Alec Chapman(ALGO)United Kingdom
Lincolnshire"She said the same thing about waffles."
Oh dear. Already the rules of the challenge are really starting to hurt.
Popping into the BGG sphere to check up on this blog, I become distracted by new bits and pieces, as one always is.
I see that, for example, there’s a new Summoner Wars deck imminent, Puzzle strike is getting a full size expansion, a new Cosmic Encounter expansion (with Teams! TEAMS!) on the way and all those feelings of pointless desire come bubbling up to the surface again. Like anybody struggling with a need to purchase, the danger here is falling off the wagon immediately and placing some preorders. I guess I’ll just have to suck it all up and hope for the pangs to go away. A game or two each evening should be the required fix like my three games of Mr Jack the other day that proved to me once again that it will take 100 plays for me to stop being appalling at it.
(And there’s always birthdays and Christmas for the expansions)
In any case, my maiden victory in Mah jong yesterday (accompanied by a very nice Ham and Mustard sandwich) was a timely distraction from these little wobbles. Split over two lunchtimes, this is probably the first game we’ve played where everyone knew roughly what they were doing. The still incomplete “seven chicken hands” learning game is a testament to the steep curve of learning new tiles, combinations and terminology.
The design of this particular scoring set gives a few different routes out of a dodgy hand, with significant increases in your rewards for seemingly minor changes in the approach, at the expense of speed. It’s possible to win a game with five crappy one point (“chicken”) hands so long as everyone else is in a rush, too, but all it takes is one of your opponents grabbing one triplet of dragons for ten points to put you and your quick chicken hands approach out of the running completely.
The hand that really won this game for me was the irregular escape route of “Seven Pairs”. There were no particularly high scoring sets made, so this was a real game changer in this context.
Normally you are required to go out on a hand of four sets of three/four and a pair. One can think of these as the four legs and the eyes of a dragon if it helps you remember.
Pairs in the hand are absolutely critical in Mah Jong as you cannot win without at least one and you can only claim a discard to make a pair if it is the only tile you need to win.
Many times I have stupidly turned my only pair into a triplet and cost myself a potential victory because no more duplicates appeared.
Of course, if you are unlucky, you can get stuck with a whole hand of doubles. If the seven pairs option didn’t exist, your chances are sadly pretty low of drawing or grabbing the exact pieces in the exact order required (with a whole bunch of irritating 50/50 discard decisions along the way) to turn this into a win and you may as well play defensive and hoard the pairs until either the tiles run out or someone else wins, because if you have two of a tile it is impossible for someone else to use them in a set.
The seven pairs hand gives you a way to still turn your otherwise sticky hand into a cool 90 points (30 from each opponent). Nice.
I then got a little carried away in round six and decided to try for the far more difficult “thirteen terminals” hand, where you need to self draw all thirteen different honours, ones and nines, and get a duplicate of any of these. I came within three tiles of this combination and 480 points (160 from each opponent), which would have been almost unassailable in this context, but to no avail. There was no win in this hand.
Mah Jong really has seemed to capture the imaginations of two of my colleagues (with a third far less keen) but we’ve found that having a “dead” fourth hand, rotating position before each deal and merely drawing one and discarding the next in its “queue” still gives us much of the feel of the full four hands without the less nice feeling that someone is humouring us.
We are also now well known to the local watering hole’s staff – one of my main concerns with trying to play this game in a public place was the staff being negative towards us or patrons giving us hassle. I think the fact that it’s such an obscure game in England means we get some odd looks, but that’s been the sum total of the negative feeling. The abstract nature of the game is critical in this. If we were moving little space aliens around, we could have a lot more trouble – not least from other colleagues (not the most accepting bunch).
In fact, the pub staff members we deal with have generally been overwhelmingly positive. It seems they’re actually of the opinion that we represent a positive factor for them. There’s a first.
One should always treasure and cultivate a good playing spot.
Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.
Archive for Alec Chapman
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AKA "The lunchtime game"
This wasn't going to be on the list until a couple of months ago when I happened to explain the game to some colleagues at work who decided they were in. Very in.
As I explained to them, I'm not prepared to play for money. Outside of the implications for the venue we play in and our employer, I just don't enjoy gambling. As such, I suggested we use the Zung Jung rules by Alan Kwan as they are supposedly more focused on the play and less on the different needs of gamblers. They were ambivalent as they had no frame of reference. Should probably just have skipped that discussion. Ah well.
For the uninitiated, Mah Jong is a rummy type game (collect a certain type of hand/s) played with 144+ tiles.
There are four each of numbers 1-9 in three suits ; Circles, Bamboo and Characters, traditionally symbolic of three different amounts of money (circles representing one coin, bamboo representing a string of 100 coins and characters representing 1000)
In addition to the suits there are 4 of each "honour tile"
East Wind, West Wind, North Wind, South Wind
White Dragon, Green Dragon, Red Dragon
Some rulesets use additonal tiles such as flowers and seasons, jokers and red fives. We do not use these, as in Zung Jung they are not required.
Note for fans of the game or anyone interested in trying it out:
Being none the wiser when I bought my set, I've ended up with a Riichi set that has none of the handy little Arabic numerals nor any of the letters on the tiles. In hindsight, given that the character set and winds cause people endless problems when learning, I should have chosen a more English language friendly set. Don't make my mistake - I thought authenticity (and cheapness) was more important than accessibility. I was wrong.
It says a lot that the gameplay is extremely simple compared to the shuffle or scoring. Each turn you draw a tile making your hand up to 14 tiles. If you have not completed a valid winning hand, you then discard any one tile from your hand dropping its size down to 13.
A winning hand in Mah Jong is always created on the draw or by immediately claiming a tile that someone has just discarded.
You want four sets and a pair. This is the format of all but three winning hands in Zung Jung.
Allowable sets are:
Sequence of three tiles in the same suit (e.g. 2,3,4 of bamboo) - "Chow"
Three identical tiles (e.g. 2,2,2 of bamboo) - "Pung"
Four Identical Tiles (e.g. 2,2,2,2 of bamboo) - Kong
If you have made fours of a kind, you are allowed an additional draw, to make it possible to complete the other four sets and pair.
Scoring is a real headache in most of the Mah Jong systems I have tried. The main attraction for the Zung Jung system was, for me, the fact that rather than being a doubles and multiplication based system it based around addition.
For the most part you will learn how much your hand is worth and be working with your points in mind all game, but it's simply a case of matching patterns in your winning hand with the best item in each of ten categories (many of which are mutually exclusive anyway) and totting up the points.
Unlike some other systems, ZJ also counts only three irregular hands, meaning those not made of four sets and a pair, with which can win so you're not swamped in minutiae. A lot of the classic hands are more traditional than gameplay based and as such not really a great loss for relative newcomers.
(If you're wondering; Thirteen Terminals, Nine Gates and Seven Pairs)
The game is played over eight hands, with only the winner's points being awarded each hand and gained from his or her opponents.
OK, I'm going to be honest and say I'm going to be logging sessions for this one. Otherwise given that a full game is supposed to be over eight hands (ZJ rules, as far as I can understand them) and we can only fit a maximum of four into a lunchtime, I'd lose track or have to keep a separate record of each and every session before logging the full game after its completion. I can't be arsed.
Therefore, with some trepidation, I won't be considering this challenge "won" until 200 plays have been recorded. I still reserve the right to throw the stupid bamboo bird at the wall somewhere around the 120 plays mark and still claim partial success.
I know it seems like an abstract Rummy game is a little dry for most tastes, but the main attraction of Mah Jong is its relative ambient-ness. Once one is comfortable with the rules and flow, it is not necessary to make all your discussion about the game and as such it is a fun social activity with people who may not enjoy "serious" gaming much, but with enough meat in it to be worthy of gaming time as well.
It also helps that I really enjoy playing the game. I like the idiosyncracies, the feel of the tiles in my hand, the way I tap the tile I'm discarding on the table before sliding it into my discard pile. I like the way that we get an audience of people who have no idea what on earth we're doing and most of all I like the feeling of seeing a potential winning hand materialise and work things to build the missing parts.
It's a lot of fun. And sometimes that's all you want.
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In Small World, your civilisation is expanding across an entire continent, conquering territories and wiping out opposing forces as it goes. At some point, there'll be nothing more you can do with the current civilisation so you consign them to history and start afresh with a brand new, nascent people. Then you dump them too.
What deep, complex rule system does one need to keep in mind to do all this?
2 + 1 * n = No of tokens required.
2 plus one for each piece of cardboard on the target space. That's all you need to know by heart to play Small World, bar how to decline a civilisation (you flip it over and start again - tough!)
One of the few games that has four whole maps tailored to different numbers of players, Small World has also got tonnes of variety and imagination capturing combinations in its races and powers. one of the upsides of being an expansion addict is that Small World has so many options it can easily last the 100 games I've randomly decided on.
In fact, the hardest part about this game for me is remembering to award yourself the points for each round. At least two games have been played where forgetting to do this has cost me 20 odd points and obviously, therefore, any chance of victory.
While the reinforcement die does exist to add a bit of fun random element to the otherwise purely mathematical conquests, it's not exactly your common or garden war game and players of all skills seem to pick it up well.
It does have a very silly theme, but as you can see from the rest of the list, this doesn't really bother me much. In fact, I like to think of myself like the Gods in the Iliad during this one, toying with the fates of entire civilisations just to gain personal kudos.
It's also been surprisingly good fun, so I'm adding it here without remorse.
I wrote a review of Small World years ago, so I won't bang on for hours longer here.
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Couples game alert!
Mr Jack is all about finding the eponymous murderer using deduction and elimination.
There are no black and white sides in Mr Jack. Each character can be moved and used by either player, so long as the card deal is even, and it is through skillful use of the special powers available to you that you can improve your chances of victory.
Gameplay is pretty simple. Each round (to a maximum of 8) gives each player two moves. They start by selecting a character from the four available at the start of the round, bearing in mind that all eight characters will come out before reshuffling at the end of even rounds. The order of selection is Investigator, Jack, Jack, Investigator in odd numbered rounds, and the opposite in the even numbered. As you select a character you move them and either choose to, or are forced to, use their special ability - anything from moving police roadblocks to switching off lamps.
Lamps are the crucial element here. Every turn Jack must admit whether he has been "witnessed" or not. If he is next to a lit street lamp, another character or in the path of Dr Watson's torch light, he is witnessed, if he isn't he is not. It seems that for every turn, Jack wants to keep the number of suspects as high as possible, to maximise his chances of going undetected. The investigator wants to eliminate roughly half of the suspects every turn - if he does this perfectly he'll know who Jack is by turn 4 - 8 suspects to 4 to 2 and 1). This will not happen often and the investigator must still land a character on top of the disguised Mr Jack to win.
It's strictly two player with asymmetric goals and information. Mr Jack knows who he is, the investigator doesn't. The investigator can gain alibi cards that eliminate suspects without the Mr Jack player knowing, so the potential for mind games can be great.
I also love how the game is not just a question of finding Mr Jack. Not at all. The investigator has to be wary of him escaping the area altogether as well as reducing the number of suspects; if Mr Jack survives until morning he wins, but is it better to play for this situation or to try and hedge your bets, setting up for an escape attempt under cover of night?
The theme may be of questionable taste (but no more so than Fury Of Dracula or any game where someone is "evil") and the actual mechanics pretty much pure abstract gaming, but these help make the game easy to learn and the goals simple to remember.
The other thing that is great about this game is that with a short running time of around 30 minutes and with the Extension improving variety there is real longevity and replayability here.
I look forward to losing this one 100 times...
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I like rolling dice. The downside of a lot of dice games is that they are pretty often very long (Risk) or far too short (Yahtzee).
In Summoner wars, your army of cards is facing another army of cards across a 2D battlefield. You are highly rewarded for destroying your opponents cards, in fact it is crucial to the success of your summoning, so every battle is extremely aggressive. Since the only available win condition (at the moment at least) is to kill your opponents summoner, you will have to make the attack yourself at some point. He’s not about to lie down.
The key seems to be the manipulation of your draw pile. You never get to reshuffle in Summoner Wars, so once you’ve gone through your deck, that’s your lot. I need to improve my ability to shut out the game before running out of resources. The magic pile is important too, and I need to get over the summoning of basic soldiers who are, for the most part pretty much cowpants, sacrificing them to get the good guys out on the field.
By choosing Summoner Wars, I get the fun of rolling dice every turn, but also the hit of a more traditional strategy wargame of the chess school as well. It’s clearly not the lifelong commitment Chess is, with the cruelty of the dice making competition a little swingy to be studied in great detail, but there is plenty of variety (key to the success of the 100 attempt) to keep things fresh. Simple rules mean it is quick to teach, though there will be delays based on getting used to the different armies involved.
It is designed for two players (making it a reasonably easy game to arrange) and has a three and four player option, but which looks utterly stupid. I’m sure at some point in the stretch to 100 plays I’ll give it a go, though.
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I am combining the two trick taking ladder games here, as one is so derivative of the other. Since the three player option in Tichu is awful (as are all the other versions apart from 4 player) the additional player numbers options created by Haggis are ideal.
Tichu (and its derivative, Haggis) are sort of like Bridge, in that partners attempt to win together, and it is based around tricks.
OK, that's nonsense. They're not much like Bridge. I just say that to trick my parents into playing. Instead of playing one card at a time you can lead any of a multitude of combinations (full house, three of a kind etc) and your opponents not only have to play something higher (the ladder part) but also the same combination.
e.g. the player who has the lead plays 2,2 – the next player must play a higher pair or pass.
Once everyone has passed the player who played the highest card or combination wins the trick. In both games you try to be the first player to play all the cards in your hand.
The differences between Tichu and Haggis seem subtle, but they are sufficient to mean skill at one is no guarantee of success at the other. The special cards in Tichu give specific abilities and are held in secret. The wild cards (which double as bombs) in Haggis are public and it seems, from my very limited experience so far, that good play of these is crucial, even more so that good Dragon / Dog / Phoenix play in Tichu.
The problem with hitting 100 plays of either is that the points scoring systems require many hands to be played, so I have to be careful to log sessions and so on very carefully to not cheat my own system. I guess the thing to do is to log each discrete game of each (so this entry will be worth 200 plays) where it has been completed – the trick is that I have to resist any attempt to end the game early, and therefore I can feel justified in logging per session.
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The bountiful delights of smashing people in the face with gems.
Go Geiger, Go! It’s Time for the Past!!!
This is on the list because it is unbelievable fun.
You start with 6 money, 1 crash gem for firing your pile at your opponent and 3 character specific action chips. Each turn you have one action and MUST buy one or more chip(s) from the bank.
These chips can be Purple (for manipulation and firing of your ammunition), Money (for purchasing power) or Puzzle Chips (various effects including getting more actions or chips). When you run out of chips in the bag, everything you had and everything you bought gets reshuffled and you start again, with all the new toys you bought ready to use.
Dominion was OK, but I couldn’t get around the fact I hate shuffling cards over and over. The chips are, for me, much more user friendly and the fact you are slapping your opponent in the face every turn rather than questing for victory points is a plus point as well. The genius rubber band effect of being more powerful the closer you are to defeat means that games are usually pretty tense once both sides have the game down pat.
Criticisms of this particular deck building game are mainly its focus on fast player interaction and ludicrous combo building rather than efficiency (a complaint worthy of nothing more than disdain).
The other common complaint is that the purple chips dominate the play too much. Putting aside that the inclusion of several revisions in the stable door bolting “upgrade pack” lowers the extent to which this is the case, it never really bothered me anyway. Complaining that the purple chips are the game is like complaining that the dice are Monopoly. You’re looking at the system and thinking you have a choice. You should be combining and crashing like you breathe – it’s the play of the puzzle chips and character chips that will determine whether you win.
The designer will talk your ears off about delicate mathematical balance, no doubt, but this isn’t really my concern as the game is just a blast from start to finish. By far and away my most played game of the last 6 months.
Also, it’s short, easy to set up and great, great fun with two players (the 3 and 4 player games with elimination are less enjoyable).
Lots of replayability, variety and very trash talk friendly.
I love it.
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Fromage wrote:I'm wondering what the actual goal of the experiment is.I just realised that I never answered this question properly.
Simply put the "point" is fairly nebulous. I like challenging myself and playing 1000 games before being allowed to buy any replacements is a challenge.
Thinking about it more though, there are some fringe benefits I can come up with.
1. To overcome the nagging sense that I've been wasting my money on short term thrills and long term clutter
2. To get pretty good at at least ten games, so at least I can see some development in my hobby. I am not the sort of gamer who picks up a game and immediately performs well in it, so want the enjoyment of improving to the point where I feel I have "got" the game.
3. To have a personal achievement to look back on and laugh about.
4. To perhaps encourage, in some tiny way, others to concentrate more on exploring certain games they already have, rather than getting into the constant cycle of expenditure and replacement. Maybe one person will think about playing a few more games of Arkham Horror before buying Elder Sign, because lets face it, is the addition going to change your fun intake that much?
I have become a firm believer that variety (an acute thrill) is winning over depth (a chronic thrill) at the moment, and in these times of economic hardship I have decided to put my mouth where my money isn't and actually live up to this belief.
I certainly don't expect any of the above to come true (especially number 4) but I intend to have a great time playing some great games.
And what more point do I need to display than that?
P.S. I did not, I believe, say that these would be the only 10 games I am prepared to play. Perhaps this will assuage some doubts?
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It’s a brave choice for me to choose Knizia’s best game (your experience may vary) because I am truly dreadful at it, as well as having traded my copy away months ago.
I know what you’re thinking.
How on Earth can you play one hundred games of T&E before buying anything? Won’t you be doing that forever?
Well no, because of two factors – the speed I play and the fact that I know for definite I have opponents who love this game enough.
In Tigris and Euphrates you are the leader of a cardboard civilisation expanding in four different factors: farming, trading, religion and government (let’s face it, colours) and trying to get a large number of sets of those colours. You get a point per colour for having a leader of that colour in the orthogonally connected civilisation. As such, none of these groups of tiles are necessarily “yours” and by merging with them or deposing their leaders you can gain a crucial foothold and more points in your weaker colours.
You can also build monuments from a 2x2 block of the same colour, which get even more victory points for the current controller, but which are highly prized military targets.
The conflict system is a bit of a headache, but revolves around having the right tiles in hand at the right time to add to your apparent strength on the board.
It’s one of the more complex systems to teach in advance and one of the longer games in the list, but the potential rewards of strategy exploration are enormous. Not least, I will learn negotiation skills in persuading someone else to let their copy be played 100 times!
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Of course it is. Why waste your time pretending?
One of the crucial points in playing a game 100 times is variety.
Either in strategy or systems it has to have that kind of longevity that rewards you for repeat exploration with new stuff to look at. There’s no point in opening the same box 100 times if it will always have the same sock in it.
I have never experienced anything that fits the bill for this 10:100 approach than Cosmic Encounter. Let me explain why.
Cosmic Encounter is a game in which you attempt to land some of your ships on 5 enemy planets. No secondary objective, no weird shifting VP system – you be on the winning side of an attack five times, you win the game. Simple.
Winning an encounter is also straightforward, you add the number of ships in the offence or defence to that player’s chosen attack card and whoever has the higher total wins. Simple.
It is with the smallest tweaks that this becomes a game of near infinite variety. Like all the best chaotic systems, tiny changes have galaxy altering effects. None of these is a complex bag of rules, but usually a single sentence.
1. Allies – both the attack and defence can beg, cajole or bribe their opponents to assist them, with rewards if they are successful.
2. Instead of just attacking all the time, two players can agree to negotiate a peaceful settlement (or pretend to) if they have the cards.
3. Every single player is made fundamentally different by the introduction of alien races and powers that “break” the rules in their favour.
There are optional extras that increase the variety even more (flares, technology, improved defensive reward cards) but they are not necessary to experience most of the good things that make Cosmic my favourite game in the world. In fact, I never teach it with anything optional at all. I find the purer a game it is, the better.
I haven’t even told you the most important component of the game yet – people.
You can, if you like, play Cosmic Encounter online. It’s great fun, but with the addition of the genuinely infinite variety that human beings have the game really comes into its own. Table talk and negotiation (preferably within the bounds of the game, but each to their own) are the absolute lifeblood of a good session. There are many pitfalls but, with the standard “it’s only a game” approach from everyone, these can easily be avoided.
A typical game of Cosmic requires you to make a set of value judgements about how to use your power, who the main threat is, who your likely allies are and when to make the decision to betray your shaky allegiances, and all that while judging the strengths and weaknesses of the hand you’ve been dealt.
It’s the poster child of the 100 plays programme. There’s no way you could experience all the game has to offer in a thousand plays, after all.
Important caveat: It isn’t for everyone. It seems that the skills and interactions people learn and enjoy in other games popular at the moment simply don’t prepare you for the constantly shifting landscape that is the decision matrix of cosmic encounter. I’ve heard it described as a “popularity contest” and also heard many tales of people getting 1 or zero turns in a game. That’s a shame, because unlike many modern games, the first time you play Cosmic Encounter is the worst game of it you will ever play and most issues are with indiscriminate allegiances and too much short term thinking (understandable when playing for the first few times). Getting a group who can face such strains and frustrations for 100 plays may be difficult.
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