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QWERTYmartin's Unabridged Insights On Play

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Playing to win or playing to play?

Martin G
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Bristol
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There's an attitude I come across a lot on BGG that the only right way to play a game is for every player to be doing their utmost to win, which I take to mean always making moves that maximise their probability of winning (or at least their estimate of it). The high priest of this school is David Sirlin, whose 'playing to win' manifesto denounces those who don't exploit every opportunity the game gives them to win as 'scrubs'.

But while all games give their players a goal, I've never seen one that makes 'playing to win' a rule. And when I started brainstorming things we do in games that can actually reduce our chances of winning, I came up with a bunch.

- levelling the playing field. Handicaps are commonly adopted by players with mismatched skill levels, whether parent against child or Go master against novice.

- giving hints. For example, I often point out to a new player at the start of a game of Kingdom Builder that it's not a great idea to touch several different terrains with your first move.

- 'playing nice'. When I play Ticket to Ride with my wife, we have an informal agreement that we don't block for the sake of blocking, only if it's a route you need yourself. Carcassonne is another game that allows 'nice' and 'nasty' modes of play. I don't see nasty play as inherently superior.

- humour. Playing Love Letter, I'll often do something because it's funny, even if it isn't strictly my 'best' move.

- exploration. It can be fun to try out new strategies in a game, even if you think they might not work. I got bored of always doing the same thing in Puerto Rico and forbade myself from buying the Factory, even though I knew I was more likely to win with it.

- to keep playing. I've had games of Pax Porfiriana that ended disappointingly suddenly on the first topple. Sometimes we'll agree a 'rewind' so that we can keep playing without having to set the whole thing up again.

- to avoid 'brokenness'. Plenty of people are still having enjoyable games of A Few Acres of Snow by not learning or not implementing the 'unbeatable' British strategy.

I'm sure you can think of many more examples.

So if winning is not the only motivation, what's going on here? My thinking about this has been heavily influenced by a wonderful book I read recently: The Well-played Game: a Player's Philosophy by Bernard de Koven.

For de Koven, the real goal of playing together is finding the 'well-played game' which he describes as "a game that becomes excellent because of the way it's being played". He goes on "No matter who wins the game, if we have played well together, we have accomplished what we set out to do. That victory is not determined by who wins, nor by what game we play, but rather by the quality of playing we have been able to create together." Many of the examples above are cases of the players collectively deciding to play a certain way to increase their enjoyment, rather than anyone's individual chance to win.

Here's another quote from the book:

Quote:
What occurs to me now is that this search for a well-played game is already a radical departure from what we do, as adults, when we play games together.

Normally, the only common intention that we have been able to establish with each other is that we have each wanted to win. Though we have been playing games together, the only effort in which we are usually united, the only accomplishment that we have all been able to validate, is winning.

It is clear to me, now, that the result of such a union is separation, always separation.


The word 'only' is important here. What de Koven believes is that each player playing to win is not enough by itself to create a well-played game.

As for 'separation', it puts me in mind of an attitude that sometimes seems to accompany 'play to win'. What I'm talking about is a desire for the other players to 'play right' so that they can be reduced to just another factor in my win-maximising algorithm. I've seen a player get angry at another in a game of Puerto Rico for making 'suboptimal' moves that interfered with his strategy. And related to this are the interminable debates over what a player 'should' do if they no longer have any chance of winning. If we're only playing to win, we feel like this behaviour needs to be codified to avoid unfairness.

So does all this mean that I'm a tree-hugging hippie who hates competition? Absolutely not! I enjoy nothing more than four experienced players going at it tooth and nail over a game of Tigris & Euphrates. But that's because for that group that is the well-played game they're looking for right then. De Koven's notion is inclusive of, not in opposition to, playing to win.

Do I play to win? Sometimes. Do I play to play? Always.
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Mon Jun 9, 2014 2:22 pm
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London on Board on Sea: debrief

Martin G
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Got back yesterday from an epic weekend of gaming at the seaside with 60 friends from London on Board. Here's what I played (new-to-me in bold) followed by some highlights.

_8_ Port Royal x5
_8_ Quantum x4
_10_ Race for the Galaxy x3
_9_ Tichu x3
_7_ Abluxxen x2
_8_ Coloretto x2
_7_ Dungeon of Mandom x2
_8_ For Sale x2
_9_ König von Siam x2
_10_ Love Letter x2
_8_ A Study in Emerald x2
_10_ Tigris & Euphrates x2
_8_ Die Sieben Siegel x2
_9_ Acquire
_9_ Container
_9_ Cosmic Encounter
_8_ Fauna
_8_ Kakerlakenpoker Royal
_7_ Kingdoms
_9_ Liar's Dice
_7_ Magical Athlete
_7_ Pala
_9_ The Palaces of Carrara
_5_ Patronize
_10_ Pax Porfiriana
_6_ Pit
_7_ San Quentin Kings
_9_ Sticheln
_5_ Sushi Draft!

Detailed sessions

A Study in Emerald

The table: Rich (woodnoggin, many previous plays), Paul (sorp222, several plays), Adam (two plays with me the other week), Rob (no plays, but one of those great gamers who pick things up instantly). This meant we had to teach, but that helped everyone else refresh on the details too.

Game 1: M/P/A Loyalist, R/R Restorationist (heh, weird)

I was delighted to draw a Loyalist as I'd only played them once before. My basic plan was to grab some good AA agents and go on a killing spree. I got Wilhelm Stieber early on and had a bid on Ezno Asef but didn't get round to claiming him. Then Moriarty came up and Paul and I got into a huge pissing war. With around 6 cubes each involved, Rob calmly placed a blocking disc and then overbid me on Asef.

Rich had grabbed Devil Island (permanent effect - playing a city card from hand lets you remove all of one player's influence from it) and Bismarck (lock a city for your sole use). So he went about taking cities, while making it very hard for us to contest them since we knew he had cards that could neutralise us. I started to put my plan into operation and used Stieber and my initial assassin to kill two of Rob's agents and Asef when he claimed him too. I also removed some cubes from Moriarty eventually allowing Paul to remove the blocking disk and claim him. Unfortunately for him, one turn later I noticed how weak Moriarty's defences were in Cairo and offed him too. This may not have been my best move, but it was fun I also hid a minor Royal and claimed the Necronomicom, so I was building a platform of points.

Rich's score was getting ominously high but between us we knocked him back down. But what us Loyalists were forgetting to do was to get a Restorationist into last place. Adam fatefully took a city from Paul rather than from Rob, and that let Rich make his move. Thanks to me assassinating Rob's agents every time he claimed one, Rich was able to take out his main agent to end the game, winning by a single point with Paul in last.

Game 2: turned out to be an oddly similar setup with M/A/Rob Loyalist, P/Rich Restorationist

This one wasn't as good as both Paul and I hit a wall of fatigue during the game and Adam made a crucial rules error early. With us all on zero points, but me known to the authorities (due to assassinating an agent), he attempted to assassinate my main agent. He figured that if I was a restorationist, the game would have ended and he would have had a point for the kill to everyone else's zero. But he'd misheard the tiebreak for last as favouring Loyalists rather than Restorationists, so this wouldn't have worked even if I was a Resto. Instead the result was that we were both outed very early on.

Nevertheless, some fun stuff happened. Rob got Vampires and an Airship, which sounded terrifying but didn't really get up and running. I was trying to put together a plot to hide Gloriana with the Infernal Machine, and Adam was pushing the war track with Golovinsky. But I forgot to score any points and Paul was able to send himself mad for a pretty early win.

This is going to need regular play to avoid forgetting what I've learnt each time, but I really did feel like the promise was delivered on this time, particularly in the first game.

Pax Porfiriana

This was the best game of Pax I've ever been part of, and one of the best games full-stop. Three player is always the most brutal, and my compadres here were the experienced and bastardly Adam and Rob.

I was gearing up for a quick Revolution and used the first Topple to force Rob to flip to pink to stop to me. I was $1 short of winning on Topple 2 (which was the dollar Rob had stolen from me on the previous turn when he nationalised the Plantation I was about to slave revolt!), but instead Adam used it on Loyalty to flip me to green. I'd just completed my next turn and then had the horrifying realisation that there was a green/red strife headline in the market. I desperately hoped no one would notice, but it wasn't that kind of table. In one fell swoop I lost my rebel troops and two pink partners, including the Catholic Church, which I'd invested all my money in prior to triggering a 'discard half your gold' headline!

To make things worse, we then went into the first of two depressions and with no Enterprises or Hacendado income left, I actually went bankrupt, losing the only remaining card in my tableau. I still had enough pink cards left in my hand to challenge but after the short-lived depression I had to spend a few turns just buying, selling and speculating.

In the mean time, Adam and Rob got into a huge Loyalty war, building up long rows of partners and enterprises. Adam barely missed out on winning on topple 3, including me playing the Mexican Communist Party and paying the $8 to change the Regime to Anarchy. Once that topple had gone, we went into full tear-down mode. The highlight was when I bought a headline that forced both Adam and Rob to discard a Bank and half their gold, lose a partner to Strife and triggered the second depression.

By the time topple 4 showed up, I had enough revolution points to win, but not enough gold. Adam's huge economic empire fuelled by his Loyalty row and British financier Lord Cowdray was going to give him the win on gold the next turn, so I bowed out with a flourish. My final turn was to sell my last three hand cards (for zero) and discard my final tableau card to the depression expenses.

New to me

Port Royal

Played five times and really enjoyed. It's an unusual combination of fairly basic tableau/engine-building and push-your-luck card-drafting. The active player can keep turning up cards from the deck unless they reveal two ships of the same colour, which busts their whole turn (similar to the dangers in Incan Gold). Once he chooses to stop, he can buy one card from the row, but then other players get the chance to buy cards too if they pay an additional gold to the active player. It's worth pushing your luck to find the card you want and also because if you reveal 4 different coloured ships you get an additional buy. The cards include gaining money instantly, tableau cards with special powers, expeditions (big VP cards that need prerequisites to be claimed) and tax increases (which penalise players who are hoarding gold). First to 12VP wins and there seem to be several viable approaches.

I'm not often that excited by engine-building games but the PYL card-drafting is just fun and makes the engine-building more interactive than most. I also really like that it's just a deck of 120 cards - face-down cards are used as money - and the setup is as simple as making a draw pile and giving each player three gold. And since every card comes into play through the public draft, you can pretty much teach as you go, rather than having to give everyone a reference sheet for the iconography.

Abluxxen

I enjoyed this a lot too. The cards are just 8 each of 1-13 (no suits) and 5 jokers. The idea is to play sets of the same number in front of you and to get rid of cards in hand, since your final score is one minus the other. But when you play a 'better' set than the last set another player has in front of them (the same number of cards but a higher value) you can steal those cards to your hand (to form bigger sets to play later) or force them to take them back into hand (or alternatively discard them and replace from a face-up pool). Seems like the first half of the game is about accumulating sets in your hand so you can get lots of cards played, and then switching at the right moment to playing them out so you don't get stuck with them when someone else goes out!

San Quentin Kings

Nate Hayden's first game, about prison gangs, looks home-produced and features somewhat disturbing artwork. With this theme, it could have been crass, but there's actually an interesting mechanical core. There are 7 possible actions, and when each is chosen all get to participate, Puerto Rico style. But instead of the actions being producing and shipping, they're fighting for drugs. And knives. And cigarettes. The fighting is implemented with card play reminiscent of Beowulf: the Legend, where you can either play a safe card from hand or take a risk with a draw from a public deck. The most amusing action is the gym, where you can turn your small cubes (weedy but smart gang members) into bigger ones. At the end, points for various achievements are distributed (a bit like Dungeon Lords) - most gang members of each type, most drugs of each type, most fight points and so on. An unusual and enjoyable game - I'm glad I picked it up now.

Dungeon of Mandom

The best of three Japanese Hipster Games (as we affectionately refer to them) I learned. It's another bluffing/push-your-luck microgame where players are daring each other to enter the dungeon and take on the monsters that lurk there. On your turn you can look at a monster card and either add it to the dungeon deck or throw it out and also discard one of the vital pieces of armour that the eventual adventurer will need to protect themselves. Different monsters are repelled by different items and you each have partial knowledge of what is and isn't the dungeon. When all but one players pass, the other player has to reveal the dungeon cards and decide his fate.

Patronize

Odd trick-taker with only 17 cards, each with a unique power. Without knowing all the powers it felt completely random. And I don't think I could be bothered to invest that much effort when there are so many brilliant tricktakers that don't need that level of complexity.

Sushi Draft

Weirdly, two games with 7 Wonders style drafting to collect sushi were published last year. Unfortunately, this one is even more bland than Sushi Go. You draft to try to collect the biggest set of each type of sushi or most different types. And that's it.

Other notable plays

Quantum

This was probably the hit of the con, seeming to be in constant play. I got 4 plays in and loved all of them. It plays much better with bastards who revel in the aggressive nature of the game. I was starting to worry it might be *too* aggressive and degenerate into tit-for-tat. But then I saw some fantastic wins with great combos, and we also tried a bigger map which opened things up for different approaches.

Tigris & Euphrates

I had 4th seat both times and lost on a bloody tiebreak both times! The second game was interesting because the one new player did unexpected stuff we had to respond to. No monuments were built and it ended on treasure rather than tiles. My last turn was to cause a black conflict that took me up to 5VP and handed a treasure to Rob to end the game, hoping it wouldn't be crucial. My final score: 5/5/6/6, his: 5/6/6/6. Damn!

Tichu

Our first-round tournament game was nuts. We went around 400 points behind, then I pulled out a Grand Tichu, followed by one of the craziest hands I've seen. I had a 6-7-8-9-10 bomb dealt then got passed the 4-5 of the same suit! So my hand was a 7-bomb, a run up to Ace, a King and the Dragon. And *then* my RHO called a perfectly reasonable Tichu holding three Aces and the Phoenix. That did not end well for them Sadly in the second game we got utterly smashed and I didn't even feel like we did anything wrong. Sometimes the cards love you, sometimes they don't...

Coloretto

Anyone played with the variant scoring card where bigger sets are worth fewer points than medium-sized ones? It's weird.

Cosmic Encounter

My favourite Cosmic opponent sadly couldn't make it but we still had a great 6p. My power allowed me to heal people's ships in exchange for cards, which let me build up a massive hand. Very helpful when I drew a flare that let me get +1 in conflicts for each hand card! The most amusing moment was when Soren and I agreed to negotiate in order to gain our last colony for a joint win. Of course I didn't trust him so I played a Morph (copy your opponent's encounter card). Unfortunately he did exactly the same thing. We had to look up the rules (there's only one Morph in the base game!) and it turned out we both lost the conflict. Fortunately I won on my own a couple of turns later

Phew
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31 Comments
Wed Apr 23, 2014 11:13 am
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Divided by a common language

Martin G
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Bristol
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This isn't going to be a fully thought-through post; more of a discussion starter. Here are three quotes (from different users) I've happened upon during my last week of browsing on BGG:

Quote:
I love multiplayer solitaire because those type of games usually have a lot of room for creativity.


Quote:
Worker placement games, almost by definition, usually have a lot of player interaction.


Quote:
The tension is from the race itself, which always seems to be close no matter what you do.


I'm not posting this to disparage any of these statements. They all seem to be the honest opinions of people who spend just as much time playing and thinking about games as I do.

But what was striking to me was that in all three cases, they link a quality I profess to desire in games (creativity, interaction and tension) to one that I generally despise (multiplayer solitaire, worker placement and 'close no matter what you do').

So what does that mean? Well for one thing, it makes it hard to have productive conversations about games with people if I don't have some idea of the way they use words. I'm a big fan of Innovation because I find it interactive, creative and tense. But if I asked for games that share those qualities, someone who held the three beliefs above might suggest a 'well-balanced', multi-player solitaire WP game, which would be pretty much the exact opposite of what I was looking for.

And of course there are host of other words that we frequently use to describe games that are similarly nebulous. Elegant, deep, emergent, thematic... the list goes on.

This could lead to a few different possible conclusions:

- there's no point trying to discuss games in more than the most mechanical terms, because we simply don't have the vocabulary to describe higher-level properties. I don't want to believe this!

- it's possible to discuss games in these terms but only amongst a group that have established some form of common language. Many of my geekbuddies were chosen not because they like exactly the same games I do, but because they seem to talk about them in the same way.

- we need to first establish universal definitions for the words we use if we want to talk about games in a more critical way. Is this really possible/desirable?

Anyway, like I said at the beginning, no answers here, just some food for thought.
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Thu Apr 3, 2014 4:04 pm
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Q1 2014 review

Martin G
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Bristol
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying so far this year, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 205! (2013 had 140)

Distinct games: 67 (2013 had 56)

New-to-me games: 14 (21 in 2013)

Dimes: 3 (3 in 2013) - Race for the Galaxy (36), Kingdom Builder (14) and Aton (11)

Nickels: 8 (4 in 2013) - Innovation, Love Letter, Pax Porfiriana, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Khmer, Take it Easy!, The Palaces of Carrara and A Study in Emerald

I got into the groove with my new group in Bristol and also had two fantastic weekends of gaming with old friends. Nice to see more average plays per game, fewer new games and lots of nickels and dimes. Race for the Galaxy and Kingdom Builder were both reinvigorated by excellent expansions and some new favourites entered the roster.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 6 (7 in 2013) - A Study in Emerald, Take it Easy!, Aton, Brass, 6 nimmt! and San Quentin Kings

Removed: 13

Owned: 127 (excluding expansions - down from 134 at end 2013)

Unplayed: 3 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Glenn's Gallery and San Quentin Kings (down one from end 2013)

Looks like I might have reached peak collection! I did some good many-to-one trades in the UK maths trade and purchased a couple of top ten games that I really ought to own. I finally got Cosmic Eidex off the unplayed list and it was great! Hope Bison will follow the example...

Best new-to-me: for now, A Study in Emerald, but I still can't make my mind up if it's a glorious mess or just a mess.

New 10s: after 100 and 70 plays respectively, Love Letter and Kingdom Builder have earned their place in my personal hall of fame.
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Tue Apr 1, 2014 1:47 pm
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New-to-me March 2014

Martin G
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Bristol
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The good

Quantum

Wow, this was a really pleasant surprise. When I heard one of the guys in my group had imported it from the US, I assumed (mainly from the box art) that it was going to be more Kickstarter trash. The first promising sign came when I realised the designer was Eric Zimmerman, game scholar and co-author of Rules of Play. Reading about it some more, I started to get excited to try it, and my first play confirmed my hopes.

The box full of dice is somewhat deceiving. Dice-rolling plays a significant role, but mostly the dice are used as a very elegant way to track multiple properties without using loads of chits. It's a tactical space combat/colonisation game in which the six dice faces are used to represent different classes of ship.

The number on a die tells you:
1 how far that ship can move in a turn
2 the attack/defence value of a ship (low numbers win, so a 1-ship is hard to move but potent in combat)
3 the special power of a ship, e.g. 3s can 'warp', swapping position with any of your other ships

And finally, to colonise a planet you need to have ships surrounding it with a total value equal to the planet's number (7, 8, 9 or 10)

You get three actions per turn from a menu of five, plus each ship can use its special power once. That leads to some chained turns that are fun puzzles to plan but can get a little hard to keep track of. Colonising a planet takes two actions though, so you need to get in position the turn before, leaving the others a chance to disrupt.

Being aggressive is highly rewarded. Attackers win ties in combat, and the downside is lower for an attacker too. Aggression also gives you an alternative way to colonise, as each time you successfully attack you gain a dominance point (on another die!), and reaching 6 gives you a colonisation. First to colonise 5 planets wins the game.

Finally, there are special power cards (both permanent and one-shot) which you gain each time you colonise, or by boosting your research to 6 (on guess what, another die).

It reminds me in parts of Alien Frontiers and King of Tokyo - and also a little of Primordial Soup. The whole thing should never be longer than an hour, and it has a modular board setup for replayability. Good stuff!

Khmer

Vying for top spot is another less-is-more microgame from Japan. I gave the nod to Quantum because it was more of a surprise, while I expected to love this one. The thick cardboard cards are beautiful to look at and handle and the game conjures up a psychological battle from the merest of elements (16 cards marked only with numbers from 1-6).

The average

Portobello Market

I enjoyed the designer's more obscure Die Dolmengotter and there are some clear family resemblances, but I found this a little less interesting. Both are quick and subtle Euro-abstracts, and I might have liked PM more if I hadn't played it right at the end of a long gaming weekend.

Rhino Hero

Stupid dexterity fun, but it was disappointing to run out of cards before the tower had fallen down!

Colosseum

My somewhat uncharitable review of this one goes like this:

Do you enjoy the game-long strategic planning of an upgrade path?
-> Play Princes of Florence

Do you enjoy the set-collection via auctions of mixed lots?
-> Play Hollywood Blockbuster

Do you enjoy the trading of tiles for mutual benefit?
-> Play Chinatown

Do you enjoy the gamey manipulation of position to gain from the catch-up mechanism?
-> Play Power Grid

Do you enjoy the roll-and-move of the Emperor and Senators?
-> Play Snakes & Ladders

The not-for-me

Russian Railroads

I knew this wasn't my sort of game going in, but I wanted to show willing to my group's new Game of the Month plan (and hopefully I will reap the dividends down the line!). I have to say I'm baffled by the compliments this is getting for its 'many paths to victory' and 'overwhelming options'. To me it seems to be a game of choosing one of (at best) a handful of baked-in paths at the outset and spending the rest of the game executing it as efficiently as you possibly can. Indeed, the most thematic element I can detect here is the extent to which the game railroads its players.

Player interaction consists of being aware of the furrows the other players are ploughing so that you can identify the 'hot zones' on the shared worker placement board that you need to prioritise. But even then the game strongly rewards you for hiving off your most vital actions to your player board, via the engineers. The whole thing resembles nothing so much as a complex piece of machinery (complete with prescriptive operating manual), the sole purpose of which is to spit out exponentially-increasing gobbets of victory points. This is what "Euro" means to many people in the 2010s and it makes me sad. (Disclaimer: played three times, won twice).
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Tue Apr 1, 2014 11:42 am
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New-to-me February 2014

Martin G
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Bristol
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A Study in Emerald

I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to Wallace here, because I've played this five times and I still can't figure out if it's a glorious mess or just a mess. There's so much going on: Sherlock Holmes! Deckbuilding! Cthulhu! Hidden identities! Vampires! Area control! Zombies! and it feels like it won't really shine until all the players at the table have a really good understanding. That hasn't happened yet because all my games have included at least one new player. But I've still been having a lot of fun trying to navigate the craziness and the overwhelming options.

I've been a restorationist four times out of five so far, and in three of those I used the same strategy of nosing ahead and then sending myself mad as quickly as possible. I know there are lots of ways my opponents could have stopped me, but I haven't yet figured out what a restorationist is supposed to do if that quick-win doesn't work. Each play leaves me keen for another, hoping to get more of a hold on the thing, but I've been let down eventually by Wallace games that gave me that feeling before (like AFAOS). I think this is going to make for an interesting 'new to you a year ago' entry, one way or another

Cosmic Eidex

I picked up this crazy 3p trick-taker at Essen 2012 and finally found the right moment to get it played. I loved it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone but experienced tricktakers. The basic set-up is that cards are worth different numbers of points and you want to take either the most points or the least points in a hand, but not get stuck in the middle. But you also go bust if you take too many points, so it's quite the balancing act. As if that wasn't difficult enough, some hands are randomly chosen to be played by slightly different rules, and each player has an individual special power that lasts for the entire game. There's a hell of a lot of game here for just 36 cards.

Friday the 13th

I'd only played this on my phone and I was amazed how big the 'cauldrons' are in real life! One of Knizia's classic numbers-only fillers. I really enjoyed it but not as much as the somewhat-similar 6 Nimmt.

Clubs

I think North Star have done a brilliant job at what they set out to do here: make a highly accessible climbing game that non-gamers can pick up and enjoy. Of course that means I'm not the target market, and I'd always want to play Haggis (with 2-3) or Tichu (with 4) instead.

Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension

Speaking of 6 Nimmt, this also has some similarities. Although, it's nicely simple and interactive, I didn't enjoy it much at all. Like 6 Nimmt, you simultaneously play a number card which determines both player order and where that card/your ship goes, and other players' choices can make it go somewhere completely different to where you thought. There are three big differences between them for me:

1. In 6 Nimmt, turn order and 'movement' are determined by the same number; in Gravwell they're two separate properties of the card. That makes it much easier for me to have a mental picture of what my opponent's capabilities are in 6 Nimmt. For example, I know if there's a stack of four with 76 on top of it, that playing 78 is safe as long as no one else has and plays the 77. It's harder to figure that in Gravwell unless you're really supposed to keep referring to the teeny little chart in the corners of the board.

2. In 6 Nimmt, everyone's making their card choices from the same perspective. Player positions are symmetrical because there aren't any player pieces on the 'board'. In Gravwell, your choice depends on the position of your spaceship. So if I'm really trying to get inside my opponents' heads, I need to think about which card choice would make sense for them given each of their spaceship positions. In 6 Nimmt, part of figuring out what makes sense for me also tells me what makes sense for the other guys.

3. In 6 Nimmt, if you play a card that will put you late in the turn order, you don't have to predict everything that's going to happen before you play your card - some of the cards are unlikely to affect you at all because they'll go on other piles. In Gravwell, even one space difference in movement of another player can make the difference between you going 10 spaces forward and 10 spaces backward, which made it feel extremely chaotic.

So, I ended up feeling like this. I can take the time to think about where each player is, what cards they might have (and apparently we're supposed to take this seriously, because you get cards in a semi-open draft not a blind deal) and how their possible choices impact my choice, but take way more time over it than feels like is in the spirit of the game. Or I can slap a card down and end up somewhere semi-random. The genius of 6 Nimmt is that I can play in the first way at the speed of the second way. Maybe that comes with repeat plays of Gravwell but I don't think I'll get there.
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Mon Mar 3, 2014 3:51 pm
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Q4 2013 review

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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A quick look at what I've been playing and buying this quarter, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 99 (2012 had 246!)

Distinct games: 43 (2012 had 93)

New-to-me games: 11 (45 in 2012, mainly thanks to Essen)

Dimes: 1 (4 in 2012) - Scopa

Nickels: 3 (4 in 2012) - The Palaces of Carrara, Hanabi and Aton.

November saw the least gaming since I discovered the hobby but December saw a good revival over the festive period.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 3 - Fauna, Glenn's Gallery and Kakerlakenpoker Royal (too many to think about in 2012 thanks to Essen again!)

Removed: 1 - Vanuatu

Owned: 134 (excluding expansions - up from 132 at end Q3)

Unplayed: 4 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Cosmic Eidex, Volle Scholle, Glenn's Gallery (same as at end Q3)

Argh, still haven't got Bison and Cosmic Eidex off the list! The collection is definitely in stabilisation mode now, and could probably stand to shrink a bit.

Best new-to-me: Aton, a late entry but a good one with 6 plays in the course of two days.

New 10s: none
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Wed Jan 1, 2014 2:15 pm
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My top 60

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Sorry for lack of content in recent months, life got busy!

Regular subscribers may be interested in the geeklist I put together of my top 60 games.
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Sun Oct 27, 2013 6:56 pm
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Q3 2013 review

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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A quick look at what I've been playing and buying this quarter, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 199 (2012 had 126)

Distinct games: 74 (2012 had 76)

New-to-me games: 27 (28 in 2012)

Dimes: 4 (0 in 2012) - Scopa, Mascarade, Hanabi and Love Letter

Nickels: 3 (5 in 2012) - Pax Porfiriana, Cribbage and Briscola.

An interesting quarter! July featured 10 days in Italy (hence learning Scopa and Briscola), August helping run the boardgames room at the NineWorlds 'geekfest' and lots of gaming with friends from LoB before moving to Bristol. There's been less chance to play since then but I have fallen in with a nice group. It'll be interesting to see how my new play pattern settles out.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 4 - Pala, Mascarade, The Palaces of Carrara and Romans Go Home! (5 in 2012)

Removed: 6 - San Marco, High Society, Money!, My Kind of Town, Let's Take a Hike and Fzzzt!

Owned: 131 (excluding expansions - down from 133 at end Q2)

Unplayed: 4 - Bison: Thunder on the Prairie, Cosmic Eidex, Volle Scholle, Pala (down from 5 at end Q2)

One recent acquisition which I must get played soon. Bison and Cosmic Eidex still stubbornly sticking around from almost a year ago! Nice to see the collection stabilise, and I don't have the looming threat of Essen this year

Best new-to-me: a close call between traditional Italian fishing game Scopa (a huge hit with my wife) and Faidutti's rather brilliant Mascarade.

New 10s: none
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Fri Oct 4, 2013 11:21 pm
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New games in July [plus bonus traditional card games discussion!]

Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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This month was dominated by traditional card games. I spent 10 days on holiday in Italy and bought a couple of different designs of Italian cards. We learnt several games to play with them.

My favourite was Scopa, a simple fishing game that's taken over Cribbage's place as the go-to for my wife and I (at least for now). Like Cribbage, there's enough skill to make it interesting but enough luck to make it relaxing to play over a coffee or a beer. I tried the 4p partnership version (Scopone) last night and that was excellent too.

Briscola is an odd trick-taking game in which you don't have to follow suit, which means it's usually better to not have the lead. In the 2p game you have a 3-card hand that replenishes after each trick, so you can play the odds. The excellent 5p version, Briscola Chiamata, has a bidding process by which 2v3 teams are set for each hand, but only one player starts off knowing who's on which team!

I also learnt a 3p no-trump trick-taking game, Calabreselle, which isn't in the BGG database.

As well as the Italian games, I learnt a few standard deck games this month too. It's surprising that I'd never played Spades before, but it was reminiscent of one of my favourites Oh Hell so I took to it straight away.

Piquet is a very precise 2p trick-taker involving a declaration phase where players score points in return for revealing information about their hand, before playing their cards out in tricks. I liked it but my wife didn't, so I can't see it getting much play.

Also using a standard deck was my friend George's memory game Sweet16: Matchmaker. It's an adaptation of the game Calcory, included in Mu and More, and I enjoyed it, though three beers hampered my performance. And I played Ligretto for the first time, though it's really just a proprietary version of Racing Demon which I have played.

I'm a big fan of the Japanese microgames I've encountered so far and In a Grove was no exception. It's a minimalist bluffing/deduction game that plays like an even simpler version of Divinare.

So after all the card games, I guess my favourite board game of the month is La Boca. Temporary partnerships try to build a structure up from 3D objects that matches two views, each of which only one player can see. A lot of fun, and would have been a much better nomination for the Spiel des Jahres than Augustus.

Speaking of which, Qwixx is a neat little dice game that could have been designed by Sackson or Knizia, but it felt a bit lacking in the 'oohs' and 'ahs' that the best dice games generate.

Lancaster didn't look like my sort of thing (I'm not generally a fan of worker placement) but I found it surprisingly enjoyable. The rules are super smooth, there's not too much cube-churning and a decent amount of interaction. I'm not sure it's even worker placement really - more like an Amun-Re-style auction with multiple (and upgradable) bidding chips per player.

I picked up a cheap copy of Niagara which looked like a fun family game. That it may be, but my first play with gamers degenerated into an unsatisfying stalemate.

Shoot Out came free with the Going Cardboard documentary DVD. Let's just say you get what you pay for and move on.

Finally, Cavum is a Kramer/Kiesling, which are always at least worth trying. It was far from one of my favourites from the team though, reminding me most of Java with its combination of brain-burning spatial relationships and a pot-pourri of other mechanisms that distract from them.
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Wed Jul 31, 2013 3:04 pm
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