• Quite the storm expected here in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and I intend to stay up late this evening both to keep the driveway clear and to revel in the sheer volume of white due to land on us.  I'll drop in with the occasional measurement as the next 36 hours play out.




    So I walk into the Strategy Gaming session that my buddy Tim runs with the local middle and high schoolers.  Usually I'm in the mix for the entire day but I've been catching up on about a hundred jobs around the house and yard and needed to let my son make the trip on his own this time.  But I finished up at home around 3 and headed
    over early, only to find twelve kids all in on one big-ass game of Age of Empires!  He had put four tables together in a big rectangle and had two copies of the game fully used in one single game.  I just walked in and smiled and shook my head.


    In 1979 I was fifteen years old and fifteen miles away when Three Mile Island had a "malfunction."  At first the news was interesting and we watched carefully as the day progressed.  Then the news got big, it went national, and everything changed in town.  Dial tone took ten seconds to appear on the phone.  Schools let out early.  Local channels went on 24-hour news coverage at a time when that was unheard of and the new Governor Dick Thornburg was on the air for days at a time with some guy named "Dr. Denton," a rare bird that could actually describe how a nuclear reactor worked to us normal people.  In 1987 Doctor Harold Denton would be the key-note speaker at my graduation from Penn State.  In the following six days most people in the Harrisburg area knew how a three-stage cooling PWR reactor worked, and what had gone wrong in Unit 2.  The education was detailed and immersive.  It was the only subject worth considering.

    President Jimmy Carter, first in his class at the Naval Academy with a degree in Nuclear Engineering came on scene because surely he thought (God bless him) the best thing a President could do with his time in a crisis was get in the way of the people trying to handle the problem and offer his technical advice.

    One of the things we were educated on was the escalation stages that would occur in the event things would spiral out of control.  We were blessed to see the mark stay next to the lowest stage -- shut down as much as possible and cool cool cool.  Though Unit 2 was never able to fully seat the zirconium control rods that interfere with fission they were closed enough to suppress the reaction.  Unit 2 slowly shut down and once the Pressure Ordinance Release Valve issue was understood the engineers were in a position to slowly regain control and shut down the reaction completely.  Unit 2 never reopened and cleanup is still not fully complete.  But no one died from TMI.  The contingency plans functioned as designed.  Catastrophe was halted a long way down on the escalation list.

    This weekend I was sitting in CiCi's Pizza visiting with my extended family in Virginia.  My Ma and both my sisters were there, as was one of my brothers-in-law who had lived across the river in Mechanicsburg at the time of TMI.  The TV announced that they were dumping seawater into Fukushima and all of us exhaled in exasperation.  That had been on the list of escalation stages, well up the chart and all of us understood what the others in the restaurant did not -- it was an indication that the engineers had lost.  Fukushima was a runaway.  It would do what it wanted; containment was being surrendered in a desperate attempt to gain control through brute force.

    This evening I watched on the evening news as they listed the different issues present, 4 reactors out of control and their associated cool-off tanks that are boiling away their water.  This is truly a catastrophic turn of events.  Once broken away from its control structures the uranium will do as it pleases.  Little Boy contained 140 pounds of fuel.  You can fit that in a gym bag.  These reactors and their cooling tanks would fill a fast food restaurant corner to corner in all three dimensions.

    Japan truly has had a very bad day today, likely the worst in its incredibly long, storied history.  If any culture on this Earth can overcome this kind of adversity surely this is it, and when all is said and done Japan will certainly survive.  But it will be changed.  I believe all of us will be changed as well.



  • I love this game. 

    It is practically the essence of pure unadulterated beat em up, wrapped in a odd wargamey look, but with funky dice, the best new combat system in years, and some nifty event cards. 


    A very wide hard map of northern US and Canada. Cards on linen stock, a few tokens, and about 15 custom dice in 5 colors. And your troops are cubes. It is a pure dyed-in-the-wool AT DOAM game with cubes. 

    In practice, I'm not minding the cubes. There is only one troop type per faction, and they end up being much easier to deal with the having to stand up the plastic figures. You just drag them along in little groups and never are stuck between trying to stand them up again or leaving piles of plastic bits in a space. We've seen some large roving armies of 15 troops, and the board is practically covered in them at the start. 

    Basic rules:

    The game has perhaps 4 pages of rules, and really begs for exactly 5 players. They are divided into two teams (American Regulars, the crappy American Militia, the crappy Canadian Militia, Brits, and Indians.)

    The object resembles the very abstract Battleline. Take more of their key points than they've taken of yours. This takes between 3 and 8 round, and ends when one team has played all of their "Truce" Cards. 

    During a round, turns are done in random order (I've always adored this mechanic, not enough games use it.) by drawing from a bag. A player plays one movement card and optional special nifty cards. The movement cards specify a number of armies to move a number of spaces. 

    An army is as many of your guys and allies in a space you want to move. 

    Combat: Sweet, Sweet Combat

    Each player has 2-3 custom dice, which are different for each faction. Roll one die per unit to a maximum of 2 or 3. There are three results:

    1. Kill one enemy

    2. Optional retreat one unit to let it fight another day

    3. RUN AWAY!!! Your own unit is demoralized and leaves the map to reform at the muster point along with reinforcements on your next turn

    There is so much good here in such a simple system. The limit on number of dice thrown mean that you want mixed groups. And the tendency of the Militia troops to run away means you want to take hits with them, but still want to keep some around in case they can do something useful. And the optional retreat means that you may want to start leaving a longer battle if you think you might lose, because you cannot just move everything back. 

    In practice, you could almost start the game from what you've just read. There are some details, and a bit of chrome here and there, but only a handful of extra rules. 

    Actually playing:

    1812 reminds me a lot of the style of Memoir '44 Overlord scenarios. The team dynamic is definitely present, and the fact that the game encourages mixed groups in combat reinforces this quite nicely. 

    And while the game can totally be played at the pitchers of beer and pretzels level, there are some actual wargamey choices. It helps to play to your special cards, as each faction has their own tiny deck with unique specials and movement card mixes. 


    First of all, it jumps up and down and screams for 5. With fewer players, all factions still go, so someone has to take multiple factions. It isn't a complex stretch to see two people playing, but they miss out of the social and team aspect. 3-4 seem a little silly 

    I also wonder about balance. It seems like everything is stacked against the Americans. They only get 2 turns to the Canadians 3 each round. They get reinforcements further from the main line of battle, and they start with more troops away from the border. The Canadians start with a definite advantage, but seems to drop over time as the Americans bring more troops to bear. 

    The really wide battleline and the card variability is going to keep games from being too predictable. Perhaps I'm just not sure how to approach the American position yet. Or the crappy American Militia always keep running away. Really, the white guys are absolutely awful in an almost hysterical fashion.  


    It is just such a fun game that probably appeals less to Grognards than to people who like to roll dice. The die system is great, and the game plays in 30-120 minutes. So far, my 3 plays have felt relatively different. 

    I'm not sure I'd want to play a whole series of these, as there is a slightly abstract nature here that would require some hefty reworking to make it feel different. Still, I'd really want to at least look at anything else they do with it, and I'm now wondering why the heck I haven't played Conflict of Heroes. It's awesome, isn't it?


  • So I went over to The Grid, which is where my game group meets, to try and buy 1D3. I like to buy stuff at The Grid, since they let us play there, and are super nice, but they mostly sell CCG and D&D stuff there, so pretty much I just buy dice and card sleeves, and junk like that there. They keep all their stuff behind a counter, which is kind of a pain, but makes sense, so I had to wait for someone to help me.

    Jamie, who doesn't even work there, but is there so much he is like staff, asks me what I need. I tell him I need a D3. More than one if he has it. He looks at me like I'm a little soft in the head. So I tell him I just want a 6 sided die with 1-1-2-2-3-3. I know they are made. So he says I should just use a D6 and divide by two. No DUH! 

    Nothing against Jamie, BTW. He is an awesome guy. He also has a really cute baby, that he brings in sometimes. She just sleeps in her little car seat through all the gaming noise.  The fact that is a cool for gamer parents to bring in their babies is a testament to how socially well adjusted most of the regulars are. Not to mention how clean and and well kept the place is. Although I am tempted to take a rag and Lysol to the bathroom. The bathroom itself is clean, but the light switch and door  edges are almost black from finger prints. It's kind of gross, but it is also the kind of thing that guys don't seem to notice.

    So anyway, no luck on the D3. And yes, Jamie is right, I can use a D6 and divide by 2. It's what I have been doing. The thing is that I have too many games, where you have to do this. On a 1 or 2, X happens, on a 3 or a 4 Y happens, etc. It's just that I never play any game often enough to remember these little details. So we'll start playing, and then someone will ask, "How does reinforcements work again?" or whatever. Then we have to stop and look it up.  I'm thinking that if I throw a D3 into the box, when I see it, I'll think, "What's this for?" And then I'll remember, "Oh, yeah, that's the reinforcements die."  Also, no math and fewer brain farts. Like when your supposed to get 2 dollars if you roll a 3 or a 4, but when you see the 3, you just think 3. Honestly, a D3 only costs like 30 cents. I wish game publishers would just throw one in and raise the game price by a buck. It could even be a different color than the other dice, so it looks special. But I'm an anti-demographic who notices finger prints on doors, and doesn't mind paying a bit more for convenience. Raising a game price by a buck would no doubt provoke riots and boycotts.

    So I'm still hunting for my elusive D3.

  • The winners of the 2008 IGA has been announced by the International Gamers Awards committee a.k.a. a bunch of really white dudes . Seriously, it looks like the reunion of the St. John's Prep chess club.

    And Frank, what is this? Your head shot from the program for your high school production of "Godspell"?


    BTW, they like Agricola and 1960: The Making of the President. Congrats to Zev and Z-man Games. I hope this means that Z-man makes piles of money to bank roll more games like Shadow Hunters and Tales of the Arabian Nights.

  • So, our 2009 in review blog posthas gone up.  Lots of information there, mostly discussing how things went for us last year.

    One thing we brushed across in that summary was the decision to not open a retail store for the next few years, if ever.  It's taken me a long time to come to that decision, mostly because when we launched Starlit Citadel, a game store was always the end-goal.

    However, many things have changed since we launched the store and I've finally had to face up to that.  Since Alison is no longer taking an active role in the company and she had all the retail experience, launching a store would mean I'd have to learn all of that on-the-job so to speak.  And having read extensively, and considered what that would involve, I've realised I just don't have hte skills or frankly, the character to run a game store.  Heck, I can't even keep my apartment clean and free of junk - how do I expect to do the same for my business?

    In addition, my skill set has always been on the back-end of things - marketing, purchasing, logistics and IT.  I can do customer service and I'm not a bad salesperson, but it's not what thrills me.  And since this is my full-time job, I might as well do what thrills me.

    Not to mention that in the 3 years since we started, Vancouver has literally doubled the number of game stores in town.  Many of the locations we thought would make great spots are already taken, and frankly, being well managed.  Since the only thing we could bring to the retail environment is low prices (and even then, in some cases, not that much lower); I don't see a reason to do so.

    It's still a tough call, but I think it's the right one.

  • Oscar nominations came out this morning. Let’s take a look (with my comments of course). I wanna make some early comments but my final predictions won’t be until the week before Oscars where I place my bets, yo.

    Best picture

    "Avatar"   WILL WIN
    "The Hurt Locker" SHOULD WIN
    "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire" -nice
    "Up in the Air"
    "Inglourious Basterds"
    "Up"                         HOLY CRAP! This puts all my predictions up in the air (no pun). Since Beauty & the Beast got nominated for Best picture, the Academy has not been allowed to nominate animated movies for best picture. THANK GOD they stopped that STUPID practice. "The Blind Side"       WTF!??!
    "District 9"                                OMG! SO AWESOME that the Academy recognizes this
    "An Education"
    "A Serious Man"


    George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
    Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"       WILL WIN & SHOULD WIN
    Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
    Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
    Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"


    Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"
    Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"             ok, c’mon. Enough already. How overrated a performance can you get? This is like when Decaprio won every award (except the Oscar) for his acting in Titanic. Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"      WOW. Breakthrough performance gets a nomination! NICE
    Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
    Carey Mulligan, "An Education"                WILL WIN AND SHOULD WIN

    Supporting actor

    Matt Damon, "Invictus" Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger" Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station" Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
    Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"   WILL WIN AND SHOULD WIN

    Supporting actress

    Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
    Mo'Nique, "Precious"                                SHOULD WIN. I have no idea who will win. I hope it’s her but I have a crush on Kendrick.
    Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
    Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
    Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart"


    Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"                SHOULD WIN          Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"          WOULD BE NICE
    James Cameron, "Avatar"        WILL WIN, GODDAMIT
    Lee Daniels, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"             OMG, what a tough category. STUPID CAMERON with the lock
    Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

    Animated feature

    "Up"                                         WILL WIN & SHOULD WIN
    "Coraline"                                 maybe
    "Fantastic Mr. Fox"                   maybe
    "The Princess and the Frog"    maybe (this is the first year Pixar MAY not have as big a lock as they have in the past. Lol @ no Dreamworks animated CRAP making the list. "The Secret of Kells"

    Original screenplay

    "The Hurt Locker"                     maybe
    "Inglourious Basterds"              maybe
    "The Messenger"
    "A Serious Man"
    "Up"                                         maybe (I literally have no clue as to this one, it SHOULD be Up or Hurt Locker)

    Adapted screenplay

    "District 9"                               WOW
    "An Education"                        NICE
    "In the Loop"                           cool!
    "Precious"                                  should win
    "Up in the Air"

    Best foreign-language film

    "El Secreto de Sus Ojos"
    "The Milk of Sorrow"
    "Un Prophete"
    "The White Ribbon"                 should win

    Best film editing

    "Avatar"                                   will win
    "District 9"
    "The Hurt Locker"                     should win
    "Inglourious Basterds"

    Best documentary feature

    "Burma VJ"
    "The Cove"                              SHOULD WIN
    "Food, Inc."                              will win? This is a total toss up between this and cove
    "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"
    "Which Way Home"

    Art direction

    "Avatar"                                   will win & should win
    "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"
    "Sherlock Holmes"
    "The Young Victoria


    "Avatar"                                   will win
    "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
    "The Hurt Locker"                     should win (this has a shot unless Avatar sweeps)
    "Inglourious Basterds"
    "The White Ribbon"

    Well there ya go. I’m REALLY impressed with the nominations for the first time in a long time. TO recognize District 9 for its accomplishments is impressive enough, but seriously... nominating UP is EPIC!

  • nostradamus.JPG 2011 has been a very interesting year for everyone at F:AT.  Here's a recap of the top stories from 2011.
  • Game Designer Survey Results


    In the last half of December through the first part of February I distributed a survey for game designers on the Internet:  "This is a short (10 questions, five minutes or less) survey for people who call themselves game designers, video or tabletop (which is as good a way to define who game designers are as any other)."  In the end, 142 respondents have had a game published commercially, along with 46 self-publishers, more than half of the 346 respondents.  Here are the results.


    Because this was conducted through the free surveymonkey service, I'm unable to provide much in the way of analysis of the results.  It was a proof-of-concept survey, and curiosity survey, rather than one with a specific aim.  So I can be accused of violating my own survey rule, "only ask a question that can change your [the survey-taker's] behavior".


    With nearly 350 responses, I think the proof-of-concept part has worked.   Ultimately I intend to use information from surveys, as well as interview questions, in support of a book about being a game designer, how to become one, how to behave in order to be taken seriously by publishers, how to market games, how to license games, intellectual property protection, etc.  In other words, all the parts of a game designers life that I did not address in my "Game Design" book for lack of space, and because I wanted to focus on the actual process of design in that first book.


    Some observations:

    While nearly a third of respondents are under 30 years old, the 30-49 group constituted more than 60%.


    Respondents play even more video games than tabletop, though how much that is skewed by the many free-to-play and short experience video games we cannot say. 


    Nearly 50% have been to game meetings of a thousand people or more.


    More than 13% have a game related degree or are working toward one.


    A veteran game designer commenting on the survey told me that video game designers rarely read books, though they might look at one to help them solve a specific problem.  I asked about game design books (#6) because my experience as a teacher is that people are much less likely now, than decades ago, to read a non-fiction book.  Some students now don’t even get a copy of the textbook for a class.  Part of that fault may be that most game design books are enormous, offputting tomes, many of them quite expensive.


    As many have said, you’re not really a game designer until someone other than you has played your prototype.  About 85% of respondents have reached that stage in their work.  I also asked how many designs respondents are working on (#9), because to my mind veteran designers work on several (if not many) at once.  More than 55% of respondents are working on at least three games.


    Not surprisingly, I left out some choices in the question about sources of information about games and game design (#8).  I didn't even list blogs, though I've written a game design blog since 2004.  Duh.


    Many people did not answer question 10, perhaps I should have added an answer “I don’t know what this is.”  Still, the number who have supported crowd-funding (171, about half of respondents) is impressive.


    Many respondents offered comments.  I have read them all, though I won't include many here.


    I am happy to hear suggestions for questions in any further surveys.  You can get in touch with me through my blogs or website (


    F:ATs blog editor allows insertion from MS Word, but it's hard to predict how this will look on a standard Web page.  An Excel spreadsheet of the results is at .


    1. How old are you?



    Up to 15




























    66 or older











    2. How many different video games did you play in the past year?






















    26 or more













     3. How many different tabletop games did you play in the past year?






















    26 or more













    4. What size (in attendance) game conventions or conferences have you attended (ever, not just this year)?






    less than 200





    200 to a thousand





    More than a thousand but less than ten thousand





    More than ten thousand













    5. Have you ever before taken a class about game design (not programming, art, sound, or other game production topics that are not game design) - multiple answers possible?






    Yes, in person





    Yes, online





    Yes, and I'm working toward a game-related degree





    Yes, and I have a game-related degree





    I have taught such classes in person





    I have taught such classes online













    6. About how many books specifically about game design have you read?

















    10 or more











    7. The furthest you've gone in DESIGNING a game (video or tabletop) is (choose the first one in the list that applies):



    Had game published commercially (other than self-published)





    Self-published a game (or tried to raise funds via crowd-funding e.g. Kickstarter)





    Prototype submitted to publisher/game company/funding company





    Others played my working prototype





    Made working prototype





    Started to make prototype





    Wrote down a lengthy description (such as a game design document)





    Wrote down ideas about one





    Talking with others about one





    Other (please specify)








    8. Which of the following sources of information about games and game design do you read regularly (you decide what "regularly" means)?

    BoardgameGeek Web site





    Any console-specific game magazine



    Board Game Designers Forum Web site



    Fortress:AT Web site



    Gamasutra Web site



    GameCareerGuide Web site



    Gameinformer magazine



    GameInformer Web site



    GameSpot Web site



    IGDA Newsletter/Web site



    Kotaku Web site



    PC Gamer magazine



    PC Gamer Web site



    RolePlayGameGeek Web site



    The Escapist online magazine



    VideoGameGeek Web site



    Other (please specify)








    9. How many games are you currently designing (have done something with them in 2012)?
















    More than 5












    10. How many game projects have you SUPPORTED (not run) on Kickstarter or other crowdfunding locations?
















    7 or more











  • Chat it up here, ladies. Lord Humongous has taken a shine to you all and allowed you to exchange goods and services as long as he gets that fuel depot in the end. IT'S THE ONLY THING ON HIS WANT LISTS!


  • Just like it sounds, you pissy bitches. Especially Barnes. He'd have one of these fuckers every week if he could .
  • I've played 7 Wonders twice now, so that makes me an expert on the game of such unquestionable authority that my opinion should be accepted as revealed truth.  Or not.

    In the commentary following Matt Drake's review of 7 Wonders, there were numerous posts to the effect that the game sounds a lot like Fairy Tale, but I believe the two games are only superficially similar; Dune is not the same game as Medici just because they both have bidding.

    7 Wondersworks because it feels like a bigger game than it is. The German publishers used to be good at making games that punch above their weight class. 7 Wonders is from Belgium, I think, but it's a throw-back to those times. If I were to compare it to any game, I'd compare it to Dominion, since the two are comparable in length and difficulty. Unlike Dominion, though, 7 Wonders isn't ugly. The cards come in more colors than just brown, and players are not constantly looking at the same illustrations because most cards are unique. And it scarcely needs to be said that cards depicting hot chicks at a communal bath will always be more fun and memorable than -- whatever the pictures in Dominion are.

    Another crucial difference between 7 Wonders and Dominion is that 7 Wonders has a better game arc.  In Dominion, the same cards are available throughout the game, and players' strategies tend to be preoccupied with timing: when to stop buying the cheap cards and switch to the more powerful (but expensive) cards? When to switch from building your "engine" to collecting VPs? You're not being rewarded for combining the cards in novel or creative ways ; you're being rewarded for knowing -- from past experience with the game -- when to shift gears. In contrast, 7 Wonders brings new cards into the mix each round so that, as the game proceeds, ever more powerful and interesting combinations become possible.  This creates the sense that 7 Wonders accelerates to a conclusion, and it's a key element in the illusion that makes 7 Wondersfeel big.  Dominion is a one-act play, but 7 Wonders has three movements and it uses them to impart the sense that something actually happened during the half hour that you spent playing it.

    There was also some commentary following Matt's review suggesting that a player will occasionally be forced to draft a card that she doesn't want simply to deprive another player from getting it. This, too, is bogus.  For one thing, no single card is going to be so advantageous to any player that the failure to burn a specific card is going to be a game-breaker. For another, a card may have to travel around the table for a while before the person to whom it is most valuable will have a chance at it. That means that several people will have the opportunity to burn the card. That complicates the tactical choices involved in a fascinating way: "Player A: I can burn this card and make sure Player C doesn't get it, or I can pass it to Player B, and hope she burns it."  The silent brinkmanship is great fun.  Further, it's important to remember that lots of drafting decisions are being made simultaneously.  Player A might resent having to decide whether to burn a card that Player C clearly wants, but Player C might be concurrently making the same decision about a card that Player A wants! For all of these reasons, I don't think you're going to see Puerto Rico-style fun-murdering ("you picked the wrong role!").

    7 Wonders is quick, but I claim that it's satisfying in a way that other popular games of similar duration are not. The difference is the game arc. At the same time, the "booster draft" mechanism introduces tactical choices to 7 Wondersthat are not present in other, comparable games.  Besides, the game looks great.

    If you want to play Fairy Tale, play Fairy Tale. If you want to play Dominion, Puerto Rico, San Juan, or Race for the Galaxy, at least try 7 Wonders. I think it's more than just the flavor of the week at BGG. It's a game that will last.

  • 1. Definition:

    2. Party Game:

    3. Mad Dash:

    4. Bumper Stumpers:

    5. Pitfall:

    6. Front Page Challenge:

    7.  Reach For The Top:

    8. This is the Law:





    A buddy that's an antiques dealer just bought an estate that included a pile of old games.  About four hand-written pages worth.  Mostly Avalon Hill and SPI.  These include some of the Ares and S&T magazine games.  Some non-wars mixed in with the rest, but alas, no Merchant of Venus (foiled again).  If there's something strange that you've really been hoping to find let me know and I'll ask.  He's a businessman so I wouldn't expect a steal, but you at least can get a crack at it before anyone else does.




  • Last night I went over to a friend's house and we played a game of a box of golf.  For an amazingly simple game it managed to capture the essence of golf.  Which is why I will never play the game agian.

     Somehow it managed to capture the tedium and frustration of golf and did a very good job of it.  It was an okay game for the most part but....blah.

  • In 2008 the classic Risk board game was released with a revised rule set, which among other changes made the game more goal-oriented and significantly shorter to play. Risk Halo Wars is clearly based on that same revised rule set while adding in its own flavor. That’s right; this is not a simple word-for-word reprint of the revised rules as some have speculated it would be.

    Before I go further I want to point out that I never played much Halo due to never owning an XBOX so I’m not overly familiar with that setting. That’s really not an issue here though as the board is very reminiscent of a scrambled world map. It even has exactly the same number of territories as a regular game of Risk. The semi-translucent pieces can also appeal to non-Halo fans as long as you’re into sci-fi themes. I mean we’ve all seen futuristic soldiers, tanks, bases, aliens, etc before and its not as if the back-story matters here. When it comes down to it this is still Risk; a game of territorial conquest not a story-telling game.

    As mentioned above the game of Risk has changed the past few years. While you can do a variant game where the goal is to ultimately control the world, in the basic game you win by being the first to achieve a certain number of objectives. Things like controlling an entire continent or taking over an opponent’s capital. Speaking of capitals, at the beginning of the game you place 15 neutral cities onto the board that make whatever territory they’re in more valuable when troop reinforcements are determined. Each player also places a capital that they must be in control of in order to claim victory in addition to giving another bonus for troop reinforcements. Beyond that you have the standard single unit troops and multi-unit troops, the latter represented by tanks. You also get cards that have one or two skulls on them, which can be traded in for extra troops depending on how many skulls you have in total. Mostly the game plays out like classic Risk with the standard draft troops, attack your neighbors, and then move troops around gameplay. Combat is of course dice-based so anyone averse to a little luck in their games should stop reading now and go pick up a copy of How To Play Chess from their local bookstore. In addition to the standard dice, both attacker and defender can get a bonus die to roll. This is one of several rewards you can attain from completing objectives. And you will want it as combat is front and center of new Risk. There is no turtling in Australia or in this case Mu and you don’t even have to still control a territory after you’ve completed the objective you needed it for. In other words, there’s less defensive posturing and more offensive threatening. Exactly how such a game should be.

    Of course I teased in my first paragraph that this version is different from the basic revised Risk and have yet to follow up on that. So for all of you revised owners I’ll point out the notable differences. The obvious one is the inclusion of a Hero for each player. You place the Hero in one of your territories and it moves with your troops. If you choose to have the Hero participate in attack or defense it gives you a +1 to your highest die roll. However, should you fail any roll the Hero is removed from the board until the end of the turn when its placed back into one of your territories. I think this is nice as like cities and capitals it gives a bit more to think about strategy-wise since you only have a single Hero to use. The less obvious inclusion until you check the rulebook is what I would consider a fourth way to play the game in addition to basic/beginner, command/standard, and world conquest. When playing the game with 4 or 5 players it becomes a team game. This is not a variant, but part of the actual rules. Two players are Covenant and two are USNC and a fifth player would be Flood. Teammates win or lose the game together. They can never attack each other, but they can move through each others territories as long as they don’t end their movement there. They can also transfer command of a territory once per turn. If a territory has a single unit in it they can return that unit to its owner, assuming they agree, and place one of their own there. This helps when trying to claim bonuses based on ownership of an area. Also in team play the number of objectives needed to win is increased from three to four. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to play as a team yet since my game nights tend to be three-player, but I do look forward to trying it out.

    The box cover says this is a Collector’s Edition. I tend to assume nowadays that such things are just marketing talk, but I will give props to USAopoly for producing a better quality game than I expected. In a way it’s like they reproduced the quality that Hasbro used to release before they got cheap about it. The box and board are both thick, the plastic is sturdy and attractive, and the color rulebook is nicely laid out. If I had to gripe about something it’d be the card stock being thinner than I would have liked, but I don’t believe it’ll be a real problem. The cards are also used for randomly placing cities at the start of the game and use the same color-coding as the continents. I appreciated this as it made it a lot faster to find places during setup that otherwise would have had me searching the board because of the uncommon names. How would I know where New Pompeii is?

    I received my review copy of this game gratis, but if I’d seen it in person before it showed up in the mail I definitely would have purchased it. The only other Risk I currently own is Black Ops and that’s probably hitting eBay soon. Maybe I can fleece one of those suckers who paid hundreds of dollars for that low-grade game which has just been trumped in every way.


    PS: I took some pictures, but don’t think they came out too great. Kind of feel the same way about the review. I'm my own worst critic. :-(

  • I've just returned from a session with a Boardgaming club I belong to.  It is a well organised and supported club, has a good library of boardgames, and pleasant members with developed social skills.  All types of games are played, but the focus seems to be Euros.  Members on the whole tend to be tertiary educated and middle class.

    Anyway, I was involved in a 5 player game of Powergrid - a game I do enjoy but no more than, say, 3 times a year.  The guy with the real passion for the game, and who insisted on taking the lead on introducing the rules to first time players, was way in front.  He had played well all game, probably a result of his greater experience and understanding of the game mechanics.  On the other hand, he may well have been a lot smarter than the rest of us!!

    He was a perfectly pleasant opponent, but there was just something about his slightly smarmy, optimised play attitude that I found mildy irritating.

    We came to what was going to be the final turn, and he was all set to win convincingly.  If I could drag another turn into the game, I had an outside chance of a victory.  I noted my position - I had first dibbs on the resource market.  I spent all my cash on hoarding the resources he would need to fully power his 15 cities, ensuring his victory.

    The guy got mighty pissed, accusing my of unethical play.  I listen to criticism, and this got me thinking.  From my point of view, what I did was within the rules, gave me the only chance of a victory, and exploited the only weakness in his game play - not adequately diversifying the resources he needed to purchase on the market in order to counter my play.

    But, in reality, my chance of victory was extremely marginal to the point of being mathematically possible but almost certainly out of reach.  There was no way I could add extra cities to my grid becasue my money was all spent on resources I didn't need.  I knew this before I made the move.  What I did, in effect, was more of a spoiler play.  In the end the nice guy won the game, who was attending his first ever club meeting,  and had never played Powergrid before.

    I've been thinking a lot about that game.  Am I supposed to acknowledge a person's skill as being the overall best interpreter of the game mechanics and manipulator of finite resources?  After all, this game is a difficult intellectual exercise.  Or am I permitted to stray outside the recognised optimal moves to give myself the only, but extremely marginal, shot at victory, when the almost inevitable outcome will be that a less optimal player (not me) wins the game?

    For us fans of the AT genre of games, the answer is obvious.  But what what about those few heavy euro games that have a small window of opportunity for spoiler moves?

    And is there a difference in accepted play styles between groups of close friends who regularly game together, and relative strangers at club meets like this?

    In the end, it wasn't such a big deal with this guy.  He was a mature enough person to understand my motives, and that it was, in my twisted logic, the optimum "euro" move for me to make.

    I resolved whatever tension remained by immediately suggesting a round of Cosmic Encounter, a game where the gloves are definately off, and he had all the opportunity in the world to extract his revenge.  Which he did, winning that game convincingly.

    No prizes for guessing which of the two games generated the most passion and enjoyment that session.

  • I just bought Middle Earth Quest, which is a good example of a species of boardgame that I'll call the clockwork game. It's worth noting the existence of this part of our hobby, since it represents some of the best and worst aspects of game design.

     A clockwork game has several distinct, specialized mechanics that have a largely indirect impact on each other. You can think of each mechanic as a gear in the larger machine: Each turns on its own axis, but they're designed to have an effect on each other's motion.


    How clockwork games work

    War of the Ring is a good example of a clockwork game. The two primary gears of the game, the military struggle for Middle Earth, and the quest to destroy or capture the One Ring, are distinct, but not completely separate. The overall machinery of the game won't work in your favor if you power, lubricate, and monitor one gear over the other.  The obvious reason why the single-gear strategy won't work is the opportunity you give your opponent to win a quick, easy victory on the neglected front.

    The less obvious reason why the single-gear strategy doesn't work lies in the other moving parts of the game. The action dice make the pool of available actions unpredictable. If you bank completely on a military victory, the action dice might not get the opportunity to recruit and attack at critical points in the game. The Free Peoples face another problem, activating nations, that forces choices in how you use the heroes gear.

    An even better example of a clockwork game is Twilight Imperium. At the same time, you need to be juggling research, military build-up, political influence, expansion, and defense, while keeping a careful eye on how the victory conditions evolve. That's a lot of separate but interlocking gears, which makes Twilight Imperium either a fascinating or maddening game, depending on your tastes.

    Clockwork games have a long lineage. Civilization certainly is an ancestor, with its simultaneously spinning gears for expansion, city building, trade, and research (advancements). Magic Realm is, arguably, another, since you're trying to make the overall machinery that combines exploration, combat, character advancement, and inventory management, and readiness.


    The reason for clockwork games

    Clockwork games have two main attractions:

    Strategic depth.One of the easiest way to increase replayability is to add different mechanical components. Not only do you need to master how each component works, but you can also experiment with different strategies to optimize the interactions among these components. Starcraftprovides these kinds of options. 

    Simulation.Games, by necessity, must convert complexity into abstraction. If you are trying to simulate something in the real world, such as WWI, you can reduce the details too far, making the outcomes unrealistic. If you are trying to simulate a complex fiction, such as the Lord of the Rings novels, you can reduce complexity do the point where you lose the surrogate experience that the game is supposed to re-create.

    These two rationales for building clockwork games also become the standards by which you judge them. How many plays is Warrior Knights worth? Does Sword of Rome do justice to the historical topic? Does Marvel Heroes give you the feeling of playing out several issues' worth of comic book plots?

    If Fantasy Flight Games appears frequently on the list of examples, it's because their licensing successes make it important to simulate the intellectual property that they've licensed. Battlestar Galactica would have been a far less interesting game without the traitor mechanic, or space combat, or the challenges of scraping by with limited (and dwindling) resources.


    When the gears fly apart

    When clockwork games fall short,  it's usually because the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Creating different gears for each aspect of the game does not mean that the gears mesh with one another well. Nor is it inevitable that the overall experience will be satisfying. An analogy might be the difference between a WWII encyclopedia and any decent narrative history of the war: while the former depicts all the informational components, the other needs to provide many of the same components, plus make them work together to tell the overall history of WWII. You could piece together the narrative of the conflict from the encyclopedia, but it won't be easy, or all that interesting.

     Sorry to beat up on Age of Conan again, but it's a prime example of a clockwork game that doesn't quite work. The root problem is its lack of clarity over what exactly it's depicting. If the real focus is the clash among Hyborian kingdoms, the Conan adventure mechanic is superfluous. Nexus/Fantasy Flight clearly thought that it wouldn't be a good Conan game without Conan slaying oversized snakes and squeezing the backsides of bar wenches, but the vague and flavorless "Gimme one of them adventure tile thingies" mechanic doesn't do justice to the story of Conan, and they're not obviously needed for Aquilonia and Turan to go to war.

    Many have bemoaned the problems creating the great dungeon crawl game. There's a big menu of complaints about the attempts such far, such as length  (Descent), blandness (Prophecy), randomness (Dungeonquest), and sheer clunkiness (Tomb). What makes the perfect dungeon crawl game an elusive objective, however, is the lack of focus. If you're trying to tell an epic story about defeating an evil overlord, some of the conventions of this genre, such as character advancement, aren't necessary. If you're trying to re-create just the monster-killing, treasure-hunting aspects of the genre, then "levelling" can be very important, as players race to meeting a quota of monsters killed and artifacts collected.

    In other words, the machinery of a dungeon crawl game, which is inherently a clockwork game, is designed for a particular purpose. The choice of gears, therefore, is largely a question of whether they're needed for that purpose or not. The performance of the machine overall is also a consideration: Descent is a very well-designed game for what it's supposed to do, but it takes a long time to play it. (So long, in fact, that it begs the question, "Why aren't we playing D&D?")

    I like clockwork games. Many of my favorite titles (Twilight Imperium, Sword of Rome, etc.) are clockwork games. However, I've reached a point when I open the box of a game like Middle Earth Quest, look at all the decks, tokens, stand-up counters, plastic minis, and special symbols on the map, and I think, "Hmmm, is this going to be another Age of Conan?"