


There were several times we made illegal moves (we THOUGHT they were legal), counted up the scores and added them into the totals, only to discover later they were illegal. Fortunately, we usually discovered it only 1/2 a turn to a turn later, so it was easy to backtrack. The mistakes were discovered when the other player was looking over the board and then realized certain plays would be strangely illegal and it made us realize something was wrong.

You know, this game looks kind of childish - bright colors, simple shapes and fairly simple rules. In fact, it kind of looks like Lucky Charms (that yummy kids cereal)!
Yah, I kinda had that same feeling seeing this game. I'd heard rave reviews about it, but there are rave reviews about other games that truly are children's games - they end up being fun, but not something I'd normally pull out with a bunch of adults (ok, some kids games are fun with just adults, but not too many).

From gallery of tasajara

Oooooh! Pretty tiles!


But Qwirkle is deceivingly challenging and it's definitely not a children's game despite it's colorful and playful appearance.

Read more for the final analysis....
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Mon Jun 6, 2011 9:02 am
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TIMELY TOPICS - Confessions from an AP Prone Gamer

-matt s.
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I'm an AP gamer. I admit it. If I'm not careful I'll slow games down due to my over-analyzing of a game. The good thing is that I'm aware I have this problem, this affliction. The bad thing is that sometimes I fall into the realm of AP during a game and don't even notice it - and this can be an issue. If you game with me, you can expect it to take longer than what is suggested for the game. HOWEVER, I have been actively working to keep my AP problem under control, so when I say it may take longer, it now usually only takes a little longer. Most of the time....

WHAT IS AP?
In case you aren't aware what AP means, I suppose I should try to define it. AP stands for Analysis Paralysis. What it means is that a player can get stuck analyzing a situation on their turn for so long that they seem to be paralyzed with indecision and, in fact, they likely are - they can't get to the point of making a decision and completing their turn.

I'm sure you may have seen an AP gamer here or there. Nearly every gaming group has one. In reality, just about anyone can suffer from AP from time-to-time. However, a true AP player is someone who CONSISTENTLY takes a long time to take their turn, even if the choices may seem obvious to other players. A true AP player not only takes a long time, they often cannot decide which decision to make about a move and this may be truly baffling to other players.

Now, sometimes spending a long time on a turn is expected. Chess is a good example. People EXPECT you to take a long time on your turn. Chess is a notorious game for this sort of behavior. It is part of the culture really. Perhaps this is why some people are intimidated by Chess or refuse to play it...they can't deal with the length and depth of thinking that is required to fully analyze the current board position.

But, there's an important distinction here for what is expected/necessary for a game. Chess typically has players competing 'in their minds'. They are thinking of hundreds of possible move combinations in their heads. They are planning out multiple moves in advance for themselves while also trying to anticipate what the other player is trying to do and prevent anything catastrophic. This is especially important when you consider that money or prestige may be on the line. This isn't to say you can't plan out several moves in advance in other games, just that it's more critical in chess with the idea that several lines of planning should really occur to be successful.

However, I don't know that I would define that sort of behavior as AP. The reason is because they are still DOING something in their mind - it just takes a long time. But, it's still possible for AP to creep in, to get to the point where the analysis is leading nowhere and a decision cannot be made. This is why they have chess clocks, to force players to manage their time and keep them from falling into an AP mode.

On the other hand, AP gamers take a longer than expected amount of time on their turn. This idea is what I think is the crux of the problem - the EXPECTATION of HOW LONG a turn should actually be during a game. If one person is taking longer on their turn than everyone else expects them to be taking it, then they might be considered an AP player by that group, even if they aren't 'spinning their wheels' so to speak.

The interesting thing with this idea is that AP may mean different things to different groups. I, as an AP player, love taking my time on a turn and not feeling rushed about it. With some people I play with, me taking more time on my turn is fine and they aren't bothered by it at all. Other times, I might be playing the same game with someone else and, if I don't take my turn relatively quickly it becomes a problem for them.

How do I know it's a problem? Well, I'll get to that in a bit.

WHY AM I LIKE THIS?
So, what's the deal? Why am I an AP gamer?

My initial, knee-jerk response to such a question is: I don't know.

My next response is: Well, if I think about it longer maybe I can come up with some reasons why....ha!

Well, here are some reasons I have thought of that may suggest why I'm like this:

1. I'm hyper-competitive and I want to win every game.
* Because of this, I want to make sure I cover all my bases for every move, even if the move I want to do seems obvious. This sort of leads into the next item on the list, but in general, I'm just making sure I haven't overlooked everything - I want to make the best move possible.

2. I don't want to look like a fool for making a stupid move.
* I hate making a move and then realizing it was really dumb. Some groups/people will let me backtrack if this happens, especially if I'm a newbie, but I still don't like taking a move too quickly and just making a horrible move, especially if it will put me out of the game.

3. I sometimes get bogged down in the rules and don't ask for help.
* When I'm overwhelmed by the rules and possibilities, I can get stuck spinning my wheels because I just can't get a grasp on what's happening. This is why I LOVE player aids that spell out your possibilities - it at least gives me some options to work from.
* Also, I don't always want to ask for help. I might not want to reveal my move/position. I also might not want to admit I need some advice on a possible move because I have no clue what I'm doing. I'm an independent thinker and I know I can get to an answer. And, I likely can, it just may take a really long time.

There may be other reasons as well, but these are the most obvious to me. Of course, it would be ironic to make a huge, exhaustive list here, but I refuse to do it. See, I'm getting better already!

A TALE OF TWO AP PLAYERS
So, as I'm writing this I'm coming to a realization here. The symptom of me as an AP player is the amount of time I take to complete a turn and that length in relation to the expectation of how long a turn should take.

The CAUSE of this symptom is actually one of two possible things as suggested by my 'reasons' above - optimization and wheel spinning.

The Eternal Opimizer
I think I fall more into this category most of the time. I'm always looking for the best move or combination of moves. I spend a lot of time evaluating all of my options. To justify this, I feel that if I'm at least looking for good options and actually DOING something in my mind and considering the possibilities, that this is less of a 'problem'.

This problem can be addressed easily if I recognize I'm taking too long and just make a decision. It may not be the 'best' or 'optimal' decision, but at least I'm not holding up the games for others. This is especially important for me to do when there are multiple people and/or when I'm taking WAY longer than everyone else. It's also important when I'm new to the game - I likely won't understand all the nuances anyhow and so making what looks like a decent move should be sufficient.

Cutting off my thinking at a particular point can be a difficult thing for me to do, but ultimately I know it's beneficial to everyone (even myself even though I want so much to win). I don't want people to NOT want to play games with me again due to my AP, so I try to maintain a certain sense of balance.

It's funny, I sort of relate this to a chess program I used to have on our old Atari 2600 - Video Chess. It had 'difficulty' levels you could choose for the computer AI. If you chose something on the easy end (levels 1-3) it would 'think' with the screen flashing random colors from 10 to 45 seconds and then make a move. But at higher levels it would 'think' for much longer, flashing colors for up to 12 minutes or even 10 hours if you wanted it to, covering thousands or even millions of possible moves. This was very cool, but also very frustrating having to wait. I knew what it was doing - it was evaluating more and more possible future moves, traversing the ever expanding tree of possibilities into the great depths of the game. Sometimes, it might make the same move whether going to 2 levels or 7 levels of analysis. And this is one problem of the AP'er - exploring the depths of the game much farther than necessary.

When I recognize I'm taking too long, I think about that chess program and try to use my 'easy' settings so that people don't get tired of my colors flashing - and, besides, my level 2 depth of thought may be just as optimal as a level 7 depth!

The Spinning Mind
I sometimes fall into the category of the 'spinning mind' - getting stuck on your turn where you're not sure what you are going to do. Usually this involves a couple of possible things:

1. Having too many options and, even though I understand what my choices are, I'm not sure where to start or I get stuck in circular decisions or not seeing any good basic moves.
* This most often happens during new games where it may be explained well and might even have a good summary reference, but it's so open or has so many options that it's hard to know where to start. Sometimes this type of game it can be crucial to make good decisions early on and, when you're not sure to do I can kind of panic a bit and get stuck.

2. Not understanding the rules enough to make any kind of decision at all.
* Sometimes I might miss rules during the explanation (distractions, focusing on other rules too long, etc), sometimes I might not understand them enough to be able to parse them completely in my head, and sometimes there are rules that I just don't get. All of this can lead to having problems making a decision about my move. This may also include not even remembering what all of my options are.

The 'spinning' mentality was something that was more likely to happen when I was first getting back into gaming - all the 'common' mechanics were new to me, the depth was more than I was used to, and the decisions to make were often overwhelming, even in games that I now consider pretty easy. I sometimes even now can have this happen to me, but I think it happens less often now due to other actions on my part that I try to take.

Taking this into consideration along with my desire for not wanting to ask for help, it used to be a real problem and pushed me often into the horrible AP mode that can ruin games for other people.

THE PROBLEMS IT CAN CAUSE
When I first started getting back into gaming I would many times spend a lot more time on turns than I should have. Honestly, I didn't know. I used to play chess in Jr. High and High School so I was used to taking some time on turns and it didn't bother me.

One evening, I was playing these new and wonderful games with my friend, Chris, who was indoctrinating me. Unfortunately, he had to put up with my horrible AP. It obviously became really bad when we were playing Colossal Arena which is supposed to be a game of fairly quick decisions and play in under an hour. I don't know how long it took us but much longer than the suggested hour. MUCH longer. I was taking FOREVER on my turns. Honestly, I was even somewhat aware of taking a long time but I just wasn't sure what to do on my turns.

Chris asked me politely if I'd heard of the term "AP" and proceeded to explain what it was. I was a bit embarrassed and, honestly, I don't think it helped me much knowing what AP was. I was still stuck. I think we eventually finished the game, but I'll never forget that night, how I felt about realizing I was an "AP" gamer, even in my fledgling career as a Board Game Geek.

I know now that the real problem for me that night was not really understanding the rules, not really understanding what I was supposed to do on my turn, but still wanting desperately to win. I didn't ask for more help as I felt like I should be able to play based on the explanation, but it just wasn't clicking for me at all. I had a great time overall playing games that evening, but that memory leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and it's something I try very hard to avoid now.

Here's something important I should say now: I'm REALLY happy that Chris was able to let me know about AP. I got the hint. I don't know that it particularly had an immediate impact for me that evening, but it at least make me aware of how I am and eventually led me to want to avoid being the AP player that slowed down the game and ruined everyone's fun. Thanks Chris!

(What do I do about it to avoid these issues ? Click to read the rest...)
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Tue May 31, 2011 1:35 pm
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