Welcome to Memoirs of a Board Gamer  Thursday, April 24 2014 @ 05:34 PM EDT

Exploration, Adventure, Point to Point Movement, & Network Building

A few weeks ago I was asked to contribute a blog entry to TableTop. I suggested several topics and they settled on "traveling while board gaming" which is a fun topic and easy to write about.

I'd love to add more remote places to my list of gaming destinations but I'm extremely grateful that I've been able to experience what I already have in Iceland and New Zealand. I am planning on attending BGG.CON later this year for my first time (registered and the hotel is booked) and I'm really excited to do that. If you'll be there, let me know and let's see if we can get a game in.

One of these days I'll attend Essen...

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The Knights Who Say Niche!

Board gamers are a varied lot but given its continued success, BGG must be serving them all with the nourishment that the species desires. Amid the normal banter about actual games, rules questions, image uploads, new game announcements, Geek of the Week discussions, contest announcements, website bugs and suggestions, etc., BoardgameGeek (BGG) is also well-populated with topics that border on the über-niche. These topics never cease to amaze me.

Here’s a run down of sample of some “über-niche” topics gleaned from just a few minutes of browsing topics. I didn’t even have to search, I just paged through recent posting made in the last hour or so…

  • Awkward grammar usage in rules and counting uncountable nouns (e.g. take two wood)
  • English speakers from Lima, South America that are specifically interested in historically accurate military games.
  • The design of the Amerigo cube-tower and how its printed construction directions don’t provide adequate statistical “release” of cubes as does the supposedly exact design of the Wallenstein tower
  • A man in Greece wanting information about where in Palo Alto one might pick up specific types/brands of paints so that he can tell a friend to get them and then bring them back to him in Greece.
  • Is it time to re-rank all the games in the database (debating pros and cons)
  • Hasbro's customer service, "Sucks Balls"
  • Introducing a new dice roll simulator mobile app including comments concerning the accuracy of using words like dice and die correctly
  • Debating if Modge Podge could be used to repair stickers on wooden tokens
  • How do you store your Carcassonne?
  • A designer requesting feedback concerning how long should a rule book should be for a design he was working on. Should they use longer rules with examples or shorter rules and an “almanac” style companion booklet.
  • Who has the best wife. Seriously. Of course, it was geared towards how well wives (and really spouses in general) tolerate and/or embrace games.
  • Should a game collection be insured? When/why?
  • A request for game “meet-up groups” for “girls” in Georgia
  • A Belgium-only Math Trade announcement
  • A question regarding good cards games for 6 year olds
  • Discussions about what celebrities will be attending BGG.CON in November
  • What games can be played successfully outside
  • A request for help to name a game where “players control a team of two bicycle riders (in the 30s-50s), trying to coordinate them to take advantage of other players moves to slipstream and avoid exhaustion from being in front. Until the end, where the point is to be in front.”
  • An announcement for a Kickstarted “Pot: The Board Game: Trade and barter frantically to collect 7 grams of the most potent cannabis. First player to 420 points wins!"

Again, keep in mind this is just a sampling and more comes out every day. On one hand you get a front row seat to discussions where OCD and pedantic behavior are common. Internet trolling exists but BGG moderators and the community do a good job at keeping overt negative behavior in check. On the other hand, we’re an intellectual crowd, I learn something new most days, and I do feel a kinship to many members.

I didn’t pull any topics from Chit Chat which borders on insanity but very fun (“Who has the best donkey?”) or RSP (Religion, Sex, Politics) which also borders on insanity (“Subject: Majority of Americans without health insurance now oppose Obamacare. Perhaps our freedom-hating, thieving, economic-wrecking plantation overlords can finally admit defeat -- and go away?”). Although I never post in RSP, I periodically browse and lurk and learn how to and and how not to debate a topic intellectually, factually, and without emotion. Even amid the knights that say NICHE!, there’s something to learn if you go looking for it.

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VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game Unboxing

VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game Publisher Unboxing from Dice Hate Me on Vimeo.

A first look inside an advanced production copy of VivaJava Dice!

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The 5 Stages of Math Trades

I've participated in numerous Math Trades on BGG including the 1st, 2nd, and most recently, the 5th largest (total number of games) in BGG's history. For the uninitiated, Math Trade bring together lots of people who have items they're willing to trade for other items. In general people offer and receive games in trade but it's not uncommon for trades to involve other products like gift certificates, DVDs, electronic equipment, tickets, magazines, second born children, etc. You name it, somebody has probably offered it in a Math Trade. BGG only provides the listing mechanism through its support of "GeekLists" but other 3rd-party software is used to align wants with offers, organize and maximize trades, etc. To make it more interesting, the trades are not necessarily 1:1, but indirect. I may ship a game to a different person than the person who sends me the game I wanted in trade. Take a moment to let that sink in. Hundreds of people, all trusting one another to ship games (and other stuff) to one another. It only works well when everybody plays by the rules and everybody plays the role of a good citizen of the trade. It all hinges on the honor system.

Entering into a Math Trade, especially the really big ones, is daunting to newcomers. Here's a little guide to the Five Stages of a Math Trade.

  • Denial and Isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

I. Denial and Isolation

I subscribe to the Math Trade Announcements forum so any time there is a Math Trade, I get a subscription notice and I jump out to BGG and see what kind of trade is being hosted. I like the big trades in hopes of being able to choose from thousands of offers, the smorgasbord of goodness.

However, many times I don't see what I want to see so I have to resort to posting items to the trade's "request" list in hopes of finding someone who will offer the items I want. Without good trade offers, I feel lonely, left out in the cold. I only offers the really good games. Who can deny that goodness. My "like new" is like, well, like really new, hardly played, sure...punched, but just a little dusty. Why don't I see hundreds of dollars in gift certificates being offered for these games! Why should it matter that my copy of Oasis is the 5th copy being offered; my copy is the good one, right?

II. Anger

I subscribe to the "request" and the "offer" geeklists so for the big trades, I receive hundreds of subscription updates every day and I can see the lists grow by leaps and bounds and like a hungry dog seeing a line of Beggin' Strips, I follow each subscription to the end reading every comment, update, and reply.

But as every trade progresses, I start seeing the eccentricities of users kick into full force and I have to refrain from commenting. Some people are rude. Some people don't recognize how far out on the bell-curve of normality they are. But then again, I remind myself that I'm on that bell curve of behavior myself and the curve is different for everybody.

BGG attracts all flavors of gamers and it's readily apparent when you see people commenting that they want pictures that depict exactly how the shrinkwrap has split on an "in shrink" game (that must matter some how?), or exactly the version/release/month of manufacture (this one I do relate to - there can be huge difference from one release to the next), or what someone really means when they say "free shipping to the lower 48" (with comments like, "What?! Why do you hate Minnesota?!")

In my next Math Trade I'm going to strive not to trigger comments where someone thinks I might be more comfortable in Nazi Germany. Godwin's law must apply to Math Trade Geeklists as well.

III. Bargaining

After the offer deadline passes, participants enter into the phase of using a tool called the OLWLG, the Online Want List Generator. The OLWLG allows users to align their offers with other offers. This intersection of offers represent your "wants" and all of them together represent your "want list". Using this tool is a bear and it takes patience, experience, hope, despair, and yes, even prayer (and I'm not even religious.)

The process of creating your want list splits you into two personalities. On one hand, you want those good games that others are offering and on the other hand, you've got these good games you have to give up to get them. Getting these two independent entities to work together is difficult. One side points out shipping costs and some sentimental memories of playing a game, the other points out practical facts like you've not played the game in four years, your group hates it, there's a small tear in one corner, it's got no box fart. Meaningful stuff! You’ve got to consider everything!

IV. Depression

Finally you submit your want list and then the trade comes to a close and the OLWLG is locked down. With great anticipation I wait for the results but the big trades take hours to obtain results, and then there's validating them and checking for cases of arbitrage. During the lock-down period my mind wanders, “Oh for crying out loud, why did you not add another game to that one trade and why did you offer your old grail game for that piece of hyped crapola!”

I start questioning my wants and begrudging my offers. I've even read the small print that what I thought I was trading for wasn't exactly what I thought I was trading for. What?! there's no expansion with that?! That's the first edition that had mold problems?!

V. Acceptance

And the results are in! And you just have to bend over and take what you get. But if you enter into it knowing that since you're in complete control, you shouldn't ever be disappointed in what you do get. It's not unlikely that you won't be disappointed in what you don't get but at least you'll hang onto your old crappy games that looked so bright and shiny about 2 stages ago.

Regardless, I love a good Math Trade. Let's be careful out there though, and don't take any wooden nickels. Unless of course they're those Kickstarter kind that were part of the stretch goal when GreatBits.com offered them in their second pre-order and they came in that really cool, enameled metal tin. Not the thin tin, but the thicker one that had "V2" stamped on the bottom and were made with more copper...and the black velvet, promo, draw-string bag...

International TableTop Day - 2014

Have you heard about International TableTop Day? From the TableTop website:

International TableTop Day is a celebration for all the fans of tabletop gaming. A single day where the whole world is brought together in a common purpose of spending time together and having fun.

TableTop day is also promoted by Geek & Sundry, Wil Wheaton’s TableTop VLog. 2014’s Event is scheduled for April 5th so there’s not much time to get everything organized. If you get a chance, jump out to TableTopDay’s site and register your event. Last year they had 3,123 registered gaming events in 64 countries worldwide, even in Antarctica!

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Review: Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing a “new to me” game called Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island. The game is cooperative, in that everybody wins or everybody loses but it also features a solo variant so I have had a lot more opportunities to play the game than I would otherwise.

Robinson is designed to support from 1-4 players and lasts a couple of hours. Players take on the role of a character that has survived a shipwreck on the island and your group has to try to accomplish some goal before being rescued. The game features several scenarios you can choose to play that define the goal you must accomplish but many other aspects of the game will keep that goal interesting and fresh. Each time you play you will be facing all kinds of new situations, events, adventures, beasts, and weather in your attempt to stay alive long enough and to meet your goal.

I’ve been focusing on the first scenario “Castaways”. You goal is to gather enough wood to pile it into a bonfire and to start it on fire some time in turns 10-12. Resources are extremely tight and many times you’ve got to make really tough decisions about using the wood you gather to build other things you need to build rather than adding it to your pile. On top of all that, you’ve got to gather food to survive each day but not too much as food rots each night so every day you’ve got to find at least some. For every situation and requirement the game throws at you that you cannot fulfill, you must take wounds. Too many wounds and you’ll die and lose the game.

The game is steeped in theme and as the rounds unfold you have chances to explore the island placing randomly drawn tiles out onto the board. As you explore, you discover items you might be able to use, see beasts in the jungle that you can choose to hunt for food and fur (they may hunt you when you're not looking!), etc. However, you may also be forced to participate in an adventure while you were off exploring your new area and during this adventure you may be wounded by an animal, find old items, become injured in a fall that may affect your ability to play well later in the game when you finally can’t take the pain any more.

These adventures can occur during many different actions in the game while hunting beasts, building structures and items, gathering resources, or exploring. As in real life, trying to stay alive is a dangerous business and usually these adventures are a bad thing to have to deal with. They may only affect you but they may come back later to affect your whole group when other more global events occur.

Each round a major event is uncovered, impacting the entire group. This event card is then placed near the bottom of the board and remains for a few turns allowing your group to deal with removing the threat described by the card. If your group ignores the threat, then you’ll be impacted again by the threat further reducing or at least impacting what you’re trying to accomplish.

To prepare for hunting and scavaging predators, bad weather, and the coming winter storms, players can devote resources to building various structures that include a shelter to spend the night in (if you sleep outside you take a wound), a roof to keep off some of the rain, a palisade to fend of wild creatures, and a strong weapon’s level to also fight/kill creatures. If you ignore these structures too long, the weather will eventually do you in as the winter storms are brutal. You’re going to need some protection from them. But not too much; remember you need to put some wood on the pile and light it on fire. But wait, where would do you get fire?

Each scenario starts with a field of inventions or ideas that your group has and if you choose to take actions to build them and manage to build them successfully (and hold onto them), you can take advantage of their special ability. These inventions usually require you to give up some sort of resource or have explored a specific terrain type of the island, others require you to have built a prerequisite invention.

I have to say, after 5 plays of the first scenario I’ve only won once and each game has been really different. The number of cards and which ones show up in any given game means there is an extreme amount of variability and replay value in the box. The rules aren’t overly complex but they’re woefully incomplete and a bit vague. It’s not uncommon to reveal an event and immediately have a question about how you might interpret what is required to fulfill it. However, in most cases, if you just try to think back to the theme and what might happen if the event occurred in real life, you’ll probably be close, if not spot on, to what the rules intended.

I’m really looking forward to my next play. I’ve heard of people playing dozens of times on just the first scenario and not beating it and after having played I can see why. It’s really tough to survive let alone meet the goals of the scenario. That first win really feels like you earned it.

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oddball Aeronauts

I recently ran across oddball Aeronauts on BGG and after scanning some of the artwork and the description, I jumped out to Kickstarter and backed it.

From the web:
Play-in-the-hand - Anywhere! Because oddball Aeronauts doesn't require a surface to play on it can literally be played anywhere! On a train, in the school yard, in a convention queue, in the college library (get back to your books you!), between gaming sessions - these are all very good and highly commendable places and circumstances for playing the game.

The artwork immediately caught my eye, reminding me of Chris Riddell's work on The Edge Chronicles. Flying ships, sky pirates, fanciful creatures, interesting characters, what's not to like in this game?!

I'm always on the hunt for good two player games and one that provides a few minutes of fun in a small package AND doesn't require a playing surface is already head and shoulders above other games. I'm really looking forward to my copy.

Each player faces off with a deck of cards playing the role of either the Pirates or the Pendragon officers. Taking turns, players attach each other, evade, board each other's ships, react to events, and take damage. All of this takes place within your deck of cards and as soon as a player damages every card in the deck, she loses and her opponent is declared the winner.

Jump out to oddball Aeronaut's website and take a few minutes browse around. There are lots of info to learn more about the game, watch review videos, etc. If you like what you see, I encourage you to pledge some money towards the game.

Let's get this thing published!

Kickstarter

If you've been around the gaming community in almost any capacity recently, you most likely have heard of Kickstarter. But if not, Kickstarter is currently the world's largest crowd funding platform. Creative people start projects and try to entice the public to donate money to fund them and bring their ideas to fruition. The projects range from the absurd to the zany, economical (pay what you want) to the pricey, simple to the horrifyingly complex. In most cases, those that donate get some sort of payout for their time and trouble but many projects just want money and don't claim to provide anything in return.

Within the last year or two, Kickstarter has really become a mainstream way for independent game designers (and even some game companies) to fund new designs, expansions, or "big box" sets. If you follow the forums on BGG, many in the community love Kickstarter for its ability to lubricate the flow of designs into the market bypassing the cumbersome and sometimes painful "pitch" phase when approaching a publishing company with a new design. Others in the community despise Kickstarter as an only avenue for simply pushing "ungroomed" designs onto the public, prolonging delivery times, increasing the risk of non-delivery, etc.

I've backed seven gaming projects since April 24, 2013:

  1. A Study in Emerald (£50)
  2. VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game ($44)
  3. Fantasy Frontier ($60)
  4. Reaper Miniatures Bones II: The Return of Mr Bones! ($120)
  5. Coin Age: Pay What you Want Area Control Microgame ($3)
  6. Doublesix Dice: Roll Better ($10)
  7. Kingmakers: Board Game Parlor ($20)

As it stands, only A Study in Emerald has been delivered. VivaJava The Dice Game had a few problems with their hard-proofs but it looks like they're into true production now. They're shooting for March, 2014. Fantasy Frontier was funded in October, 2013 and they seem to be sailing into production estimating delivery in May, 2014. The Reaper Miniatures are a set of high-detail, molded sculpts that just look cool. Not sure what I'll do with those yet but the estimate for those is not until November, 2014.

Coin Age, appears to also be on track for an April delivery and Doublesix Dice is a bunch of various colored double-D6s. Basically a D12 with pips for a D6 duplicated. For $10 I chose a pledge level where they roll some of their dice and the result determine how many dice you get. With stretch goals I ended up with a slightly less than average roll but I'll be getting 19 dice. Not bad for $10.

Kingmakers is a bit different. This Kickstarter project was simply a "plea for money" to create a "board game parlor" in the Short North section of Columbus. Boardgaming is a such a big part of my life, I figured I should back a project that tries to get the word out to others in novel ways. There's no "product" in return for my pledge other than I supposedly get my name written in "fancy" chalk on one of their pillars for some period of time.

All in all, I I'm satisfied with my experience with Kickstarter but I do feel some fatigue. I've not been involved in them but some projects have imploded after they've been funded and all the pledged money was lost. It is an unfortunate risk that you take when you back a KS project leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

In most cases, Kickstarter projects offer stretch goals. If, for example, a project is asking for $30,000 to be funded, they may offer that they'll throw in better bits at $35,000, and an expansion at $40,000. etc. The more money they raise, the better product everybody gets (depending on the tier to which you pledged). When you pledge you're not really sure what you'll end up with but you can pledge the minimum and if it takes off, you might end up with all of the stretch goals too for the same pledge amount. Taking it a bit further, some project are only offering these stretch goals *if* you backed the project on Kickstarter. If they move the project to regular mass production (keep in mind that "mass" is still a board game niche market here so still small quantities relatively speaking) buyers that obtain a copy later won't have these stretch goals.

This discrepancy between Kickstarter versions and retail versions has complicated the process of trading and buying used games in that everyone must be aware of the version they're trading or purchasing. Not all versions of Euphoria, for example, are the same. The "Deluxe" Kickstarter version is different from the "Supreme" Kickstarter version which is different from the retail version and they all were released in the same year!

I'm a proponent of Kickstarter but I'm tending to agree with the comments I've seen about fatigue. It's hard work keeping up with the latest Kickstarter campaigns, what stretch goals are available, tracking versions, etc. all while still keeping up with the latest buzz for non-Kickstarted games. But, it is a hobby and somewhat a labor of love so to speak.

What are your feelings about Kickstarted games? Have you been happy with the results?

Cabin Con 2014

Cabin Con 2014 has come to a close. I'm still recovering a bit but after having added an extra day, we didn't stay up as late as we had in the past and that gave us the freedom to relax, settle in, and not force anything. We're all IT folks and have all, at some point, shared jobs at the same company so it's common for us to chat about old times and work-related situations we're going through currently and the games, although still an important part of the weekend, are becoming more of a backdrop to our camaraderie.

We've been staying in a cabin in southern Ohio (about an hour and a half from Columbus) enough years now that we're getting pretty good at knowing how much and what stuff to bring, how to organize meals, etc. We've got a great group of guys that look forward to it and really help out pulling their weight. I'm really looking forward to next year. It seems so far away and then, poof, it's over. Every time I do this I wonder if I should expand it and get more people to come but our group is so tight that maybe I should just organize a second cabin con with a wider audience rather than change a good thing for no good reason.

And on to some pictures...

A Grail Game - Antiquity

Most hobbyist board gamers [collectors] have at least one grail game. A game that is special, would round out a collection, is hard to find in good condition, is rare (maybe only a handful were produced), and is usually...expensive.

For the longest time my grail game was a copy of Tal der Könige, the game with the goofy triangular, disco-styled, box, but with some of the most awesome looking bits at the time. I picked up a copy and bought it for a reasonable amount from an attendee at a past Great Lakes Games convention.

Since then, I haven't really thought much about what my grail game would be. However, over the past six months, Antiquity started bubbling to the top, brewing, and I started browsing what others had to say about it, the depth, and availability.

After browsing, Antiquity became my new grail and although not terribly difficult to find, it was, for me, relatively expensive. However, an FB (and BGG) friend of mine, was kind enough to sell me his unpunched (!), second edition copy for what he paid for it plus shipping. Encouraged by others, I just had to get it.

Now, shipping this beast isn't cheap. The box is very long and with all of the packing materials it cost upwards of $20 to ship it but I've got no regrets and it's in my loving hands now.

I've punched and sorted the roughly 500 bits of cardboard and wood and read through the 12 pages (very small considering the depth) of rules and I'm ready for an introductory game. However, even though I've read the rules, I have no idea how to play. Antiquity feels like it's going to be epic and I would really love to find some other newbies willing to put the time in on learning this thing. I wouldn't be surprised if that first game would take half a day.

They say once you know what you're doing, it plays in about 2 hours but that's going to be a long way off for me. But that's a good thing and I'm looking forward to it.

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