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  • The Real People Multi-Game Solitaire Mega Tournament- Qteni/Fioli Leg 2- Ideology: The War of Ideas

  • The Right Group is About the Right People, Not the Right Games

    I'm more entrenched in the board game hobby now than ever before.  My game closet is slowly but steadily running out of room, I spend a lot of free time lurking the forums here and elsewhere, and I regularly visit local hobby stores on my lunch break.

    Yet, despite it being a pretty important aspect of the hobby, I rarely actually play board games.   

    The wife and I moved to a new city almost three years ago -- a few hours drive from our home town -- so I could kickstart my career.  (One of the drawbacks of being an adult is that, when making important life decisions, playing with your friends tends to be a lower priority than increasing your wages.)  So now I'm much less able to play games with friends.  Unfortunately, that also means I've lost much of the influence I had on the types of games we play when I do visit.  

    Around the time I first got interested in board games (about 2006), I'd occasionally join their game nights, where we'd play games like Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, or The Princes of Florence.  Fine enough games, but nothing that set my world on fire.  They were missing a spark.  They didn't take me back to my childhood when my buddies and I would stay up all night playing Monopoly or HeroQuest or Risk. 
    I decided I needed to inject some trashiness into the game nights and so picked up Fury of Dracula, Mall of Horror, Arkham Horror, and Twilight Imperium.  For the most part, these were hits which left indelible marks on the group's gaming consciousness.   We were more often opting for games that appealed to the inner child in all of us, the one who dreams of dog-fights in space or hunting vampires.

    But, since I moved three years ago, my group of friends has splintered into two gaming groups: one that primarily plays GURPS (and I have no fucking idea what that is) and the other, who I tend to get together with when I'm home for a weekend, has moved towards family-friendly Euros like 7 Wonders and Stone Age.  (Maybe those marks I'd left weren't so indelible...)  Meanwhile, my tastes have gone in a third direction.

    Though I still enjoy the FFG classics I bought back in the day, I'm getting less enchanted by sci-fi and fantasy tropes and more interested in playing out history via moderately complex wargames.  This was no more clear to me than last night when I received both Here I Stand (HiS) and RuneWars in the mail and I found myself much more excited that HiS has a Pregnancy Chart (!) on the board than I was with all the elaborate tokens and pieces in the coffin box put together.

    Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for games like HiS is not shared by my friends.  Last weekend I talked to Rob, who always hosts our game nights:

    Me: "I bought Here I Stand."

    Rob: "What's that?"

    Me: "It's a 6-player wargame that takes about 8 hours to play."

    Rob: "You like buying games that will never get played, don't you."

    Me (enticingly): "It's about the Protestant Reformaaaatioooooon."

    Rob: "..."

    And he's one of the guys who's usually more willing to try longer, meatier games.  (Though I have half-convinced the wife to give it a try if I ever need a sixth after telling her, "It's just like The Tudors!") 

    Back when I first introduced modern Amertirash to the group, I was playing games with them all the time.  It was a transition but they were happy to go with the flow since I was able to make the progression gradual.  Fast forward to today, and swiping 7 Wonders off the table to drop down some GMT seems like it would be too jarring a transition.  I don't want to force-feed a game on my friends that's a full day's committment -- partly I don't want to be a total imposition and partly I don't want to fuck up my chances of ever getting a game like this to the table again.  (There's probably a game that would make a good intermediate step.  Struggle of Empires, maybe?)

    No matter how I try to sell it, my shiny new HiS will be a tough one to get to the table.  I've decided to try and scratch the wargame itch a bit with some games that can be played solo.  (I recently traded for Under the Lily Banners and Labyrinth: The War on Terror.)  But, of course, playing games solo just isn't the same.  It doesn't truly scratch the itch but rather makes the itch all the more apparent.

    Maybe someday I'll feel inclined to venture out into the local gaming community and find people already playing HiS right here (apparently Regina, Saskatchewan has a very organized gaming community) but, really, I'd rather just play crap like Stone Age with friends.  The choice between playing the games I want or playing with the people I want is really no choice at all.

    But the fact that I'm having to even consider that choice makes me long for the days when I had it all.

  • The Rumpus Room in 2011

    This article will make a lot more sense if you're already familiar with The Rumpus Room, my game blog.

    Man, Christmas can really clog up the month of December. At least that was the case for me. After my last entry, the entire month kicked into high gear, and I barely had any time to play games at all, let alone review them. Like many gamers, I got a few choice items for Christmas, like these:

    • Thunderstone: Dragonspire – Thunderstone is a deck-builder that takes the time to be more of a full-length game than either Puzzle Strike or Dominion. The dungeon-y theme is not exactly original, but it’s well-integrated. The card artwork is also really good, full of dark fantasy and things like that. Overall, it’s a good game. Expect a review of this one once I get in another play or two.
    • Haggis - I reviewed Tichu a few months ago, and it’s definitely my favorite card game. The issue is, it’s strictly for four people. Oh, you can play three-handed, but it’s clearly a popsicle-stick-and-duct-tape solution. Enter Haggis, the recent climbing card game designed specifically for two or three players. Like Tichu, it’s cheap and deep. Unlike Tichu, it’s not quite as intuitive or natural. But that’s not a bad trade-off. It’s a challenging, rewarding game, and I’m glad to have it in my collection.
    • Telestrations - You may have played Telephone Pictionary, or the same game by it’s much more evocative name “Eat Poop You Cat.” Essentially, each player illustrates a different phrase, then the next person interprets that drawing without reading the original phrase. That interpretation is then drawn by the third person, and so on. I’m not normally a party game kinda guy, but this game is pretty hilarious. It also violates a cardinal rule of party games that I have, which is to never buy a game that you can reproduce at home with paper and a pen. But it doesn’t bother me much here, because the dry erase boards and markers in Telestrations are hilarious imprecise. It makes everything look like a cave drawing, and that only adds to the wild  progressions in the game.
    • The Ares Project - Essentially, this is a real-time strategy game in card-game form. You take control of one of four factions, and then build up troops to attack your opponent. I’m very excited about this game, because it is highly asymmetrical. And when I say “highly,” I mean it: aside from the basic rules, each faction actually has their own rule book as well. From reading the rules, this one looks very deep and very fun, but it’ll be a bear to learn and teach. However, every sign points to a game that will be worth the trouble. I love asymmetrical games, and this might be the new king. Only time shall tell.
    • Summoner Wars: Jungle Elves and Cloaks - I don’t know if I’ve discussed Summoner Wars much, but it’s a pretty terrific game. Each side sets up card on a grid, and each card represents a unit in a battle. It’s a lean/mean design, and the expansions for it have been universally excellent. The sixth and seventh factions released, the Cloaks and the Jungle Elves look ready to continue this tradition. I never play Summoner Wars as often as I’d like. In fact, I’ve come close to throwing it in the trade pile a couple of times. Then I play it and fall in love all over again. Because of my infrequency of play, I tend to buy expansions a good 8-12 months after they come out. I should really get the Master Set soon, though…

    So there you have it: those are games that you can expect to read reviews on in the future. So what else can you expect from the Rumpus Room in 2012?

    • First of  all, I will return to my 1-2 updates per week. The holiday season wasn’t kind to either my gaming time, or writing inspiration. Usually the early part of the year allows for more free time, and hopefully a re-establishing of my writing schedule.
    • Soon (probably in the next couple of weeks) I’ll write a “best of 2011″ article. This won’t be the  best new games, since I’m sure I’ve barely played enough to come up with many favorites. Rather, it’ll be the best of “new to me,” something other authors have done and that I really like.
    • I’d like to write more “commentary” articles, like the ones on game ratings and theme that I wrote earlier this year. These are normally very challenging for me to write. I feel like I’m getting a pretty good handle on a reviewing style, but I tend to think of the best commentary when working with other people in a dialogue. That was certainly the case with my “You Don’t Know Theme” article, which borrowed heavily (perhaps too much) from a thread on Fortress: Ameritrash. I’d like to hone the skills to write those kinds of articles on a regular basis, perhaps one a month. I don’t like setting rules on what I will and won’t write, but this is a personal goal I have.
    • As a behind the scenes item, I’d love to gain enough clout to be able to get some review copies. Let me be open: this is not to get free games. It’s more the only way that I can deliver current relevant reviews without breaking the bank. I buy new games very infrequently, and only after some thorough research. This is partially to keep my collection lean, but really more a product of very tight finances. I trade and buy used so that I can pinch every gaming penny. The problem is, I review  things I own, and that means I probably like them. I don’t mind writing positive reviews, but they don’t push me very much. Secondly, it’s hard to be timely in reviews when I buy after many people have already played and formed their own opinions. Heaven knows I don’t really have the time to game more than one night per week (maybe two), and we aren’t flush with space to keep games. And as every reviewer knows, you get way more crappy games than good ones. But I do feel that unless I come upon some enormous windfall of cash, this is probably the most likely direction the Rumpus Room will go, just so that the site can grow. For the time being, I’ll just keep plugging away on what’s already in front of me. I shouldn’t run out any time soon.

    Thanks to those of you who have stuck with the Rumpus Room through my first year, including those first couple months before I really focused on board gaming. I feel like I’ve been able to put my passion for gaming into written form, which was my goal the whole time. I’m still learning, obviously. I could stand to change up my review style, and I still feel like I soften my statements a little too much. But game-reviewing is a field with lots of mindless chatter, and not much competent writing. I hope I’ve been able to add to the conversation. Here’s hoping that 2012 sees some great things for The Rumpus Room!

  • The Sci-Fi Top 100




    Last Sat. at game club I mangaged to participate in debates about Dr. Who, Batman, Watchman, and the classic "Original Trek vs all Other Trek."  What is it about gamers and Sci-Fi/Superheroes/Fantasy ? And why are we all so f-ing opinionated and passionate about it?

  • The Second Annual Cracked LCD Halloween Spooktacular Spooktacle and Spookathon

  • The SIOBBL: Why Blood Bowl is the greatest game ever.

    Growing up I remember lots of games of Fireball Island, Heroquest, and Battlemasters played with the brother and cousins, this led to dicking around with tabletop games and minis when I had the money to buy, paint, and play those. After high school and into college, time was not spent on board games, it was much easier to pick up a controller and mess around on PlayStation or Xbox for a while. On a whim one day I went back to the old hobby store where I used to purchase my overpriced pewter and paints, perhaps something fun would catch my eye. Long before I ever looked at a boardgames website, before the weekly Wednesday gamenights, and before the monthly $200 internet orders... I walked into the hobby shop and bought off the shelf something that looked like I might like it... I had no idea.

    Its so beautiful.


    That was in 2003. The next 7 years are filled with a blood bowl league that progressed from a 4 team round robin played on a dinner table to our current 12 team 3 division league that we play online. The game Blood Bowl is fantastic right out of the box, but it becomes something much greater when played in a league. You develop players that FEEL like your children. You mold each player how you want, they may get bruised or killed on the way but each player's career is like a roller coaster with ups and downs that you play a part of.

    So the team development aspects make league play that much more interesting and fun. I've found that my enjoyment has taken another exponential step up by having multiple seasons. All of the reasons Blood Bowl shines with team development are even better the longer they last. Now rivalries between coaches begin to emerge, grudges are held and revenge is sought from games held seasons prior, all-stars emerge that every coach knows, records and championships are born. It is all about developing history. Team history, player history, coach history are all combined into a league mindset that permeates through every game... every game begins to really mean something. The league itself has evolved to something that I dare say is greater than I thought a board game is capable of and its never been more fun then it is now.

    If you haven't tried this game, do yourself a favor and find someone who has it. I realize the amount of commitment to create a league like what I have described is impossible for some groups (it took us 4 years to find a format that worked). Thats a shame because I haven't found any other game that can create this type of atmosphere around it... nothing comes close.

    Oh and for anyone that wants to follow along


  • The State of Laser Tag: Real-Life FPS is Now a Thing

    Last month I went to a new indoor laser tag place with my kids here in Greenville, SC. It was sort of fun, but I could not help wonder how is it that in the age of the smartphone and home drones, laser tag has managed to remain so stagnant. I was happy to learn I was wrong.
  • The state of the FLGS part x

    My FLGS (actually more a toy store franchise) is dropping its excellent board gaming and Warhammer sections. He actually took some time from behind the counter yesterday to give me the bad news.

    I guess we've long been lucky to have an excellent board games shop nearby. Not just the staple of Settlers and Carcassone, but also FFG, Phalanx and other foreign publishers. Delft, with a population of just over 100,000 is not particularly big to host a boardgame store, although most comparable Dutch towns have a shop carrying board games. In the small towns they often also carry Warhammer stuff, while bigger towns have separate GW stores.

    The shop owner isn't chucking out all board games and GW, but turning to the basics, which requires much less storage space and product knowledge. He said that turnover was slow, with quite a few games collecting dust on the shelves and thereby reducing profitability. But specialist sections like Warhammer and board games require a significant amount of time to keep track off. You have to know the new releases, rule changes, etc etc. to keep up with the generally knowledgeable customers.

    Looking at the turnover data for Dutch toy shops (a much broader category, so I don't know how relevant they are to this issue), it seems that form 2005 to 2009, the volume of turnover has increased by 30%, but prices dropped by 10%. The price drop seems to have started even earlier, in 2002. And then 2009 was a pretty bad year as both prices and volume dropped for a combined loss of 10% of value. So times are tough for toyshops overall.

    Personally I think the guy has a lot on his hands now that he has kids, and playing games and miniature battles has lost much of its attraction to him. That will have made the decision easier, but I guess that the bottom line was dominant in his decision.

    As an aside he also told me that Dutch publisher 999 Games is in dire straits and cut back the number of new releases. Looking at the number of releases for Essen, I hadn't picked up a decline, but the declining market may be less pronounced for Ameritrash than for Euro games.

    Of course, much of the new releases comes from essentially hobbyists that are willing to discount the hours invested from the production costs.

    All this together indicates to me that the current economic crisis is starting to affect board gaming publishers and retailers. Together with structural changes like competition from other pastimes (computer games) and online shops challenging shop prices, for the first time in a long while I start to question the long term viability of the sector.

  • The State of the Site - Growing Pains

    A little over a year ago, we decided to move from Blogger, and create our own website. We agreed that we didn't want the site to become anyone's full time responsibility. There would be no coding, no babysitting servers. As Ken mentioned in a recent article, our honest expectation was that we would have about 50 members, and get maybe 15,000 page hits a month. We figured that for a site that small that for around $300 we could buy some software, a template, register a domain, pay for some cheap server space, throw the site up and basically let it take care of itself. 



    As of December we were getting 700-1000 unique users per day and over 2 million page hits per month.


    Okay, here's the deal. This site was not coded from the ground up by any of us. It's like none of you coded your browser. If you want your browser to do anything that it doesn't do out of the box, you find and install plug-ins. So for example, if you want to be able to see Flash content, you probably have installed the Adobe Flash plug in. Every so often you go to a site, that tells you that your Flash plug in isn't up to date, so you have to download the new version and install it. If a new plug-in starts crashing your browser, you probably don't go in and hack the code to fix it. You probably uninstall it, and wait for a patch or a fix to be published.

    Well Fortress Ameritrash is like that. It's a core program with plug-ins, like the forum, added to it. I make small bug fixes. I might hack a few trivial things here and there, like the forum and comments doesn't display your real name, and you aren't required to enter a title into every comment you make, but for the most part, the core functionality of anything if let alone. If any of us got into that, this site would become a full time job.

    I get a lot of requests to add things or change the way certain things in Trash Talk work. Trash Talk happens to be a plug-in component called Fireboard. It also happens to be a major headache. It's not production stable. It sucks down huge amounts of CPU, it is fairly buggy, and as of Jan 1st the developers disappeared. Trying to change it's core processing, or enabling something like embedded youtube would be like trying to balance a rock on a house of cards, especially considering that we are essentially on probation with our server provider.

    In fact, we are stripping a lot of bells and whistles out of the site just to keep it viable. If one of your favorite features or functions has gone AWOL, feel free to let me know, but  

  • The Streets of Arkham

    As if you don't already have enough on your Arkham Horror plate, especially with the new Lurker expansion fresh out of the box, here's another variant I've been playing around with...

    The Streets of Arkham


    Street Tokens 1


    Street Tokens 2


  • The Tactics of Dust and The Earth Reborn: The Real Battle Is For My Wallet

    Dust Tactics

    Dust: Tactics and Earth Reborn are both games vying for my attention, but sadly I can probably only afford one. That is if I get the Deluxe Edition. Yeah, right.

    With no indication about how either one plays, and with both games in their cheapest form being supplied with unpainted minis, I have to make a decision on which game to get based on what sort of man I am.

    Earth Reborn apparently plays like a Space Hulk kind of game - which I like the sound of apart from the fact that the miniatures have the exact same white undercoat for both sides. This will be confusing if I don't paint them, so it's a dilemma.

    Dust: Tactics seems right up my alley with a miniatures combat board game, and the plastic of the unpainted minis seem like they are distinct enough from each other for easy identification. The only downside is that I've never tried an FFG product - ever.

    I could list on and on about how I want to support independent game publishers that are not-FFG but there's a difference between not supporting indie game companies like Z-Man who put out Earth Reborn and just being a Bansky fanboy who applies his art school morals to the world of the board game industry.

    It's silly and it's pointless to compare these very distinct games from each other, since if I had the mind to do so I could probably afford both for the price of the obscene Deluxe Edition which seems like an exercise in excessive content overpricing. Yeah, I'm sure the minis that are prepainted in the Deluxe Edition of Dust: Tactics look great - but the price tag doesn't look so great, especially when I consider that there are non-board game related items I want for Christmas which are equally as expensive but can wait till my birthday in the new year. The good news for me is that the iPad so I have read is not exactly a "limited edition product". Yeah, you may have heard that it's very available.

    I have considered buying one not just for the eReader potential and the apps, but to display my digital photographs to people in a way where I don't have to carry my hard copy prints all the time. Compared to that the Deluxe Edition of Dust: Tactics looks like an equally expensive folly - David Lynch's adaptation of Dune.

    Yeah, as a board gamer I'm pretty impressionable, and yeah I admit my hypocrisy over the minis issue because in my heart I know inside every college age man is a boy who wants the thrill of Games Workshop at a fraction of the cost - but I draw the line at spending $400 AUS on a friggin' BOARD GAME. Because when you spend that much on a board game it better be worth it. Me, I'll be getting the unpainted version thanks. Besides, I'll feel less dirty.

    Earth Reborn is still interesting to me though. I'll definitely consider it.

  • the third best thing

    Having a one year old daughter and a full time job that requires me to get up at four in the morning means I don’t get to game as much as I want to. Instead I read a lot about board games, and there’s a lot of good stuff here on F:AT, but not quite enough. So I’m gonna do the next (third?) best thing and write a bit about games I do get to play rather than complain about you guys not producing enough for me to read.

    Yesterday I got to try a game of DOMINION, which is a very fun, boring game. The concept is quite simple. Every turn you draw five cards from your deck and then use said cards to take actions and/or buy new cards from a common, face up pool of cards. Then you discard and draw five new cards for your next turn. The twist being that the cards you buy make your deck larger, thus expanding your opportunities while diluting your draw. The goal is to be the player who’ve bought the most Victory Point cards when the game ends at a rather arbitrary moment.

    The basic idea is sound, you get to play some nice combos, and the gameplay is fast. I had fun planning my turn, and I also liked that I had time to talk as there was zero reason to watch the other players take their turns. Oh, I would maybe have fared better had I taken note of their strategies and so on, but then again; actually having to watch every single step of another player’s turn would’ve made the game excruciatingly slow.

    But ultimately the game was also very, very boring. Not that I didn’t have fun playing with my friends, and I certainly appreciate the very gamey game, but I had no sense of story, no sense of theme, there’s almost no interaction in the basic setup (you can customize the cards available for purchase, and one of the suggested setups is called “more conflict” or some such), and I remember absolutely none of the cool combos we each managed to pull of as we played. The friend who owns (and loves) the game told me he was attracted by the fluff intro which is something about you being a ruler wanting to carve a big dominion out of all the small duchies and provinces around your kingdom. And yes, the introduction does make it sound like it’s a tongue in cheek cut-throat kinda game, but it’s not. It’s an interesting engine you have to optimize, and at no time did I feel like a king while playing. Yes, some of the cards make sense thematically (Militia forces the other player to discards cards, for instance, while a Moat protects you from Militias), but I simply cannot connect the core mechanisms of the game with the theme. For instance: I get that your deck is in fact your dominion, but why, then, is my Militia only available every now and then when I draw it? In other CCGs you at least get to keep it in play until it’s destroyed.

    I’ll no doubt play DOMINION again if asked – I like the gamey parts of it and how I can concentrate on chatting with friends when it’s not my turn – but it’s nothing like the other game I played recently: RUNEWARS.

    My first two games of RUNEWARS wasn’t a complete success. We didn’t realise that you draw a new quest upon completing one (which would have made the pace of the game way faster), and I felt it kinda lacking in the conflict department since you could more or less stock up on dragon runes and go into turtle mode. But I’m dying to play it again. And again. Combat is cool, fast, and vicious, you have to make a lot of agonizingly careful planning, the board looks fantastic, building units is so much faster than in STARCRAFT and TI3, and even with only a few games behind me, I already have stories of epic moves to tell.

    I think (and hope) that RUNEWARS can deliver that oomph-feeling that I also get from STARCRAFT, TI3, and A GAME OF THRONES. However, it looks to be shorter and simpler than STARCRAFT and scales better than the two others which means it’ll fill a different niche. But more on that when I return to blogland sometime in the near future.


  • The Thrasher

  • The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

    Over the last couple of months I’ve been playing a lot of war games.  About 60% of my gaming time has dedicated to war games.   I’m looking back at the games I’ve played and games I’ve bought over the last 5 years and I’ve gone from Euro-Caylus nerd to Ameritrash FFG fan boy to Crusty Grognard.   But what has driven me away from Euros and towards war games? At one point I was satisfied being a fat beard scratching euro gamer.   There was a comfort level of playing a 90 minute game of cubes and victory points.  Then a couple of years ago I discovered Ti3 and Arkham Horror and found it was much more of a thrill to kill monsters and aliens than it was to buy and sell corn.

    So how come I wasn’t just satisfied playing Ameritrash games like Last Night on Earth and Talisman?   Was I just searching for the “New” game?  Or did I just give up on Ameritrash after playing Age of Conan and Android?

    Actually from anyone who read my review of Hold the Line will know I played some war games with my dad as kids and over the past few years I’ve played a few war games every once in while  so for me it’s not a “New” thing.   It’s not even about the depth of strategy or interaction because there is plenty of strategy and interaction in Ameritrash games.  And I’m definitely not switching to war games because of the high quality components or rule books.

    The thing I most like about strategic war games is the degree of “Agony and Ecstasy” that goes on during a typical game.   While playing one of the great war games it’s amazing what an emotional roller coaster you’ll go through during a typical game.

    I’m in the middle of two on line games of Hannibal now.   I’m playing Rome and Dr. Mabuse is playing Carthage now.  Early in the game, I was ecstatic when against all odds I defeated Hannibal.  My joy was short lived because after a series of bad luck in the cards and Roman Consuls and bad decisions on my part, Carthage was able to completely destroy my largest army on the board and march on to Rome.  At my darkest hour, Nero sailed into Rome and defeated the Carthaginian army to safe the game.   You just don’t see that kind of emotional swings Eurogames or even Ameritrash games.   I experienced the same type of emotional roller coaster when playing Hammer of Scots and Wellington face to face a few weeks ago.

    Sometimes you’ll see wild swings in Ameritrash games but in most cases they seem very random or it is something based on leader bashing.  You don’t tend to see crazy swings in Euro games.  When you do the swings in Euro games they seem forced and gamey.  In Power Grid you see the leader being brought down by mechanism that rewards being in last place.   In war games the swings seem very natural and very thematic.     Perhaps this is why historians like to study and we like to play war games where there are large rises and falls.  Here are some of the most popular strategic war game periods:

    Roman Empire
    Napoleon   World War 2 – Eastern Front
    World War 2 – Europe
    World War 2 - Pacific
    American Revolution
    Civil War

    In most cases you see one side be incredibly successful followed by a turning point where the other side turns the tide to win.    This repeating plot makes for great stories and great war games.   In fact this repeating plot could make for great Ameritrash games if somebody would design them:

    War of Ring – A great Ameritrash games and it uses the great rise and fall story line
    Star Wars Trilogy?
    Starship Troopers?

    Unfortunately, most multiplayer conflict Ameritrash games have ended up going for some kind of starting balance.  It was inevitable that we would end up with Age of Conan.   Luckily, I was able to trade AoC for Hannibal.

  • The Top 10 Summoner Wars Albums of All Time

    If you’re someone who would be following my blog but didn’t listen to my interview of America’s next top Summoner Wars playtester, you can find it here.


    Back in Episode 53, I was the first one to get the ‘podcast origin story’ treatment, with Colby.  Perhaps he knew even then that he wanted to get rid of me so he thought he’d get mine out of the way first. I decided to pass the torch to Cory Bullock with an interview, because I’ve grown to know him pretty well and figured people would like another peek behind the curtain of Summoner Wars.  


    We started out by talking about the usual stuff from earlier origins stories: how he started gaming, where he’s from, and so on.  Just as I started playing traditional card games and chess with my father, Cory’s dad was an old school Avalon Hill fan who later introduced him to CCGs.  I played MtG, but he’s mostly just aware of it and the literature surrounding it; we talked about how we're both 'Red' players.  We both cut our teeth on Pokémon.  He played a bit of Decipher’s Star Wars CCG. Cory continues to play A Game of Thrones LCG in addition to Summoner Wars.  We briefly touch on console games, such as Ogre Battle 64.


    But I wanted to know who he really was, so I turned to one of the most common questions I got asked by people in high school, right after “what sport do you play?”


    I’ve seen Michael Barnes posit that typical BGGers are more likely to listen to Weird Al than the general public.  I’d lump Monty Python and perhaps Jonathan Coulton songs in there too.  Barnes sees similar links to the Ameritrash movement and a predilection for punk and metal. Do Wargamers listen to Jazz and Chess players Classical?  If the only board games in your house are Monopoly and Apples to Apples are you more likely to listen exclusively to the top 40?  Is there a connection between my older sister introducing me to both Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy and Magic the Gathering in the same year?  I started to wonder if smaller publishers are staffed with people more likely to listen to alternative or independent music.  A little while ago I suggested this as a podcast topic to Colby Dauch, but he declined it because he just hits buttons on his PandoraPad or whatever.



    So, mid-interview, I dropped a surprise nuke on Cory.  “Top 5 favorite albums of all time.  Go.”  He was caught off guard, so I picked some of mine while he thought about it.  But I quickly realized that yes, I did ask him a hard question, since I was neglecting some stuff from later in the alphabet as I glanced at my music folder.


    [Warning: Some videos or lyrics may be NSFW]

    Green Day – Coming Clean from Dookie

    Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor; from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

    CAKE – Daria from Fashion Nugget (but really, I like the whole album, and you’re more likely to have heard The Distance from that album.  I listen to the Cake discography on most solo road trips).

    At the Drive-In – Pattern Against User from Relationship Of Command

    Weezer – The Good Life from Pinkerton


    Honorable mentions from the show:  Fever to Tell by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Doolittle by Pixies.  


    I also really like Nirvana’s unplugged album.


    Here are songs from each of Cory’s top 5 albums, in I think no particular order:


    Modest Mouse - Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, from The Moon and Antartica


    Okkervil River - Seas Too Far to Reach, from Down the River of Golden Dreams


    The Hold Steady - Banging Camp, from Separation Sunday


    Laura Marling - Ghosts, from Alas I Cannot Swim


    Ben Folds Five - Steven's Last Night in Town, from Whatever and Ever Amen.


    And then I asked him what his favorite Summoner Wars album is.  If his debut was working on Cloaks and Jungle Elves, (let’s say that the JE are the A side, and Cloaks are B), was that the work he’s most proud of?  While excellent, he said that he didn’t have a sophomore slump – he really liked the work done on the VG/FK reinforcements.  And I pointed out that the Master Set* came out really well, and it was our 3rd album together.  We marveled at it, and then went on to talk about a lot of Summoner Wars stuff…


    *In hindsight, I prefer to think of the reinforcements as a solid EP, while the Master Set was some crazy 2 or 3 disc set that managed to be good, such as Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins.   Again, showing my age here.


    Even thought it didn’t show up on my list, there was definitely a time during testing where I’d listen to Combat Baby by Metric on repeat while staring at sideways boards in VASSAL.

  • The two games that killed Euros for me

  • The Village wins the Kennerspiel des Jahres Award - And I Like It

    I was totally surprised to learn that a game I liked had won the Kennerspiel des Jahres Award. Several months ago The Village had some buzz among the women in the internet board game community. It was almost totally based on the game's theme and a brief description of the game play. Only a few gals had actually played it. It seemed like something my Euro-loving gal gamer friends might like, and since I' m always looking for a good compromise game so I don't have to be polite and sit and smile through another hand of Dominion or the horror that is Hawaii, I tracked down a copy and bought it. I figured worse case scenario I didn't like it and could sell it or give it to one of my friends who did.

  • The virtues (and sins) of using dice in game designs

    In the very oldest traditional board and card games, dice are rarely used.  (Backgammon and Parcheesi are the most notable exceptions.)  Most of those boardgames have perfect information and the only uncertainty comes from the intentions of the other player, except where dice are used.  There are always just two players.  Think of checkers, go, chess, tic-tac-toe, Nine Men's Morris, mancala, and so forth. 
    Dice were used primarily for dice games.  Cards were not really invented for game purposes ion the West until post-Medieval times, and cards provide so much uncertainty on their own by hiding information that there evidently wasn't much impetus to add dice to card games.  Race and chase games combine dice with boards, but most of these don't have the ancient pedigree of the games I mentioned above.

    With the advent of what I call traditional commercial games such as Monopoly, Sorry, the execrable Game of Life, Risk, and others much older, dice became a typical component of boardgames, to the extent that video game design students who are not familiar with today's hobby boardgames simply assume that a non-abstract boardgame must include dice.

    When I first give game design students some materials to make games with I do not give them dice, but they often request it and then I give them whatever kinds of dice they need, whether d6s or something more offbeat.

    Yet there was a time some years ago when many people playing Eurostyle games declared a great unhappiness with dice.  They simply did not want to deal with them, perhaps because dice reminded them of non-intellectual American family games.  And as someone who in early adulthood said "I hate dice games" I can sympathize with that.  Yet there's a place for dice in games, depending on the target market and many other factors, and that's what I want to talk about, more the virtues of dice than the sins though I'll also mention the sins.

    Obviously, dice are a randomizer.  Spinners are an alternative, as is a deck of cards numbered from 1 to 6.  (Note that an unshuffled deck of cards is not entirely random if players can memorize what numbers have already come out of the deck.)  Unlike dice, spinners can have a great variety of weights to different choices, whereas with dice each number ought to come up with the same frequency.  We can use dice with more or less than six sides, and combinations of results (such as, if you roll a 5 or a 6 something happens).  It's also easy to roll several dice at once whether you add the results or not. Using the sum of two dice is common, giving probabilities from 1 to 6 out of 36.  It's also possible to use pictures on the dice instead of numerals, and of course you can do the same thing with cards and spinners.

    Randomization serves many purposes, and many things in life are random.  If you're one of those people who says "everything happens for a reason" you might disagree.

    An extreme example of randomization is the people who roll dice to decide what choice they're going to make within a game; this is especially popular amongst RPGers.

    Replayability and Variety
    I have a few multisided game prototypes where I have tried both deterministic combat methods and methods involving dice.  In some games the deterministic method seems to be acceptable and in others a dice method seems to work better.  This may be related to the "natural variety" of the game: a game with more natural variety can have a deterministic combat method, while a game with less natural variety needs the variety from the dice.

    Now what do I mean by "natural variety", which is a term I made up just this minute?  Imagine chess played on a board 16 squares wide instead of eight and with twice as many pieces on the side.  This has more natural variety than standard chess because there are more places for pieces to be and more pieces to move.  Then imagine chess with a 5 by 5 square board, or even 4 by 4, and proportional reduction in pieces.  That has less natural variety.

    To compare my two prototypes, in a game with only 30 locations and one type of unit (armies) there is much less natural variety than in a game with 45 locations, technological advances, and event cards, even though it too has only one type of unit.  The latter game uses deterministic combat while the former game works better with a form of dice combat that is fairly predictable and has a small standard deviation.

    Excitement and Surprise
    "Decks are fair, dice are exciting."  (Sean Givan)

    Dice provide moments of excitement that rarely come from cards, even more rarely from any other kind of activity.  If you are at a convention or other well-attended game meeting, and hear a big cheer from a table, it probably involves a dice roll.  Many kinds of games are meant to be intellectual (chess again) rather than exciting, but the exciting ones frequently involve dice.  (Is there a connection to a fascination with gambling?  I don't know.  As I said, I used to say "I hate dice", and I have absolutely no fascination with gambling, which to me is a sort of tax on people who cannot do math.)

    Dice also inject surprise into games, especially those that are otherwise perfect information.  And if you think about it, surprise is one of the main reasons why people play games.  It's really difficult to create new ways to surprise, but dice help do so, at least until people get used to the possibilities and probabilities in the game.

    "Chance is skill when you win. (Skill is chance when you lose)."  (Jonathon Walsh)

    Dice contribute to replayability not only because randomization creates a greater variety of situations.  Rolling dice means you're not putting your evaluation of your self into the game as much, not risking your ego.  How many times have you heard people blame the dice for their loss in a game?  Some people even profess to be convinced that they have consistently bad dice luck, which is of course ridiculous.  Though it's certainly possible to have bad luck in a single game, as I remember one 2-player Risk game where I rolled one "6" during the entire game.  Simply put, diceless games make you take more responsibility for the result than games with dice do.  And people who feel they're responsible for a loss may be less likely to try again.  Put it another way, if a player can convince himself that dice were his downfall, he's more likely to say "let's try that again."

    One reason why people dislike dice is that randomization dilutes the "purity of the puzzle." Many modern games, both board and video, are essentially puzzles because they can be solved - played in a way that is always successful.  When you introduce random factors then no solution will always work because luck won't always go your way.  The "speed runs" that are popular in video games, where someone shows how fast he or she can go all the way through a video game that they've played before, often with astonishingly quick times, are much less possible if there is much randomization in the game.  The speed running player cannot depend entirely on everything working exactly the way he's familiar with.

    Having said that, hobby boardgame players are often much happier with cards as a randomizer than with dice.  That may be because they feel they can manage a hand of cards whereas they can't manage dice rolls, or don't feel they can.

    Using knowledge of probability to manage dice rolls is something I would expect hobby game players to be able to do, but I suspect relatively few can.  For example, in Settlers of Catan two dice are rolled to determine which hexes produce raw materials.  Experienced game players generally know the chances of rolling particular numbers and know that a "7" is six times as likely to be rolled as a "2".  Yet the American edition of Settlers of Catan includes a table that shows those chances, so my suspicion is that a lot of people playing Catan don't know those dice odds. 
    In other words it's easier for some people to manage the cards they can see clearly in their hand than it is to manage probabilities that they can only see in your head - if they can work them out.

    Then a "sin" of dice is that you need to understand probability to fully manage dice.

    Another "sin" of dice is that they have the smell or odor of gambling, and gambling is very unattractive to a lot of people, though very attractive to many others.  So much so that some religions ban dice games.

    A minor sin of dice is that rambunctious (or merely clumsy) players sometimes disarray the game board while rolling dice all over the place!

    But the biggest sin of dice, in the minds of many, is that they're random.  Those who dislike randomness in games, dislike dice.

    Randomness has a place in games, and strongly I recommend Greg Costikyan's brilliant and detailed exposition available at, "Randomness blight or bane".

    I'll close with some "six word stories".  I occasionally ask blog readers to say six words about various topics, and here are some of the responses about "chance/randomness in games".  The quotes above are also responses to this question.

    First are some of mine:
    Chance provides a form of surprise.
    Cards are more manageable than dice.
    Egos are not involved, with dice.
    No chance/randomness, two players: mostly puzzle.

    And contributions from others:
    Need some randomness, JUST NOT DICE!  ( BMinNY)
    Randomness, for interesting situations; not outcomes (Matthew Rodgers)
    Cards 'feel' less random than dice (davidestall)
    A spoonful of chaos is fun (davidestall)
    Randomness keeps you on your toes (davidestall)  One. One. One. One. One. Impossible! (John Mitchell) [No, just improbable]
    Used well, best game ingredient ever (Guido Gloor)
    Life has randomness; why not games? (Wendell)
    A good servant, a bad master (Anthony Simons)
    Mastering chance is the true mastery  (Ien Cheng)
    Do we reflect, or master, life? (Brian Leet)
    Say a prayer, pass the ammunition  (Patrick Carroll)
    Controlled chance: good; complete chaos: not  (David Brain)
    Randomness is merely just another tool   (Russ Williams)
    Randomness does not magically improve games  (Russ Williams)
    The skilled make their own luck  (Steven Stadnicki)
    Intelligently used, balances risk with reward  (Eversor)

  • The Voice of Ameritrash

    Things are worse than I thought. I have been away for awhile and yet when I look around I am in a sea of triviality. Members discussing fonts! I thought the explosion of videogaming was bad enough but when this much discussion space has been given to a font, times in the world of boardgaming are indeed bad.

    However, let this not bring a smile to the House of Alden. Things are worse than ever there. In this Post-Barnes Era new leadership is needed and fortunately for boardgaming.

    I have arrived.

  • The water heater fucking dick and then bullshit

    Yes, it sure as fuck did.  We came home Saturday night and my wife turns on the hot water, working fine.  She comes out of the bathroom and I hear the well pump run.  Then it runs again.  And again.  "Oh, maybe the toilet is stuck" or some such shit goes through my head.  Nope, bathroom checks out.  "Maybe it's the new fridge water hookup I installed" I think.  Nope, dry and working as well as could be for something I installed.  "Well, guess I should go check down in the crawlspace."  As I get to the front door, I hear watery noises coming from the room with the boiler and water heater. "Fuck me sideways, this can't end well."  Sure enough, the water heater is leaking from the top access panel on the front of the unit.  Not all the way on the top of the tank, but about 75% towards the top on the side.  Turn off the water and the electricity to the heater and call the plumber.  "Looks like you're right fucked!" he says, but in much nicer words.  I call Home Depot where it was purchased 3 FUCKING YEARS AGO and then call the company.  HD opens in the morning and GE opens on Monday.  GREAT.

    Sunday morning, I call HD to see if the fuckrods who owned this shithole before me purchased the extended warranty.  OF COURSE NOT.  WHO THE FUCK PROTECTS SHIT LIKE THAT?  Mercifully, it's on a 12-year manufacturers warranty.  Guess I'll wait until Monday.

    Monday morning, 8 o'clock  sharp.  I call GE and they say "Oh, it's just the element leaking.  We'll send you a new one.  Install it and see if that fixes the issue.  If it doesn't, we'll get you a new heater."  Fucking ducky, another day without hot water.

    Tuesday around 11AM the FedEx woman shows up with my element.  I call up customer service and get the stupidest bitch I've ever talked to.  DO THEY FUCKING TRAIN THESE PEOPLE?  My dog was more helpful because at least she kept her mouth shut.  She tells me I need a 1 1/2 inch socket.  Who has a 1 1/2 inch socket around their house?  WHO!!!?  Not this guy.  Off to Lowe's to buy the socket and an adapter because I'm smart enough to know what size my socket wrench is.  Get home, remove the element, put the new one in, leaky, leaky, leaky, fucking leaky.  Great.  I know it's in write so I start looking around where I think the leak is coming from.  There it is, right at the base of where the element would screw in.  There's a goddamned whole where the weld has let loose.  Fuck my life!  All that time and aggravation just to get this far.  Call them up, they arrange to get me an exchange at the nearest Home Depot.  Ducky.

    Now comes the best part.  I unhook this unholy beast and proceed to move it towards the boiler room door.  It doesn't fit.

    I know what you're the fucking fuck is that possible?  The FUCKING MORONS who lived in this house before me built a wall seperating the laundry room from the boiler room.  They clearly did this without any thought at all as to how this would impact doing ANY FUCKING WORK IN THE BOILER ROOM.  I measure and measure and measure.  I try to lay the heater on it's side, but there's not enough room.  I try everything.  No dice.  The point of no return is upon us because I decide the only way this fat fuck (the heater, not me) is getting out is to cut the door jamb.  Before I can do that, I have to remove the door trim.  Oh, wait!  The fucking washer and dryer are pushed against it because there's a counter at the other end and there's not enough space to move anything.  I proceed to forcibly remove the cabinet and the 90000000 screws that held it in place.  I then move the washer and dryer and cut away the door frame.  After some time, the piece comes off and I'm able to FINALLY get the hot water heater out the door.  It's sitting outside now emptying out whatever is left.

    I'm not sure how I'm going to get this thing to the HD or get the new one back.  My car isn't very big.

    Rant over.  I feel much better.