Front Page



Game Index


Site Tools




  • 2010 Academy Award nominations

    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 L
    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!

  • 2011 the F:AT year in review

    nostradamus.JPG 2011 has been a very interesting year for everyone at F:AT.  Here's a recap of the top stories from 2011.
  • 2012 In Review and 2013. The Role Kickstarter Played and Will Play.

    I posted this elsewhere, but thought it might prove interesting to a handful of FATties.

    2012 was a great year for us, thanks, in large part, to Kickstarter. There’s no denying the impact, opinions, and controversy surrounding this newest force in board game publishing. Love it or loathe it, Kickstarter is here. Will Kickstarter continue to be a driving force in 2013? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have our experiences with the platform, and I know what it has done for SBG.

    There have been a lot of board game publishing companies to use Kickstarter in the past year or so; some to much success, others to much chagrin, and often times both. I’ve tried to keep myself out of the great debates surrounding this new platform for game purchasing and publishing, but now, as 2013 looms, I’d like to interject, because Kickstarter will continue to play a huge part of Small Box Games in the upcoming year.

    It’s no secret that we’re a small company, evidenced by the fact that you probably haven’t ever heard of us before. I’ll go as far as to say we try our best to stay a small company. To some, this may make no sense. To others who have been our customers for years, I think it will make perfect sense. I don’t try to paint ourselves into some sort of ivory tower, but I feel we use Kickstarter slightly differently than most other companies do. When we post something on Kickstarter, it’s a finished game. It isn’t vaporware, it isn’t an idea, and it isn’t an unfinished game. Basically, we’re offering preorders for one of our games in exchange for helping us cover the printing costs. This isn’t that different, or different at all, from any other preordering system used outside of Kickstarter.

    Much like the larger companies who offer preorders for games not yet in print, the games we offer on Kickstarter are fully fleshed games, with completed art, playtesting, and a clear production plan. The main difference is, we’re offering preorders directly from us instead of through your FLGS or OLGS. We’ve already paid for the art out of our own pocket, and spent our own time with game design, graphic design, and playtesting. When we click that launch button, all we’re looking for is the funds to have the game manufactured, the fees for Kickstarter, and the cost of shipping to get our games to backers. It’s just like hobby game company X: we design a game, we develop a game, and we manufacture a game. Instead of having 5K copies manufactured overseas and pumped into the distribution system, we take a different approach.

    So you may be asking yourself, why do you want to use Kickstarter? Well, the answer is simple: we’ve always used it, so to speak. Since 2007, we’ve sold our games, almost solely, on a preoder style platform. Kickstarter offers us tools and a reach that we didn’t have before. It also allows us to continue manufacturing games at a level of quality that we’ve been building on all year; without being able to hit a minimum print number, we wouldn’t be able to manufacture our games at the same level of quality as we’ve made our customers accustomed to this year. Sure, we could have invested in better preordering systems or more advertising, but Kickstarter does all of that for us, for much, much less, and offers us a social platform that neither of those could offer, which we absolutely love. Of course, we still continue to sell the remaining copies of game X off of our site, and to FLGS who reach out to carry our games.

    We spent the better part of the final months of 2012 exploring our options for 2013, including seeking input from fellow gamers and potential customers, because we felt we were at a juncture where we were primed to expand into more “standard” forms of manufacture and distribution. At the end of the search, we found that we didn’t really want to go that route, for a lot of different reasons. It’s a route we’ve explored many times before, and much to our dismay, its end result is the same as it ever was. Regardless of how we attempted to bend and shape our numbers around a preconceived notion of success, the result was the same: we had to have thousands of copies of a game manufactured in order to hit the manufacturing costs that would allow us to enter distribution in order to sell enough to pay for the print run. Along with this, other changes would have to be made.

    We don’t want to make a box that’s 5x too big for its contents, just to have more shelf space and a bigger impact at the FLGS. We’ve done just fine not selling air up until this point. I don’t want to move our production overseas, just so we can sell a thousand more units to people who will only buy our games at 35% off of retail from OLGS. We’ve done just fine not over-inflating our print numbers just to cater to one corner of consumers.

    With that being said, we’re looking at driving down the overall price point of all of our games in 2013. Just because a game costs us X because of the manufacturing choices we’ve made doesn’t always mean that Gamer Z will think it’s worth that. We understand that, and are making the necessary moves in that direction. Of course, that’s a moot point if you’re one of these gamers who is under the assumption that the way we use Kickstarter is any different than preordering a game from company x or OLGS y. Just because we use Kickstarter doesn’t make our games any less “good” or our company any less “successful” than the company that doesn’t use Kickstarter. The boardgaming world is much smaller than many of us care to realize, and one or two stinkers is often enough to keep the little guys, like us, from ever publishing another successful title ever again. That alone is quality control enough for Small Box Games to strive to produce quality games, of course, I can’t speak for other smaller companies.

    Kickstarter is merely a platform. It alone doesn’t build success or foster failure. Success or failure is determined by a myriad of factors, from the time it takes to receive said product backed, to the end happiness of the backer when said product has been played. If something seems too good to be true, whether it’s being offered on Kickstarter, on a store shelf, or featured on a late night infomercial, the requirements of the purchaser and seller are the same. But, I don’t think Kickstarter is really any different than any other avenue. In normal channels, such as a game store, a gamer sees game A on the shelf, and is either turned on or turned off by its initial presentation and impact, and then chooses to either buy that game or leave it there on the shelves based on a multitude of variables, including, but not limited to: the game’s: publisher, designer, theme, price, reviews and ratings, and ultimately, whether his group will actually play the game. The offerings on Kickstarter are really no different. How many of us have read the reviews of a game, looked at the ratings, and saw it on our store’s shelves, and eventually brought it home only to be disappointed?
    Just because a game gets rave reviews, or previews, or ratings, does not necessarily mean that a game is a game that is a good fit for you. Regardless of Kickstarter, as some would claim, this is something that happens with games that go through normal channels as well. I don’t think that assuming that this is something that is only relegated to Kickstarter games is accurate.

    Jumping back to Small Box Games, obviously, due to the way we run our company, our games aren’t readily available on my FLGS’s shelves, or OLGS’s pages. However, in the last few months, we’ve made a tremendous effort to reach out to FLGSs across the country. Chances are, your FLGS has opted not to carry our games on their shelves, regardless of the games’ ratings and reviews, or the incentives we’ve offered them. For the most part, they’ve opted to be lazy, and take the time to not order our games because it would require them to not go through one of their distributors, regardless of the ease which we worked into our ordering process (and free shipping). That makes us very sad, but we totally get it. Without distribution, Small Box Games will likely not make it onto your store’s shelves. Without having more units manufactured than we really need to have manufactured, we’ll never been able to hit the numbers need to be in distribution, so the cycle sort of feeds on itself. Which is why we’ve opted to not be part of that cycle, and instead have opted to continue to do business the way we always have: through preorders. Only now, we’re using Kickstarter to handle the preorders and to gauge the popularity of any single title.

    We can either sell 500-1000 of a game through preorders and direct sells, or we can make 2,000+ of game and take it through the normal distribution channels blindly. As a company, it makes a lot more sense, and is a lot safer, to make less money on the backs of a set number of guaranteed sales to preorder customers than it is to offer 2K+ of a game through normal means. This is something that we’ve weighed and measured countless times.

    Will there be gamers who never own our games because they aren’t on their FLGS’s shelves? Yep. But we’ve made the effort to have them there. Will there be gamers who don’t own our games because they can’t use them to hit the 100.00 mark to fill out their free shipping requirement from their favorite OLGS? Yes, it looks like those guys probably won’t ever own our games either, and that’s not something we’ll ever be able to remedy under our current business model.

    I guess, at the end of this, if we were to go the “normal" route, we would just be masquerading as a larger company, when we really have no desire to do so. We value the connections we have with our customers, and that’s something we would lose if we went larger scale. It’s something I’ve said before, but it’s something I mean. I don’t know if the larger companies still experience this, but it’s still an overwhelming feeling of happiness and accomplishment that people buy *our* games. We’re competing in a crowded field every year, but ever year, we make it out to compete in the next year. A lot of this rests on the games we publish, but I feel a lot of this also rests on the relationships we’ve built with our customer base.

    I doubt this has swayed anyone’s opinion on why we do business the way we do, or the merits, or lack thereof, of Kickstarter. However, if you’re not already one of our customers, I do hope you check out our games the next time you see a thread or an ad on bgg, regardless if the game is available exclusively through Kickstarter or not.

    Thank you to everyone who spent their hard-earned gamer dollars on Small Box Games in 2012. There were enough of you to land one of our games on the ballot for a Golden Geek. We look forward to your business and the opportunity to offer you the finest in card gaming in 2013.

  • 2012-13 Game Designer Survey

    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











  • 2nd F:AT Arms Trading thread discussion

    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!


  • 3rd F:AT Arms Trading Discussion: Now with more whingeing!

    Just like it sounds, you pissy bitches. Especially Barnes. He'd have one of these fuckers every week if he could .
  • 7 Wonders, the Juniper Verdict

    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.

  • A bad weekend in Arkham better than a good weekend of ...

  • A Big Pile of Old Games Just Landed on My Head


    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.




  • A Box of Golf - A review of sorts....

    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.

  • A Brisk Hello To Risk: Halo

    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. :-(

  • A Clash of Cultures

    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.

  • A Clockwork Boardgame

    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?"

  • A couple of wargaming blogs you might enjoy

    I have grouped the blogs in four categories. As the Frontline Gamer once put it: there's really three sides to (miniature) wargaming. There's the modelling and painting, the gamingand the background study. So these will make up my first three categories. But I´ve added an extra category to keep my options open.

    Front page of one of the Squadron Forward rules, available through Too Fat Lardies

    The first section is that of those whose creativity is focused on the rules of the game. Have a look atJoe Legan's blog, whose development of campaign settings for all sorts of miniature rules at Platoon Forward  I think is a fantastic service to gamers. Campaigns are the best way to enjoy gaming. Other contenders in this section are the reflections on Wargaming4GrownUps and David Crook of Wargaming Odysee has been steadfast pursuing his block rules.

    Screenshot from Dark Age Wargaming

    In the military history section, Dark Age Wargaming by Historian On The Edge comes out on top as it has some of the best articles on the subject and has been inspiring to my Dux Britanniarum endeavours.  Also highly recommended comes Midlist Writer by Sean McLachlan for exotic travel with a wargaming theme, like Iraq and Ethiopia.

    Bob Cordery of Wargaming Miscellany and Big Lee Hadleyoften make me jealous of their trips to historical sites and museums. Jim Hale of Arlequins Worlds has these really deep backgrounds on many wars. Both Bob and Jim actually have a big part of rules development as well, so transcend the categories.

    Pijlie's scratch built inn, as photographed by himself

    In the modelling and painting category go to Jan-Willem van der Pijl's Pijlie's Wargame Blog. Excellent painting and modelling, especially his 17th century inn. Other Dutch blogs worthy of mention are René van den Assem's Paint-In and Michael Fisher's MiniStories which show the high quality of painting around here.

    Other favourites of mine are Analogue Hobbies (I love the WWI in Grayscale), Trouble at t´Mill and Sidney Roundwood. Furthermore, Musings of A Frustrated Wargamer, Tales of a Tabletop Skirmisher and Frontline Gamer have been excellent in pointing me towards new miniature companies and kickstarters. Even though I haven't fallen for any of it, it's still great to enjoy the eye candy.

    Jeremiah's excellent design of graveyard tiles for Zombicide

    Front Towards Enemy in the Extrascategory is Jeremiah Terry's continued effort to produce new characters, counters, map and other gaming assessories for FFG's Tannhauserand Dust Tactics,as well as Zombicide. He really puts in a lot of skill and effort and I think all gaming companies should encourage fan contributions, especially of this high quality. Other extras are Savage Tales, for my dose of high quality pulp.


  • A Eureka Moment about Training, Education, Puzzles, and Games

    I was thinking about a time when my department head came to my game design class unannounced to evaluate my teaching, and I wasn’t “lecturing” to the students.  They were working on game projects.  (This was not an introductory class.)  She seemed surprised that I wasn’t lecturing, but that may be because she typically taught introductory computer literacy style classes such as how to use Microsoft Office.  Classes that teach use of specific office software can be taught more or less by rote: if you want to make something bold you highlight it and press control-B or click the Bold button.  If you change margins you do thus and so.  And so forth.

    These intro software classes don’t have to be taught entirely by rote but commonly they are, complete with what I call “monkey books”.  These books have students follow steps to accomplish something, but students tend to focus on getting through as rapidly as possible, and when they’re done they don’t know what they did and haven’t learned much.  Like the monkeys who, if they type long enough, type Shakespeare’s works . . .  You can learn from monkey books, but only if you want to learn and make the effort to learn.

    Designing games is not and can never be taught by rote.  Teaching by rote is training, not education.  Education is about why you do things, why some things work and others don’t, about understanding what you’re doing.  Training is about exactly how you get a particular thing done.  I recognize that not everyone follows those definitions but I find it very useful to make this distinction, and other people with other purposes when defining education and training may make different distinctions.

    Designing games is about education, not training.  Designing games is about critical thinking, and much of it is thinking, which is the antithesis of training.  You’re trained to do things automatically, without thinking.  (Reiner Knizia on twitter recently said, "To summarise my experience: Design is a way of thinking!")

    Video game production at the outset can be taught by rote because people are learning how to use particular software, for example Maya or 3DS Max, or they’re learning how to program.  In the long run there is a process of education there, especially for programming, but in the short run for introductory classes a lot of it is simple straightforward “this is how you do it”.  There just isn’t much of that in game design.

    But where the Eureka moment occurred was when I realized that an analogy can be made from this to games and puzzles.  A puzzle is something that has a solution, or perhaps several solutions, with the defining characteristic that once you figure it out the solution(s) always works.  So you can teach someone by rote how to beat the puzzle by teaching them the steps required.  It’s possible that those steps require certain skills such as hand-eye coordination levels that the person may not have attained, but once they attain those skill levels they can follow the solution and complete the puzzle every time, or as it is said in video games, “beat the game”.

    A game does not have these kinds of solutions, and cannot be “beaten.”  To be good at the game requires something much more akin to education than training.  You have to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, and when that isn’t the best thing to do, when something else is the best thing to do.  There is certainly problem-solving in games, but there aren’t solutions to the game as a whole that will always work.  Frequently this is the difference between having human opponents and having no opponent or a computer opponent, though computer opponents continue to become better over time.  Frequently this is the difference between, on th one hand, perfect information or uncertainty that can become predictable, typical in puzzles, and on the other hand uncertainty that cannot be predicted or accounted for by simple mathematical processes–the kind of uncertainty that comes from having several human opponents.

    You can teach someone, by rote, how to win at Tic-Tac-Toe, or even Tetris, and you could for chess if anyone had completely solved the extremely complicated puzzle.  The checker program Chinook, as I understand it, plays by rote, playing what it knows to be the move most likely to lead to a win from whatever the current position is–no reasoning required.  You cannot teach someone how to win at Britannia or Dragon Rage, Diplomacy or even Risk, by rote, they have to understand how it all works and then think as they actually play.

  • A few quick impressions

    I've played a bunch of fun stuff with a bunch of fun people over the past few weeks:

    Galaxy Trucker

    Murder City

    Bump in the Night



    Snow Tails

    Cosmic Encounter

  • A Game of Thrones - 2nd edition review

    a game of thrones board game second edition review

    In this hobby, some of us are fortunate to have a regular game group. Some of us are even fortunate enough to have a group of gamers that like to play all the same kinds of games. Yeah, okay, I’m not that fortunate either, but that’s cool. Although my groups is a disparate group of gamers (made up of a hardcore Ameritrasher [me], three casual wargamers [also me] and a few Eurogamers [hell no, not me], we do have a selection of games we all really dig. This is one of them.

  • A good problem to have

    Years ago, Brad H. posted a game review.  After that review, Rylen introduced me to the game that changed everything:  Aliens.  A fast paced sci-fi dungeon crawl type game where creatures jump from the wall on your face.  I was sold.

    For years, Aliens was my grail game.  Today, I got the game in the mail, and my wife saw the rapture on my face:  A SHRINK copy of Aliens for $120 bucks.

    My problem:  I have an issue breaking shrink, ESPECIALLY with a hard to get game.  Should I get a less pristine copy and sell the shrink copy for probably more than I bought, or should I just be a man and crack it open.

    I'm also highly neurotic, so playing this game around cats should be interesting.

  • A Guide to Crayon Rail Games

    After reading the Tom Vasel thread and posting a list of the crayon rail games, I figured that it would be nice to have a blog post dealing with those.  So here goes.

     A crayon rail game is one where you have various loads that have to go to various cities.  You build your track by drawing the rails on the map.  The costs are dependent upon the terrain you are building your track on.  The winner is the person that connects a certain amount of cities and has a certain amount of money (this varies depending on the map).

    The list is not in any particular order.

    1.  Empire Builder - I think this is the first of the series.  The original was set strictly in the United States, a few years ago they added Mexico to the map (this is the version that I own and play).  It is a good introduction to the series as you don't have to spend time figuring out where things are on the map (we are American).  There is a good mixture of loads and cities supplying them.  There is enough variation on terrain that it forces you to make strategic decisions (i.e., should I plow straight through these mountains costing more money but giving a more direct route or should I circumvent them saving money but adding time).  There are a couple loads that pay off really well (sugar from San Francisco and coffee from Vera Cruz).  There aren't too many chokepoints, so there isn't the competition for building first through certain areas.

    2.  EuroRails - This one is also a nice map.  It adds a wrinkle to the game by adding ferries and the alpine rail markers.  These are considerably more expensive, so it adds a little more to the strategy.  The map is wide open enough that there aren't many choke points but there are a couple places where this happens (England for one).

    3.  Iron Dragon - This one throws the rail games into a fantasy setting.  It adds ships and foremen.  Ships allow you to move goods over long distances without building the rail infrastructure to support this.  Foremen allow to have discounted builds over certain territories.  There is also an underground area with rules for having to pay to move over them.  I would like to see these things incorporated into the other games.

    4.  Australian Rails- The one adds dry lake beds and dry riverbeds with different rules.  This one is also a pain in that loads are pretty much to the coasts causing some congestion in the lines.  It also doesn't allow for the intermediate loads that are on the way to where you get the really big payoffs.  It's not a bad game, but I think the others are better.

    5.  China Rails - The Taiwan rules make for an interesting twist, but all of the main cities are pretty much to one side of the map, so you are taking a chance if you go for the large deliveries.

    6.  India Rails -  This map is a pain in the ass.  It has many rivers and moutains, making the threat of floods a major factor in the decision tree.  The only reason I like this is because of the nuclear variant floating around.

    7.  Japan Rails- This map sucks giant donkey balls.  It is too long and narrow.  If you are aren't the first one to build in certain areas, you stand a good chance of getting locked out or spending tons of money to build.

    8.  Martian Rails - This is a fairly difficult map to build on.  It adds the wrinkle of insurance (which seems to be a waste of money).  I like how the connection points work and it gives you the feeling of building on a round rail.

     I've never played Lunar Rails, so I can't comment.

    One of the biggest difficulties I have with these games is when to muck my cards (throw the three deliveries for new deliveries), all too often I will try to make what I have work instead of rolling the dice and trying to get better deliveries.  I know I've lost a few games because of this.

     All in all, I like the crayon rail games, I just wish there were more opportunities for direct interaction.

  • A Guide to the Fleet Games

    Roughly 20 years ago, Victory Games released a series of Modern (at the time) Naval Games called the Fleet Series.  They were a pretty good operational view of modern combat and had enough meat in them to recreate ship to ship battles (sort of).  Each was set in a different part of the world.  After a while, I managed to get all of them.  Anyways, here is a guide to them.

    A game turn is roughly 8 hours of time and it broken up into phases.  In the morning you have allocate resources to strategic missions.  This includes recon and interception.  This allows you to strategically detect stuff, which means it stays detected until the next morning.  You have to have something detected before you can attack it.

    After that, a turn is broken down into three phases and you can only activate units of one type during each phase (sub, ship or air).  This is where you conduct attacks.  Attacks are pretty simple and have modifiers depending on circumstances and then there is a die roll.  Combat can get pretty bloody.  Scenarios range from the very simple to covering a whole theater.  There are rules for combining maps, but each game is really meant to stand alone.