Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Congress of Gamers 2016

Every fall there's a little weekend convention in Rockville, Maryland that I've always enjoyed.  Hosted at the unassuming Rockville Senior Center, Congress of Gamers features a series of Euro tournaments, an auction store, and a game design room.  The Games Club of Maryland sponsored the convention, and Break My Game ran the prototype testing event this year's session, which convened last weekend. 

My first priority was to play Acquire (designer Sid Sackson), my favorite game that I never get to play.  Five of us signed up to play in a single game that was a real brain-burner.  All seven companies came out within the first two rounds of play.  I had no chance of keeping track of who had what.  By the end, it occurred to me that I need to reconsider how I play this game.  I tend to buy shares strictly in small companies that I anticipate being taken over, in the interest of pursuing bonuses with a high return on investment.  Unfortunately, at the end of the game I found myself with a lot of cash but very few shares of the large high-value surviving companies.  The result was that I came in a distant second to Bill, the player to my right, whose purchase timing seemed impeccable throughout the game.  If I have one complaint about Acquire, it is that tile luck can factor strongly in the outcome, and Bill readily admitted that the right tiles came out for him.  Nevertheless I'm convinced that he also made some excellent investments at the right time and capitalized on a number of other players' mergers, so he deserved the win outright.

I spent most of my time in the Unpublished Gaming Room, as I usually do.  I didn't bring any designs myself but spent the entire time playtesting other people's games.  Highlights included
David Stephenson explains "Empire" to
Matt and Corinne Yeager

  • Getting in a four-player game of David Stephenson's "Empire."  I played it once head-to-head with David at UnPub 6 last spring, and I can tell now that the game is much more interesting in a larger group.  Negotiation plays a big part in this abstracted nation-building game.  I'm really fond of it, and it deserves attention from publishers.
  • Discovering "Bring in the Birds" by Elizabeth Hargrave, such an innocent-sounding game, and so strategic
  • Revisiting "Dichotomy" (alias "Zhongbai: Game of Balance"), by Matthew Yeager, much cleaner than its 2015 Congress of Gamers rendition and perhaps one of the best trick-taking games I've ever played (and that includes Diamonds
  • Trying out "Fealty," David Stephenson's nifty social bluffing game (that might need a new name, since Asmadi has a 2011 release with that title)
  • Learning "Cave Paintings of Lascaux," by Corinne Yeager, a dice-driven set collector with a simple tech tree and elements of Splendor 
  • David Stephenson (l.) gives feedback to
    designer Austin Smokowicz on
    "Cattle Car"
  • Playing through "Cattle Car," by Austin Smokowicz and Aaron Honsowetz (the "Dr Wictz" design team), a lean deck builder with a Western theme that I'd seen before but don't recall playing.  It's got some tricky little interaction mechanics, as Josh Tempkin demonstrated in our playtest.
  • Jumping back into Adam "Alf Shadowsong" Fischer's "Kahl'Shera," a chaotic dice game with a whirling dervish martial showmanship dance kind of theme that I'd seen at an UnPub event somewhere before

(l. to r.) Peter Gousis, Dan H., and
Jessica Wade schooling me in Asara
Also in open gaming, I met up with Peter Gousis (MVP Games), Dan H. (League of Nonsensical Gamers), and Jessica Wade (Dice Hate Me - State of Games podcast).   (Actually, I kind of invited myself to their table.)  We all learned Asara (designers Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer, publisher Rio Grande), which turns out to be a nifty area control game.  Fun and clever, if not life-changing.

I also sat in on a demonstration of Eminent Domain (designer Seth Jaffee, publisher Tasty Minstrel Games), which I'd always been curious about since its seminal success on Kickstarter in the fall of 2010 as one of the ground-breaking boardgames of those early crowd-funding days.  As it happens, I found it to be rather a love-child of Dominion and Race for the Galaxy, both games that I wish I liked more than I do, and so I was left similarly unexcited by ED.  That's okay; that's why we do demos.

So Congress of Gamers was a fun, low-key gaming weekend.  Such a nice little convention.  I look forward to next year.

Friday, September 9, 2016


Having always approached game design as a solitary creative activity, I've been curious about successful design teams like Inka and Markus Brand (Village), or Kramer and Kiesling (Tikal).  My friend Keith Ferguson recently spoke about the collaborative process with Ben Pinchback, who said that he and Matt Riddle meet on a weekly basis and just work on games for a dedicated regular session. 

That notion got us thinking, and the timing was right, so Keith and I have decided to get together on a biweekly basis to try our hand at collaborating on a game project.  Our first session was Wednesday night, and in two hours we went from having a couple of vague ideas to sketching out the initial concepts of what could actually develop into a fun game.  The best part is that I'm excited about game design all over again, and I think we'll have fun seeing what we come up with, whether or not our efforts amount to anything worthwhile.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Summer vacation gaming

Our friends gave us access to their beach house in Rodanthe, North Carolina, for a week this summer.  For me, the best part of a summer vacation is simply sitting without a care in the world and reading a book or playing a game, and we did plenty of both.  I finished three books (including Girls on Games, reviewed in my last post), and we played games every day, including my sons, who are not normally enthusiastic gamers.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hearing Women Tell It: A Review of "Girls on Games"

At a time when the board game community has become gradually aware of the unique experiences of women in the hobby, the gently feminist Girls on Games, an anthology on gender perspective in gaming particularly and in geekdom more generally, successfully Kickstarted in 2014 with over 900 backers.  Elisa Teague - designer of games, events, costumes, and props - compiled 15 essays by women and a foreword (by a man) and herself wrote six more plus an afterword.  She also interleaved “Share My Story Spotlight” anecdotes by two women, three men, and a girl, plus a poem – or perhaps a song lyric – by “The Doubleclicks.”  And to read and hear women tell it, despite a consistently optimistic tone throughout their essays, they experience some ugly behavior in our gaming hobby  – from condescension, to scorn, to challenges to their bona fides as game lovers.  After reading of these experiences, frankly, I don’t know how they put up with it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fifth annual-ish "What to pack for a vacation"

This summer we're headed to the North Carolina Outer Banks for a week at a beach house.  We just threw together a list of games to bring based partly on recent acquisitions, partly on old favorites, and partly on family stand-byes that we think we can get the normally reluctant sons to play.  Here's this year's packing list:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Can one house rule make an old game new again?

Replacing the dryer with one that was two inches wider led to having to move a shelf unit.  Which meant unloading all the old games from the shelves.  Which meant going through all the old games and deciding which to keep and which to dispose of.  Which meant rediscovering games that perhaps deserved a second look.  Which led to trying a 20-year-old game that I'd picked up at a PrezCon auction thinking my wife would like it but never actually played - 221B Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes and the Time Machine (designer Jay Moriarity, publisher John N. Hansen Co).

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kramer and Kiesling recommendations

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted my realization that I have no games in my collection that are designed by Wolfgang Kramer nor Michael Kiesling, arguably two of the biggest designer names of our time.  They collaborated to design such high-flyers as Tikal, Torres, and Maharaja.  Kramer also designed El Grande, Princes of Florence, and Colosseum.  So I solicited recommendations from Twitter followers, and here are the titles that came up:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Perspectives on Origins 2016 - Friday 17 June

Continued from Part 1, Thursday 16 June

East India Company
My primary purpose at Origins was to pitch "East India Company" to publishers.  At noon on Friday, my first appointment went well, but the publisher had issues with some of the liberties I'd taken with history in terms of which commodities were produced at which colonies.  I'd certainly made some "convenient assignments" in the interest of making the math work in the gameplay, but he seemed to think I'd gone too far and ought to revisit the historical basis of the game.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Perspectives on Origins 2016 - Thursday 16 Jun

Keith Ferguson and I drove to the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday 16 June.  Most of what I recorded at Origins manifested in the medium of tweets.  What follows are a few highlights, and as the opportunity arises, I may elaborate on some of them.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Dice, Dexterity, and Tactics: A One-play Review of "Barrage Battle"

The application of dexterity to combat resolution in modern game design appears to be an emerging phenomenon, the Western-themed Flick 'em Up the most notable example.  Raechel Mykytiuk and Matthew Kuehn bring a new innovation by blending dexterity with the card-character skirmish format of such games as Up Front and Summoner Wars in the fantasy-themed combat game Barrage Battle, currently on Kickstarter with a funding date of Friday June 24. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gaming in a hospital room - revisited

A little over four years ago, I wrote a couple of posts on what works and what doesn't when playing games in a hospital room or waiting room.  We find ourselves in a similar situation this week, although the medical circumstances are decidedly more serious.  All the same, it is helpful to revisit the principles that make for a good pasttime under such trying circumstances - portability, compactness, simplicity, humor, interruptibility, and brevity.  What follows is an amalgamation of highlights from the two posts.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Games for a one-armed mother-in-law

My mother-in-law was in a rather severe car accident a few weeks ago.  She is home from the hospital and recovering from surgery to her elbow, arm, and hand.  We plan to visit soon, but we are faced with a dilemma:  What three-player games are appropriate when one player can't easily hold a hand of cards and really only has use of one hand?

Friday, April 15, 2016

UnPub 6: Adjustments to "East India Company"

"East India Company" demo at PrezCon 2016:
(l. to r.) Darrell Louder, T.C. Petty III, Paul O.,
Matthew O'Malley, Jessica Wade
Photo by Chris Kirkman
I had demonstrated "East India Company" to a publisher at PrezCon last February, and came away realizing that the action cards I had added since UnPub 5 last year still needed some balancing.  I was also dissatisfied by the amount of down-time I observed (although the players hadn't complained about it).  In anticipation of UnPub 6, I made three significant changes:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ninja Countdown: A one-play review of San Ni Ichi

In the quintessential neo-tradition of first-time game designer/publishers, Ironmark Games has successfully crowd-funded and released debut designer Mike Sette's rather fascinating little trick-taking game with a Ninja martial arts theme.  San, Ni, Ichi, whose title translates from Japanese as "Three, Two, One," features simultaneous card play with a rock-paper-scissors resolution mechanic.

Friday, March 4, 2016

PrezCon 2016: Pillars of the Earth final

(c) Mayfair Games
Used by permission

I ran the tournament for Pillars of the Earth (designers Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler, artists Michael Menzel, Anke Pohl, and Thilo Rick; publisher Mayfair) at PrezCon again this year.  This worker placement game is based thematically on the Ken Follett novel of the same name.  Players compete to contribute the most to the construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral.  They have at their disposal a team of unskilled workers for collecting sand, wood, and stone, and for working in the wool mill for money.  Players can pay or recruit a team of up to five skilled craftsmen to use those raw materials to contribute to the cathedral's construction.  Metal is also available but more difficult to come by.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift Meta-guide

Plenty of people have plenty of gift ideas for the holidays, so rather than compile my own list to add to the rest, I've assembled my second annual collection of holiday gift guides with recommendations from all over the blogosphere.  At the end, I'll highlight the most frequently recommended games from all these lists.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Controversial themes

This week I happened across an old State of Games podcast in which Chris Kirkman, Nat Levan, and the Dice Hate Me crew discussed the potential backlash from Nat's whaling-themed game, New Bedford.  The discussion addressed why people might have difficulty with a game based on hunting and killing whales.  For my part, I'm very fond of the game, and I think its historical setting and the chit-pull mechanic that models the depletion of the whale population lend the proper respect to the topic.  In short, it's not a controversial theme for me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Boardgames in the Backyard 2015

Today is probably the last pleasant day in northern Virginia for a while - perhaps our final opportunity for a boardgame in the backyard this year.  Here's a reflection on games we played out back this season.

19 June - Mr. Jack, a terrific deductive duel

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bachelor weekend

My wife is at a writers' conference in North Carolina this weekend, which means it's just us guys in my house - my 19- and 14-year-old sons and me.  I'm thinking Friday night is Star Wars X-wing, with the 19-year-old as Boba Fett in the Slave I against the 14-year-old and me flying X-wing and Z-95s against him.  Two against one, but we're not afraid.  [Update:  We did indeed play X-wing, although I flew a Y-wing rather than Z-95s.  There was no escape for Boba Fett this time, as a proton torpedo from my pursuing Y-wing delivered the fatal blow, even as he deployed a mine in my path.]

Friday, September 25, 2015

Kickstarters that should have funded

The proliferation of boardgames on Kickstarter is no secret.  In preparing the Dice Tower News Kickstarter report, week in and week out, I find countless boardgames and card games that don't fund.  Many fail to fund for understandable reasons - many never coming close - but from time to time a campaign that seems to have everything going for it somehow falls short of the mark, goes unfunded, and has to return to the drawing board.  I thought it would be interesting to reflect on a few of those "projects that should have funded" as cautionary tales that remind us that nothing on Kickstarter is a sure thing - and perhaps to begin to understand why.