Monday, March 31, 2008

Two kinds of people...

The following is a guest post by Seth Godin.

There are two kinds of people: people who play board games and people who don't.

Understanding this dichotomy goes a long way to understanding how someone is going to act in a given job or situation.

Give me a game player every time!

Seth Godin

Massively Multiplayer Online Board Games

The title of this post may seem strange, but these games already exist and are often known under another name: Massively Multiplayer Turn Based Strategy Games (MMTBSG).

What separates turn based games from other MMOs are the turns: instead of controlling an onscreen avatar as it's moving, you assess your current position and enter a series of commands for your units. When you turn is executed, there is a new position on the board.

Why that essentially changes a game from feeling like a "video game" to feeling like a "board game" is unclear to me. There are board games without turns, even a few rare strategy board games. I guess the idea is: strategy board game = think and make your best move from a static position; strategy video game = think fast and make a continuous series of moves from an ever changing dynamic position.

In traditional online strategy board games, even multiplayer ones, the system sends a message to the player whose turn it is (on screen or via email) and then waits, possibly an infinitely long time, for the player to make his or her move.

This won't work in MMOs, of course. So most MMO board games are played with set time limits for each move. These are called ticks, like clock ticks. All moves are then simultaneous. While a real-time game is continuously moving around you, turn-based games change state once every few hours or days, based on the moves relayed by each player. If you didn't send your move, you're out of luck.

In some MMO turn based games you are allotted time units at a certain rate. Different actions require different amounts of time units to perform. Time unit games feel less like board games and more like video games.

In traditional board games, there is generally a beginning and an end. Someone typically wins after some number of moves or after achieving some victory condition. In most MMOs the game is an unending series of acquiring resources or positions. This also makes them feel more like RPGs than like board games.

Integral to the sense of a board game is the ability to lose and start another fresh. Classic strategic or tactical moves are felt when they give you a feeling of definite accomplishment toward a set goal. The need to constantly be playing or lose all your work diminishes the idea of a "game-winning play".

Games with alternating turns are harder to adapt to MMO play than games already built for simultaneous play. MMO chess would be a light war game; many of the pieces would have to change functionality. But MMO Robo Rally or Boggle work great.

As usual, the definition of game can get in the way when discussing whether or not it's MMO.

Duplicate bridge events are played with thousands of people, each playing 24 or 28 hands. Is this a lot of people each playing a series of four-player games, or a massive amount of people all playing a single game with several rounds? Is the game multiplayer if it simply has a lobby where people chat and then slip off into game tables?

What if players gain or lose something after each encounter gaining resources in the bigger Game? Consider Magic Online. Each game is played one on one, but you accumulate cards and power in the overall Game.

The typical MMO board game is a war game. War games are easy to conceive, involve lots of different parties, pieces, and terrain, and the basics of tactics and strategy are built right in. The implementer has to decide what will be available, how fast to make the turns, and how to resolve conflicts.

The graphics of the game also add or subtract from the feeling of playing a board game. If the hexes or squares are visible, and the game looks two-dimensional, it feels more like a board game. If movement is more finely controlled, and the movement or graphics are three dimensional, it feels less like a board game.

GamesTotal runs two time unit games, Unification Wars and Galactic Conquest, both sci-fi games of galactic conflict.

PoxNora runs a game that looks a little like a CCG, but involves building fantasy armies.

TinyWarz is a turn-based sci-fi combat game on a grid.

1483 Online is a semi-massive online game based on a Risk-like board game. It plays up to 90 odd players at a time, and has a beginning and end.

And so on. There are numerous other less popular turn based strategy combat games.

Non-combat oriented games are harder to find.

Age of Chaos is a turn based castle building game. This game is played in "ages"; the game ends at the end of an age with a defined winner.

MMOSBG (Massively Multiplayer Online Strategic Board Game) is essentially a combat game, as well, but it's completely abstract so kind of has the feel of a traditional game. It uses time units.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Weekend Gaming

I got a call on Thursday afternoon asking me if I could host two teenagers on a month trip to Israel who need a place for shabbat. Sure, I said. I was supposed to give them a shabbat experience.

Gave me an opportunity to turn them on to games. Which is my kind of shabbat experience.

They had a pack of cards with them, so I knew they were casual gamers at least. They played the typical cards games: President, Rat-Screw, Crazy Eights, etc...

My first move was Blokus. Before shabbat, I introduced this to one of them while the other was resting. I was impressed with his play; he was both serious and casual, which made for a nice game experience. I won fairly handily, but we both enjoyed the game.

The next day I found them playing Crazy Eights when I got back from shul. While we waited for my other lunch guests, I introduced them to The Settlers of Catan. Big hit.

One of them was a natural. The other spent too much time buying developments cards. I won fairly handily, 10 to 7 to 5 (5 only due to Largest Army).

While we were playing, Nadine had arrived and started some of our other waiting guests on R-Eco, a very good light card game. They finished a game when my last guests finally arrived.

After lunch, I joined R-Eco for a second round, and then a third round. The other player besides Nadine was a friend who is not normally a game player and probably wouldn't survive a more complicated game, but really enjoyed this type of light game. She and I each won one game.

The three of us then played It's Alive twice, basic and advanced versions, and she won both games.

I then went to sleep while the teenagers went for a walk. When they came back they asked to play Settlers again because they loved it. I won again in a tighter game. The natural said he was going to pick up a copy when he got home. Yay! One more convert.

Oh, yeah. They, uh, also had a nice shabbat experience.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Thirteenth Week Posts

Why We Play Games - I've seen a lot of narrow lists on this subject, so I decided to be more inclusive.

If - a Rudyard Kipling parody.

A poem lamenting that Digg hates me.

All about shedding card games.

What happens if God sues all the IP holders?

In defense of hypocrisy.

I had to share the absolutely worst user guide in the entire world (I mean it).

Arguing for objectivity in arguments.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Session Report, in which we try Year of the Dragon

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Race for the Galaxy, Year of the Dragon, Bridge.

I continue to enjoy RftG, and also enjoy YotD on my first play.

Purple Pawn still needs more contributors. I think it's already doing a kick-ass job, but we need to cover more niches more deeply and also still gain more publicity. All help is appreciated.


Brenda on Video Games and the Media

Brenda Brathwaite has a new article on the media and video games in the Escapist.

Essentially, she can't understand why her friends all think that video games are bad, are for kids, and that kids shouldn't play them. She thinks it may be the media, but isn't sure. She solicits other people's comments on the issue.

My comments follow.

Brenda points out that "The same people who drowned machines in quarters back in the 1980s" complain about people playing video games today.

These are exactly the people who can say that video games are addictive. And these same people who played the entertaining but abstract games of the 1980s can say that many of today's games are excessively gory and violent compared to what they played.

Just because someone likes movies, doesn't mean he likes R-rated or X-rated movies. And the fact that someone was addicted to something once gives them the right to judge the activity as addicting.

There are a noticeable amount of games which are not violent and gory, but they're not the majority in stores near me. If more people are playing The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and Hoyle's Card Games, you wouldn't know it from from the conversations I hear from my kids and their friends. I walk down the aisles of video games in my local stores and most of them are excessively gory and violent by my standard. My standard is "more constant and descriptive violence than I would expect from an R-rated movie" which, by the way, lasts only two hours and is not violent the entire way through.

Brenda polled her friends as to how they felt about video games. "Oddly, no one cites the media in his initial response" ... "a former boyfriend would play for hours, upon hours, upon hours. Maybe I felt neglected, ignored and disrespected" ... "Many times as I called my son, I could hear the background noise of the game, which would mean very little concentration on our conversation" ... "

In other words, damn straight it is not the media influencing your friends, Brenda. They are giving you real first-hand experiences of the addiction and social-disruption that video games can produce. Their opinions are bases on the real world, not the media.

"So, games take the fall for the son's rudeness" is no answer. Sure, manners is largely a function of training. But an anti-social, absorbing, rushing activity makes people anti-social and absorbed. Does anyone easily ditch video games when they are called by someone else?

A video game must provide constant high level edge-of-the-seat entertainment, an endless series of engrossing and climactic battles. These same types of scenes occur fairly infrequently in a typical book or movie. Other activities don't need to do this. In movies there are moments of reflection. In sports, either the sport is over quickly, or there are moments in between each rush.

"At my house, we have an efficient means of dealing with such issues. You get a two-minute warning to save your game, and then it gets shut off. There is no negotiation." This type of training is never necessary for book-reading or music practice, right? Which means you had to set these special rules for video games, only. It is not then possible to argue that video games are not more addictive and socially-problematic.

When you then ask "Where the hell is all this coming from? If not the media, where?", you already answered yourself: from people's first-hand experience of dealing with children, boyfriends, and spouses who will not answer you and who are absorbed for hours or days blowing things up.

"It would be like the film industry being blamed for people making snuff films or amateur bedroom porn." is disingenuous, as is the fact that only six percent of the video game titles are Mature. Teen games are already excessively violent, and far more than six percent of games are Teen, Mature, or AO. And players play these games in a far higher proportion to the number of games they represent in overall titles.

Snuff films, porn, and liquor all have warning signs, are not available to minors and have social discouragement factors that violent video games do not. If violent video games were sold in adult only stores, the major video game press didn't cover them, and they were played only outside of the mainstream, that would be one thing. Take a look at the list of reviews on 1UP, the leading online video game source. How many Sims games there? A few sports game, a singing game, and the rest are killing games.

Imagine if the majority of the film industry reviews and sales were explicit war movies, or adult and snuff films. People would be writing articles about fuddy-duddies who complain about explicit violence and killing in movies; oh wait, they already do that. There's too much violence in films; arguing that video games are no worse than films is no great argument.

I've watched my son play popular games that are not considered ultra-violent, such as Age of Empires, Red Dawn, Rome: Total War, and so on; not even FPSs. And I insist on the sound being off, because I can't stand listening to hours and hours of realistic explosions and death screams. I don't ask him to turn the sound off in movies: the violence doesn't take up the entire movie, and it's over in two hours, tops. Plus, the story and acting might have some redeemable content.

For adults, playing at killing for an hour or two here or there is not a huge problem. But, like drinking, watching endless television, and other essentially wasteful activities, making these a habit is not something you'll be proud of at the end of your life. These activities, owing to the very fact that they are easy and entertaining, are addictive.

Violence in video games is not a media myth. It is the industry's laziness and appeal to a base brutality and fascination with violence in its consumers. The addiction of the consumer is also not a myth, although it is a lazy man's addiction, not a chemical or neurological addiction.

Instead of complaining about the perception of video games, work at maturing the industry so that it produces more games with less explicit brutality and violence, more content, more downtime, and more reflection; games that contain stories within a set time period and don't simply pump an endless series of violent thrills into your brain to keep you glued to the screen. Work at making the endlessly brutal games a small adult-only part of the larger world of games, like snuff films.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Day's Games on eBay

When I feel like writing something, and I don't know what, this is what you get. The following eBay auctions end on March 26.

The Grain Growin' Game, from 1982. I don't know much about the game, but apparently the event cards were written by disgruntled farmers.

Fidelity Electronics Chess Set. I had one of these. As I recall, eight levels of play simply meant letting the machine spend more time searching through the decision tree.

And why shouldn't there be a Dominoes dominoes set? From 1989.

Public Assistance is one of a few board games that actually got banned through the efforts of civil rights groups, welfare advocates and Maryland state officials. It's a political attack on the welfare system. More information.

A pocket air hockey game that really blows air (or so it claims). Neato. I can't imagine that the puck could be heavy enough for this thing to actually work.

The Monopoly Playmaster was an electronic addition to Monopoly that sped the game along. It enforced the sale or auction of all property landed on (that's actually in the rules), and occasionally forced you to sell your property back to the game if you didn't hold a monopoly, whereupon the entire block would be auctioned off.

Sex games come and go, but Xavier's Game was meant to be associated with Xaviera Hollander's book "The Happy Hooker," America's first celebrity whore.

Neither I nor the seller has any idea what this vintage game is about. It's just a series of cards with illustrations and phrases using the word "whip", "whipping", or "whipped".

I'm always a sucker for a Beatrix Potter board game, even if it's just a retheming of Snakes and Ladders.

There are always a few lovely chess sets, and one exceptionally beautiful one. This one is my pick.

"Can You Outrun His Tongue?" What were they thinking?

An anti-smoking game from the early '80s. I don't know how effective it was.

The Apollo Space Rocket Checker Game, complete with spinner. Another "what the heck is this?" game. From the early '60s.

Peter Pan Tiddledy Winks. I don't mind a pasted on theme, but you have to try a little harder than this.

There are places in the world where drinking is fine, but playing games is not. Or maybe just playing games while drinking is not.

If any game did not need a boxed version, this has to be high on the list. However, there are several ways that this could be played.

If you simply flip over the top card of your deck, like War, then you have a game which is, amazingly enough, even less interesting than the original, which at least has some psychology. On the other hand, if you have to choose a card from a handful, then there is some small element of card counting and hand management.

An abstract game, but a funky name Psyche Paths, with that groovy psychedelic lettering style.

The component of this 1971 game consists of a foam brick that separates into two parts. The rules are essentially: pull the game away from your friend while he tries to hit it.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Clean Out That Games Closet

Many of you have dozens, or hundreds, of games that you're not going to play. You played them once or twice, but will never play them again. You never played them at all. Or you don't have with whom to play.

It's time for spring cleaning. Take this opportunity to get rid of those unneeded games. Get rid of them, I say!

You'll feel better when you do. Don't give me those excuses about being a "collector" or keeping them for "nostalgia". Hogwash. You're just "a geek" and you're "lazy". Someone else is going to have to pick up after you, as usual, and you'll feel guilty about it when they do.

If, by some chance, you ever really need to play one of those hundreds of games you going to give away, you can always find another copy. Frankly, you should stop playing so many different games and start getting better at the ones you play, anyway.
  • Donate games to hospitals, shelters, and other places where people are bored, poor, or lonely.
  • Give them to your local church or youth center. While you're at it, volunteer to teach them how to play.
  • Give them to your local game group and let that guy or gal take care of them. If you're the local game group, find some other game group that wants them.
  • Swap them for games you may really want to play through Board Game Geek. Or, swap them for geek gold, and then trade your geek gold for what you want later.
  • Sell them for cash on eBay. You could earn enough for a nice dinner out. Some of you could probably earn enough for a nice dinner and still buy a boat.
If you have incomplete games, acquire the missing parts, trade your incomplete parts to someone who needs them, or trash the game.

While you're sorting through your games, take this opportunity to fix broken game boxes, throw away old score sheets, sort your game pieces back into the right boxes, and ensure that all your games are organized, dry, and clean.

And remember: you don't need to buy every game before you play it. You can play many of them online, or by a friend who has a copy.

So. How many games do you have collecting dust in your closet? Fess up!


Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Guide to Z-Man's B-Movie Card Games

The following is a guest post by Heather Johnson:

I consider myself both a die-hard gamer and devotee of bad cinema, so I was delighted to discover Z-Man's B-Movie Card Game series over two years ago. When I began my love affair with these simple, yet highly amusing games, there were only two sets in the series. What began as a parody of cheesy 1950's sci-fi movies evolved into a vast line of games, each poking fun at a different genre of b-movie.

The object of the game, which is worded so beautifully by Z-Man, is:

Players are making a B-Movie by playing Characters, Props, and Locations in their movie and sending Creatures to attack the other players' movies in order to kill off their Characters. SFX cards can modify attacks and do other wacky stuff. When Roll the Credits is played, the player with the most points wins!

An example of a character is the "Spoiled Little Rich Girl," while a prop could be "The Book of the Dead" and a location might be a "Cabin in the Woods." As you can imagine, just the random drawing of these cards can make the typical movie you'd see on basic cable television at 3am.

The series now includes the following games:
  • Grave Robbers From Outer Space – The first in the series, it combines everything you love (and hate) about old school sci-fi cinema.

  • Grave Robbers II: Skippy's Revenge – Skippy, a golden retriever, is a recurring character in each B-Movie game.

  • Kung Fu Samurai on Giant Robot Island – A send up of bad Asian cinema, from Yakuza crime dramas to giant monsters.

  • Cannibal Pygmies in the Jungle of Doom – It's pulp fiction adventure movie time! Indiana Jones, Tarzan, it's all here.

  • Beserker Halflings in the Dungeon of Doom – This one was released during the height of the Lord of the Rings movie craze, so there are plenty of elves and hobbits sprinkled throughout.

  • The Scurvy Musketeers of the Spanish Main – Likewise, this one took advantage of the pirate movie craze spawned by Pirates of the Caribbean.

  • Bell-Bottomed Badasses on the Mean Streets of Funk – This was one of the more hilarious in the series, poking fun at 1970's blaxploitation.

  • Bushwackin' Varmints Out of Sergio's Butte – The most recent in the series is about westerns.
What is even more brilliant about these games is the fact that they are all compatible. Yes, you can combine two or more decks to create a hodge-podge of bad cinema. Admittedly, I enjoyed the Grave Robbers sets the most, but they are all worth owning and great fun. If you are movie buff, then you will appreciate all of the humor and obscure allusions throughout each game. I can't recommend the Z-Man B-Movie games enough.


Heather Johnson is a freelance business, finance and economics writer, as well as a regular contributor at Business Credit Cards, a site for business credit card and best business credit card offers. Heather welcomes comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address

Weekend Gaming

I had a great gaming weekend.

Talking About Games

I was invited out for both meals. In both meals, my hosts or the other guests were fascinated by the idea of someone interested in board and card games, and I ended up talking about them a lot. I wasn't trying to monopolize the conversation, I promise; they were just excited to talk about it.

Something about the idea of taking games and fun seriously just gives some people a thrill. Others think the idea is silly; for those people, I can talk about less important things like politics, religion, literature, and so on.

Word Games

After dinner, I had a willing group of participants eager to play games. Luckily, I always have a head full of games, the easiest of which are word games. No components needed, easy to understand, and fun for non-gamers. My group was two thirteen years old girls, a seventeen year old girl, and a mom.

The first two games I tried were Opposites and Alphabet Minute. Both of these games really need to be played with rigid time constraints for each move; otherwise they just drag on and peter off. That's what they did here. My trouble is that I let people get the feel for the game by taking as much time as they need to come up with a word/sentence on their turn, and then never force them into playing with the time limit.

It also didn't help that they had trouble remembering in which order the alphabet was and a hard time creating sentences starting with a certain letter of the alphabet altogether, let alone one that continued the conversation of the previous player.

I decided to move on to Password, which turned out to be a HUGH hit. I don't know if I'd ever gotten a chance to actually play the game, and I always suspected that it would be really good. And wow, it was really good.

Password requires 5 players, optimally. There are two teams of two players each, and one manager. The manager creates the words or phrases that have to be guessed and then whispers the word or phrase to the hint giver on each team. The manager also judges and penalizes play violations.

Each round works as follows: the manager whispers a word or phrase to one member of each team. Starting with the team that lost the previous round, the member who knows the word or phrase speaks a single word (can't be a word from the answer, of course) in order to help his or her teammate guess the hidden word or phrase. The other team member has one shot to guess. If he or she gets it wrong, the other team has a go, and so on until one team gets the correct answer.

The intriguing part of the game is that you can listen to the clues and mistaken guesses of the other team. And you get to laugh at the weird clues and guesses that everyone makes.

We had a blast; lots of great clues, lots of great hints, lots of great guesses. And of course, lots of really bad hints and guesses. We played twice. And from what I hear, they were still playing it the next day.

Board Games

The next day was at Nadine's. She brought out It's Alive for the first game, which was fun.

The second game was 1960: The Making of the President. This was my first play.

1960 is a two-player area control election game. The only other election game I have played is Die Macher, and there are some similarities, but not many.

I enjoyed myself. We probably played a few things wrong. There was a lot of strategy and tactics; yet, I can see how familiarity with the cards and possible events will lead to deeper understanding of the workability of some strategies over others.

Without that understanding - possibly with the understanding anyway - there was a tad too much luck with the card draw. Some cards are just too good to be allowed to end up in only one player's hand throughout the course of the game. It would be nice to draw twice the number of cards each round and discard half of them; but then the tight decision of which cards to play and which cards to save for the debate wouldn't work.

On the plus side you have lots of possibilities with each card, and even bad cards can be used in good ways; or they're bad in one way but better in another. There are dozens of avenues to explore. You get to learn a great deal about the events from 1960.

It's a tad longer than the two player games I tend to play. But first game: I'm fascinated. Enjoyed it. Looking forward to playing again.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Twelfth Week Posts

Blogger Code of EthicsFirst off, a Blogger Code of Ethics. Adopt it for your blog.

My top ten board games as of a year ago. Hasn't changed much.

Generic mainstream news articles, so you won't have to read all those other ones - the press never learns.

Find out what type of player you are with my Player Quiz.

A Dr Seuss parody for Tom Vasel called Green Eggs and Tom.

My kids and I cross-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. I recount my experiences and give tips on how to approach the undertaking. Don't thank me, I'm a giver.

Time spent playing games; is it wasted?

What the words "You can do it" really mean.

Purim Dance

Tonight was Purim night, sort of, in Jerusalem ... it's complicated. I go to an annual dance party hosted by some friends: dark room, rhythmic music from anywhere between 1972 and 2002, and some nosh.

If I haven't danced in a while, it takes me about six dances worth of swaying to warm up. Once I warm up I can dance for hours. I've reached the age where I don't care what other people think about my dancing. I've learned through discipline how to make sure that every part of my body moves when I dance.

One of the characters in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkworld series said: "Only men [by which she means humans] sing, only men dance, only men cry."

It takes a night of dancing to remember how integral it is to my life. I forget if I haven't danced for a long time. What a shame. I should make it part of my life more often.

Tomorrow is Purim, sort of. I'll be at my parents for a festive meal.

Friday night and Saturday is shabbat, as well as Purim, sort of. I've been invited out for both meals, and I'll be gaming with Nadine in the afternoon.

Saturday night (also Purim, sort of) I'll be at another party - a jam - at other friends where the only music they play is between 1962 and 1972: Dylan, Dead, Band, and Beatles, essentially. I'll complain and they won't listen, as always. My fault for not playing an instrument, myself.

Sunday is also Purim, sort of. I'll be at another festive meal at yet other friends, this time a barbecue.

I need more weekends like this.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Session Report, in which we discover many flaws in Before the Wind

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Before the Wind, Puerto Rico.

We find many flaws in the game Before the Wind. And a newer player mercilessly slaughters Nadine and me in Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shakespeare on Games

Shakespeare knew the different definitions of the word "game", and used them to refer to actual games as well as games of politics, courtship, or intrigue. He also often used "gamester" to refer to a gambler or a chance-taker.


The first two parts of As You Like It's first act revolve around a wrestling match between Orlando and Charles.

In Troilus and Cressida, Nestor makes a brief offhand mention of the sport: "And I have seen thee pause and take thy breath, When that a ring of Greeks have hemm'd thee in, Like an Olympian wrestling: this have I seen; But this thy countenance, still lock'd in steel, I never saw till now."

Another offhand reference to Olympian games is given in Henry VI, Part 3 by George: "And, if we thrive, promise them such rewards As victors wear at the Olympian games: This may plant courage in their quailing breasts; For yet is hope of life and victory."


In Measure for Measure, "tick-tack" literally means the game Tic Tac Toe, although euphemistically it refers to sexual play. Lucio worries that Claudio's sister (Isabella) should be kept in a chaste environment: "I pray she may; as well for the encouragement of the like, which else would stand under grievous imposition, as for the enjoying of thy life, who I would be sorry should be thus foolishly lost at a game of tick-tack."

Dice Games

Dice games were popular at the time. Not only are dice mentioned by name, but specific dice games, such as Hazard, also weigh the meaning of words on occasion (source).

In the Merry Wives of Windsor, Shallow, a Country Justice refers to dice: "How now, master Parson! Good morrow, good Sir Hugh. Keep a gamester from the dice, and a good student from his book, and it is wonderful."

In the Merchant of Venice, Morocco, one of Portia's suitors, reflects on his chances: "If Hercules and Lichas play at dice Which is the better man, the greater throw May turn by fortune from the weaker hand."

In Much Ado About Nothing, the feisty Beatrice reflects on losing Benedick's heart: "Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it."

Falstaff recounts his wild days in Henry IV, Part 1: "I was as virtuously given as a gentleman need to be; virtuous enough; swore little; diced not above seven times a week; went to a bawdy-house once in a quarter--of an hour; paid money that I borrowed, three of four times; lived well and in good compass: and now I live out of all order, out of all compass."

King Lear's Edgar does the same: "A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled my hair; wore gloves in my cap; served the lust of my mistress' heart, and did the act of darkness with her; swore as many oaths as I spake words, and broke them in the sweet face of heaven: one that slept in the contriving of lust, and waked to do it: wine loved I deeply, dice dearly: and in woman out-paramoured the Turk: false of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey."

In Henry V, the chorus describes the English and French attitudes: "Proud of their numbers and secure in soul, The confident and over-lusty French Do the low-rated English play at dice; And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp So tediously away.

Later, Dauphin decries his side's broken ranks: "O perdurable shame! let's stab ourselves. Be these the wretches that we play'd at dice for?"

Biron, one of the three men swearing chastity in pursuit of scholarship in Love's Labours Lost, refers to dice twice. The first is while bantering with Princess: "Nay then, two treys, and if you grow so nice, Metheglin, wort, and malmsey: well run, dice!"

And again while describing his friend Boyet: "This gallant pins the wenches on his sleeve; Had he been Adam, he had tempted Eve; A' can carve too, and lisp: why, this is he That kiss'd his hand away in courtesy; This is the ape of form, monsieur the nice, That, when he plays at tables, chides the dice In honourable terms: nay, he can sing A mean most meanly; and in ushering Mend him who can: the ladies call him sweet;..."

Even Hamlet has a passing reference to dicers: "Such an act That blurs the grace and blush of modesty, Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose From the fair forehead of an innocent love And sets a blister there, makes marriage-vows As false as dicers' oaths ..."

In Anthony and Cleopatra, a Soothsayer gives advice to Mark Anthony about Caesar: " If thou dost play with him at any game, Thou art sure to lose; and, of that natural luck, He beats thee 'gainst the odds: thy lustre thickens, When he shines by: I say again, thy spirit Is all afraid to govern thee near him; But, he away, 'tis noble."

Mark Anthony reacts: "Be it art or hap, He hath spoken true: the very dice obey him; And in our sports my better cunning faints Under his chance: if we draw lots, he speeds; His cocks do win the battle still of mine, When it is all to nought; and his quails ever Beat mine, inhoop'd, at odds."


Mark Anthony later decries Cleopatra's alliance with Caesar: "I made these wars for Egypt: and the queen,-- Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine; Which whilst it was mine had annex'd unto't A million more, now lost,--she, Eros, has Pack'd cards with Caesar, and false-play'd my glory Unto an enemy's triumph."

In King John, Louis of France will not make peace with England: "Have I not here the best cards for the game, To win this easy match play'd for a crown?"


Some information on Elizabethan games. The page looks like a spam site; maybe it is.

Gambling in Shakespeare's time. Card games. And more games. Other sources abound.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Are You a Player or a Pawn?


There are two ways to play a game. You can play to enjoy or you can play to win. Both can be fun.

Most people play to enjoy. That's when you "experience" the game. You learn new skills, you get caught up in the theme, you play your positions using cards or armies. Your moves are themed, too: you "auction a painting", or you "build routes".

Even if the game appears to be abstract you can get caught up in its "theme". For example, Yinsh is entirely abstract but the major rule is to jump your ring over disks, flipping them afterwards. That's thematic: you "jump" and "flip". You may jump and flip a long line just because it's cool.

When you play to win, theme and objects entirely disappear. All "cards", "armies", piece names, move names, map conceptions, and flavor gets tossed out the window. Instead, there are only resources that must be maximized. You have X time or X moves left. You have Y tokens to move. Every rule is the same: what can you move, and when. Every move must maximize your points. Every token must be working as hard as it can.

All games, when they are played to win, are race games. I wrote about Playing to Win before.

What's the Difference?

Winning a game you played to enjoy is fun, because it's fun to win. If you lose, the game was fun too. Winning a game you played to win is fun, because it's fun to succeed, be proven the best. If you lose, you will work hard at winning the next game.

Is one of these approaches right and one wrong?

From one perspective, playing to enjoy is holistic and healthy, while playing to win is inhuman and anti-social. From another perspective, playing to enjoy is irresponsible and soft, while playing to win is focused and success-oriented.

What do you teach your kids about games? What do you teach them about life? If not the same thing, why are they different?

What About Your Life?

Look at the moves you made today and yesterday and last week in your life. Are you just whiling away resources in your life that could be working harder? Do you make every minute count? Are you driving to win? Is that inhuman and anti-social or focused and success-oriented?

Or, do you enjoy the experience, kick back, not take life too seriously? Is that soft and irresponsible or holistic and healthy?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

On Game Categorization

Why Categorizing Games is Difficult

A "real game" is made from a combination of multiple game elements. A real game might be a 10k marathon skeet shoot with a round of rock-paper-scissors when it starts. The basic game elements can be arranged within a real game in infinite ways.

So when it comes to categories, real games are messy.

Games are Not the Sum of Their Parts

You can't categorize games by adding together the game elements from which they are comprised. The overall play and goal of a game are not a summation of the play and goals of the sub games. No particular part of a game matters; only the game as a whole.

For example, you can't call a ten mile run the simple equivalent of ten one mile runs. The final mile is significantly different from the first, despite being an identical game element on paper. The first mile requires you to run after having been at rest, while the final one requires you to run after having immediately run the previous parts.

You don't play a game the same way that you play each part of the game. You may win nine parts out of a game's ten and lose, or you may win one part out of ten and win. If playing against multiple opponents, you could lose every part and still win.

Games are not Goals

"Playing games" is not the same thing as "winning games". The win condition of a game is added as a guide to players to make certain decisions and to provide a stopping point. Games are nearly always about playing and not about winning.

I play many games where I don't even know what the win conditions are. Apples to Apples has some win condition regarding the number of green apples you've collected; I simply enjoy making the associations. I could plan strategy and psychology, carefully assess how the other players choose the winning cards, and maybe play better. Maybe I would win more. Not only do I not care, it would ruin the point of the game. I still hope my card is picked, but I refuse to do anything more to ensure that it is.

I play Anagrams very competitively, but I never check at the end of the game if I've won. I don't even know what winning is in Anagrams. Most words? Most letters? Longest words?

Playing a game doesn't necessarily utilize the same skills as playing to win. Winning Scrabble requires you to balance points, positions, and tiles. Playing Scrabble might involve finding relevant words or cool patterns.

For every game played to win, thousands are played for the experience, where the winning is only another rule to guide your decisions. It doesn't mean that some semblance of playing toward to win doesn't happen; it's just not the focus.

Games are not Play

Games are played very differently at different times. A game can be played seriously or not, cooperatively or competitively, and with more or less interaction. The rules of the game can encourage certain type of play, but cannot force it.

A foot race can have deep interactive psychological elements while boxing can be played almost entirely in a Zen state of mind.

Is Settlers of Catan interactive? Is it competitive? Is it goal directed? Only if the players make it so. The only thing you can absolutely say is that players roll dice, pick cards, and trade those cards in for tokens to place on the board.

There are games whose interactive and cooperative aspects are designed to change from one play to the next. For instance, Cosmic Encounter is a game that can have a lot or a little interactivity depending on the number of players and the cards picked each game.

The type of play is affected by the length allotted to play the game, the number of players (which is not the same thing as the number of player positions), the ages and personality of the players, and the rewards for winning or losing. Because of this, categorization that tries to sort games into play types is problematic.

The Immutable Aspects of Games

Instead of categorizing by play, it seems reasonable to categorize games based on the immutable aspects of the game, which are those things about the game that are determined before play begins. They are independent of the play.


If a game has any physical performance component at any point during the game, it is categorically different than a purely mental game. Mental only games can be played by proxy via telephone, email, etc. Physical performance games always require the player himself or herself.

Categorizing within physical games gets messy again. The physical requirements can change during the game. You may be required to do one second of manual dexterity followed by an hour of running, or play a game of Chess and then throw a punch.

Some thinkers declare all games with any physical aspect a "sport" which seems a bit of a stretch to me. By that definition, nearly every video game is a sport.


There are five major types of equipment: Bodies (a physical presence), abilities (throw the ball), spaces (an appropriate location), objects of a specific nature (a lawn dart, a network connection), objects of a general kind (a play surface).

In addition, two related categories of games are their portability and accessibility.


Many games are abstract. A sports game is typically abstract, while a board game about sports is not. Like literature, music, and movies, games often overlap multiple genres. There are fantasy sports games and games that cover multiple historical periods.

It is questionable as to whether a theme can really be used to categorize a game. If you add a television theme to the game of Checkers, is it a different game? This is unclear. You could call it a different game, or you could call it the same game with a thematic overlay.

Player Positions

Player positions refers generally to the number of teams in play. If categorizing using player positions, then a three-player game is a different beast from a four-player game, even when using the same components and rules.

While considering player positions, you can also categorize games by their position balance. Some games present equal opportunities for each player. Others use different but balanced forces. Others are unbalanced by design; for instance, one player may have a starting advantage or disadvantage.


Games with rigid, solitary turns feel different than ones with simultaneous play. Some games have simultaneous play but require some event coordination. For instance, after a goal is scored, all players must stop play until a signal is sounded. Other games have full or limited play opportunities available to all players regardless of whose turn it is.


Complexity can refer to the rules, to the depth of play (lookahead), or to the breadth of play (distinct multiple options).

Activity Categories

Absent from this list of categories is what you are asked to do in the game: capture, hold, shoot, race, auction, and so on. That's because these types of distinctions are messy and ill-defined.

Furthermore, they depend on the players understanding the game's theme. A rule set that tells you to turn over a card and then pick up another card is not telling you to capture, hold, shoot, race, or auction; it is the theme which is doing so.

Further Reading

The Definition of "Game"
Game Mechanics Don't Really Exist (PDF) - On physical (sport) vs non-physical, competitive vs non-competitive, and interactive (must be competitive) vs non-interactive. - On classifying video games. - On classifying card games.

Weekend Gaming

I'm working on a longer post, again, so I'm posting light.

I went to Beit Shemesh this weekend to spend some time with my parents. My Mom and I were two players a few times (otherwise she just plays solitaire by herself), so we played Scrabble, 500 Rummy, and Honeymoon Bridge.

In Scrabble, I won by a decisive 288 to 287. Even though I started the game with several racks containing nothing but vowels, I'm still pleasantly surprised that she did so well, considering that I know more of the new stupid acceptable words than she does.

In 500 Rummy, I also won by a ridiculously close amount, some 520ish to 510ish. We also played one hand of Honeymoon Bridge. I remember liking this game when I was younger, but I hadn't played it for twenty years or so.

Honeymoon Bridge is one of those attempts to recreate Bridge as a two-player game, but it fails pretty badly. You only have access to 13 cards when you bid, and you draw the remaining 13 cards over the course of the play. It's bad enough in 3-player Bridge to not know the last 5 cards of your dummy, but not knowing all 13 is simply impossible.

During the afternoon, Avri came over. Avri runs the Beit Shemesh gaming group which only started in the last year or so. He's doing a great job.

He brought his wife (and two small kids), a friend, and another mutual friend. We played El Grande. Or we played the first six rounds of El Grande and then stopped as the kids were a handful which made it hard for Avri and wife to concentrate. This was the first play for all of them, except that Avri and his friend had played one two-player game the night before.

I was just far enough after round three to get ganged up upon but not far enough ahead to actually have an advantage. As often happens to me in this game, the fatal blow was dealt by the "score the first place in every region" card, which put two of the other players instantly ahead of me by twenty points.

After El Grande we played a kids game to mollify one of the kids: Froggy Boogie.

Froggy Boogie is a lovely kids game. It's a memory game with the following mechanic: roll the die to determine one of nine frogs. Choose one of the frog's two wooden eyes. If the underside of the eye shows a frog, you don't move forward and your turn ends. If it does, you move forward and roll again. First to get to the end of the path wins.

This is a hard game for adults that is devastatingly easy to play. Do you know how frustrating it is to roll the exact same frog twice in a row and not remember from one time to the next, within a matter of seconds, which eye was the right one?

Of course, if you concentrate you can do better. And if you want to resort to grown up memory tricks like converting the frogs to a nine-digit binary number and then back to a decimal number as you learn which eye on each frog is the correct one, well then you shouldn't be playing kids' games.

The colors of one of the frogs was off compared to the others. A few more decision making skills wouldn't have hurt, such as multiple path options. But it's a very nice game for the earliest player ages, around 4 or 5 years old.


P.S. The latest game carnival is up here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Eleventh Week Posts

The Top Ten Most Expensive Board Games in the World - a year later, two or three of the cheaper ones have been bumped out.

The Gamer's Wife, another game parody, this time of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.

The factors that contribute to your likes or dislikes when it comes to games, or anything else, in fact.

The Politics of Force, Manners, IP, and the Culture of Free

(I forgot one from February: Ethics in Gaming 5.0 on how games teach ethics and are (or can be) inherently valuable activities.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Session Report, in which I finally play Race for the Galaxy

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Race for the Galaxy, Magic: the Gathering, Notre Dame, Mr Jack, Bridge.

My first play of Race for the Galaxy. And we almost, but don't quite, play an RPG.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Shortest Games: Selection Games

Selection games are very short games, usually taking no more than a few seconds up to a few minutes to play. They generally incorporate a single play that decides the outcome of the game; one test of skill or one random event. In some selection games, only one player takes a turn while the other player watches. The results of this turn entirely determine the outcome of the game.

Some selection games are random, such as a coin toss, while some apparently random games in theory actually allow psychological tactics to come into play if they are played often enough, such as Rock-Paper-Scissors. These games can even have their own international championship events. Other games are tests of skill, wherein the player who is stronger in that skill will always win.

The use of random selection games goes back to biblical times and earlier.

Selection Games to Determine a Starting Player

In Diplomacy, all players begin negotiating at the same time; after negotiation, all moves are made simultaneously. In the 100 meter dash, all players begin running at the same time.

For many games, however, someone takes the first turn. Unless decided by fiat, who starts is often decided upon, surprisingly enough, by another entirely unrelated game: a selection game.

Determining who goes first using a selection game is nearly universal in culture. Yet using a selection game to determine the starting player can sometimes be problematic.

One unwritten expectation in any game is that the outcome of the game relies on the luck or skill of the players within the game itself. If the starting player gains an advantage or disadvantage over the other players, it seems strange to give this advantage to one player or another based on an entirely unrelated game.

This is not a problem for many games. In some games, the starting player is truly unimportant to the end results. For instance, if two players are shooting at a target, one after another, and the result of the first player's shot is not told to the second player before the second player takes his or her shot, then it doesn't matter who goes first.

In other games, the starting player has an advantage but the advantage is statistically insignificant. For instance, there may be some very slight advantage or disadvantage in serving first in Tennis, but this advantage or disadvantage will quickly be lost among the good plays or mistakes made by the players.

On the other hand, if the second player knows that the first player's shot was poor, the second player has a marked advantage, as his or her shot only has to beat the first player's. Also, the win or loss of the selection game for first serve can have a psychological effect on the players; would you rather go into a Tennis match having just lost your last game?

When the player position in a game matters, something is wrong, regardless of whether the starting player is determined by pure chance or a skill unrelated to the game (such as a staring contest). In order to solve this problem, you can try a more fair method to assign player position.

For instance, going first in Monopoly is an advantage. Instead of rolling to see who goes first, try auctioning off the starting position for starting money; the winner starts the game with the usual amount of starting money less his or her bid. Paying for the position with resources serves to balance any gained advantages. A nearly identical method is the divide and offer method: one player takes a certain amount of money from the bank and offers the other player to choose either going first or the extra money.

In some games, this type of selection is built into the game. I'm not referring to games where the first rule of the game is "determine a starting player" or "roll to see who goes first". In Die Macher, for instance, each round begins with a simultaneous auction for starting player. Players bid their resources, and the highest bidder then selects who goes first.

Other games decide who goes first by fiat. E.g. in some games, the game states that the oldest or youngest player starts, possibly in an attempt to give younger players the slight positional advantage (which doesn't work if the game is being played in a n old-age home). Many recent games have been mocking this type of fiat rule by stating things like the player who has most recently been on a boat goes first (for a nautically-themed game), the player who looks most like Abraham Lincoln goes first (for an election-themed game), or even the first player to grab the die goes first. And so on.

Selection Games for Other Purposes

Selection games are sometimes used to settle disputes when parties can't agree on any other course of action and do not wish to use violence. In certain historical cases, large amounts of money, property, or rights have changed hands as a result. Some tied elections have been decided by a coin toss. Often the suggestion to use a selection game to settle a serious dispute is done facetiously.

In rare cases, these games may also be played by very bored people.

Two-player Selection Games

Coin Toss: Flipping a coin to see who goes first is so ingrained in our culture that the very term "flip a coin" is nearly synonymous with a random selection game. The typical coin toss is Heads or Tails, but another variant includes flipping two coins, with one player going first if they match and the other if they don't.

Most of games of coin toss are played and then forgotten, with some notable exceptions. For instance, the coin used to determine who kicks off the Superbowl is a specially minted coin, replicas of which are sold as souvenirs.

Interestingly, most coins lend themselves to a slight bias when flipping, falling one way of the other a slightly higher percent of the time. This is either due to the differences in weight on either side of the coin, imperfections in the coin, or poor flipping quality. Skilled flippers can sometimes make whichever side they want come up.

Rock Paper Scissors: Also known in many cultures, this is a non-transitive game where both players select one of three possible choices: rock, paper, or scissors. The choice is made by forming your hand into a shape somewhat similar to your choice. When simultaneously revealed, rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock.

This simple game is nearly as well known as coin flipping, and nearly as synonymous with making a quick decision in favor of one or more parties. Expanded versions of the games add additional choices, while alternate choices with the same gameplay are used in different cultures.

As I mentioned above, RPS is less random than it appears to be, since humans tend to follow certain rules when trying to emulate random play. Males and females have typical first round choices, tend not to repeat their throws too many times in succession, and tend to choose their next throw based on what happened on the previous throw. Using this information, experienced players can generally beat non-experienced players in the long run.

RPS lends itself to cheating by players who change their selection within a fraction of a second of viewing the other player's selection.

Odds or Evens: is a specific form of Morra, listed below. One player plays "even" and the other "odd". Each player decides on one or two fingers and they simultaneously show them. If they match, "evens" wins, otherwise "odds" does.

Walking forward: Two players stand opposite each other at some non pre-determined distance. They alternate walking forward, toe-to-heel, until one steps on the other players foot.

Stick toss: One player tosses the stick into the air and grasps it with his fist somewhere in the middle when it descends, one end pointing up. The other player places his fist directly above the first player's, who places his other fist above the second's, and so on until one player can no longer do so having run out of stick to grasp. The last to grasp the stick is the winner.

Ah, but how do you know which player tosses the stick? ;-)

Volley: Used in Ping Pong and other net games, this game is even more of a bootstrap problem than the last one. One player begins an easy serve over the net and the ball is volleyed a set minimum number of times. If one player wins the volley after the minimum number of returns were made, that player goes first.

Unlike the above games, this is a skill based game that also utilizes the skills required for the game itself. The person who wins the volley is most likely going to be the person who wins the game. Similarly, in billiards players shoot cue balls against a far cushion, and the player who does so most successfully starts the game.

Another method of deciding who goes first in a net game (other than by convention, such as whose field is being used) is to toss a racket up in the air. After it falls, the player toward whom the handle is pointing goes first.

Arm wrestling: This is a skill based game relying entirely on upper body strength and arm-wrestling technique. After coin flipping and Rock-Paper-Scissors (And possibly rolling a die), this game is most likely to be suggested as a means of settling a dispute, despite the fact that the victor is likely a foregone conclusion with two unequally skilled opponents. An arm wrestle only reveals how good the players are at arm wrestling, after all.

Other selection games of physical skill include staring your opponent down or racing toward some object.

Multi-player Selection Games

Dice rolling: This is certainly the most commonly used selection game when playing a game that already has dice. In which case, the selection game is often the official first step in the rules of the game.

Ties can often lead to an immediate fight. Do all players re-roll or just the tying players? After the re-roll, are the new rolls compared to previous rolls or only used as settling the tie between the two re-rolling players? Then, do the dice rolls indicate player order, or was the roll to determine the starting player, after which all other players play in clockwise order?

The validity of dice rolls is also a subject of discussion. Do rolls have to be on a flat surface or can they straddle the edge of the playing surface? Do they have to be in the box, on the table, on the board, or on anything flat? And if one die needs to be re-rolled, must (or may) all dice be re-rolled?

A growing number of people are capable of pretending to roll dice as if to obtain a random result but actually producing exactly or generally the numbers they like. Most people would agree that this is cheating, and that the very idea of dice rolling is to produce a random result.

What about "lucky dice" which seem to roll certain numbers with greater than average frequency? This may be all in the head of the player, but many dice may have a statistical bias of some kind. In order to alleviate this problem, all players could throw the same dice.

Dice are incredibly old; versions of dice date back several thousand years or more. In addition to being used for random results, some people enjoy using them in other ways, such as spinning, stacking, or for jewelery.

Games with other randomizers, such as a spinner, often use the randomizer in question to select a starting player.

Card draw: Before playing a game with cards, either the dealer or the teams can be settled by first drawing cards. For starting player, each player draws a card and the highest or lowest deals. Using this method you have the same problem resolving ties as you do for dice.

To select teams, the players with the two highest cards form one team and the two lowest another team. In some cases, four cards such as the four aces or two pairs of kings and queens, may be removed from the deck before this process. In this case, matching colors or pairs play together.

Playing cards date back for hundred of years, and are also used for many things other than playing games or drawing for first.

Drawing Straws: While most selection games are "won", i.e. winning the game indicates a beneficial outcome, this is an example of a selection game that can only be lost, i.e. the selected player is the only "loser" while all of the others have won. It is used to select someone to perform an unwanted chore or fill an undesired position. In classical literature, the results of drawing the short straw can lead to consequences as dire as death, often through being the one chosen to make some sort of noble sacrifice on behalf of the other players.

To play, you must find enough straws or strings for each player, where one is markedly shorter (or longer) than the others. One player arranges them all to be sticking through his fingers in such a way that the odd one out cannot be determined from looking at them from above. All players except the one holding the items select one, leaving the last one for the player who initially held all of them. The player with the short (or long) item is the one selected.

The Nose Game: This is a more devious version of the above, since the last one to know that he is playing loses automatically. In this game, an undesired task becomes known to one or more people, all in the same room, before it becomes known to the rest. Or, the fact that someone will have to attend to the task becomes known only gradually to each person.

The people who realize that some unlucky chap will have to deal with the problem touch their nose (or some equivalent gesture). As others realize that some people are touching their nose, and the implications thereof, they do the same. The last to realize what's going on is automatically the loser.

Of course, this is not properly a game at all, and patently unfair. And the "loser" is only bound to accept his fate if he buys into the spirit of the idea.

Counting Out Games: In this playground ritual, one player chants a well-known rhyme while pointing in turn for each syllable or word at players in a circle in succession. The person pointed to is selected, either as "it" or as "not it". In the latter case, the players are picked off one by one until the last remaining is "it".

The arrangement of the players in the circle, as well as the counting player, should be random, but this is generally overlooked. Furthermore, well-known rhymes have well-known numbers of words and syllables, making the person who will be selected a foregone conclusion before the game starts. Unless the first person pointed to is randomly selected and the rhyme also randomly selected, this is not properly a game but a good way of picking on people.

It tends to lead to arguments as to whether the counting should be done by word or syllable, which words actually belong to the rhyme, and how this whole thing is just so stupid until you've been excluded from playing in every game and have to spend all recess sitting and crying at the far side of the playground until you remember that you brought your mom's Robert Heinlein book with you and didn't really want to play that stupid game anyway. Or so I've heard.

In America, one popular example is Eeny Meeny Miney Moe.

Morra: Morra is a generalized version of Odds and Evens. All players in a circle throw out some number of fingers. Then teams, or a winner, is selected.

For instance, an odd number of fingers might mean one thing while an even something else. Or the player who guessed correctly how many fingers might win. Or all odds are on one team and evens on another. And so on.

Spin-4-It: Modern board gamers have created special devices such as this one to help them with the chronic problem of who goes first. This device is a small metal pointing hand balanced on a small round bump. Spin it to determine who starts the game.

If spun on a smooth, level surface, it can spin for some time before stopping.

Start Player: Not content with a simple spinning device, a gamer Geek named Ted Alspach created a collectible card game to determine the start player in any game that requires one. Each card has a ridiculous starting condition, such as "the player who owns the most boardgames is the Start Player".

To pick a starting player, shuffle the deck, pick the top most card, and determine the outcome.

Selection Methods entry on Wikipedia


Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Game That is Both Competitive and Cooperative

While researching game categorization (aka classification), it is clear that most attempts at classification fail due to trying to establish classes rather than continuum. While many thinkers categorize play as a continuum - say more or less orderly or sports-like - when it comes to taxonomy of the games themselves this system breaks down. Apparently, a taxonomy requires "boxes", not "scales".

There are very few attempted classes I've seen in which a scale would not be more appropriate. Not only because there are an infinite number of games, but because most games constitute an infinite number of arrangements. For instance, how can football be all skill if the game starts with a coin toss? Does flipping a coin make football a game of luck? Or is the luck element an insignificant part of the overall game (I'll come back to that in a different post)?

One box that interests me in particular is the cooperative/competitive distinction. It is generally assumed that every game is either cooperative or competitive. Box, box.

First of all, outside of the game rules all games are cooperative. All players agree to cooperate to play, agree to the rules, agree to enforce penalties, agree to the time, and so on. This is semantic, and not considered when classifying the the rules themselves.

Second of all, any game with teams is a mixture of cooperative and competitive, at least in some regards. You cooperate with that player and compete against that other player.

In the Frisbee games I used to play on Fridays in Jerusalem, and the soccer games I played during recess at school, players spontaneously switched sides when one side seemed to be unbalanced. Was this an act of cooperation, competition, or both, or was it simply an abrogation of the rules? And what did that make the game?

Semantics aside, it is not that difficult to come up with a game mechanic that blows this division out of the water. In fact, I'm using the following mechanic in a game I'm currently designing:

All players compete for resources in order to win the game. The resources are available randomly (random resources are available at set times during each round). With perfect resource availability and perfectly cooperative play, all players can win the game. In most games, the resource availability schedule makes this impossible. Even if it were possible, non-cooperative hidden decisions made by each player will probably make it impossible. Therefore, in most games, only some players, one player, or possibly no players will win the game.

Question: is this a competitive game or a cooperative game?


Update: I am, of course, an idiot. The Prisoner's Dilemma and many other game theory games are perfect examples of games that are both competitive and/or cooperative.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Board Game Blog World Roundup

Welcome to another board and card game feed round up. These posts list every known blog, podcast, or videocast in the blogosphere with the following criteria:
  • Contains primarily posts of interest to general readership about board games, card games, or a similar topic such as alternate reality games or general game design. If the blog covers primarily a single-game such as Chess or Go, CCGs, RPGs, wargames, or minis, it must at least occasionally cover other board and card games as well.
  • Not entirely a commercial site, i.e. has posts of general interest and not only a running list of what's in stock. Not a spam site.
  • Posts occasionally. Activity (about games) within the last three months OR a note posted as to when the site expects to return.
  • Has an RSS feed.
Feeds are dropped from my list when they no longer meet one of these criteria. Some feed owners mysteriously move their feeds to a new location without bothering to tell their subscribers; shame on you. I sometimes catch them during one of these reviews.

The following sites are new to me since my last post:

Barnes' Blog - Underground Gamer's, a game club in Worthing, UK.

Behind-The-Scenes of a Board Games Website - Dan Khan, Auckland, New Zealand writing about his new site, Fast Moving Games. FMV is supposed to be some sort of social networking site for online board games and this blog is his teaser method of generating interest in the site. Dan owns NetProfess, a web design company.

Breaking the Magic - Tiago, Portugal. A Magic fan plays other games, too.

Fortress Ameritrash - The original blog was replaced by this website. Same crew.

gamesizing - Jason Kong, location unknown. On game publishing topics.

GameTime 24x7 - Jacob Cynamon, Chicago. About gaming and Chicago and both.

Purple Pawn - A news site dedicated to all things tabletop.

Stuff with Style - Someone from Durham, NC. On games and guitars.

Tabletop Gaming News - A team blog doing an excellent job covering all things war games.

The Boardgamer Weblog - Steve Archbold, Kingston-upon-Thames, UK.

My complete list of board and card game blogs and podcasts ONLY follows (some non-board game blogs, and some board game sites, appear on my sidebar but don't appear in this list). If your feed was dropped from my list in error, or you don't see your blog or podcast here, drop me a line.