There has been many things taking place in the past few months. You might not know this from my sparse bloggings in recent weeks. But there is much to bring the public up-to-speed on.
Latest News from The Gaming Annex and the Muskegon Area Gamers
The Gaming Annex
We mentioned a few months ago that ownership of the building was changing. It wasn’t clear then what this meant for “the only game in town”. Now it is clear. Sort of.
The current home of the Muskegon Area Gamers is and shall remain 1976 W Sherman Boulevard, affectionately called The Gaming Annex. The adjacent suite, 1980 W Sherman will be added to our current space, giving us about 60% more floor space. This will give us the floor space we need to warehouse all of our games, bestow us with a full kitchen and afford us valuable distance between tables.
We will be taking over the space this summer. The current resident is occupying it short term. I estimate we will have possession by July. Repairs and renovations will be ongoing through the summer and fall of 2017. Any members or readers of this blog that would like to help, please let me know!
Newly promoted members
We’ve bumped up a couple of candidates to full Tier 1 members. One is Brandi. She’s been a real trooper. Normally we have a 30 Game Gauntlet. She has long since surpassed this, reaching Herculean levels: over 100 new games and going strong.
The other new promotion is Joe. Joe has been a strong find as well. As Nick Sima put it: Joe is a gaming savant. Joe doesn’t just play games like Twilight Imperium well, he often outfoxes long time veterans.
We are glad you both have made us your gaming home!
Change in Schedule?
For the longest time, The Muskegon Area Gamers played games on Wednesday nights and on Sunday afternoons. Wednesday nights have since moved to Tuesday nights. But Sunday afternoons have persisted.
It used to be that we didn’t have an Annex. We would game in Plunkett’s basement. For those who are new to the group, can you imagine Dusty, Mongo and myself traipsing to Plunkett’s house to play games in his basement? That was what we used to do in our pre-Annex. days.
But attendance on Sundays has dropped precipitously. Many who wanted to game on Sundays cannot make it anymore. In the past few months, we’ve had Sunday meetups of 2 or 3 players several times. The only solution I could come up with is to move it to Saturdays.
The vote to move games to Saturdays was not unanimous. Indeed, there were some hard “No” votes. So if we have poor attendance on Sundays and we have hard No’s for Saturdays, what’s a poor gamer to do?
The solution I’ve come up with is the most complicated but ultimately the best for our group at this time: we will schedule events on Saturdays occasionally and on Sundays occasionally. If we play on Sundays, it will be an early start: like 9AM. If we play on Saturdays, it will be later, like noon. I don’t have all the details worked out yet. Check the website or facebook for more details.
Partnership with Iggy Games
If you’ve been around on Thursdays, you probably have noticed Brian. He’s been a fixture for the past several months. He is an avid gamer and has an impressive game collection. He has been making us his gaming home, a decision we are very grateful for.
Brian has a substantial presence on the world wide web. He owns and admins several websites. www.iggygames.com is one such website. Brian often captures our gaming escapades and blogs about them on his own site.
Brian approached me about doing a podcast. How could I turn him down? A podcast is the next step in our gaming exploration. There’s plenty to cover in a podcast. And many topics make better podcasts than blog posts.
Brian has procured the hardware we will need to begin. He is a professional IT dude so he will also handle the software. He is looking to me to handle some of the creative end.
Look for our first podcast installment soon. I believe it will be live in March. And if you have any ideas about topics for us to cover, by all means, speak up.
New gaming center for Muskegon? Maybe!
A couple of months ago, I got a “ding” on facebook. This happens when someone tags me or one of my facebook pages. This ding was because someone tagged The Gaming Annex.
Someone I had never met was mentioning us in a post about a new gaming center in downtown Muskegon. It seems a friend of a friend of Nick Sima’s is considering moving back to our beloved town. And he will move back if he can get a grant to open a game store. Specifically on 3rd Street, where a lot of the renaissance in Muskegon is taking place.
The gentleman’s name is Kiel. He picked my brain about what Muskegon needs and about what I could contribute to the effort. Kiel then dropped by the Annex and met Brandi, Professor Mike and myself a few Sundays back. Kiel said he was in Muskegon looking at real estate to move his game store project forward. He even applied for a grant.
If his game store does launch, Kiel said he would have a membership program for his loyal customers. He would have a large area for gaming tables. Due to his background in convention sales, Kiel would support many events: Star Wars game days, pirate game days, etc.
As of this blog, Kiel is awaiting disposition of grant money. When I know more, I will blog about it here.
How to classify the different game genres often causes confusion or heated debates. The biggest controversy is generally over what’s the difference between a Euro and Ameritrash. I recently came across an article that would pass academic muster if the author had submitted it for peer review. The article, Schools of Design and Their Core Priorities, was written by a fellow Michigander named Oliver Kiley. He agreed to let me republish his article in its entirety here. If you would like to see the original article (or any of his other thoughtful posts, you can find them here. I’m sure you will find this just as interesting as I did.
Schools of Design and Their Core Priorities
by Oliver Kiley, originally published June 17, 2016
One of the regular topics on this blog has to do with the classification of games and the pursuit of a theory or framework that describes the operation and resulting experience of playing board games.
This interest is not driven by the assumption that we’ll ever find a perfect system for actually classifying games. Rather, I feel the pursuit of such classification efforts and building a framework for understanding generates interesting discussion, builds knowledge, and creates insights that can be of value on their own.
I’ve discussed, in an earlier blog post, the idea of trying to define broader categories of games (e.g. What makes a euro a euro?). I want to return to this topic but bring in some other insights and references that I’ve come across, which will hopefully provide a more tangible and comprehensive picture.
This is a monstrous post … you have been warned!
Core Priorities & Design Schools
A landmark post from way back in 2007 by Jezztek brought up the topic of “Core Priorities” in a game’s design and how these core priorities related to different Schools of Design or design philosophies. I think he nailed the idea, but it also had some gaps. Here’s the start of his text wall to start the discussion:
The problem is that when people try to define ‘Ameritrash’ they tend to use expressions of the quality ‘Ameritrash’ instead of trying to define the core of ‘Ameritrash’. It’s like if I were to ask 10 people to define ‘dog’ using one quality. I might get responses like: 4 legs, fur, floppy ears, wagging tail and so forth. Then the contrarians would go through each quality one at a time and find counterexamples or bleed examples: I knew a three legged dog once, so that means he stopped being a dog? Cats have four legs too, so do they qualify as dog? What about hairless breeds, are they not dogs? And thus the contrarians would assume the label of “dog” must be meaningless.
So to solve this dilemma we need to pan out a bit and attack the problem one level up.
Let me start at the very beginning. When we talk about Ameritrash vs Euros first of all we are not talking about the geographic location of the game’s design or production. Ameritrash games can come from anywhere, Euros likewise. So why do the names have a geographic component? Because these labels are about one thing, Design Philosophy, and these design philosophies are movements. While these movements have their roots geographically, they have both spread well around the globe, but the names remain fixed on the geographic heart of movements they represent.
Ok, so what exactly is the design philosophy that drives Ameritrash vs. Euro games? When a designer is making a game he or she has a series of choices to make, and often these choices are something of a zero sum game. You can’t have it all, so to speak. And as a designer you need to have priorities as to what you feel is most important, and are willing to build your choices around. Each side has it’s “Core Priority” that really defines it’s design philosophy.
I agree with this wholeheartedly; and especially so from a game designer standpoint. I think the notion of Core Priorities inevitably relates directly to designer intent, and in turn a game’s indented audience and their preferences. And as the quote says, you can’t have it all. What elements and characteristics a designer choses to prioritize over others has an impact on how the game is received by its intended (or unintended!) audiences. This is important.
So, understanding the core priority of a given genre of games sheds insight on how the mechanics, theme connection, and interactivity manifest. Furthermore, these Core Priorities can be a useful nomenclature for understanding what different “Schools of Design” are attempting to achieve, and how the intersection of these schools give rise to different hybrid forms of games.
As an overview of where this post is going, here are the design schools and associated core priorities that will be discussed:
– Ameritrash School ~ Drama
– German Family School ~ Engagement
– Eurogame School ~ Challenge
– Wargame School ~ Realism
– Abstract School ~ Minimalism
Ameritrash Games: Drama
Drama: Any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interest or results
Ameritrash is a term that has been around since 2006 or so (if my BGG diggings are accurate). It commonly comes up as a topic of conversation/debate – and people’s opinions range wildly on the term. Some people think it’s a useless and meaningless term. Others think it has too negative of a connotation. Others recognize that it was once used to describe Mass Market American games but that the term was coopted as a term of endearment subsequently. Others think it means the game must be from an American designer. The fact of the matter is that this term has pervaded the discourse surrounding boardgames and looks like it is here to stay.
So – what is the Ameritrash design school and what does it have to do with Drama? The approach advanced by Jezztek is that Ameritrash is a design school that seeks to play up the drama of a game experience. Drama can manifest many ways, from the game providing a rich narrative experience that tells a story (a dramatization of a story, think “theatre”), to creating tensions and other dramatics between the players themselves. Ameritrash games seek to immerse players in an evocative narrative (typically) that creates an uncertain story around conflict and tension.
Key tenets of the Ameritrash School:
– Theme & Narrative
– Conflict & Interaction
– Uncertainty, Luck, and Chaos
– Epicness & Victory
– Chrome & Immersion
Ameritrash & Drama: Theme/Narrative
How does Theme relate to the core priority of Drama?
These helps draw people emotionally into a game. The game ceases to be a simple multiplayer puzzle and instead becomes a world, and a world you are directly invested in. It’s about feeling like you are commanding a legion and not pushing around cubes, manning a post apocalyptic battle car and not just moving a tile around a tabletop, it’s pretty much inseparable to drama.
It’s unfortunate that AT games are so often associated with fictional themes (fantasy, space, zombies, etc.) because it tends to box in people’s expectations about what theme can be in a game. Really, the theme can be about anything – but the important part is that it be successful in immersing a player in it, making them feel like they are an agent within an unfolding narrative instead of some ambiguous entity on the outside.
Games are successful in this regard when decisions over the course of the game are consistent if one were to imagine themselves INSIDE the game world having to make those same decisions. If one can imagine themselves readily in the gameworld and the decisions flow congruently with the theme, that’s a great feeling. Nothing breaks the immersion of such a game when the “best move” for advancing your position is doing sometime totally contrary and nonsensical with respect to theme. Consider the starvation strategy in Stone Age – its a contrived “gamey” thing, not a thematic expression.
In many ways, Ameritrash games also graze the closest to the RPG genre in terms of putting players in a narrative and giving them a clear role to play.
Ameritrash & Drama: Conflict & Interaction
How does Conflict relate to the core priority of Drama?
This one is any easy one, there are few things in life more dramatic then conflict. Love perhaps, but good luck creating a board game that evokes that particular emotion. [But] when you have your back to the wall, battling tooth and nail outnumbered by your enemies and still crushing them under your boot heel, that’s dramatic. As such, to any designer trying emphasize the core priority of drama conflict is about as common as a quality can get.
Interaction can of course take many forms, but for Ameritrash games hostile conflict and battling are par for the course. This notion of conflict can really sweep across scales. You get grand strategic conflict playing out in something like Axis & Allies all the way down to the take-that, tit-for-tat type conflict in a game like Munchkin. A key aspect in both of these is that the conflict, as in many AT games, is targeted. You, the player, get to chose who you beat on and chose when you dish it out.
Ameritrash & Drama: Uncertainty, Luck, and Chaos
How do Dice (uncertainty) relate to the core priority of Drama?
Dice adds uncertainty, uncertainly is a fantastic tool for heightening drama. When I see a table full of players jumping to their feet in anticipation, or bursting out in cries of joy (or into yelps of obscenities) 9 times out of 10 dice are somehow involved.
I’ve come to realize that uncertainty, specifically uncertainty of outcome, plays a critical role in building a dramatic narrative. Consider a game like Eclipse (which I think is almost entirely AT). Rolling dice to determine whether your combat attack (conflict) was successful or not is critical to not only building dramatic tension but making the narrative come alive in a way that transcends and trumps player actions. It’s the idea of fate (if you believe in such a thing) manifest in the game. By hanging things on uncertain die rolls it drives the narrative and board-state into unique or unforeseen situations and builds a story within a story of sorts. It’s richer.
Compare a die-roll based attack to a zero-luck one. In the zero-luck situation, we can imagine a story coalescing around our forces as they close in to combat range, and then the combat is resolved in a perfectly known and predictable manner. Story over. In the die rolling situation, we can have the same narrative about our forces clashing, but a second narrative is possible describing the outcome. Perhaps you brought in superior forces, yet some brilliant twist of fate resulting in my one lone interceptor surviving against all odds to blow up your mothership. OMFG!!!! We’ll be talking about that one for a while, right? It created a unique story that will likely never exist in the same way again.
Ameritrash & Drama: Epicness and Victory
Again this is about emotional investment. When playing a disposable 45 minute mini-game you just haven’t invested yourself in the same manner as someone heading into the 4th hour of their drawn out head to head conflict, it’s just basic human psychology. If I’ve poured 3 hours of brain crunching into my plans and strategies I’m just far more invested in the outcome then if I was just dropping in for a quick filler. The more invested I am in the outcome, the more dramatic the game becomes.
AT’ers often seek out games with an “Epic” feel, which can manifest as games with long playtimes with high stakes. Victory is often based on achieving a decisive and glorious moment, as opposed accumulating an incremental trickle of victory points. And as decisive as victory can be, so can be defeat – and we can see far more AT games with player elimination (or effective elimination) compared to many other schools. In the context of long, epic games – being eliminated if you have no chance of defeat is often preferable to having to play out the rest of the game sitting on the sidelines.
Ameritrash & Drama: Bits, Chrome, and Immersion
Chrome is all about being evocative of the theme, and heightening the sense of immersion in the game. It also subtly plants the idea that there are a wealth of possibilities and anything could happen during the game. Robartin put it best:
“Rules that might occur in 2 out of every 400 games. Still, when they happen they are damn cool because they’re straight out of the freakin book! Who doesn’t remember the game where Jonathan Harker actually killed the Count?”
I think this last point is an excellent one. Whereas other schools might look at that often unused and extraneous rule as more overhead and eliminate it in the same of streamlining; for Ameritrash games it adds that bit of spice that creates distinct, unique, and memorable moments.
And a parting quote from Jezztek:
In the end Ameritrash games are about the people playing the game, and most importantly playing the game against each other. … With head to head open ended conflict based games this is much less of an issue. In reality it’s often times less about playing the rules of the game, but instead playing the minds of the other players. Trying to avoid drawing their ire, trying to look as weak as possible while making your position as strong as possible, often times the meta-game is the game, and that is inherently more dramatic then playing against the board. Ganging up, Kingmaking and Imbalance all just tend to come part and parcel in these type of games, and thank god for that.
German (Family) Games: Engagement
I want to raise a point here that German Family Games are not Eurogames and Eurogames and not German Games. They are related schools of design, and certainly Eurogames grew out of German Games as they mixed with other influences/desires, but it is important that the two schools remain distinct and are recognized as such.
But first, it is important to discuss a bit about what German Family Games are and why Engagement is the Core Priority for their design. Samo’s comment to a prior blog post does an excellent job identifying some the critical underpinnings for German Games (and compares them to eurogames), so I’ll use his work as a starting point.
Key tenets of German Family Game School:
– Accessibility / Approachability
– Closeness, Balancing, Pacing
– “Pacific” Themes
– Non-Violent Interactions
German Games & Engagement: Accessibility/Approachability
simplification It’s reducing everything to its essentials – which depends on your goals. The reason for it is probably the family market (simple to learn, plays in a short time). The consequence of it is why the theme is never more thoroughly developed.
German Family games are largely designed to appeal to a broad audience, hence they need to be readily accessible and eliminate as many “barriers to entry” in their gameplay. The biggest barrier from a family game perspective is rule complexity. If its too complex your 10-year old nephew and your 80-year old grandmother aren’t going to be interested in learning and playing the game. So great family games need to strike a compelling middle ground. Emphasis is placed on streamlining and focusing the gameplay around a core concept that is easy to teach and understand yet offers sufficient depth to keep the gameplay fresh and dynamic for years to go.
German Games & Engagement: Closeness, Balance, Pacing
keep them in the game [This has] to do with the family market and shorter playing times. As was mentioned there’s no player elimination, but mostly it’s about keeping players constantly in the running (usually by a fair amount of luck). VP are also common precisely they run against the idea of zero-sum games which are much more definite and competitive.
Another aspect of Accessibility comes through having designs that keep players engaged throughout the game. Games are most engaging when everyone is in contention for the win, or has a chance at winning. If you know you are going to lose ahead of time, or there is a clear-cut winner, finishing out the rest of the game is considerably less satisfying.
Of course there is a delicate balance point between “keeping them in the running” and “making players accountable for good/bad play”, but an appropriate amount of luck or player-driven balance, or hidden scoring can go a long way towards keeping everyone at least “feeling” like they have a shot at winning.
In contrast, many other schools of design, intended to appeal to more hardcore gamers, are less concerned with giving everyone a chance to catch up, because the desire is for player’s strategic choices to have high bearing on their performance and the final outcome of the game.
German Games & Engagement: “Pacific” Themes
theme as user interface Theme is not used as a goal (immersion, simulation) but as something to help people playing the game, either by creating a proper atmosphere and making the game inviting to new players (these were nongamer friendly games) or by making the connection between theme and mechanics intuitive, thus easing learning and playing the game.
The theme of many family-games is of importance primarily as it is used to enhance the legibility and understanding of the game and also to make sure it doesn’t turn people off. A term Lewis Pulsipher uses describe the theme of many German Family games is Pacific. This means that the themes tend to diminish or downplay conflict. Inside the game, this is often manifest as themes about “building up” as opposed to “tearing down.”
On the outside, it also means themes are less likely to cause conflicts with the preferences of the intended audience. These are themes that are comfortable. Everyone can get behind (or at least tolerate) trains or medieval European farming. Zombies on the other hand, or other heavy conflict-based themes, are going to alienate a lot more people, which runs counter to the notion of engagement.
German Games & Engagement: Non-Violent Interactions
Non-conflict competition This has something to do with post ww2 Germany, but also with [the] family market. There have been many strategies around this problem, one is trading (win-win negotiations), then auctions and then we’re probably moving to the euro territory.
This concept ties into the above discussion on theme, but it also translates into the actual gameplay mechanics. German Family games do have a fair amount of interaction, often of a very open and chaotic sort (auctions, bidding, etc.). Yet this interaction is almost always framed in a positive and constructive manner (e.g. mutually beneficial trading), not in a hostile manner.
Targeted interactions, where players can specifically affect/harm an opponent of their choosing is rare. Even when it occurs, it is often the result of a player being required to make such a move, as opposed to choosing to make such a move. For instance in Settlers of Catan, if you roll a 7 you HAVE to decide where to place the robber, and the logical response to place it where it improves your score the most relative to the lead player. By having the game force you to do this, it excuses players from having “hurt” another player, and maintains a more friendly and positive atmosphere (usually).
One of the shortcomings to Jezztek original post is that while his breakdown and assessment of Ameritrash games was spot on, the identified core priority for eurogames was not. Originally, the core priority for Eurogames was identified as Elegance, yet elegance is more of a global trait in my mind, one which any design might aspire towards.
I can understand the drive for using elegance as a term, as certainly the drive for more streamlined and elegant mechanics was part of the German family games movement/school as Eurogames grew out of it. Yet looking at the top eurogames from the past few years, these games hardly strike me as elegant in the way that Go is elegant, or Lost Cities is elegant, or even Settlers is Elegant. Eurogames are generally far more intricate and complex than German Family Games – and while the integration of mechanics might be elegant, it is not elegant in sense of creating greater depth through relative simplicity.
So before going further, let’s expand on that last point about what Elegance is (and isn’t) in my mind:
Thoughts on Elegance and Fiddliness
I often see a conflation between the idea of elegance and fiddliness, as if the two were on opposite ends of a spectrum. Really, they are talking about two different things. Elegance is about the gameplay complexity and depth, fiddliness is about the ergonomics or physicality of playing the game, moving pieces about, record keeping, etc. In more detail:
Gameplay: Elegant vs. Clunky
The elegance versus clunkiness continuum represents the relationship between gameplay depth (strategy, tactics, etc.) and rules complexity. Games that achieve greater levels of depth through simpler rules and less overhead are more elegant than games with similar (or less depth) but correspondingly more rules and overhead.
This continuum has nothing to do with the physicality of the game, how the pieces are manipulated, how the execution of board states are handled, etc. That has to do with how streamlined or fiddly the game is physically.
Ergonomics: Streamlined vs. Fiddly
The ergonomics of a game are really about the manipulation of pieces, and the physical processing of actions, etc. A very streamlined game is something like LOST CITIES, where the gameplay flows smoothly between players, there is little downtime, no complicated steps to perform in taking and resolving actions, etc.
Civilization is ultimately quite an elegant game, but it is a very fiddly game too. The underlying mechanics are surprisingly simple given the games scope and depth – yet the gameplay experience is broken up into many phases each round, and the execution of actions requires moving lots of tokens around, adding up the value of trade cards ad nausea, etc. It’s a very fiddly game and not particularly streamlined.
So back to Eurogames, which have the core priority of Challenge. The term “Challenge” is not meant purely in terms of competition or conflict, although that certainly can be a part of the challenge eurogames provide. Rather, the idea of challenge is broader in application. Eurogames are ostensibly gamer’s games – there are primarily for people IN the hobby, and they came about as German Family games had a front-end collision with the more American-style “hobby gaming” that was far more tolerant (and even embracing of) games with greater rules and mechanical complexity.
As a consequence, the euro-gamers games endeavor to challenge players in a multitude of ways. Players are challenged in terms of learning more complex rules systems and new mechanics, having to manipulate complex and interlinked mechanical systems, making tough short- and long-term decisions, and competing with other players in a controlled and (at least initially) “fair” and balanced manner. A tall order. Let’s break it down.
Key tenets of Eurogame Design School:
– Intricacy and Mechanics
– Control & Constraint
Eurogames & Challenge: Intricacy and Mechanics
Let’s start off with Samo again
Mechanisms The idea that theme doesn’t have to be immersive was interpreted as something else [by euro designers] – that theme is not necessary at all. But what does then hold the game together? [The] focus became on mechanics and some were fetishized simply for being novel. This trend with time became the opposite to simplification. Recently it seems to be about many interconnected mechanics (clockwork design).
BGG is most certainly the epicenter of the Eurogame player-base on the internet, and one thing that is always evident is the interest and importance eurogamers place on the mechanics of games. There is a constant desire and interest in seeking out new and “innovative” mechanics, or finding games that implement a mechanical idea in a more clever or more novel way, or the thrill/joy of learning new game systems and “discovering the game.”
You hear over and over again from eurogamers about the joys of “learning the system” for a new game. As the embodiment of “gamers games”, eurogames fill the desire to learn how to manipulate new-fangled complex system. New systems pose new challenges for gamers to work through; and their intricacy is ever intoxicating. Such games emphasize their intricacy (e.g. how mechanical sub-systems come together in a clockwork-like manner) and innovations.
The other side of the coin is that the pursuit of ever more novel mechanics diminishes the importance of theme in many eurogames. Hence we end up with the sentiment that the theme is tacked on. This exists because many (not all) eurogame mechanics don’t have any conceivable analog in the real or fictional worlds their theme evokes. Certainly there are eurogames that successful connect theme and mechanics, and those do stand out. Yet many more eurogames use theme as a understanding and communication aid, and not something their mechanics are striving to model or actualize.
Eurogames & Challenge: Competitiveness
Low Luck Probably born from the clash of american gaming culture (heavy with dice and other luck factors) with different german game designs. What changed is that competition factor became seriously pronounced and that hobby gamers wanted serious competition, but still without “hurt feelings” vibe of german american games. First champions of this were auction games, but they have then via worker placement turned into indirect competition games. Balance This one comes from both designer control (as in – it’s the designers, not the players that must make the game “fair”) and the idea of serious competing.
Eurogames are intended to be taken seriously by their players (playing them is not an insignificant investment after all). The old Knizian adage “When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.” has grown into a rallying cry for a competitive motive for play that seems to resonate strongly with Eurogamers. This isn’t meant to imply overly (or negatively) competitive behavior, but simple that playing your best within the strategic, low-luck, balanced context of the game is expected to some degree.
As a consequence, transparent gameplay, fairness and balance are more important issues than the drama and chaos provided by randomizing elements (e.g. success based die rolls), targeting attacking, and so on. Eurogamers generally want their successes and failures to be the result of their own good or bad decisions.
This drive for competitiveness without the chaos results in many games were players are challenged to “work the system” better than their opponents (see above for Intricacy & Mechanics) over the course of the game, rather than engage other players more directly. This pushes eurogames, often times, into the realm of player vs. game as opposed to player vs. player (although that’s an over-simplification). When the opportunities for interacting with players directly (through board play or via negotiation, etc.) are restricted, the complexity of the game needs to increase to provide an equivalently deep strategic experience.
Eurogames & Challenge: Control & Constraint
Designer Control With lower luck, there seem to be one unpredictable part of gaming left, which were players. Designer control [games] were born – their bonus side [being] that they are not so group dependent as heavier interaction games (even auction games). As you’re competing against the design and not each other, it also lowers the possible anxiety arising from the conflict.
Following from the above, we arrive in a situation where eurogames function within a tightly controlled decision space and where procedural aspects of the gameplay are often of critical importance. For example, turn order handling is often of vital concern to eurogame designs, where first turn or last turn advantages/disadvantages need to be accounted for to provide “fair play” and competitive play. Chaos (random factors or other players’ actions), which has a reduced role in the gameplay would otherwise make subtle turn order matters irrelevant over the course of the game, but no so in a tight controlled environment.
The other outcome of this designer controlled environment is increasing the predictability of the game from one session to the next, which in turn enables players to hone their strategies and skills more. By restricting and limiting how players interact with each other, personalities, play-styles, or metagame issues can be minimized. This enables eurogames to function equally well whether playing with a group of close friends or total strangers at a gaming meetup or convention. I wonder to what extent the success of the eurogame design school has to do with such games breaking into more, potentially uncertain, social settings.
This control and constraint notion also manifests, often times, as a the whole “multiple paths to victory concept” – where big strategic pathways are intentionally baked into the design. Good play often times down to identifying these pathways and navigating along them better or more optimally than your opponent, who is often times racing down a completely separate pathway. This is a generalization but nevertheless quite evident in many euro games, and is a contrast to more open decision space games (sandbox games or “framework” games) that tend to evoke more emergent and surprising strategies with an ever shifting meta-game.
Ameritrash games prioritize for drama, the inter-player narratives that are formed and take on a life of their own, implemented with a focus on immersion. Eurogames emphasize challenge as manifest through an emphasis on mechanics, intricacy, and competiveness. Wargames, in turn, emphasize Realism of their subject matter – and endeavor to model, simulate, or mimic a real (or fictional) subject matter. Most often this is about historical wars or conflicts (i.e. ConSims of Conflict Simulations) – but it need not be.
For Wargames, mechanics are utilized however necessary to provide an accurate or realistic analog to the theme. Likewise, drama is often less a concern, with dramatic situations at liberty to occur or not occur in a realistic manner befitting the subject matter; but it’s not forced.
This is a useful quote to consider:
All three genres [edit: Euro, Ameritrash, Wargame] have games about war, but each of them realizes these scenarios through the lens of their core priority. Let’s say you are designing a game about war, you have most of the mechanics fleshed out but are trying to decide about whether to include any mechanics related to supply lines.
As an Ameritrasher you would be asking yourself whether by adding Supply Lines to your existing mechanics you would be bogging the game down making it less emotional and dramatic, which would not be a sacrifice you are willing to make, but if they could include it in a simplified stylized manner that would heighten drama (i.e. Fortress America) they would be happy to do so.
A euro designer would be asking themselves if there is way any way to include the mechanic seamlessly and elegantly into the core game, or if it would feel tacked on and add needless complexity.
A wargame designer, on the other hand, would be willing to sacrifice both a certain amount of elegance and a certain amount of “edge of your seat” drama if it meant fulfilling their core priority of realism.
Wargames & Realism: Level of Detail & Fidelity
I should be honest in that my experience with Wargames is quite lacking. Yet following from the quote above, and based on observation and commentary, it appears to me that the question of level of detail and the fidelity of translating that detail into the realm of plausibility is important for wargames and is often used as a basis for distinguishing one game from another.
A term I like to kick around as I think about design is the notion of Congruency, by which I mean how plausible and realistic the mechanics are in terms of the theme being covered. Wargames, given a desire to prioritize realism and believability of the game’s theme are looking for congruency, where mechanics “make sense” and aren’t arbitrary.
Curiously, I do wonder how this notion of detail and fidelity translates into a non-ConSim or historical wargame game’s. Is it fair to consider Magic Realm (for example) a “wargame” in the broader context of simulation and realism? If I were to imagine a game trying to simulate, at a high level of detail, the adventures of a fantasy wizard traversing a fantasy world, Magic Realm provides a high level of fidelity, detail, and internal congruence.
Wargames & Realism: Knowledge Building
Another point or motive I hear Wargamer’s raise when discussing such games is their capacity for learning about the real-world events or realities being modeled. Playing a ConSim for a particular battle or historical military campaign provides the players with some degree of insight or knowledge about the actual event. Even if things play out differently than in reality, the issues and decision factors the players grapple with are often highly analogous to those of the real world historical events.
I also wonder how games not about war and conflict, yet that nevertheless appeal to this sense of real world learning fall broadly within the wargame design school. I think of Sierra Madre Games like High Frontier or Bios: Megafauna in this regard, where the games are trying to take scientific knowledge and concepts and wrap them around a game and let players explore the theories and ideas. Similarly, I consider a game like Container within this realism/simulation school from the standpoint of tasking players with building a working economy with market changes and dynamics that are analogous to those in the real world (if nonetheless abstracted). There are principles and dynamics being modeled that have implications for knowledge building and learning that reach beyond the game itself.
There is often a lot of discussion about what is or isn’t considered an “Abstract” game. While some games we all generally agree on (i.e. Go or Checkers), others are less clear. Some people have argued that Chess isn’t an abstract because the playing pieces have a thematic element to their design and naming (e.g. Knight, Rook, King, Bishop, etc.). Tigris & Euphrates is another interesting case, where the theme comes across very weakly for some players leaving them feeling like the game is an abstract, although for others they have quite the opposite reaction and find it relatively thematic.
In the general sense, I tend to think of Abstract strategy games as games that (in some combination):
– Typically have no theme or representation art (i.e. abstract)
– Typically have no random elements (are deterministic)
– Typically have no hidden information (have open information)
– Typically 2-player
– Typically no simultaneous decisions/bluffing
– Typically simple components
– Typically simple rules with emergent gameplay
Under this approach of “typically” I’m perfectly fine lumping Chess, Backgammon, and Go all equally under the abstract strategy game umbrella, despite Backgammon’s use of dice and Chess evoking a warfare theme. They have enough of the other elements in place to put them well within the realm of abstract games in my mind.
But what is it that drives the design approach for abstract games? I feel that, taking the above criteria holistically, abstract games are an embodiment of minimalism in their design and execution.
Abstracts & Minimalism: Less is More
Under the context of minimalism, theme is not particularly necessary or desired. Heavy use of hidden information, random elements, or other considerations generally requires more rules and/or components to execute. Having more stuff to support more players generally runs counter to this minimalism idea as well.
Given the age of many classic abstracts, I do wonder to what extent this minimalism was born of necessity of the times, versus being a design conscious choice, or (perhaps more likely?) the result of the games evolving towards a more “pure” state over 100’s of years (in some cases). In Chess, or Go, or Backgammon, nearly everything that isn’t absolutely core and central to the game has been boiled away.
Abstracts & Minimalism: Emergence through Elegance
The compatriot of minimalism is the vital impotence abstract games place on simple rules creating emergent depth. Many of the classic abstract strategy games and can be leaned in a few minutes, yet the gameplay resulting from such a simple ruleset (and a minimal amount of components) is typically very deep and emergent. Abstracts are, in some ways, the ultimate expression of a framework or sandbox game, where elegant mechanics give rise to great depths. Go is the epitome of this notion.
I wonder where Traditional Card Games fit across this spectrum of design schools. Like many classic abstracts, Traditional Card Games have evolved over periods of time. Yet despite a game like Bridge, Cribbage, or Rummy being very different from each other and from more “board”-centric abstract games like chess or go, I feel like that have a similar lineage and design philosophy. They are minimal in their execution (in terms of components), are typically theme-less, and have simple rules with surprising depth. The big differentiator is of course hidden information and randomness – but there are other abstracts that demonstrate both of those attributes as well!
BONUS! Customizable Games: The Meta-Game
Having played a fair bit of Magic: The Gathering (customizable card game) in my younger days, as well as a healthy serving of Warhammer 40,000 (customizable miniature game) I feel that customizable games are ones where the bulk of the player’s thinking and strategizing is at a meta-level. I’ve spent probably more time thinking about and designing and testing Magic decks than I’ve spent actually in-game playing them. Likewise building army lists for Warhammer. The STRATEGY of these games is in the construction of the deck/army/whatever, and the tactics are in the execution of an individual play session.
Given that the strategizing exists largely outside of the gameplay itself, it isn’t surprising that the meta-game is of paramount importance. Knowing what cards or deck-types are strongest at a particular point in time and how to build a deck to work with that or counter it is critical to effective play; ditto for assembling miniature armies. Hence, being a good player of customizable games hinges heavily on your ability to follow and engage in the ever- shifting meta-game.
Phew! Let’s review where we went:
– Ameritrash School ~ Drama
– German Family School ~ Engagement
– Eurogame School ~ Challenge
– Wargame School ~ Realism
– Abstract School ~ Minimalism
The question you may be asking now is, what’s the point of all this? I have a few responses.
(1) There has been a fair amount of discussion recently about gamer preferences and how that translates into motives for playing certain types of games. I feel there is a strong relationship between these core priorities and the motives players have for a particular type of game and the experience that game intends to provide. Players looking for a simple but deep game that love abstracts might be turned off by many Ameritrash games, what with their fantastical themes and high drama theatrics.
This isn’t to say that gamers only have one preference though! Preferences and tolerances can change depending on one’s mood and the attitudes of the group as a whole that’s looking to game together.
(2) From a designer’s standpoint, being cognizant of these core priorities and how they impact the design decisions you make in light of your intended audience is critical. Fundamentally, as a designer you need to ask yourself “who” you are designing for, and start to work towards that audience or at least be aware of how different audience might interpret your game.
(3) These core priorities and design schools are loose, amorphous, and ever-changing. These aren’t hard and fast rules but rather general feelings and directions that define the movements. I found the core priority concept to be a handy way of framing the “gestalt” sense of certain types of games and a way to articulate what it is that certain games are trying to achieve.
(4) The past few years has seen a tremendous amount of hybridization and hybrid game forms. Hybrids, I’m inclined to think, occur when two or more priorities are roughly equal in importance. I can’t help but look at Mage Knight and see it has the off-spring of a simulation-ist Magic Realm-type game that had a collision course with Dominion and HeroQuest.
In conclusion, the core priorities idea provides a frame for better understanding the different schools of design. And going all the way back to Jezztek’s initial premise, it does in a way that let’s us come to terms with the big idea of the different schools and not get bogged down in the exact specifics of which attributes do or don’t define a particular genre. So the question now is, does this approach resonate with you? Or send you running in the other direction?
Let’s see your game collection. Post a shelfie! Here are some of our group’s game shelves.
Some shelfies of Tasha’s
Some of you may remember Tasha. She’s been a guest author on here. She laid down the law in how to play Letters from Whitechapel. Before becoming a regular of the Muskegon Area Gamers, Tasha had no idea so we were in the midst of a board gaming renaissance.
Tasha’s collection is so large it can’t fit in a single picture.
This is impressive.
I love the stuffed Donkey Kong. <3
That game of Conspiracy looks awfully familiar.
Oh, and I love the Dr. Who telephone booth.
A shelfie of Rocky
Rocky’s not fooling anyone with this shelfie. Rocky buys more games at Gen Con in any given year than can be seen here.
I wonder how Rocky’s Pandemic Legacy campaign is going.
Dr. Steve’s shelfie
I could ask Dr. Steve the same question about his Pandemic Legacy campaign. Oh, wait. He has two copies of the game! He liked it so much he wanted to play it twice.
I love the Death Star Lego set.
Some shelfies of The Gaming Annex
I keep my thrift store finds on a single shelf. Unfortunately it’s overflowing. I’ll have to purge them ASAP. If anyone in the Muskegon area wants one of these games, let me know.
This is the Wall of Games. It represents the bulk of the Gaming Annex’s library.
Note TI3 on the top shelf <3
Thrift store pick ups that are incomplete are relegated to this shelf. If you need any spare components, give me a holler.
I’d like to have one full shelf of Holy Grails. For now, that shelf is here. And for now the shelf is not complete. (I mean, Settlers of Catan is on this shelf for Pete’s sake).
But Star Wars Queen’s Gambit, Broadsides and Boarding Parties and Fireball Island are on it too. Soon, Dark Tower will be added.
Where to meet the people behind the shelfies
Muskegon Area Gamers
Muskegon, MI 127Muskegon Area Gamers
This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…
It’s been a while since I’ve done a piece about our most recent game acquisitions. I’ve completed a few trades to acquire some of the games below. I also cashed in some Speedway reward points for eBay gift cards to buy some of them. Let’s take a look at The Gaming Annex’s latest offerings.
1. Empires: Age of Discovery
Once upon a time there was a game called Age of Empires III. This was a PC game that was quite popular during its day. It spawned a board game of the same name. Published by Eagle Games, Age of Empires was teeming with plastic army
units and other goodies.
We played the game once many years ago. The game didn’t go over very well with Jon. He hated the game so much he used the game as a Christmas tree prop until he traded it.
Eagle Games kickstarted a deluxe edition of the game. The deluxe edition has phenomenal components. But they also overhauled the rules. I think the new edition is going to give Clash of Cultures a run for its money as our standby civ builder.
Empires: Age of Discovery is largely a worker-placement game. It’s also largely an area control game. Ugh! Worker-placement with area control?! That’s been done a billion times!
I know, I know. But Empires has a different take on worker-placement. There are different workers. Depending on which worker you send, you get a different benefit. Send a soldier to New Granada and you will be able to pick off your opponent’s units. Send a missionary and he converts a local, granting you an additional worker. Send a merchant and get a cool cache of, well, cash.
Because of warfare, there is a constant flux in the area control aspect of the game. This makes every decision super important. It also keeps players engaged while their opponents are taking actions. This is what will ultimately set Empires apart from other worker-placement games.
There are some designers that come up with clever mechanics. Rüdiger Dorn is one of them. Genoa, Istanbul and Jambo are all examples of his handiwork. Any discussion about the greatest game designers will invariably give a nod to Dorn.
And then there are some publishers that make really good games. HABA makes children’s games, albeit very good games for children. When I saw HABA had decided to enter the family game market I was intrigued. When they announced their intent to publish a Rüdiger Dorn game it was a foregone conclusion that I would own a copy.
Karuba has the puzzle aspect of Genoa. You will place tiles onto your player board to complete routes from one end to the other. But Karuba is a family game so the heavy min/max aspect is removed. Karuba is a multi-player solitaire game where players strive to complete their own player board first.
The reviews for Karuba are glowing. The game will be in the Top 100 for family games on BGG. It may even make it to the Top 10–the game is that well liked. I’m really looking forward to getting this to the table with some lighter gamers to see if it’s a huge hit.
3. Fire and Axe:
For several years I was trying to find the quintessential pirate game. It took many tries for me to come around to Merchants and Marauders. In the past several years, publishers
have been pumping out pirate themed games like crazy. It’s now one of the more common themes around.
Now I’m looking for the quintessential viking game. We gave Fire and Axe: a Viking Saga a try several years ago. I thought
the game had potential. But I also thought it had a hefty price tag: over $100 for used copies (it was out of print).
The good people at IDW Games got the rights to reprint Fire and Axe. I was able to trade for a used copy of the reprint recently. Now I have to get Nick Sima to read the rules so he can reteach me the game.
In Fire and Axe, players get seven actions on their turn. They can load goods onto their longboat, set sail, raid or trade. You will complete objectives like “Raid Dublin” so you can score points. You will draw rune cards to help you move and raid more effectively.
This sounds like a perfect viking game. And it sounds like it’ll be a good fit for the group if we give it a chance. I have the feeling that in an upcoming “Hits & Flops” entry that Fire and Axe: a Viking Saga will get a high mark.
4. Sea of Clouds
Speaking of pirate themed games, I picked up Sea of Clouds. Sea of Clouds will not replace Merchants & Marauders. But it could fill an important niche in my library: a lighter game to wrap up the evening.
Sea of Clouds takes one of the core mechanics of Cleopatra: Society of Architects and makes it into its own game. There are three cards drawn and placed face down. You may look at one of the cards. If you want it, you add the card to your hand. If you don’t, you add an additional card to the pile. Then you may take a different card pile.
The cards have different colored backs that allow you some information as to what you might be picking. The cards do different things like score points, sets to be collected or pirates with cool actions on them.
Sea of Clouds will not be the main course of a game night. But there are times when we get done with a big game and need something lighter. I think Sea of Clouds will fit into this category. I’ll bring it to CabinCon. I’ll post about it in an upcoming Hits & Flops post.
5. Adventure Land
I mentioned earlier that HABA is making a play for a larger share of the family game market. They released Karuba from famed designer Rüdiger Dorn. They also published Adventure Land from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. This is the team that brought you Torres,
Tikal and Australia.
With this much going for it, how could I not pick it up?
In Adventure Land, players move their 10 pawns on a 10×10 grid. Pawns move like rooks in chess. However, they can only move right or down. So you have to be clever in your movement in order to get the goodies that spring up on the board.
Swords, monsters, herbs and gold all appear on the board. Players score points for collecting gold and killing monsters. Players use swords and herbs to kill the monsters. Swords give you dice and herbs are added to the dice value after you see the roll.
I think Adventure Land, much like Karuba, will fill a niche in The Gaming Annex’s library. This niche would be “the primer”–a game you start the night off with. It whets your appetite for the meatier games. After you play a primer you are really raring to feast on the main course.
I’ll bring Adventure Land to CabinCon as well. I’ll let you know how it goes over.
There has been a growing trend in games lately. Games are coming in larger boxes. And the larger boxes are not filled with components. There have been several instances of publishers doing this. And the trend doesn’t seem to be stopping. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the publisher sells you a base game that will be big enough to hold the expansions that are on the horizon. But many of these instances are where the publisher wants the game to command a higher price tag. I won’t spend too much time condemning publishers for this practice. Why should I? Let’s instead have a hilarious look at some ridiculously large boxes for games.
2014’s Splendor (from Space Cowboy Games) took the gaming world by storm. It’s a family game that plays quick and has some meat. And there’s much to praise here.
Splendor was the Golden Geek Board Family Game of the Year, Tric Trac de Bronze winner and nominated for about every other accolade they bestow on board games nowadays.
But the one award they won’t be bestowing on Splendor will be 2014’s Most Efficient Use of a Game Box. The components take up about 15% of the game box.
The size of the box most likely was chosen to add perceived value. Splendor retails for around $40.
2. Core Worlds from Stronghold Games
Core World is one of many Dominion clones: a rethemed deck builder. Players have virtually identical starting decks and then go on to play solitaire until the game is over.
Our group tried it out a few years ago. I “missed out”
because I was at another table. But the game was so bad Mongo traded it forthwith. I think the game mechanics and lack of player interaction were the biggest reasons for the game’s lack of success with the
Muskegon Area Gamers. But certainly the non-environmentally friendly game box was not that endearing either. The game comes with 27 chits and 210 cards and 5 player aids. Oh, and a refrigerator box.
3. El Caballero from Rio Grande Games
The board game renaissance we now enjoy is in part due to the genius of Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich. Their 1995 release “El Grande” did as much for us hobbyists as Settlers of Catan even if most do not recognize this.
So in 1998, when word was uttered that this same design team was releasing a follow up game to “El Grande” called “El Caballero”, many in the gaming world were thrilled. Their enthusiasm probably waned when they opened the box and discovered this:
The game box seems to be about 20x the size actually needed.
Most people have forgiven the publishers for this since El Caballero enjoys a decent rating on BGG. But we won’t let stop of from having a laugh at the suckers who paid retail for this.
4. Race for the Galaxy from Rio Grande Games
Race for the Galaxy is a game that has an intense following. We’re talking Twilight Imperium/Diplomacy level of intensity. Those who like Race for the Galaxy seem conjoined with it.
I’ve found this intensity to be curious. I like Race okay. But it’s a bit of a filler that’s mostly solitaire in nature. When I wrote a review of the game saying it was slightly better than mediocre every fanboy on Amazon rose up to chastise me.
But the one thing they couldn’t refute was the box-size-to-game-component ratio. Once you discard the player aids (which are nigh unusuable–a point conceded by the fanboys), one is left with lots of Chinese air.
5. Res Publica from Queen Games
Reiner Knizia makes some good games. Res Publica is his take on a trading/negotiation game. The theme? Totally tacked on. Like most of his games (I’m looking at you Ra!)
His games can use simple components to make a deep and fun game. Res Publica, for example, is only 140 cards plus a page of rules.
Queen Games has been making what can only
be described as cash grabs. They keep publishing games that are high in cost but low in quality. It’s unfortunate because Queen Games used to be a top notch publisher.
Queen Games got the rights to Res Publica. They added their own house art work. And then they packed it into this. The box is 7.5″ by 8″ by 2.8″. This seems like it’s about 5″x5″x1″ too large. The price is also a bit higher than you might expect: $40 retail.
6. Poison from Playroom Games
Another Knizia entry on my list, Poison is a trick taking game with a bit of a twist. You are trying to NOT take a trick.
The theme is totally pasted on. The game was called “Baker’s Dozen” in its first iteration and is called, “Friday the 13th” in its most recent iteration.
What you are waiting for with bated breath is: how much extra packaging did they use? The answer is: about all of it. The game comes with so much extra packaging one marvels at Playroom’s design choice. All the game fits in a small card holder about 1/10th the actual box’s size.
7. Steve Jackson’s Munchkin
Munchkin is the poster child for take-that games. You play cards against your opponent (take that!) while trying to achieve level 10 for your character.
Munchkin is also the poster child for why I don’t like Steve Jackson’s games. I find his designs to be both not funny and not serious. I cannot abide games that are neither. Munchkin is not serious. And games of it can last up to 90 minutes making it not funny.
And finally Munchkin is also the poster child for this list. Lots of air from whatever Chinese printer Steve Jackson is using these days.
The game comes with 168 cards, a rules sheet and a birdcage lining that says “something…something…buy Steve Jackson Games”.
The box is about 5x the necessary size. This affords the publisher the ability to sell these 168 cards for $24.99 retail.
8. Machi Koro
Machi Koro is a nifty little game. The game takes the resource gathering mechanic of Settlers of Catan and adds it to a card drafting mechanic of Dominion. When taking inspiration from other games, Settlers and Dominion are good ones to choose.
But boy did they screw the packaging pooch. The game comes in box that could have been about 80% smaller. The game comes with 108 cards, two dice and some coins. Amazon lists the dimension of this box at 9.2″x9.2″x2.8″. That’s lots of air. I hope it’s refreshing. Because the game retails for $39.99.
There has been a couple of areas of push back from the gaming community because of this. One is the cost. Gamers don’t like being bilked for lots of packaging. But the other is physical room. Gamers have constrained areas for their hobby. And if publishers keep making games with overly large boxes, gamers will have to be choosier in their game purchases.
The trend doesn’t seem to be subsiding. But many gamers have been noting it. Once the publishers realize we are onto them, they will change course. And find other ways to separate us from money.
I last blogged about my holy grails about a year ago. There has been considerable changes made to my list since then. New grails added to the list. Previous grails successful acquired. Here is the updated list of games I need to turn The Gaming Annex into a board game museum.
1. Star Wars Queen’s Gambit
I first saw Star Wars Queen’s Gambit at a game store in 2000. It was going for $75.
I was not a particularly huge fan of The Phantom
Menace. And I have never been a particularly huge fan of Hasbro. So I decided their take on this license was probably mediocre.
Fast forward 16 years later. This is theHoly Grail. It is probably the game consistently on everyone’s holy grail list. And I found an unplayed copy. The price was several times higher than it was in 2000. A painful lesson. My student loans will have to wait.
I’ll be taking my copy of Star Wars Queen’s Gambit to CabinCon III. I’m pretty sure it will get played.
Holy Grail status: I own a copy!
2. King Oil
I’m always impressed with Milton Bradley the way I’m not impressed with Hasbro. Milton Bradley was way ahead of its time. And their 1974 game King Oil was a case in point.
During the height of the oil crisis of the 1970’s, Milton Bradley made a game about oil drilling that was fun and had unique mechanics.
You would speculate about where to drill. The deeper the well, the more expensive the endeavor. The 3D game board offered random levels of oil drilling. After pumping Texas tea out of the mine, you would cap it off and pipe it for distribution.
The game board is always different. There are three discs that can be spun into 12 different positions each. The shallow well from one game could be dry the next.
I’ve been wanting a copy of this game
since I first laid eyes on the game in the 70’s. We were too poor for a new $8.99 board game. I’d have to wait until 2015 and buy it used for $80.
Which is what I did.
The Gaming Annex now has a copy of King Oil!
Holy Grail status: I own a copy!
3. Dark Tower
Dark Tower was a feat of engineering prowess for 1981. Players punched in their movement into the built in computer. The computer would then handle all aspects of the game that would normally be controlled by the
players. Combat? Check. Items? Check.
The computer is a bit primitive by today’s standards. But it got the job done. And many copies still function flawless today.
Complete copies of Dark Tower cost a pretty penny. A prohibitively expensive pretty pennies. I do occasionally have to make a student loan payment.
By the next installment of “holy grails” on this blog, however, I plan on having a copy.
Holy Grail status: Not yet
4. Crossbows & Catapults
Crossbows & Catapults is stupid fun. Stupid because you hurl plastic caroms at your opponent’s playing pieces with rubber band powered siege equipment. Fun because hurling plastic caroms at your opponent’s
playing pieces is the sidesplitting.
I was first exposed to Crossbows & Catapults in the early 80’s. It was a Christmas tradition for my sister Patty and I to look through the Witmark catalog for things that Santa could bring us. Evidently Santa shopped at Witmarks. Which is strange because Witmark went the way of the dodo.
I didn’t get a copy of C&C, unfortunately. Fast forward to the late 80’s. I was in high school. A friend of mine owned some C&C stuff. We would play it on his pool table. It was stupid fun.
I’ve longed for a copy ever since.
Holy Grail status: not yet 🙁
5. Voice of the Mummy
Voice of the Mummy was the 1970’s version of Dark Tower. Because it was made in the 70’s, the game is sans a computer. Instead it has a record player.
The record player controls the random elements of the game. At least to the best of a record player’s ability.
The record player tells you what happens when you land on certain spots. When the great jewel is taken, the record is flipped over to its B side. And the race to leave begins.
Like I said earlier: I’m forever amazed at what Milton Bradley did. And Voice of the Mummy is no exception. Copies of this game are few and far between. I would love a copy for our, ahem, museum. Until then…
Holy Grail status: not yet
Dune is a true gamer’s Holy Grail game. It’s value as a game in 2016 is fueled by its stellar mechanics rather than its nostalgia. Copies of the original game are quite pricey.
I’ve had the chance to play it twice in the past few months. [Name redacted] received a copy from his father. He taught Kevin, Prof. Mike and myself how to play. It went over very well. I can see why it’s still appealing to gamers today.
Since [Name redacted] has a copy on permanent exhibit at The Gaming Annex, I don’t think I need a copy now.
Holy Grail status: Removed indefinitely.
7. El Dorado from Parker Brothers
It’s not often that I want a Parker Brothers game. It’s almost never that I would want to play a game from 1941. And yet, Parker Brother’s “El Dorado: Game of the World’s Hidden Treasures” was published in 1941 and is on my Holy Grail list.
This game comes from the heyday of Parker Brothers. The pinnacle of their game design in both mechanics and
components. It was all down hill after 1941. Perhaps the war effo
BGG has little information about this game. It’s a roll and move game with some press your luck. Not much to go on. But I’m still drawn in. I’ve officially added this to my list.
Holy Grail status: Not yet.
8. Fireball Island
Fireball Island. The game is on almost as many Holy Grail lists as SW: Queen’s Gambit. It’s probably been crossed off more Holy Grail lists than Queen’s Gambit.
The toy factor is strong in this one. Toy explorers ascend a 3D board that spits red marbles at them. Plastic bridges crash under the heaving red marbles. Gaudy plastic gems lure our toy explorers ever on towards the center of the board.
It’s rating of 6.4 on BGG is not entirely due to nostalgia. There is genuine decision making in Fireball Island. Managing the risks of fireballs coming from the center of the island is critical.
I found an incomplete copy on eBay. It’s missing the orange explorer. Mongo said he has a copy. I’ve got my fingers crossed that he has an orange explorer for me.
Holy Grail status: incomplete
9. Where Holy Grails are available for weekly game plays…
The folks in Grand Rapids have their own gaming convention: GrandCon.Don’t laugh. It’s growing each year. Last year they moved it from Calvin College to the Crowne Plaza Hotel on 28th Street. And this, their third year, will be larger than last year’s I can assure you. GrandCon is starting to gain some international attention too. The bigger names in board games are making the trip to Grand Rapids. Since I work in GR, and because I love board games, it would inexcusable for me to NOT go. The Muskegon Area Gamers will be making a trip to GrandCon. I’ve detailed some of the events I would like to attend.
1. Memoir ’44: Overlord Edition
I love me some Memoir ’44. Richard Borg (the designer) really did a good job of making a press-your-luck, manage-your-hand-of-cards game. And he set it to WWII. Nate and I have a long standing grudge match for M44. We’ve played through all the scenarios in the base game and two of the expansions. I think we’ve been evenly matched so far.
Now this Overlord edition has been intriguing me for a while now. It is an 8 player rendition with four players a side. We tried it at CabinCon II but it went over like a lead balloon.
I think the Overlord version of Memoir ’44 could be a great way to play the game. And there is a GrandCon event this year for Overlord. I am SOOO going to sign up and play. Maybe I can get some of our other gamers involved.
2. Space Cadets: Away Missions
I’ve played Space Cadets: Dice Duel. I really like it. It captures the tension of being aboard a starship fighting in desperate combat. Everyone has their own station they must manage. And the captain must be on his toes if he is going to outwit his opponent.
Now the team from Stronghold Games has another title in this universe. In Space Cadets: Away Missions, you take to the planet and complete your missions. And the team from Stronghold Games is going to be at GrandCon to do the session! This ought to be really good.
3. Fief: France 1429
Bruce brought over Fief: France 1429 over a couple of times now. The Muskegon Area Gamers have tried it out twice. The last time, seen here, was with many of the bells and whistles.
Fief is a negotiation-war game set in the days of Joan of Arc. You strive to crown yourself or your partner king. You need to take over portions of land, take titles like cardinals and bishoprics and defeat your opponents.
There are several events of Fief at GrandCon this year. If you haven’t tried out this game, you owe it to yourself to give it a go.
4. Artemis Spaceship Sim
Artemis is a highly rated spaceship simulator. It’s like a video game version of Stronghold Games’ Space Cadets. Everyone has their own station. And you must be good at your station if you are going to be able to complete your missions.
The captain must be on his game, directing his subordinates in the most effective fashion. Otherwise, the enemy ship will get the drop on you and you will be defeated.
I haven’t had the chance to play Artemis yet. And normally I pass on video games. But I’ve heard so much about this that I cannot pass it up. There are several Artemis events at GrandCon so no one has an excuse to miss it.
5. Battlestar Galactica
I probably won’t be playing in the Battlestar Galactica events. But I thought I would mention it here nonetheless. One of our own, Jeremy, is going to be teaching the game. Jeremy loves BSG. And he will teach you all about the game. If you’ve been wanting to try out Battlestar Galactica, go to GrandCon and have Jeremy teach it to you.
6. After GrandCon, come here:
Muskegon Area Gamers
Muskegon, MI 87Muskegon Area Gamers
This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…
By and large, the board game community at boardgamegeek.com is quite accurate about what games are good and what games are not so good. I will begrudgingly acknowledge that even if I do not like the game that the game has deep strategy, a cool theme or what have you. But there are some overlooked gems at BGG. There are also some games which our group by and large ignore because of the Cult of the New. Here is a brief list of some overlooked gems.
Nautilus is a steam-punk Jules Verne inspired game. Players add onto an underwater city, adding research modules and habitation modules. Players will manage their money (which is quite scarce) in order to obtain the relics of Atlantis, the scoop on rare organisms and getting bonuses for having highly trained technicians in the city.
The game is a solid 7 by my reckoning with a possible nod to 8. Unfortunately I haven’t played the game since 2013. The Muskegon Area Gamers have been largely ignoring it for a year or two.
Nautilus is an overlooked gem by the masses as well. Despite its slightly above average rating of 6.43 on BGG, most critics panned the game as “too long” or “too much randomness”. This has not been my experience.
The game lasts about 1 hour, maybe an hour and
15 minutes. This is about right for a good, tight strategy game. And the randomness in the game is all subject to mitigation. Players can mitigate it or they can risk it, seeking high rewards for high risk. This is perfect for an exploration game.
Verdict: Overlooked and underplayed. Get it to the table STAT!
2. Gone Fishing!
I detest fishing. Always have. When I came across Michael Rieneck’s game “Gone Fishing!” I was certain it would be dull.
Boy was I wrong!
This little filler is a perfect two player asymmetrical game. One player takes on the role of the fishermen while the other player takes on the role of the fish. You cast your line, decide how long you will fish in that spot, then reel in the big one. After your fishermen have spent the day fishing, you swap sides. Whoever scored the biggest fish is declared the winner.
The game features some deduction and intuition along with hidden movement. This is true in much of Rieneck’s work. And it works quite well here. That is why I was surprised by the ill reception the game has received from BGG.
BGG rates Gone Fishing! at a frosty 5.33, below the average rating of 5.5 which games accrue automatically upon entering the database. How could this be?
Well, BGG’ers do not like memory games. And Gone Fishing! does have a memory component to it. And I will stipulate that the memory component is the least attractive part of the game. But that alone shouldn’t cost this game, should it?
This game can be added to any game collection that needs a 20 minute filler for two players. And it’s going for about $10 + shipping so the price is right.
Verdict: Overlooked gem.
Klaus Teuber’s games always seem fun when you read the rules. But they have habitually left me disappointed. Settlers of Catan, Settlers the card game, Anno 1503 and Elasund come to mind. All of them seemed neat when I read the rules. All of them disappointed me when we played. They all seemed fun for the first 30 to 45 minutes. But the games lasted for an hour to an hour and half. That’s a problem.
Then I played Entdecker. It is the best Teuber game I’ve played. By far. Entdecker is a lot like Nautilus. Both are exploration games, both give players the ability to mitigate luck by spending resources and both require a tight pocketbook to be successful.
But Entdecker works completely differently than Nautilus mechanically. The outcome is very satisfying. I love the artwork. The tiles are drawings of island chains from flyover height. It helps sell the theme. You really feel like you are exploring the island chains of the New World.
The board game community has given it a decent 6.60 rating. I would give it a solid 8. Unfortunately I have not played Entdecker since 2010! A whopping five years ago!
Verdict: Overlooked gem. I need to rediscover America.
In Emanuele Ornella’s “Martinique”, players take their band of pirates to the eponymous island in search of booty and trinkets. By moving pirates from space to space, you will pick up trinkets or a map with coordinates to the big treasure. The person who finds the big treasure is the winner. If no one finds the big treasure then the person who has collected the most valuable trinkets on Martinique is the winner.
The theme of Martinique is completely pasted on. There is no high seas adventure here.
But mechanically the game works very well. Exceptionally well. The game is played over two stages. During the first stage, players move their pirates from space to space to pick up tiles. These tiles could have a map on them or a trinket. Trinkets are kept in order to score points. The map is used to find the big treasure.
After you have moved all of your pirates and can no longer move them, the game progresses to the second stage which is the guessing/deduction part.
At set up, two of the map tiles are removed from the board and used to determine the grid coordinates of the big treasure. At game’s end, players get four guesses as to where this treasure is. If you found some pieces of the map then you know some coordinates where the treasure isn’t and can make an informed guess.
This may not sound like a great idea but boy does it work well. You can hedge your bets by taking some map pieces. You can ignore that aspect of the game and collect trinkets. You can bluff during the guessing part of the game to trick your opponent. It’s got a lot going on for a 25 to 30 minute game.
Yet BGG gives is a lukewarm rating of 6.35. Because of this, copies are available for sale for $10 give or take. I would encourage you to pick up a copy if you don’t own one. It is a very good game.
Verdict: Overlooked gem.
Navigating dangerous rapids and falls while collecting gems is the theme of Niagara. Players have two canoes they use to move to and fro. Players program their movements at the beginning of the round. Then reveal and execute them one by one. After all moves have been made, the river moves down stream a distance equal to the smallest programmed movement played that turn. This could mean that canoes are pushed off the river, costing you the gems you already harvested.
Niagara is a beautiful game. The artwork is good and the components are gorgeous. Similar to Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, you will use the game box itself as the game board. The elevated surface allows the canoes to literally fall of the edge.
One of the charms of Niagara is the fact that there is no randomness. All the variables in the game are controlled explicitly by the players. Throw the right movement into the game at the right time and your opponents will be hosed. Try to get cute and get the pink gems (the hardest in the game) and you could fall of the edge.
There are three victory conditions: collect one gem of each color (five total), collect four gems of one color or collect seven gems total. This allows you to change your strategy to the realities of the board.
Despite the game having tremendous visual flair and no randomness and even winning the Spiels des Jahres, the BGG community gives this game a stingy 6.4 rating. Sluggish sales means you can pick up a copy for around $30.
Verdict: Overlooked gem; haven’t played since last summer.
I began adding games to my personal library about 6 months after meeting Bruce, one of our regulars. His game library was quite daunting. And I hate being daunted. I made the promise to get an active library of 500 games. To this end have I been buying, trading and purging games from my collection. Purging, you ask? Because I want the right 500 games. This process of buying/trading/purging is ongoing. And expensive. Luckily I have a very supportive wife who understands that if I didn’t spend my money at Out of the Box Games, I would spend it at the bar. I thought I would share some of the more expensive lessons I learned along the way.
1. You loving a game ≠ Your group loving a game
Space Hulk 3rd Edition was the long awaited reimplementation of Games Workshop’s popular “man versus alien in desperate battle” franchise. The game came out in 2009 to strong critical and popular praise. I wanted a copy. I also wanted a copy that was fully painted. And I didn’t want to do the painting myself.
A week’s pay later: I had a copy. I got the game to table. I thought it was good. A squad of heavily armed but heavily outnumbered Space Marines are clearing an ancient spaceship of a Tyranid infestation. Each corridor is teeming with genestealers lurking behind a corner.
But the group rejected it. The Muskegon Area Gamers did find it as charming as me. An expensive lesson was learned.
2. Games that were fun when you were a kid are not necessarily fun now
Board game enthusiasts all have a touch of nostalgia. There are those games you remember having fun with when you were a kid.
When you become an adult you might feel the temptation to buy some of these games to add to your library. The lesson here is: don’t. Those games are not necessarily still good.
Asmodee made a wonderful reimplementation of Milton Bradley’s “Hotels”. The components are top notch (just what you would expect from Asmodee). The game is faithful to its predecessor.
But its predecessor is not good. Do not buy Hotels. Or rather, do not let nostalgia dictate how you add games to your library.
3. To Kickstart or Not to Kickstart; that is the question
Kickstarter is really hit-and-miss. There are plenty crappy games being kickstarted. But every now and again there is a real gem. And it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Steve Jackson released the deluxe edition of his Ogre franchise on kickstarter. It’s a 35 lb. box of board gaming madness. And I passed on it. Now the price is much higher.
Should I have paid $125 for the Deluxe edition when it was on kickstarter? Yes, if the alternative is paying >$125 now.
But kickstarter produces lots of crap (I’m looking at you Exile Sun!). How is a game collector to know the difference?
The thing about kickstarter is that tons of crappy games that genuine publishers won’t touch are being funded. But there are occasional gems that you can get really cheap if you can tell the difference.
4. Being a completest can be poisonous to a game collector
The logic goes like this: I like a game therefore more of that game must make it better. In practice, this is as often false as it is true.
Take A Game of Thrones: the living card game. We played the heck out of this at Jeremy Pyne’s. Then we got word that the 2nd edition (which is incompatible) was coming out. All our cards are now obsolete. And we are going to start from ground zero.
It is difficult to be a game collector without being a completest–the two go hand in hand. But you must guard against being compulsive when being a completest.
Now we have several sets of AGOT:LCG cards that are obsolete.
5. Trading games = High Shipping Costs
Board game geek has a wonderful game trade feature. It is great for connecting to gamers who have the game you want and who also want the game you have. One problem: shipping costs eat away all the savings.
Boxes and padding are expensive. I can get it free at work because there is stuff laying around. But the cost of postage is >$10 or more a game. And there is little savings to be made by bulk trading.
A few gamers tried to sidestep this by shipping their games to me with “media mail”. Media mail is for, well, media. Magazines, CD’s, books, non-advertising printouts, etc. And the USPS busts open boxes that are labeled media mail just to make sure they are in fact media mail. Then they return the boxes to the sender. Lesson: do not use media mail to mail a board game.
The best way to trade games cheaply is via no-ship trades. But there haven’t been any in the Muskegon/Holland/Grand Rapids area in a few years. We need the fellas from GrandCon to step up. Now that I am on the topic, maybe me or Rocky will have to tell Brian Lenz to have a math trade at this year’s GrandCon.
6. Buying a game that is out print…six months later they reprint it
This one hasn’t happened to me yet. But I know it will bug the ever living shit out of me when it does happen. What am I talking about? Paying $100+ for an out of print game. And then the publisher reprints it six months later. If I had just waited, I could have gotten for $70 less.
A Study in Emerald is a good example of this. Many people (luckily not me) were vying for a copy on eBay and on BGG. The going price is $200 for what is essentially a card game. The game was super popular but Martin Wallace’s Tree Frog Games couldn’t justify another print run.
And then they finally COULD justify it. And the 2nd printing is slated for later this year. I know Kevin (a Muskegon Area Gamer) is excited. I am really interested in trying it out too.
Adding games to your game library and then having this happen to you can make you discouraged. I don’t know any solution to it other than keeping up with the news to see if there are rumors of a reprint.
7. Buying an expensive game…20 minutes later you realize it sucks
For us, the game was Rex: Final days of an Empire. We love Twilight Imperium. We love the Frank Herbert franchise “Dune”. When Fantasy Flight was reimplementing the classic board game “Dune” with their Twilight Imperium races, of course the Muskegon Area Gamers would be on board.
We played the game. And Jeremy Pyne won on the first turn. We played it a second time. Jeremy Pyne won on the first turn. The next day I traded it (the game, not Jeremy Pyne).
The game, by all rights, should have been a strong addition to our group. But it was terrible. There are some games you really should play before you pull the trigger and make a blind buy.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my board game wishes. And I don’t believe I’ve had an all-video blog post before so I thought I would make one. Some new games have whet my gaming appetite. Here is a list of a few of them.
1. Flick ’em Up!
If you know my gaming tastes, you know I dislike dexterity components in my game mechanics. Flick ’em Up! is nothing more than a series of dexterity components wrapped in bacon. And I love bacon.
The dexterity component is so well executed in this game I cannot help but be intrigued. You flick a disc to move your cowboy. You flick a bullet to kill our opponents. You have shootouts. It looks like it’s a lot of FUN!
Interest level: A-
2. War of Kings
I’ve been on the outs with A Game of Thrones: the Board Game. It’s not that great of a game. I used to like it a lot. Now I think it’s pretty good but has several flaws. I’m looking for a game that will scratch that itch.
War of Kings just might fit that bill. Action cards, trading, expansion, development…we’ve finally got a medieval fantasy 4X game!
Now if I can talk Nate into buying it, reading the rules and teaching me the game, I’ll be all set.
Interest level: A+
3. Port Royal
I’m a sucker for push-your-luck games. It’s a hard game mechanic to implement well. And if it is implemented well, I usually like the game. I came across Port Royal on boardgamegeek.com. And I think I found a good entry into the push-your-luck field.
I’m also intrigued by the card drafting mechanic. It seems Port Royal has solved the four player solitaire quandary so many other games nowadays seem to be stuck in.
Interest level: B+
4. A Study of Emerald
Neil Gaiman’s book “A Study in Emerald” is a cult classic. Martin Wallace is a game designer extraordinaire. When he published the board game of A Study in Emerald, it sold out quickly. Copies of it went for $200. Consumers beseeched Wallace to publish more copies.
And he has promised to do so.
The 2nd Edition looks awesome. Now if I can get Kevin to buy a copy, read the rules and teach me the game–I’ll be all set.
Interest level: A-
5. Spheres of Influence
I’ve been intrigued by the 80’s game “Supremacy”, a combination of Monopoly and Risk. A game about the Cold War to the War on Terror is a welcome addition to my collection.
Then I saw Spheres of Influence. It looks like a streamlined version of Supremacy. This MAY be a good thing. I’m intrigued by Spheres of Influence but I have some reservations still. The combat looks like it could be swingy. And I suspect the game could have runaway leader problems.
Interest level: B
6. Forbidden Stars
Jon and I played StarCraft: The Board Game back in the Club Sternberg days. The game didn’t go over well. Then Jon traded for El Grande, Junta and Perikles. Now he wishes he hadn’t made that trade.
Then Fantasy Flight decided to reskin StarCraft with a 40K theme. And I am very excited. This looks like it could be quite good. Tech upgrades, landing invasions, space combat. This could scratch my TI3 itch when we have fewer than 5 players. Now if I can get Dusty to buy the game, read the rules and then teach me the game–I’ll be all set.