Thanks, Point 2 Point!

August 27, 2009

Thanks to Jason and Scott of the Point 2 Point podcast for mentioning us on their latest episode (40). Oh, and if you read us regularly and run a boardgame media outlet yourself, let us know–we want to start a list of links and need to gather some. Cross-linking means more traffic to our site and yours, which means Russ might stop wearing that sandwich board/pink hotpants outfit on the Highway 169/55 interchange during rush hour. Or maybe not. I think he likes all the horn-tooting he gets from the truckers. But who knows if they have time to write down the URL?

“The Perfect Move”

August 24, 2009

Attending the WBC this August gave me an excellent opportunity to meet  people who have different styles of playing boardgames. This led to some interesting conversations on the ride home as Russ and I swapped stories about the different styles we encountered.  We spent a good deal of time talking about the problem with “the perfect move” style, a way of playing that is agonizingly slow and deliberate. This is different from analysis paralysis (AP), where one is so overwhelmed by his choices that he is incapable of playing through his turn until someone prods him.

Chess masters sometimes stare at the board for hours before making a move. But is it right for boardgamers to do the same?

Chess masters sometimes stare at the board for hours before making a move. But is it right for board gamers to do the same?

“The perfect move” style frustrates me to no end. I have discovered that it really cuts down on interaction at the table, especially in two-player games. Table talk, joking around, and discussion of the game itself can dry up completely as one person contemplates his move for an unacceptable amount of time. I get the feeling that a “perfect mover” is seeing the game in an entirely different way than I am; he is looking at it not as a chance for two or more people to have fun while competing with each other, but as a sort of brain puzzle that morphs with each turn. I am only serving as a sort of “adversarial intelligence,” an intellect that is presenting the perfect mover with various challenges.

To illustrate this a bit more fully, I’ll tell a quick story from the WBC. I played a war game against an highly skilled opponent. After a few turns, it became clear that I was no match for him, and he could have quickly crushed me while losing a few units. However, wishing to play a “perfect” game, he took no risks at all, and instead moved so deliberately that the game dragged on for four or five more turns than it should have. A game that could have ended in 90 minutes took three hours to complete. This is one of my favorite games in my collection, and yet this particular session felt like a trip to the dentist.

Playing a board game is an experience that offers us three things: a chance to hang out with other people, compete in a friendly manner, and get better at the game itself. However, analyzing a situation to death usually allows one to get better at a game at the cost of the other two, social interaction and friendly competition. I think that play-by-email (PBEM) play can help those who have the “perfect move” style, because more time elapses between turns. If you’re reading this, and you know you fit into the “perfect mover” category, try something new: take a few risks! You may find your enjoyment of the game increases greatly as you make a risky move which turns into a brilliant maneuver or concentrate more on the conversation that goes on around the table. If all we are looking for as gamers is a challenge, we can always go pick up a single player video game. Let’s not spoil the fun of board games by ignoring the other people around the table for the sake of the “perfect game!”

Virgin Queen Sneak Peak Pictures

August 23, 2009

Ed Beach, the designer of Here I Stand and Virgin Queen, was kind enough to forward these pictures onto us. They are from his forthcoming game, Virgin Queen:

The map is a cartogram, which allows more space in countries like France. Note the prevailing wind markers in the New World.

The map is a cartogram, which allows more space in countries like France. Note the prevailing wind markers in the New World.

This is a mockup for the Elizabeth card. The number on the left is her eligibility rating, which declines as she ages.

This is a mockup for the Elizabeth card. The number on the left is her eligibility rating, which declines as she ages.

Here's another "princess card" to be using in diplomacy.

Here's another "princess card" to be using in diplomacy.


Roll Dem Bones

August 18, 2009

Dice are one of those integral parts of gamer culture. Each player seems to have his own preferences, superstitions, customs. I remember seeing a guy at the WBC playing this massive WWII war game that spanned all of the European theater. Every time he went to roll the dice, he would stand up, do two large quick shakes–holding the dice in both his hands–do a third slower shake bringing his hands to the top of his dice tower, release the dice from his hands with a parting flourish–dropping them down the dice tower–and then lean over to check the results.

Dice Tower

The Dice Tower - I dislike them, but you can still learn to make one here

I thought, at least he made using a dice tower look cool, as I dropped a couple six-siders down a dice tower at my own table, cringing at the rattling the dice made as they banged down the wooden structure without grace or style. Despite their popularity, I can’t stand dice towers.

I don’t like that they are loud. The plastic die bounces around against the structure and the rattling seems to echo and magnify in the tower. I don’t like that they are bulky. I can’t imagine transporting one of these to and from a game. The L-shape and tenuous construction don’t seem very conducive to being stuffed into a backpack. And finally, I really really hate that it does all the die rolling for you. It literally pulls the fun right out of your hands!

Fortunately, John nor any of my other game playing friends use or insist on dice towers. However, John isn’t without fault. (Just ask his wife! Hey-oh!) See, John has these itty-bitty 12 millimeter dice. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with 12 mm dice, per se. You get 36 in a cube from Chessex and that’s a lot. They are perfectly serviceable. Heck, in the event that someone rolls the dice onto the board, they are small enough that they often don’t disturb the pieces too badly.

Can you tell which one is a M-A-N's die?

Can you tell which one is a M-A-N's die?

But, come on, I’m a man, spelled M-A-N. I want manly dice. I want to feel them clatter around in my hand, see them bounce and spin on the table. I don’t want to put on reading glasses and lean over the table to see my results. It’s 16 millimeter dice for me. It doesn’t matter much if they have rounded edges or squared edges (but it they do have squared edges, I like them to be perfect right angles with corners that look like they could take someone’s eye out), as long as the pips are high contrast to the die body. There’s nothing I dislike more (except for maybe dice towers, it’s a close call) than dice whose pips match the color of the die body. There should never be any confusion as to what was rolled.

Which is a perfect lead into my last point: etiquette. Dice that are cocked or land on the ground should be rerolled. It isn’t because we think you are cheating (I’m still watching you, buddy!), but it’s good etiquette to roll in such a way that everyone at the table can verify your roll. And finally, for Pete’s sake, don’t roll into the board. Nothing is more annoying than a bulldozer roller that knocks aside all the playing pieces, because they roll their dice onto the board. If that’s you, please roll into the box top or (sigh) use a dice tower.

Virgin Queen Sneak Peek

August 13, 2009
Queen Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

Queen Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

Last Friday, Russ and I had the unique opportunity to attend a seminar at the World Boardgaming Championships, entitled “Snapshot of a Card-Driven Game Under Development.” The presenter was Ed Beach, and the game was the forthcoming Virgin Queen, a card-driven game about Queen Elizabeth and her era. You probably already know we are huge fans of Here I Stand, Ed’s 2006 game about the Protestant Reformation. Virgin Queen follows right on the heels of that game, picking up where it left off. I’d say about 30-40 people attended the talk. Ed highlighted four major topics, and I’ll take each in turn:

What will stay: Looking back at Here I Stand, it seems that several elements will remain the same in Virgin Queen. The new game will retain the card-driven element, the same basic combat system, and the same basic feel. One of the huge successes of Here I Stand is that each player can gain victory points in slightly different ways: for instance, the French get points for military conquests, New World exploration, and building chateaus. Virgin Queen will have similar “unique VP” mechanics.

What will be tweaked: Ed highlighted a handful of elements that will be improved in Virgin Queen. The first is the religious subsystem. Right now, it sounds like players flipping spaces to Catholic or Protestant will be rolling one die with modifiers, not multiple dice. One common complaint about the older game is that the religious side bogs play down quite a bit. Another tweak will change diplomacy. Ed expressed frustration with diplomacy in the old game, especially in new players being unwilling or unable to wheel and deal effectively. To get new players into diplomacy right away, Virgin Queen will feature a “diplomatic marriages” sub-system. Some players will begin the game with a number of princes/princesses they will be able to marry off to other players in exchange for diplomatic benefits. Essentially, you match up a prince with a princess and end up rolling dice and adding modifiers to see how successful their marriage is. They could divorce, have no children, or found a new and powerful dynasty. The last major tweak is the addition of a two-player tutorial to introduce new players to the game. Right now, it looks like a scenario pitting the Turks against the Spanish in the Mediterranean Sea. This will introduce some basic mechanics.

The map is similar in style to History of the World.

The map is similar in style to History of the World.

What’s new: Several elements have either substantially changed from Here I Stand, or are completely new. What excites me the most is the map itself. The map designer has drawn the map as a cartogram. Ed has described it as “the world according to Philip II.” This allows many more spaces in the Netherlands to simulate the Dutch Revolt, while keeping some areas (like the New World) small. It’s a truly beautiful map, and I think it will draw the eye at conventions and the like. Another major element is the New World. Unlike Here I Stand, players will be interacting with it a little more. For instance, you’ll be able to send raiders there to harass enemy colonies a la Sir Francis Drake. Also, prevailing wind markers will allow you to move more quickly or take attrition depending on which direction your pirates are headed in. The New World also includes the Philippines, China, and India this time around. Last, Virgin Queen will feature a robust espionage sub-system to simulate assassinations, sabotage attempts, etc. (Jesuit agents infiltrating England? You bet!) The Pope is also reduced to a sub-system. Interested players can pay cards to gain Papal influence. The new game will also feature a patronage sub-system, where you can gain victory points for hiring important artists, writers, and scientists to create lasting works.

Current progress: I was surprised to learn that Ed has been working on this game since Here I Stand came out. Right now he’s reporting that the two-player tutorial, New World, Papal influence, and diplomatic marriage mechanics are all working very well. The patronage and religious systems need a bit of tweaking, as does the mid- to late- game feel. It also sounds like the powers are up in the air. The current powers include England, Spain, France, New Protestants (with separate Huguenot and Dutch counter mixes), Turks, and Austrians/Holy Roman Empire, but there are some balance issues with the Austrians as of this writing.

Throughout the presentation, I was able to spot a few specific elements. These included two cards, Paris is Worth a Mass and Iconoclastic Fury. I also spotted a “Jilted by Elizabeth Table.” Playtesting will begin in earnest this September, with various people around the world trying out the two-player tutorial via email. Stay tuned for updates: Russ and I are both on the playtest list. While it looks like there’s a lot of work to be done on this game, I am excited to see it in print in the next few years!

Inside the Box – World at War: Eisenbach Gap

August 12, 2009

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

I think it was the attack helicopter on the cover that caught my attention. The Hind made the  10-year-old GI Joe-collecting boy in me go crazy. So, if I sound a bit excited when describing the tanks and helicopters in World at War: Eisenbach Gap, I hope you can forgive me.

Eisenbach Gap Contents

Eisenbach Gap Contents

The box itself is very appealing. It constructed of white cardboard and the printed cover is subtly textured. The benefit is a box with the resiliency of a glossy cover without the glossy look. Lock ‘n Load Publishing claims it’s beer resistant, but I haven’t tested that. Something about wasting beer and risking my signed box cover doesn’t sit well with me. The box is also large enough that expansions like Death of the 1st Panzer easily fit inside.

One last comment about the box; I love the artwork. The old photos are subtly manipulated  with color to create a high contrast piece that really works well.

Inside the box, there is a letter from Mark H. Walker–the game designer and publisher–rule book, two player aids, four dice, two sheets of punch out counters, and a mounted map.

The letter is one of those personal touches that I always appreciate. Mark vouches for the the game and asks for any feedback you may have. He also hopes you have great fun with the game.

The rule book is printed on fairly think paper with a heavy-stock semi-gloss cover. Despite only having ten pages of rules and six scenarios, the rule book feels solid. It definitely is something you can open, pass around the table, and know it isn’t going to fall apart. Inside, illustrations are kept to a minimum. They consist of blow ups of the counters for reference.

The writing style if refreshing. This is perhaps the only rule book I’ve read in the last year that has make me chuckle. The rules themselves are fairly clear and can be adjudicated using common sense, but it is passages like this that make me smile:

Any ONE unit within range of a helicopter, […] can opportunity fire on the helicopter after the helicopter conducts its attack, but before the damage is assessed. Both units […] then assess the damage simultaneously, allowing them to destroy each other in a true Hollywood moment.

However, I have two complaints about the rule book. First, there is no example turn. The game doesn’t necessarily need it, but it is always helpful when learning the game for the first time. And, second, it doesn’t give a counter manifest. Considering the number of games out in the World at War series, it would be nice to know which counters belong to which game and know you haven’t lost any.

The two player aids are double-sided and printed on the same heavy-stock, semi-gloss paper as the rule book cover. On one side it lists all the terrain modifiers. The other lists moving fire modifiers and helicopter line of sight. The tables are big, easy to read, and use shaded rows to good effect. The only thing I would add to the aid is a sequence of play chart.

Also inside are four squared-edge white dice. There’s not much to say about the dice. They are of standard quality and get the job done. However, it would have been nice to see two more. There are enough situations where six dice are rolled in one attack or defense that the extra two would have been really handy.

According to Board Game Geek, there are 136 5/8″ counters. I haven’t counted them, but it sounds about right. Here’s where the artist, Olivier Revenu, deserves a pat on the back. The counters are great to look at. The AFV (armored fighting vehicles) are surprisingly detailed without being messy looking. The numbers, despite being small, are easy to read in part because they are outlined in a contrasting color.

The counters are double-sided. There is a full-strength side identified by a tan band and a reduced strength side marked by a white band. The contrast between the two is great enough a player can tell unit strength at a glance. And despite being red-green color blind, the Soviet red and American green is different enough I haven’t had any problems telling the two apart.

Still, the counters aren’t without fault. The game could have used more status and artillery markers. I hear this problem has been rectified in Blood and Bridges so at least it is good to see a publisher learning from past mistakes. Also, punching out the counters can tear at their corners slightly. If I get another World at War game, I’ll use an Exacto blade to score or cut through the corners to get cleaner counters. As it was, I just used a finger nail clipper to clean up the counters and they look pretty good.

The last item in the box is the mounted map and it is great. The board that the map is mounted on reminds me of a very dense foam board. It creates a thick, stable playing surface–no need for a sheet of Plexiglass to cover the surface and hold it flat. The terrain is easy to identify and, except for the shadows that point to the Southeast, instead of Northeast, (this is the Northern hemisphere after all), it is very attractive.

My map did have one flaw. There was a thin streak of what look like dried adhesive, creating a line in the open plains South of Eisenburg. I tried rubbing it off, but just removed some of the green ink instead. Fortunately, the printing flaw and my rubbing don’t affect the ability to use the map in play.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the artwork, design, and production values of World at War: Eisenbach Gap. Opening the box and setting up the game has made me excited to command infantry, tanks, and helicopters in a 1985 Cold War gone hot.

Safely Home!

August 9, 2009

Russ dropped me off about 90 minutes ago, and I’m safely home. Thanks to everyone we met at the WBC for showing us such a great time. Check back often in the coming weeks for our reflections on the whole experience.

Heading Home

August 8, 2009

Well, it’s been an amazing six days at the World Boardgaming Championships. We’ve played, laughed, and learned a ton, and this trip has been more than worth it! Russ and I are dropping by the vendors’ room one last time to browse and pick up brochures, and then will turn our gaze west, to home. We’re returning with four new boardgames, dozens of new ideas for our blog and our gaming, and a lot of fond memories. Stick with us over the coming weeks as we sort it all out and reflect on the experience.

WBC, Day 5 continued: John’s Perspective

August 7, 2009

Well, it is 11:00 and I am sitting on the bed in our hotel room, chomping on a few Wheat Thins and looking back over the day. It was great fun! After Here I Stand, I bought the guys from my semifinals game a round of beer (oh, I will miss Yuengling back in MN), and then some of us settled in for a quick demo/pickup game of Conquest of Paradise. The designer, Kevin McPartland, came over and introduced us all to it, which was gracious of him. He has an immense enthusiasm for what the Polynesian people have done throughout history. This is a two to four-player game. It’s published by GMT, which is odd; it feels like a civilization-building type game, which is very out of character for them. After one play, I am impressed by the marriage of theme and mechanics, though the game feels a bit too short to me. Just as you are done exploring and are busy building up an army, it ends!

After we wrapped up, I got in a three-player game of Small World with Ted from the Here I Stand semi-finals and Tim, a random guy we met in the open gaming room. This was followed by another game with Russ and Noah. And this is when I snapped my eleven game losing streak! I don’t care if Russ had never played the game before and if Noah was ten years old. It doesn’t matter. I won.

I also managed to get in a demo of Dominion: Intrigue, a nifty little card game that feels collectible, but isn’t. It’s a fun brain-puzzler sort of game. You have to purchase cards and build a deck to amass victory points.

Later in the afternoon, Russ and I headed over to a conference room for a one-hour look at Virgin Queen, the “sequel” to Here I Stand. I’ll have a whole post on this in the near future, but suffice to say that it looks like it’s coming along nicely and will (once again) set a new standard for what can be done with card-driven games.

In the evening, we met up with Dennis from the Here I Stand tournament and Battlestar Galactica demo and created a team for the Wits & Wagers game show. I’d guess about 60+ people showed up, and there was a lot of good-natured heckling. I appreciated the chance to blow off a little steam and learn insane bits of trivia like…how many US states allow marriage between first cousins. (That’s sixteen, by the way. Land of the free and home of the…shrinking gene pool?) That got out around 9:30 PM, so we headed to open gaming for one! last! game! It ended up being…Small World. It’s a fun, light little game that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower. And after 12 hours of gaming, you’re no good for anything else.

Today went so well that we decided to essentially end on a high note. We’re sleeping in tomorrow, and will be taking one last lap around the vendors’ hall before heading out. More reflections on the WBC as a whole later on.

WBC, Day 5: Russ’s Perspective

August 7, 2009

I nearly gave up on getting an internet connection. It seems the hotel we’re staying at doesn’t have the most reliable one. However, the long load times and retries allowed me to check out the rules of the new game I bought, World at War: Eisenbach Gap.

My brief encounter with the game yesterday put it on my radar. Today, at the vendor area, after talking with the designer, Mark Walker, and getting a run down of how the game works, I was sold (and walked away with a signed box).

The game itself seems to be a relatively quick playing tactical war game. It is set in a 1985 where the Cold War went hot and Soviet tanks and helicopters face off against NATO forces in West Germany. Suffice to say, I’m excited about playing a game that isn’t about knights, muskets, or panzerfausts.

The other exciting news is I finally found victory in a tournament game. Yes, that’s right! I made it to round two of the Twilight Struggle single elimination tournament.

My first game put me up against another casual player. I played the USSR and began a slow crawl, earning victory points throughout the early and mid-war. I pressured him hard, controlled much of South East Asia and eventually took West Germany. He played a well-fought game, but eventually the momentum was moving in my favor. On the first turn of the late war, I pulled three scoring cards and Aldrich Ames. I played Ames in the headline phase and found the US player holding a great number of Soviet events. I reordered his hand to get me the maximum number of victory points. After two action impulses and a Europe Scoring, the USSR was pushed up to 20 victory points and I won.

My second game put me in the shoes of the US and placed me against a more experienced player. I got an early lead in turn 1 that put him on his heels. Unfortunately, luck left me and I found myself struggling through card plays. I was pulling so many scoring cards that I couldn’t conduct the operations I needed to. And, thanks to the tight DEFCON track, I was always losing VP due to military ops at the end of the turn. After getting blocked out of South America, the VP track shifted to the Soviet side and just kept crawling up. The death knell for me was on turn 5. I had Flower Power in effect from a late turn 4 play and was hit with Quagmire. This allowed the USSR player to push hard in Europe, score it, and win the game.

It was interesting seeing my opponent’s strategy and even though I lost, I learned a lot and can’t wait to take on John, Joe, or any of the other Twilight Struggle players back home.

Finally, I had some fun getting good and surly at the Wits & Wagers gameshow (I told you to listen to me about the number of Tootsie Roll licks) and I can’t end this post without mentioning how I beat John at Dominion.