Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuesday Game Night Write-Up

Last night was Game Night and this time I actually showed up on time! Not only that, but I brought my son Kray (13 1/2) along. Kray had a fantastic time and I'd like to thank everybody for making him feel welcome. He's now begging to come back. I can probably leverage that somehow. *Evil chuckle*

Kray, Mike M., Oren and I opened the night with Turn the Tide while we waited for the others to arrive. It wasn't long before the Seattle gang showed up and got a game of Money going. Money's a quick Knizia card game loosely themed around money exchange. It's a nice game but it's never really resonated with me. Perhaps I just haven't played it enough.

Both games broke up at about the same time leaving us with ten players. We spent the next few minutes discussing important things like what to eat and what to play next. We settled on pizza.

Mike M., Mike K., Jose, Tejas and I decided to commit to something beefy so we pulled out Traders of Genoa. This is an excellent (and rather long) trading game. It's one of the better games in big-box Alea line. The Geek has it ranked 58, very high indeed. I'd only played the game once before, and that was a long time ago, so I was quite fuzzy on the rules. Thanks to everyone involved for being very patient. This is a rather complicated game (although once you get going it all makes sense) and so it wasn't too surprising that we got a few rules wrong at first. The worst mistake had to do with the use of the building ownership tokens. We caught the error a couple of turns in and everyone graciously agreed on a reasonably fair way to correct the error. I'm sure it affected the game but we all treated it as a learning game and in spite of the earlier gaffes the game ended very close. I believe that there were three of us within 25 points of Mike K's winning score.

Meanwhile, the others: Christopher, Birch, Wade, Oren and Kray, played La Città. This is another very long, very meaty game, and it's also highly ranked on The Geek, coming in at number 69. Personally, I've never played the game but I hear very good things about it. One of these days I'm going to have to give it a try. I know that Kray really enjoyed it. I believe that Oren won the game. In fact, some of the comments that I heard lead me to believe that he pretty much crushed the competition.

Both of these games are very long games and I was pleasantly surprised to see that, miraculously, they both managed to finish at roughly the same time. We mixed the group up a bit and played a couple of shorter games as closers.

I can't remember what the others played, but Kray, Mike M., Mike K, Birch and I played Tutankhamen. This is a very nice light set collecting game by Knizia. I really like the latest Out of the Box version of this game. The pieces are great, the pyramid is kind of fun, and everything fits neatly in a really small box. This isn't the deepest of games but there are enough decisions to keep it interesting, it's quick enough to be played as an opener (or in this case a closer) and it supports up to six players. All good. I like it.

Next week I really would like to get Age of Steam on the table. I'd also be up for another go at Traders of Genoa. Darn fun games both.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Dungeon Twister

Over the weekend I played a couple of games of Dungeon Twister with my 13-year old son. This is a new game from Asmodee. The base set is a two-player game with planned expansions to add additional pieces and rules for more players.

So far I'm pretty impressed with this game. The game is played on a series of randomly placed 8 square tiles that represent rooms in a dungeon. Players try and move their characters from one side of the map to the other passing through the other player's team along the way. There are items to collect along the way which give temporary power-ups to whatever character is carrying it.

The coolest thing about the game is how all the pieces interact with one another. Some characters are fast; others are strong. Some characters have magic; some can heal; some can go places that the others can't. Players also have hands of cards which they play to determine how many actions they can take on their turn. A big part of the game is choosing when to use your high action cards and when to save them. The cards also boost combat, similar to the way the cards are used in Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation.

I'll probably play this a few more times before writing a real review but so far it's looking pretty good. And any game that my son asks to play twice in the same day is a good one in my book.

Over the weekend I played a couple of games of Dungeon Twister with my 13-year old son. This is a new game from Asmodee. The base set is a two-player game with planned expansions to add additional pieces and rules for more players.

So far I'm pretty impressed with this game. The game is played on a series of randomly placed 8 square tiles that represent rooms in a dungeon. Players try and move their characters from one side of the map to the other passing through the other player's team along the way. There are items to collect along the way which give temporary power-ups to whatever character is carrying it.

The coolest thing about the game is how all the pieces interact with one another. Some characters are fast; others are strong. Some characters have magic; some can heal; some can go places that the others can't. Players also have hands of cards which they play to determine how many actions they can take on their turn. A big part of the game is choosing when to use your high action cards and when to save them. The cards also boost combat, similar to the way the cards are used in Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation.

I'll probably play this a few more times before writing a real review but so far it's looking pretty good. And any game that my son asks to play twice in the same day is a good one in my book.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Proprieties of Gaming

The other night I was on-line perusing the rules to Contract Bridge and I came across a section entitled "The Proprieties" of Bridge which spelled out a code of conduct for Bridge players. That got me thinking. There really should be a similar code of conduct for table-top gamers in general. So without further ado, here are my suggestions for:

The Proprieties of Gaming

1. Gaming Should Be Fun For All Participants

I imagine that most of us play games because we enjoy them. We should bear in mind that others are there to have fun too. Behavior which makes others feel unwelcome, unworthy, unwanted, or uncomfortable is unacceptable. Some people can handle a little bit of trash talk; some can't. It's YOUR responsibility to know which are which and make sure that your actions aren't spoiling the experience for those seated at your table.

2. Let Everyone Play Their Own Game - Don't Kibitz!

When I sit down to play against an opponent, I expect to be matching my skill against his (or hers); not yours. If someone asks for help, usually because they're learning the game, then by all means go ahead and help; but unless your help has been solicited, please keep your suggestions to yourself. I have been involved in too many games where someone has suggested moves for someone else. I've even been involved in games where one of the other players has all but played everyone else's entire game for them. And if I make what you think is a blunder, I don't want to hear about it until after my turn is over, and sometimes not even then. Some people seem to have an overwhelming need to prove their intelligence by critiquing everybody else's game. If you're one of those, don't expect to be made to feel very welcome at my gaming table.

3. Keep Private Information Private

If something in the game is intended to be private then you have no business sharing that information with others at the table. This is particularly true of card games and I'll admit that I've been guilty of a few minor infractions here from time to time. During a friendly card game it's very tempting to groan when you've been dealt a bad hand. Don't. Talk about the weather, your family, your friends, whatever, but don't divulge information about your hand to others, particularly in a partnership game. Likewise, if my hand should dip too low, politely remind me to conceal it. Just because I've accidentally let you see my hand doesn't give you the right to look at it.

4. Finish What You've Started

If you sit down to play a game then you had darn well better have a very good reason for leaving the table before the game is over. And being in a losing position is not a good reason for quitting early (particularly in a game involving more than two players). Think about it this way: if you were winning wouldn't you want to be allowed to finish the game? It is very poor sportsmanship indeed to deny another player the satisfaction of a well-earned victory by throwing in the towel and storming off. A true gamer enjoys the game for the sake of the competition and the company. If you're only in it for the winning then go find another table to play at, you're not welcome at mine.

5. Live With Your Mistakes

You've carefully weighed your options and reluctantly made your move. You opponent has just begun his own analysis. But wait! Now you realize that you've made a mistake! Do you ask to take it back? I sure hope not! Once your turn is done, it's done. There is no magical "way-back machine". There are no "do-overs". You've had your chance, you've made your move, now etiquette demands that you live with it. If your move turns out to have been a poor one then hopefully you've learned something. Suck it up and try and make the best of a bad situation. Above all, be a good sport and accept that we all make mistakes from time to time. If you've played with me long enough then you've no doubt reaped the benefit of one of my mistakes; now it's my turn to benefit from one of yours.

Basically it all comes down to good sportsmanship. Everything comes back to rule #1: gaming should be fun. Think about your behavior. Is everybody having fun? Good! Then let's play a game!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Game Night Write-Up

So last night was Game Night and here follows my stunning writeup of the event.

Family conflicts prevented me from arriving on time but I got there sooner than I thought I would (around 7). When I arrived there was a game of RoboRally (the original version) going. I have no idea who won but Oren, Darryl, and Mike K. were involved.

Christopher, Jose, Tejas and I played a quick round of HamsterRolle. This is a wooden game from Zoch where players try and balance oddly shaped blocks in a wooden wheel. It's a great game but it's a bit pricey, mostly due to the wooden wheel I guess. I proved more dexterous this time around.

We were trying out a new location this week: the café at the Microsoft Red West Campus (affectionately known as the Ski Lodge). The primary attraction of this location is that it's near to Oren's new office so he'll be able to let people in at five. It's also an attractive space that DOESN'T seem to have a cleaning crew going through it every Tuesday night (like the building 41 café does). The primary disadvantages are that the lighting is relatively poor (although the up-stairs portion isn't that bad) and it's relatively far from parking (a concern for those of us who lug games to and from the car). I think we'll probably meet here for the next few weeks unless someone comes up with a better venue.

Anyway after the first games, we moved upstairs and mixed the groups. Birch, Wade, Mike K., Mike M and I got a game of Aladdin's Dragons going. This time we played with the complete magic rules (not just the artifacts like last week). I like it better with the magic cards. The cards are pretty powerful but you have to use an artifact to be able to play them and that makes them very costly. Also, the presence of counter spell artifacts adds a whole layer of strategy around playing them. I'm sad to say I didn't win this one. Birch won with seven artifacts and he claims it's because it's the first time he'd played the game and now he'll never be able to win again.

We also played Razzia, a game that's currently only available as an import. This is kind of a "baby Ra". Ra is due to be published by Uberplay any time now and I believe that Rio Grande is planing to do a domestic version of Razzia soon. I hope so because I really like this game. It's a card driven, set-collecting auction game. My strategy of getting an early gangster lead at all costs (even though it left me with the 2, 3, and 4 in the second round) paid off and I won the game.

The others started and aborted a game of Traders of Genoa (no one was familiar with the rules - Curt we miss you) and I can't remember what they eventually settled on.

The Seattle gang went home at that point leaving Mike K, Mike M, Oren and myself. With only four players left I felt it my duty to suggest Tichu. Mike K and Mike M had never played and Oren was familiar with the game but seemed to be a bit fuzzy on the rules so I got to spend about fifteen minutes going over the rules. Tichu's rules can seem a little overwhelming but believe me, it's well worth the effort and after a couple of hands people get the hang of it. Unfortunately, Mike M really hates trick taking games and particularly partnership games so it took some convincing to even get it to the table. But once we got going, Mike M actually played quite well. Unfortunately we only got in a few hands before Oren and Mike K had had enough of Mike M's and my lucky hands and so we broke it off to play Turn the Tide.

Turn the Tide is a nice little card game by Stefan Dorra, the same guy who did For Sale, with which it shares a lot of similarities. Like For Sale, it relies heavily on the mechanic where each player simultaneously selects a card. In this game, having the highest card is usually not so bad, having the second highest is usually terrible, but it's generally best to be neither of the two. The two big ideas in this game which really make it work are (1) that a hand's scoring potential varies with its strength (stronger hands have a lower potential) and (2) that all the hands rotate around the table so that each player gets a chance to play with each of the hands. Got a bad hand? Don't worry, everybody else is going to get that exact same hand before the game is done.

Louis XIV wins Deustscher Spiele Preis 2005

The Gamewire reports that Louis XIV has won the Deutscher Spiele Pries (German Game Prize) for 2005.

The complete list of winners is:

  1. Louis XIV
  2. Niagara
  3. Manila
  4. Ubongo
  5. Himalaya
  6. Around the World in 80 Days
  7. Shadows Over Camelot
  8. Jambo
  9. Das Zepter von Zanavdor
  10. That's Life (A.K.A. Verflixxt)

The German Children's Game Prize went to Akaba.

Of the games on this list, I've played all but Ubongo, Himalaya, That's Life and Akaba and of the ones I've played, only Manila left me a little flat. The others are all excellent.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Did you ever wonder where GeekGold comes from?

Most people don't know this, but until 1989, GeekGold actually had its exchange value pegged to the Ruble. Anticipating the decline of the Soviet Union, then GeekGold Reserve Chairman Derk Solko revalued the currency at a composite function of the value of the Deutschmark, the US Dollar, the Pound, and the current exchange rate of wood for sheep.

This remained stable through the restructuring in Europe and weathered the transition to the Euro, however the rise of the Internet caused the market to be overwhelmed with wild speculation over the value of sheep, dramatically destabilizing GeekGold. At this point, Derk stepped down as chairman of the Reserve, and Scott Alden took over. While this raised gamer confidence, there was still rampant GeekGold inflation. As the stock bubble collapsed, GeekGold stabilized in value, a bit worse for the wear.

Finally, in 2001, under pressure from the United Nations and Reiner Knizia, Scott allowed GeekGold to float freely relative to other world currencies. As of the close of business today, GeekGold is trading up against frequent flier miles, down against arcade game tokens, and flat relative to the US Dollar.

--Matthew Gray (mkgray)

Huh huh. He said "wood for sheep."
Scott -Pokey Pokey Pokey- Reed
Profile for skelebone Send Message to skelebone Add skelebone to your GeekBuddy list
Posted on: 2005-09-17 10:54:34 CST

GeekGold comes from deep within the earth, mined by geekgnomes for generations. These wee men extract the gold from the solid rock with tiny picks in between their games of Euchre. The gold is loaded into carts and hauled to the surface by a series of ropes and pulleys, and makes its way to the refining plant, where it is melted and impurities are removed. This refined gold is then used to back an artificial currency market here on BGG, where shares of this bounty are passed out for contributions such as session reports, file uploads, pictures, and new games. Just remember, you can always go down to the office and demand your virtual "GeekGold" be turned into actual GeekGold, but the paperwork process is lengthy.

Age of Steam LIVES!

STOP THE PRESSES! The mythical, long-rumored Age of Steam reprint is arriving at House Full of Games TOMORROW!

This game was supposed to be shipping last spring and we've had it on eternal pre-order status. I just got a call from our distributor and he assures me that he has actually held a copy in his sweaty hands! So the long wait is finally over and I can finally make some people happy! If you've had it on pre-order then your wait is almost over!

Tuesday Night is Game Night

If you're in the Redmond area on Tuesday night come join us for board games!

This week we're meeting in the Red West Café on the Microsoft Campus. The games start at 5:00 and we'll go until we feel like quitting. It looks like I won't be able to be there on time (due to conflicts with my kids' soccer games) but I should be there later in the evening.

Here's a map to help you find the place:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Review: Palazzo

The latest game in the Alea small box series is Reiner Knizia's Palazzo. In Palazzo, 2-4 players compete against each other in an attempt to construct the most lavish (you guessed it) palazzos. Playing time is a very reasonable 45 minutes.
This is a small-box Alea game (distributed in America by Rio Grande Games) and, as you might expect, the components are very nice. Inside the box you'll find a deck of mini-sized cards which act as currency, about 50 sturdy tiles depicting palazzo floors, one larger (about 4" x 4") central board and four smaller (3" x 4") satellite boards that make up the playing surface, and a wooden pawn that represents the master builder. All of the bits fit in a sturdy plastic box insert with compartments designed just for this game. Also included is a very nice full-color rule booklet with the careful, clear and concise rules that we've come to expect from a Knizia game.
Basically, there's nothing to complain about here. The artwork is very attractive and appropriate to the theme. The pieces are all very sturdy and of the highest quality. The only nit I could pick here is that I would have preferred full-size cards but the mini cards work just fine and they're of good quality.
At the start of the game, the cards are shuffled and each player receives a starting hand of four money cards.
The cards are divided up into three different currency types (red, brown and silver) in denominations ranging from 3 to 7. Whenever you pay for something you must pay using denominations from only one type. Currencies are not allowed to be mixed. There are also a number of 2s in the deck which are currency neutral (or wild) and can be used with any of the other currency types.
The construction tiles are sorted into three stacks by the numbers on their backs (I, II, and III) and shuffled. The five playing boards are placed in the middle of the board with the largest in the middle and the four others evenly arranged around it. Then the master builder token is placed on one of the satellite boards and one tile from the first stack is placed face up on each of the five playing boards.
Each tile depicts a floor from a palazzo. Each tile has a floor number (1 - 5), a material type (sandstone, brick, or marble), and a number of windows and/or doors (1 - 3). Palazzos can have from one to five floors. Each floor's number must be higher than the floor below it (no duplicates allowed). For instance, you could build a four on top of a two but not the other way around. There is no restriction on how many palazzos you can construct. At the end of the game you will earn points based on how many windows are in your palazzos and how many floors they have. Palazzos with only one floor are worth minus points, palazzos with two floors are worth nothing, and palazzos with four or five floors earn bonus points. You also earn bonus points for building palazzos where all floors are made of the same material.
On your turn you have three choices: you can take money, you can reconstruct your palazzos or you can build.
If you choose to take money, then one card for each player in the game, plus one, is taken from the top of the deck and placed face up. You take two of the cards into your hand and each other player takes one.
If you choose to rearrange your palazzos then you get to either insert one floor that's by itself into another palazzo or split one floor out of a palazzo so it's by itself. (Moving a floor from one palazzo to another requires two turns.)
If you choose to build then you take one tile from the lowest stack and put it on the center board, then you take the next tile and put it on one of the satellite boards. Which board it's placed on depends on how many windows it has. If it has one window it goes on the board just in front of the master builder. If it has two floors it goes on the second board and if it has three it goes on the board that's farthest from the master builder. Then you get the option of either buying one or two tiles from the center board, or moving the master builder to the next set of tiles on a satellite board and auctioning those tiles off to the highest bidder. If you choose to auction the tiles then you get to add 3 to whatever you bid, giving you a bidding advantage. The tiles are auctioned and whoever bids the most pays the bank (the discard pile) and takes the tiles. The winner must then either build or discard each of the tiles; he can't save them for later. If you choose to buy tiles from the center then you pay a fixed price (which gets cheaper as more tiles become available) and you don't have to deal with the uncertainty of an auction, but you may only buy up to two tiles at a time.
When players bid, they must place the cards they're bidding with face up on the table in front of them. Once you've placed a bid you are not allowed to take cards back into your hand unless you pass. In other words, there's no making change or changing the color of your bid. (This will be familiar to anyone who has played High Society.)
As the game progresses, players work their way through the three stacks of building tiles. Mixed in with the tiles in the third stack are five "rider tiles" which together form a picture of a horse and rider. When a rider tile comes out it is placed aside. When the fifth rider tile is revealed the game ends immediately and scores are tallied.
When I first played Palazzo I enjoyed it but I was not overly impressed. It struck me as an interesting game but so many of the mechanics seemed similar to mechanics from other games (Alhambara's currencies and tiles and High Society's bidding style immediately come to mind). Now that I've played it a bit more I'm more impressed. Sure, we've seen many of these things before but they're combined to good effect here. There is depth and balance to Palazzo that wasn't originally apparent to me.
For example, one of the more obvious strategies is to take as much money as you can early in the game. Every time you take money you're getting twice as much money as your opponents so this seems like an obvious ploy. But while this certainly isn't a bad idea, it's not as powerful as you might expect. For one thing, whenever you take money, your opponents are getting money too, and while they aren't getting as much as you, they aren't having to give up a turn to do it either. You don't have to do that very many times before they're going to have enough money to buy tiles from the center and that means that they'll get exactly the tiles they want without having to resort to an auction (which they would almost certainly lose since you've got so much more money). Also, this game is shorter than you might think and if you spend too many rounds taking money you may find yourself falling behind. I've been involved in more than one game where the game was won by carefully judging when the game might end and using that to advantage.
The more I play Palazzo, the more I'm impressed with it. It's a solid, well constructed game that strikes a good balance between luck and skill. There are subtleties to the game that aren't immediately apparent. The game plays in a very reasonable amount of time and most importantly: it's a lot of fun. Thumbs up.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Review: Plunder

Plunder is a game by Karl and Julianne Lepp from a relatively new company: Laughing Pan Productions. It's a strategic card game for 2-4 players with a strong piracy theme. This is essentially their breakthrough game and if this game is any indication of things to come then things are looking pretty good.
The first thing you're bound to notice about plunder is the treasure chest shaped box that it comes in. The box is small, about 3" x 5" x 2", but they've packed it solid with a surprising number of bits. Inside you'll find a deck of about 100 cards, four fold-out paper playing mats, four fold up cardboard ships, and several punch sheets full of counters: flags, coins, and goods markers. You also get a couple of nice bags to keep the coins and flags in. Given that this is coming from a fledgling publisher, the production quality isn't bad at all. It's not as lavish as some of the stuff we're used to from some of the more established publishers but it's quite serviceable and I completely appreciate having so much stuff packed into such a small package. I wish that all of the games in my collection were so space conscious.
My biggest complaint about the components is with the paper ships. It sure would have been nice if Laughing Pan had included some real ship tokens with the game instead of just paper fold-ups. It's a minor thing but they are the most important bits in the game and flimsy paper just seems a little cheap.
The basic idea of the game is to explore the seas looking for ships you can plunder. When a ship is spotted you can choose to pursue the ship, fight it, board it and plunder it. Prize ships can be taken, cargo plundered, and crew thrown overboard to Davy Jones' Locker. Goods and prize ships can be sold for treasure. Goods and ships can also be bought and sold through more legal means. Political enemies and alliances can be formed. All of this in a card game!
Each player is given a ship and a playing mat which is used to track his or her progress. Each player also receives a hand of six cards and a starting stash of five silver coins.
The cards have multiple uses. Some cards are played on the table and become part of the map. These cards represent open sea, ports, and coastlines. Other cards describe events that can be played to help or hinder the players. And still other cards represent ships which can be purchased at port or plundered on the high seas.
At the start of the game, players begin with their ships on the Tortuga port card. From there, they can explore in any direction in hopes of finding other lands or ships.
On your turn you first have the option of moving your ship. If you have a map card in your hand, and if there is an open space next to your ship then you may add the card to the board, effectively expanding the map of the known seas. Whether or not you played a map card, you may move your ship to an adjacent card. You may move multiple times on your turn. Every time you move your ship you get to draw a card into your hand. If your hand already has seven cards then you can't move. Furthermore, you can only change direction once during your turn and once you make landfall, you must stop.
Next you get to take an action. An action might be playing a card, or it might be purchasing or selling goods or ships. You might encounter a ship at sea and plunder it. You might decide to get a letter of marque from a warring country, aligning yourself with that country's interests and opening up the possibility of having that country purchase your ill-gotten goods, or in other words, having that country reward you for practicing piracy against other nations.
As the last action of your turn, you must play a card (if you have one) on the player to your left. If that player is in an area where the card can take effect then she must do what it says; otherwise she simply discards it at the start of her turn.
Whenever ships come into contact with one another, there may be combat. In order to take a ship you have to overcome certain challenges. First you must be able to catch the ship. Next you must go broadsides and attack the ship with your cannons. Finally you must board her and defeat her crew. Only then will you get to take the ship as a prize and plunder her cargo.
Each of these things is accomplished by comparing your ship's speed, cannon, and crew numbers to that of the ship you are attacking. If any of your numbers are less than the corresponding numbers on the other ship you will fail unless you can produce a card whose number brings you to at least a tie.
This is usually not too hard to do, so long as you have cards in your hand. In this game, running out of cards can be a very bad thing. And since the only way to get more cards is to sail, you had best make sure that you are always near some open seas.
Laughing Pan got a lot right with this game. I love the small box. I love the colorful theme, which is very well done indeed. The way the cards all do double duty and the idea of using sailing as a hand management mechanism are very clever and work pretty well. It's a fun game and it's relatively quick to play.
There are a couple of areas where the game falls short. Obviously there are some production issues. This game was not done completely on the cheap but neither was it lavishly produced. Also, sometimes the artwork makes it difficult to read the text on the cards. Those issues are really pretty minor. More serious to me is how very luck intensive this game can be. Some of the cards are really quite powerful while others don't seem to be good for much at all. Most of the time the winner will be decided by luck rather than strategy. For a game that's mostly about theme, this isn't really a killer. I don't mind a luck heavy game provided the theme is well done and the game is entertaining and Plunder succeeds on both of those points.
My most serious complaint is that the rules are sometimes confusing as written and there were a lot of edge cases that they left unaddressed. If you’re the type that likes to be sure that you're playing the game as the designer intended (and I am) then you may find yourself going to Board Game Geek or to the game's FAQ for clarification on a few issues.
Some of the gameplay issues can be addressed by using the Commodores rules, an advanced rule set that's available as a free download in PDF form from the game's fan site. The Commodores rules make the game a bit more strategic while allowing the game to be played by six players and adding some additional elements like fleets.
In the end the pros far outweigh the cons. Plunder is a darn fine game. It's original, it's steeped in theme and it's a lot of fun. If you ever feel the urge to sail the seven seas in search of fame and fortune then crack open that small treasure chest and go get yerself some Plunder matey!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Palazzo is Growing On Me

I played a game of Reiner Knizia's new game Palazzo over lunch today. This is a very nice game that has players bidding on building tiles which they combine to form palazzos. There are several elements in this game that remind me of other games but it all combines in a very pleasant way.

This game didn't really strike me as something special when I first played it, but I find that the more I play it, the more it has to offer. There are subtleties here that I didn't grasp at first.

On each player's turn he may either take money, rearrange his palazzos (according to some simple but restrictive rules), or trigger a build. Triggering a build causes two more tiles to be brought to the board. One tile goes in the middle of the board and the other tile goes to the outside. The building player may elect to buy outright one or two tiles from the middle or he may auction off a set of tiles from around the outside.

A very common newbie strategy is to take money early on... lots of money. Every time you take money you pull a number of cards from the money deck. You get to keep two of those cards and all other players get one. So in theory, you're getting twice as much money as everyone else. This seems like a good deal but there are some clever and subtle checks built into the game that keep this from being the surefire winning strategy that it otherwise might be. Now mind you, that isn't to say that this is a bad strategy; it's actually a pretty good one but by itself it doesn't guarantee the win. For one thing, money is worthless at the end of the game. Also, you may be getting more money than anyone else early on, but they're getting a lot of money too and they're probably getting enough that they can be buying tiles form the middle. That means that they're getting exactly the tiles they want and they're not having to deal with the uncertainty of a bidding war, a bidding war which you would probably win since you've been drawing twice as much money as they have.

Another subtlety is the way new tiles are placed on the outside according to their value. More valuable tiles are always placed farther away from the "master builder" token. The tiles that are auctioned are always the tiles closest to the master builder, which means that if you decide to auction tiles, you might get lucky and have an extra tile included in your auction, but if you do, it's certainly not going to be a very good tile. And if you were planning to auction off a whole lot of tiles, you might find that extra tile spoils your auction because if there are too many tiles in a set, they aren't auctioned off at all but evenly distributed among all the players. That has some implications that aren't obvious at first and I've been hurt by it a couple of times now.

Another thing I really like about this game is that it always feels shorter than you think. Early in the game it feels like you've got all the time in the world but in reality, those tiles go pretty darn fast and the player who sits around and waits for just the right tiles, or the player who buys tiles that he thinks he can reconstruct on a later turn, may get caught flat-footed as the game ends sooner than anticipated. I've been involved in a few games now where the game was won by paying careful attention to when the game was likely to end.

Anyway, I'm glad I've waited before writing up a review of this game because it's definitely impressing me more the more I play it. Of course I did win today's game so perhaps that has something to do with my impression as well. *grin* Either way, look for me to write a proper review of this game soon.

Nintendo Revolution Controller Unveiled, And It's Revolutionary

I just couldn't let this bit of news go by without comment.

Have you seen this thing?

"The controller's most notable feature — invisible in still images — is that players will be able to affect onscreen movement by moving the controller through the air."

Now I don't know about you but my arm hurts just thinking about that. And I also can't wait to try it. Talk about a gimmick! Wow!

URL: Nintendo Revolution Controller Unveiled, And It's Revolutionary

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Game Night Report

As I arrived, people were putting away Bottle Imp so I can only assume that it was played as an opener.

Not everyone had arrived yet so we played a quick round of For Sale. This is a fantastic little filler game. It's fast, elegant and super easy to teach. I've played it dozens of times now and I'm still willing to play it again and again. I can't remember who all was in on the game and I can't remember who won but I know it wasn't me. Although I seem to remember doing much better than I deserved after foolishly overbidding early in the game.

Next, Christopher, Mike M., Wade and I played Plunder. This time I think I got the rules right. We actually played two games. The first game I lucked in to a very quick win. The second game I wasn't so lucky. Christopher sat to my right and he had horrible cards but unfortunately he also had just about every "screw your neighbor" card in the deck which he used to force me to miss my first several turns. While he and I were busy going nowhere, Wade and Mike raked in the silver. Mike got the win. I kind of like this game but mostly because I think the theme is really well done. The game is a bit too luck heavy. Still, I don't really mind a luck heavy game so long as I find the game play enjoyable, and in this case I do. I'll have to read the advanced rules available on-line and see if I like those better.

Meanwhile, Oren, Jose, Mike K., and Birch played Nexus Ops. I believe Oren won pretty convincingly.

Christopher, Mike M., Wade and I played Palazzo. I rather like this game but I've seen a few games like tonight's where everybody just takes money to the point where money becomes almost worthless. There were several times when people didn't want to trigger a worthless auction because then it would make a really good auction available to the next player. Mike got the win but it was relatively close all around.

Christopher had to leave early so he talked Mike M., Oren, Wade and I into joining him for a quick game of Gargon. This game is fun for what it is: a quick luck-heavy card game with some unique mechanics and a nice gimmick: cards whose backs are colored to match their suits. I have to admit that I don't like this game nearly as much as I did when I first played it. It's just too luck heavy for my tastes and while I feel there must be some strategy in there, it kind of eludes me.

Christopher and Birch had to leave early and Oren decided to call it quits too so that left five of us. We decided to play Through the Desert, a classic Knizia game which I absolutely love. This game is kind of Knizia's tip of the hat to Go. This is one of those classic games where you have tons of choices on each turn but can only act on two of them. It's a very tense game. Mike K. won it pretty handily.

We rounded out the night with a game of Aladdin's Dragons. This is a great blind bidding game by Richard Breese. I really like this game but I've only played it a couple of times. We need to get this out more. I've never played it with the magic cards and I think I'd like to give that a try sometime. Jose, in typical Jose fashion, flew in under everybody's radar to win the game.

I'm sure there were a few other games played but I can't remember what they were.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Plunder: Second Impression

I played Plunder again over lunch today and this time it was with some seasoned gamers. The number one big thing that we discovered was that the rules are just not clear enough as written. After the game I went and looked up all the information I could find on the Geek and sure enough, we botched quite a few rules either because I couldn't remember them correctly or because they just weren't spelled out clearly enough.

  1. If you have a prize ship and/or plunder and you enter a port where you can sell, you must sell.
  2. Enemy ships (and pirate ships) will attack you no matter what the strength of their cannon or crew. So if someone plays a ship on you and it's faster than you but its cannon and crew are lower than yours, you can elect to run from it, have it catch you, and then beat the snot out of it without having to play a single card.
  3. You can't get a Letter of Marquee from a nation unless that nation is at war. (This one is clearly stated in the rules but I missed it.) This means that you can't unload plunder anywhere but Tortuga unless nations have declared war.

I'll try and get in one more game of this tonight and hopefully I'll feel ready to write a real review.

Conquest of the Empire & Railroad Tycoon - Eagle Games

The GameWire has a preview posted of Eagle Games' new game Conquest of the Empire, which I hear should be arriving in stores soon; perhaps next week.

I've heard good things about this game but I have to admit to being a little skeptical. Eagle Games has acquired a reputation by releasing a string of near misses. Their games are beautiful to look at, that's for sure, but they've always fallen short for me in one way or another.

Take for instance Age of Mythology. This is perhaps their best effort yet and it's a pretty decent game but it just didn't quite do it for me. The similarities to Puerto Rico were a step in the right direction but they couldn't make up for the fact that the game ran too long and the combat system was basically a flawed and more complicated form of rock/paper/scissors. It's an improvement over their previous games but it still didn't inspire me to play it more than two or three times before relegating it to the shelf.

Eagle Games seems to be moving toward games that are a little shorter and a little less complicated, with rules that are more thoroughly tested than in games past. In short, more "eurogameish" if you will. They seem to be heading in the right direction but I'm not sure that they've arrived yet.

The rules to Conquest of the Empire are posted in PDF form. I'm going to have to read them soon. I'll probably play it. I really want to like it but I have to admit that I'm approaching it with a bit of a bias.

(I should note that there are actually two rule sets to Conquest of the Empire. This game is essentially a remake of the classic 1984 Milton Bradley game by the same name and the first rule set is based on that game. The second rule set is based on Martin Wallace's Struggle of Empires which is a truly fantastic game.)

Surprise me Eagle Games! Please!

URL: Game Preview: Conquest of the Empire - Updated

And while we're on the subject of Eagle Games, you should also check out the preview of Railroad Tycoon. This is basically a re-theming of Martin Wallace's classic game Age of Steam (a game whose reprint is LONG LONG overdue). I think this looks very good indeed. I have high hopes for this one.

URL: Game Preview: Railroad Tycoon - The Boardgame - Updated

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Plunder: First Impression

Today I played Plunder for the first time. This is a card-based game with a piracy theme. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about it is that the entire game is packed tightly in a small box shaped like a treasure chest. The box measures only about 3"x5"x2" but they've managed to cram a whole bunch of stuff in there.

I played the game with Kray (13 1/2) and Michael (10) which generally makes for a lousy first impression because I end up spending more time trying to teach them the game than I do actually playing and enjoying it. Also, it's a little hard to evaluate strategy against them because they often make choices on a whim instead of actually thinking them through.

Still, we had a pretty good time. I don't feel like I've really played it enough to make a verdict yet but initial opinions are pretty favorable.


The theme is pretty well done. I liked the way the game mixed exploration and trading with attack and plunder. The mechanics seem pretty solid and well thought out. And for coming in such a small package, the bits are really nice. It's all cardboard and paper (it pretty much has to be to fit in that tiny box) but still, it's really quite nice.


Sometimes the production gets in the way of the game. For instance, most of the cards have quite a bit of text. That by itself wouldn't really be a problem except that the cards also tend to have artwork behind the text which makes the text a little difficult to read.

The rules were pretty good but in places they seemed to be a bit more confusing than necessary. At heart, this is a pretty simple game but I still had to read the rules through a couple of times before I really felt I understood what they were saying.


Like I said, I haven't played the game enough to really review it properly. These are just my first impressions. I'll try and get in a few more games so I can form a better opinion. Then I'll go back and write a proper review. Still, initial impressions are quite favorable. I think I like it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Rio Grande Games - Updated Release Schedule

Here is a summary of the updated release schedule for Rio Grande Games:

Alhambra (Queen Games) - September 2005
Alhambra: Vizor's Favor (Expansion 1) (Queen Games) - September 2005
Flandern (Queen Games) - September 2005
Carcassonne: The Discovery - September / October 2005
Dragonriders - October 2005
Oltre Mare - October 2005
Metro (Queen Games) - October 2005
Techno Witches - October 2005
Caylus - October 2005
PÜNCT (New GIPF Series Game) - October 2005
Ark - October 2005
Euphrates & Tigris Card Game - October 2005
Hacienda - October 2005
Power Grid: Italy/France - October 2005
Carcassonne: The River II - October 2005
The difference between Women & Men - November 2005
Ys - November 2005
Friedrich - November 2005
The Gardens of Alhambra(Multilingual Version of Die Garten der Alhambra) (Queen Games) - Before End of Year 2005
Alhambra: City Gates (Expansion 2) (Queen Games) - Before End of Year 2005
Alhambra: Thief's Turn (Expansion 3) (Queen Games) - Before End of Year 2005
Mac Robber (Queen Games) - Before End of Year 2005
Gracias - Before End of Year 2005
King Arthur Card Game (Multilingual Version of King Arthur - Das Kartenspiel) - Before End of Year 2005
Gloria Mundi - Before End of Year 2005
Veritas - February 2006
Wallenstein (Queen Games) - March 2006
Medici (New Version) - Spring 2006
Stephensons Rocket (New Version) - Spring 2006
Taj Mahal (New Version) - Spring 2006
Industria (Queen Games) - ?
Funny Friends (English Version of Fiese Freunde Fette Feten) - ?
Halli Galli Extreme - ?
'New Puerto Rico Expansion' - ?

URL: Gone Cardboard: Rio Grande Games - Updated Release Schedule and a New Game

GAMES Magazine has a Website!

GAMES magazine now has a web presence:

URL: GAMES Magazine has a Website!

Rio Grande Games - Updated Reprint Schedule

Here is the updated list of games scheduled for reprint by Rio Grande Games:

Bausack - September 2005
Sac Noir - September 2005
Bamboleo - September 2005
Puerto Rico - September 2005
Puerto Rico Expansion - September 2005
Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals - September 2005
Clans - October 2005
El Grande - November / December 2005
Goa - November / December 2005

URL: Rio Grande Games - Updated Reprint Schedule

Gone Cardboard: Dungeon Twister - Released

URL: Gone Cardboard: Dungeon Twister - Released

Friday, September 02, 2005

Review: Gargon: The Amulet of Power

Gargon is a unique card game for 3-5 players from Rüdiger Dorn. Players assume the role of wizards dueling with six different types of fantasy creatures in an effort to win magical gems. In reality, the theme is a bit of a stretch for what otherwise is a relatively interesting and unique, if a bit luck intensive, game.

The Play

Players are dealt a hand of ten cards. Cards are distributed across six suits, each representing a different fantasy creature. Each suit has cards ranked from 0 to 15. The cards are very nicely illustrated, although the art for each card within a suit is basically the same. The twist here is that not only are the fronts of the cards different for each suit; so are the backs. The backs are colored to match the suit so that whenever your hand is fanned out (which it must be throughout the game) your opponents can always see exactly what suits you have. The only information you get to keep to yourself is the cards' ranks.

The remaining cards are split into two draw piles which are fanned out face down in the center of the table, thus revealing to all which suits are due up next in each. Whenever you draw a card, you get to pick which draw pile you pick from, so you have some choice about which suits to use to fill out your hand. The draw piles also act as a timer: as soon as one is gone, the game ends.

The game is played over a number of rounds. On each round, whoever has the lead (which rotates with each round) chooses from one to three cards from her hand to play face-down in front of her, the only restriction being that she must not play three cards from the same suit. The player to her left may now choose to play cards or draw. If he chooses to play cards, he must match the same distribution (but not necessarily the same suits) as the first player. For instance, if she has played two reds and one blue, then he may play two yellows and one green, or two blues and one orange, or any other combination of two and one.

Each player in turn either plays or passes (drawing cards). Then the cards are revealed and matched up. Each suit is resolved in turn. Each player's highest card in a given suit is matched up against every other player's highest card in that suit. Whichever card is the highest (or any card that is unopposed) wins and is captured by the player who played it. The other cards are losers and are discarded. If any player had played a second card in that suit then the process is now repeated, so it's possible that a player may win with a very low card simply because she was the only player to play two cards in that suit (or the only player to play in that suit at all).

The goal is to win as many of these battles as possible with the lowest ranked cards. Each card has a number of gems (or none at all). The highest ranked cards have no gems and the number of gems increases as the cards' ranks approach one. The zero-ranked cards are the most valuable of all because, while they have no gems, they have the "Gargon Amulet of Power" which doubles the value of all gems taken in that suit.

At the end of the game, players score one point for each gem taken. Players are also awarded ten bonus points (or five in the case of a tie) for having the most cards in a given suit. And of course the amulets (zero cards) score double points for each gem taken in that suit.


The components in Gargon are quite nice. The cards are the standard sturdy coated cardstock that we've come to expect from a game by AMIGO Spiel. The artwork is very attractive, albeit a bit repetitive within each suit. Colors are vivid and suits are easily distinguishable. This is an attractive game.

My Impression

Gargon has some interesting concepts that seem really good on the surface but just don't quite work as well as I had hoped. The blind play aspect would be extremely luck heavy if you couldn't tell what suits your opponents have in their hands. The fact that you CAN tell what suits they are holding is a great idea which dictates the major strategy of the game: try and be the only player to play in a given suit. But here again, it largely falls back to luck. It's almost always in the other players' interest to choose to play different colors from you and if they do then everyone just keeps all the cards they've played. This, of course, means that everyone will tend to score based on what cards they were lucky enough to draw. There is a rule that says that if the last player in a round plays cards, he must choose among suits already played in that round. This is intended to ensure that there will be at least some card match-ups in each round, and it generally does, but of course all the other players know this rule and so they'll try and play suits that the final player doesn't have in hand, forcing him to draw that round instead of play.

Any card game, by its very nature, is going to involve some luck, but Gargon seems to suffer from it a bit more than most. And for this reason, I don't know that I will be wanting to play it all that often. I prefer my card games to be a bit more strategy intensive. Still, there is definitely some strategy here and I'm sure that there will be some who will enjoy this game immensely. This game works quite nicely as a light filler game. Younger kids may enjoy the bright colors and the fantasy artwork and the game is certainly simple enough for it's ten and up age rating. It's an attractive, inventive and unique game but ultimately for me it fell just a bit short.