Random Thoughts on 2500 Plays
Steve Bennett
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I recently recorded my 2500th play. It seemed like a fitting time to reflect on some of the games that made up those 2500 plays. Join me now as we take a nostalgic look at the last 9 years of my gaming life.

Feel free to comment on anything at all.
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1. Board Game: Imperial [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:140]
Steve Bennett
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#2500

Let's start at the end. This is the game that put me at 2500. It's the game my friends Thies and Joel rate an 11. It's the game they willingly school me in any time I will play.

I suggested we play it because I had just played it with them a month before, and I felt that my familiarity with it might allow me to be competitive. Well, that baby thought was quickly tossed under the speeding bus.

I started off controlling Italy and England. Joel took Italy from me. I was OK with that. England was forever a turn behind everyone, and I was short of cash. I plotted how I could milk England with a good CEO bonus and then run to Investor on the rondel. I wanted the money so I could steal the sleeping Russian bear from Joel. I was so stupidly fixated on how to extract cash from England that I lost sight of Thies, who was floundering as the sole investor in Germany. Thies stole England from me before taxation. I spent the next hour with no money and no country. Finally, I cashed in on some investments and was able to steal Russia from Joel. I had a chance! I needed to spin the rondel and end the game with Russia at X5. Couldn't do it. England closed it out, but only after the other countries got to 2 or 3 or 4X. My holdings, principally in Russia and England, the top two countries, weren't enough to offset everyone else's more diversified holdings. Thies won big. Joel edged me for second. Kelly was 4th.

An epic game that had so many twists and turns. We started around 4:00, and with a break for dinner and extensive discussion afterwards, we didn't finish until past 8:30. I don't normally go for the 2+ hour games, but this was fun.

I've played Imperial 10 times now. I won the first time when I had veterans suggesting moves. Since then, I've been shut out. One day....
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2. Board Game: TransAmerica [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:894]
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#1

Now let's go to the beginning. I registered on BGG in March 2004. I didn't record any plays until August 8, 2004. At first I thought it was way too geeky to record game plays. I finally came around to the idea as a way of seeing how active I was at any particular time or following the ebb and flow of certain games or just reminding myself that I did indeed try some game.

On this day of August 8, 2004 I played TransAmerica, Like It or Lump It, 10 Days in the USA, and 4 games of Democrazy. Clearly, I was playing with my 2 kids and perhaps a couple of their friends.

I've only played Democrazy one time since then, though I still own it. I love a lot of Bruno Faidutti's games, Citadels and Queen's Necklace foremost among them, but this one is too chaotic for my taste.
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3. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2241]
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My most played game - 100 plays

OK, this is cheating. I've played a variety of prototypes over the years, some designed by others, some designed by me. They all get lumped under this game entry. I only record full games I play. If I just go through a round of a game in order to test some aspect of it, I don't record it.

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4. Board Game: Quilt Show [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:3425]
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The bulk of the prototypes I've played were various iterations of Quilt Show, the game I designed with my wife, quilt designer Judy Martin.

Quilt Show was one of the 4 winners of the 2009 Rio Grande Games Design Contest. It's expected to be out late this year. Recently we saw some of the preliminary artwork for it, and we were blown away. It's a tile-laying game, and each tile is a quilt block, one of 6 styles in any of 6 different colors. You're "sewing" blocks together in order to make the best quilts and win the best cash prizes in the game's 3 quilt shows. We've always felt that it was critical that the game have the right look, a rich textured look that would make you feel you really were making a quilt. The artists have exceeded our hopes. I can't wait to hold the published game in my grubby little hands.

Judy and I had long wanted to make a quilt game to capitalize on her name in quilting. We had gone through so many different ideas but always ended up rejecting them as flat or unwieldy or just plain stupid. Then in the spring or summer of 2009, while we were neck-deep in working on a book that would come out the following January, this design contest was announced. We realized it was our best chance to get past all the gatekeepers and get a game looked at.

For about 3 weeks we dropped everything else and tried to work through the issues we had had with our latest version of the game. Then one Sunday morning I woke up and had a moment of clarity. I don't even remember what it was now, but it was a linchpin for us. I ran out to our office and put together a quick prototype. We tried it out, and everything clicked. After that, it was a matter of fine-tuning various things within the game.

Judy put together a somewhat polished prototype and we sent it off to the Orlando regional design competition, where we took first place. The winners of each of 12 competitions around the country (of which Orlando was one) all met at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair for a chance to pitch their games to Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande. One game was guaranteed to be published, but Jay liked 4 of them enough that he agreed to publish all 4. The other three were Cavemen: The Quest for Fire, Spin Monkeys, and Octoberfest. The first two came out last year at Essen. I'm not sure of the timetable for Octoberfest.
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5. Board Game: Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 [Average Rating:8.01 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.01 Unranked]
Steve Bennett
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Most played game that's not a group of prototypes

I've played Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 a total of 96 times. I've played the base game 57 more times.

Europe - 55
Nordic Countries - 47
Switzerland - 38
Map Collection: Volume 2 - India & Switzerland - 27
Map Collection: Volume 3 - The Heart of Africa - 19
Map Collection: Volume 1 - Team Asia & Legendary Asia - 14
Mystery Train Expansion - 13
Europa 1912 - 10

And I've played the card game 7 times.

I don't know if Ticket to Ride is my wife's favorite game, but it's certainly her go-to game. After a hard day of work (on those occasions when we work hard), we often unwind with a game. It's often Ticket.

When we were designing Quilt Show, we wanted a game where the play was intuitive: draw 2 cards or lay down cards and claim a route. In our game you draw 3 fabric cards or you lay down fabric and take a block tile. There's more to it than that, of course, but we wanted a game whose mechanics were simple to grasp so it can be paced and played quickly.
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6. Board Game: Queen's Necklace [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1701]
Steve Bennett
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Best Game I've Played a Lot That Doesn't Get Enough Love

Above I mentioned two Faidutti games I love: Queen's Necklace and Citadels. Citadels is well known 'round these parts, but Queen's Necklace not so much. It's a great game with great art and great bits. I've played it 50 times.

You're collecting gem cards of 4 different types. 3 of the gems come in 1, 2, or 3 increments. The other, amber, is always a single gem. You also collect character cards or action cards that give you some one-time ability. You can steal from other players or force them to discard a particular gem. You can snatch up a just-revealed gem card. You can alter the popularity (and thus its value) of one gem. You can do several other things. 3 times during the game, a gem sale occurs. You secretly decide which gems you want to enter in the sale. Whoever lays out the most diamonds wins diamonds and earns money based on its popularity and its rarity. Rarity is determined by how many of each gem type were entered in the sale. You can add a ring to a gem type in the sale. If you win that sale, it doubles the value of the sale. It's as if you made two separate sales at that price. But wait...a king played with a gem type negates the sale of that gem. So if someone played 6 emeralds to win that gem and you played 1 emerald with a king, then there is no emerald sale. But wait...if the person playing 6 emeralds also played the queen's necklace card with it, then the player playing the king on the emeralds must pay the queen's necklace player 50 pounds.

I also like the system for taking cards into your hand. Each turn you have 10 imaginary ducats with which to buy cards. Each card has 4 ducat costs in descending order. When a card is first laid out, it costs the maximum ducat price listed on it. If it is not selected that turn, it is devalued one level to the next ducat price. On your turn you can take as many cards as you can afford with your 10 ducats.

The three gem sales in this game have a delicious psychological element to them. Should you play all of your gems or hold some back? Should you play a king and kill a sale? Should you hold back something you can win because you KNOW someone else is going to play a king on it? And because rarity affects the gems' value, can you win rubies with just 5 rubies or do you need to take it to 7 and risk making it less rare?

The three quilt shows in our own game were inspired by Queen's Necklace and, to a lesser extent, For Sale. You're trying to outthink everyone as you decide what to lay down. "They know that I know that they know..." on to infinity.

If you like some chaos and some psychology, I urge you to give Queen's Necklace a try.
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7. Board Game: Like It or Lump It [Average Rating:7.92 Unranked]
Steve Bennett
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My Daughter's Favorite Game

If you have a daughter and that daughter has a favorite game, then that game will probably show up high on your list of games played. I've played Like It or Lump It 50 times. This game was sold to Cranium and became Cranium Whoonu. I've played that 20 times.

Everyone is dealt some cards that say things like "the World Series" or "rap music" or "Brad Pitt." You look at your cards and give one or two of them face down to the lumper who mixes them up and then reveals them. The lumper ranks the cards from the one he likes most to the one he likes least. Each position in the ranking is worth some point value. You score points for where the card you gave was ranked. It's a quick game and a good way to get to know people.

My daughter has Down Syndrome and she is an inveterate list maker and thing ranker. "What are your five favorite North American cities?" This game is perfect for her. When we play the game with my son, too, he will gently lobby her, pointing out alternate ways of thinking about some of the cards she is ranking. Of course, he's doing this to his own advantage, so then we have to diss his ridiculous interpretations.

Our daughter likes to play games. She doesn't win that often (except at Like It or Lump It or Scene It: Disney Channel), but she knows how to play Ticket to Ride, Settlers, Carcassonne, Dominion, Acquire, Queen's Necklace, 10 Days in the USA, and many more. She's not usually strategic, but she's a more attentive player than many people with the typical number of chromosomes.
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8. Board Game: Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:506]
Steve Bennett
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Best Game I've Played a Lot But Have Only Played Once in Last 5 Years

Kramer and Kiesling gave us El Grande, one of my very favorite games. This is another one I really enjoy. It has beautiful components. Area majority games, of which this is one, are probably my favorite.

I coveted this game for awhile. When I finally got it, we played it twice that day. I've played it a total of 14 times but only once in the last 5 years. Why?

The bulk of my game playing is with Judy. This plays with 2, and plays perfectly well, but it's better with 4 or 5.

The other phenomenon is that I seem to have space in my brain for a finite number of games, and when a game falls off the radar for any length of time, it requires an effort to get it back to the table. Maybe I need to sit down with the rules before I can teach it or reacquaint others with it. Or if I play it, I'm going to be in and out of the rulebook while playing, making sure of one situation or another. Increasingly, I find myself sticking to the stuff I know well or is simple enough that I could never forget it or new things that someone else is teaching.

There is a cult of the new. I seem to be a part of the cult of the familiar. As someone who has a game coming out, I hope most people are in the cult of the new!

Anyway, I'll have to get Maharaja back to the table. It's a fun game that deserves to be played.
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9. Board Game: Bali [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:6063]
Steve Bennett
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Favorite and Most Played Word Game

I'm an English major. I like words. The word games I most enjoy playing are Bali, Scrabble, Boggle, and Gil Hova's Prolix.

In Bali you are taking letter cards from a group of cards in the middle of the table and adding them to one of your own word columns. You can take as many letters as will work in a single column. You can also steal an entire column from another player.

On your turn you either add to one column or you cash in one completed word column for points. Every consonant has a point value. You add up the total points in your word and multiply by the number of letters in the word.

We had the game for years and didn't play it. Then we brought it out and loved it. I've played it 26 times.

I played a prototype of Prolix at Protospiel in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Gil, whom I didn't know before Protospiel, and I drove to Detroit to take in a Tigers game and get our first view of Comerica Park. Gaming is about connecting with other people, and my memory of Prolix is tied to going to a ballgame with its creator.
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10. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:261]
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Best Filler

For Sale is such a great filler. It sets up quickly, plays quickly, and it has a wonderful psychological element to it. You have to know when to up the bid, and when to pass. You have to know when to play your Linderhof palace for maximum benefit, and you have to know when to drop that igloo. I've played For Sale 50 times and enjoyed every one.
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11. Board Game: San Marco [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:512]
 
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Favorite Designer

I'm sure I've played more games designed by Alan Moon than I have played games designed by anyone else. The whole Ticket to Ride thing is documented above, but my two absolute favorites of his are Union Pacific and this one, San Marco.

San Marco is another area majority game, this time with an I-divide-you-choose mechanic. Trying to figure out how to divide the cards in a way that won't hose yourself is a blast. I like a little chaos. This game has it. Honestly, there are so many little design details that are so perfect in this game. It really is a marvel. And the board is one of the most gorgeous boards in gaming.

As much as I love San Marco, most days I'd probably play Union Pacific first. I understand and respect the changes that went into the reimplementation of this game as Airlines Europe, but I prefer UP. The thing I like most is not knowing when the second, third, and final scoring rounds will occur. The tension in choosing to extend a railroad and grab a stock card instead of laying down the stock is so great. You have no idea when the scoring will occur. You better be ready for it, or else.

I've played Union Pacific 32 times and San Marco 31. I should point out Aaron Weissblum is the co-designer of San Marco. He and Alan Moon have collaborated on a number of the games I love and play frequently.

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12. Board Game: Pictionary [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:3857]
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Party Games

I got into Boardgamegeek through party games. I had designed a verse-writing (hence my handle) and was researching companies to contact. That exposure opened my eyes to the world of designer games.

We don't play a lot of mass market party games any more, but a couple come out more than the others: Pictionary and Scattergories. Pictionary we can only play when my son and daughter are both around. As I mentioned above, my daughter has Down Syndrome. You wouldn't expect her to be good at this game, but she is. Her only problem is she's sometimes too slow at getting her conception done. She has the idea for how to visually convey the clue, but can't get it on paper quickly enough.

Our usual teams in this are kids against parents. My wife and son are both good artists. My daughter and I are not. The kids win as often as not. My children have an amazing capacity to get on the same wavelength. I remember one time I was teamed with my daughter. She was intently drawing a difficult clue. None of us had any idea where she was going with it, but she clearly had something in mind. My son took the timer and put it on its side so that she would have enough time to finish her drawing, which she did. It was perfect for the word she was doing. I was as proud of my son as I was of my daughter. He had demonstrated equal portions of sportsmanship, curiosity, and love.

In Scattergories we modify the scoring. My girl comes up with incredible answers, just not enough of them. We let her keep all her answers, even if they were duplicated. We scratch out any duplicates with her. Then we triple her points. That makes the scores competitive. Sometimes she wins.

I've played Pictionary 17 times and Scattergories 38.
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13. Board Game: Tower of Babel [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:1316]
Steve Bennett
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Chris the Cat

I might not have gotten so involved in games had it not been for the incredible welcoming, inclusive hospitality of Chris Shaffer and Edie Bell. I noticed a post on BGG one Saturday morning that he was having open gaming at his house in Iowa City, an hour away from where I live. I dragged my son, who was probably 13 at the time, to Iowa City. When we arrived a game had just started, so we sat around and watched the game and looked at Chris's collection. Then we got into a game of Ticket to Ride, something we knew, but it was fun getting to play it with 5 people instead of 2 or 3 or 4 of us in our family. Then we needed to get back home. So I spent over 2 hours in a car just to play 1 game of Ticket to Ride. That doesn't sound like a very good deal. But we had a good time and enjoyed Chris and the people we met.

Our previous experience of dropping in on open gaming was at a game store. Everyone there was a regular. No one talked to us. Some punk kid introduced us to Ticket to Ride (which we bought because I knew my wife would love it), but the kid cheated at the game. It left a sour taste in our mouths, and we never returned to the store.

The next month we went back to Iowa City to Chris', but this time I brought the whole family. Chris had a little larger crowd, and it was a blast. Our daughter was readily accepted into the fold, even though she couldn't play games at the same level as others. It was just a friendly community of gamers.

Chris was great at teaching games. He would put up some great vegetarian food. People would bring homemade treats and exotic foods. Eventually Chris moved to Portland, and the hosting torch was passed to James and Chiara, who eventually moved to Italy via Illinois. The torch passed again to Chris R. in Iowa City and Thies in Cedar Rapids. It's all been good, but it all started for me with the Cat.

Tower of Babel is one of the games Chris taught me, and I associate with game days at his house. Union Pacific made a lot of appearances there, as did Shadows Over Camelot, and Category 5. A lot of games were played there. These are just 4 that I often picture when I recall those days.

Gaming is more about the people you play with than the games themselves. I feel very fortunate to have gotten in so many games with people whose company I enjoy.

Thanks, Chris.
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14. Board Game: Samurai [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:172]
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Game I Have Played the Most Even Though My Wife Hates It

The real answer here would be Ricochet Robots, but that is something I do with my son. He almost always whips me, though the catch up mechanism allows the games to seem close.

No, most of my games of Samurai are ones that I have to finagle in other situations. I almost never turn it down because I can almost never play it at home. My wife doesn't like it because she has to think on so many fronts. In fact, she's good at thinking on multiple fronts, so that sounds like an excuse grabbed out of the air.

Another game that fits this description is another Knizia classic, Through the Desert. Too many fronts, she says. When I'm given the chance to play it, I do. I've played Samurai 29 times and Through the Desert 19.

Both games scale well and play quickly. I love them. I wish my wife did.
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15. Board Game: Tammany Hall [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:574]
Steve Bennett
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The Next 2500

My next 2500 started off with an epic game of Tammany Hall, but let me backtrack a little. Chris had been anxious to try this, and we had a 5-player game going with DJ's copy. Halfway through the game, lower Manhattan was flooded. I spilled a beer, something I have never done near a game before this. I immediately started wiping it up with my shirt and spent the rest of the day with a beer-stained shirt. Amazingly, the game incurred no damage, but the cubes were displaced and the game ended.

Fast forward a couple of months. We got a 4-player game going. Chris now owned the flooded copy of the game, having bought it off of DJ. The game took a lot of twists and turns. No flooding or hurricanes occurred. Best of all, I came from behind and won the mayor's job in the last election and won the game by 2 points.

DJ deserves a lot of praise for not freaking out when I spilled beer on his game. He's a Ghost of Christmas Past sort of personality, and I'm glad I get to play games with him.

Who knows what the next 2500 plays will bring. I'm sure they'll be as fun as the first 2500.

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