Archive for May, 2011

3 from the shelf

May 31, 2011

I returned from a business trip, (oddly from a symposium scheduled over the Memorial Day weekend), just in time to host game Tuesday night.  As it happened, I played with three new(ish) players.  One had played with us just a time or two before, and a while ago at that.  The other two players were coming over for the first time.

I mentioned in my previous post that I like to match the games to be played with the interests and proclivities of the players at the table.  We stumbled around trying to figure out what might be a good fit, as we didn’t have any history together.  I ultimately offered Moongha Invaders, as I thought it might be a decent bridge between strategy and fun.  I think folks had some fun with the game.  Moongha is a funny game.  There really is some game to play – but the theme is rich, and it is entirely possible to play to just have fun, not really worrying about whether you are winning.  I think the rich theme disguises the game underneath.  Even so, while I like Moongha, it is just a fun occasional game for me.

With three new players, I wanted to mix things up, and find out what sort of games people like.  So I proffered Siesta, a damn good but highly abstract game.  One thing I really like about Siesta is the thoughtful play, the room for observation and brilliant moves.  Best yet, it comfortably plays in less than 1 hour.  Siesta seemed to earn a better reception than Moongha.

We still had time, so with a bit of time left we decided to play Saint Petersburg.  This is a classic Eurogame, and I don’t have too much left to say about it.  Saint Pete is an easy game to teach, and reasonably straightforward to learn.  Saint Pete was the best received game of them all for our table tonight.

A fun evening of gaming and three new players who were well met.  I hope to see them again across the game table!

It’s a 10, except when…

May 25, 2011

Rob got me thinking about pleasure and games with his comment to my last entry. I’ve been assigning too much importance to the game, and not enough importance to the other players. Its been so long since I gamed with anyone I actively disliked that it hadn’t crossed my mind that playing a game with a certain someone might inhibit my fun.

This is a strong reminder to me about why I only play games with friends, and in private settings.  To be sure, the Bistro game group keeps evolving.  Old players tend to fade away, but new folks tag along with old friends, and we seem to maintain a steady state of a couple of tables of gamers from week to week.  I rather like that the game group has this organic cycle.  That’s not to say I’m indifferent to people fading away – I am a bit sad when folks drop out of the regular rotation.  But my policy has always been to welcome those who come, and to never guilt-trip people to returning.

Details aside, I do truly enjoy the Bistro Players.  Each of them are fun gaming companions.  But to get to the point of my title – WHO I am playing with has a huge impact on whether a “10” is really a “10”.  Now this seems obvious, and I’m convinced most everyone does this – but you gotta select a game that allows everyone participating to have a chance at some fun.

I rate three games a “10” over on BGG:  Planet Steam, 1830, and El Grande.  Wonderful games, and ones I always look forward to playing again.  But even so, they are only a “10” if I am going to play against like-minded strategy gamers.  If my wife were to indicate she would be interested in playing a game, I would never suggest any of these to her.  She has very different tastes in games.  And while I rate these three games a “10”.  I would get no satisfaction playing any of them, if my opponents were not enjoying playing the game with me.

In fact, playing a moderately good game can be elevated to (temporary) new heights in my estimation.  A good example would be my one and only play of Hameln.  A game Rob taught me earlier this year.  We played with two female friends, and the hilarity and camaraderie at the table made this game a real highlight for me.  Honestly, as much fun as I had, I wasn’t tempted to buy the game for my collection.  It was a good game, played with great players.  Or to say it another way, I had a great time playing a good game.

And that’s my point.  I would much rather have a great time playing a good game, than have a miserable time playing a great game.  I think this is where having a reasonably large collection of games can be a real asset.  You need to know your players, and have the knack of proposing games that suit your players’ proclivities.  It is also handy if you are a glib ‘splainer of the rules.

One of the reasons I keep my collection somewhere near 300 games, instead of more, is to be facile about which games I might suggest.  I see people go into overload when they survey my wall of games.  While I own and display close to 300 games, about 1000 have passed through my hands.  Had I kept them all, I would also go into vapor-lock trying to suggest which game should be considered.  Adding to this, I have a varying command of the rules to the games I own, but generally speaking I am decent at explaining them.  But I have my limits, and were the collection 1000 games, many of them would be routinely ruled out as I would be unable to easily explain them.

So what have we learned?  That I over think things, I think…

Ratings, yawn…

May 23, 2011

I played Pillars of the Earth tonight, and had a good time playing it. It got me to thinking about how I rate games. Since I realize this is a boring subject, you can tune out now – maybe I’ll have something a little more pithy in a future entry.

I use two different rating systems. On BGG I am forced to use their 10 point rating system. But here at home we use a home-made system at the Bistro. Here it is:

Poor – a game you would prefer to avoid.
Okay – a game you might agree to play, but would never request
Good – a game you enjoy occasionally
Excellent – a game you very much admire and wish to play repeatedly
Personal Endorsement – a game perfectly suited to your tastes in games.

For me, I have been relating the BGG 10 point scale to the above system, something like this:

9-10 = Personal Endorsement
8 = Excellent
6-7 = Good
5 = Okay
1-4 = Poor

This stance has largely worked for me. But I’ve also grappled with the “novelty factor”. Most games are good for a handful of games, as you learn how to play them. Honestly, with the large variety of games at hand, many games never get played enough to properly evaluate them, as we never give them 5 plays in relatively quick succession.

Another issue in ratings is the “owner’s bias”. I’m aware that I have it, and I’ve perceived it in other too, or so I believe. And this seems human. I just bought this game, so naturally I am predisposed to like it…

Whatever the rating system, it’s the nuances between good to great games are the ones that seem most interesting. Using the 10 point scale, I don’t see much advantage in exploring the nuances between a game I rate a 3 vs. a game I rate a 4. Either way, I’d prefer to not play them.

But the nuances between a 6 and a 7 seem still a bit blurry at times. I think, for me, the owner’s bias may be the first filter. “Do I like this game enough to own it?” If yes, it probably graduates to a 7. If not, it probably falls to a 6. But there are (hopefully) great games I don’t know about yet. So the owner’s bias seems to only apply to “Good, but not great” games. Another counter-example is the merely okay game that I still like enough to own. Im Zeichen des Kreuzes is a personal example. I’d say this game is merely okay on a strict interpretation of my enthusiasm of the game. But the unusual theme (recreating the 1st Crusade) is such a great hook, that I find the game compelling enough to own, even if I don’t play it much (if ever). So I rate IZdK a generous “6”, which is often below the cut, as I generally want to only own games I rate a 7 or higher.

One other filter I apply to my BGG ratings is how recently I have played the game. An 8+ rating is especially prone to being marked down if I consistently don’t play it. There was a time when I was rating Carcassonne: The City as a 10. But after a several months of never playing it, if finally descended into the 7 zone – reflecting it is a game I like enough to own. Other games that I own which maybe never soared so high in my personal estimation can slip even further. I owned Manila for a while. Nice game, I rated it a 7, I suspect. But over time, as the novelty factor wore off, and it sat unplayed, I degraded it to a 6. And this is my signal to consider if I should sell/trade or gift a game. Eventually Manila left my collection, and I haven’t especially missed it. But it is a good game, and should someone ask me to play it (on their copy) I would happily agree. And if I were playing at the Bistro I would unhesitatingly rate it “Good”.

So what have we learned here? Beats me. Write me a comment if this made any sense to you.


May 22, 2011

Confirming I have 18xx stuck in my head, I recently downloaded Rails, a free software package that allows you to play various 18xx games in a hotseat mode. While there is no AI, it does allow you to play each position, and see how things would play out.

So far I hae been goofing around with 1830.  But I note various other 18xx titles are offered, although not games I have any/much experience with.

18xx – the play list

May 14, 2011

Recently I decided to make a geeklist over on BGG listing all the 18xx games that Alex, Chester and I own.  You can view it here:

In further news, Alex and I taught 1846 to John last night.  In a rather bizarre set of circumstances I ended up getting the Michigan Northern and the Steamboat company again.  So of course I took the Grand Trunk.  I set the initial value at 100, and enjoyed running this profitable company again.  However I made some late game mistakes, and Alex defeated me by roughly $500.  John warmed to the game nicely and was very competitive.  He finished within $50 of my score.

So we’ve recently used 1846 to entice two new players to 18xx.  I am hopeful they will join in on other 18xx games we try to organize.  Its exciting to be able to entice friends into this system of games!

More Train Games

May 11, 2011

We played 1846 the other day.  This was my fourth play of it.  We had four players, one of whom, Scott, had never played an 18xx game before.  I attempted to teach the game, and I guess I did okay.  But I felt a bit rusty myself on the rules, and we definitely had a few “oh, by the way” moments with some key rules.  Scott was a good sport about the emerging rules, and really enjoyed himself.  So I am hopeful we may have a new regular to add to our 18xx player roster.

1846 still impresses me.  I really like that this game rewards careful stewardship of a company.  I won the game, and I did so as a one-company man.  I was fortunate to get the Steamship private company and the northern Michigan company that gives you 2 free yellow tiles.  I was able to float the Grand Trunk Railroad which worked perfectly with this set up.  I quickly connected to Holland and began some very profitable early runs.  Steady growth, coupled with my high share value ensured my company had plenty of capital the entire game.  By no means was my victory a slam dunk, but I felt confident most of the game that I was pursuing an effective strategy.

But our session did remind me that teaching these games is demanding.  Oh, to be sure, learning them is even more demanding.  Even if I were a flawless teacher, the onus is on the new player to absorb a LOT of rules.  In our game, since Scott had never played 18xx before, I tried to first teach the basic concepts of Stock Rounds, Operating Rounds, separate funds, trains, routes and stock values.  And I think I did okay with most of that.  But after teaching all that what I failed to do was to carefully review the roster of differences for 1846 from 1830.  I assumed between Alex, Chester and myself that we were on top of all of these differences.  Not perfectly.  Throughout the game we kept finding mistakes we were making.  So my lesson learned was to slow down and review even known games as a group before we begin.

Afterwards, I was inspired to write a teaching guide for 18xx games.  I modeled it after 1830, but attempted to make it generic.  I’ll try using it the next time we have a newbie and see if it is any better than just using the game manual.

In other train game news, my copy of 1880: China arrived this past week.  I’ve read the rules, and it looks fun.  But it also looks long.  I found a few features of the game quite interesting:

Each player gets to select a foreign investor.  These investors start at pre-designated sites on the board.  They lease a train, lay track and build up cash.  They also get 1 share of whatever public corporation you initially found.  When your corporation merges with the foreign investors track, they give you the share, and you can raid their cash on hand.

1880 also breaks the structured Share Round/Operating Round paradigm.  Instead of using a set number of OR’s in between SR’s, the purchasing of trains is tracked.  If an entire round goes by with no corporation buying a train, the game is interrupted for a Share Round!  When this happens all the remaining trains of the type currently offered are removed from the game.  This is very different, and I can’t quite visualize how this will play out.

Another startling departure from normal 1830-type rules is the concept of “Work Permits”.  When founded the President decides whether to buy a 20%, 30% or 40% certificate.  A 20% certificate allows that corporation to build during 3 of the 4 usual game phases (yellow tiles, green, brown, and grey).  A 30% only allows activities in 2 phases, while a 40% certificate only allows track building in 1 game phase.  This adds a complication to the viability of corporations.

There’s more, but these three changes struck me as very creative and new.  At least I’ve not encountered these ideas in other 18xx games before.  18xx continues to draw me in.  These games have a powerful pull.  I feel really lucky to have local players who seem to share this fascination.

I wonder when we can play again…

Vinci revisited

May 2, 2011

Tonight we played Vinci for the first time on a Monday evening in several years.  We didn’t quite finish it, as we quit early enough to have time to try Mord im Arosa.  So we will finish up our Vinci game next week.  I am enjoying our game, although as the current leader perhaps that’s not a valid comment.

Vinci is definitely a “puss” game – which is to say a game you reach out and smack your opponents.  You decide directly which opponent will be your target, and do your worst.  And with Vinci, the combat is deterministic – so with no random elements, there is just the other players to level you off.

Despite these potentially bothersome traits, Vinci turns out to be a game I rather like.  It plays well, and the adversity encountered just makes victory that much sweeter.  But I will admit that generally speaking these multiplayer free for alls are often not a good fit for my tastes in gaming.  Vinci flows nicely though, enhancing my enjoyment of the game.

We were playing on the old 1st edition game, which does work. But there are several problems with the counters; and those rules are rough.  I’ve never seen the 2nd edition, I wonder if they worked out the issues?  I played Small World last year, when a friend brought it over.  It’s a fine game, and one I would happily play.  But both Rick and I have the old Vinci edition, and it is a fine game, so I will never buy the new Small World edition.