Waiting…

July 8, 2010

My wife and I are expecting our third child, literally any day now. Our first two came early (4 and 3+ weeks) so we figured the third would probably be sooner rather than later. Because of this we have had a wide open calender since the end of June. To pass the time we’ve been playing a lot of board games.

We’ve gotten in a few games of Ingenious and Small World, but the staple has been our newly acquired copy of Carcassonne with the River, Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansions. It’s a fun, light game that plays fairly quickly and helps pass the time.

But first let me explain something: I’ve played this game several times with friends and family and somehow have gotten the unfortunate title of “Jerk.” I look for the optimal move. This means I tend to make plays that help me and at the same time hinder others. I try to get in on everyone else’s big cities. If I’m scoring big every time some one else is, then I can’t lose, right? I’ll also try to sneak in an extra farmer near the end of the game to steal that ‘mega-farm’ away from someone. So, if someone plays in a way that would help themselves and hurt someone else that is called a “Rick-move” which is now synonymous with “jerk-move.” Oh well…

Since my wife and I have the free time and mostly play the game to pass time we’ll often help each other out or play sub-optimally. As my wife says, she likes it when the board looks ‘pretty’ at the end of a game. Often times we’ll find that there are holes that we can fill. It may help the other person but we lay the tile there anyway to please the eye. I’ll also point out better spots to my wife and why that spot is better. I try to help her get better at the game.

However, I think this sharing and helping is going to stop. Last night while we played I was working on a city and had added a Cathedral to it. (This makes a completed city worth 3 points per tile but an incomplete city worth 0 points.) Unfortunately the open area that I needed to cap off to complete the city was getting a little crowded. My wife then made a great Rick jerk-move by placing a tile one space away from my city which then made it impossible to complete. She then just flashed me a smile and said, “I think you’ve taught me too well.” Apparently, the student has become the master. I ended up losing that game.

Tonight (assuming she is not in labor) I think I’ll keep my mouth shut and play to win.

Update: We didn’t get that game in. We ended up in the hospital that night. The next morning my wife delivered a healthy baby boy.

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Mid Week Gaming Session

January 28, 2010

Every other Wednesday, while our wives/girlfriends are at book club, the guys get an opportunity to hang out for a night of gaming. This week was no exception, however only David and I were able to get together. But this gave me an opportunity to teach him a couple of games and play another he’d only played once before. Below are 3 mini session reports from our mid week gaming session.

Mid Week Gaming Session

Mid Week Gaming Session: Small World, Ingenious and Tobago

Tobago
We started off with Tobago. I ran him through all of the rules while I set up the board. Then we ran through an example turn of play and treasure distribution and then got started on the real thing. After a few turns back and forth, the first treasure was ready to dig up near me. I hadn’t contributed to it though and it was on the opposite side of the island from him. I opted to let him waste some moves to drive over and get it himself. A couple turns later I had dug up the treasure I was working on. I scored 5 treasure cards while he watched. The next treasure was split equally. He finally made his way over – picking up a couple of amulets on the way – and scored his 4 card treasure.

The next treasures that we dug up had both of our markers on them. After another split treasure was dug up, and after he grabbed a big treasure card, the first curse hit. We both had amulets so no harm was done. One more split treasure was dug up safely. The next treasure was all mine. I looked at 5 cards and none were cursed. I shuffled in the extra card and flipped up a 4 treasure. Nice. The next one was not so nice – curse! Again an amulet protected me from losing any cards, but that one hurt me. David had been stockpiling amulets and some good play at the end allowed him to get the lion’s share of the last treasure.

Final Score: Rick 38, David 50.

Ingenious
Next I brought out Ingenious. This one was also a new one for him so we ran through the simple rules as I set up the game. We were playing in a couple minutes. We each built on the same half of the board until it was full. We were pretty close on all of our 6 colors. I did have an advantage though: I had 1 or 2 more orange and blue than he did and those colors had been closed off. Realizing this he put those colors back into play. He spent the second half of the game playing catch up. I scored the only Ingenious of the game on yellow and was then able to score on my lowest color with a double red tile. The game was over before his last two plays, but the final score was close.

Final Score: Rick 11, David 9

Small World
It wasn’t too late so we decided to break the tie with a game of Small World. David had one game of this under his belt already so we were able to set-up and get down to business right away. He started out with Marauding Trolls. This combination allowed him to spread out quickly but still have good defenses. I chose Merchant Skeletons for my first race. They spread out a little more slowly but they scored well each turn.

He put the trolls into decline after 2 turns while I kept rolling with my skeletons. He next chose Hordes of Wizards and this is where the game really took off for him. The trolls had 1/3 of the board while he could expand the wizards on another 1/3. I abandoned my Skeletons (in hindsight a little too late) and then grabbed Underworld Ratmen. I started to make a dent in his Wizards and Trolls, but not nearly enough. He was able to score 20 and 15 coins on turns 6 and 7. He went in decline on turn 8 and only scored 4 coins. It was my opportunity to spread out my Ratmen on the newly empty regions.

The last few turns went miserably for him. He chose Berserk Dwarves and rolled zeroes 7 consectutive times! I grabbed Alchemist Kobolds on the final turn and was able to make up a little ground, but it was too little too late.

Final Score: Rick 85, David 106

Although only two of us made it we had a great time. It was good being able to to teach a game to just one person at a time. Especially when the game is the same in terms of rules and fun factor with 2 people as it is with 4+. Any other fun games that scale equally as well?


Gaming with Colorblindness

November 3, 2009

“What color is this?”
I hold up a crayon to my two-year old as we start to draw a picture with her crayons.
“Umm… Green!” she replies.
“Thanks”
I wasn’t quizzing her on her knowledge of colors. I wanted to draw a tree and wasn’t sure if the crayon I was holding should be used for the leaves or the trunk. I’m colorblind.

“What do you see?”

Ishihara

You probably see a 74. I see a 21.

I get that question a lot after someone finds out about my colorblindness. And it’s a very difficult one to answer – how do you describe a color? I’m red/green colorblind (deuteranopic). I can see the colors red and green (or blue and purple), but it is difficult to distinguish between the two at times. Taking a colorblindness test can diagnose the condition and help to explain what I see, but most people still don’t get it. Now I can tell someone to Google “colorblind” and get sites that show images side by side of what people like me see. This site does a good job. Those color vision tests all look the same to me!

“What about stop lights?”

I’ve learned various ways to handle colors in my environment. For stop lights, the red and green are actually designed to be different looking so the green looks almost white to my eyes. There are also other clues that can be used: the red light is always on top or on the left when mounted sideways. In other situations, if I really can’t see the color I’ll ask someone. Usually my wife or daughter can help me out, but I’ve also asked complete strangers. Sometimes once I’ve been told something is red or green I’m able to then see the colors. I think somehow my brain compensates for what my eyes miss.

I also change my behavior to help avoid the issue. The color of clothes I buy is affected. As an engineer I often make charts of data. My charts will always have a color and shape associated with each different label. This is good practice for everybody: if you print out a report/presentation it should be legible in color OR black and white.

“I thought this was a blog about board games?”

I was getting to that… Colorblindness definitely affects my board gaming. The most obvious (and generally least important) result is when I pick out my playing piece. I almost always pick blue. Yellow, white or black are my next choices. I generally avoid green, red, orange or brown. If each player in a game only has one token, it usually isn’t a problem keeping track of the colors (a conscious effort on my part at times). However, if there are several tokens and they will be moved around a lot (Carcassonne for example), I will sometimes ask other players not to use certain colors.

When the colors are a part of the game or can’t be avoided, it may be a challenge. I played Power Grid for the first time a few weeks ago. The board has a map with several regions, each a different color. We only had three players so only three of those regions are in play. I had a hard time figuring out which cities were in play and which were out. My first game of Ticket to Ride was also difficult. The colored train routes and cards were very similar to my eye.

Usually the colors aren’t a challenge and don’t effect my play, but not always. I already suffer from analysis paralysis in some games. The extra few seconds I need to concentrate on who-has-what-tokens-where can slow me down even more. To keep from slowing down game play, I may make a bad move because I didn’t realize that red enemy token was actually a green friendly one.

Ingenious Tiles

The colors may look alike, but the shapes don't.


Fortunately some games design around these issues. I think the biggest key for a game design is to double up on the differences by using shapes AND colors. Ingenious is a game of matching colored tiles. Blue and purple?! Red, green and orange?! This game could have been a nightmare. But each color also has an associated shape. This makes it very easy for me to quickly see what I have and where I can play. We also have a dominoes set that each number has a different color. My daughter matches the colors while I match the number of dots – this helps both of us. The Ticket to Ride designers got feedback about difficulty in distinguishing some colors and added symbols to the routes in later editions.

And when the game is designed poorly (at least in color management), I try to adapt. In a second game of Power Grid, we blocked off the border of the regions we were using with the city tokens of a fourth color. It was a great help and makes me wonder why they didn’t draw boundaries between the colors. A game like Here I Stand looked confusing at first glance – the Ottoman green and Protestant Brown looked a lot alike. After playing, I realized it didn’t matter as those powers’ tokens never interact so I don’t have to worry about confusing the colors. And if it came down to it for a game I really liked that after repeated plays I still had troubles with – I would look at making my own board/tokens to eliminate any confusion. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do that…yet!


I Want to Match Purple

October 7, 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I enjoy playing board games together.  One of our favorites is Ingenious.  It’s a tile-matching game – a bit like dominoes – using a board.  There are 6 different colors that you keep track of their score individually.  The twist is that the lowest score of any color is your score.  (For example, if you have scored 14 points on blue, yellow, green, red, and orange but only 2 points on purple.  Your score is 2.  If you opponent scores only 3 points on each color, they win 3 to 2.)  This means you have to score on all the colors while trying to prevent your opponent from scoring.

The game is perfect for us.  It’s simple enough to allow us to enjoy a nice conversation, watch TV, or keep an eye on the kids while playing.  Yet, there is a good amount of strategizing (scoring versus playing defensively) to keep the game competitive.  It’s also a game where we are on completely even terms – we’ve each won about half the games we’ve played.

I got the game out a few nights ago for us to play after our children were in bed.  The next day, my almost-3-year-old saw the game and wanted to play.  My wife and I paused for a second, then said sure.  One of the first things my daughter learned were her colors and she can easily match them.  We were both thinking that this is a game that she would be able to handle.

After dinner we opened up the box and explained how to play.  To make it easy, we all played with our tiles face up.  My wife and I played first to show how it worked and then it was her turn.  She grabbed a tile and placed in on the board.  We told her she scored 1 point for yellow and her face lit up!  We continued to take turns.  When it was her turn, we would ask her what color she wanted to match then help her place the tile on the board.  “I want to match purple,” (her favorite color) quickly became the answer every turn.

She lost interest in keeping track of point totals on her score card and played with the little wood markers instead.  But she was having fun playing a “big kid” game with Mom and Dad.  My wife and I were also having fun.  We tried to play out our normal strategies, but would often get thrown off track by the “random” play of our daughter’s tile.  Once when I closed off a color that my wife needed, our daughter opened it back up by playing the exact she color needed!

The game was a bit long for a two-year-old’s attention span, but she finished the game with just a little prodding to take her last few turns.  My wife and I agreed that the “random factor” of her plays added a fun element to the game and we’re all looking forward to the next game.