The Jaded Gamer

So... my attempt to reach 1000 plays of 10 games failed. What now?

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Humble Pie

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
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A game I repeatedly sneered at for years is Pandemic.

The central problem of any co-op game is not, as some would say, the alpha gamer (which is a problem with the gamER, not the game) but instead the difficulty in balancing the solvable puzzle parts of the design with random elements, forming something that isn't too obviously one or the other.

Simply put, I didn't think Pandemic did a good enough job hiding the maths from the players - in its original form (which I played a few times) it seemed to me that it was solitaire with a scoreboard. I was enough of a snob to point out that really your win or loss was already determined by the shuffle at the start and you were just going through the motions.

That is, obviously, still the case if you were to somehow play every game optimally - the deck can still be set up in an impossible way. The mistake I made in my earlier gaming days, was to think this actually matters.

As I have grown into a less dogmatic gamer I have come to accept that the real goal of gaming is to have fun, not to achieve some indefinable sense of every game being beatable with the right approach. This has led me in time to reinvestigate Pandemic, finding that it actually has a lot going for it.

1. Theme
There aren't a lot of untapped themes in the world of gaming and it's great to have a theme that is so universally inoffensive (very few people want to see diseases win) and without the super geek baggage that sci fi and fantasy themes have. The artists have also done a good job of showing gender and racial diversity in the cards.

2. Teaching
When the hardest things to learn in a game are the movement rules, you're probably onto a winner from this point of view. I still regularly forget the "discard the card showing the city you're in to move anywhere" move myself, which may well be why I lose so much. Usually it can be taught to brand new players in about ten to fifteen minutes, max. Less if they're happy to be talked through their first game.

3. Size
For a long time I preferred Defenders of the Realm because it had dice; it has models; It has nice cardboard sheets. However, it's also too big to take anywhere without large logistical considerations, meaning I never actually played it. Pandemic in the new edition and even with both expansions may be heavy, but fits into a messenger bag with room to spare. This means most importantly....

4. It will actually get played
The combination of the three factors above means that unlike Defenders of The Realm or Arkham Horror, which have more rules, are harder to transport and have geekier themes, I actually play Pandemic far more regularly that either of those. It is obvious from my other blog posts that I view a game that gets played as more valuable than one that doesn't, making this a huge consideration.

and finally..

5. (Mostly) great expansions.
My main complaint with Pandemic's expansions are that they contain an awful lot in which I have no interest.

The bioterrorist from On The Brink looks utterly pointless; the Team Game seems a waste of cardboard; the solo card is just a bizarrely unnecessary variant. All of those explore design space that is just more interesting in a dedicated game or, in the case of the solo card, by picking two roles!

This doesn't mean those bits are bad, but I just will never use them. However, the addition of the new roles, virulent strains and purple disease in On The Brink and then the far more thematic cure mechanism from In The Lab are exceptional.
They make it possible to exprience more interesting stories and unexpected events in each game in a way that I always felt was lacking from "vanilla" Pandemic.
The large number of extra roles means that there are more interactions to discover and exploit and while some are more useful than others, all of them can be great!
e.g. I was less than enthused by the idea of the contingency planner. Then I saw him in action.

Also, I'm shallow enough to know that new players will love the petri dishes and cure vials - increasing the "oooh what's that?" factor of the game (see 4, above)

There is still one thing that niggles me no end - and its the player pawns.
Why oh why oh why did they ever think they needed to release a new pawn for every single new role?

It is unnecessary, and if you pick two with very similar colours then you're totally screwed and have to use a proxy in any case. This is also exacerbated by the need to swap your pawn when using the role changing event card. Just an unnecessarily fiddly bit of component design.

Take a quick look at Flash point: Fire Rescue for what is undoubtedly the best method. You need only five pawns. Each player gets a card with their pawn colour on it, and roles are uncoloured. Sorted. I'll be making my own colour cards for the future, since it's hardly expensive to do so, but the way Pandemic has approached this has pushed the costs and fiddliness up unnecessarily, I think.

I think by removing things like the pawns, the bioterrorist and the team game, a single combined expansion of the rest would be better value for your money. I do realise that In The Lab didn't exist when On The Brink came out, and firms can make money however they want, but... er... that would be what I would do.

So in summary, this post is my apology to this well designed, accessible game that has already been a huge hit for me with gamers and non-gamers alike. Even better than that, my wife enjoys it too.

I was wrong. I have humble pie in the oven, for dinner.

A

PS: I also prefer the new artwork. I know many don't, but I do.
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Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:03 am
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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 5 of 5

Alec Chapman
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Day 4: Journey after journey

It's always a shame to realise that a fun experience is about to come to an end, but important to make the most of things as you do.

Also, I have been working off my Played Games list and the dates associated all through writing these posts - only to realise now, at the end, that I was date accurate - that is to say that some of the plays took place at midnight to 2am on the relevant days, before bed, rather than in the exact order I have described them.

For example, the enormous 7 player game of Cosmic Encounter played on Saturday night - Sunday Morning is logged on Sunday.

As a result, perhaps, of the epic game with the Filth Flare, Poison and the Pygmy I was a little nervy about playing with so many players - finally remembering the four planet variant and all agreed to this lower score target. I drew the Warpish and we had some interesting powers around the table such as Parasite (Ian)and Hate (Martin!) - the latter of who everybody was terrified of but actually got totally nerfed by a cosmic zap and running out of cards to use his power with as a result. This game was probably most notable for Martin's flare that gave him a colony for everyone who lost their power. Since most of the players (including him) were locked together on 3 colonies and needed just one point to win this being a four planet game he could have used this and won when in the final fight Ian used his Parasite ability to jump in with Jon and attempt a cheap victory, losing his power immediately afterwards with only one planet (and, incidentally one ship) remaining.

I know what you're thinking. Easy victory for Martin, right?
Wrong.
Ian slipped his ship onto the cone quietly and without drawing attention to the action - this was in the hope that Jon would not notice and backstab his proposed negotiation partner, Kester, handing Ian a zero effort joint victory. As a result, this quiet action meant that Martin did not spot the move and did not play his card. Only realising his error when Kester and Jon overcame every instinct of the weekend and shook hands on a win. His reaction was... shall we say... not positive (but only in terms of being annoyed with himself!).



I think from now on, with more than five players I will always use the four planets variant. It was just a lot more fun and the stakes rose at a better rate in my opinion.

OK, last thing Saturday night and since this was also the day of Die Macher and Dungeon Lords, I was feeling a bit brain fried. Enter the change of pace and Mah Jong. We used Zung Jung rules, and a seven pair hand made the difference as I came out the winner in a two player, two dummy game (with Martin joining for one hand) with Chris. I can't remember much else about it since I was to all intents and purposes already asleep.

--------------------

After a lie in (I spoiled myself by missing breakfast and spending an extra half hour in bed) we went back over to the venue - we planned to leave mid afternoon, or when Chris thought he wouldn't be able to drive back any later without falling asleep at the wheel, whichever came sooner.

For the second time in two days, my day included a game of Tichu. Despite using a random assignment of partnerships, I ended up paired with Scott again - I can only imagine his disappointment! Chris was once again playing to my right and his partner was Amanda.
This game was very different from Saturday's. Scott and I roared out of the gates with a couple of successful Tichu calls and before long had an enormous (700 point?) lead. In this game I felt I managed to track the points a bit better - up til now I had always just concentrated on my hand and helping my partner rather than the actual points content of the trick. Of course, going out first and/or second is crucially important but I started to get the sense that the destination of the points cards is something you can control. On one occasion I gave up a potential trick win with the dragon to force Chris to take the -25 points associated with the Phoenix (obviously leading him to believe the Dragon was with his partner), only to quickly grab the lead with the dragon shortly after - sending it the other way and concentrating on slowing Amanda down (so we would get the 25 points and leave them with the -25).

Also, I started to play harder on the ones where there were points available and take fewer leading risks with these cards in my hand.
Of course, these are only basic strategies I am sure, but this is one of the aims in my concentration on the 10 games in my list - to improve my understanding of games beyond the veneer of, for example, "just go out as quick as you can". While I am far from adept at manipulating the eventual direction of the tricks' point scoring cards I can see how this could build into one of the more satisfying aspects of the game.

Eventually, despite a quite cracking Grand Tichu call from Amanda in the games latter stages and not because of Chris' failed Grand Tichu on the very next hand (which was only bid because Scott and I were on 965 points) we managed to come out comfortable winners.

Tichu is probably a fantastic example of the frustrations I have had at LoB. With all the new games with shiny components and nested mechanics, it's easy for a superb card game like this to be ignored by many and not taken up by new players or played enough for people to see its true value. Of course, if London On Deck kicks off I may get to play this more and certainly would look to do so.

Once Tichu was done with I was looking about for something to play with this guy -
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Which is easier said than done because while we get on really well, he hates almost every game I love.

Luckily, we found a copy of Tales Of The Arabian Nights, a pseudo-game that includes putting on character voices and a sex change spring. Definitely about the point at which our venndiagrams overlap!

So along with Chris and two others we set about explaining the rules to this mutual pastime (I hesitate to call it a game) to the new players and as is traditional everyone knew the full turn procedure in about five minutes.

If you don't know Tales of The Arabian Nights I will endeavour to explain both the game and why I like it. The game (and I will call it a game from now on as it is a recreational pastime with a competitive element) consists of a lot of cardboard and a great big book known as "The Book Of Tales" that contains everything that can and will happen to your little cardboard stand up figure throughout the play.

Your turn consists of moving to a space on the board and having an "encounter" there determined by a combination of a Card (saying you meet, for example, a Wizard) and matrices in the book of tales, rolling dice to establish an adjective (i.e. rolling will determine whether you meet a "great wizard" or an "evil wizard").

You then use what are almost certainly the best player aids ever designed (ironic given the non-gamey nature of this) to determine your response. Each type of matrix or encounter has a letter assigned to it, which is in turn associated with a set of responses. So, with the Wizard described above you could have options as disparate as "Aid", "Grovel" or "Rob" each leading to a different paragraph in the book of tales.

These paragraphs (and there are many, many of them) describe the outcome of your action. Of course, there is a little bit of translation required to read them out in an engaging way - most of them describe "the other" and you have to translate to "The Evil Wizard", and while you may have chosen to "drink" in response to the Great Storm, rest assured you are more likely to catch some rainwater on your tongue or drink a magic potion than do the literal drinking of an entire storm you may have intended.

Also, doing funny voices for the other characters is mandatory, but seems to have been left out of the rules. whistle

And since the outcomes of the paragraphs depend on things you may or may not possess, on skills you may or may not have learnt etc etc it is an extremely random game - not one for long nights with Wallace auction lovers or strategic minded people. The scoring and win conditions are so absurdly un-gameable as to be beyond any form of strategy.

Just play and have a good time - this is why I like it so much. It doesn't pretend to be more than it is or to deliver a classic gaming experience. It is just plain silly fun and sometimes that's exactly what you need.

My subsequent insistence on playing what I can best describe as a spectacularly incompetent game of Bunny Bunny Moose Moose was probably what signalled the need for us to go home - though I did play a couple of hands of R, which bridged a small gap between deciding to go home and a group finishing with my copy of Bausack.

So as we hit the road, what were my thoughts on the event itself? Obviously the gaming was great. The LoB crowd are a bunch of legends, but with the addition of the massive gaming area available to us at the hotel and the availability of the town of Eastbourne to get away from things (and the beach being just over the road) I think this stands as a truly superb way to spend a long weekend. I heartily recommend it and to any games groups who have never done something of the kind - look into it! I guarantee it will be great fun.

If any of you have managed to get through all of my blog posts, I hope you enjoyed them. Thanks to everyone I gamed with all weekend and to everyone i didn't, I'll be happy to lose to you next time!
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Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:21 am
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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 4 of 5

Alec Chapman
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Day 3: I may be the junior partner in this coalition, but at least I'm in government

By Day Three, Saturday, I think our hostess finally realised that Chris and I, rather than sharing a twin room out of mutual attraction, had instead taken what could best be described as "an extreme economical step" and booked a room together out of cheapness.

She seemed a bit less interested in us and what we were doing after that.

So, as I said in my last blog post, we had signed up for the monstrous eurogame of eurogames - Die Macher.

Now, if you aren't aware of Die Macher I can hardly blame you - it sounds pretty dry being about the way German political parties are elected and the importance of coalitions to that process; it lasts five hours; there are no explosions.

Because Die Macher is a serious game, I wore my reading glasses. Seriously. For two days of gaming I hadn't even put them on once until now.

All these negative and sterile sounding things that should be tempered by a simple statement: the game is awesome. Just freaking awesome.

Now, a few caveats.

First, the group should all get along and be good humoured. Holy cow I'd hate to play this game for five hours of passive aggressive sniping.

Second, the group should play at a reasonable speed and take breaks at the same time. This way a long game doesn't become an endurance exercise. I am pretty sure that in my previous game I jumped up a couple of spaces at the end (finishing, I think, third?) purely because the relevant opponents were close to expiring from mental exhaustion.

Third, don't get drunk. You will lose.

In this particular play only Soren and I had played before, and several years before at that so the loooooooooong rules explanation had to be gotten out of the way first.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

One of the friendliest aspects of Die Macher and therefore the easiest to get your head around is that it is essentially a series of contests over area control, albeit with a multiplier in the case of voting. This is also its weakness of course - you are essentially doing the same 12 step(?) process six times.

The thing I like most about it is that you can affect the future - so if you have a low chance of winning in the current election you can easily gain yourself an improved position on the next. BUT! you don't know the whole future, there being some hidden information right up until the end - it can be a risky business, betting on a future election!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

So in what ways can you gain points in Die Macher? It's important to keep these in mind because I didn't really follow the rule of scoring points in my first game, getting bogged down in enjoying the process and not really achieving any of the game conditions.

So... the ways you score points in this game are as follows:

1. Winning seats in elections
2. The number of party members you have (plus bonus points for the first and second highest count of these)
3. Sending media control markers from elections you won onto the main board
4. Matching National Issue Positions at the end of the game

So how can you actually achieve these? Well, I'll take them in turn.

1. To win seats you need votes.
You can gain votes through multiplying the number of party meeting cubes you paid to assign to the election by your current popularity in the region. (Popularity = Opinion score + matching issue positions - different issue positions)
You can also gain votes by sending one of your shadow cabinet members to get them - these are basically an identical deck for each party made up of powerful cards you can also use to get media control of an area, make an issue a "key" issue (doubling its value) etc. The more options on the card, the more expensive it is.

2. Party members are obtained by sacrificing an opinion poll or a potential party donor. There are also extra members available to those parties whose issue tableau matches the national board after each election. I hardly ever did this, hence why I had so few party members for much of the game.

3. You can move a media marker from an election you win (either alone or in coalition) onto the "national board". The early election wins get you more points on here - presumably because this story is out there for longer or something equally exciting. shake Neglect this aspect at your peril and also realise that in order to do this you have to have a media marker in the region to start with! Whoops cry

4. Throughout the game you will be trying to pander to local populations by switching your position on key issues at recent presidential candidate speed (bit of satire!). However, while this is all well and good, you will get a bonus number of party members (and at the end of the game, points) for keeping the national issues board in mind. To clarify what the hell an issue is - it's just a red or white card signifying whether you agree or disagree with particular policies such as GM crops (represented by the classic cuboid tomato) or defence (represented by a ridiculously unhelpful set of mini pictures) etc. You have a tableau in front of you with five of these (there are seven different ones in total so two of them are considered neutral) - representing your party platform. It is important that you balance the needs of building party members against the need to win local elections. This is central to the way the game works.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

If this sounds like a lot of moving parts, you will probably not enjoy the fact that all of these interact and all of them are affected by other aspects.

An example interaction: as well as giving you the ability to score points for victory in elections, numerical superiority in the media cubes additionally give you the ability to change one of the issues in the region - either to a contradictory one or perhaps to one that was not present in either white or red form before this change.

An example of an additional part: Opinion Polls - your popularity in a region can benefit or suffer at the hands of opinion polls. You bid for control of these and then decide to publish or not. If you publish you can move the popularity of a rival down, or assist a coalition partner or even, if you're like me - only bid for ones where you come out smelling of roses.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

I don't want to go into much more detail than this. You should be able to tell whether you would enjoy the game from these little details. It should be noted that like many modern games, the turns are multi stage and each player gets to do one stage before you move to the next, so there is very little downtime.

This is probably what is so exhausting about Die Macher. You are playing for five hours. Not playing for one hour and the others for the other four. Because of the way the parts interact most things you do will affect somebody's decisions - even if just that they give up on one election and move to the next.

We did not explore the coalitions aspect until half way through. There simply had not been any cards played that would make one happen.

This changed in election 6. Soren and I realised a mutual benefit of working together. Die Linken and Die Grunen (played by the two people at the table named Chris) had a coalition that looked unbeatable. I was sitting in dead last and Soren was probably in second. While I had played the elections reasonably, my national positioning had been poor and my party was quite small. In trying to regain some lost ground I had paid the price for a large external donation - a lot of my very few members had quit the party in disgust. It was pretty clear I was languishing in last place and something had to be done.

It made the most sense for Soren and I to combine our efforts, steal the election victory in number 6, get the media markers and favourable issues positions onto the national board. As it turned out, we annihilated them in the end, both of us getting the maximum number of votes before I realised I had not bought media in that area (ARGH!) which cost me several points though these would, in the end, prove to be moot.

We stormed the election in such style that we both gained 48 points and with a victory in the next election, Soren assured himself of a hefty victory. Did I kingmake? No. Because in the joint effort and due to our control of the issues board I secured myself a very creditable second place from dead last.

Sympathy has to go to the CDU/CSU who got everything blown off the issues board and replaced with contradictory positions just before the end, which cost him goodness knows how many points (I think around 80) - but politics is a cut throat game.

Final Scores:
Soren (SPD) - 351
Alec (FDP) - 288
Chris M.1 (Die Grunen) - 273
Chris M.2 (Die Linken) - 262
Richard (CDU/CSU) - 208

I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone going into it with open eyes and an open mind about the time and mental investment. It was perfect for the LOBStercon format and I reckon I'll try t again at the next one.

If you made it through all this I was going to include the rest of the day's gaming in this post but have reconsidered. Look out for post 4.5!
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Fri Nov 9, 2012 5:00 am
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Zendo: Total is prime - illegal rule, or just cruel? Plus a bonus game of Zendo to play at home!

Alec Chapman
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For those who don't know Zendo, I'll run through it quickly:

The box game (and the version I played at LOBStercon) was based around Icehouse pyramids, which are now known as the far less cool sounding "Looney Pyramids".
From these colourful pyramids one player, known as the "master" will build two constructions, known as "koans". One of these Koans conforms to a secret rule known only by the master, the other does not.
The job of the rest of the players is to ascertain the nature of the secret rule by building their own koans and finding out if they have the "buddha nature" or not.

Components note: You can play this with anything that has several characteristics in each piece. Looney Pyramids (I hate that name!) have three possible characteristics on their own (colour, size, orientation) and many more in combination (touching/untouching, stacked/nested, pointing towards each other/away from each other etc).
There is nothing to stop you trying the game for yourself with Lego or even just words (vowels, consonants, number of letters etc)

Questions over the theme aside, it's a great fun exercise in inductive reasoning. Great fun, that is, unless the master decides to be annoying rather than cunning.

One master told us that his rule was horrible but contained just four words. Alarm bells rang for me because I don't think the point of the game is to be horrible... but we went on anyway.

Thing is, Zendo can bog down into misery if you don't know the key, and at one point I got so testy I accused him of coming up with "there is no rule" - sorry about that, I was tired and grumpy!

The rule was, in the end, "The sum is prime" or something like that (to denote size, Looney Icehouse Pyramids have pips from 1 to 3 on them).

Now, in the back of my mind I remember that a prime number is a number that can be only divided by itself and 1 (1 is excluded by convention, despite him marking a koan totalling one as correct), but I am not a mathematician so my knowledge of that is purely trivial. I don't put it on the same intuitive level as, for instance, "odd" and "even" numbers.

It also opens up a can of worms in terms of the rules of the game.

The concept of "prime numbers" is not present in the Koans, while the total values are, and the point of the game is not to reference anything outside of the constructed Koans themselves. Does the concept of prime numbers fit the bill as being present within the Koans?

And I know that the concept of "five" isn't present either, but the pips that total the number five are. Of course, I wouldn't complain about odd and even so I am partially, at least, a hypocrite.

That being said, the rule "the pip total is even" can be expressed as "the pip total is divisible by two into whole numbers"
as opposed to
"the pip total is only divisible into whole numbers by the number one and this same number that the pips total"
which is clearly a far more complicated rule and clearly (imho) outside the spirit if not the letter of the rules.

Again, this is only for people for whom being prime or not is hardly considered a fundamental property of a number - in the same way that not everyone knows the Fibonacci Sequence or a Triangular Number sequence etc. A master should really consider his audience when designing a rule to ensure the experience is satisfying rather than frustrating

Ironically, me and Martin (qwertymartin on BGG) had just joked about this rule as being a ridiculously annoying one while the master was off writing his rule down.

Anyway, self serving rant over - have this little game of Zendo as an apology. You can play along if you want. Simply suggest another word and I will tell you if it has the "Buddha Nature". If you get it right you can guess the rule! (PS this is a gross simplification of the actual rules for the blog, but never mind)

"Involve" has the Buddha Nature
"Indeed" does not have the Buddha Nature
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Tue Nov 6, 2012 1:52 am
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Er, what did I lie to you again?

Alec Chapman
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There are two major lessons I have learned since my first game of Diplomacy back in April that may be of interest to readers.

1. Never include the phrase "the counter intelligence I have been feeding our enemy" in one of your communiques. Your fellow player will expect you to explain what you said. shake

2. Diplomacy doesn't work with four players. Even slightly.
I'm always suspicious of when people set a minimum number of players on a game like the classic "it's pointless playing Diplomacy with fewer than seven". In many instances (T&E being one) this amounts to lazy snobbery or mixing up personal preference with reality, but in this particular case it is crushingly obvious that four is too few. Five wasn't too bad and six I could see working pretty well with Italy being given Tunisia from the start. Four players is, however, a bridge too far.

Seven is clearly best but I would hesitate before telling anyone not to give the game a go with 5 or 6. Any lower, however, is utterly pointless.
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Sun May 20, 2012 11:25 pm
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Diplomacy, or "don't ally against your wife"

Alec Chapman
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I had a crowd of friends over this weekend to play games and test out the first edition of the horror movie drinking game rules.
 
Following a week of intense negotiations, Diplomacy was tried on both days with varying success. As an earlier blog post suggested, a couple of people expressed concern about the game so I took up Scott’s excellent suggestion of just trying it for an hour to see if we enjoyed it. Actually, we played for longer than that in both instances (We played to the end of 1904 in both, taking around 2.5-3 hours). All negotiations took place in the room and mostly at the table, though in Game two the two alliances (Austria/Italy & England/France) passed notes with vary degrees of secrecy. England made the mistake of writing his on the back of his order sheet, so we all just read them while he held it up during the resolution phase!
 
While talking about order sheets, I highly recommend the ones in the file section here on BGG designed by Jakob Silk as once I had given these out and showed a sample order being written it all got considerably easier. We were also able to fit several years on each in the early parts of the game so they’re even better than it appears at first.
 
I had a few problems with rules – the actual rulebook went missing during day two and so I couldn’t definitively answer the questions about moving from one side of Sweden to the other and one side of Greece to the other. Help with the specific fleet movement rules about places such as these would be great! I’m really confused about fleet movements into and out of coasts in general. If I take Spain with a fleet, I realise I can’t exit from the South to the North, but can I exit into any of the Southern Seas (I think Gulf Of Lyon and West Med)? Help appreciated.
 
So how did the attempts go?
 
In day one, with just five players, I drew Austro-Hungary and for reasons of encouragement did not make any moves towards Russia early on, since it was being played by a rare gamer who I anticipated being vulnerable to taking such things personally in the first game (and knowing they would concentrate on Germany and Scandinavia as passive targets) as they don’t have quite as long a history of betrayal and counter betrayal by members of this group as the rest of us. In the five player game, Italy and Germany are neutral and passive so there was no harm in butchering them. I went through Italy and after a couple of hours we felt we had the game down and resolved to try again with seven players the next day. Nothing particularly exciting happened in this game, other than an excellent level of banter and enjoyment.
 
Day Two’s game started slowly for me since I drew Italy and failed to persuade Austria and Turkey to let me convoy to Greece to get my fifth supply centre. The player who drew Germany got utterly wiped out quite quickly and Russia (being played by the same player as the day before) was looking in deep trouble. Neither had made any allies. This is obviously a crucial part of the pre-game negotiations that we, as brand new Diplomats, didn’t work on enough so it felt to these players that they never stood a chance when maybe they could have worked together. Particularly I thought Russia should have set up their fleet on the north coast rather than on the Bothnia coast for more manoeuvrability – perhaps they could have built a mutual convoy system to take the fight to England.
 
It does strike me that Germany starts in a horrible position and absolutely needs to work with someone else (I want to say Russia or England?) – Sadly England and France had made friends and just totally butchered them.
 
As Italy I had terrible trouble getting the fifth supply centre. Since I had reached a non-aggression agreement with Austria-Hungary, we co-ordinated the taking of Marseille by my Piedmont based army (started in Venice). I used my support from the Gulf Of Lyon and was successful thanks to his cutting of defensive support from Spain while France was otherwise engaged – in this case with the dying remnants of Germany. I was very concerned at the possibility of a back stab from Austria into Rome or Naples and this kept me from being too brave while he was in and around the Tyrhennian, keeping an Army in Naples in case of invasion and not letting my fleet go too far. I eventually persuaded him to accept Portugal as his prize for helping me move on into Spain
 
Sadly, by this point Turkey had come to the same conclusion as I had on Day 1; that complete invasion of Russia may lead to the gaming equivalent of mutually assured destruction and so was encroaching on Austria and Italy’s borders. I built a fleet in Venice to combat the potential threat and my westward expansion plans of giving Portugal to Austria while taking Spain for myself were in tatters.
At this delicately poised juncture at the beginning of 1905 however, peace was declared for time reasons (there had been a delay prior to game start).
 
While neither game was entirely successful from a general enjoyment point of view, I feel I got a lot out of them. I knew neither was going to get to the end since it would have died with this group without the majority still being involved so I wasn’t disappointed on that score.
I will definitely play again and everyone seemed to have fun at some point in each game, though the player who was England and then Germany did not particularly like either power.
 
That being said, I concluded that face to face is not the best way to play it. The length of time the game takes combined with the problem of player elimination for hours at a time renders it unsuitable for this particular group. I think we could all play it by email or on a client instead, with very few problems arising. A couple of these particular players would probably not be interested, but I’m certain I could find others if necessary.
 
Also: If you (Italy) are going to gang up with someone (Austria) against your wife (France), best not to leave your horrid notes lying around for her to read post game. Whoops! While she had an ally in England my complete ignoring of her offers of mutual non-aggression were rendered even less becoming when she found out we were going to wipe half of her forces out within the next year! Hate to think what would have happened if we’d actually gone through with it.
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Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:56 pm
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Diplomacy! Denied!

Alec Chapman
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A lot of this has to do with the worst ever gaming experience of my life (4 hours of BSG where not one person had fun) rendering me barely trusted by my non-gaming buddies.
 
It just so happened that in an astonishing stroke of good fortune the number of people interested in a game day next week is the magic number 7. .
As any aspiring backstabber knows, the number 7 is the key to getting a proper game of classic negotiation and erstwhile backstab-athon Diplomacy played.
 
So I go into the process of trying to sell the game. I call it an essential gaming memory they will treasure, I call it fun, I bring people’s attention to the ability they have to get me eliminated in two turns, but no dice. The problem is, when you’re reliant on six other players the likelihood that one of them will have doubts is very high (specifically Mrs Algo, specifically “Divide and Conquer”). Especially since I’m always brutally honest about the games I introduce – in this case mentioning its length and its lack of luck. I don’t want to mislead anyone!
 
I’ve even tried anthropomorphosis, since the game is Chris’ (see Regular Opponent 2) and has never been played - I likened the game to a lonely child locked in a cupboard who hears a massive party being planned for its birthday, only to remain locked in his cupboard while everybody outside has a great time. Even that didn’t work.
 
I just KNOW this game would be a success with my I’m the Boss, Perudo and Shadows Over Camelot loving buddies.
 
However, like many of the games on my 10:100 list, its positives will not be immediately apparent – probably only coming into its own in the third round of orders. Experience has shown me time and time again that once someone from this bunch has decided to take against a game, nothing short of a miracle can turn them round. I’m not sure I have the balls to try it.
 
So, BGG Blog Reader – should I give up? Should I just surrender? What do you think?
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Fri Apr 13, 2012 5:36 pm
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Is your non gaming partner a crayon rails fan in disguise?

Alec Chapman
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And finally, on Monday evening my wife and I rolled out Empire Builder. She tells me she likes it because she loves maps and it doesn’t involve directly smacking each other in the face since even with the honeymoon variant there are often ways to diversify.
 
A quick word for anyone who doesn’t know Empire Builder. It’s the one where you draw with crayon onto the board. Yes, directly onto the board. It’s the wanton pseudo-destructiveness of this that got Mrs C to try it the first time. Once you have your track you can run your very abstract pawn from town to town, picking up the goods they produce there and delivering them where your demand cards tell you, balancing the cost of building the required track against the income you will get from this and future deliveries.  Repeat until rich.
 
She’s never legitimately won one of these games before so it was with some relief that she finally managed to come out on top yesterday, making her crucial delivery just one turn (actually four mileposts) in advance of me. I always find it amazing how close the ending of this game is, and since I have a massive soft spot for its central crayon based building mechanic I will happily play this one despite it usually devolving into a race to the finish line at twelve steps a turn for a few interminable rounds.
 
I do have some caveats.
1. I like this game mainly because my wife does. It’s a gentle, semi serious experience and not hardcore game fare by today’s standards until you reach the extremely experienced level of knowing the decks and best connections etc. I do not intend to reach there and the pickup gamer would not either as UI find the game is simply too long and repetitive for, for example, one hundred plays to be viable.
2. Whoever put six players on the box is insane. With two players we’re talking two to three hours and with more players you can probably add on another hour for each. I’ve played it, in Eurorails form, with three and four with fun results, but by the end of the four player game I was flagging like a hitchhiker in a hailstorm.
3. Black and Yellow are poor choices for a player colour. The yellow crayon only shows up in direct sunlight and given the potential playtime and time of commencement involved you will not stay in such light for the duration. At several points yesterday it felt like Mrs C was chugging along on invisible track! The black crayon causes problems of obscuring and looking like part of the board art. I used purple with the black counter. A much better choice.
4. Older versions just aren’t as nice as recent editions. I have an older copy of iron dragon and its component limitations render it even less attractive – all white counters with pictures only and no words (fail!), poor cardstock and the old style card art is less user friendly and discourages me from even trying it at this point. I hate to be a snob about such things, but since I’m going to be looking at this functional board art for a long time the rest of the pieces being a bit more polished makes the latest editions of Eurorails and Empire Builder a lot more enjoyable – I would only purchase versions of this quality in future.
5. I bought great big washable crayons for two reasons – first, trade value stays up if the original crayons are intact (this point is now moot since I dropped the games and they both sport major dings); second, they draw thicker lines and you can see them that much more easily.  I recommend this approach wholeheartedly.
 
 
I would recommend any of the games above for similar groups – even crayon rails is especially good for partners who want to feel a bit of the buzz of planning a long term strategy but without the searing need to fight tooth and nail for each small step towards it. If you’ve never got your partner into gaming perhaps this could be the game that does.
Is having a less good time yourself worth it if it gets your partner gaming? I think so, though your experience may vary.
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Tue Apr 10, 2012 4:31 pm
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Knights and Bosses

Alec Chapman
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As well as trying to act as a social secretary keeping an old university crowd together ish, with all its pitfalls and stresses (not least the podcast it led to), I make it my mission to try and use gaming as an antidote to the structured, boring parts of my life and, where they are interested, other peoples’ lives as well. It was by this method that I started adding other games in between the sessions of Zombies!!!, which was never my favourite game system anyway although we would usually have a good laugh for the first hour of each play. There was a semi-regular period three years ago where a group of five or six of us met up monthly for what started as “Friday of the Dead” (Zombies!!!, Zombie movies) became “Saturday Of The Dead” (same, but with additional Say Anything) and morphed into “Day Of Fun” (board games and computer games, with movies when eating). Then two of the guys moved to the states and things got away from us somewhat, adult life got in the way, we got lazy etc etc.
 
Various things sit differently with different people:
*Settlers and Formula D (“Dice Hate Me!”),
*Cranium (“Go, Team Sofa!”)
*Say Anything (What is the best T-Shirt Slogan? “I put porn on my expenses and all I got was publicly humiliated”)
While these all had their place in the route to gaming acceptance by my buddies, one game sits head, shoulders and helmet plume above all the rest. That game is Shadows over Camelot.
 
In a major reunion of the old crowd (sans the two in the USA) this weekend it got rolled out yet again, making me hit a quarter century of plays.
 
It’s hard to say why this game became, and remains, the one key component in our gaming weekends. I do have my suspicions though.
 
Let me explain the game quickly for anyone that doesn’t know it already. I’ll be brief.
 
A semi-co-operative game, in Shadows Over Camelot the players are knights of the round table, tasked with facing the not inconsiderable forces of evil that are invading or poisoning the land. Both evil and good are represented in SoC by cards (black and white) and in each round, the danger is scaled by having each player assist the cause of evil before they can do anything themselves to combat it. At the time this was a reasonably unique approach, made even more fun by the rather genius introduction of a traitor mechanic – something that I absolutely adore.
 
This traitor cannot openly harm you – nor would they wish to since they are rendered all but impotent by exposure (well, they’re a pain but nowhere near as dangerous). The life of a traitor in SoC is one of quiet contemplation and judicious timing. While you don’t want to be obviously hindering the knight’s progress, you do want to be making a difference wherever you can, and pouncing on the opportunity to win as it arises.
 
The joy of being the traitor is heightened by two things. First, all discards are face down, meaning that your burning of the crucial “dispel” card to keep a horrible permanent effect in play is not spotted until later. Secondly, there are certain ways you can set the team up for a fall – doing heroic deeds to win their trust, gaining the Holy Grail or Excalibur that could make the difference between winning and losing later and then refusing to use it at the crucial moment. I remember at least two games where an undiscovered traitor took great pleasure in refusing to use Excalibur to prevent a game losing card or choosing the definite loss via Lancelot’s armour. Choices on cards give you the opportunity to refuse to take the beneficial path at crucial times and watching the loyal knights’ faces fall.
These are the moments the traitor lives for.
 
Yeah, it’s probably more fun as the traitor – but unlike Battlestar Galactica I actually enjoy the teamwork of combating the rest of game when I am a loyal knight. This is particularly the case when your abilities nest well – for example, when Arthur passes Galahad a special card because he knows it can then be played for free, leaving him his whole action to use somewhere else. The unlikely joy when you finally beat the Holy Grail quest or, even more rarely, the dragon.
 
So why do I suspect it does so well with my friends? They clearly like the traitor mechanic, coupled with the shorter playtime (BSG was an absolute disaster) and there’s a massive dose of already knowing the rules. That being said, the most important thing is that we do have a massive store of good memories from the twenty odd plays we’ve had before, and this speaks as much of the people as the game. Great stuff.
 
 
Another new game taught this last weekend was I’m The Boss. A game my wife basically refused to play when I was explaining it, but immediately asked to join after watching the first playthrough.
 
This game is again mostly about how the gamers at the table play it, rather than the rules, which as anyone who knows anything about me will tell you is my sweet spot for gaming. Someone calls for a deal. The value of this deal is set by the space the pawn is on at the time and the stage the game is at (a deal worth £8,000,000 early on could end up worth £20,000,000 later). Once we know how much money is up for grabs the calling player (The Boss) starts to negotiate with the rest of the table for the necessary prerequisites to make the deal happen. These prerequisites are the six investment dynasties represented by the family cards. If you have one of these cards in front of you it can be used to get you in on the action – so long as your opponents don’t send the crucial negotiator on holiday! There are lots of other ways to spike a deal too, or in the right circumstances you can take control (“I’m The Boss”) and start playing hardball.
 
The game is all about shouting, threatening or in a pinch you could always politely negotiate about how much you want to help make the deal happen. Or you could just destroy the deal completely. It’s really up to how people want to play it. A nice group is preferable, with people who don’t just form cartels or offer ludicrously cheap investors without good reason.
 
We ended up playing three times in a row. It was that much fun.
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Tue Apr 10, 2012 4:28 pm
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Climbing the mountain of conflict

Alec Chapman
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Nice to pop into LoB for the first time in ages, but have you ever had that moment where the rules in your head for a game you think you know very well turn out to be completely wrong?
 
Stand up, The Climbers, where the game rules changed from what was in my head not once, not twice, but THREE times during our play yesterday.
 
First, a bit of background on the game for those people who don’t know it: with its colourful wooden blocks and looking a lot like a child’s toy rather than a vicious blocking game, in The Climbers the idea is to reach the highest point on the mountain before anyone else and then prevent them getting higher.
 
The winner will need to either be at a height no one can reach, or to stop others climbing upwards from a level he has reached first. So it’s both a path building and blocking game. On your turn you first move a block (cubes, half cubes and double cubes) to a new valid location and then move if possible. Your pawn can climb a half cube height on his own and you have two, one use, ladders of a single cube and double cube height to get you up steeper slopes. You can only stand on Grey sides or sides of your own colour. You also have a blocking stone that can prevent people moving onto or repositioning a block for an entire turn. The constantly changing arrangement of the mountain means that as you get higher it tends to taper and options become more and more limited as you continue towards someone’s glorious victory.
 
So, it doesn’t sound very difficult to get right. What were our errors?
 
First, another player was convinced you could only make one step per turn. In fact you can move up as far as you like as long as it is legal – all the way to the top if you are making half steps onto grey or your own colour.
Secondly, I was utterly and I mean 1000% sure that you could EITHER move a block or rotate it, and that you were absolutely forbidden from doing both.  You are not. I’m of the opinion that this causes a bit less tension, especially given the fact it means a cube can be moved to anywhere and become any colour.
Thirdly, I was less certain, but similarly convinced that you couldn’t have orphaned blocks (i.e. you cannot remove a block that would leave another disconnected from the main tower) – apparently this is not the case either. I certainly think that this is daft, but the rules are the rules.
 
Incorrect certainty is very vexing but despite getting this wrong right up until I had used up my ladders and got almost as high as I ever would in the game, I still came in first. The eventual mountain had an absurd spike in the middle as a blockage to other climbers.
 
I didn’t make any similar errors in Ra, playing to my best ever position (2nd of 5) and best ever score (40 – 3 points off the winner). For those who have played the game with me before, you will realise this is an incredible performance from this viciously anti auction gamer. Actually, the auctions in Ra and Metropolis are fine and I don’t mind them. Single, open bids are something I don’t mind too much and are millions of times better than free bidding or blind bidding. Actual decision making! Doesn’t take forever! Allows for subjective evaluation!
 
Setting aside the ludicrous attempts to theme the game (epochs assigned to date ranges? Seriously?), the nice thing about Ra is that moment when you know that the value of the tiles is more than your lowest bid, but lower than the next highest held by someone else. Then you call RA!
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Wed Apr 4, 2012 11:53 am
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