Heuristics
Paul Lister
United Kingdom
London
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Welcome to this week's secret hangout of the Swedish Meatballs, a division of BGG's GameChat League. You can access the subscription list here and the wiki page here. Only members are to add items (please add your weekly games played), but civil comments from non-members are welcome.

This Geeklist was inspired by Maarten’s putative Kickstarter campaign mention in last week’s meatball list– ‘Likely you do not want to support this game. I'm not kidding. This is serious stuff for serious gamers. Fanboys of thematic cruft and confounders of depth and complexity with 'having lots of buttons to push' should click away now.’

Not only do board games keep me entertained but they also teach me a thing or two. ‘Heuristic’ was a word that escaped my vocabulary until I read the wonderful ‘Characteristics of Games’. The book (please read it, it makes entering into about 95% of the non chat league debate on this site redundant) describes how, in order to satisfy players, games need to ‘gain mastery over time...by developing heuristics : Rules of thumb that help them play the game’. We are not talking about the rules, it’s about how effective moves and winning strategies.

Rotation

lacxox - up next
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NateStraight
Patrick Carroll
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johnbandettini
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1. Board Game: Win, Lose, or Banana [Average Rating:5.39 Overall Rank:15052]
Paul Lister
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The book describes two types of Heuristics, the first is 'Positional Heuristcs'. That is ‘evaluating the state of the game – that is tell you who is winning’. Now one characteristic I am going to add to this is that perfect positional heuristics might be a bad thing – we may need to allow for different skill levels and understanding of games. The book asserts that ‘we ‘need to know if we are winning or losing’. In my own experience this, perversely, seems to be more important to casual or occasional gamers rather than hobbyists who can often go through the whole of a complex economics game and not know their relative position until the end of the game.

Now my questions for you chaps is 1) how important is it to you to know how well you are doing in a game? Does it matter 2) Can you think of examples of games positional heuristics that you like 3) Games with positional heuristics you dislike (shipyard i’m looking at you)
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2. Board Game: Following Directions [Average Rating:2.00 Unranked]
Paul Lister
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The second kind is ‘Directional Heuristics’ – ‘that tell you what strategy you should follow’. My first question to you is how important is is the ability to ‘have a plan’ in a new you to game. Are you happy to think on the fly as the new game unfolds or is it important to identify (some sort) of strategy from the get go? Secondly – most new games appear (to me ) to sell them selves on heuristics gained from previous experience, for example I know that having more workers is usually a good thing. Do you like to buy games where you expect to pick up the directional heuristics easily? Or do you look for games where the directional heuristics are going to be new to you?
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3. Board Game: Tree of Knowledge [Average Rating:5.12 Unranked]
Paul Lister
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‘ A great deal of enjoyment in a game comes from ‘Climbing the heuristic tree’’.

How much importance do you put on gaining a degree of mastery over any particular game you have played and enjoyed? Have you spent any time (when not playing) analysing a game or reading strategy articles? Would gaining some prior heuristics spoil the enjoyment of discovering a new game?
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4. Board Game: The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:3086] [Average Rating:6.21 Unranked]
Paul Lister
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The book suggests that a characteristic of a 'good heuristic' is that it exists at all levels – from beginner to advanced player. Is this true? Are there any examples of games that that you like that don’t have multi-level heuristics? If so why.
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5. Board Game: Europe Aflame [Average Rating:5.43 Overall Rank:13666]
Paul Lister
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The book suggest that a lot of modern Euros have bad Hueristics because the complete beginner struggles with too many options. Do you think this is true? Can you name some examples of euros that manages to be both beginner friendly and challenging for the more experienced player that you like. Are you now so deep into the hobby that beginner heuristics are unimportant in the games you play?
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6. Board Game: Genius Rules [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:10423]
Paul Lister
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Feel free to discuss game heuristics further under this item.
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7. Board Game: SET [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1239]
Justus
United States
Las Vegas
Nevada
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Speaking of beginners, I had a non-gamer friend in town this weekend. As such I showed him the gamestore just so he could see the world at hand but everyone was just starting a game so we just went home. We hung out and played a few fun silly brain-games on luminosity.com which led to me bringing out set. We (him, me, and my lady) didn't play competitively, just showing how to make sets. And then I took the cards and made an impromptu Skull and Roses deck and had fun with that also.

So light on games this week, hopefully I'll get a run at entdecker (with the Mark Johnson variant rules) and condottierre next week.
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8. Board Game: Terra Mystica [Average Rating:8.23 Overall Rank:8]
Brad N
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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_9_ Terra Mystica - 5 Players
_9_ Ra - 4 Players
_8_ Goa - 4 Players
_8_ Dominion - 2 Players
_7_ The Pillars of the Earth - 3 Players
_7_ Kingdom Builder - 2 Players
_6_ Max - 2 Players
_6_ Mississippi Queen - 4 Players
_5_ Beep! Beep! - 3 Players (x2)
_5_ Ticket to Ride: The Card Game - 3 Players (x2)
_4_ Operation - 3 Players
_3_ Treetop Trouble - 3 Players


This turned out to be a nice week of gaming with a pretty even distribution of quality games.

(1) Terra Mystica - I was able to play this game again right away and I'm sold on it. Again, it wasn't a game I was seeking out, but the variety and tough decisions that came up are really great. It's already earned my highest rating.

(2) Goa - I played the "New Expedition" and I like the changes to the game... they all seem to be improvements. Somehow, three of us let one player nearly max out all of his tracks and settle all colonies and finish with 5 expedition cards. He won with 65 points and I was second with 46 points. I think I've finished second in every game of Goa I've played with him and he's always finished first. It's just usually a few points that separate us, not 19 points. Yikes.

(3) Pillars of the Earth - My second play of this and it's pretty good. With the expansion, the cards to earn points have variety which is a good thing, I think. But, I ended up stuck with a bunch of metal at the end which is a bad thing.

(4) Mississippi Queen - I tried this with my wife and two kids without the passengers. It was bad and the kids didn't like it either. It's a very light, pass some time type of game with the passengers; without them, it's not worth playing.

(5) Treetop Trouble - Kids memory game that I tried with two of my kids for the second time. It was not very good again and this one will be leaving our collection. It looks cute and interesting... it isn't.

(6) Ra - I love Ra. We taught it to our neighbors and they seem to enjoy it too, despite both of them not getting to play two sun tiles each when the second epoch ended fast with a flurry of Ra tiles. My wife edged me out by 4 points.


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9. Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:893]
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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A good week!

Tuesday: Meatball night at my place!

_7_ The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet - I'd been lusting after this since I heard about it, and Paul brought a copy over for me. It's a simple drafting game with some nice twists and lovely connections to the source material. Don't be fooled by the charming artwork, it can be played pretty viciously by gamers!

_6_ Snake Oil - John brought along this amusing Apples to Apples style game in which you create products from word cards and pitch them to a specified buyer. I won the game, but John was the moral victor for trying to sell 'hand exercise' to the last man on earth.

_9_ Taj Mahal - I hadn't played this Knizia classic for far too long and boy did it show. I was off the pace from the start and even a huge hand of cards for final scoring couldn't make up the gap. George took to it like a natural but John, who is excellent at this game, pipped him by a point.

_9_ Kingdom Builder - Shepherds, Knights and Miners. I out-shepherded everyone but my knight-line wasn't long enough to hold off Paul's charge.

_10_ Ra - a nice speedy game of Ra with a viciously short final epoch ended up a tight 39-37-35-33 with George over me.

Wednesday: LoB

_7_ King of Tokyo - quick 4p match which I managed to win by elimination without buying any cards.

_10_ Pax Porfiriana - had a 4p teaching game scheduled, but two dropped out late. I taught it 2p anyway, and my opponent picked it up nicely. We have another convert.

_7_ Jackal & High - the filler hit of Eastbourne continues to impress, I definitely rate this higher than the very similar Las Vegas.

_7_ The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet - turns out 5p is pushing this beyond its limits on time and control.

_7_ Intrigue - vicious negotiation game played with a perfect group for it. Loads of fun.

Thursday: dinner with a friend

_8_ Equinox - I'm really enjoying this and managed to (just) win for once.

Friday: regular 2p opponent Matt back in town

_10_ Pax Porfiriana x2 - hard-fought battles both, with Matt just managing to squeeze out a Topple each time. This game just keeps delivering.

_8_ Equinox - Matt liked it too.

_7_ The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet x2 - taught Matt and Sarah. Three seems like the sweet-spot so far, but I'm interested to try 2p with its added bluffing element.

_9_ Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small - the expansion makes this a 9. Great game in which I again got seduced by the shiny new buildings to my cost.
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10. Board Game: Taktika [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:3868]
George Leach
United Kingdom
Godalming
Surrey
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Online
------
4x Go - Playing this regularly but sparingly online to get back some sharpness.
1x Amazons - Enjoying these but my opponents are very slow
1x Slither - Another game with John. I want to play more so if anyone is up for trying it out then please let me know. It was recently ranked here on BGG and started out at #200 on the Abstract lst.
1x Hex - Against John. I enjoy this game but Slither is so much more exciting.
1x Innovation - On isotropic. Running a little low on enthusiasm for it at the moment. There's variety, but then again there isn't. It's probably just a passing feeling.

Abstract Mondays
----------------
3x Shogi - Some great games against Stephen. I finally was able to enact a decent checkmate sequence (my weakness).
1x Taktika - Finished the night off with this great little dexterity game. It's got me excited to try making a copy and perhaps searching my files for Battle for Glyderion which has recently gone to Kickstarter or something.

I'm sure there was more but I can't remember what it was! Oh, we certainly played Stephen's Unpublished Prototype.

LoBster Meatballs
-----------------
1x Kingdom Builder - Finally, a face to face game of this. I enjoyed it and will be picking up a copy soon.
1x The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet - Liked this but didn't find the artwork as thrilling as others. Nice enough.
1x Ra - A great game of this. Some tension, snesible bidding and a tight finish.
1x Snake Oil - Enjoyed this almost as much as 'The Big Idea'.
1x Taj Mahal - Not bad for a Knizia...
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11. Board Game: Qwirkle [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:661]
Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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18NY (5p)
Flowerfall (3p)
Win Lose or Banana (3p)
Hex (George, LittleGolem)
Slither (George, LittleGolem)
Qwirkle (2p)
Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm (Keldon's AI)
Lokomotive Werks ("3p" game testing AI robots)


18xx day at the FLGS was Saturday. At one point, we were all sitting there, figuring out our moves, and a married couple making up half a 4p game of Pandemic at the next table started fighting. "This is the second time you've gotten that rule wrong, I'll show you! Look, right here! Page 4!" Then she'd counter later: "Do you have the Khartoum card? No? Then we can't go to Khartoum!" "Go here! We can't stop the red cubes if you go there!" "Why don't you play my card then?!?!" About an hour later, the organizer of the game day's voice rang out above the din from another table: "Well I'm sorry you're miserable. All games need a first play, right? We're getting rules wrong because we've never played it before, either, OK?" Sometime toward dinnertime, the table of Warhammer erupted in cheers.

I'm lacking that passion as of late. Partly because one member of Train Group had a baby and is on indefinite hiatus and another confessed he doesn't like Train Games. And while I'm happy for my neighbor's promotion, we'll no longer be playing on Thursdays during lunch because he can't work from home anymore. In the span of two weeks, I'm down a 2p opponent and half my Train Group. The ebbs and flows of this hobby are starting to wear on me.

The highlight of the week was my game of Qwirkle against my wife. I won thanks to the 6 point bonus you get from going out first. The scoresheet became the backside of our grocery list, but it was something like 238 to 235. I also tested a solo variant of Lokomotive Werks with two of my three in-progress AI opponents I'm messing with. It didn't work because I won, so something must not be right.
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12. Board Game: Hansa Teutonica [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:110]
Andrew
Japan
Tokyo
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I played more of that prototype traitor game, and through unmitigated bad luck lost.

Evo was kind of interesting, but the parasols were annoyingly theme-breaking (please, just use a Dimetrodon sail!) and I was beaten up by 2 of the other places and ended up a very distant 4th place (with around half the VP of the other players).

This week's 4p Hansa Teutonica was the most excruciating yet - we had my nemesis and the best Hansa Teutonica player of the group. There was a tonne of blocking, and by mid-game I had grabbed most of the easily accessible offices without upgrading a lot (4 times). This left me in the VP lead, but with weak powers and a massive cube shortage that the best player mercilessly slammed me for. I spent the rest of the game eking out claims while being kicked around. What annoyed me the most was the other players discussing how they could best block me. Thank god I won in the end, but it was an unpleasant experience.

In the future I'll balance upgrades versus easy points more, and try to ensure I get one of the good bonuses that can break a deadlock when you're being hammered (+actions, +skill, displace).
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13. Board Game: Rialto [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:766]
 
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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Played only on Wednesday, in the gaming club.

Rialto – What looks like a game inspired by San Marco (same setting, area majority, bridges between areas, placement & manipulation of your eurocubes driven by a handful of card types - doge, bridge, cube placement etc. -) is, in the end, a typical but less complex Feld game, with yawn, multiple ways to win (really, the two players with the highest score – a tie – were doing things completely differently; me, only a few points behind, chose a third way), but it’s just… Well, I didn’t find anything memorable (not to mention ‘novel’) in this game. It doesn’t even really have a spatial aspect which seems to me (too) important to me in games nowadays – Bora Bora had a lot more of it. This is not even really a map; the only map-ish feature that this rather abstract and too symmetric connection system

has is that you place 4-4 double tiles (bridges/ships) between areas, distributing the points that the areas will be worth in the end of the game. In the end, the many scoring options only make your decisions feel less tense; it’s just a bunch of mechanism ideas thrown together – they certainly work but are a lot less interesting, than, say, in Bora Bora, a game that somehow I start to appreciate more and more despite being a point salad (buffet), admitting it is... enjoyable in some interesting way.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple – I can see people are divided over this tile. But I must add that I love silly fun, especially if it’s tense at the same time. It’s just way overpriced for this amount of box contents and this kind of light dice roller – yes, extreme pricing by Queen Games strikes again – but it just moved on my wishlist. I’m going to have fun with this game with my kids too, in a few years.

TransAmerica – I haven’t played this one since I own TransEuropa and now I can see it’s really a bit more balanced than its younger brother. Enjoyable little game, one of the games where I have to say I admire the designer – the game works despite all odds; it’s a lot better than one would imagine, reading the rules.


No plays in the weekend; after a half-year-long winter the weather is really fine at last, so we went to the hills, 8 km was a challenge both for my post-thrombosis legs and my 4,5-year-old son but we both enjoyed being in the nature way too much... I enjoyed it and felt recharged so much that this weekend I didn't even miss playing board games. blush
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14. Board Game: Taj Mahal [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:313]
John Bandettini
United Kingdom
London
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Just the one gaming session last week and I think it will already be familiar to everyone.

I won’t go through everything again but a couple of comments on some of the games we played.

Martin kindly said I was pretty good at Taj Mahal and I must admit I have either won or been second every time I have played it, but this time I was really lucky.

I entered the last round in second place needing to take nearly everything to win the game. I had a pretty poor hand and thought it unlikely that I would get much out of it. I played one card hoping I could sneak one of the tokens and get a temple. But a funny thing happened, Paul dropped out and took Agra. Then Martin dropped out, as his hand full of cards was his best scoring opportunity. That left George and I still in and George was before me in the turn order and I suddenly realised he only had a couple of cards left and I could outlast him. So I did and took most of the tokens, to get within a point of George, my cards in hand then took me past him for a very lucky squeaky win.

Ra went the other way. In both the second epoch and the third I ended up as the last player with a bid and one more Ra tile to be drawn. In the second epoch I drew quite a few tiles and snatched the most Pharaohs away from George. At the end of the third epoch I found myself in a similar situation. A flood on the table, which if I took it I tied the leader. So I though, almost anything will win it, so one more draw. And it was a Ra. Oh well, he who lives by the sword and all that.
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15. Board Game: Nix [Average Rating:3.47 Overall Rank:15076]
Maarten D. de Jong
Netherlands
Zaandam
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No gaming this week. There was a slight possibility we could play some games now that we've turned to swaddling our little tyke (which has had an immediate and quite positive effect), but unfortunately his first shots made him quite feverish and generally ill (coughing a bit, blocked nose). You can't swaddle an infant when it's ill, so off we went into troublesome sleeping territory again... cry

We may even have to postpone our holiday to France; not something we had planned for as we already paid for a hotel so we could travel in leisurely fashion . In any case, we're going to have our GP check him out tomorrow to see if there's anything we can do to help the little guy recover quickly.

Edit In the words of the GP: Get your ass off to France. Yessir. Willdosir.
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16. Board Game: Wildlife Adventure [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:2424]
Justus
United States
Las Vegas
Nevada
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Thinking of picking up a copy of this game...though honestly I have a backlog so I should hold off. In any case...any thoughts?

I think Bruno Fadutti's website compares it favorably against Transamerica, which means its most likely a bit light for me....but the animal theme sounds fun.

Cheers!
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