Next of Ken, Volume 36: Favorite Christmas Movies, Hopeful Holiday Gaming, and the Merits of "Playing to Win"!

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Welcome to this week's edition of Next of Ken, where I'm talking about must-see Christmas movies, some quickie previews of Lifeboat: Weather Deck and Nightfall: Blood Country, my list of hopeful holiday games to get played, and a discussion about "Playing to Win" as it pertains to some of our favorite games.  Join us, won't you?



Take a good look around, and if you're lookin' down

Every year, I gotta watch 'em--Christmas isn't complete without a seasonal viewing.


5. Miracle on 34th Street

4. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

3. Scrooged

2. It's a Wonderful Life

1. A Christmas Story



Less than three weeks left and I've only gotten one of these down--Christmas Vacation.  That movie is endlessly quotable.

"Merry Christmas.  Merry Christmas.  Merry Christmas.  Merry Christmas.  Kiss my ass.  Kiss his ass.  Kiss your ass.  Happy Hannukah."


Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky


Recently picked up the new Lifeboat: Weather Deck.  It's a new deck that adds a phase just before the Quartermaster phase.  The deckLifeboatWeatherDeck is made up of various weather effects for each turn.  For example, the weather card "Stormy" says "If the Oars symbol appears, characters that rowed go overboard this turn instead of being thirsty for rowing."

The first player draws a weather card and looks at it secretly.  After taking his or her action for the turn, they pass it to the next player.  After the final player has taken their action, the card is revealed and its effects are carried out during the Navigation phase.

I haven't tried it yet.  Lifeboat has been one of my favorite small box card games for awhile now, and I've enjoyed both of the other expansions.  One of the things that excites me about this expansion is how it should solve one of the minor issues in the base game, in that often players who are at neither end of the boat have very little incentive or reward to shift spots forward.  Most of the time you'd try it just to get a "hated" character to fight, but then they'd just give up their seat, leaving you grumbling.

Now, the added information you get from going sooner can help you plan your turn better, and having that information ahead of time should be pretty valuable.

Also, just having the conditions change from turn to turn can add some variety to the game, spicing things up and keeping things from getting samey from turn to turn.

It's five bucks ($3 or so online), so I couldn't resist tossing it a recent order.  Now if only other companies would do micro-expansions like this at  a reasonable price...



Now take a heart of treason and praise your loving Queen

AGoT-Core_SetThere have been some sales on the Game of Thrones LCG Core set at various vendors (most recently on Amazon).  I've toyed with getting an extra just to supplement the core set I already have.

It's a decent game featuring all the characters from the popular series.  It was originally a CCG and its engine definitely shows those roots.

Personally, I think it's a terrible 2-player game where someone gets ahead and just beats down the other guy, but it has much more potential as a multiplayer fracas.  Experienced players have recommended 2 of the base sets for deckbuilding purposes, and based on both my experiences with this as well as Lord of the Rings LCG, I'm pretty sure that's sound advice.

I've always felt it was a ok game that had pitiful head-to-head play and was carried a lot by its theme.  Anyone with heavy multiplayer AGoT LCG experience care to chime in?



Hey you, did you ever intend to sleep inside my tomb?

I don't really have a main review this week; I've got several games on my review plate, but none of them I feel like I'm ready to render an "official" verdict on.  I've got Nightfall: Blood Country that I'm really hoping to put through its paces this weekend; it looks like a very cool set (in a much smaller box than I expected!)  The focus is on specific wound types being used to trigger additional effects.nightfall-Blood-country

I've also just received a review copy of AEG's Ninja; I haven't even gotten the shrink wrap off that puppy yet.

So instead, I'm going to talk up games that I'm hoping to get played this Christmas season.  Not just from a reviewer's perspective, but also a gamer's perspective.

1. Catacombs -- Santa's bringing this one to me for Christmas.  I'm hoping it's as much crazy fun as the reviews and videos show.  I decided to take the plunge after being so resistant to the idea of a "real" boardgame featuring flicky elements, only to find Ascending Empires was a blast.  Since my brother picked up Ascending Empires, I thought I'd go with Catacombs.

2.  Bootleggers -- I've owned this game for like what, three and a half years?  I've been re-reading the rules, time to get this at least played.  I'm expecting a cool theme, some light screwage, and some slightly above average gameplay.  About time I found out.

3.  Chaos in the Old World -- Yummy old world evil corrupt demon goodness.

4.  Claustrophobia + De Profundis -- So much 2-player awesomeness packed into these two boxes.

5.  Battlestar Galactica/Shadows Over Camelot -- I really need some hidden traitor action.  My preference as always is BSG, but Shadows may have to do in a pinch if scheduling is tight this holiday season.

6. Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? -- Sadly this too sits unplayed in my collection.  I got it in trade a few months ago.  It looks like a solid design that's tackling a tough topic, and Barnes did give it GOTY honors last year...

7. Dungeon Run -- I need to put this through all of its paces, with many players.  This one should be an easy sell, at least to my two brothers.

8. Puzzle Strike --  That upgrade kit is so sweet.  I've played a billion games on the server but there is no replacement for face to face, ever.

9. Gosu --  This awesome little card game has been neglected as of late.  The expansion has been delayed, so it's time to get those last few pre-expansion plays in.  There are so many cards and strategies in this game, I love blowing up my opponent's little goblins with a blowtorch-wielding goblin of my own.

10.  Olympos --  I love Small World and Vinci both.  Keyartes has a chance to go for the trifecta, though I'm not as sold at first glance that this will be quite as good as those.  This one is the game that's the biggest longshot of getting played this month.


The Christmas break is practically made for cramming a coule of good gamedays in there.  What are YOU hoping to get played over the holiday break?



There's no defeat, you'd sooner die, it's man-to-man, as we stand eye-to-eye

bsg_expansionRecently David Sirlin, designer of Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and Flash Duel, blogged about how the "squishy" communication rules in Shadows Over Camelot and Battlestar Galactica essentially make them bad games, at least from a "playing to win" perspective.  Here he lays out the strategy of someone wanting to win the game of Battlestar Galactica at all costs:

One player who is not the traitor should announce the following strategy. "I am not the traitor, and it's in my interest to expose the traitor. If you are not the traitor it's in your interest too. If you do not do what I'm going to say in a moment, you must be the traitor. What I'm about to say benefits non-traitors and exposes traitors, so there is no reason to not to go along other than being a traitor. We'll all "hint" at the cards we're going to play, and of course hints and just saying the card are the same in high-level play. Then when the cards are later revealed, we see if every card claimed to be there really is. If anyone lied, they are the traitor. If anyone was intentionally too vague with hints, they are the traitor. (The game pushes us all asymptotically close to the taboo tactic here.) Note that it's possible that a lying traitor could get lucky and his lie matches a random card. That's no matter though because if the cards *don't* match, then we definitely know the traitor. We'll just do this every single time, preventing the traitor from ever doing anything."

Of course, first off, most of us would never tolerate this at our gaming tables.  It's a totally dick move that would get someone ejected from my table, permanently if they did it after we're already an hour or so into the game.  Also, even given that, that is seriously, seriously stretching what the rulebook says about not revealing what you're playing.  I suppose you could develop code that lets you say what you're playing without saying it, but guess what?  Even by code, you're stating exactly what you're playing.  That's a no-no.

David's argument though is that this is the strategy that someone should pursue if they want to play at the highest level and win.  That it's the path you should take, per the letter (if not the spirit) of the rules.

That leaves me wondering--although I know most of us are ferocious competitors, the notion of "ruining" a game like that is simply beyond the pale.  It's as if we all have an unspoken contract that we're going to follow the "spirit of the game" (a term that's used frequently by fans of thematic games.)  The fact is, in Battlestar Galactica, I've simply told my players that they can't tell what cards they're playing, and cangaius_you_lucky_dog only vaguely hint; I've not once had someone cross the line, nor even had to warn someone more than once.

That whole line of thinking--of winning a game at all costs, regardless of spirit or fun--is decidedly Eurogamer.  The type of gamer where the victory, the mastery of the engine is the only thing that matters.

Truth is, I enjoy the "engine" of a game too.  I love manipulating stuff within a system, seeing how combinations of elements pay off in unexpected ways.

But--and this is a big deal for readers of this site--it's PEOPLE that are most important to us, followed by adhering to, you guess it, the "spirit of the game."  We make suboptimal moves from time to time in our favorite games not because we don't want to win, but because we want to play thematically, and especially to not play in a way that's not fun for everyone at the table.  Warping a game like this is just not something we're apt to do...and we're also not likely to game with someone who takes pleasure in warping games like this.

So where does this put us on the scale?  Who knows.  Eurogamers want to win regardless of who has fun or what that means to a game thematically; party gamers just want to have fun and rarely if ever remember who wins.

Me?  It's about finding a delicious balance of engine, and people.  A game needs to walk both lines properly.  It also takes the right crowd, folks that won't ruin it for everyone else.  So we care who wins, but we also have a "no pricks allowed" rule as well.

Am I okay with that?  Absolutely.  Now get in the brig, toaster.




And that's gonna do it for another holiday-chilled episode of Next of Ken.  Next week I'll be running a version 2.0 of one of my previous holiday columns, then the week after that we'll start taking votes for our Reader's GAME OF THE YEAR in a big front page splash.  It'll be your big chance to get your input in, then potentially get your name up in lights when we do our big 2011 Game of the Year article!

Until then, stay outta that December chill, and I'll see ya in seven.


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