He got games

Random thoughts on games and gaming. (And if you don't understand the title, go here here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He_Got_Game)

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Giving COIN another look

Judd Vance
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Kansas
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This last week has been making me re-think my general apathy toward the COIN system. For starters, I have been watching Ken Burns' series and that has me thinking more about the interactions of the U.S. and SVN governments and Fire in the Lake is the only game I have that examines this.

The problem has been I do not like the COIN system. I never claimed to be an expert on the system, but all I could ever see was an optimization puzzle that amounted little more than King of the Hill. This has tormented me for years: I can accept this for Cuba Libre, but while I thought Fire in the Lake was orders of magnitude better than Cuba Libre, it was just a big "Meh" to me and I cannot accept that. Mark Herman doesn't do "Meh."(*) He can't help but be awesome. The only way he can't be awesome is if he tried to be not-awesome, because his attempt would fail, thus, making his attempt at not being awesome not awesome.



To overcome my inertia against COIN, I have to re-consider or find solutions to the things that bugged me:

1. It's an optimization puzzle: I was talking to (HAMTAG) Greg before Friday's shoot and he mentioned something of a revelation he had in that the pace of COIN games annoys some players, but he realized that everybody is moving at the slower and deliberate pace and it made him re-think the games. He actually likes the system, so he comes at it from a different perspective than I do.

However, his words got me to pondering, and I had an epiphany.Tthe first time I played Cuba Libre and Fire in the Lake, I beat experienced COIN players. There is no hidden information in those games, so all I saw was an optimization puzzle. You know exactly what the other players can do, so the better puzzle-solver has the advantage. That is precisely why I find many Eurogames to be so dreadful. And why do I win? Well, taking on an engineer in an optimization game is like taking on an artist in Pictionary. I get paid to optimize. I'm good enough at it to put a roof over my head, food on my plate, and games on my table. At the same time, I never tell my family, "I'm going to Fun! I'll see you at 5:00." No, it's called WORK for a reason. I enjoy my work, but not so much that I would do it for free or pay to do it, so why would I pay to buy an optimization puzzle in a box and then spend time doing it for free after a long day of doing such things for money?

I don't care for games that reveal their secrets on the first play and I wasn't seeing unsolved secrets. But Greg is a brilliant dude who studies the angles and after what he said, maybe there was something I wasn't seeing. That led me ponder: just because I beat experienced COIN players does not mean I beat GOOD COIN players.

2. Four factions just don't work: I never could accept the NLF and NVA being such distinct factions that they merit different players. I understood the US Goal (stop communism & get out); I understand the ARVN goal (keep control & get rich or die trying), but the NVA and NLF had the same goal: the independence of a unified Vietnam from occupying forces with puppet governments.

Great One and Volko have both said if this bothers you, than make it a 3-player game. However, Great One has reasons for doing things(*), and I'd like to at least examine those. So in a pure gaming sense, I can see breaking them into two players based on their methods: terror, taxation, guerilla tactics for the NLF vs. a more conventional approach for the NVA and maybe there is hair-splitting in the goals: maybe the NLF most abhorred the corrupt SVN government that repressed freedom of speech and religion whereas the NVA most abhorred the foreign presence. Either way, having 2 ways to go about messing with one side gives them twice as many actions and works better from a gaming standpoint.

So I can work with four players, but the third problem was the biggest one and the real reason I could not get into this:

3. King of the Hill: Let's say the SVN player is close to victory: I cannot imagine the U.S, NLF, and NVA all working together to take the SVN down a peg. This wreaks of coordination where it didn't exist. I understand that the NVA/NLF have goals that oppose the SVN: at least in terms of control if not the "Get rich or die trying" part. If they do their thing, they'll do a pretty good job of keeping the other side from doing their thing. I can get the U.S. opposing the ARVN's "Get rich or die trying" part, but focusing on stopping the SVN over the commies at the exact same time the commies are doing things specifically to stop the SVN? No. But if you want to win the game, or at least not LOSE it at that moment, then you had better coordinate.

This bugs me to my core and the only way I could work around this was to play as a two-player game. However, than contradicts the idea of studying the interactions between the USA/SVN. Thus, I threw my hands up and said, "Meh."

Greg and I have very different views when we play games. He plays them as games, focusing on the victory conditions and judging them on things like competitive balance providing players with difficult and non-obvious decisions. I prefer a thematic connection to games. I want to feel the terror of running from zombies. I don't see that isolated counter in a war game as a piece of cardboard with numbers: I see men with families, and I will break them out if I can and if I have to sacrifice it due to the strain of command, it gets to me, while making me happy I don't have to make such decisions for real. So where he has no problems with King of the Hill, it's a game breaker for me. I'm not saying my take on gaming is better, because it's not, but does explain why he enjoys Euros more than I do while I enjoy Ameri-trash more than he does.

So how do I get around this catch 22? With this epiphany: If I want to study the factional interactions without the gamey stuff that comes from trying to win a game, then don't play with gamers. If there are no other players, then I have removed the "optimization" advantage I appear to have in these games. All four sides will play thematically, focusing on their individual goals rather than everybody coordinating and ganging up on the leader to stop him from achieving his.

This would allow me to study the interactions in a palatable way and see what Great One was wanting me to see without all the nonsense I seek to avoid.

Conclusion: Barteus-Con (a.k.a. my "30 solitaire games in 30 days" challenge) begins in 3 days. I want to play the whole FitL Campaign and that just isn't going to happen in 3 days. My Barteus-Con selections are solitaire-only games, so this doesn't qualify. I considered setting it up on a table and playing it throughout the month, at a slow pace, after I finish with my daily Barteus-Con selection. That idea is on the table (literally & figuratively), but I am concerned about fitting this game on the same table as some of my bigger solitaire games, such as The Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BC, Struggle for the Galactic Empire, D-Day at Omaha Beach.

For now, I will spend free time reviewing the rules, going through the playbook in more detail, and then setting it up whenever I can during Barteus Con, with a focus of finishing the game in December. I want to dig deeply into this game, and I figure I owe it the same dedication that I gave to Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars rules & playbook.

I'll update when this exercise is over. My gut says that I will like it in this context, but it's one I won't want to play against opponents. And while anything is possible, I just can't see it dislodging Washington's War off of the mountain of Mark Herman greatness, because ... George Washington!!!!

-----------

(*) By the way, my post in no way is meant to not give proper due to Volko Ruhnke. The man has no equal when it comes to writing a rule book. Great One writes lyrical masterpieces, but Volko has has no equal when it comes to explaining concepts in a manner that is clear and easy to understand. And, whether you dig the system or not, he deserves praise for creating a system that has changed wargaming, and has generated boatloads of cash for GMT.

What I was saying amounted to if this was ONLY his game (or co-designed with a mere moral), I wouldn't give it a 2nd look and chalk it up to me not liking the system, but because Mark Herman's name is on it, I keep thinking I missed something, because I have played a lot of his games and they never fail to astonish and amaze. Apart from this game, Volko is 2-for-2 (Wilderness War & Labyrinth) and Mark Herman is 14-for-14, and that track record is one I cannot ignore nor dismiss.
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Sun Oct 29, 2017 7:33 pm
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The Precious is mine!!!!!!!

Judd Vance
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Ever since I learned of the existence of Die Schlacht der Dinosaurier, I have been like Wayne Campbell of Wayne's World. "It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine!"

The problem was, it was going for $200 and weighs a bunch (high shipping). There was simply no way I was going to pull off a 5-for-1 wargame for Ameritrash trade of this proportion. Believe me, I've been trying this tactic unsuccessfully for years trying to get Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit.

But a couple of months ago, I learned that Facebook had a Wargamer's Marketplace and a Paying it Forward page, so that got me to re-activate my account. I had a lot of luck selling off a good number of deadweight wargames taking up space on my shelf and I went out to acquire the precious! I used one of my old reliable methods: I went through the ratings, found those who had it marked "Owned" and rated lowly, and asked them if they'd be interested in selling. You'd be surprised how successful this tactic is.

A few wrote me back and wouldn't sell because it had nostalgia value from playing with kids. One guy wanted $200. Another said he'd take $150. Woo hoo. I had that from sold games. I felt like Little Ralphie running to the mailbox every day looking for the Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring (A Christmas Story).

Today, I saw a big box of awesome on my doorstep and behold, the precious had arrived. I set it up tonight and played a half game of it as I prepare to go over and play it with my Ameritrash mentor this week.

It was everything I had hoped it would be. Dinosaurs DO make everything better!!!





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Wed Apr 29, 2015 5:56 am
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Why I prefer 2-player games

Judd Vance
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I had an epiphany last night.

Our game group in Wichita meets twice a weekmonth: first Friday/third Saturday at the game store. I've been doing this since 2009. But since late 2009, most of my time has been in 2-player games. I play with Mistermarino most of the time.

Originally, I chalked this up to our similar gaming tastes. When I tried the BGG app that showed you which user had the most similar taste to yours based on a minimum number of games, he shows up #1, which is pretty amazing when you consider how many users there are on BGG. Also, the group plays a lot of multi-player Euros and that doesn't get either one of us excited. We prefer wargames and Ameritrash, which tend to be more 2-player games.

I figure my insistence on playing the 2-player game has probably upset a few folks, but that is their problem. I have played with others on occasion and since he has problems making the first Friday, he doesn't really go to that one and we meet on other Saturdays. Sometimes, I go to first Friday because there are a few Euros I do like.

But last night, I had the epiphany.

I went down and played Fire in the Lake. Only two other times in these 5 years have I played a multi-player wargame in the group and that was with Cuba Libre (hard to call that "wargame") and The Napoleonic Wars. The first was interesting. The second was fun. Fire in the Lake blew them both completely away, but at the end of the night, as I was driving home, I realized why I like 2-player games more.

I like the interaction.

I don't consider myself much of a socialite, because I don't like groups. But I noticed the dynamic of playing the 4-player game is different than Aaron and I playing a 2-player game. In the 4-player setting, it's about the game. In the 2-player game, it's about the person. It reminds me of the movie Searching For Bobby Fischer, where Vinnie tells Josh, "Never play the board, always the man. You've gotta play the man playing the board."

In the 4-player game, I find it's about keeping the game moving. Don't be the A.P. (Analysis Paralysis) guy. Don't give everybody else a bunch of downtime.

In the 2-player game, we play the game. We also talk about why the New England Patriots are evil; why K-State has never lost a football game, but has been screwed by circumstances or officials; why Eurogames generally suck, why the 1985 Bears are the greatest team of all-time (o.k, that's really ME talking... you figure with a name like "mistermarino" he doesn't share that point), or whatever the topic of the day may be. We spend a lot longer playing the game than the box time, but that's why I keep coming back. The interaction is great.

The other epiphany is that he's not the only one. When I go back to my home town, Rob and I hook up and play games: sometimes wargames, sometimes not. Always fun, though. And at the game night this summer, I played a different player, Rottenshot Rick, teaching him Coral Sea. You can read his comment here. We had a fun time just talking about games and other stuff while we played.

That interaction wasn't there when I played Fire in the Lake. Was it because of the need to push the game through to completion before the store closed? We finished 15 minutes before it did, but no... the epiphany was that I realized the same thing happened in Cuba Libre, Napoleonic Wars, Founding Fathers, Kingdom Builder (ack!), K2, Railways of Europe (ack!), Brass (ack!), Agricola (ugh!), Pandemic, Automobile, 10 days in the USA, and other such multi-player games I have played.

Sometimes the game can help: something like Battlestar Galactica and Pacific Typhoon can encourage fun table banter. Sometimes, it is the group: I played a fun game of Conquest of the Empire that was aided by a fun group who knew how to razz each other. But never do I see the personal interaction that I see in the 2-player game.

Even some of my Vassal games with strangers have more interaction than a 5-player game with people I know. Some of my Vassal players are funny guys who chat through their logs. Some of them do little more than send their play back and forth, but some of them, I have come to know pretty well through the e-mail correspondents that accompany the logs.

In the end, the epiphany was that I like a well designed game and appreciate its mechanics, I can do this through Vassal or even in a solitaire game, but half of the fun for me is the chatting with the player I play with, and I don't get that experience in multiple player games. The conversation focuses on the game, and I guess I like to talk about ... whatever... while I play the game.

2 player games give me that in a way that multi-player games cannot.

And it only took me 5 years to figure that out. shake

(Edit: One other important point I forgot to make is that on many occasions, Aaron and I didn't finish the game we started. We got pretty far into it. Sometimes, it was close enough to determine who would have probably won. Sometimes, we did not, but it did not matter, because the whole experience was fun.)
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Sun Sep 7, 2014 6:54 am
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Monopoly: 35 years later

Judd Vance
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The last time I remember playing Monopoly was Labor Day 1979. Back then, in the pre-cable TV days, the TV had 4 stations (NBC, CBS, ABC, and a Kansas City syndicate) so on Labor Day, you pretty much got to watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon, which was really bad TV for a kid. So the choices were pretty slim.

While bad TV played in the background on a particularly hot early September Monday, I played a multi-piece solitaire version using the rules that I had always used and were taught to me (no auctions, pay fines to the middle of the board, and collect it when you land on Free Parking). Of course, I didn't finish it -- I never did -- and never looked back from that horrible experience.

This year, my children have asked me about it. Yes, it sucks, but everybody should play -- suffer through -- it once just to say that he/she has, and also to know what these phrases mean:

Boardwalk
Park Place
Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Get out of jail free.

These phrases are part of American lexicon, after all. Go to 1:15 (actually, watch it all because it rules):



So I offered to play it with them today. My oldest jumped at the chance. My youngest declined (she's wise beyond her years). I actually have 4 copies of this abomination, and none of them quite did what I wanted:

New York Yankeesopoly - The locations are specialized. Boardwalk / Park Place are Babe Ruth & Derek Jeter, and Graig Nettles -- the greatest -- baseball player e-vah -- was nowhere to be found! A well-intentioned relative gave this to me. Off to Goodwill with you.

K-Stateopoly - This just sucks. The colors don't line up. No houses. No hotels. And instead of making the valuable locations Bill Snyder Family (football) stadium and the Durland Hall (The Engineering building -- yeah, new kids -- I know they call it something else these days. I don't care. It will always be Durland Hall to me!), the engineering building isn't there and the football stadium is one of the yellow locations? Puh-leeze. A well-intentioned relative gave this to me. Off to Goodwill with you.

Monopoly City - It uses the original locations, but No houses/hotels. New rules. I got this as a trade sweetener, so I could use the building to pimp out my copy of The Creature That Ate Sheboygan.

Monopoly: National Parks Edition - You customize your locations with stickers, so none of the original names are there. No railroads (animals, instead). No Chance/Community Chest (Trails & Trees, instead). And the 59 National Parks are not all represented. Don't get me started on how stupid that is. I'll keep this just to have that obligatory copy.

The last one was the closest to the real deal, so I pulled it out. I glanced through the rules quickly to make sure I knew how to play it correctly. Since childhood, I learned that when you land on a location and don't buy it, it goes to auction. Free parking is nothing more than a free space. You have to even out your house distribution and can't buy hotels until you have 4 houses on every location of that color.

My wife joined in for nostalgia's sake and we all played. I ended up trading a red location for a yellow to my daughter so we can complete our respective locations, but I start spending money like a drunken sailor to build houses and she plays more conservatively. My wife ended up landing on one of my red locations with 4 houses, and puts almost everything on mortgage to pay the rent. Soon after, my daughter hits a hotel and she's out. My wife concedes the game.

The good news: the game lasted about 90 minutes. My daughter saw what it was about, although she doesn't know what B&O Railroad, Baltic Avenue, etc. mean. And she saw a poor game design, in that once one person jumps out to a lead, it snowballs quickly.

Her comment was that it wasn't bad -- not as bad as I made it out to be (she expected it to be worse than Candyland and Chutes & Ladders), but that every single game she's ever played -- stuff like Forbidden Island, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, Coloretto, Tank Battle, Dogfight, King of Tokyo, and Chess are all better.

I told her that's the thing about it: most people on BGG say it's a case of every other game they own is better. She also learned what I meant when I say if you want good games, don't go to Walmart.

Granted, I have a tiny bit more respect for Monopoly than I did before. The game is better and doesn't take forever when you play it correctly. It's not as bad as games like Diplomacy, Agricola, The Terminator: CCG, Kingdom Builder, Apples to Apples, and Avalon Hill Game Company's Game of Trivia, but yeah, it still sucks all of these years later.
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Sat Jul 19, 2014 11:11 pm
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Breaking the 30 barrier!

Judd Vance
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I am getting more obsessed by the day with reducing my number of unplayed games.

For the last two years, I have tracked my progress month-by-month. It's been pretty humorous because of the yo-yo effect. I have acted against my own best interest by trading so much: trading lesser-loved played games for interesting unplayed games. Some of those turn out to be "meh" games themselves, and I trade them, and the vicious cycle continues. Had I never made any trades, I would have them all played by now, but such is life.

But this year, I have become extremely focused on knocking them down. I had to weather the storm of Valentine's Day and my birthday, which always big game fests... "weather the storm" (ha... bend my arm behind my back), but so far, I've been kicking it: down from 43 in February to 33 on July 1.

Wanting to clear up some shelf space, I had a chance to trade off the remainder of my Star Trek: Role Playing Game collection, but it costs me 3 unplayed games (sigh), but they were all pretty easy: two were Euros. I got them played over the 4th and took the one wargame in that trade to game night and taught my buddy Aaron. That took me to 30. Then we agreed on a trade I had proposed, getting rid of an unplayed game I bought 3 years ago and lost interest in since then for a game he already taught.

Pulling me down to 29!!!

Cue up Kool and the Gang. (Celebrate good times...come on!)

I had grand plans of knocking off a couple more by now, but I volunteered to playtest a couple of games, so I continue to be my own worst enemy. But it's gonna happen, I tell ya. I have refused to offer trades because of setting this backwards, and yeah, my two remaining pre-orders (Fire in the Lake and New York 1776) will be in my hands before the end of this month, but I'm keeping it in the 20s on July 31.
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Tue Jul 8, 2014 6:50 am
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Anatomy of a Vassal map

Judd Vance
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I have been working on my 19th Vassal module: Napoleon's War: The 100 Days. I decided to incorporate all expansions into the one module, so I have been working with 16 Maps.

To show the work that goes into a map -- or at least my finicky nature concerning the maps, here is a little demonstration.

While this game does not have a Vassal module, the 2nd game in the series, Napoleon's War II: The Gates of Moscow, does. Here is the Marengo map from that module:



It was scanned in and pieced together through Vassal. You can see the slight disconnects and the problems with making sure it is perfectly squared up on the scanner. It is certainly a functional map.

I took my map and scanned it on a 11" x 17" scanner, which makes life a lot easier. I brought it into Paint Shop Pro 7 (yeah, go ahead and laugh -- I've been using since 1998). I was able to square it up on the scanner pretty good and then rotate the 4 pieces ever so slightly (about 1 degree) to make sure the vertical hex sides were perfectly vertical. When I pieced it together, it looked like this:



The vertical seam on the left side 1/3rd of the map is the crease in the map itself. I took the map and using a clone brush and copying and pasting areas next to the seam, I was able to remove the white seams. I could not affect the color variation from the upper half to the lower half. I placed college text books on top of the map while scanning to make sure it stayed in tight contact with the scanner face, so I cannot explain that.

Finally, I changed the contrast from about 25% - 40% to make the map look better. Here is the end result.



That's one map. 15 more to go. So far, I have 12 of them done.

It takes about 3 minutes to scan the map. It takes about 20 minutes to take the 4 pieces and put them together, and about another 30-45 to remove the seams and touch up the contrast.
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Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:48 pm
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WGG (Wargame Geek): this is me

Judd Vance
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My wife and I have been going through Ken Burns Civil War documentary series. Many times during the movie, I've had to pause it, while I ran over to the shelf to grab a war game on the topic to show her. Examples:

Cedar Creek & Antietam: Glory III
Early's drive on Washington: Drive on Washington: The Battle of Monocacy Junction, July 9, 1864
Mosby (the man): Mosby's Raiders
The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant
Cold Harbor: Not War But Murder
The peninsula campaign: Birth of a Legend & Forged in Fire: The 1862 Peninsula Campaign
Gettysburg:
Gettysburg
Gettysburg 150
Gettysburg (125th Anniversary edition)
The Great Invasion: The Gettysburg Campaign June 24 – July 3, 1863

(I didn't stop to set up every one of the scenarios in Battle Cry: 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition).

NERDS!!!!

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Mon Nov 11, 2013 10:58 pm
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I've been a busy boy

Judd Vance
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I have been on a Vassal design kick this last month. I had no idea how much until I went to the Vassal website and created the news releases for the games that I created. Check it out -- all October 23 listings are mine:



7 modules: 5 new and 2 re-designs in 25 days. Whew. I think I can kick out #8 before I reach 30 days. Gettysburg 150 is coming along nicely.
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Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:05 pm
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My avatar prank calls Leroy's

Judd Vance
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I stumbled on to this, and I found this gut-splitting hilarious in a dorky way, so I had to share.

The store is called Leroy's and Sho Nuff calls it up. Stick with it after the first few same calls, because it gets funnier and funnier as it goes.


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Wed Jul 10, 2013 6:27 pm
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Net trading

Judd Vance
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I am a pretty big horse trader when it comes to games. Once the bug bites you and figure out that you can trade unloved games that take up shelf space for games that you think you will like, it is easy to pull the trigger.

I figure I can go buy a game for $40 (+11 shipping) or for $11 (shipping), I can basically get a new game and give up one I don't care about. I won't trade a $80 game for a $5 game, but I don't dial it down to the dollar, because I figure it's worth what it's worth to you, and if I'm not liking it, it's really not worth much.

I created an entire Geeklist displaying my history of trading.

I noticed some games I traded for, played them, and then traded them for something else. So I got to thinking about the net trade: what I gave up and what I ended up getting. I put the results on the bottom of the Geeklist, but here they are, displayed graphically:

The net result of my trades since 2010 (after I discovered BGG):

TRADED:

(Empire of the Sun Mounted Map)

Lost Worlds


Federation Commander:


Pocket Games:


Panzer Grenadier:


Star Trek (Fasa) The Role Playing Game:



RECEIVED:


10 Rated:




9 Rated:




8 Rated:




7 Rated:




6 Rated:




Unplayed:





Games that I traded for and then traded away:





Games that I traded away and then traded back for:







Notes:
- I also made $45 on top of the games I traded for.
- Monopoly City was an add-on to a trade. I have no plans of playing it, but wanted the cities to pimp out my copy of The Creature That Ate Sheboygan
- Strat-O-Matic Basketball was already a 10 before I bought it. I got the game for the cards in it (1971-72 season), only to learn that they were not compatible with my cards (post 1981), so it was actually a dud trade.
- Yes, I did acquire two copies of Panzer Grenadier Semper Fi in BGG Con Math Trades and traded both away.
- I traded 4 Babylon 5 Collectable Card Game Starter boxes.
- I had 2 copies of Title Bout, Nuclear War, and Hot Spot, so trading them was no big deal.
- I traded Guns of August because it had no Vassal module. Then I learned how to make them and got my exact copy back.

Highest rated game that I traded: Give Me Liberty and Federation Commander: Klingon Border were both 8s. But neither had Vassal modules, so I couldn't get them played.

Overall, from my perspective, I strengthened my collection, but I had played all but 8 of my traded games. Whereas I had only played 4 of the games I traded 4 before I played them. That has killed my goal of getting through my unplayed games, but hey, if my ratings are this high and only 4 of them were played games, my gut was right a lot more often than not!
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Sat Jun 15, 2013 4:10 am
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