Thursday, December 30, 2004

Year of games at the JSGC

A breakdown of games played in the group, with a comment about my own plays:

53 Puerto Rico (I played at least triple this figure elsewhere. As mentioned, the majority of these games are now played with my expansion buildings.)

21 Settlers of Catan (Lots of first year gamers in our group)

20 Magic: the Gathering (always good for two player Rochester draft)

16 San Juan (also played online about 10 times)

13 El Grande

9 Pente (quick games tend to rack up plays)
8 Geschenkt
8 Goa
7 Blokus
7 David and Goliath
7 Taj Mahal
6 Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (also played online about 5 times)
6 Princes of Florence
5 Amun Re
5 Anagrams (pulling Scrabble tiles)
5 Ra (actually, we played "Lo Ra", same game with Jewish temple themed pieces)
5 Through the Desert
5 Tigris and Euphrates (played online a few times)

And two that just missed:
4 Cosmic Encounter (Mayfair)
4 Railroads of Catan (a rail game I created for a Settlers board.

Other games played
History of the World (Risk plus)
Bang! (not played enough, so sold)
Settlers of Catan card game (dull, sold)
Wallenstein (want to play more)
Die Macher (want to play more)
6 Nimmt (dull)
El Grande: King and Intrigant (intriguing as a variant)
Chess (first time player came to game day, wanted to play)
Bridge (best card game ever)
Taki (Israeli version of Uno)
8 1/2 (by same designer, playtested by request)
Scrabble (several plays outside the group with spouse)
Checkers (still an interesting game)
Fluxx (yuck)
Apples to Apples (not good for our game group, played with non-gamers occasionally)
Citadels (cards too boring, game play too nasty and/or boring)

several of my own game designs (one day... sigh.)


December gaming at the JSGC

December was another fine month of gaming at the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club. We received a number of new games and books, and had attendance at around 10 each night. The following is a look at what was played (only in the group, not outside of it):

Games played:

6 Nimmt x 1

We played this one more time because I had constructed Geschenkt out of these cards (having constructed 6 Nimmt out of an old Flinch deck). We still don't really like it much. But we really like Geschenkt.

Amun Re x 2

Our group really likes this game, a bit more than I do. After the infamous discussion on BGG, it's kind of ironic. It can be a bit on the long side (close to three hours with five people).

Geschenkt x 8

A huge hit with all but one person. I like to call this "Ra-lite", since the tiles flip up and, as the game progresses, become of differing value to different people. It's hard to tell if the lower cards are better, since there will be competition for them, or the higher cards, which, if you can get them and form a straight and get a lot of tokens in the process, you will win. Enough luck but not too much. A game of daring. Fun. Of course, I constructed the deck out of other cards. I can't see why one would buy the game unless you have lots of disposable income. (This would have made a fine entry in last year's shared pieces competition on, for instance.)

Goa x 1

No matter how much I diss this game, the game group continues to like it. Even I'm willing to come around a bit, after I made one significant change: no flipping for colonies, just add four to your attempt. It still sucks in three player, because of the auction dynamics, but it can be fun(nish) in two or four player. Seems more like work than fun, though. And the luck from which cards you get is still a huge problem.

Magic: the Gathering x 2

THE game for many years before board gaming, and still fun to play, but I can't remember when I last won a game against my friend David K. We play by pulling out random cards and Rochester drafting them.

San Juan x 5

It seems limited in potential, but after 30 (40? 50?) plays, it gets incrementally better each time. This is weird. The luck factor seems to reduce. In early games it's about getting the best cards. After a while, it just becomes working best with whatever you have. You still lose if you get less six point buildings than your opp, which is a drag. I eagerly await expansion sets for this (here's hoping!)

Settlers of Catan x 2

Many of our players are relative newbies, so this is always a good game for 3 or for with moderate time available.

Puerto Rico x 5

The king of our games, still, and no signs of stopping. Almost all of our games are played with random buildings from my expansion sets. Now that I've winnowed down some of the broken ones, it's pretty much the only way to play. Still play regular online, though.

Taj Mahal x 1

Always a great game when it hits the table. I try to play only every two sessions, to keep it fresh.

TCP 4 x 1

Another in my series of games for three colored pegs (blue, red, yellow). In this game, played on a 4 x 4 grid, there is a shared pile of 16 of each colored peg. Each player is dealt a card with one of the three secondary colors (orange, green, purple) which he keeps secret. Each player then takes a peg of his choice and places it on the board, such that he doesn't put the same colored peg into the same location. You win when either a) anyone creates three in a row of your color, or b) you place a piece such that it forms three browns in a row (brown = all three colors).

I was hoping that the secret of who was playing which color would hinder the usual problem of three player abstracts, which is always being able to block what the third player is doing. Unfortunately, it was rather easy to guess early on who was what, so it didn't really work out. Back to the drawing board.

Through the Desert x 1

Starting to flop, unfortunately. The very colorful pieces don't add up to enough color in the game. It is definitely an abstract game; you can't pretend unlike, say Tigris and Euphrates. And it is quick to play, but long to set up. Doesn't hold enough interest anymore. Too bad, because I like it more than my group does, and it makes a nice introduction to gaming.

Tikal x 2

A new game for the group, and very rich. Love it. Just starting to try to figure it out.

Torres x 2

Also new to the group, and the vp acquisition is pretty easy to figure out. Now looking at the other facets of the experience, such as player interaction. Love it, but not as much as Tikal. Actually, the five action points in Torres take longer to play than the ten action points in Tikal, because there is less to do in Torres so you have to think deeper.

That's it. I'll send the yearly summary when I get a chance.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Links to other JSGC stuff

My profile on BGG. Includes, Full and capsule game reviews, numerous articles including variants, comments and selected session reports.

The JSGC home page, including complete session reports and game variations.

The mailing list

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The first full calendar year of the JSGC

Well, I've been playing around for a long time, but the official JSGC had a first year anniversary this year, and this Wed marks the last evening of a full calendar year for us, so I'm happy. Only one missed week during the summer. We've had as low as two people or as high as 11-12 for a regular session, 14 for a game day. Would like bigger and better game days. I will advertise better next year.

The biggest thing hampering growth is my lack of advertisement in the Hebrew market. I think we could grow much more if I could reach them. But, since I can't teach in Hebrew, I would only hope to attract more experienced gamers to start with, after which they could teach any newbies.

Why growth? Well, for one thing, the more people, the less likely that we will have a missed week of games. For another, the more gamers, the more these games will be available to us, spurring on game imports. More people will mean more crossover to other gamers (such as Chess and Go) as they might take Eurogamers more seriously, enough to join us for a game day.

Of course, with more growth, you increase your chance of more people with bad-manners, or just not smart enough or able to concentrate enough to make playing with them enjoyable. Sad, but true. OTOH, with enough people, a separate group could form, for those that can't come Wed nights, anyway, or who prefer wargames to Euros.

After this week's game, I'll try to wrap up both December gaming, and the entire year in review.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Weekly calls

Every week or two I get calls about my game group that fall into two categories:

1) "Sounds interesting, I'll come at XX:XX time. What are the directions? OK, got it. I'll be there ..." and then they don't come. Weird.


2) "What sort of games so you play? Do you play bridge? I'm looking for a bridge group?" (or) "Do you play chess? I'm looking for a chess group." No, unfortunately, but I can direct you to the right group.

The last one is sad, because bridge has its own group (several), chess, scrabble, go, diplomacy, rpg, ccg, etc... have there own groups. I play them all, or I'd like to.

My dream is to have a pavilion where all of us can meet once a month. I would really like there to be flow between each of these groups. We share common needs (tables, chairs, snacks), and there is overlapping interest, even if a lot of players dedicated to their own game don't know it, yet.


Friday, December 24, 2004

Catching up on the Geekspeaks

On BGG, which are really geeky, but kind of fun if you have been following BGG. Since I have, I don't know what it would be like for those who haven't.

I will never be featured, since I only buy games after they have been around for a while, since I don't want to waste my very precious money. So I have nothing particularly new to add.

My newest games acquisitions are Tikal (1999), Torres (2000), and Traufabrik (19something). OTOH, I am trying to play new games by constructing them from other components (Geschenkt).

The invitees fly to Essen in Germany and buy 30, 40, 50 new games every few months. They like about 3 or 4 and sell the rest. Or they keep a collection of 300 - 700 games. Mine is about 30.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

In the Zone

Some games get you into the zone. For me, its Puerto Rico. There are several stages to be passed:

1) Learning the rules

Trying to figure out what the rules actually do.

2) Learning the victory conditions

Trying to figure out what makes points, and acting to get or prevent opponents from doing it.

3) Maximizing the points

Learning how each action contributes the more or less points over the course of the game, and taking better actions with less points now for more points later.

4) Lookahead

Trying to anticipate how the next action after this one will affect the results of this one. This starts with the immediate next phase taken by your opponent, and progresses to your own next actions, and then futher.

5) Confusion, frustration, disgust

All necessary ingredients in making headway. At some point, the game seems almost done, and it's time to move on.

6) In the zone 1

But hang on. The lookahead becomes clearer. You can see not just actions, but rounds ahead of time, and start calling, to yourself, what your opponents will be doing. Sometimes it is good to give your opponents benefits to do something, just so that you know what they will do.

Of course, it doesn't always work this way. And sometimes, for all your planning, you get tempted into doing the wrong thing, or just didn't see quite far enough.

Nobody said that staying in the zone doesn't take hard work.

7) In the zone 2

Coming soon.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Must ... write

I'll never get a regular blog going if I don't write regularly. So expect a lot of garbage for a while.

I got five games in the last month: Tikal, Torres, Traumfabrik (bought before I realized that I had no more money), Battle Cry (gift for son), and Abalone (gift from parents.

So far I've played Torres and Abalone.

Torres is a nice game, but definitely more on the Chess side of the spectrum. The point gain for each move is very clear: height of knight for placing a base piece, base of castle for moving a knight up one step. Also, whenever moving, you try to create dual steps for yourself, and deny them for your opponents. Lastly, you have to ensure that there are no N-1 levels available in your castle for knights to sneak into.

So the joy of the game isn't in the wildly unexpected, but in the careful planning, like PoF, Goa, Chess. Careful planning games are what some people call "dry". So be it. There is plenty of roon in the game for fun and, often enough, the unexpected. Plenty of interaction, too.

Abalone is a simple abstract. Hard to decide how deep it is, as it seems that your object is to stay in the middle while trapping opponent's pieces in a corner. Not that hard if your opponent is careless. I will need to play against some careful opponents to see how it goes.

I also received two excellent books: A Gamut of Games by Sid Sackson, which I haven't read yet. And New Rules for Classic Games by R Wayne Schmittberger. The latter book is all about taking the boring games that were around until 1990 (it was written shortly thereafter) and adding new rules, fixes, variants, and even new games from the components. Anyone who knows me knows that this is so perfectly up my alley that I am in love. Wow, is all I can say. Maybe I can write the sequel for German games.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Luck vs Randomness

Too often I see people mistakenly confuse the two concepts of luck and randomness. Here are my definitions:

Luck: an event that occurs beyond any player control that has direct effect on victory. A series of lucky or unlucky events will decide the game, regardless of your skill.

Randomness: an event that occurs beyond player control that can be planned for, or whose effect requires an adaptation of strategic or tactical play.

An example of luck: roll a die. whoever rolls highest wins. A series of lucky events will even out over time, in therory. In practice however ...

An example of randomness: a series of random math problems, all numbers between 1 and 10, problems involve multiplication and/or division. No matter what numbers you actually get, you can be assured that the higher the skill of the person solving these problems, the more he will get correct. There is no preparation that can help you here.

Now, there is luck in randomness. In the above example, if a person is better at multiplication than division, than more division problems will be unlucky for him. In this case, the luck is praying on his lack of skill. Better preparation for the exam will diminish the effect of this luck.

Next case: let's say that in the luck example, a person can prepare events such that he will win the die rolls on 1-4, instead of 1-3, giving him a 66% chance of victory, instead of 50% chance. The net result is that he will win 2/3 of the time, or perhaps 2/3 of the games. Does this really matter? Is there any glory to winning, or losing, because you have increase your odds of an event entirely dependent on luck? If you win an event with 1/6 chance of winning, is that exciting? If you lose with a 1/6 chance, is that fun? If you win on a 5/6 chance, is that fun?

I'm sure a lot of people will answer the above questions differently than I do. Yes, they say, if the theme is intense, and the story arc exciting. Yes, since a player can decide to withdraw from bad odds and try again at a different area where he has a better chance. Such is the excitement of the war-gamer. More power to you.

Next case: Puerto Rico plantation tiles get flipped up. A player, depending on player order, may decide to take the Settler for first choice of these plantations, if there is on he wants. Or he may encourage his RHO to do this. Or he may calculate the odds of getting what he needs in the next Settler phase after these plantations are gone. It could be, that his RHO keeps taking all the coffees before he can get them, and he loses the game to a solid coffee monopoly. OK, that's a bi of a strech, but even with that kind of strech, the luck element in the plantation draw does not determine your success in the game unless you have planned so badly that it is the only thing that can help.

Now, when you lose a game of PR, or win a game of PR, the finger is pointed at the players. The randomness is there, and even a smidgen of luck, perhaps. The games always unfold differently because of it. IMHO, winning or losing in this situation is a more rich experience.

Games without either luck or randomness, such as Go, Chess, etc... are very good games. The beauty of randomness is that the games can never be analyzed with perfection for several levels. The beauty of luck is the inherent gambling nature in many of us. I just prefer to keep gambling out of my multiplayer gaming