Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Recent gaming action

Jenseits von Theben: We played this at Keith's session last Thursday. I enjoyed it a lot. I like the way the passage of time is handled - a bit like Around the World in 80 Days only more intuitive. I wonder if a similar mechanism could be used in wargames? Some actions take longer than others - so if you pick a long one your opponent gets the chance to do several shorter ones before your next turn comes around. Might work well in an Age of Sail game.....anyway, enough musing on red herrings. I like the archaeology theme of JvT , and the difficult decisions about balancing research in Europe with the chancier commitments to a big dig in the Near East. Sure there's a lot of luck in how many decent artifacts you find, but that's the skill - making the right decisions to optimize your chances. The production is a bit sparse, but this is such an excellent game I would be surprised if it's not given a face-lift soon by one of the big publishers. But what are Jenseits, that's what I want to know?

Shear Panic: Yes, Keith has a copy. Stuff some money into my Paypal account and I might give you his address, if you fancy a bit of breaking and entering. Basically this is a little abstract game with a bit of luck thrown in, played in three or four rounds with each with different objectives. But of course it is lifted by the superb playing pieces - those large, heavy, hand-painted comedy sheep, looking just like characters from Wallace and Gromit. Brilliant.

Zertz: The nice thing about this is you can stuff the whole game including the board in a large dice-bag and take it to the coffee-shop or pub. Which I have done with Phil a couple of times now. Highly portable, and looks great when it's set up. Phil usually beats me too. It's a strange game, very indirect. You can't just fight it out for what you want - you have to maneuver the other guy into a position where he is forced to give you what you want. Takes a while to get used to this.

Poker: Phil took Gavin and my shirts at Texas Holdem on Friday evening. On Sunday I persuaded Gavin to try Draw Poker (out of Sid Sackson's book). We both got pretty fed up with the rule that says you must have at least a pair of Jacks to bet. I can see it might work with a big table, but with two it was plain boring.

6 Nimmt!: I had a few rounds of this with Gavin once we got tired of Poker. It works well with two, I would like to try it with more some time. Fantastic, classic game.

Memoir 44: I've been soloing the Montelimar scenario, and I splashed out for the Eastern Front expansion and extra boards, which look gorgeous by the way. I've persuaded Keith to have a go soon, and I plan to try M44 online on VASSAL some time this week.

High Stakes Drifter: Another collectible card game, on a western/poker/gunfighting theme. Comes with a couple of poker chips! The guy in the Aldershot Games Shop popped it in my bag as a freebie with my M44 stuff - this is worrying, it suggests he is starting to think of me as a regular spender. If he starts offering me a discount I will know I've got a real problem!

The Napoleonic Wars and Throneworld: These have both been sold on eBay and packed off to their new owners in the post with never a pang. Strangely I was expecting Throneworld to make a better price, but in the event it went for just £11 but I got over £30 for The Napoleonic Wars. I lost my digital camera in November, in Cambridge on my birthday. Didn't even notice it had gone until Christmas Day. I'm just about to get a new one on insurance, and I'm waiting on that before the I can put the next batch of games up on eBay.

The War of the Ring: Painting of the pieces continues apace. Completed the dwarves yesterday. Only the elves and our friends from the North left to do now - plus the companions and minions of course, who will get a slightly more detailed paint job. (I bought one of those sinister looking frames with claws and a magnifying glass in preparation.) I'm really pleased with the results so far. I will post some pictures when everything is complete - if I don't lose my new camera in the meantime......


Wednesday, January 11, 2006


As a belated Christmas gift to you all, I've posted rules to a Diplomacy variant that I designed back in 1992, called Columbus. Here are the links:
I have also put them in the sidebar.

This was played quite a few times in various postal Dip zines in the 90s, so it has been thoroughly playtested - it works and it's fun! I believe it was popular in Sweden until quite recently......well "popular" as in half a dozen guys played it.


Monday, January 09, 2006

An evening with Type B slowcoaches

On New Year's Eve I met up with Sue, Linda and Balazs to celebrate with a meal and some boardgames. You may remember that these are new-to-gaming folks, but once again the inclusion of boardgaming activity in the evening was their idea not mine. This time I tried them with Carcassone, another noted "gateway game", which says 30 minutes playing time on the box. In the event we took a solid 2 hours, even though I gently prompted them from time-to-time about "not over-optimizing too much" and that sort of thing. Carcassone is OK as a game, not one of my favourites, but after 2 hours it had definitely outstayed its welcome. This led me to meditate upon the subject of slow gamers, and I came to the conclusion that there are two kinds.

Type A: These are experienced gamers whose desire to win completely overwhelms any considerations of courtesy to the other players. I heard recently of a player in an 1830 session who took 40 minutes to make his decision about one turn of a stock round. 40 minutes! And then he passed. In my view this is unacceptable. If your desire to win means that you are willing to make the evening a long dragged-out torture for the other players, then I do not wish to be in your gaming group.

Type B: Unlike the Type A slowcoach, these players are new to boardgamimg and have not yet mastered the skills involved in making your moves promptly. And believe me there are quite a few skills involved, which may take a while to master. Firstly there is the habit of planning your next move during downtime. Even in Carcassone where you do not know what your next tile will be, you can think about which tiles you would ideally like to see, so that if one of those turns up you just shout "Huzzah!" and whack it down. But you can also think about what to do if you are less lucky and you get a tile you don't really want - maybe there would be a way to use it that screws up another player? Plenty to think about there while you wait for your turn to come around. I know one gamer whom I won't name, who has been gaming for decades but still has the habit of zoning out while it is not his turn, then regularly has to be reminded when it comes back to him. Then he has his thinking all still to do. Gets frustrating sometimes.

Then there is the skill of knowing how far ahead to analyze and when to quit the analysis and go with your best guess. Some games in particular feel like they can be analyzed until you know you've chosen your optimal move, but in a time-frame that is inconsiderate to your fellow players. This is often associated with the end-game, as in the last round or two of Vinci, and can tack an infuriatingly dragged-out ending onto an otherwise perfectly enjoyable game experience.

And don't forget preparation for a game. Not always possible, but if you can spend some time beforehand internalizing the rules and thinking about your first turn, that will speed things up for everyone. It can be horrible being the only person at the table who knows the rules - never getting chance to think straight about your next turn because you are constantly being asked about rules or strategy advice, or simply monitoring the moves of the novice players for rules errors.

So - Linda Balazs and Sue were definitely Type B slowcoaches, and thus not culpable in the same way as Type A's. And hopefully it won't be too long before they pick up some of these skills I've been talking about. Then they will be well on the way to becoming perfect gamers like me......


Friday, January 06, 2006

Celebrate the New Year by crushing your friends

On Sunday I drove down to Cardiff, crossing the bridge in filthy weather to visit Nick for a couple of days of gaming to greet the new year. Dave was already there, and they were both getting over their hangovers when I arrived by sitting in the Robin Hood with a pint. We finally got back to Nick's flat and started a 3-player game of Sword of Rome, which continued well into Monday morning - with breaks for Nick's excellent chillie, a film (The Knight's Tale) and a few rounds of 6 Nimmt! (which I won). I played the Greeks to Dave's Romans and Nick's Etruscan/Samnites. Poor Dave took some big VP losses early on and Nick looked like a winner all through the mid-game. Dave periodically hammered me with the Carthaginians, but never consistently enough to really hurt me, and in the end I grabbed the win by a margin of 2 VPs.

We had a few debates about the quality of this game during play. I think we all agreed that the rules are very badly written and laid out. And the game has more fiddly bits than it really needs - a bit more polishing and simplification would have helped a lot. Unfortunately the errata and living rules have made the situation significantly worse (I blame ConsimWorld and the howling mob of grognards that greets every new game there) and in future I think I would prefer to play with the rules out of the box. Dave also felt grumpy that "his plans never worked" which I think is a less justified complaint - this is after all a card-driven game and as such you need to expect the unexpected.

Having said all this I still think Sword of Rome is an excellent 3-player wargame and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next up was Euphrat & Tigris, which Nick was keen to play as he wants to improve his chances against his girlfriend Dani. Not sure if we helped, as it was a bruising, high-conflict game which I just won by 1 point.

Dave had to go now but Nick and I faced up for another Euphrat & Tigris session, Nick still keen to pick up some tactics. Unfortunately early in the game he lost a big conflict heavily, and never got a chance to recover. I swiftly scooped up all but two of the treasures for a decisive win. I was getting embarrassed by this point - if they hadn't invited me along Nick and Dave would probably have had a nice weekend sharing the victories out evenly, but I came along on a big winning streak and left them both feeling a bit crushed.

Oh well - the guilt is wearing off now, but the warm glow remains. Besides, my winning streaks are pretty rare so I will bask in this one while it lasts......