Dirty Hippy Win Criteria Makes Russ Rage

September 30, 2011

A while back, I had the pleasure of learning a new game, Shadow Hunters. Shadow Hunters is a bit like Werewolf or Mafia in that the players are out to determine who is who and eliminate their opponents. Stacked on top of that are items and special powers and a theme that’s a bit like Witch Hunter Robin meest Arkham Horror meets a number of anime tropes. I mean, what’s not to like about playing a horror of the night killing off the forces of light and neutrality?

Easy answer. Win criteria that results in just about everyone at the table winning, that’s what! At a seven player game, we had four people win. Then in the follow up game, we had five people win. People were flipping over their character cards, looking at their win criteria, checking the board, and then announcing, “I win too!”

What are we, a bunch of dirty hippies that need to have everyone win? We can just ride the coat tails of others to success? What’s next, games that give me a participation trophy for “doing my best?” Bah, count me out. I play King of the Hill, not Committee of the Hill.

I want competition in my board games. When playing Twilight Struggle, I want the Soviet player to announce his play of “We Will Bury You” with conviction. In Here I Stand, strained voices and beads of sweat means you’re playing it right. Shaking your fist at attack helicopters as they chew up your tanks in World at War, drives you beat your opponent next time.

The big problem is that when everyone wins, no one wins. There are lessons to be learned in loss and no pride to be gained in victory.

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A BattleMech Shakedown

August 25, 2011
MechWarrior 2 Cover

This image was burned into my mind as a youth.

It was the first computer game I ever bought with my own money: MechWarrior 2. The game of giant battling robots and clan honor captured my imagination. While the FASA catalog included in the box hinted at a much larger world to explore, I had no local gaming store to sell me products or tell me where to start. And, perhaps most importantly, I had no more money to indulge in such a game.

Fast forward to last Friday night and all that changes. In a fit of nostalgia, fueled by free rules, John and I sat down to have our first ever ‘mech on ‘mech slug fest. The previously mentioned free rules are the Classic BattleTech Quick-Start Rules; a 31 page–including cover, two fictional stories, and play aids–rule book. The rules presented are a subset of the full BattleTech rules, not surprising considering this is a quick-start.  However, what is interesting is that book presents one set of rules and then has you play a scenario using those rules. In this case, you first learn the basics of movement, attacks, and line of sight and then slug it out with two BattleMechs. Next, combat vehicles are introduced and you field a ‘mech and a tank in the next scenario. Finally, infantry is introduced and the scenario sees each player bringing a ‘mech, a tank, a conventional infantry unit, and a battle armor infantry squad to bear. It successfully taught the game in increments and something I wouldn’t mind seeing more games do.

While the game provided a nice diversion and a great opportunity to get together and game, at the end, we were both left with that “having eaten a twinkie” feeling. Something light, fluffy, but with no nutritional value. Or in board gaming terms, something that keeps you occupied, but doesn’t require hard decisions nor do you spend time analyzing what led to your win or loss. As a wargame, the twinkie feeling is probably the last thing you want your players, and especially potential players, left with.

I blame this on the subset of rules the authors decided to showcase. BattleMech combat was so simplified that it became just move and attack. The things that set BattleTech apart, like heat management and critical system placement and damage were removed from the rules. The one cockpit shot of  the game was wasted. It wasn’t enough to destroy the ‘mech, and chances are another roll of snakes-eyes wasn’t about to happen. It would have been far better to see rules that focused solely on ‘mech combat and introduced the previously mentioned heat and systems rules in later sections and scenarios rather than vehicles and infantry. Let’s face it, you can get tanks and soldiers in a number of war games, big stomping robots armed to the teeth, less so.

But this decision is probably a result of how the Classic BattleTech rules are presented to the player. It seems the quick-start rules are supposed to teach you the basic system. Then the introductory box set build on those basics to teach you the tactics and decisions you need to make. Which  in turn to leads you to the 300+ page Total War rulebook that explains all the rules and possibilities in detail.

BattleTech Boxed Set

Where, oh where, art thou?

However, this model is flawed. The introductory box sets sell out in no time. They become more like collector’s items for those already into the game, than gateways to the game. Even my awesome gaming store that just about has everything, The Source, didn’t have a box set. And on eBay, there is only one listing with a buy-it-now price $25 more than MSRP. This means, going from the quick-start, right to Total War. If the end product is a steak dinner, don’t start me with a twinkie. Give me a twinkie, if the end is a cake.

As it is, the quick-start fails both as a recruitment tool and as a teaching tool. It doesn’t separate itself from any other hex based wargames, by showcasing something unique or interesting and it is so far removed from the full rules in Total War that there no need to bother with them in advance.

It would be interesting to hear from a veteran BattleTech player how they see the quick-start rules and if they find it a useful tool in teaching people to play the game. But for me, I was let wondering if this is a game I’d enjoy with the added complexity or if it isn’t worth my money. As it is, if a fit a nostalgia take me again, I’ll probably spend my time seeing if I can track down Ghost Bear’s Legacy. I never did get a chance to play MechWarrior 2’s expansion.


The Future Looks Good

February 17, 2011

In the Future Your Car Will Drive Itself - Allowing You to Play Board GamesI can’t wait to be able to play board games in my driverless bubble car.


Not All Card Driven War Games Are Created Equal

November 8, 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all Card Driven War Games are created equal, that they are endowed by their Designer with certain unalienable Mechanics, that among these are Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points. — That to secure these mechanics, Games are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the players, — That whenever any Form of Game becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Players to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Games , laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Hand Management and Victory.

Whew! Working board games into the Declaration of Independence was getting a little tough there. But did you like the part about “Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points”? I’m quite fond of that one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering Washington’s War and whether I really like it as a game. Or if I just keep playing it and saying to myself, “That was fun,” it will one day come true.

Card-driven war games seem to fall into two camps with card design. In one camp is the likes of Washington’s War and Wilderness Wars (despite overwhelming evidence, you do not need to have two words starting with W in your title to fall into this camp). In the other are the likes of Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand. In the former, card are either event cards or operations cards, we’ll call these isolated cards. In the latter, cards are both event cards and operations cards, we’ll call these combination cards.

Decks made of isolated cards usually consist of half or more operations cards. The idea being that in any given hand a player  will have enough operations cards to do something. So, even the player gets poor events or the opponents events, the turn won’t be fruitless. However, experience has shown otherwise. And memory seems to latch on to the really bad hands even if they are a small minority of all hands played.

Contrasted with combination cards, even bad hands can be managed or turned out good. Twilight Struggle uses this idea to its fullest. Opponent events must occur, but you get the operations points to manage the situation before or after the event, your choice. Cards with your event may be played for the event or the operations points.

From my play experience, I favor games with combination cards over isolated cards. I prefer the decision making and hand management that comes from combination cards. Every hand, no matter how bad, seems playable. Every hand can build on the last to create a strategy for winning. Isolated cards feel like they take that decision making power away from me. Too much is dictated on the specific hand I am dealt and strategy seems like it doesn’t last much beyond a single hand of cards.

So, will I ever like Washington’s War? I think so. I just need to adjust my play style to account for isolated cards. But, it won’t be knocking Twilight Struggle from it’s throne. And knowing that not all card driven war games are create equal will help when buying future board games.

Disagree? Like isolated cards better? Let me hear about it in the comments.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that Wilderness War may not fit in the first camp. Until I can verify my original statement, it has been struck out.


Play in Public Campaign

August 4, 2010

Looks like we’re a few days late on this one, but there’s still time to get out there play a game and maybe even win something. For the month of August, Seize Your Turn announced the Play in Public Campaign. It is pretty much like it sounds, grab your favorite Euro, war, or non-traditional board game and go play in a public place. Take a few pictures and follow the rules here or here and you may even win something.

The goal of the PiP Campaign is to create a positive public perception of mature board gamers and maybe even create some new gamers. With that said here’s some tips for a successful outing:

  • Throw out the “Wood for Sheep” t-shirt and try a polo shirt or button down with the sleeves rolled up. Present yourslef as clean and well groomed. Let the board game draw attention and not you.
  • Try the bar or a coffee shop instead of the gaming store. Make sure to buy a pint or a latte before spreading out over a table. Bars and coffee shops are usually social places, so playing a game shouldn’t cause a problem, but be mindful of how long you occupy the table.
  • Pick a game that’s visually appealing and isn’t too large. If you find yourself pulling multiple table together to play you may make yourself more of a problem than an ambassador of board gaming. Choosing something with colorful with interesting pieces like Tobago draw people’s eyes to you game and can make a great conversation starter.
  • Enjoy yourself. Board gaming is supposed to be fun. And everyone likes fun, right?

So, one last question. How much will you give me to play Cash and Guns at hardcore biker bar?


Bribe Your Way to Victory

June 24, 2010

Last night, I introduced a few friends to Ca$h and Gun$, hence forth referred to as Cash and Guns because it is far easier to type and read, the game about gangsters splitting the loot. We were having a fun time, when “El Toro,” having the biggest stack and being a new player asks if he can bribe people to keep them from shooting him. Immediately light bulbs went off and we realized we had a fun new variant on our hands.

The next game included bribery rules. The rules were simple and followed the gangster theme:

  • Bribes can be offered by anyone at any time.
  • Bribes can be paid out at anytime (in advance, after the deed is done, or split between the two).
  • Lying, cheating, and not paying of bribes is acceptable.

The bribery rules definitely added fun and unpredictability to the game. We saw a double cross as a bribe paid in advance turned into a bullet to the back. And then there was “Mr. Black” who fell behind in the cash count early in the game bounce back after hiring himself out as a gun for hire. Of course, there were a number of bribes rejected because the payout wasn’t good enough.

In then end, it was a house rule that I’d definitely recommend checking out. I also think it could go quite well with the Cop in the Mafia rules included in the base game.


Game Day Achievements

March 25, 2010

Previously, I wrote about introducing achievements to our Metro Game Day. I’m pleased to report, the reception was great. Even among those who aren’t video gamers and the concept was new to them got into the fun of trying to earn achievements and making sure their achievement list was up to date.

Karate Kid Achievement

The Karate Kid Achievement

The achievements were created using the using the website http://www.says-it.com/achievement/steam.php. The website works rather well, but there are a few limitation. There is no ability to upload and use your own images and use of the site is throttled. In the middle of some achievement making marathons, I was forced to take a break and let the bandwidth limit refresh.

The achievements created were designed to reward play, embarrass, and give people something to brag about. The complete list of achievements is as follows:

  • A Dish Best Served Cold – Beat someone who beat you
  • A Series of Tubes – Reference the internet for more information on a game
  • And So It Begins… – Play the first game of the game day
  • Boom, Headshot – Make a video game reference
  • Card Shark – Play and win a card game
  • Cobra’s Worst Enemy – Roll “snake eyes” twice
  • Cornucopia – Bring food to the game day
  • Do Not Go In There – Hold up a game for a bathroom break
  • Do Or Do Not – Learn a new game at the game day and win at that game
  • Don’t Get Cocky, Kid – Win three games
  • Got Me Some Edjukashun – Learn a new game
  • Film Buff – Quote a line from a movie
  • Grain Sales to Soviets – Make a “Twilight Struggle” joke
  • Heartbroken – Fail to win a single game
  • Hobo – Roll “boxcars” twice
  • It’s a Trap! – Lose a game by being betrayed
  • Karate Kid – Knock, spill, or otherwise disrupt the game board due to animated movements
  • Life of the Party – Bring three or more games to the game day
  • Long Haul – Play in a game that lasts over two hours
  • Lush – Bring alcohol to the game day
  • Ninja – Win three games in a row
  • No One Suspects the Spanish Inquisition – Make a “Here I Stand” joke
  • Pity the Fool – Win every game played
  • Power to the People – Teach a game to someone
  • Return to Sender – RSVP for the game day
  • Rival – Beat or be beaten by the same person twice
  • Sonic – Finish an entire game in less than 15 minutes
  • The Hoff – Play a board game that won German award
  • There’s No I In Team – Play a cooperative board game
  • Those Things Cause Cancer – Hold up a game for a phone call
  • War Monger – Play and win a war game
  • Zombie – Stick around to play the last game of the game day

The original idea was to print all these out and have a large board where we could write everyone’s name and tape the achievements underneath. But time was short and arts and crafts isn’t my forte. So, instead I created a TiddlyWiki with tiddlers for each player and linked the achievement images into their tiddler. This was all displayed on a 23 inch monitor.

Long Haul Achievement

The Long Haul Achievement

The TiddlyWiki worked, but because so many people were unfamiliar with wiki editing and how I was linking the images, it ended up be a user unfriendly situation. In the future, I’d either go with the low tech solution and print everything off or go even more high tech with a custom written application and a 42 inch HDTV display.

So, for next time, TiddlyWiki is out and a custom built Flex app is in. The goal will be to have check boxes to easily update and unlock achievements and statistical view where you can compare two player’s achievements or see how many people have unlocked each achievement. Maybe by Game Day IX I’ll figure out how to get social network integration working so everyone can log in with their facebook account and we can embarrass them in front of their friends by posting their board game achievements.