Lacxox.

Knizia. Spiel des Jahres. Some other thoughts, but only rarely. I'm not that much of a big thinker, you know - but I love games.

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Reiner Knizia and Ystari? Is it really happening?

Laszlo Molnar
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A co-design (by a designer who notoriously works without co-designers) with his frequent playtester Sebastian Bleasdale, designer of one of the best complex Euros last year (Keyflower) ?

A complex game with almost 70 different cards and published by the developer team of Ystari?
From gallery of lacxox

Is it really happening?



edit:
yes, it just got a game page with a short description of the gameplay.
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Mon Jul 8, 2013 10:21 pm
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Spiel des Jahres Winners Are Announced Tomorrow

Laszlo Molnar
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I have already talked about the nominations and recommendations before, so now I’m just focusing ont he six nominees and why they should or should not win. Too bad I won’t be near my PC when the winners are announced (I’m taking care of my kids and visit zoo etc. with them in these weeks) and probably these have already been over-analysed these days but I even didn’t have time for my daily dose of BGG in these days so I just don’t know. But I just want to share my thoughts about the nominees.


First, the Kennerspiel award (the award that goes to games that need some experience before first play). There are three nominees and however much I wanted to play each of them, I have played only two. So I start with the one I haven’t.

Bruges– Stefan Feld already had some nominations and recommendations from the KdJ jury so it’s a no-brainer that the game was nominated. But is the game good enough for the award? After a quick look at the game it seems like a Macao-style game with colored dice as randomizers and lots of cards of which only a part show up during game. It doesn’t seem to really offer very novel mechanism ideas – well, nowadays Feld is on autopilot mode; even if I like Bora Bora his three 2013 games didn’t offer anything as novel as his previous ones. But well, it’s not a novelty contest. Bruges is only 60 minutes long and is said to be fun and quite luck-dependent – which all sound quite good for a Kennerspiel des Jahres winner. Still, I can’t say anything about its chances until I play the game.

Legends of Andor – designed and illustrated by Michael Menzel, the beloved illustrator of many great German Euros including Bruges, this is clearly a game that would be a brave choice in Germany. This is a game of fighting fantasy creatures with dice, protecting the castle, running from the fire int he dwarves’ caves and so on. Fans of AT games won’t see how special this game is, but it’s made with an Eurogamer and family-friendly approach and it’s a rare success regarding this aim. If the jury wants to give the award to the most memorable (and outstanding – not in quality but genre and approach) game of the three, they honor Andor. On the other hand, the theme (killing orcs and so on) might be still too much for a German family winner. Also some say it has replayability issues, unlike the two other games – and while it’s true that each of the five legends are best when played first, the game is still quite replayable, but I’m sure the SdJ panel did play it dozens of times int he past few months to really know. The biggest problem might be some unclear rules – It seems there are some rules problems with the original as well (not to mention the terrible rushed-up translations to other languages) and if that’s true that might stop this one from winning.

The Palaces of Carrara – is old-school German Euro at its best. Not only because of 5-time winner Wolfgang Kramer (and 2-time winner Michael Kiesling) and not only because of 6-time winner Hans im Glück back at the top of their business (see Bruges as well) but also because this is not only a well-designed old-school game but also replayable with a lot to discover during subsequent plays. The game uses the Donald X. Vaccarino tool for replayability, adding different endgame conditions and scoring aims for each game (by randomly drawn cards int he set-up) and this idea meant two Spiel des Jahres wins for Mr. Vaccarino. So this is old-school Euro with a very generic title but also some modern twists, including some unusual level of importance for timing – Eurogamers who say a „balanced game” is where all the results are within 10% of each other might be shocked when one player finishes with more than 200 points while others finish below 100… It’s a great game but that’s not necessarily enough to win the award.


Spiel des Jahres:

Augustus – feels most like what a Spiel des Jahres-winner usually is. It requires some thought and tactics but is still very light and luck-dependent; it looks good and thematic but still is close to the mechanism of a well-known mainstream game (Bingo); and what’s most important, it’s quite fun. Also it’s the only big-box game out of the three nominees. At the same time, some people have problems with the illustrations which is still not that a big problem as the rulebook which is said to be quite badly written – a second, revised rulebook is already promised by the publisher. This is interesting by the way – years ago no game with a badly written rulebook could have made it to the nominations, but it seems the jury is experimenting nowadays, going to directions they haven’t gone to for decades.

Hanabi – is one of the proofs for this. Until this year, no small-box game could get the nomination and we already have two of them. Hanabi is clearly my favorite of the three, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should win the award as the award is not for me but the general audiences not knowing much about modern board games. I’m not sure Hanabi is the best choice for them; while it’s based on turning simple cardgame principles on their heads, this twisted thinking (and even the requirement of no cheating in a game where it’s quite easy to cheat) might be something too hard for beginners.

Qwixx – is a fun little game – so little, actually, that this is one of the main reasons why it should not win the award: anyone can print the scoring sheets (and they should, as there are just too few of them included) and then what you need to be able to play this game is six common d6 dice (one green, one yellow, one blue, one red and two neutral colors) and a pen. Nonetheless, the game is still fun in a Spiel des Jahres way – too bad it’s not very novel. It’s actually a game that I call the best Keltis dice game out there. The biggest differences to Keltis are that it has only 4 colorful tracks and two of these follow the ascending order while two of them follow the descending order. Otherwise it’s pretty close to what I envisioned when I designed a Keltis dice game variant just for myself. So, being fun is important for Spiel des Jahres, maybe the most important, but I don’t think other factors would help it become a winner.


So what are my predictions?

As for Kennerspiel des Jahres, I have no idea. For Spiel des Jahres, this should be a competition between Hanabi and Augustus. The latter would be more of a typical Spiel des Jahres winner (except from some production problems). Hanabi would be more of a game chosen by gamers or a jury who wants to win gamers back, just like they did last year, choosing the most Euro-ish game for the Kennerspiel award and the game most loved by gamers for Spiel des Jahres (even though in my experience Vegas is more loved by beginners than Kingdom Builder is). So, do they want to look cool and brave (and choose Hanabi) or focusing more on what the award is about and who the award is for (and maybe choosing Augustus)? You’ll see tomorrow (earlier than me, for sure). But whatever their choice is, I’d like to see if it’s a complex decision or not (as the same people decide which games win KdJ as SdJ). Do they say “okay we give the award to a small-box game so more families are going to buy Kennerspiel games this year?” If they do, they might say Andor and Carrara are both games that have a beginner-friendly approach in learning the games, so that might make them decide of these two. Heck, then they might even say Qwixx is the most fun game with clear rules and approachable enough for beginners…


Damn, I must admit I have no idea which games are going to win.
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Sun Jul 7, 2013 10:02 pm
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Creativity-killer Spiel des Jahres for the designers' worst games?

Laszlo Molnar
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I was a bit sad to read Tom Rosen's article called The Kramer Exception at the Opinionated Gamers blog - well, I have only read it now when Joe Huber has written an answer for it. The answer was mostly about proving by numbers that Tom Rosen wasn't right when he said designers' worst games get awarded by the Spiel des Jahres jury and it's also not true that the award kills their creativity as then they keep working on expansions and games like their worst games.

I believe this answer just answers Tom's exaggerations, proving the exaggerations aren't true. Keltis is not Knizia's worst game, out of 169 ranked games at BGG it's only at #60. Thurn und Taxis and Manhattan are #3 and #4 in the designer's ludography. Alhambra is Dirk Henn's #3 game and Alan R. Moon's #1, #2 and #3 games are all Ticket to Ride titles. And yes, some of the designers designed other good games years later as well.

But... Come on. This would still mean... Andreas Seyfarth wasn't recognized for Puerto Rico? Knizia got his Spiel des Jahres for... his 60th best game? It just underlines what Tom Rosen wrote, whatever exaggeration he used. And yes, Klaus Teuber hasn't really created anything new non-Catan in the past decade and Alan R. Moon hasn't really created anything new post-Ticket to Ride.

So the answer doesn't prove anything; still, it just doesn't mean Tom is right.

Let's take Tom's two primary claims that Joe Huber also analysed in his article.

1. “…it appears the award diverts designers’ attention from their more innovative and enduring creations. “


This one is easier to respond to. I'd say it's not completely untrue. Just imagine you are a designer. You design good games that sell 5,000 copies. Maybe 15,000 if some really big publisher published them. Then you get a Spiel des Jahres and boom, your game sells at least 400,000 copies. Of course you try to get more out of this success; you can earn a yearly salary from this alone. But to completely stop doing anything else... You need an even bigger success. And that's something rare. Ticket to Ride, the franchise, or Carcassonne, are at a few million copies sold altogether - that's quite enough. Settlers of Catan has sold over 15 million copies (the card game sold 1.5 million) so one can just guess how many copies of the spin-offs and expansions sold. These are really numbers you can build your carreer and life on. Some hundred thousand copies are not. That's why you can see Elfenland didn't make Alan R. Moon design only Elfenland-related games later, while he still has quite a few Ticket to Ride maps to publish. (As there were news of him designing 9 maps two years ago, I believe he can focus on other games now, but I can't be sure). So Spiel des Jahres alone doesn't make you stick to your SdJ-winner franchise; an exceptional success might be enough.


2. “The Spiel des Jahres has a peculiar knack for honoring great designers for some of their worst games.”

This is the part that makes me sad in Tom's article as it seems to show he really doesn't understand what Spiel des Jahres is about - and, also, he, an opinionated gamer, can't see games with the eyes of beginners and families. The examples he brings up are:
*Michael Schacht winning for Zooloretto (while he had games like Coloretto, China and Web of Power, Hansa before)
*Knizia winning for Keltis (numerous examples; Tom mentions Tigris is too complicated for the award but Ra and Through the Desert were not)
*Andreas Seyfarth winning for Thurn und Taxis and Manhattan (instead of Puerto Rico which is also too complicated for the award but why didn't it get a special award back then?)
*Alan Moon winning for some good games but not winning for his very best (San Marco)
*Zoch Verlag winning for Villa Paletti (instead of many other)
*Dirk Henn winning for Alhambra ("Obviously Dirk Henn’s Wallenstein could never win the award, but instead honoring him for Alhambra in 2003, a pretty board game reimplementation of the card game Stimmt So just distracted him from the clearly great games that he had proven just the year before he could be designing")

Tom adds Wolfgang Kramer is the exception as he won with his best game, El Grande. It's interesting that Tom is "cheating" here as he doesn't say anything bad about the first two games Kramer won the prize for (Heimlich & Co. - #27 and Auf Achse, #39 out of Kramer's 96 ranked games) nor does he have problem with Tikal (1999) and Torres (2000) winning consecutively while he says about the more different Elfenland (1998) and Ticket to Ride (2004) "the derivation is clear and honoring similar innovations twice seems a bit odd" - but let's just neglect this partiality.


So, what about the examples he brought up?
He is seemingly right, these designers weren't awarded for their best games. But...

Okay, I'm a Reiner Knizia fan, I like lots of game Knizia designed and of course I can agree he is over his golden ages (from a hardcore gamer's point of view), even though I think he still has a few good games each year.
But when I think of which Knizia game should have won the award earlier, I can name only one (not in my Knizia top 10) - Ingenious (which has sold close to a million copies even without winning the award). It has everything a Spiel des Jahres winner needs - it's simple but tense, interesting and good-looking, easy to explain but rewards skill, has a great replayability and what's most important, it's fun for non-gamers. There is only one reason why it didn't win: it faced Ticket to Ride.
And... the next Knizia game that was clearly Spiel des Jahres material was Keltis - all the adjectives mentioned above are true for this one. Although half of the gamers didn't like it, 9 out of 10 non-gamers I played it with demanded a replay immediately after our first time; some of my non-gamer friends even got addicted to it (just like I did). And these simple basics proved to be so strong that every game built on them (spin-offs, adaptations and the expansion) were good - actually the Keltis expansion has a place in my Knizia top ten.
I don't want to go into detail about all the Knizia games rated higher than Keltis; I just look at Tom's examples - Ra and Through the Desert. I believe both are great. The different scoring aims are so great in Ra that they drive the game - but for a non-gamer it's just the point that is easy to miss. Unless after the explanation they can really feel what and how to aim for, the game gets boring for them (it certainly has, in case of several non-gamer buddies of mine). What about Through the Desert? It was on the "Auswahlliste" in 1998 (there was no separate recommended/nominated list back then) and it's a good game but might be still too dry and abstract (and not enough fun) for many non-gamers - while it faced Elfenland in that year.

Okay, so a couple of Knizia games didn't win because they faced Alan R. Moon's winning games. So what about these? Elfenland, I believe, feels a bit outdated by now but was great back in its time, while Ticket to Ride is still my #1 gateway game that is really tense and exciting and I haven't ever met anyone (personally) who didn't like it. On the other hand, San Marco (which was in the "Auswahlliste" in 2001) not only faced Carcassonne (my gateway game, the game that made me a gamer in the long term) but is a game that really shines with 3 players and is good with 4. It just doesn't have an appeal wide enough, while slow (AP) players can even destroy the fun of this (agreed, great) game.

Oh yes, Carcassonne. Klaus-Jürgen Wrede is not a bad designer but I'm not sure he's great either; while I liked some of his other games I think this is his best game (excluding the better spin-offs of course).

Michael Schacht. To tell the truth I agree Zooloretto is a bloated and less interesting version of Coloretto (also taking some rules from Coloretto Amazonas) and my least loved episode of the franchise. But before 2013 no card game could really stand a chance to be nominated; also while I like most of its 2007 competitors more, I can state I agree for non-gamer families this one was the best choice out of the nominated games. And as for China (which was designed to make Web of Power more accessible), I really like it but most of the non-gamers I tried it with found the scoring confusing and the game itself dry. (And Hansa is great with two, not that much with more, and not even really with those who are really new to the hobby.)

Andreas Seyfarth even got a nomination for Puerto Rico (it was one of the three nominated games!) and with this complexity that's the maximum it could get. (Well, I can see why that year, with Villa paletti winning instead of this gamer sweetheart turned gamers away from the prize). I believe they just didn't think of complex special awards back then. On the other hand, Thurn und Taxis, a game Tom despises, is a favorite of my non-gamer mother and sister who play it regularly.

(And as for Wolfgang Kramer being the exception? No, he just makes fun games that are mostly in line with what is fun for beginners - but his probably strongest designs were published just before it became clear that awarding so complex games is not the best direction. So the SdJ took another direction after Torres, Kramer's last win (2000)).


I've tried to explain what can't be explained, several times.

#1. A game that gamers think is fun is not necessarily a game that non-gamers think is fun.
#2. Spiel des Jahres is not "Game of the year for gamers" but "Game of the year for everyone who is willing to play board games at all"
#3.
Non-gamers who are willing to play board games and would never enjoy gamer's games are a lot larger crowd than gamers.
#4. This means Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) should be more about the games non-gamers would understand and enjoy (even without the help of a gamer explaining them) and not about gamers (who probably know what game they like and what not anyway).
#5. Unless you play with non-gamers and organize gaming events for non-gamers, quite probably you can't even imagine what they find fun and what their definition of a good game is. Maybe some of you do remember what you liked before becoming a geek; most of you just does not. Those who decide which game the prize goes to have mostly a surprisingly good sense of this (probably by playing with newbies).
#6. So, in the end, they give the prize to very good games. Maybe these games aren't always very good from a gamer's perspective, but most of the time they are real fun for non-gamers. And, because of #3, this is what really matters.


After all, Tom is quite right from his own (gamer) perspective but wrong from the right (non-gamer) perspective. It's hard to keep both of these perspectives alive in yourself but not impossible - and, when playing with non-gamers, it's really rewarding.
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Tue Jun 11, 2013 4:54 pm
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Spiel des Jahres nominations are out - wow!

Laszlo Molnar
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Wow, because yesterday I named all (but one of) the nominees as possible recommendations at least. And I did even name two of the Kennerspiel nominees as nominees
Wow, because a small-box card name got a Spiel des Jahres nomination (as I said it deserves it)!

Spiel des Jahres 2013 nominations:
Augustus (a game I don't know yet),
Hanabi(I said it would deserve the nomination),
Qwixx (a late addition to my list but I added it yesterday).

Recommendations:
La Boca (everyone's nomination)
Escape (my nomination but agreeing with the concerns)
Rondo (my "possible but hopefully not" nomination; it's good for a recommendation)
And the games I know close to nothing about:
Riff Raff
Yay!
Mixtour
Hand aufs Herz
Divinare
Libertalia

Kennerspiel des Jahres 2013 nominations:
Brügge (the one new Feld I knew only a little about but it had a chance as it's a HiG game),
Legends of Andor (I predicted it),
The Palaces of Carrara (I predicted it).

Recommendations:

Terra Mystica (Yes!)
Tzolk'in (...well, okay...)


I think the choices are nice and seem to be right - even though it's really, really a welcome surprise to see a small-box card game in the top three family games. Go Hanabi!


...and about the games I named but aren't featured:
Qin and Bora Bora, Milestones are games that get better with repeated play - you can't expect the SdJ panel to fall in love with them when they have to try so many games. Little Prince might have been published too late - or they just didn't find it that special. Keyflower and Suburbia was too gamery, probably. Noblemen, Il Vecchio, Seasons are good, could have been recommended but they were definitely not "nominated" good.
And as for La Boca and Escape not being nominated, only recommended - I said La Boca might offer a bit too little for the award, still it would have been bad if it weren't even recommended. The same for Escape, adding the CD included wasn't optimal, also Queen Games won last year.
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Tue May 21, 2013 7:56 am
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Predictions for Spiel & Kennerspiel des Jahres 2013 nominations

Laszlo Molnar
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I do it every year. I’m moderately bad in guessing the results or moderately good – it’s up to you to think the glass is half full or half empty.
I like family games but Spiel des Jahres is important for hardcore gamers as well because after one (two) game(s) are made a lot more successful than they would be without the award (selling hundreds of thousands of copies instead of twenty thousand) they do have an effect on where the industry is heading. Also, I keep playing with newbies, trying to lure them into this world and SdJ-winners are always great gateways.

So, what can we expect from Spiel des Jahres this year? I have no idea. Especially as each year you can see a handful of games you haven’t even heard about (mostly party and quiz games) or games that have been published in Germany only now but have been around for years in English-speaking countries. So, obviously, I’m focusing on the games I do know about…

So, which games can get a nomination or at least a recommendation for the family game award (Spiel des Jahres)? Lots of people are guessing La Boca which seems to be a nice contender. Given that it makes Make ’n’ Break (lots of award nominations/wins, although no mention by the SdJ panel) a kind of „team game” with some challenge (I have tried it, my wife likes it), also quite a lot of fun to be had, I’d say it gets a recommendation at least, maybe a nomination as well. Win? I’m not sure yet.

The problem is, I’m not sure I can see any really outstanding contestants. I could name two great card games that would deserve the nomination, even the award – Hanabi and Love Letter – but they are both small-box games so quite possibly they get only a recommendation.
So what’s left? I’d say Escape: The Curse of the Temple has a good chance for a nomination – it’s fun, it’s short, it’s exciting, it’s simple – everything a SdJ nominee needs to be.

Then there are some “might be, but not really” possibilities. Rondo by Reiner Knizia seemingly fits the same league as Ingenious (a nominated game that didn’t win the SdJ only because it faced Ticket to Ride) and winners Keltis and Qwirkle. I’ve played it with beginners and they all liked it. At the same time… I think there is some meat missing (something that I can find in all the games listed). So it probably gets a recommendation, with a little chance for a nomination, but not really a win.
Although it looks less abstract, Knizia’s Qin would fit in the company of those games above: it’s tricky, it gets better the more you play – but the beginners I played with didn’t find it half as fun so probably it gets only a recommendation. And then still there is another family-friendly Knizia called Elfer Raus! – Das Brettspiel, based on a popular german card game, making it more interesting, but as Wolfgang Kramer’s Master version wasn’t even recommended two years ago, I believe it’s more probable that the same fate awaits for the board game version.

Then what? They obviously love Matt Leacock (Roll Through the Ages, Pandemic, Forbidden Island each got a nomination) but it might be too much to nominate him for the third game using more or less the same idea – Forbidden Desert. A recommendation might be possible. Also The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet, co-designed by SdJ winner Antonie Bauza (7 Wonders) and SdJ special award winner Bruno Cathala (Shadows over Camelot) is simple, tricky, harmless and cute enough to be recommended at least. Also Saint Malo, a dice game by the designers of last year’s KdJ-winner Village can get a recommendation.

edit: Two "dark horse" titles I just forgot to add but might get a recommendation: Maharani which isn't universally loved here because it has a puzzle-like nature but that's not a con in case of SdJ - and Panning has designed so many expansions for SdJ-winner Alhambra and SdJ-nominated Fresco and Lancaster that he might know how to design games with SdJ sensibility; and Qwixx which seems to be a fun little dice game, just the type that is often recommended.


And… That’s it?


Well, I’m just not sure. There are two games that are complex enough to fall in the Kennerspiel category – but this is not the “complex game” category as many like to think, it’s more a category for games that you can learn from the rulebook easily only if you are a more experienced player. And both Legends of Andor and Palaces of Carrara were made in a way that it’s rather easy to learn the rules for beginners before things get more complex. I still guess these are better suited for the KdJ award – although I’d say PoC should fall in the SdJ category, but when the KdJ was created two years ago, they said Vikings (a very PoC-like game) could have won KdJ if it existed back then. So right now I vote for these two as KdJ nominees. Or possibly only a recommendation for Andor? It’s a game with fantasy creatures that have to be defeated and that’s usually not something this award is about. On the other hand, it’s a game where you have to defeat only as much as it’s really necessary (and this way it’s more like they are used as obstacles and resources); also, you can’t even die during the fights. So I still say Andor gets recommended at least.

Then there is Stefan Feld, who got one KdJ nomination and two recommendations in the year KdJ was created. So what about his present output? Bora Bora is a fun game that just grows on you; I’d say it definitely deserves at least a recommendation. Rialto, on the other hand, isn’t particularly special. While it has about the same complexity as the KdJ-nominated Strasbourg, it’s not really fun or novel, so I’d say maybe it doesn’t even get a recommendation. And there is Brügge, of which I can't say anything as it's text-heavy with German texts on the cards… But it's Hans im Glück which might be a plus.

What about last year’s gamer favorites? Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar might have a complex and beautiful network of aims and ways to reach them, but it’s just not fun. I’d say it won’t even be recommended (and if it is, I’m going to be a bit disappointed). Terra Mystica is really good, but might be a bit too complex for the award – maybe a recommendation is still possible. Keyflower combines the ideas of 2011 SdJ-nominated Asara and KdJ-nominated Lancaster, it’s even fun – so if it gets only recommended that’s because of the complexity. Suburbia is not a game I can say a lot about, but it might be a bit too gamery for the award, I don’t know.

Some more games that might get a recommendation – Il Vecchio is a nice return to complex games by Rüdiger Dorn, but it might be a bit too fiddly for the award. A recommendation is possible, though. Also for Milestones which works like designer Ralf zur Linde’s own SdJ-nominated Finca – it just grows on you. The jury likes replayability so it might be recommended. (And eggertspiele's Noblemen might stand a chance as well, I don't know.) And there is Seasons which is… Hell, I have no idea, it can be nominated (it’s fun, relatively easy, has nice artwork and large dice) or recommended or not mentioned at all (because of the genre)… I have no idea.

So, my guesses
- for the 3 SdJ nominations
are: La Boca, Escape and a game I don’t know about yet (or if I do, then I say Rondo, even though I’d love to see Qin there).
- For KdJ I say Legends of Andor, Palaces of Carrara and… Bora Bora, or maybe surprise nominees Milestones or Seasons.

All I have to do now is just wait to see how wrong I was.


edit: added two more titles for recommendation
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Mon May 20, 2013 1:43 pm
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I'm not Only a Cultist of the New...! I hope...

Laszlo Molnar
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Okay, I'm a cultist of the new. I feel a bit bad when my monthly geeklist item to Grimwold's New to You geeklists has less than five new games included (most of the time it has more). I always want to learn more.

I am also addicted to buying new games. For evidence, watch this: Do I even play the games I buy this year? Lacxox's Bought and played in 2013
I have aldready bought 24 games this year. Most of them cheap, some of them free even, but still. 24 games! And not even gamers' games as except from the gaming club I usually play with family and non-gamer friends or colleagues...

I'm not sure what I can do to change this. But I'm sure I have to change this. So I took my first steps at last this weekend . It means creating two geeklists where I can add items without focusing on new games learned.

On the contrary.

The first list is about the games I played at least 10 times. I want to keep this list active and have many games added by the end of the year.
Lacxox's Dimes as They Happen

The second list is about one game I want to play 100 times. Okay, it's a game that is always different, also there is another expansion coming soon, but still. I don't have data about my childhood games but as an adult I haven't even played any game 50 times. It's a real challenge.
Building Donald X.'s Kingdom - A 100 Play Challenge (now at 30%)

Challenges are good. They are like games. These two challenges might make me want to play other than new-to-me games more.

As I said, I always want to learn more. It doesn't necessarily mean I have to learn new games - I'm also happy when I can learn more about the games I already know.

And this is the year of the Snake. I'm a Snake too. I want this year to bring lots of positive changes (personal, life etc.). I hope these geeklists can bring some changes as well.
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Sun Apr 7, 2013 9:34 pm
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How to buy new games free...

Laszlo Molnar
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My collection has grown again. And I have also bought a game for my mother's birthday.
For the new games I paid minus 5.5 Euros.
How?
Find it out here.

It's just fun to feel this childish joy in this trade. It's like winning a little lottery. Or getting presents for Christmas. It just puts a smile on my face...
I guess I'm an addict.
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Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:31 am
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2012 – Reiner Knizia and his variations on mass market-friendly tile laying

Laszlo Molnar
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A year ago I wrote about Reiner Knizia’s 2011 which, from a gamer’s perspective, even from a family gamer’s one, wasn’t exactly great:
2011 – Reiner Knizia’s weakest year for board games since… when exactly?

Now that I have played many of those of his 2012 games that I did plan to buy I can write about his games last year. Did 2012 turn out to be the year I was hoping for in last year’s blog entry? Well, yes and no. There is still no real news about Carcassonne: The Castle – Falcon, nor The Great Chinese Railway Game and it doesn’t even look like 2013 is going to bring changes.


So, how was 2012? The year brought some pleasant changes and also some maybe less pleasant ones. The most pleasant change is that most of the games published last year were not remakes or reworks of previous Knizia games. That doesn’t mean they were very novel but still, after so many reworks we only had some small ones like Keltis: Das Würfelspiel as an obligatory dice game variant to the best-selling Keltis family (yes, we had Einfach Genial: Das Würfelspiel as well but that one had already been published as part of Ingenious Challenges two years ago), BITS Mitbringspiel as the obligatory mini version to BITS, and the same to Wer war’s 2. (but I’m not going to cover children’s games here) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Das Kartenspiel which is a bit less obvious reworking of Der Herr der Ringe: Die Gefährten; Das Kartenspiel, just to stay true to the movie which feels like a reworking of the first Lord of the Rings movie (and not only because of the similar storyline of the books).
Board Game: Keltis: Das Würfelspiel
Board Game: Einfach Genial: Das Würfelspiel
Board Game: BITS Mitbringspiel
Board Game: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Das Kartenspiel

As for the games above, The Hobbit card game is still on its way to my address, but I own Keltis: Das Würfelspiel which is the typical upsetting Knizia game of late: reading the rules, it is boringly simple and derivative, but somehow when you play it you have fun and want a replay. There is also a children’s game I’d like to mention here, Piranhas, which, because of some strange regulations, is sold as a game for „age: 8+” while it’s simpler than well-known „age:6+” games like Uno (it is also a shedding game) or Knizia’s own Circus Flohcati. It’s bad only because this way this game (which is based on a fun idea) is going to get relatively low ratings from people who expect it to have more meat here.
Board Game: Piranhas

The rest of the crop are tile games. I can’t really comment on the two great-looking Intellego Holzspiele abstracts, Singapur and Gravitas – they look like fun abstracts based on some simple but interesting ideas, but they are sold for 50 Euros which is an amount I have never spent on any games and I especially won’t spend so much on short and simple abstracts. So I can focus on the 6 (six!) other tile-laying games which, quite interestingly, have some common treats.

Although I have some wild design theories on the reason behind these common treats, I save those for some possible later posts. All I can say is there is some connection between three pairs of these games: the first two (released about the same time, same publisher), Kreuz & Quer and Indigo are both connection games with lines on the tiles, starting from the middle and scoring for reaching the sides of the board (the main difference is that the first one is true multiplayer solitaire while the second one has a fun high level of interaction). The second two (released within two months, same publisher) are Spectaculum and Qin with no other information than color on the tiles; I even wrote a double-review about them (Two Reviews in Two - Trying Something New).
From gallery of lacxox

Finally, by the end of the year, we have two more, RonDo and Elfer Raus! - Das Brettspiel, both with colored numbers printed on their boards (and tiles can be placed only on a number of the matching color).

Now that I have played them I can see the similarities of all these games. Each of them has one to four starting points (5 of them has these points in the middle of the board but even the sixth one, with starting points at the corners, gives you a big reward for connecting to the centre), and you can place your first tile next to the starting points (in 4 to 6 directions) , the second one next to the starting point or an already placed tile and so on (well, in Indigo you can place your tile elsewhere as well, but the scoring glass beads move only when the tiles are connected to the middle). I find it’s quite interesting to see 6 games more or less share this common threat while most previous tile-laying Knizias did not; it certainly shows he’s tinkering with this idea now (just like he was tinkering with the polyominoes idea in the previous years).
Board Game: Indigo

But how are the games theirselves? Are they any good? Well, it depends on how much depth and complexity you expect from a game. I think two of the six (Indigo and Qin) are very good. They are simple and simply good; they are just how 20-minute family fillers should be. Indigo got a Spiel des Jahres recommendation and I believe Qin deserves it as well.
Board Game: Connections

Kreuz & Quer is also good but it just doesn’t bring anything new to the simultaneous multiplayer tile-laying solitaire subgenre defined by Take it Easy!... Spectaculum, on the other hand, is one of the first games where I feel the Knizian principle (the game is finished when there is nothing left to take away) backfired a bit. According to an interview with the master, out of his 2012 games he likes Spectaculum the most (maybe I’m misquoting a bit, gotta check it), a game that was more complex, had more things going on before making it more and more simple – to the level where I think it became a bit bland with no really interesting decisions to be made.
Board Game: Spectaculum

And there is this last couple of games, RonDo and Elfer raus! Das Brettspiel, both made for the mass market. As for the latter, I certainly need to play it a few times to decide, but it does not differ that much from Wolfgang Kramer’s Elfer raus! Master – it adds some further little twists, it also tries to further reduce luck factor by adding further connections and other randomly drawn and placed cards tiles to the table board but it still feels to be more or less the same game. Maybe they are going to feel more different later when we play both with family a few times. What about Rondo? I expected this one to be Keltis-like family fun and I wasn’t completely wrong but right now it feels a bit more like a somewhat Elfer raus!-like family game played on an abandoned Keltis spin-off prototype board. And it’s so simple that I have played it with my 4 years, 5 months old son twice today (well, I was surprised but still). Well, when we played it the second time my wife (who is more of a non-gamer who likes gateways) said it looks good and she wants to play it with me later, so maybe I’m going to find some more depth and tension in this one than how it feels right now.
Board Game: Rondo

So how was Knizia’s 2012 from a family gamer’s perspective? Not bad (a lot better than 2012), also it had many games that aren’t reworks of older games which is great. And none of them are bad games. But I still can feel something is missing. Is it the trademark convoluted scoring? All these games have the simplest scoring system possible. Some tricky twist from the rules? Maybe. Some really interesting and tricky decisions? Maybe. Real tension in the game? I guess that’s the closest to what it is. All these games feel a bit bland (the two best ones mentioned less so, the rest more so) and I don’t think it needs to be that way, even if they are targeted to the largest group of people possible. Even the simplest and most accessible games can be interesting and full of tension, dozens of Knizia games prove that. But maybe his 2012 crop is not the best example of this.



Coming up in a year: Reiner Knizia’s 2013 – of which right not we can only know about Hollywood Blockbuster: The Card game, a.k.a. Silver Screen, and Vampire: Pumped up with Special Powers, a.k.a. Invasion of the Garden Gnomes. I guess we’ll have quite a few further games to report about next year…
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Sun Feb 3, 2013 11:41 pm
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Two Reviews in Two - Trying Something New

Laszlo Molnar
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In Fall 2012, within a month, eggertspiele came up with two Reiner Knizia tile-laying games.
From gallery of lacxox

I do think these share quite a lot in common, and their differences also connect them in some fun way: together they add up the rules of Acquire.

lacxox wrote:
both of them are tile-laying, Spectaculum with stocks (entertainer cards) and Qin with merging (absorbing provinces).

See:

1. Play one of your 6 tiles on the board - 3 of your 3/4 tiles (Spectaculum)/1 of your 3 tiles (Qin)
- placing it next to another tile means founding a hotel chain (and acquiring a bonus stock) - in Spectaculum you place it next to the corresponding starting field, in Qin first the starting province spaces, thus already founding a province and placing one of your pagodas.
- growing a hotel chain means raising stock value - in Spectaculum it might raise OR decrease entertainer card value; in Qin you get to place another pagoda if it size grows 5-tile or larger
- connecting to other tiles can also raise stock value - in Qin if you reach villages you might place another pagoda there
- merging two chains: is not possible in Spectaculum but very possible in Qin.
- Just like in Acquire, bigger chain acquires smaller chain (absorb province).
- Hotels with 11 tiles or more are safe and cannot be acquired: provinces with 5 tiles or more are safe and cannot be absorbed (Qin). Still these can acquire/absorb further smaller chains/provinces.

2. Buy up to 3 stock at current price
- Buy OR sell up to 2 entertainer cards at current price, before AND/OR after the placement of tiles.

3. Draw a new random tile
- draw 3/1 new random tiles (Spectaculum/Qin)

In the end, active hotels pay bonuses and players can sell all of their stock at current price
- Players can sell all of their entertainer cards at current price (Spectaculum)
So I decided to write two reviews of these brothers - but the reviews are brothers too.
Acquire Your Circus Artists Low, Sell Them High Through the Kingdom (1st Part of the Knizia/eggertspiele Fall 2012 Tile-laying Brothers Double-review)
Lion & Bird – Found, Expand, Absorb Provinces, Connnect and Conquer Villages in Ancient China (2nd Part of the Knizia/eggertspiele Fall 2012 Tile-laying Brothers Double-review)

In these reviews I talk about my opinion on the games, of course, but also about their connections to other, older games and try to find their place in the universe of Reiner Knizia's tile laying games defined by 6 games (Tigris & Euphrates, Samurai, Through the Desert, Ingenious, Stephenson's Rocket, Rheinländer).

Well... That's all I wanted to say.
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Sun Nov 11, 2012 11:08 pm
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Non-gamers playing (the most messed up game of Alhambra ever?)

Laszlo Molnar
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Just a snapshot from yesterday evening. I organize gaming events at my company and as usual, there are a few players who are (almost) completely beginners. I write about their evening so those who keep playing with gamers and have forgotten how it goes among players might get a clue.


I had some games with me. From the „easier games” pack they chose Spectaculum, a light and family-friendly „Acquire meets Through the Desert” game. I explained the rules (so they can play the game while we play something slightly heavier at the other table).

A little before the end of the explanation they looked at me with an „I don’t really understand this game but I think I would not have fun playing it” face (a kind of confused face of rejection) and said they don’t like it. I wasn’t too happy as I spent about ten minutes explaining (and I even poured a little beer that they left under my arm in the box lid, argh) and started to be worried I won’t find a game they would really enjoy.


Then it came to my mind that one of them has some games next to his desk so I told them maybe they should play Alhambra instead (which is also a game of shares disguised as something else, but well, it has won Spiel des Jahres so it must fit beginners more).

I went to the other table to explain our game, and as the owner(s, a couple) said they have already played their copy of Alhambra before, I refused to return for a game explanation even though they asked me to explain it (it wasn't selfishness - the players at the other table have already waited enough). “I’ll be here if you have any questions”, I told them. Then I explained our game and we started to play.

During game they asked me some rules like this:

First: “Hey, do you get to buy one more tile when you pay the exact price?”
(Me) “You get one more action. It can be buying, taking money, or…”
(Turning to the others) “I told you! I would have been allowed to do it two rounds ago!”

Second: “So when this scoring card comes up do we have some more turns?”

Third: “No,you can’t place wall next to wall!”
(Me, turning to them): “Yes you can, if you can enter to that tile from the other tiles.”
(They: surprised and shocked face of revelation)

Fourth, about 45 minutes into the game: “Hey, do these card colors have to do something with the colors next to the tiles?”
(They decided to keep on playing without applying this basic rule.)

Fifth, in the end of the game: “What do you do when you run out of tiles?”
(Me) “Hey, did you read the rules?”
(They) “Well…”

And finally the owner of the game came to our table. He had the scoring tile in his hand.
“Hey, what are these numbers in brackets supposed to mean? The number of tiles in the given color?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Damn!”, he said. “I suspected our copy is not right… We had too many blue tiles but didn’t have any brown tiles at all!”
So he found out their copy had blue tiles instead of brown tiles only after asking an “expert” after two full plays!


They were quite let down by the maddening experience of playing a bad copy of Alhambra with completely wrong rules so it seemed some of them wanted to leave. I told them maybe they should try Vegas now. It lasts only half an hour and the rules explanation is very fast. Okay, they agreed to play. They asked me to remain at the table for the first round so they can be sure what they can do and what not. I remained there and helped in the first evaluation as well.

Vegas is a game that gets some comments like these from gamers:
Quote:
Spectacularly bad dice game; a real howler. There is nothing interesting or challenging about this completely flavorless game, even with the marginally-better variant rules. I am not a professional game designer, but I have invented better games than Vegas in my sleep. Seriously.
Quote:
I guess it is an OK filler for a few minutes.
Quote:
Too random, and too long for what it is.
Then...

...the miracle happened. From about round 2 they started to have fun. Lots of fun. Uproars, groaning, laughing out loud. Soon they asked „Why does it last only 4 rounds?” and I said „Because the designer thought that’s the perfect length for this game.” "But not for us”, they said and kept playing.

They played Vegas three times. They played it for one and a half hours. They asked me about where they can buy it. They were all very satisfied in the end.

Just remember:
- A game that you think has very low complexity might be too complex for beginners.
- Beginners usually have a very different view on what is „fun” in a game than gamers do.
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Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:28 pm
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