Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I was late to arrive at game night. My busy schedule meant that I didn't show up until nearly eight. When I arrived there were three games going: Tichu, Santiago, and Escape from Atlantis.

I've written about Tichu several times (see the side bar) and I've written about Santiago a few times as well (excellent, excellent game!) but I don't know that I've ever written about Escape from Atlantis before.

Escape from Atlantis was essentially a 1986 British remake of the 1982 Parker Brothers game Survive. Escape from Atlantis is almost the same game; a few things were added and a few of the rules were slightly tweaked. Both games feature the same type of board with its ever-shrinking island made up of hexagons. Both games feature boats, sharks, whirlpools, and sea monsters (and so on). Survive and Escape from Atlantis were games that were ahead of their time. Many of the concepts in these games would become common in modern eurogames. Neither of them are truly outstanding games but they are both quite good and worth playing at least once. Since both are long out of print, they can be rather difficult to find. If you decide to find yourself a copy, Escape from Atlantis is probably the one to get since the bits are much nicer and you'll have everything you need to play with either set of rules.

All three of those games broke up at about the same time and I was able to finally get in on a game myself. Curt, Kai, Mike K. and I played a game of Stephenson's Rocket. This is a classic Knizia game about building railroads across early 19th century England. Like many Knizia games, there is a lot of majority scoring and there are a lot of different ways to score. Gameplay is simple but the strategies are definitely not. This being my first time playing, I really had no idea how to build a winning strategy as my last place finish will attest. I take some consolation in the fact that I wasn't as far behind as I thought I would be. This is a very good game and, coming from Knizia, it's surprisingly thematic; although we joked that the way the trains leave tracks behind them suggested that the game could very easily be rethemed to be about slugs winding their way through a garden eating stuff.

When that broke up, Curt twisted my arm and managed to drag me kicking and screaming into a game of Tichu. (Yes, that's sarcasm.) We won a very satisfying victory in a close game that featured several Tichu calls and lots of back and forth. This remains my favorite game for exactly four players. I've played hundreds of games and I don't see myself ever growing tired of it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Belated Game Night Report

This has been a busy week. It seems like I've got a dozen projects all going at once. That's why I'm so late getting to this week's game night write up.

Turnout was great this week and there were several games going all night long. I'm only going to mention the two that I played.

My first game of the evening was Rum & Pirates. I'd played this only once before and I was eager to try it again. There were three of us in our game: Michael, Jose and myself. Michael sat to my left and unfortunately for me, he paid particular attention to where he left the captain. It seemed that I never started my turn with the captain in a good position. In spite of that, we actually all managed to finish relatively close. We had a great time and I'm eager to play it again. It can be a little luck heavy but it's good fun.

When our game finished, everyone else was involved in another game so I suggested we play Mykerinos. I continue to be very enamored with this game. It's so rare for a shorter game (under 45 minutes) to feel this heavy. So far, Ystari Games can do no wrong. I can't wait to see what they produce next.

After we finished Mykerinos I decided to head back to the office to get some more work done so that was the end of game night for me.

If you're ever near Redmond on a Tuesday night come join us! We meet in the Microsoft building 50 cafeteria every Tuesday night at 5pm. Search this blog's archives for directions if you need them.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sun Sand Kites and Games

This Tuesday I wasn't able to attend my regular gaming group. That's because my parents invited my family to join them for a short vacation in Long Beach, Washington.

Long Beach is located on the south Washington coast just north of the mouth of the Columbia River (which also happens to be the Oregon border). Long Beach is the self-proclaimed "longest beach in the world", a claim which may or may not be true depending upon how you define it but either way I think I can safely say that it's one heck of a long beach. It also happens to be just about the best place on the planet to fly kites. Each year it hosts the annual Washington State International Kite Festival which is the biggest event of its kind that I'm aware of.

I'm a kite flier. I've been into flying kites since I was a kid and about ten years ago I rediscovered the hobby during a family vacation that took us to Long Beach. Since then I've filled my kite bags with one line, two line, and four line kites of various shapes and sizes. The clean steady winds of Long Beach are always a joy for me and this visit was no different. I had a wonderful time getting sunburned while I flew my kites and now that my kids are old enough to fly as well we often had four or five kites up at once. Good winds. Good times.

But equally as enjoyable for me were the games that we managed to play while we were there. Whenever the sun wasn't shining there was always a game at hand. Here is a brief description of some of the games we played.

One of the first games I brought out is a children's game: Gulo Gulo. I'd always heard this was a great kid's game but I'd never had the opportunity to play it before. It didn't disappoint. We played it with our younger kids several times during our stay. Gulo Gulo is a fun little dexterity game where you try and steal colored wooden eggs from a wooden "nest" (bowl). If you're too clumsy, you'll dislodge a wooden "alarm" that looks a little bit like a long swizzle stick stuck in the bowl of eggs. It's simple and it plays quickly. My kids loved it and I enjoyed it as well. I highly recommend it.

I had played El Grande several times before but this was the first time that I'd played the new Decennial Edition that Rio Grande Games has just released. This version contains the original games and all of the expansions in a single box. Unfortunately, it also contains an incredible amount of typos. I was rather disappointed to find so many silly little typographical errors, errors which really should have been caught during production. Still, despite all of that, it remains a classic game and one that every gamer ought to own. It's the quintessential area control game. I played a couple of games with my older sons and my parents. Everyone enjoyed the experience and both games were quite close. Great stuff.

One of the games that I was surprised to be able to get to the table was Caylus. It's one of my favorite games but it's very much a gamer's game and I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to convince anyone to play it with me. But Tuesday morning was overcast and cold so I was able to convince my father and two of my sons to play it with me. We had a great game and my father (who is a pretty smart cookie) did quite well.

I wasn't surprised at all to be able to get No Thanks! to the table. I brought it to breakfast with us one day and we played it in the restaurant while we were waiting for our food. It's such a short game and it fits in such a small box that you can play it just about anywhere. It's the perfect time killer.

We also managed to get in several games of Pink Godzilla Dev Kit. I'm still impressed by Christopher's little card game. It's played well every time I've played it. The theme was a little strange to my parents and of course they didn't get any of the jokes but they seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Another game that was new to me was Aton, this is a two player game by Thorsten Gimmler, who also created No Thanks! and Odin's Ravens. It's an area control game where play is strongly gated by card draw. On each turn both players draw four cards and then position them face down in front of them. The way the cards are played determines play order, how many pieces can be removed or added, and which of four areas the pieces can be removed from or added to. It's a little luck heavy but there are enough ways to win that the luck can be mitigated by clever play. I quite enjoyed it and I look forward to playing it many more times.

As you can guess, the only bad part about our vacation was having to come home at the end of it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Review: Pink Godzilla Dev Kit

Pink Godzilla Dev Kit is the debut card game from up and coming game designer Christopher Rama Rao. It's published by Pink Godzilla, a small on-line video game store located in Seattle, Washington ( The game is for two to four players and lasts about 30 minutes.

Before I go any farther with this review I must in all good conscience make a few disclaimers. Christopher is a friend of mine from my Tuesday night gaming group. I've been gaming with him nearly every Tuesday for several years now. Every now and then he talks me into playing one of his home-grown games but this is the first time he's managed to get something published. Furthermore, I am lucky enough to operate one of the few stores that is currently offering Dev Kit for sale ( So while I am doing my absolute best to keep this review as objective as possible, I must acknowledge that there is a certain incentive for me to want to like this game. Hopefully you'll still believe me when I say with all honesty that this is pretty darn good card game.

Whenever Christopher was play testing Dev Kit with our group I always seemed to be involved in another game so I never managed to get in on any play tests. I'm kind of glad of that because it means that my first experience with Dev Kit was exactly the same as yours would be: I cracked open the plastic box in the comfort of my home and taught myself to play the game from the printed rules that come with the game. In fact, I still have yet to play this game with Christopher. I've only ever played it with my family and a few other friends.


Pink Godzilla Dev Kit is a card game about making video games. Players "build" video games by assembling titles, gear, and characters. When one of your games "goes gold" you score it and receive more cards as a reward.

The cards themselves are beautifully illustrated with video game parodies and inside jokes. There are parody video game titles like "Elders May Cry" and "Zilla II - The Adventure of Pink". There are potions for use in RPGs (role playing games), combination rifle/sword weapons for shooters, and silly looking keytars for music games. And there are silly parody characters like "The Elders", "Pixel" and "Pink Godzilla". The artwork is top notch and video game fans are sure to get a chuckle.


The game comes in a very nice deluxe plastic card box. The box contains 106 playing cards, a nice double-sided rules sheet, and a few extra promotional cards. The cards themselves look quite nice and shuffle well but if there is one area where the game falls short it is that the cards aren't quite as nice as they might be. They have square corners instead of rounded ones and they have black borders which I suspect may show wear faster than if they were white. But for a first card game from a very small company the production values are really quite good. The artwork, by artist David Linder (who I do not know) is especially good.

UPDATE: All of the above was true as of the initial writing but the second edition has seen some changes. First, the new cards are much better quality with rounded corners. Second, the plastic box has been replaced by a very nice tuck box (perhaps not as sturdy as the plastic box but it looks much nicer). Third, the artwork on the cards has been tweaked just a little and is now even more attractive.

Game Play

Dev Kit is basically a hand management / set collection game with an auction mechanic and some clever card interaction mechanics. It's a pretty easy game to learn. The rules only fill two sides of a single page and I had no difficulty learning the game from them. It's simple but it offers plenty of opportunities for clever play and interesting decisions.

Players race to be the first to complete four video games. Each video game must contain at least four cards before it can "go gold": a title card, a character card, and two different gear cards. The cards can be played in any order but only certain cards can be used to make each of the four types of games. Green cards are used for shooters, orange cards are used for music games, pink cards are used for fighters, and blue cards are used with RPGs. Many cards can be used in more than one type of game but no game is allowed to contain two identical cards and there are very few cards that can be used in all four genres. Each card also has a number in the corner that is used as currency and also determines the value of each completed video game.

Each player starts with a hand of five cards. There are also five cards placed face up in the middle of the table which constitute a "resource pool". This pool is used for a sort of drafting mechanism that allows players to exchange cards from their hands for cards in the resource pool, thereby improving their hand. It's a nice mechanic that significantly mitigates the luck of the draw and it's essential to the tactics of the game.

At the beginning of a player's turn he refreshes the resource pool, making sure there are five cards available. Then he draws a card from the deck and adds it to his hand. Now he may either buy a card, auction up to three cards, or discard the lowest valued cards from the resource pool. If he chooses to buy a card, he exchanges it for one or more cards from his hand that total an equal or greater value. If he chooses to auction cards then all players select a number of cards from their hand and simultaneously reveal them. The player whose cards sum to the highest value wins the cards and pays for them by discarding the cards she bid.

Next the active player may play one or two cards to the table. Usually cards are played to continue progress on a game but some cards have special abilities such as allowing the player to play extra cards on his turn or draw additional cards into his hand. There's even a card that lets players swap for a card in the resource pool out of turn. The special abilities are quite well balanced and add a lot of tactics to the game.

As the final action of his turn, a player must decide if he wants any of his games to "go gold". A player is never required to "go gold" but until he does, he'll score nothing for his video games. Another incentive for "going gold" is that the player gets to add two more cards to his hand as a reward for completing a title. If this game is the first in its genre then the player gets a third card as a bonus for having completed it first. There are also cards that let other players benefit whenever a game of a certain genre "goes gold". Sometimes its best to race to gold as quickly as possible to collect the card bonuses. Other times it might be best to wait so that you add more features (play more cards) to the video game, thereby increasing its value and making it worth more when it's scored.

The game ends as soon as one player has completed four video games. Play then stops but other players with games in front of them with enough cards to be completed may declare those games "gold" also and score them. Bonuses are awarded for completing at least four video games and for having the first, second and third highest scoring video games.


Pink Godzilla Dev Kit is an excellent card game that offers a lot of great game play in a very simple package. It's simple to learn and quick to play. I particularly like how the game forces the player to constantly make difficult decisions. Should I keep this card in my hand for use in a future video game or should I use it as currency to buy another card? Do I use this card for its special ability or do I play it to the table to boost the value of one of my games in progress. Do I rush these video games to market in an attempt to be the only one to collect the four game bonus or do I instead focus on making each game as valuable as possible and hope that will be enough to put me in the lead?

The game plays equally well from two to four players and it offers enough strategy and tactics to keep it interesting over repeated plays. The fantastic artwork and the inside jokes are merely frosting on an already tasty cake. This is a very enjoyable game and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Election Night

Tonight was game night and I spent the entire night playing just one game: Die Macher.

Die Macher is considered by many to the quintessential heavy Euro game. It's just about the heaviest Euro you're likely to every play. Our game clocked in at a solid 4 1/2 hours and I could see it easily going longer with inexperienced gamers who are unfamiliar with the rules. (In fairness I have to add that it could certainly be played quicker with players who know it well.)

Die Macher takes the German political system for its theme. Players represent different political parties. They compete over a series of seven regional political races and ultimately influence the national political opinion.

This was my first go at Die Macher and although I came in dead last, I think I did alright. I was competitive up until the very last election when a perfect storm of unfortunate events resulted in a tragic reversal. I was poised to win the final election by a landslide but one player was just barely able to use the media to shift public opinion on one of the agendas in my party platform. That would have been fine but then another player published a (randomly chosen) public opinion poll that just happened to drastically erode voter confidence in my party. The resultant swing was worth as much as one hundred victory points to my final score. Devastating but fun nonetheless.

There is a lot to like about Die Macher. It has some truly elegant mechanics and it's jam packed with interesting decisions all the way through. It's equally strong in strategy and tactics. There's a lot of opportunity for maneuvering, collusion, manipulation, and downright screwage. There are auctions, tight economies, resource management, and all sorts of elegant systems. There's enough in here to satisfy just about any hard-core gamer and I can see why it's currently ranked 9th at BGG. Unfortunately, at over four hours, it's just too long for my tastes. I just can't see myself wanting to play it all that often. Still, this is clearly one of those games that every gamer should play at least once and I'd be willing to play it again if enough people wanted to. I don't think I'd ever suggest it though. If you like deep meaty games and you don't mind devoting four or five hours to it then I recommend you give it a try.

Well, alright. I admit it. I lied. I also played Loopin' Louie but that hardly counts. I lost that game too.