Game Curmudgeon

A blog of lessons learned while designing board games in vain
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Musings on various games

Raymond Gallardo
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1830: Railways & Robber Barons
Board Game: 1830: Railways & Robber Barons
Yes, the old Avalon Hill version!
The last time I played this was about 10 years ago! I introduced this to a friend of mine who likes relatively heavy Euros and is very good with numbers. Some observations about this game after such a long pause:

* Arguably, it's easier to teach than a heavy Euro! 18xx games tend to be procedural. The actions you have to do have to be done in sequence -- you either do them or pass. So it looks like it's easier for players to absorb the flow of the game. Contrast this to a typical heavy Euro where you have a menu of about 10 very different actions you can do. However, the impact of your decisions in an 18xx game is much harder to predict than a typical Euro!

* For a teaching game, it is very helpful to warn players that you'll fuck them over. So I warned players I was about to rust all of their 2 trains (or was it the 3 trains, I forget). I also suggested to a player to sell off the stocks of my company so that she can start a new one, which really, really screwed me over.

* I managed to screw everyone over (but not by too much) by selling off most of the stock of one of my profitable corporations to start a new one to accelerate the train rush. It forced everyone to withhold dividends to get new trains. So everyone eventually had permanent trains in all of their corporations. Then I carelessly bought stock in another player's company. That player realized he'd be first in the stock round and asked if he could intentionally leave that corporation train-less, then dump that company on me. I said yes, that was possible! (And I had to do lots of dividend withholding to prepare for that!)

Even though the players figured out the basics of the game, I don't think they'd play it again. Nor me. It's simply too long, and there's way too much bookkeeping. My friend is a huge fan of railroad simulation video games, and he'd rather play that than 1830. As for me, I don't have the patience anymore for doing any arithmetic in board games. Nor play a game that takes 3+ hours to complete.

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
I got this game as a present for a friend who's looking for co-ops to play with his partner, and both of them are quite good with trick taking games.

I didn't care for the game much as I'm really, really not a fan of co-op games. What I'll say is this: For this game, players should have about the same experience with trick-taking games. Trick taking as a mechanic has a lot of subtle and opaque tactics that many beginners won't figure out quickly, potentially annoying players with more experience. (I heard another story from a friend who tried playing this with his friends and it bombed because they had really no idea how to accomplish some of the basic missions.)

Rather than talking about the game, I'll rant about why I don't care for co-ops. There's the quarterbacking and there's the the inadvertent (or intentional) cheating because of the limited communication rules to prevent the quarterbacking. But I find the incentive not to do these unwelcome behaviours isn't as strong as in competitive games. My theory here is that it's easier to cheat against a co-operative game's system rather than against another player. As for me, I'm not one to scold a player who "cheats" in a co-op. So I go the opposite direction. I ensure that anything I say is relevant to the game and strictly follow any of its limited communication rules. This is one reason why I don't like co-ops: They hijack the small talk and banter I love to participate in while playing games. For me, the primary joy I get from playing games is the opportunity to socialize, and I really don't like it if a game distracts from that.

Strangely enough, I love doing puzzles cooperatively! Here's a list of puzzle sites we've really enjoyed:

Puzzled Pint
Every month, they publish a series of 4-5 puzzles. They're a mix of logic and word puzzles, intended to be printed out and solved with pencil and paper. We would solve them via Zoom by one of us sharing a desktop, then using the Annotation tool to write our responses. Their puzzle archive goes back to 2010, so there are a lot of puzzles to solve. This is perfect for a group of 3-5 people.

Erich Friedman's puzzles
Sudoku-like logic puzzles, but on a smaller grid, but much more original and clever. There are also a lot of word puzzles, too. And mazes! Perfect for a group of 2-3 people. Here's an example of one of his puzzles (sovled):

Color Mazes: Find a path from the bottom left to the top right that passes through an equal number of squares of each (non-white) color.

External image


Twixt puzzles
You have to find the one move for white that will guarantee a win. Here's an example:
External image


Chess puzzles
There are hundreds of thousands out there as these have been popular for centuries. I still have to find a site that shows you why a particular move is wrong as some of these chess puzzles are hard.

Could you suggest a free site that has chess puzzles with this feature?

Raymond Smullyan's logic puzzles
We also did some logic puzzles from Smullyan's books Alice in Puzzle-Land and The Lady or the Tiger?.

Why do I like doing puzzles cooperatively but dislike co-ops?

The simple facetious answer would be puzzles aren't games!

* The ideas of winning and losing are gone. The competitive spirit found in games is gone, or at least neutered. The idea of winning suggests the domination over an adversary. The idea of solving a puzzle feels more like discovery or acquiring insight, which I think creates a better (and less absurd) atmosphere than players trying to dominate over a co-op's system or autonoma.

* There's none of that structure or etiquette of gaming, such as turn-taking or game component management, Puzzles are often more free-form. In particular, some of the Puzzled Pint puzzles are intentionally vague on what you have to do to solve them. Thus, it feels that solving a puzzle feels way, way more interactive than playing a co-op. In co-ops, players typically take turns and pick among a list of possible actions. In puzzles, that concept of "on your turn, do an action" is basically gone. People suggest possible solutions, show impossible possibilities, verify other possibilities -- all at the same time!

* Quarterbacking is welcome! Often we'll do a series of puzzles. Some of us are strong in a particular skill set and weak in others. I'm good with words but awful in arithmetic. So when a math puzzle comes up, I'm more than happy to sit back and act as secretary!

Falcon's Maze
From gallery of rayzg


I really, really wanted to like this game. It's an abstract with luck, it's been compared to Backgammon, and there's a route-planning element! But the game is tactically and strategically shallow.

The object is to move your two falcons from one side of the board to the other. They move like chess queens, but they can move only on counters you've placed. To place a counter, you place them a queen's move away from an existing counter; the distance you place it depends on a die roll.

What we found is that it's way too easy to move your falcons on the board. And the tactics about placing counters wasn't interesting enough. Strategy involved either placing counters for your falcons, or placing them to block your opponent's falcons.
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