Thursday, April 29, 2010

Session Report, in which we play a long 6-player game of Robo Rally

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion/Dominion Intrigue, Robo Rally.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Session Report, as well as Shabbat Gaming

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: R-Eco, Container, Puerto Rico, Age of Empires III.

The report is pretty slight, as it's late and without notes.

Shabbat Gaming

I had many of the gaming gang over for lunch on shabbat. Games played:

Go: I played a quite satisfactory game with Adam, a player who can't make our Wed night games but comes whenever the opportunity presents itself at other times. He's quite better at Go than I am, having actually taken the time to study and practice it for a while, but he's still not a master.

As a result, for me a satisfactory game against him is that he doesn't eat the bulk of my stones in one fell swoop. He almost did, but I was able to squeak out of it. The game came down to counting stones, and he won 40 to 20 or so, but I was happy. We played on a 13x13 board.

Dominion: Also with Adam, this was first game for him, we played with around five cards from the basic set and five more from the expansions (I only rejected Black Market). Again, a nice satisfactory game feeling. Adam won with 5 provinces to my three and a duchy.

Container: Having played on Wed for the first time, five of them played this after lunch, and it took a long time. However, they all appeared to enjoy it and the game did not appear to be a blowout for anyone. Everyone expected Abraham to win because a) it was his game, and b) he tends to win calculating games, but he only came in fourth. Nadine won.

Nadine says: I focused on getting containers on the island, as well as money. On Shabbat we took turns overpaying for auctions, though on one of my over-payments, Shirley the auctioneer bought it, which she didn't do any other time at high prices, or even lower. Abe and Bill tied twice on an auction, and Shirley picked Abe to win it, expensive for him though it was 5 containers. Nadine says that she likes the game.

I played half a game on Friday evening (it was late), and my only fully-formed thought on the game is that it plays a whole lot like a Splotter game: unintuitive actions that don't seem to have much to do with your goals, but appear to gel elegantly after several plays. It's intriguing, I'll give it that. I still have no idea what's flying.

Stone Age: Four people played this one, but one left in the middle. I think Sarah won, followed by Shani, and then Ksenia. Second play for Shani (she is not a gamer and generally only plays when one of her children makes her, but she got into gaming this shabbat, which was nice), first for Ksenia.

Age of Empires III: It was me, Adam, Ksenia, Shani, and Sarah. First play for everyone except for me. First five-player game for me.

I'm happy to say that AoE3 seems to work well for 2-5 players. There is less to the worker placement and more to the conflict with 2 players, but there was some conflict here, too. Two three-player games I played had no conflict at all, and the four-player game had very little.

The worker placement aspect is more pronounced in five-player, and money was often tighter. No one bought more than two of the third age bonus buildings, for example.

I won with 97 points to 90 and some 80s (Ksenia scored less). I took the early $20 bonus, which I think is not a balanced building, really. I ended up with some bonus soldiers, so I sent them to the new world for money, the occasional swing in area control, and the bonus building that gives points for soldiers. It took some time for my income to get off the ground, but eventually I got the $10/round building, which helped a lot.

Sarah was the income queen, and Adam was my other foe in soldiers (hmmm, both the boys at the table ended up with the soldiers, as opposed to the other three players who were girls ...), but we never shot each other. Shani had the least buildings, but took the bonus building that gave points for "number of buildings" to prevent any of us from taking it (and was only a few points less than any other building would have given her).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dominion Fever, Antike Down to the Wire


I leant my three Dominion games to my brother Ben while I was in the US, and it took him an extra few weeks to get them back to me after I returned. He and his three kids, aged 6 to 10 or so, played around 40 games, probably more. They loved it. Now he has to find a way to get these bulky games to Israel.

I went to him and his wife for Yom Haazmaut, and so did my other brother David and his wife and kids. Turns out that one of David's kids had played Dominion: Intrigue at one of his friend's, and had told David about the game, but David hadn't played it yet.

After pulling random kingdoms, and then looking at David, I decided instead to play with the suggested ten basic kingdoms from the base set. Wise choice.

David took what is, I am fairly sure, the longest first turn in Dominion ever, by anyone. It must have been fifteen minutes. The rest of the first game was fairly similar: go, go, go, .... tap, tap, tap as David thought out loud about what the best card was. No amount of telling him that they were all good choices helped.

For all that thinking, he managed to achieve a singular lack of cohesion or synergy in his deck, and ended far away in last place. Ben and I tied at 35, while David's eldest (also first play) had 24, and David had 18.

However, David felt like he had a better handle on the game, and so we played a second game using the same cards. He did much better (and played a mite faster) this game. David was still in last, but this time David's eldest won the game by one point. However, the scores were all close - within 7 points of each other.


There was some talk of playing Taj Mahal, but I talked them into playing Antike, a game I dearly love and which doesn't hit my game group's table often enough. First play for everyone except for me, and this time two of David's kids joined in for a five player game.

In the first game, I gave some advice, but not an overabundance, I suppose; Nadine would probably have scolded me. I pretty much had double the second player's points, right through to when they all gave up when I was one point from winning (as usual, I suggested that we play until one point less than the suggested winning criteria, which is a Good Idea). I played the Phonecians in the corner, which I think is somewhat of an advantagous starting position.

I didn't think there was enough time for a second game, but David once again felt like he was getting the hang of it and inisisted that we play one more time.

The second game was near the quickest game of Antike I've even played, and everyone proved that they were up to speed. Now I trailed a point or two behind the leaders. By end-game, it was down to the wire. Ben was the first to be one point away from winning, and the quick game suddenly bogged down while he tried in vain to figure out how to win within a round or two. Finally he played, and then David and David's eldest also made it to one point away from winning.

Several times, either Ben, or David, or I were one resource away from gaining and extra victory point (which wouldn't have made me win, but would have made me feel better). A few temples fell. In the end, David's eldest once again pulled off the victory. He had played Greece and a strong naval strategy, and he won by destroying a temple (mine, I think). Ben was the player after him, and he had two ways he would have won on his turn. David was one additional turn away from winning (take gold, followed by a complete set of Know-Hows).

David enjoyed both games, as did everyone else, although David's eldest complained about the slow-down in the last game of Antike as Ben struggled to find his win condition.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are Games Art Part 4: Roger Ebert Won't Shut Up About What He Doesn't Know

Roger Ebert is famous for his movie reviews, and I'm one of his devoted followers. He's also infamous for writing an article claiming that video-games are not art, and never will be.

He has wisely not sought to expand or defend this ridiculous claim over the years, until now. After watching a TED presentation by Kellee Santiago on games and art, he has chosen to restate his original assertion, largely as a response to the presentation. (Roger's article, the presentation below)

Roger summarizes the presentation, bandies around various definitions of art, deconstructs Kellee's choice of a definition, and then sniffs at the three games that Kellee presents as steps in the direction of greater art. Because, after seeing half a minute of each within the presentation, they didn't move him as much as he has been moved after experiencing a complete film on the same subject.

And he repeats, from his original assertion (about which Kellee also, strangely but erroneously, agrees): "No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets."

Roger is an exemplification of the line from Simon and Garfunkle, that "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." He asks, "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?" To which I reply, why are you so intensely concerned that games not be defined as art?

You know damn well that I, and anyone else, can define art as whatever the hell they want to, and so, by definition, games are art, if I so choose to define them so. So you have to ensure that only what you define as art is art. You conveniently choose a definition of art that allows you to draw the boundaries where you want. Just like, in the over 1,000 comments you have received on your post, the only ones on which you comment are the ones where you can correct the commenter who got something wrong about which you wrote. All the others, who cogently disagree with you, remain unanswered.

"No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets." I'm in the game field, and I hereby assert that the game of Go is worthy of comparison with the great filmmakers, novelists, and poets.

I think I know something about games, certainly far more than you do. Furthermore, I am not unfamiliar with great films (I have experienced many of them from beginning until the end), great works of literature, and great works of art. The latter two, I'm sure I am at least as familiar with as you are.

Now, since as far as I know you've never experience a single game of Go from beginning until the end, nor several dozen years of playing Go, which is where and how the art in Go unfolds over time, I think any opinion you have on the subject is simply irrelevant. How can you justify continuing to talk about what you don't know, and about art which you've never experienced?

Roger, you haven't played games. You haven't done research. You look at thirty second samples and remain unmoved.

Looking at a few video games from the outside, without experiencing them, is like looking at a film trailer or reading the blurb on the back of a book. And, even if you've played a game or two and were not moved by them, so what? You are pre-disposed to not be moved by it. Plenty of people sat through The Godfather bored out of their mind, or looked at a Rembrandt or listened to a concerto while checking their watch. Your subjective opinion on a piece doesn't mean much, when you're not even remotely familiar with the medium about which you're judging.

(part 1, part 2, part 3)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Session Report, in which we play a lot of Bridge

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Robber Knights, Dominion x 2, Summoner Wars, Bridge x 3.

We play a lot of Bridge and Dominion.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Board Game Industry is a Subset of the Licensing Industry

The board game industry, like other industries to which it is vaguely related, such as toys, comics, video games, sports, puzzles, and so on, sells entertainment.

Players in the board game industry want you to part with your money for the promise of minutes, hours, weeks, or years of entertainment. Anyone in the industry who thinks that, for instance, board games are created to sell game play, is in the art business, not the entertainment business, and, like others in the art business, must prepare to starve while they pursue an uphill, self-righteous battle.

The value of an entertainment product is how much it entertains, for how long, how many times, and for how much cost (in time and money, at the expense of some other entertainment), as well as a few other variables (such as if it can be shared, transferred, returned, or resold). A board game's value can be measured using the same criteria as any other entertainment product. A board game doesn't have to deliver a good play experience to be successful entertainment; it simply has to entertain (or make promises that it will entertain).

Thus, a board game that functions as a toy is entertaining. One that evokes conversation, nostalgia, or laughter is entertaining. Game play may be a significant sales point for board games - and may generally be pushed as the primary sales point of board games - but is actually secondary, a means to an end, at least as far as entertainment is concerned.

Worthwhile and original game play is tricky, complicated, and highly subjective, which makes it costly and difficult to get right. Licensing marries one successful entertainment product (a theme) with another successful entertainment product (proven game play). Original games require game play development, art, production, marketing, fulfillment, and distribution. Licensed games dispense with the game play costs and much of the art costs. So they're not only more likely to be entertaining, contain elements that are already familiar to potential consumers, and appeal to a built-in fan base, they're also cheaper and quicker to produce.

Will a licensed game entertain for a minute? A few hours? Weeks? Years? That depends on how long the theme is in fashion (or if it will come back into fashion), and whether it is bought for the game play or for some other entertainment purpose, such as "collecting" or "playing with" it. Does a licensed game give a consumer a reason to buy? This depends on the amount of disposable income the purchaser possesses and what he or she expects from the entertainment he or she purchases.

It is not much of a surprise to see that industry insiders talk more about licenses and trends than they do about game play. For game play to make an impact, it has to be a breakthrough (or marketed brilliantly). Unfortunately for the purists, this type of breakthrough happens rarely. While they celebrate and pontificate over the thousands of great and wonderful original game play designs introduced each year, the industry continues to sell safe and tried entertainment to the happy meal consuming, on the go, summer blockbuster watching public.

Take heart, purists. First of all, stop whining about poor sales and an inability to penetrate to the mainstream market when you're not making products that the mainstream market wants. Second of all, armed with the  knowledge of what they want, use this information to marry the simplicity and accessibility of what the mainstream wants with your currently idling game play ideas. License. Copy. Brand. Market. Appeal.

Save the good games for game night with the geeks.

Session Report, in which a new player shows up

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: It's Alive, Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, Boggle, Tichu.

This shabbat at Nadine's, Abraham, Sarah, Nadine, and I played Trivial Pursuit, the original edition. Man, I thought I knew those questions, but those questions are pretty hard, especially thirty years on.

Apparently, Bananagrams has become a pretty big hit among my kids and their friends round these parts.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Scrabble With Rachel

Rachel's last act in Israel (other than packing up the Pesach dishes) was to toast me in a Scrabble game 491 to 288. She started with JEWEL, and though I got my own 48 point word eventually, after she scored two Bingos, several Ss, and a Z or two, I was just hoping to score at least half of what she did.

So she left for America on a happy note. Well, happy for her, anyway.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Scrabble With Mom

Mom occasionally beats me in Scrabble, even many years after I think she can't do it any more. There's nothing better than being surprised by your mom's mental acuity just when you think she's getting older.

This was not one of those times.

It might simply have been the letters. But on several of her turns, I pointed out a number of locations where she could score twice as much using the letters she just placed on the board. Even with that help, I played a bingo and won by a large margin. And without using the new two-letter words from 4th edition, with which she is unfamiliar (QI, ZA, etc).

Maybe next time.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Games Day Session Report

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Age of Empires III, Blood Red Sands (RPG), David & Goliath, El Grande, Hunting Party, Shadows Over Camelot.

I didn't think there would be a games day until very late, so I didn't advertise or host it. Gili hosted it, and nine people attended. Thanks, Gili.