Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Tale of the Homemade Monstrosity

Before I start, I should mention that Rachel beat me in a Puerto Rico game last week, our first game since her return from Canada. I never developed any income; lots of corn doesn't make up for poor income, especially when your opponent can block the boats.

After Thursday's board game meetup in Givatayim, I returned to Beit Shemesh for the weekend. Saarya and Tal joined me on Thursday evening, and we went shopping for back-to-school items on Friday. Rachel then joined us by the afternoon on Friday.

Quo Vadis

I roped my parents into playing this light little game. Rachel declined, but, Saarya joined in. That made for four players. I was most keen to try this five players, since I think it must be best with five, but four would have to do.

My parents played, but didn't appear to be overly impressed. In part, that was because Saarya took a little too long to think through his moves. Also, it was difficult for my father to grasp the negotiation aspect; rather, he would never give anything unless he got more in return.

Anyone with experience in negotiation games knows that this is not the best strategy. It is worthwhile to negotiate even at a loss, so long as you do so promiscuously. If I give opponent A 2 points in order to receive 1 point, opponent A has no real choice but to agree to this. If I then do the same thing with opponent B and opponent C, all of these deals are irrefutable, but in the end I end up with 3 points to each of their 2. This is pretty straightforward.

The difficult part of these types of negotiation games is the "unenforceable" clause, which says that players can refuse to uphold their end of the deal if the deal involved some future promise. I have no doubt that my parents would consider this to be cheating, even if pointed this out in the rules and explained it beforehand. So there you go.

I won again, and again I won not by a little, but by a lot. That's three for three. I have no doubts that this is because I am regularly allowed overwhelmingly control of one large area of the board.

One final note: I don't think that there is a single game that I ever self-taught myself that I didn't get one of the rules incorrect. This time it was the Caesar/II laurels. I thought that you had to throw out the laurel in order to make the Caesar move, but it turns out that you don't have to throw it out, and you only get the free bonus move on the turn that you take it.

In our case, not moving the Caesar very much made for a dull game. With the correct rule, the Caesar will move more often and add some more interest to the game.

The Homemade Game

After lunch on Saturday I walked over to the Scrabble players. There were two occupied boards being played, which left me waiting.

Nearby on a couch, a friend was playing chess with his son while other children watched. I asked if anyone wanted to play a game while I was waiting.

My friend prompted one of his other sons to show me the "game that he had invented".

OK, let's be fair. It wasn't really a monstrosity, certainly not for a kid's game invented by a kid. It was ... well, I'll leave it up to you to decide.

The game was a Monopoly-style board. "I hate it when people say that it looks like Monopoly", says the designer. The board's track was 8 spaces on one side, and 6 on the other. Landing on or passing go gave you $5. Each player started with $10. The game spaces consisted of random orderings of "Buy rights", "Sell rights", "Pick card from stack 1", "Pick card from stack 2", "Pick card from stack 3", "Roll on the Challenge chart", "Roll on the Competition chart", or "Jail". In addition, there was a three space "doubles" track that led from the center of the board to the start space.

You're all drawing this down on paper as you read, right?

You roll for player order (not "to go first", but for player order).
You roll to move your piece.
If you land on a "Buy", you roll to see what number you "own", and then roll to see how much money you get whenever someone rolls it.
If you land on a "Sell", you pick a number that you own, and roll to see how much money you get from the bank for selling it.
If you land on jail, you roll to see how many turns that you lose.
If you pick a card, you roll to see which action on the card you need to perform. A typical card will say something like:

2 - Roll three times and move that many spaces.
3 - Roll ten times, and pay the number of sevens that you roll.
4 - Roll three times on the challenge chart.
5 - Roll two dice and collect that much money.
6 - Roll two dice and pay that much money.
7 - Roll to see how much money you collect if you roll three fives in ten rolls.
8 - Roll to see how much money you pay if you roll an eight in five rolls.
9 - Roll to see what number you have to roll, then roll to see how many rolls you have to make that number, then roll to try to make that number. If you make it, roll to see how much money you make. If you don't, roll to see how much you lose.
10 - Roll until you get 2. Pay the number of rolls to each player.
11 - Roll to see how much money you make. Roll ten times. If you get a three twice, collect 3 times that amount of money.
12 - Roll ten times. If you don't get three sevens, go to jail.

There were about a dozen cards in each of the three piles, and the "2" pile was more severe than the "1" pile, while the "3" pile in turn was more severe than the "2" pile.

The Challenge chart looked similar to this. The Competition chart went from 4 to 24. You had to roll four dice. Each line on this chart required all players to continuously roll until some event occurred (e.g. "first player to roll a 12"), at which point the winning player rolled to see how much money he won or lost. Or something like that.

If you rolled doubles during your normal turn, you entered the "doubles" track. On that track, you needed to pay $1 each turn to stay on the track. If you did, you got to roll, and a double would move you forward one space, wherein you could buy rights at half price, sell at double price, or I don't know what. If you didn't, you went back to the start and collected $5.

If you bankrupt, you are immediately eliminated. First player to reach $100 wins.

I sat down to play, and one player went bankrupt on the second turn, which allowed me to ask him to take my place on the fourth turn when I decided that I had played enough. At that point, I was winning $42 to $15 to $10 to $0, by the way.

Both he and the father wanted to know what I thought of it, me being such a game expert. I think my leaving during the middle of the game said something. I said that, as a kid's game, it seems like fun if you like rolling dice. However, there needs to be a coherent theme. Buying and selling "rights" to dice rolls doesn't really hold together well.


By this time, I managed to start a game of Anagrams with my friend. Unfortunately, he had to leave soon thereafter. I then got to play a Scrabble game, losing mainly because of the new two-letter "Q" word "QI", which is simply ridiculous. She managed to pull that one off for 62 points, as well as a bingo, and I still only lost 338 to 326.

I think QI and ZA have to go. Send them packing, along with XI, XU, JO, KA, KO, and all of the other stupid two letter words.



Greg Costikyan has launched Manifesto Games, which is meant to apply the Long Tail to computer games. Good luck to him. Here is the manifesto of Manifesto Games.

Lost Garden contemplates future proofing game graphics.

Another boy band, but not Backstreet Boys. Teen heartthrobs sing about Hezbollah. In its usual stupidity, Israel tries to confiscate the music.

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