Friday, June 30, 2006

Meme Games

After two years, I've actually been tagged by a meme for the first time. Abbagav wants to know what kind of watch I wear (A Seiko analog chronometer watch with a scratch in the glass).

This meme is not at all relevant to what I post about; most memes aren't. I imagine that the original meme sharers were bloggers who posted about their personal life and friends, as opposed to specific subjects. Sharing memes about "what color is your underwear" and so on are directly relevant to purely personal blogs.

But it does give me the opportunity to talk about memes and games.

How can we relate memes to games? (For those of you watching this on your TV, you know by now that I can relate anything to games, somehow)

A meme area control board game: Ten rounds. If you control the most bloggers in a particular subject, your meme is doing best, so you score points for that region.

A meme trading/negotiation game: Trade meme attributes so as to achieve the best hand with which to attract the most bloggers.

A meme civilization game: Each player controls a meme civ, out to conquer the most territory by the end of round seven. There are nine phases in each round. Phase 1: each player collect three meme spread tokens. For each B-list blogger you control, collect one more token. Phase 2: new bloggers are flipped up and placed on the appropriate places on the board. Players now auction for turn order, which also determines how many emails they can send this round ...

What about board game memes? Has anyone ever done one?


And I tag: Maksim, Gnome, Ekted, Pawnstar, and Sologamer

The Three Stories that Games Tell

Games and stories are intertwined. There are several types of stories that occur during a game. The enjoyment of a game is directly related to how good these stories are.

  • The first story is player's story. In what environment is he (or she) playing? What were the events of his day? How did the game get chosen and who are is opponents? How much time does he have to play and what comes afterwards? Is playing this game going to enhance or detract from his life?
  • The second story is the game experience story. Who is the better player? How does the game go? Who makes the better plays? Who messes up? Who will win?
  • The third story is the thematic story. What story does the game tell? If the players all start out as goat herders whose job is to get the goats to the other side of the hill, what happens with those goats by the time the game ends?
The thematic story relies on having a theme in the game. Even a weak theme will do. In purely abstract games, the thematic story is bypassed in favor of a stronger game experience story. Examples of a purely abstract games are Dots and Boxes and Yinsh. The pieces have no names, the playing fields represent nothing but regular locations.

A weakly themed game such as Chess can have some thematic story: the dashing knight swoops in for a rescue, the bishop defends the queen, the pawn sacrifices for the king. Weakly themed abstracts tend to favor more the game experience story, however. In most chess games, what is remembered is the dramatic tactical move, the sweating brow of the defender, or the inevitable resignation of a trounced opponent.

Go is a funny case of something that should be purely abstract game, and yet a thematic story begins to take hold as the pieces form into shapes and positions on the board.

For board games where the thematic story is more pronounced, the game experience story tends to fade a little. One of the things that makes a thematic story interesting is its plot movement. In Settlers of Catan, the land is getting settled, the roads are being built, and the robber moves around the island. Eventually someone reveals an infrastructure greater than everyone else's and the game is over.

The little bits and pieces provided for the game - the wooden markers, the cards, and so on - are supposed to represent pages of story-telling. How well they do this determines whether we feel the game has a "tacked on theme".

Many war games are particularly good at both types of story telling. That is because the thematic stories of war games follow the same basic formula over and over. Yes, there is a difference between some battle that took place in some year on August 24th at 6:00 pm and some other battle that took place on August 25th at 9:00 am ten years later. But really, either of those stories have a lot more in common than they do with a game of Power Grid.

An aside: It may be that "analysis paralysis" is nothing more than the misapplication of promotion of the game experience story over the thematic story. Players who want the game to "move along" are more interested in seeing the thematic story unfold and less in seeing a gamer master himself to make a better move. Is this just a clash of story interests?

Another aside: This article talks about how the pieces of the games are "metaphors" that enhance or detract from the thematic story structure. It is a good read to help you choose the right elements if you want to consider the thematic story.

Both thematic and game experience stories occur in the context of the players' stories. That is why there are various ideas of what it means to "win" at games. Does winning mean "achieving the highest score" or does winning mean "everyone had fun"? The answer to that question is "both", of course. Winning means a satisfactory ending to all stories in the game.


Rip. Mix. Burn. The Vast Untapped Potential of Mixing Gaming Genres

Game designers and game "futurists" must start broadening their worldview by looking at all aspects of gaming, indeed at all aspects of life.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: don't be myopic. There is a vast shared commonality between Eurogames, RPGs, CCGs, and even computer games. They all provide an entertainment value to the user. You could even add in movies and television, books, and so on that do the same.

There is still a vast richness to be tapped from one industry to another. Right now we are so excited about just being able to DO crosssovers, that we don't think much about how to do it well. Everywhere you look, you will find crossover material: books that are also games, board games that are also movies, movies that are also computer games. We can play a board game on a DVD. We can play a board game on a computer. Wow. Shiny.

That is just the scratching of the surface, my friends. Start reading computer game design blogs or RPG design blogs, or even entertainment industry news and absorb the way that each one is trying to tap the interest of their users. Admittedly, the entertainment industry news sources are the least helpful, since they generally treat their users like crap, but aside from that, there are whole other languages to discover.

RPGers talk about experiences, worlds, metaphors, characters, player to player relationships. Computer gamers talk about player contacts, social experience, immersion, context, massive scale, details. Board gamers talk about strategy, mechanics, analysis time, theme. All of these subjects are relevant to all game disciplines.

Even on the subjects where we overlap, such as theme or world, we talk about them differently. Reading the subject from another perspective can be refreshing.

I hope I am not alone here. I see computer game enthusiasts that write about computer games. I see ex-computer gamers who write about board games. RPGers who write about RPGs. Board gamers who write about board games.

Who writes about all games? Who takes gaming, all gaming, to be one great mix up of an experience? Is our audience so fragmented that you risk losing them when you talk about more than one genre? If so, this is a strange commentary on game players and readers.

Game genres have incubated in their own gene pools enough. They are strong enough now to start interbreeding with other species.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Session Report Up

The latest JSGC session report is up here. Games played: Dvonn, Santiago, Amun-Re, Cosmic Encounter x 2, Beyond Balderdash, Bridge, Hearts. That's team Hearts, by the way.

For Cosmic Encounter, let me just say: Vacuum vs Insect, a failed deal, and two very stubborn people.


P.S. Make a D&D film competition.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Long Time in Game Years

Fads come and go. Popularity rises and falls.

Games of all types are not immune to this phenomenon. Some games probably begin their popularity streak due to traditional marketing, but most games become popular through social networking or through interest transference.

According to the USBF web site, Bridge became popular at the end of the 18th century, but it's popularity did not initially result in a decline in popularity of Whist or other games. It was only in the late 1920's, when next generation rules about auctioning were introduced and solidified in Bridge that Whist's popularity began to decline.

While arcade games in the 1980's had to compete with each other for space on the game floor, the games' popularities suffered more as a result of later produced games than as a result of direct competition with contemporarily produced games. I don't think that Asteroids became less popular because of Pac Man. Some people still enjoyed playing Asteroids and Pac Man at the end of the 1980's but the vast majority had gone on to next generation games.

My hypothesis is that competition from same generation gaming is an order of magnitude less than the competition from next generation gaming.

In board gaming, war games were "the thing" in the 1980's. These declined as a result of the rise of video and computer games, especially the computer games that did the war game thing so much better, such as Age of Empires and Civilization.

The early 1990s was a quiet time for games until Magic the Gathering burst onto the scene in 1992-93. A whole generation of CCGs thereafter did nothing to erode Magic's market, even while some were probably better. These games fed into each other. The odds are that you only played a CCG after playing Magic (Kuma notes the same thing about D&D and RPG players). D&D hasn't been displaced, because a) it reinvented itself with a next generation version, and b) other RPGs are still the same generation as D&D - playing catchup and imitate. They may be better than D&D; that may give them room to grow. But it is unlikely to reduce D&D's popularity all that much as a result.

In the late 1990's Eurogames hit the scene with Settlers of Catan and follow-ups. Each new and better Eurogame since Settlers is doing nothing to damaging Settlers' popularity. With all the fancy new arrangements of mechanics and so on, they do not represent the next generation of games.

Instead, the games feed each other business. Sure, sometimes a person can only buy a single game and has to make a choice about which one. And there are a lot of mediocre games that are popular for a month or two and then sink away. But by and large, the games that achieve popularity continue to do so. Until.

I hesitate to continue this line of thought, but it's not unnatural. And any game company worth the business cards its name is printed on has to be thinking the same thing.

What is next? You can comfortably continue to make more auction / trading / tile laying / negotiation / action point / resource building games, but only until something really new and radically better comes along. Then your market share is going to start dwindling. A small group will continue to play the old games, but that will be barely enough to sustain a business.

It could be a new game that really uses all of these mechanics so well that it becomes a next generation all by itself. But that is doubtful. More likely, we're going to find something new in board gaming.

Frankly, it's high time that we did. To find new ideas we have to look outside of the myopic board game world of today and incorporate ideas from other gaming streams. For instance, Chris Bateman has a great article about new thoughts in computer games, which could be very relevant as a springboard for board game design.

There is a huge potential cross-pollination from computer game design to board game design and vice versa that needs to take place. And by that I don't mean simply trying to represent board games on a computer or vice versa.

I wish Eurogames well, but the first generation of Eurogames is now more than ten years old. That's a long time in game years. How much longer will this continue?


P.S. Another recent article by Craig Perko talks about the difference between multi-player and single-player computer game design, which is also relevant to board game design.

Some Gaming Work Nibbles

Despite my protests to the contrary, I have had a few nibbles when it comes to gaming work opportunities in Israel.

Two friends here in Israel have offered to help co-produce The Menorah Game (my game design) in Israel. I have not gone forward with either one, yet, owing to my fear of not being successful and letting them down on their investment. I really should get over that and make a go of it. Now would be the good time, to be ready for the Hanukkah market.

One of these friends has also made proposals for me to help co-run some after-school activities of gaming with kids. I am trying to work that into my time. It doesn't pay much, but it could be fun.

Last evening I also had an interesting proposal. A startup wants me to be both IT manager and game designer for a company that would produce fun but fairly simple games online. The person who talked to me had thought that I had computer game experience (having heard that I had "game" experience, that was his assumption). However, the games required are simple enough that I could easily do it - I wouldn't be doing any of the graphics or even programming, and I wouldn't be breaking any new ground in game play.

I can't reveal the exact nature of the project, of course. It sounds like a good opportunity. Again, this would require my finding time outside of my current work and evening life, since it wouldn't involve payment for a while.

If these opportunities aren't what I've been waiting for, then what is? It's not enough to simply say "I want to leave the computer field and move into the gaming field," without being able to say "yes, this is how I will do it." Do I dare disturb the universe?

Angst, angst, angst.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Linkety Link

I added my latest post to Gone Gaming, and I doubt that I will have time for more today. Sorry!

I'll just note a new board game based on the movie Snakes on a Plane, which still isn't even in the theaters yet: Cobras in the Cockpit. You get to play the snakes. It looks like an area control game, and might even be fun. Source: numerous sites.

The movie Snakes on a Plane will actually first be shown in Israel. That may be a first for Israel. I remember not too long ago we were one to six months behind on all movie releases. That changed with the worldwide release of the updated Star Wars movies.

And I'll leave you with this rant by a sports columnist about how board games are invading ESPN and he's getting sick of it.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

My wife tells me that I should really see Al Pachino in The Merchant of Venice. I suppose I must, for however progressive it was for its time, I find it hard to see how this play can be anything but anti-semitic (He is forced to convert to Christianity! O joy!)

Let me say 'l33t' betimes, lest the devil cross my trigger
finger, for here he comes in the likeness of a board game.


How now, Board Game! what news among the unplugged?

You know, none so well, none so well as you, of my
economic plight.

That's certain: I, for my part, co-opted the word 'game'
that hast done driven you to the arms of babes.

And Board Games, for his own part, knew his time was
over; and then it is the prospectus of the investors
to fund us with capital.

And that is but a capitol crime.

That's certain, if a Board Game may be the judge.

My own demographic to rebel!

Out upon it, old ludography! rebels at such young ages?

I say, my appeal is to the hand, heart, and mind
Of all ages!

Then there is more difference between thine and mine appeal
to the hand, heart, and mind of this generation
than between the Ipod and turntable; more between our appeals
than there is between fusion and fast food. But
tell us, do you hear whether our games have had any
loss at governmental rulings?

There I have bad new for thee: some states, some
rulings, those who don't know an amendment
from an ameliorate; some retailers, that were used to sneer
so smug upon my market; let them look to new games
call me old-fashioned; let them look to new games: they were
wont to sell games of bloody violence and no value; let them
look to new games.

Why, I am sure, if we lose market power, thou wilt not
take it: what's that good for?

To bait the intelligence of our youth: if nothing else,
it will make them happy. They have disgraced me, and
hindered me many millions; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my mechanics, assigned me to
bargain bins, wrecked my reputation with licensed copies
of poor games; and what's the reason? I am non-electric.
Hath not a board game fun? hath not a board game rules, players,
winners, tension, strategy, passions? played with
the same breath, poor by the same faults, subject
to the same arguments, won by the same fortitude,
dragged and rushed by the same gamer types, as
a video game is? If you ruin us, do we not break?
if you play fancifully with us, do we not make you laugh?
If you play vengefully with us, do we not make other players
Uncomfortable? and if you steal our market share, shall we not
market back? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a board game is promoted over a video game,
what is his humility? A press release. If a video game
splash the front page, what should the board game's sufferance be by
video game's example? Why, blogging! The marketing you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.

But that's not my favorite part of the play, it is two acts later:

Alan Moon shines bright: in such a game as this,
When the sweet rails did gently cross the states
And they did score few points, in such a game
San Francisco methinks meeted the Eastern coast
And sigh'd his relief for scoring the longest route,
With only two tracks left to play.

In such a game
Did the Tigris fearfully meet the Euphrates
And built a monument unto himself
Giving points in both blue and green.

In such a game
Stood the robber with a lumber in his hand
Upon the intersection of eight, four, and five
To block my brick production.

In such a game
The Bellsmith produced a work
That did race halfway 'round the scoring track.

In such a game
Did Knizia play on the Spanish coast
And with cubes of red and brown, did lovingly
Steal the Basque country.

In such a game
Did young Kramer move his bidding piece
Stealing away all other player's chances
Of securing Mendes province.

In such a game
Did Kramer and Knizia lose all hope
Of powering their plants, when Friedman bought all the coal.

I would out-game you, did no one ever need
Sleep; but, hark, I hear the calling of my bed.


Movie Reviews

Star Trek 7:

Up until now I had only seen movies 1-4 and 6. My experience with anything other than the old series was the first season of TNG and maybe one episode of DS9. I never really liked TNG or the others, although I couldn't exactly say why. It might have been because the new series were too slick. All of those antiseptic looking digital space shots, generic looking bridge shots, and so on. They looked exactly like every other sci-fi movie and series. They looked like the set from V. And the characters were either idiotic or generic, as well.

Seeing ST7 after first reviewing ST1-6 opened my eyes a little. I had never realized how poorly the old series actors were, even as I liked the characters. ST7 presented a whole slew of new actors that could actually act well. Yes! Good acting. A pity that I really didn't like the characters. Nor the story.

Yes, the actors who play Georgi and Data are good actors; much better than the actors who played Kirk and Spock (although Shatner was the best of them). But I can't stand seeing them on screen because I don't like the characters. Georgi waltzing around like a wuss? Data singing and laughing? What kind of sci-fi show is this?

The old set of characters were military; flawed, but military. The new set, even if they follow protocol more exactly, look like they're at a perpetual cocktail party for Shakespearian actors.

The story was kinda ok in grand scale, but it completely unraveled halfway through. Now, I have no problems with paradoxes in time travel, in general. ST4 had lots of paradoxes that didn't bother me. But this one made no sense.

Kirk and Picard are supposed to have died, or at least been sent into a vortex where they can in their minds travel to any point in time. In their minds, not in reality. How does it make sense for Kirk to come back, not to some place in history within his own mind, but in reality? And if he did it, why aren't there two Picards? And if they can go anywhen in history, why not Germany 1938 or any of a million other times? Heck, why not relax for 10,000 years first and then do it?

Sorry, none of it made sense to me.

Still, the general idea was enjoyable, and finally the acting was, although I didn't like the actual lines from the script all too often. I would rank it higher than either 1 or 5, and probably higher than 6.

That makes my current ranking: 4, 2, 3, 7, 6, (5 and 1 which are both the same and horrid).

And for the record, and to annoy the legions of fans, my current Star Wars ranking is: 5, 4, 2, 6, 1, 3 . And SW > ST.

The Double Life of Veronique:

This gorgeous film by the same director as Three Colors: Red, White, Blue, is loved and as highly regarded as his other films, but failed to satisfy me.

Every scene and shot is beautiful, I will admit that. Krzysztof has a brilliant ability to capture things on film. His use of imagery captures all sorts of mystery and holds such pregnant meaning. Every item gives rise to thought: a hand, a leaf, a shadow. Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn't seem to have any particular point.

Two women live in Europe and briefly pass each other once. One of them dies soon thereafter from some sort of consumption or cancer, and the other continues to live. The parallels between their lives hold no particular meaning or mystery other than their being parallels. These same parallels are explored, in my humble opinion, correctly in his later films Red, White, and Blue, but here they seem to be merely a sketch that hasn't been developed.

I would still recommend it, as anything so beautiful and lovingly done is worth watching, but don't expect to feel satisfied afterwards.

Brokeback Mountain:

Unlike ST7 which is flawed, but watchable, or Veroniquie, which is beautiful but flawed, this movie contains no major flaws. It was quite good, even great, although short of top tier excellency.

You all know the basic story: two guys fall in love, and try to lead normal lives anyway, but eventually begin seeing each other secretly over the course of many years.

The sweep of the years is well done, and gives a grand feeling to the story. The story is less sweeping; it is told leisurely and lushly, but rather straightforward. Ennis's wife and daughter, and the original employer all present strong characters, but they are kept firmly on the sidelines of the story.

All of the actors do excellent jobs, and the screenplay holds up very well. I was not wholly convinced with the first coupling that occurred between them, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief with that. And the ultimate fate of Jack seems too much like a Hollywood designed fate - oh, it's believable, but it's just a little trite.

An amusing point about the movie is that despite it being the "gay cowboy" movie, any real nudity in the movie is of women; apparently Hollywood still has its limits.

I don't see many movies, so I can't tell you if this is one of the "best" from last year, but it's good. Of course, if you can't sympathize with men in love with each other, you should probably avoid it.


[Pictures from IMDB]

Graphics for taking over the world

Continuing along my process for taking over the world, here are some graphic links you can put on your site to assist me in my worthy and important task.

A small sidebar image (note the link):
Yehuda Berlinger

And a large graphic:
Yehuda Berlinger

Anyone using one of these images gets a nice shout out and a link right here on this blog. You can't buy that in any store!


My history with electronic games, part 4: 2000s

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here.

By the time the year 2000 rolled in, I had essentially missed the second computer game revolution of fast graphics, video consoles, and the like. My game tastes were honed on Bridge, Magic, and now board games.

Lack of money and lack of desire to continue sitting in front of a computer were part of it. But far more was the desire to not only "play" by myself, but to create a game playing community, low-tech but high-fun. The board games I played were unlike anything else in the world; they were not "board games" sold to children and played by parents reluctantly with their kids. They were a whole world of treasure, like discovering an entire genus in biology. And I wanted to share this and to gather real people around me. You can't help but feel lonely if you play alone all day on a computer.

I did try a few games just to see what the hype was all about. But I loathed loathed the violence in most games - graphic blood and explosions, the horrible sounds of dying screams, and so on. Just, ugh. Galaxian has explosions, but they were low res explosions of people-less blips of colored light. I can't imagine sitting and listening to screams and dying for any length of time. When my son plays games (no FPS's, but civ games with battles) I insist that the sound is off when I am in the house.

Baldur's Gate II

This is as representative as any game for beautiful graphics, solid story, incredible sophistication, huge game space and strategy options, and as close as possible to recreating the D&D feel.

I played it a half a dozen times. It's good. If I were younger, maybe I would have continued playing. But as it is, it reminded me so much of CCA (Zork), that I felt "been there, done that". While I'm impressed with the graphics, all that really matters to me is the game play, and it wasn't a game so much as a vast puzzle. Figuring out the puzzle pieces didn't give me any particular satisfaction, because the solutions didn't require much ingenuity, only discovery through trial and error. That's fun if you've never done something like that before.


Although I was part of the game community in the 90s, active on Usenet groups and mailing lists, BGG was the first permanent location on which I became active. Springing from that experience I created a website for my game group, and then this blog.

BGG also has a few board games to play online, the only one of which is of value is Tigris and Euphrates. Playing that game online taught me how woefully bad I am.


When it comes to real-time board gaming online, BSW is the undisputed ruler of the manor. Not only does it have the best games, it has many of them, and a lot of the original graphics to go along with them. The quality of the opponents are also quite good, although some group think can occur.

The English interface gets better slowly over time. If I had time to play online, and I was looking for the board game experience, this is where I would be. It's also a good way to preview games before buying.


Just about the only downloadable game that I've played multiple times (after Dx-ball). The AI is good enough for almost anyone, and will give you enough experience to graduate to the 11x11 board, at least.


This was the first "major" game that I bought intending to play. The only other one was Baldur's Gate II, which was really for my son. I bought other games for my son as well, with no intention of playing them myself.

I bought it because I heard that it was beautiful and had no combat. That made is totally a puzzle, of course. I was hoping that the experience would feel immersive at least. It didn't really, and puzzles like the ones in this game (obscure clues hidden all over the place and the occasional arbitrary actions) just ain't my thing, after all.

I bought Riven together with Myst, but I never opened it.


Although I enjoy the real-time experience on BSW, this email/web version satisfied my ability to play at irregular times throughout the day without paying much attention, and was one of the only ways to play with my friend who couldn't make the game group and sat behind a firewall at work.

I achieved first place after playing for a while and eventually got bored of working to keep my place.

And, barring any memory losses, that's about it. Anything I'm looking forward to?

I'm looking forward to electronic board game tables that will let you play numerous board games with the correct programs. Only I fear that they will be destroyed before they even begin with DRM, limited use, poor execution, proprietary issues, high cost, and other problems.

One day when the kids are out of the house, I am looking forward to trying out a few MMORPG's, especially the less combative ones.

I would love to see MMO Eurogames, with players getting resources, trading, negotiating, developing, and so on. It's just that RPGs and war games, with their open design and simple victory conditions are so easily adapted to this type of environment. Euros, with their very specific turn ordering, resource management, and victory conditions, are vastly different beasts.

Still, I think it can be done.

Imagine an expandable spherical world of hexagons where each new player squeezed into play between three to six other players - those are your immediate opponents. While logged in, you have the opportunity to bid on auctions against these opponents, trade with these opponents, and so on.

You compete to build 3D buildings around your locations which give various benefits and populate them with workers according to some price tables. And so on. You score victory points and collect income.

It could be a lot of fun.


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Sunday, June 25, 2006

My history with electronic games, part 3: 1990s

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 4 is here.

I moved to Israel in 1991, already a regular participant in online mailing lists and Usenet, which became Dejanews, which became Google Groups.

My first job in Israel was terminably boring. Luckily for me I discovered OKBridge at that time (1992), and began playing with my brothers. A few years later and I discovered discussion about Magic somehow, somewhere. I bought a few packs and introduced my brothers and friends.

We would play Magic over the computer or telephone when we couldn't play in person, using our physical cards and writing down what the other person had played. I also followed online deck-building and strategy discussions. So the computer was already coming into play, as a method of allowing long distance play, and as a tool for discovering strategy used by other players in close to real-time. The tournament scene gave me good information on how to build decks, but never enticed me to start collecting cards. Tournaments were a half a world away, as were cards to buy, as was money with which to buy them.

I also played two games of online Diplomacy via email, both of which ended early and both of which I was leading. It never inspired me to take up the game in person, however.

Interest in online Magic discussions led me to renewed interest in 3e D&D, which started our regular gaming (we were also playing monthly Cosmic games). That led to Settlers and the rest of the board game world.

I was already writing online session reports about our D&D games in the late 90s, although I seem to have misplaced all of them. The Internet was serving as both a way to coordinate people to find time to game, as well as hold a record of that gaming.

After OKBridge went commercial, we moved over to other free sites.

Images below are mostly from Wikipedia. Links are back to the original sources, or to online information about the entry.

Cellphone games

Like digital watches, cellphones introduced bad gaming that survived (and survives) due to its mobility and novelty. It basically sucks, however. Endless variations on silly number games, whack-a-mole, and Snake. I don't play these much.


This is an Arkanoid clone, one of the better free games available to download for early Windows versions. The free version of DX-Ball 2 is limited in levels.

Gnu Chess

I worked mostly on Unix until 2003, and this was one of the few games available that held any interest, not only as a game, but also academic interest regarding its split between server and client, and its open source. The game was far better than I was.


Any Windows user has pretty much played this one. I use the right mouse-button heavily.


Along with OKbridge, this was my major gaming experience from the early 90s until I got Magic in 1995. These were the first MMO gaming environments, and they were neat. Remember that I despised graphics and mice, and I still used the Lynx browser until the 2000s.

You chose a character and started with some equipment. Then you played a game like CCA, except that the internal clock of the game was real time, so things would suddenly show up in your space or leave. And if you entered a space with a hostile monster, the computer would take over and you would start bashing each other without much dignity until one of you was dead.

You learned where the monsters appropriate for each of your levels of experience resided: the zombies in the graveyard, the orc village, and so on. Then you endlessly went there, killed some, went back to town, bought new gear, and did it again, going further each time.

There wasn't much strategy, tactics, or story involved.


The pinnacle of character based adventure gaming, this game is still one of my first choices if I want to play something on a computer. The dungeon is many levels of randomly generated rooms, and items, characters and monsters are each represented by a single ASCII character.

When I play games with better graphics, I get distracted by the graphics. I used to say that about graphical browsers as well, however, so maybe someday I'll move up to this decade (probably next decade).


As I noted above, a great multiplayer environment for people to play games around the world. Probably one of the first MMO gaming environments. The level of the players was quite high, actually. You sometimes got world class opponents. I left them after they began charging a fee.

Online game sites: Yahoo, Zone,

And went to these place to play instead. Yahoo bridge opponents were not quality, but I could play under Unix. Zone opponents were better, but required Windows to play. had a great Boggle implementation. I was quite good at it until I began to lose horribly all of a sudden. That happened coincidently around the time that a number of online Boggle solution applets came into existence. I gave up playing.

They also had a Battlezone implementation, but it was too tough.


I don't know where I got a downloadable copy of this. It was diverting for a few dozen plays. When you attacked you could watch your 66 armies lose to 12 one step at a time or automatically.


The other standard time waster that comes with Windows. I always play Vegas style scoring (-$52 to start, +$5 for each card that goes up), untimed, 3 cards flip.


You have to rotate blocks as they drop in order to fit them neatly into rows which then disappear. If you mess up, the jumble pile grows higher and higher until it reaches the top and you lose.

Many version of this game were available in any number of locations. It was all the rage for a while. I'm fairly good at it, but nothing special.


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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Weekend Gaming

I introduced Saarya to 2 player Caylus on Friday evening. Unfortunately, we started pretty late and by the end of the first scoring he was too tired to continue. He enjoyed it, although not enthusiastically (willing to play again). Caylus appears to be a game that can only be played with other people who really, really like it and are willing to devote the time required for it. This makes it different from the other top games, like Puerto Rico or El Grande.

It is more in league with Die Macher. Die Macher is also way too long, and an even longer game, but it feels less fiddly and lighter than Caylus. Still, both games feel like work by the end.

I also played a 2-player game of Puerto Rico with Rachel. We hadn't played in a good month and she requested it. We played with our standard set of my replacement buildings and rule changes.

It looked like a tight game for much of it. I was sure she had made a mistake with an early Hospice, but she used it highly effectively, pulling corns and quarries or loaded plantations against manned production buildings. The purchase set her back one round in money, which she quickly made up with a solid trade.

By the end game, I could already see that she was going to be ahead about 10 victory points in shipping. My only hope was to get two more large buildings than her, but no matter how I arranged it, she could match me. I ended up with 1 more large building, but she had many other small ones. Final score was 67 to 56.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Gamer surveys

Social behavior studies among game players is all the rage, not to mention the subject of various governmental bills, free speech arguments, and so on. There must be some tipping point of usage that produces this type of social behavior studying behavior. I wonder if anyone has ever studied the behavior of behaviorists.

"When do you decide that a group is worth studying?"

"How often do you conduct surveys?"


Here is a survey of video game behavior. Board gamers write a lot about different types of players, but I don't recall any actual studies being done.

My blog doesn't attract enough attention to get a big enough sample size, but I would like to see the results of a similar study for board game players, like (adapting the questions of the above survey):

Rank 1 - 5. 1 is not at all, 5 is absolutely, 0 is not relevant.
  • When I first start playing a game, I absolutely want and expect to win.
  • If I can't figure out the right strategy right away, I don't take some time to think about it, rather than go with instinct.
  • I just like playing games - it doesn't really matter if I'm winning.
  • The game I'm playing isn't as important as the people I'm playing with.
  • I enjoy playing games repeatedly until I get better at them.
  • I want to feel challenged, and I don't mind playing games that are difficult for me.
  • If I play a game that feels too hard for me, I quickly lose interest.
  • Once I start playing a game, it is important for me to finish the game.
  • The challenge of the game is what makes everything worthwhile.
  • I like playing games with many different elements, so I can make diverse plans and strategies. I sometimes enjoy a game I lose if I feel I put up a good fight.
  • Sometimes I get swept up in the experience of the game and completely forget about the goals of the game.
  • I'd much rather play with other people than play games alone.
  • I like to keep playing until I've won at least one game.
  • Feeling like I am progressing in the game is more important than winning the game.
  • I like to play multiple games rather than concentrate on one game. I don't need to finish one game to start another - a new experience is more rewarding than mastering something familiar.
  • I prefer a light thematic game, rather than a heavy deep game with complex mechanics.
And so on.

Computer gamer surveys find it fascinating that people who want to kill each other take the time to socialize; of course, the socializing is on the order of Lord of the Flies. But I found it fascinating that there really are MMORPG games that don't have combat in them; that's where I want to go, if I ever go online to play.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

My history with electronic games, part 2: 1980s

Please see part 1, part 3, and part 4.

In the 1980s I was still making computer games for school demos and fairs on my trusty C64 and Apple II. I was attending my father's college classes to learn more programming. By the time I hit college in 1985 (at 16 years old), I began experimenting on the Internet (or Arpanet, BITnet, and DECnet).

So the early part of the 80s were still a lot about arcade and computer games. Tron - great movie. Star Wars movies. 1985 was Back to the Future, a perfect movie with four sequential climaxes. I had missed Blade Runner (I saw it in the 90s).

D&D was my thing until the last two years of college. I got engaged the summer before my senior year. My big games were still Cosmic Encounter and Bridge. I was beginning to formulate better tastes in both music and books. So less Piers Anthony, and more William Gibson. Less radio pop music, more REM, Indigo Girls, and folk music.

I graduated college in 1989, with an eye for moving to Israel in the early 90s. My older brother had already moved, and my middle brother was on his way.

All images here are from Wikipedia, or otherwise linked back to their source.

A note about video and computer games:

From my limited perspective, the vast majority of video and computer games are built around three programming technologies:

  • motion tracking
  • collision detection
  • object state change

These programming techniques used to create Space Invaders appear to be the same programming techniques used to create Red Alert. Things move and things collide. When they do, or when you press a button, or when something else changes state, an object changes state: appears, disappears, or gets a new set of stats and moves in some other direction. Red Alert simply has a vast number of different types of objects, and very pretty representations of these objects.

Is it any wonder that we have so many shoot 'em up games? That's what lend themselves to this way of thinking. You need to get to recreations of board games before you find a real difference in the emphasis in programming.


Arkanoid is Breakout with dropping capsules that give you bonuses, neutral effects, or penalties. While I played a bit of this, I played more of Dx-Ball in the nineties.


In Battlezone, you have a 120 degree 3d-view of a wire landscape with tanks that you have to blow up, and who in turn are trying to blow you up.

Battlezone ranks as one of my favorite arcade games, even though I was never very good at it. It was the first game that felt like you were immersed in the physical game space. Maze games didn't feel like that, because movement in a maze game is by discrete units, e.g. 5 foot blocks. In BZ, movement was continuous. You had a little radar showing you where your enemies were, and you had to swivel around to hit them. The best way to do this was to turn while reversing, in case they were firing at you.


A game where the object is to use the robots bad AI against them, since they don't know how to get around walls, only how to step one step closer to you. Kill them all and escape the maze.

Electronic Chess Game

The game I played doesn't look quite like this one, as in mine the pieces had pegs under them. There were four levels of play, and the fourth level was unplayable, as it played with a five hour time clock (who had that much time?). Third level was hard to beat. First was pathetic.


Another 2D move game. Kill the tanks and rescue the people. It was the rescue part that added a little higher moral value to the game. Of course, you could kill the people, too, but you didn't gain points for that.


2D shooting game, but at least you could go both backwards and forwards. The game space wrapped around.

Discs of Tron

This obscure game was my favorite arcade game ever. It was just what a video game was meant to be. The game played a bit like air hockey and dodgeball (my best sport). You had to throw a disk in richoche moves to either knock the other guy off of his disks or knock out his disks. Your job was to catch or avoid whatever was thrown at you. It also felt very 3D.

The graphics and music were cool. And it was fun, leveled up nicely, and was quite addictive.

Dragon's Lair

Dragon's Lair was very original. The game was a choose your own adventure game, where every wrong choice meant a spectacular death. Each segment was pre-recorded on video disk, and all you had to do was quickly make the right choices within a second or so to escape to the next room.

The mechanic is built purely around the idea of knowing what to do through trial and error, each trial costing you quarters, of course. I really didn't like the concept, and while a I put a few quarters in, I quickly grew to loathe the concept.

Dung Beetles

A game very similar to Pacman, with a larger screen and the section at which you were located highlighted with a magnifying box. The magnifying box was cute.

Dungeons of Daggorath

This one stands for any number of maze like games that have endless wireframe walls, ladders to climb up and pits to drop down, monsters to encounter and treasures to collect. It was sort of like playing 3D Rogue, but with less story.


A better version of Galaxian, the standard in shoot 'em up against columns of enemies and waves of attack.


Another groundbreaking game, this was a little 2D shooter game, but four people could play at once, so long as each took a different character: Thief, Wizard, Warrior, or Valkyrie (whatever that is). Sound clips from this game have also entered hacker lexicon ("Wizard needs food, badly"), and four were better than one in cooperatively taking out the monsters.


A rather forgettable game where you had to flap your wings correctly to fly from one level to another spearing monsters, or you crashed.


A really forgettable game that was a huge step backwards in technology. Bombs dropped, and you had to catch them. I didn't play much. Heck, I could program this already when I was ten years old.

Lode Runner

One of a group of games where you had to collect the right pieces in the right order and jump from the right level to the right level in order for a ladder to appear that would let you escape the level. If you did the wrong thing, you either died or got stuck and had to turn off the computer (which was rather stupid). The game was like playing Gridlock.

Marble Madness

Probably my second favorite arcade game. You had to exert just the right amount of pressure on a rolling marble to keep it rolling down a track, and the choices got more difficult and the tracks got narrower. If you missed, the marble fell off a cliff. You exerted pressure by spinning a large black trackwheel; a little for some pressure, a lot for a lot of pressure.

It was brainy, subtle, and cute. Very addictive.

Missile Command

Another trackwheel game, you moved a crosshairs around in space and then pressed which silo you wanted to shoot to that crosshairs in order to create explosions that would hopefully engulf incoming missiles. The smart missiles you had to hit dead on or they would avoid your explosion. You only had 30 missiles each level, and six cities to defend. If you scored enough points, one of your cities might get regrown.

A very intelligent game with limited resources for a shooter, but ultimately it was how fast you could move the ball and hit the firing key. At later levels, you just had to create a wall of explosions.


What now seems to be a rather dumb game, you just had to run and jump, occasionally catching a swinging vine to do so.


An intelligent game both puzzle-like in which you had to visit all the regions in the least number of steps, as well as having to avoid the monsters coming after you. Very pretty, too.


The last of my top four games, this one was also brilliant and simple. You simply had to enclose territory by drawing lines around space after space, while the line being drawn had to be finished before the floating electric spark touched it. In the meantime, two crawling things were coming to get you if you wasted too much time.

Grabbing area and watching the percentile covered space appeals to the mathematician in me.

Robotron 2084

Similar to Berzerk, but without walls, the robots could do nothing more than step one step closer to you with each movement. They got faster and faster each level.


The first of the 2D versions of the adventure game, that eventually hit its peak with Nethack (which I didn't play until the nineties, and is still being developed). It is a turn based tactical game, with a lot of strategy, minimal graphics, and a good story.


A simple shoot the falling objects game. If enough parachuters fell on either side of the gun, the round ends with them scuttling over to your gun, climbing on top of each other, and blowing up your gun.

I recall a similar game called something like Sperm from Space, where your gun was an upside down naked woman that shot ... uh ... ping pong balls, I think, and if too much sperm managed to fall, then ... uh ... you lost.

Star Castle

This was a great game where you had to destroy the rotating shields of a ship in the center who could shoot as well or better than you could. Timing was essential.


There was nothing new in the mechanics here, just a great change in perspective. You circled around the outside at things crawling up to the top of a wall. When they were all done, you went through onto another wall. Nice perspective effects.

Time Pilot

I think this was one of the first major games with "bosses". After defeating the little guys, you had to kill the massive guy to get to the next level. Your ship always stayed in the middle, while the playing area scanned underneath you.

The theme/story of time travel at each level added to the game.


Tron was four games in one, where you had to play and succeed in all four before moving to the next level. Of the four games, only the light cycle one was really good. Light cycles is like multiple player snake, where each person tries to trap the other players by circling them with boxes. The other games were simple shooters.

Watch games

This was the era when little versions of video games were coming out on wrist watches. Digital watches were the thing, and they were pretty cheap. Most of these games provided only a few levels of difficulty, similar to the games you play on your cellphone today.


Another game with a little bit of a strange perspective, as the play space was tilted by 45 degrees, and you had to navigate objects and shoot in your relentless forward movement.


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