The Jaded Gamer

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CO2 Second Chance - Why can't I be bothered to try it again?

Alec Chapman
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yadda yadda, all the below are just initial opinions etc etc. I've been away from the blog for a long while but I don't think the below is a very good review, so it comes here.

EDIT: I suggest that for a view on the development of one's relationship with the game from a more experienced player you check out Jacob's comment below

Introduction

So I got this game because of theme and table presence and on paper it should have worked for me. I love a co-op, I secretly love a meaty Euro and the combination could work well. I greatly enjoyed the Gallerist by Lacerda before (though few of my regular opponents do) so the signs were great!

Problem(?)


However, I played it three times and found it... not that great. So much so that I have thought "I should really decide if I am keeping it... but I can't face setting it up".

I have finally worked out why I am so ambivalent


It's entirely down to the most important part, the gas mechanic that gives the game its name, not giving the players any agency at all. I'd assume this is because this was never originally intended as a Co-Op AI at all, but as the "everyone loses" condition in the competitive version of the game.

I think it needed more work in converting the style across.

Why?

So, most co-op games have a very basic AI that you are playing against.

Pandemic, for example, features a very clever system where you are given a preview of hotspots before they become unsolvable and therefore players can prioritise where they will run to at any time, and you can play the odds somewhat on each round.

Arkham Horror has a completely arbitrary AI. Things appear randomly and you need to set yourself up in such a way as to adapt to new challenges or to ensure you have something already that can deal with whatever comes along.

However, CO2 fails to do either of these things and is instead a type of co-op game I just can't get into.

Things you need to know about why this is if you don't know the game.

The game itself is really interesting - get as many points as you can by meeting demand for power as much as you can using green plants in a very engaging abstracted economic management thing. If you don't meet the demand, continents will build horrid CO2 emitting plants on their own. these will drive up the CO2 concentration which will make you lose the game if you can't reduce it enough (by spending points)

I would assume, by the way, that your points represent the impact of your green plants and this is why you can move it back, but the principle of this is kind of non-intuitive.

I like the main part of the game an awful lot, though I feel the action economy means you don't get to do enough throughout the game for it to feel truly satisfying, this is truly subjective. I just want more of the pretty bits on the board!

You can also gain points by moving up on the income tracks and sitting yourself/yourselves in particular places (as income). Yeah, you have the option to take this as money instead but you will seldom want to.

This is because the "AI" in this game is based around wiping points off your score. You lose when the points drop below zero. Some of this you have control over - there are a bunch of things you are supposed to achieve as quickly as possible... and if you fail to do them (and you can't do them all quickly) they cost you points.

You also need to overcome the single worst part of the design - the power demands of the places you didn't build a plant this turn. Given the ingenious nature of the rest of the game, it is bizarre that this is just a random chit pull and it seems possible, rules as written, to play as perfect a first decade as you can and still lose immediately - I have never got beyond turn 2, though I can see ways through - I would need lucky chit pulls to ensure I got there.

Edit: These chits, by the way, can be 20, 30 or 40 in value. The higher, the worse.So it's entirely possible for identical play to result in a twice as bad situation, and you can do nothing about this except score as many points as you can; which you would do anyway!

The issue of agency


My problem here isn't actually that you can play perfectly and still lose when there are lots of co-ops that have such a dynamic, but rather than there is no feeling of agency in this outcome for me.

Pandemic's odds mitigation AI is superb at giving you agency. Even if you lose because you bet the wrong way in a 50/50 odds situation (i.e. there's two possible places that could add the eighth epidemic etc) you at least made that decision.

Arkham's totally random card pulls and outcomes are frequent and relatively low impact in and of themselves. Generally you have a chance to do something about it, or if you haven't you probably had a pretty harsh game already. I certainly have very rarely felt I had absolutely no control over the game's outcome, or at least... I felt I had as much control over the outcome as expected from a deck of cards and some dice. I had agency, small and illusory as it can be in AH, EH and MoM.

CO2, however, doesn't feel like this to me. It's not a dice chucker, it's a euro abstraction of something, so why do you have absolutely no control over the pulls from the chit deck? There isn't a way to affect the distribution of chits, see what is coming up, nor to change their value.

You simply draw a bunch of random ones and hope that your points are high enough to avoid losing. I feel agency in dealing with the demands and with scoring points (which is all public information stuff), but how many I actually need to spend at the end of a turn is completely out of my knowledge or control - and in many situations there is literally nothing I can do or could have done if I draw, say, nothing but 40s out of the chit pile for the first two turns.

Conclusion

Now, there are plenty of games with a single flaw in them that I still like - but here we are talking about the win/loss condition and the most important interaction (for me) in all co-op games; feeling you having some say in the way the situation develops.

There are ways to do difficulty effectively and having the game be hard because of random draws is not a particularly effective one. This issue has been addressed in forum posts and semi-official setup variants, but again why does the whole mechanism feel so incomplete and unsatisfying when it defines (and names) the whole game?

In taking the approach it has, the game paints a pretty bleak future for the planet. Good point, sure, but hardly a fun way to build a co-operative experience.

Anyway, that's my tuppence worth
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Wed Jul 10, 2019 11:34 am
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Kingmaking: The Conclusion

Alec Chapman
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ALGO wrote:
Folk seem to be saying that people should feel free to keep playing a game they can't win, just as long as they do so in a non-kingmakey way. Could anyone who holds this view please be clear on exactly what this means, for me? I don't want to argue against a strawman.
Eric the GM wrote:
The loose consensus is that Kingmaking is when a losing player begins making moves that would not be rational if the player was still in contention.
ErsatzDragon wrote:
For me, it means continuing making moves / choices as though I was able to win. That is, I should continue playing as though I haven't noticed that victory is actually out of reach.
First, thanks to these two users for answering my question

It seems that "kingmaking" then has a very narrow definition indeed, considering how often the term is used. It must be:

1. During a game with more than 2 players/teams without elimination
1a. During a game where being mean to other players isn't the whole point
2. A deliberate action by a losing player
3. Proximate to the outcome of the game
4. "Irrational" in terms of maximising points/position

But.. wait a sec... surely we see now that all of these could apply to any move on the last turn apart from the winning one?

To really hit a unique point you'd have to add
5. Vindictive

And I simply refute any notion that 99% of the use of the term includes that last part of the definition. And then by definition you cannot "accidentally kingmake" nor could games be "prone to kingmaking".

The problem of claiming "irrationality"

Also, and more importantly, I dislike part 4 of this definition immensely and it is where me and most of the posters in that thread part ways.

You can't win, so how is playing as if you could win defined as "rational" when it is irrational by definition? At best "playing politely" would seem a better word.

The presence of actors with no rational goals simply now needs to be accounted for by winning players' strategies. As I stated in an earlier blog, in a lot of games there are ways to maintain an illusion of contention or to defend against such actors etc etc.

A player put in an unwinnable position will also obviously, in many cases, continue to play sub-optimally whatever their intent. Just think of it as "unintentional irrationality" to relate it to the points above.

Obviously they will, in fact, since that why they have ended up in a position they can't win from. Let's be clear: the fact they have not fully understood the path to victory is why they can't win! How can you expect them to suddenly make nothing but sensible moves now?

However, when they continue to play in an honest way they may still get labelled with a mild slur and some social negativity just because the other players left them with the power to affect the game's outcome but, crucially, no stake in that outcome?

Calling the game

Venser wrote:
Earlier I mentioned my group normally ends the game the minute an absolute winner/loser is identified.

If a group insists on playing with players in these positions, I'd expect the loser to take actions that terminate the game in the most expedite manner possible. Their position is untenable to winning regardless of their actions.

Kingmaking or propelling the leader further ahead are two possible outcomes, and I'm fine with that if others insist on finishing the game.
Calling the game as soon as anyone can't win, or the bolded approach above is just as damaging* to the "natural" outcome as any other alteration of approach.

The early end does not allow anyone's long term strategies to pay off and the loser trying to end the game sees their actions change now they can't win, therefore the final outcome is altered as well.

Conclusion:

For the vast majority who don't give a monkey's about my blog I will just reiterate here that I think Kingmaking is just an ill defined, very loose slur used in relation to whichever late-game moves a potential but unsuccessful near-winner didn't like. Therefore, what I believe it refers to is simply the act of someone else taking their turn... and therefore doesn't really need its own word and certainly that word shouldn't be used to low-key insult your fellow players (let alone the player who actually won now feels like crap).

It is taking a subjective expectation about how your opponents "should" act, and trying to impose an objective authority with it and crying when reality doesn't match with opinion.

The illusion of Kingmaking seems to be caused by an action's proximity to the final outcome, despite the fact an identical action taken ten turns earlier and with an identical impact on the final outcome is never accorded anything like the same level of importance.

We play games with people.

People are flawed, people are irrational, people are wonderful. Don't slam them for their mistakes and don't belittle games where people can affect the final outcome throughout as if it's a bad thing.

That's what these games are - we sit down and create an outcome together.

Just have fun, for goodness' sake**.



*Important note: I don't view this as "damage" at all, in fact, but that's the position of others.
**If you cannot have fun in these circumstances, may I introduce you to the hundreds of fantastic two player games out there where a resignation is actually often the most polite and acceptable end?
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Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:57 am
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Kingmaking: The Continuation

Alec Chapman
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Another response to the post on Kingmaking expanded too far, so here it is.

Some people in the thread had been saying that the only goal of importance is the win and that wherever you end up on the leaderboard other than 1st is equal in the big picture. Therefore the goal of moving from third to second isn't a valid one to set yourself.

Someone (I think Pete) even said that sometimes they will call the game at the point somebody cannot win, since the potential of disagreeable actions by that player affecting the eventual outcome is undesirable.

That seems... odd... to me, but each to their own.

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

Yeah from the Kingmaking debates we can exclude 2 player games, multiplayer solitaire* games and 2 team games. Kingmaking in those games is analogous to simply "making a game losing error".

First off, it's totally valid if your game group has agreed to value winning above everything else; it's your life and your salmon.

The social contract of my game groups has never been and will never be "to endorse the victory of whoever wins", it's always been to "have fun with other people while playing a game".

It horrifies me that anyone would say that if you can't win then your choices can only ever affect the game outcome for other players in a disagreeable way.

When the win slips away I will act as I want within the rules and you will have to deal with the consequences - it's called "playing games with other people".

I also accept that sometimes people will do this at my expense as the very minimal cost of their companionship.

This approach was obviously the designers' intent because otherwise there would be player elimination at the point one could no longer win.


I've seen several suggestions as to what should can do when you can't win:

1a. Play as if you can win
1b. Play to maximise points
1c. Play to move up the leaderboard

These are similar, but not always analogous

2. Continue playing but just not in a kingmaking way
I have never had a satisfactory definition of what this means. I have asked and we will see what they come up with

3a. Concede the game and refuse to continue
3b. The group ends the game at this point and determines the winner
This is really problematic in multiplayer games where the leader / eventual winner is not clear. It's totally acceptable where everyone has lost the option of winning, but that's not what we're discussing

4. Only play games where nobody is ever out of the running

Well this leads to a playing a bunch of of games where only the last move ever matters, or they are characterised by an inherently unfair catch-up mechanism. YMMV on how much this matters

5. Set yourself a new in-game goal and be true to it, regardless of its impact
This is generally what I do. My groups are all pretty cool with it, but again YMMV

6. Just go out of your way to punish the other players by making the game less fun or roadblocking everything anyone does etc. for no reason other than to troll the table because you lost
This isn't kingmaking for me, it's being a dick. Don't be that guy. Unless you're playing Cosmic Encounter, in which case do be a dick. That's the whole point.


I hope it's clear that I believe (EDIT: the common complaint) about Kingmaking to be a phantom; A complaint that some nebulous social contract is broken by not letting the rightful winner achieve that transitory and meaningless distinction on their own.

But here's the thing: as soon as you agreed to sit and play a game with other human beings, you ceded some of your credit for AND control over its outcome. Every decision anyone made in the whole game is a factor in its eventual final scoring - if you don't like this, there is a whole world of fantastic alternative options out there.

Why people who believe that any player who cannot win should concede all control are playing anything at a higher player count than 2 is beyond me.

There are hundreds and hundreds of fantastic 2 player games in the world. Why on Earth are you trying to impose a "winning is the only goal that matters" outlook on a game in which the majority of players will not (and some perhaps cannot) meet that goal?

I love the cut and thrust of a 2 player zero sum game. I love the constant back and forth flow and flux of multiplayer games. Neither of these things is better than the other for me. Though I generally prefer playing with multiple people, this is more about enjoying the company of friends than enjoying those games more than 2 players.

It's just... the approaches one takes to these two things are not particularly mixable. Whatever type of game you like, it's important to understand that when you agree to be part of a group, it's the group that determines the outcome - nobody wins or loses alone and by themselves in this situation; once you let that go, Kingmaking is a will-o-the-wisp and is blown away in the laughter of a table having a good time.

And hey, if that game ended unsatisfactorily, why not set it up again and play some more. That's what I want to do.

Have a great day, guys.

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

*The term "multiplayer solitaire" is extremely overused and usually incorrectly. I guess you could put a lot of independent optimisation games and non-contact racing games here, but the label is usually appended to games based on "feel" rather than "fact". My intention here is to use it in the literal sense. You can't kingmake if nothing you do affects anyone else until you tot up scores at the end.
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Wed Dec 12, 2018 6:36 pm
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Kingmaking: The return

Alec Chapman
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Hi. It's been a while.

This began as a response to "Why is king making so frown upon by experienced gamers?" But is too long and too self important to go in a regular forum.

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

Ooh boy. This old thing?

It's "frowned on by experienced gamers"?

I'm an experienced gamer (unless we are gatekeeping against decade-long BGGers) and I don't frown on it, but the spirit of the question requires the response - "it's what people who have just lost from an apparent winning position claim just happened in order to make themselves feel better".

Sometimes (far more rarely than the term's use suggests) their complaints are valid - occasionally someone is a douche and arbitrarily takes your victory away for no reason. This is incredibly rare in the over-thirteens demographic.

However, in all but those rarest of cases, it's a phenomenon exclusive to those who believe they are entitled to the W by playing "better" but some whippersnapper came in and took the decision on who would win away from the deserving leader. Know your role, plebians!

It's very simple; if you* don't want there to be any chance of kingmaking, go play something on your own.

I split kingmaking complaints into three categories: deliberate, accidental, and inherent.


1. Your buddies deliberately smashed you up / handed someone else the lead to stop you winning

a. Check that this isn't the whole point of the game (Diplomacy, King Of Tokyo, Take That card games etc). Recall that in a lot of games, stopping someone winning is the only chance of not losing.

b. Make it less obvious you are in the lead, either by managing your obvious or immediate inflow of points until later (subterfuge) or distracting in other ways (negotiation).

c. Defend your leads better. Maybe the other players were only appearing to be "behind" until now because they actually spent effort defending their position.

d. It's a game group expectations problem. Some groups are just like this. My twice yearly Cosmic Encounter crowd has "be massive d**ks to each other" on our metaphorical house crest.



2. Your buddy accidentally handed someone else the game

a. This is a phenomenon also known as "losing". It happens a lot, so learning to get over it is probably a good idea.

b. Perhaps remember that the other players are also playing a game to their best (or some percentage of the best) of their abilities. They are not acting as rubber stamps to your inevitable dominating genius. People make mistakes; not all of those mistakes will benefit you.



3. The game seems to inherently make your victory dependent on the actions and behaviour of others but somehow, in this play, that behaviour led to the victory of someone other than you.

a. This is called "playing games".


I repeat: the only way to avoid kingmaking is to play games where players cannot affect each others' scores, ensuring that the play is really about optimising your own particular performances and subsequently comparing those against given criteria.

It's much like the difference between Snooker/Golf/Bowling and Football/Rugby/Basketball. Even then, your victory or loss could depend more on your opponents mistakes than your skill.

I'm minded of high level chess and the way that games can be won by the person who didn't make a mistake, rather than the person who simply played great chess (which they both would anyway)

Remember: If the third party doesn't kingmake so the second place player wins... they are therefore kingmaking so you win!

You just wouldn't notice that because it would have turned out in your favour and we ALL tend to attribute success to ourselves and failures to outside factors. The trick is not to get in a situation where your victory over your closest opponent is entirely dependent on the actions of a third party.

TLDR: You Lost. Get Over it.**

*This is a rhetorical "you", placed here because every time I use the word "one" to denote a non specific subject of a point, I sound like I'm in a costume drama.
**Yes, I've only put this here because it is the only time I would ever deem it appropriate #remoaner
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Tue Dec 11, 2018 11:59 am
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My Dream Game

Alec Chapman
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What ho, chaps and chapesses of BGG

Isn't it weird when one of your subscriptions suddenly activates after years?

I am a subscriber myself to the idea that nothing is more tedious than other people's dreams, but bear with me.

Anyway, I am a very rare dreamer and seldom wake up with anything more than the barest inkling of what happens, quickly replaced by the daily feeling of utter despair that we all face when forced to remove the duvet and head out into the horrors of the real world / the shower.

However, I distinctly remember one thing about my dream last night and that is a bizarre abstract board game brought to... wherever I was in the dream by... whoever was in my dream (I told you I don't remember much).

It was called Formations and looked super complicated. Anyway, my alarm went off and ruined the rules explanation.

The board for said game was a collection of straight pieces of wood with squares on them, I estimate about 15 squares long by 1 square wide. and there were enough to form a square board, but one that could be set up in a variety of deformed ways too.

I don't think we played this game, but the pieces were marked with symbols and made up formations that would move around the board together.

So far, so tash-kalar I suppose, but I have never played Vlaada's abstract opus, so have no idea why such a thing would pop into my head.

Now, the world is full of average and disappointing abstracts, so I thought I would take a couple of hours and try and make some playtestable rules for said silly game.

So I did, and you can try it yourself

Obviously I've not playtested this ever, so you could go down in history as the very first person to play it! But unlike my other design I tried to wrestle with, there's a complete game here. Sure it'll be flawed but you could conceivably play through a whole game of it, so that's an improvement!

So - has anyone reading this ever dreamed of a game that didn't seem to exist or some wacky amalgam like I have come up with here?
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Mon Feb 6, 2017 1:06 pm
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Naked Lobster

Alec Chapman
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Last weekend saw the return of the only really intensive gaming weekend known to increase the global retail price of lamb shanks, LoBstercon!

I may hardly qualify as one of the legendary 'con attendees, but this episode was a particularly idiotic example of how to do yourself significant harm through excessive board gaming.

But what did I actually get done? Well, I managed to buy some new clothes for the first time in ages - see, since I was at work up until 7am the first day of the con I had intended to pack the bag before leaving for work so I could grab it and immediately leave in the morning. Turns out I did everything EXCEPT that.

So, not for the only time in my life, I'm sure - I brought as many games to an event as I did pairs of socks... and nothing else.

But despite my singular commitment to self destruction did I manage to get everything done I wanted?

WANTED TO TICK OFF THE CON TRADITIONS LIST


My bi-annual game of Puerto Rico didn't happen, but since I always humiliate myself I was pretty cool with that.

More upsetting was the lack of Tales Of The Arabian Nights, a game I missed out on the previous 'con because I literally had laryngitis.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Incidentally, being unable to speak didn't stop me teaching Robinson Crusoe four times that weekend.


One of the few games I play "super seriously" (to a maximum level of one game a con) is Tichu and despite a breathtaking dead spot in the middle of our game and going down 900-700 as a result, Martin and I managed to Tichu/1/2 on the last round to steal a glorious victory from the lean mean bomb drawing machine that is Scott and Charlotte.


WANTED TO TRY

Five Tribes or K2 which were both on my "want to try" list weren't in evidence.

Specter Ops wasn't out yet, but I got to have a go at Letters From Whitechapel which was a nice alternative to the other games in its class - a bit more to it than Scotland Yard without the overkill of Fury Of Dracula. I still can't see wanting to play it again without a timer on the detectives.

Sheriff of Nottingham was an absolute blast! Don't know if I have ever bought a game halfway through the first play before - a reminder of my bad old habits, yes, but never mind.

TOOK MYSELF

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island
Carried it all the way there (despite not packing any, you know, clothing) and it sat unplayed all weekend as far as I know. Probably a victim of the "let's just play this game again" feeling I had.

Sentinels of the Multiverse
I did play a LOT of Sentinels of The Multiverse though - five games of variously eccentric or epic battles - Ambuscade dropped easier than a Brazilian footballer in the final third, but The Ennead went the wire in a game dominated by two explosives wagons.

That was quite a game. Poor old Skyscraper took 30 points of damage in two turns as a result of those things (and a forced area effect play) and died saving her comrades (Thorathian Monolith), only for a third explosives wagon to be drawn and assist in slowing the advance of the Egyptian gods. Fiddliness is a characteristic of Sentinels, but the seven start of turn effects on the Villain turns was pretty extreme even bearing that in mind.

Shadows over Camelot
The game I was expecting to sit unplayed actually did get an outing, and despite my feverish attempts to teach it wrong (in my defence I had been up a LONG time by this point) we had a great time. It was only slightly unfortunate that the chosen traitor was the first timer at the table, while Bonnie Kate is some kind of Shadows savant...

XCOM: The Board Game
I greatly enjoyed the one play of this - I have no idea what on earth I did to dice in a past life but there is no way my bad luck in attempting success rolls with a 1/3 across this game and Arkham is reasonable. I wouldn't mind, but give me Summoner Wars and I'm rolling that 1/3 every time. Galling. Thanks to great support from everyone else the world was saved. Not sure the RAF will be asking me to lead fighter squadrons, but my budget auditing was absolutely perfect.

UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTERS

Xia: Legends of a Drift System
This is just too long. It's great fun, but we only played to ten points and despite a glorious victory everyone was seemingly too drained to give me props for my luck terrific perfomance. I always appreciate any game that features rules simply because they're cool, but still - it went a good hour too long for this type of romp, imho.

Shadowrun: Crossfire
The jury's out. Bizarrely, I seemed to penalised for playing the face character 'properly' and kill stealing / insisting on saving for the fireball to show off. This game's ok - but with Sentinels in the collection I'd just never dig this one out instead.

Loony Quest
This is more like it! Someone showed me it at 2am on Friday night when we were about to go to bed and I forced everyone to sit back down and learn it from the rulebook immediately. We only played world 1 which is apparently very easy - it's another game I'm glad to play but I doubt I would buy it for myself.

Quartermaster General
I don't get it. Everyone is acting like this game is amazing, and it was fun - but I saw it out almost constantly and everyone was raving about it. Sure, it was enjoyable, but I didn't have that kind of experience with it. Another one I'd never own anyway, because six players are hard to come by and that would be easily my preference here.

CONCLUSION

There were a bunch of other games played, but the chief takeaway from this weekend was a stinking cold, exhaustion and despite these, a timely reminder that this is one of my favourite places to be in the world. There's something just unavoidably wonderful about your only significant decisions being "what game shall I play next?" or "can a Thai restaurant take out a restraining order to stop you eating there every night?".

And sure, there were irritating moments too - there always are when 100 gamers get together and try and decide how to have fun - but that's all by the by - I got a lift home from a new gaming buddy, so I'm not going to complain for one second. Hoorah!
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Sat May 2, 2015 12:56 am
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Christmas Time (Roll a one and whine)

Alec Chapman
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It' s nearly Christmas folks and since, inexplicably, war isn't over (nor is it just the end of love; though it remains good for absolutely nothing*) you probably look at this time to escape such harsh realities and play a bunch of board games with your captive victims family at this most cardboardy time of the year.

Seriously though. F--K WAR*

But hey! Enough of the real world. You need to just take a moment to choose how you will sell one of the best hobbies in the world** to unsuspecting Monopoly players all year - well.... I wrote an article on that very subject already.

Click here to read the old article I am re-gifting to you again this year.

So, with the caveats in the above article in mind, and with a plea for sympathy for the fact that I'm actually working night shifts Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (sucks, right?) I am going to do a recommendations list for an unsuspecting family you want to suck into this world of gaming goodness. As I say in the old article. Ignore any or all of these if you know they won't work. Do NOT force the issue.

That's Basic!

1) Ticket to Ride

Board Game: Ticket to Ride


As I said in the Catan retrospective, not all clichés are undeserved. I would say this is an almost perfect gateway. Inoffensive theme, simple rules(simpler than Settlers) and not THAT competitive for a Christmas afternoon. I could also say that unlike Settlers, which has a more abstract goal and infrequent points scoring, perhaps this one is better for the slightly drunk post Christmas dinner gaming crowds than that other cliché.
As for which one to get - I got Marklin and regret that decision to be honest. Not only do the expansion maps not work with it, the set up is irritating and the extra rule is just annoying to new players. In my experience. I would get either the original or Europe, probably depending on which geography appeals more. The extra rules in Europe are nothing like as annoying as Märklin. In my opinion.

too conflicty? want a co-op?

2. Forbidden Desert

Board Game: Forbidden Desert


Pandemic, which I prefer, would be a bit too obviously gamey with all the different ways to move and all the deck to track.
Forbidden Island is a far less entertaining story for me because collecting cards just feels more arbitrary than the random set up of clues in Desert, which I know it isn't really, but still - if I can't be subjective here, where can I?
I think Forbidden Desert hits the sweet spot for this crowd. After a MUCH quicker setup and explanation than Pandemic it's got excitement, forehead slapping moments, tension and, unlike the reshuffled "intensified" disease deck easily trackable goals (i.e. a sand pile and the four parts). I think its a crueller game than Pandemic at times but for the play time it works perfectly for that "Damn it! One more go!" feeling in a way that a gruelling loss at Pandemic perhaps won't. My advice? Play on the easiest setting. It may be a little "too" easy sometimes, but you will not get players to enjoy themselves if you have no luck and drown early.
Also, general co-op rules with non-gamers apply: SHUT UP AND LET THEM MAKE THE CALLS.

Is Ticket To Ride not conflicty enough?

3. Small World

Board Game: Small World


Want to smack each other in the face? Yeah, good idea to channel that rage positively, so let's go with this one. It's not the most amazing conflict game out there, but it will handle the whole family and as long as they can understand the concept that to win a fight (all things being equal) they need tokens equal to...

two more tokens than the total bits of Cardboard in the defending area (aka Cost = 2 + x)

...then fine.

If their rage is sufficient to ensure they cannot get "2 plus cardboard", perhaps let them step outside and have the fight anyway. Charades or Trivial Pursuit will lead to blows inside that will need stains removing from your new reindeer onesie and that's not a Christmas evening anyone wants. I also think that the level of control is good. It's not all about rolling dice and who gets lucky (though, yes, in edge cases it can end up that way) so it's a bit more fun than Risk for me - though if your family can be persuaded to spend the next few years playing a Risk: Legacy campaign then power to the dice tower, I say!

They want a money game like Monopoly

4. Power Grid

Board Game: Power Grid


OK, this is a weird one, but I just don't seem to enjoy many economic games. I certainly don't own many. Mine and my wife's favoured economic slog is the Crayon Rails series and I just refuse to recommend that to you for reasons you can find in the relevant retrospective I did on them (find that by clicking here).
Out of the whole gamut of "get rich" games, Power Grid stands head and shoulders above the pack in my experience. It's the one auction game I can stand to really get into and I like the supply and demand considerations in the resource market an absolute tonne. I even like the jostling for position. It's probably the most complex game on this little list. Well, it definitely is the most complicated game on this little list, but in real terms it's not actually any more complicated than Monopoly. It also isn't any longer, but I frequently hear the complaint that each turn is really long - this is because the players are engaged at all times, unlike in a poorly managed game of the classic.

Are they still obsessed with Monopoly after all that?

5. SUCK IT UP AND PLAY MONOPOLY

Board Game: Monopoly


Do you love your family or not? Just look up and plead to use the speed die rule (it's easy to botch one), play by the rest of the rules as written (DO NOT PUT ANY FINES ON FREE PARKING!***) and I promise it won't be the worst game you'll play in the next twelve months.

Or if you can manage to persuade them, do your best to get Clue/Cluedo to the table instead. It's still pretty good (despite the fact the moving mechanic feels a bit redundant and silly in this day and age).

Anyway. Ignore the recommendations, pick your own, suggest stuff below. Whatever you do, have a bloody great Christmas you lot!

A


*
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I'm sure you can discuss the veracity and applicability of all these song lyrics on the RSP forum. Have fun


**
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I'm sure you can discuss the veracity and applicability of this statement on the General Gaming forum. Have fun


***
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I've never understood this house rule. The whole game is about money leaving the system, but you want to keep it in the game and furthermore give it to somebody entirely at random? You're insane.
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Mon Dec 22, 2014 10:51 pm
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It's like Blade Runner, only makes less sense...

Alec Chapman
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Retrospective 10: Mecanisburgo and Android
Obtained: Both Cash.
Fate: Mecanisburgo still here, Android traded for Mansions Of Madness

Board Game: Mecanisburgo


Board Game: Android


So it is with a heavy heart that I recall these two games, both of which suffer from similar issues and are set in similar worlds.

Let me be clear though, from the outset. I really like both games and it's only because of the few issues I have with them that they are not more often played and, in Android's case, no longer in my collection at all.

Android is a game I was hugely looking forward to and it almost met my hopes with its fun conspiracy, unique ideas and a true air of real enthusiasm about the way it has been put together and the attention to detail.

Board Game: Android

This image is by user "endou_kenji"

You can read my old review of Android by clicking here, and it was mainly due to being true to my principles that I traded it away. I just wasn't playing the game.

Why do I think this is? After all, I had played it with several people and they had enjoyed their times - I am just not sure that given the many, many games on my shelves I would choose this one at any stage.

The chief barrier is teaching - as I have become busier and busier, our rare chances to have a game night mean that taking a flier became less and less attractive - and having to teach a game that absolutely needs all that up front teaching and explanation is not where I want to be right now. I hope it's getting more plays where it is now. I disagree with everyone who said they didn't like it because:

a. The central idea is counter intuitive
-sure, you aren't "discovering" a killer so much as making the killer be discovered, but this is a game!
b. The consipracy is overpowered
- I think this is one of those "I played a six hour game and lost - there must be a flaw in the rules" arguments.

But the game is incredibly long and super, SUPER, complicated for the people I play with most regularly. I no longer have the game to check, but I think the point at which I sort of gave up hope was the way that positive or negative "points" on your stories are, for theme reasons, all called different things depending on what works in the story - but are functionally the same. Only problem is that this means for more casual players they keep asking what the keywords mean because nobody else seems to have them.

That's not a huge issue, but is symptomatic of a huge issue. This is very much a gamers game, and I don't game with 'gamers' often enough for this to get the plays.

In fact, the smoothest game I ever experienced of this was that way precisely because I didn't even play! I acted as a kind of GM and made sure everything ran correctly.

I fricking love it though, so if anyone I know still owns it and wants to set up a session at LoBstercon, let's have at it!

Board Game: Mecanisburgo

This image is by user "EnterTheUser"

As for Mecanisburgo, (read my original review by clicking here) it's my equivalent of the hipster games everyone seems to play - a tiny fanbase, obscure rules questions and a rulebook so counterintuitive you'd be scratching your head for weeks unless you took the time to set the whole thing up and run through a couple of turns for real.

Basically, though, I still adore it. Mainly because you do get the sense that you are the president of a seedy future megacorporation sending out agents to take advantage of opportunities.

Unlike in Android, the central idea of collecting people or materiel to obtain points, or at least to obtain the things you need to build the things that score points (sigh) is consistent on a gut level.

"OK, so I am going to the courthouse to try and persuade that Mutant Psychic to join our corporation. Don't know if we'll have company. Want me to take the robot just in case?"

It's just plain fun to know that rather than sending a generic meeple to pick up three wood, you're going to be sending your pet racing driver to grab nuclear material from under the noses of your opponent's ninja. The fact that until the conflict begins you do not know who your opponents have sent is an intriguing mind game in itself.

But it feels logical, right? You commit your resources, but the more effort you spend on winning conflicts, the less money you'll have to spend next turn and if you can't meet the wages your staff demand, they'll just leave.

If you concentrate on obtaining Scientists to achieve the research goals, your frontline is going to be weaker. Again, makes sense.

The problem is where the international requirements step in.
If you had keywords written on every card then this would help, but it needed to be multilingual and therefore we are stuck with an unwieldy sheet of symbols and miniature rules that, in a couple of cases, only apply to one or two cards across the entire game.

When your central conflict method is basically just addition with a card as a tiebreaker, the need to constantly double check for additional bonuses or penalties you may have missed is a bit annoying.

Board Game: Mecanisburgo

This image by user "cnidius"

Unlike Android, I have kept Mecanisburgo because in the end, while the outcome is sillier and the theme less obvious, I just remember enjoying it more. The conflicts are always tense, the scores usually pretty close and at the end even if you didn't win you have a whole tableau full of agents, technological achievements and assets that you didn't have when the game started. You feel like you've achieved something worthwhile.

I really, REALLY fricking like this game. I should dig it out again (maybe I can double bill it with Galaxy Trucker)!
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Fri Dec 12, 2014 12:15 am
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If fighting a vampire were boring, it'd be just like...

Alec Chapman
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Retrospective 9: The Fury of Dracula
How obtained: I didn't. Pretty sure it was my brothers. In any case, it was obtained 20 years ago, so even if we spent our own cash on it I doubt I'd remember.

Board Game: The Fury of Dracula


If there is one problem with me writing about this game again it's that it's the first game on my retrospectives list that I've written a BGG review for, which you can find here and unlike almost every other game I've ever reviewed, I'm not sure I've played it since I wrote that - which was seven (SEVEN!) years ago.

I do keep meaning to dig it out, but this game, which has plenty to recommend it has one enormous, massive, stinking flaw which I just can't get past.

When it's supposed to be at its most climactic it is a dull, repetitive sloppy affair.

There's a couple of games that do the Paper Scissors Stone combat system and I don't mind admitting that it's far from my favourite way of resolving combat. At least in DungeonQuest you are chipping away at each other and one of you will die first, but in Fury... some combats have gone on for ten minutes while you dodge round each other, becoming in essence an endurance contest rather than a fun game.

Board Game: The Fury of Dracula

This image by user "Voinon" capture the moment when the game is supposed to get exciting, then doesn't.

Unlike DungeonQuest, however, the rest of the game is extremely fun for all players, as the very thematic chase and discovery of enemies leads to a better and better idea of where the evil one is lurking. The hidden movement works really well (so long as the Dracula player resists the urge to cheat!) and all the pieces fit together beautifully - until the fricking fighting starts up and you feel like you're wasting your time.

I mean, come on! This was Games Workshop in the eighties! Couldn't we have had a second combat board and some "lead" miniatures? Perhaps some dice? Combat cards like Cosmic Encounter or something?

At least we could try and reduce combat to a single Paper Scissor Stone round, rather than the interminable battle against boredom this always seems to become.

It's such a shame because I love the rest of the game and what it tries to do - I looked at the newer version but it doesn't really seem to address this issue in the way I would want. If the game is about catching Dracula, then the combat should be short and snappy - if it's even half a game about combat, a proper combat system is a must for me.

So, I'm stuck with a game I can;t really bear to part with but can't be bothered to play. Annoying.

What "catch the bad guy" games do you lot recommend? Plain old Scotland Yard? Letters From Whitechapel? Nuns on the Run? Let me know - because this is one type of game I fricking adore!
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Wed Dec 10, 2014 5:06 pm
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The Grate Escape

Alec Chapman
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Retrospective 8: Mr. Jack and Extension
How obtained: Cash

Board Game: Mr. Jack


This is one of those really intense, serious games that masquerades as a nice friendly cartoony experience thanks to the artwork.

Do not be fooled, casual gamers, into thinking that the cutesy large eyed character designs and bright, primary colours indicate that nobody at the end will be crushed into an Analysis Paralysis ridden pulp by the constant hunt for which of the adorable little characters is actually a serial killer who eviscerates prostitutes - which is perhaps a perfect synergy of theme and art, now I come to think of it.

Board Game: Mr. Jack

This image by user "victorstanciu"

Perhaps this is the problem I keep smacking violently into every time I teach somebody this game - there is a major disconnect between art style, theme (if you go beyond a simple "escape" story) and game type.

In short, its an abstract deduction (induction?) game in which one of the shared characters is secretly evil and one player is trying to get that individual out of town before getting caught by the other.

Sure, it's a little less stressful than Go but that's not saying much of course. The number of times my poor wife has literally beaten the table in frustration as she tries to form her plan for the turn, or that I have had an almost physical need to flip the guilty card when being the investigator.... it's intense, seriously.

Now, for many people this is probably a plus - and actually, if I am in the right mood for it, I really think it's a great game. I was planning to play it 100 times, after all.

The only issues I have with it other than those perennial deduction/induction moments of screaming frustration are these:

1. In order to feel the competition has been fair, both players have to play each side. Of course, this leads to some serious issues with scores being tied, so you should really play three games, but that causes a problem too, since the two sides are asymmetric again. What I came up with to address this point was to play best of 5 and whoever is 2-1 down before game 4 gets to choose their role for the next game. Not sure this helps, but at least you have time to get your eye in.

2. Often it has come down to a 50/50 guess on the part of the investigator since escaping as Jack is really, really difficult in my experience and narrowing down to a single character is tough, too. In that case, success isn't particularly satisfying whoever actually wins. Maybe that's just me being crap at the game, though.

Board Game: Mr. Jack

This image is by user "MyParadox"

To prevent too much similarity the Extension (i.e. expansion) introduces a bunch more characters to vary the identical setups given.

I really like this sort of expansion since it only makes small changes to the game. Often they keep adding more rules but I reckon this actually gives you more options without adding too much to the complexity (although Spring Heeled Jack stretches the point) - if you like the game in its original form then I can recommend it to you. It's only going to be necessary after you've played a significant number of times, though... let's say, er, 30 or so, depending on how quickly you and your regular opponent(s) dissolve into the same moves over and over again.

I imagine this game is not going to be for everyone - it is very much a two player abstract strategy game closer to Chess or Go than to Letters from Whitechapel. If you are looking for a highly thematic game about catching criminals this isn't really going to float your boat.

For me, it's got a quick setup (a bit longer with the extension), looks relatively unthreatening despite the fact this may mislead the unsuspecting gamer about what kind of game it is and gives a good challenge - albeit one that is asymmetric and may require multiple plays in a session.

Perhaps that sounds negative, I really don't intend to. I'm just keen to accept this game for what it IS, not what it ISN'T.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
The title of this post is a bit misleading, since you'll escape through manhole covers rather than sewer grates, but I just couldn't resist it.
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Thu Dec 4, 2014 5:22 pm
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