Friday, February 01, 2008

The Other Games in the Box

I have nothing but praise for publishers or designers who include rules for additional games that can be played using the components of the game you just purchased. They've made a decision that they're not going to make you pay more to play a game that doesn't really need any more stuff.

It's giving away games for free. Kind of.

That a game box contains more than one game is a bit of extra incentive to buy the game to begin with, if you know this in advance. Or, finding additional games in the box might be incentive to buy the next game by the publisher or designer, since there's that possibility of some freebies included.

Of course, like other "freebies" - the flip side of a hit record[1], the 250g container of this food taped onto the side of your kilogram purchase of some other food, or the bonus gift that they'll throw in if you buy today - the additional game may simply not be good enough to warrant its own box. But it's free, hey? Who's complaining.

There are exceptionally good "other" games; I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I'm sure my readers can supply a few.

Sturt's Stony Desert

On the flip side of the tiles that come with the game Down Under (2007, designer: Günter Cornett, publisher: Bambus Spieleverlag) is the game Sturt's Stony Desert. It's a bonus game, completely and unnecessarily included.

The main side of the tiles with which you play Down Under are very pretty with indigenous Australian art symbols by the illustrator Ro Sate. The flip side tiles with which you play Sturt's Stony Desert are also pretty, all black with white drawings that look like wood carvings.

I like Down Under. It's a slight game which plays fairly quickly, which means that I'm not entirely sure how many games it's got in it before it begins to feel played out. But, as of now, I'm enjoying it for both 2, 3, and 4 players.

I tried Sturt's Stony Desert for the first time yesterday, and I'm afraid that either I'm playing it wrong or it's not passable as a game.

The heading text says that the game plays 2 to 4 players but that's a misprint; it's clearly a two player game only. You divide the tiles into two piles: those that have 2 curving roads and those that have 3 curving roads. You first place 25 of the two-curve-tiles into a 5 by 5 grid, attempting to connect your two sides of the board while denying your opponent from doing the same for his two sides of the board.

When that doesn't work - and it can't because you can easily block a road with the roadless side of another tile - you start laying the three-curve-tiles on top of the two-curve-tiles. This is where the game breaks down.

For one things, graphically speaking, it's extremely hard to see at a glance which tiles can still be played on and which ones can't. The tiles are thin and nearly all black. That's annoying. They could have made the three-curve-tiles have a different color background.

For another things, it's not overly challenging to make a connecting road, and once you do, your opponent must break it. And then on your next turn you get to make a another connecting road and your opponent must break it. And so on. The paths become ever more loopy and harder to trace, which means sitting and tracing them one by one each time it's your turn. This doesn't make it difficult it just makes it slow.

For the payoff, which we never got to, having quit in boredom and frustration, it's not worth the boredom and frustration.

Like many games, it's not based on a bad idea; the game looks like it could be challenging and maybe enjoyable. But it must not have been play-tested enough with real people. Sorry, Günter.


My daughter and I also played Gin Rummy one evening this week. She hasn't quite got the idea of knocking down, and it kills her on most hands.

Shannon Appelcline has a nice article about game expansions on Board Game News.

Hikaru no Go was a fantastic anime series based around a boy and a spirit who play the game Go. Now there's a series Shion no Ō based around a girl who plays the game Shogi (source).

The New York Times on the new socialization of video games.

The Daily Texan on the spread of Go to a local Go club.


[1] Some of you older people might know what that means.

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