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Monday, January 30, 2006


Veni, Vidi, Vici, Vinci

Power Grid has been our go-to six-player game for a year or more. Occasionally Shadows over Camelot, six player Settlers, and Vinci (supposedly pronounced /vin key/ according to some recent BGG threads) have been pinch hitting on six player nights.

Vinci (with fixes) has been growing on me and (with fixes) has been climbing in my estimation. I recently upped my rating of Vinci from a 6 to an 8.

To be fair let me lead with this disclaimer. Vinci has end game issues that need to be fixed. Out of the box Vinci will never be an upper tier game. The game is played to 100 points and points are kept in the open for everyone to see. Now I have never had much of a problem with games that encourage jumping on the leader. I never preferred them, but I would have never called such a game "broken". With Vinci the problem is very pronounced. Vinci is broken because of it.

Vinci is a diceless game of civilization building in Europe. Comparisons to Civilization abound and are (kind of) warranted. When Vinci hit the market in '99 it was the latest in a string of games that were touted as Civ-lite, meaning they were Civilization variants that could be played in just a couple hours. Vinci actually has very little resemblance to Civilization in its mechanics, yet manages to retain some of the flavor of Civ.

In Vinci players start with a civilization. That civilization comes into the game on the edge of the board and, generally, expands as far as it is able. When a player has squeezed as many points out of the civilization as possible the civilization is placed in decline and the player re-enters the board, again from the edge, with a new civilization. The old civilization counters stay on the board and earn the player points until conquered by his adversaries. Player can't manipulate old civilization. Once placed in decline a civilization can do nothing.

Each civilization has two characteristics that give it some advantage, examples are; score extra points for each agriculture space, defend better, gain points from eliminating other player's units, the ability to enter the game in the center of the board instead of the edge, etc. Five pairs of characteristics are drawn randomly and placed on the board for all to see. When starting a civilization a player can choose the first set for free, he can choose the second set by giving up 2 victory points, the third by relinquishing 4 VP, etc. Two of the relinquished VP are placed on each of the passed over pairs of characteristics. Players who choose the previously passed over set of characteristics get the extra VP for choosing them. This helps make poor combinations more attractive. As characteristics are chosen the other characteristics on the board are moved down a notch and two new characteristics are placed in the last spot.

The game really shines with its full compliment of 6 players, although it is pretty good with 4 and 5 players also. The first two thirds of the game is quite good with any number of players. That is the point that the game starts to break down. It is entirely too easy to bash the leaders, if that happens leaders have little to no control over their position and are almost completely at the mercy of their adversaries.

Hidden scoring is the obvious fix to the problem, but it only takes one player to keep a running tally in his head to ruin that particular fix. Players keeping track of their own score on a hidden piece of paper might work as a fix for your group, but not mine. Our group has implemented the variable ending rule. Once a player reaches 80 points a die is rolled at the end of the round. If a 1 is rolled the game ends. At the end of every subsequent round a die is rolled and the odds of ending are increased. On the second round of dice rolling the game ends on a 1 or 2, the third round a 1, 2, or 3, etc.

With this approach, there is much less piling on the leader. Players can't win without bettering their position. Piling on the leader merely for the sake of slowing him down and lengthening the game won't better their position, they need to concern themselves with scoring points. With the variable ending there is always the possibility that you can move from second to first, or third to first, or even fourth to first, so hope is kept alive.

I was skeptical of this approach. After several games using the variable ending I see that it is perfect for my group. It turns Vinci from a game I was luke warm on, to a game that might rise as high as a 9 with more play.

To be sure, there will always be some piling on of the leader. It can't be avoided in a game such as Vinci. If that bothers you stick to German games (Vinci is in fact French in origin). The variable ending makes rational gamers try to better their score, instead of lengthening the game, because a leader bashed for the sake of bashing will win unless you play to better your own score.

Boardgamers do it for hours

Edit: Note we recently made another tweak to our tweak. On the sixth and subsequent rounds of dice rolling the game will not end on the roll of a six. If the game should progress past 5 rounds after 80 is reached players can still not be certain that the game will end.

Friday, January 27, 2006


How Low Can You Go?

I thought I was pulling ahead in the Rainbow Thermometer challenge, until I saw local blogger Mary Haley's thermometer. To be fair it isn't a "rainbow thermometer" so I have some calibration questions, but unless she starts to brag I'll just let it go.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


At Least the Temperature Hasn't Been Dropping Much at Night

Alternate Title: Good Boardgaming Weather

Although this current cold snap is no where close to setting record low temperatures, there is no end in sight. The forecast calls for highs in the -30F. range until next Wednesday. It's always 10-15 degrees colder at Coldfoot Manor.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


The Sheep Baron of Catan

Monday, January 23, 2006


Railroad Tycoon

Audio game review #3.

I had to talk fast to get it all in, hope it isn't too fast. I might have been too detailed in my descriptions.

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, January 22, 2006


The Menorah game. No, really.

I finally got to play Yehuda's Menorah game. For those of you reading this blog because of the Alaska connection or my family, Yehuda is a fellow blogger on the Gone Gaming blog. I played a two player game with a friend of mine. His kids were completely disinterested in the menorah theme and my wife is still refusing to learn new games. That left the two of us.

I've almost played the Menorah game several times, the latest was Friday night. We had it set up and would have started, but we needed to supply our own tokens to play the game (simply due to the fact that I told Yehuda to not ship the tokens to save on postage). We decided it would be easiest to use coins. Between us we had about 27 cents. By the time we came up with 83 cents and a couple red dice to stand in for nickels and a couple white dice to replace pennies, the fifth player arrived and we switched games.

I can't give the game a decent review after one play, but it seems like pretty good filler.

I can say that for once I had a gaming epiphany. After about two rounds I "got it". I blew my opponent out of the water. This is noteworthy because it is usually I who has to play a game a couple times to begin to see strategy not him. He usually "gets" a game before I figure out which is the draw pile and which is the discard pile.

I'm looking forward to another game. Hopefully with four players.

Kudos to Yehuda. Neat little game. If it had a Lord of the Rings theme it would have been picked up by a major publisher.

Good gaming,

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Try #2 YINSH

For this audio review I picked a game that I was quite confident I could review in less than 5 minutes. Let's see how it goes.

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Try #1 Australia

this is an audio post - click to play

This is a 6 minute review stuffed into a 5 minute slot. I still need to work to get it shorter.

"...makes the game more luck dependant than it needs to be," is the rest of the last sentence before I was cut off.


Audio Reviews / Seeking your input

I'm trying to record an audio-blog boardgame review. For now I'll have to go back to the drawing board. There is barely enough time allotted to do a cursory review of a game. Each audio-blog post can only be 5 minutes long, and I am finding it very tough to sufficiently explain a game.

I will try again tomorrow.

Between now and then give me some indication if there is any interest in an audio review of boardgames. I'm not as animated as Ted Cheatham, nor am I as dry as Jim Lehrer.

I'm thinking the format will be along these lines:

A cursory explanation of rules and mechanics. (2 minute)
A couple highlights (2 minutes)
My impression of the game (1 minute)

That's not much time.

There would just be one review per post, so archiving would be easy. You wouldn't have to wade through an entire podcast to find the review, either.


Here's a link to my test audio blog from a couple months ago. http://andgames.blogspot.com/2005/10/audioblogging-test.html

Monday, January 16, 2006


German games from a civilian's point of view.


I guess I would have a similar response if I was invited and went to a picture frame making party.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Star Wars Miniatures-Too Bad It's a collectible Game

I've played a couple games of Star Wars Miniatures and I really like it. This is a game that has a lot going for it. Play is fun and thematic, there are many scenarios available to play, an unlimited number of players can theoretically play, but most importantly the pieces are cool.

Players choose their squad from the units available. Each unit is worth a certain number of points, small units such as storm troopers and battle droids are cheaper than stronger units such as commanders and named characters from the movies. Players choose squads worth an agreed upon value, place their characters on the board and commence.

Certain characters have certain abilities, for example some move faster than others, some can make multiple attacks in a turn, some such as commanders impart a bonus upon units around them. Some characters can use "force" powers. The number of characters available is immense. If you collect the miniatures you can construct an indefinite number of squads, with varying abilities.

I didn't read the rules, but they seemed clean and designed for ease of play. The line-of-sight rules were, shall we say... liberal. Basically, unless a wall, or other obstacle is completely and unarguably blocking line-of-sight units have line-of-sight to each other. Conversely, unless a unit clearly has an unobstructed shot every unit has some cover which adds to his defense. In a nut shell it isn't much of a stretch to say every unit can shoot at every other unit, but every unit is also behind some cover.

For those of you familiar, Star Wars Miniatures is similar to HeroScape. In fact, after playing Star Wars Miniatures I had to knock my rating of HeroScape down a notch. The theme, wider variety of units and interaction between units in Star Wars Miniatures made for a better game.

Although I have only played with adults, it is a game children will like, and be able to play with little prompting by adults. I do think HeroScape is slightly easier for younger children (children under 14) to play unaided. The owner of the game has already said I could borrow it for game night at the Boys and Girls Club. I am certain it will go over well there with both boys and girls middle-school age and up.

As good as it is I won't be acquiring Star Wars Miniatures anytime soon. Not because of any flaw in gameplay, but because it is a collectible game. I am a collector by nature. If I get started collecting I won't be able to stop. Collectible games are (by design) a money pit. They are primarily designed to separate you from your money, and the good ones are very good at accomplishing that task. Star Wars Miniatures is among the best.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with collectible games here is a quick description. Players buy a box of pieces without knowing exactly what they are getting. Most of the pieces are "commons", a few will be "uncommons", and a very few will be "rare" and "ultra rare". The rare and ultra rare pieces are the good ones. If you buy an entire case of pieces you will only get a couple rares. A case of Star Wars Miniatures, "Revenge of the Sith" collection sells for $90 + shipping on E-Bay.

Starter sets are available for less than $20, and a starter set will provide many hours of enjoyment. Look out though, the starter kit is merely crack for collectors and gamers like me.

Good gaming,

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Circvs Maximvs, The Era of Rules Lawyers and other Disjointed Ramblings

Got to play Circus Maximus (1980) the other day. I was lucky enough to play with a fellow who had worked at the old Avalon Hill and had written the rulebook. That is significant because the rule book is quite lengthy and involved. Play was quick, as no rules needed to be looked up and argued about. Circus Maximus was published in an era where every eventuality needed to be addressed in the rules or the rules were deemed "broken" or to have "huge holes" in them. Of course when every eventuality is covered there are more chances for mistakes and contradictions. As I said, in our game there was no arguing about the rules, if there was a questionable rule it was deemed to be "a misprint" and the game continued.

Circus Maximus is not a bad game, but it is a game that shows its age. It is a chariot racing game based upon the movie "Ben Hur". People who have played Circus Maximus have humerous stories about players crashing and still winning because the team of horses pulled their driver over the finish line on his belly, or players who crashed and got run over by multiple chariots, or players who eeked out a win after having 3 of their 4 horses killed by other players.

It is an old game with lots of theme and some die-hard fans. Although long out-of-print Circus Maximus still goes over well at game conventions with veterans and newbies alike. Many convention goers play on large home-made boards with painted, miniature chariots and teams of horses. Such games tend to draw crowds, and Circus Maximus has become, arguably, the most popular spectator game in boardgaming.

However, it is a game that is more fun to watch than it is to play. Circus Maximus has long stretches of down time. On their turn players roll dice 3 or 4 times, make a couple annotations on their information sheet, and wait for a half hour for their turn to come around again. From time to time players roll dice out of turn when they are attacked, or make annotations on their information sheet if an attack against them was successful.

Formula De, among others, are more modern, cleaner versions of the game. Rules for speeding through turns are much cleaner, rules for crashing and re-starting are much smoother, and braking and acceleration rules have been streamlined. All of this streamlining has come at a cost. You can't whip an opponent and put his eye out when playing Formula De, nor can you grab a whip away from an opponent and beat him with it. You can't kill an opponent's horse in Formula De. Formula De is faster, and has less downtime for players, but Formula De isn't much of a spectator game either.

Strong theme comes with a price. That price is usually extensive rules designed to keep the game from straying from the theme. Extensive rules are are also needed to keep a game historically accurate.

Circus Maximus was published in an era when the prevailing thought on boardgame production was that every eventuality needed to be addressed in the rules. As stated before, if a situation wasn’t addressed the rules were said to have “holes” in them. This mindset of game publishing lead to the “loop-hole” mentality. Instead of simply following the rules players looked for reasons that they couldn’t make a certain move.

“You can’t do that.”

“The rules don’t say I can’t.”

“The rules don’t say you can’t use a team of flying reindeer in the chariot race?”

“No. It isn’t addressed anywhere, I looked.”

“But it’s clear that chariots are pulled by horses. Look at the examples.”

“The examples have to refer to some type of animal. The rules themselves are clearly unclear.”

Thus began the deterioration of many a friendship.

I’ve read accounts that the original rules to Diplomacy didn’t specifically state that you could support your own units (I’m not sure, it might have been a foreign language version of the game). The rules only referred to supporting the units of other nations. It was clear in the examples that a player could support his own units with other units of his own, but rules-lawyers would argue the point when it suited them.

This “loop-hole” mindset still exists with many wargame publishers and players.

“That unit can only fire 4 spaces.”

“The rules are unclear. I’m firing from a hill to lower terrain.”

“The rules state, ‘artillery fires a maximum of 4 hexes’.”

“But other games that use this system allow an extra space if you have elevation.”

“The rules state, ‘artillery fires a maximum of 4 hexes’.”

“But I clearly have an elevation advantage.”

“The rules state, ‘artillery fires a maximum of 4 hexes’.”

“I can’t believe they didn’t address this issue in the rules. When are designers going to stop relying on customers to play-test their games?”

“They did address this issue. The rules state, ‘artillery fire a maximum of 4 hexes’.”

“I’ll look on ConSim tomorrow. Maybe there’s some errata posted.”

And rest assured the issue will be addressed on ConSim. There will be an entire thread, 32 pages long, dedicated to the issue of elevation and artillery in games utilizing similar combat systems.

Bottom line on Circus Maximus. Good diversion when you have a large group of aggressive gamers. I wouldn't play it more than once each year.
Good gaming

Sunday, January 08, 2006


For those BGGers who don't frequent the "off topic" section


and for kicks, this thread has been around for a while, but I still get a kick out of it. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/89064

Thanks to ejmowrer for both of these threads.


Space Hulk Treatise

Found a blog with a promising name, Roll Dice and Kick Ass! by Scottish blogger, John McLintock. I don't recognize the name, I think he may be a boardgame enthusiast who isn't plugged into the larger boardgame community. I'm sure someone will correct me if I should know him, but that's neither here nor there. This is about his Space Hulk comments.

I've never played Space Hulk, but I would if I knew anyone with a copy. It is a long out-of-print game from the 1980s. Doom: The Boardgame, which is a recent game I do enjoy, is said to be based upon Space Hulk. Space Hulk is an older game that seems to have a core of enthusiasts who keep it from fading into obscurity.

Anyhooooooo, like I said, I have never played the game, but this 3000+ word write-up on Space Hulk whetted my interest in the game. Thought I would point it out.

The article is posted on 3 different days, I linked to part 3 in my title, scroll down to January 2, when you are on his blog.

Here are two other sites some of you might find interesting, one from game designer Matt Forbeck, http://www.forbeck.com/, and a game enthusiast blog that I hadn't noted before 2!3054) Speaks. http://www.fwgc.net/weiqi/

Friday, January 06, 2006


Games that begin with "A" for 600, Alex.

Comments on one new game, and two old games with a new perspective.

Acquire- I have hated Acquire for years. In a nutshell it is dry, dry, dry, dry.

In Acquire players vie to make the most money by buying stock in hotel chains and merging those same hotel chains. Players owning stock in the smaller of the two merging companies earn money buy selling their stock back to the bank, or exchange stock from the smaller company for stock in the bigger company at a rate of 2:1.

Yes, it was a ground breaking game where players didn't actually control business, they merely owned stock. Yes, it could be called the original German game. Yes, I realize Acquire hasn't been out of print for over 40 years. But no, I didn't care for it.

I can't put my finger on it, but...

...I played Acquire again recently and didn't hate it nearly as much. I had a feeling that I was actually in control of my destiny in this last game. I don't remember ever having that feeling in a game of Acquire.

I still lost, in fact I probably came in 4th out of 6 players. I'll end up playing again because my wife likes the game. I still won't suggest playing it, but who knows? Given another 20 years, I might yet come around.

Acquire has always struck me as a game that had impossible tactical and strategic situations.

Tactically, there is no way to anticipate which chains will merge from turn to turn, even if you are holding tiles that would allow you to merge two business chains. If you hold off playing the connecting tile in order to buy stock in the smaller company the board has a tendency to change in unexpected ways, and rarely in a manner advantageous to you.

Strategically, forget it. The random tile draws and the inability to predict where your opponents might place tiles make strategic planning impossible. Guessing which stock to buy is more of an art than a science. Towards the middle of the game it becomes apparent which business are likely to become large enough to not be absorbed by larger business, and which businesses are likely to be merged. Still, due to the random tile draw, and the likelihood that all the good stock has been bought up, that knowledge does little to help tactical or strategic planning. All you can do is the same thing the other players are doing; guess which of the available shares will pay off the most and buy them.

Africa 1880- Africa 1880 is a negotiation and alliance game that you might call Diplomacy-lite. Players develop colonies and move control tokens around a map of Africa, instead maneuvering Armies or Fleets as in Diplomacy. Players negotiate with each other then write down their moves which are revealed simultaneously. Unlike Diplomacy, players are completely at war or completely allied with every other player. There is, for example, no allying with Britain to fight a common enemy in the south, but squabbling with Britain in the north. If you ally with Britain you are allied for the entire turn in every territory you share with Britain.

Each player takes the role of a 19th century European nation and starts with one territory on the coast of Africa. On his turn a player can either develop the territory (each territory takes between 1 and 4 development tokens to become a colony and once a territory becomes a colony other players may not enter it) or send an expedition to a neighboring territory. Players must also state whether they are allied with or at war with every other nation.

If two nations occupy the same territory they both remain if they are both allied or both at war with each other. If one player declared he is allied, and the other declared war, the person declaring an alliance removes his control token from the territory.

If multiple nations occupy a territory, each nation that is allied with more of the occupying nations than he is at war with remains in the territory.

If a territory is completely developed it becomes a colony if all occupying nations are allied at the end of the round. Colonies are worth victory points for occupying nations.

I had only played Africa 1880 with 3 and 4 players in the past. Neither number made for a satisfying game. It was clear to me at the time that the sweet spot would be a full compliment of 6 players, but the game just wasn't good enough to suggest playing again, even when there were 6 players available.

I got to play again recently with 5 players. (As a note: When the decision to play was made we had 6 players, but 1 player had to bail on us before the game started.) The 5 player game started out interesting, but didn't stay that way for long. As alliances were coalescing and negotiations were starting the game seemed to have real potential. As the board filled with control tokens, it became apparent that the players who could form an alliance of 3 against 2 would steam roll the smaller team, and anyone who switched alliances would be in a position to get his butt handed to him by his former friends.

Five players was definitely better than three or four, but still it is a game that should be reserved for those times when you have exactly 6 players.

With the right group I can see how Africa 1880 might be a pretty good game with a full compliment of players. With 6 players, alliances could either coalesce with two teams of three or three teams of two, with more options available to form new alliances and break old alliances as the game progresses.

I will give it another chance if we get the right group together. It would have to be a group that I wouldn't hesitate to play Diplomacy with. Negotiation and alliance games should absolutely never be played with overly sensitive players, and you know who you are.

Australia- (Forgive me, but I don't have Australia in front of me as I write this. Due to the amount of luggage space we were allowed on the flight home, several of the games I bought on vacation had to be shipped home in the mail and haven't yet arrived. Without the rule book in front of me, I will skip my usual, cursory overview of the rules to avoid putting my foot in my mouth.)

Picked this game up while on vacation. I had one chance to play it and my biggest comment is: It's better than I thought it would be after reading the rules.

Judging from the rules, Australia looked like a stinker. The windmill rules seemed out of place, and the airplane-movement/placement-of-rangers/on-a-map-of-Australia system seemed like a lame, tacked-on mechanic in the manner of a Colovini-esque abstract.

The game is basically an area control game. Players place rangers on the board to exert control over certain areas. Random tiles placed on the board at the beginning of the game specify requirements for both conservation and industrial control over each area.

In a nutshell, the windmill is turned to the next highest number when a tile is revealed with a windmill printed on it. As the tile requirements are completed, tiles are placed on the windmill track. When the track is full of tiles the windmill is scored. The player with the most rangers on the windmill track scores the number of points on the windmill.

Who decided that the windmill rules were for an advanced game, anyway? Granted, I have only played one game of Australia, and none of us appreciated the number of points that you could accumulate by placing rangers on the windmill track, but 15 minutes into game the first game it is clear that the windmill turns a one-dimensional, area-control game into a game with deeper tactical and strategic options. The windmill rules are not so overly complicated that a learning game without the windmill is required. In fact the windmill changes the game enough that you would have to completely recalculate your notions of the game if you learned without the windmill.

All in all, Australia was an average game. Seemed like a game that would get played a couple times then be easily forgotten.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006


New Years Resolution

I will not keep track of every game I play.

All these nickel and dime lists are killing me. I tried keeping track of every game I played. Did it for about six months. Lost all the info when we had to reinstall Windows on our home computer.

The point of tracking games played evades me. I'm glad I got it out of my system.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Retail Rule #1: Know Your Merchandise/ Blogging Rule #1: Don't Use Bad Pictures

I had a great time in the lower '48 on my Christmas vacation. Saw numerous family members who we hadn't seen in years, including my brother's children, ages 5 & 7, who we had never met.

Played plenty of cribbage and pinochle, as well as a game of Australia, For Sale, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Settlers. Played numerous games of Battle Line with my brother, as well as a game of YINSH with my father-in-law.

The highlight of the trip was a great boardgame store that I will tell you about in the Gone Gaming blog on Friday. At that store I scored a few games that my local game store has not been able to get into stock, and met several great gamers.

Know Your Merchandise

A secondary highlight was a trip to a hobby store that, a decade ago, was one of two places in town to stock good games. In years gone by, this particular store was a reliable source for the latest and best Avalon Hill and SPI games.

They no longer had a good selection of games. They had a few copies of Muppet Monopoly, Risk: 2210 and various editions of Axis and Allies. I rolled my eyes and turned to walk out, and what caught my eye? Advanced Squad Leader modules?

Yep. There on the bottom shelf, hidden behind some model-railroad accessories were two Avalon Hill ASL-modules, still in the original shrink wrap with the original price tags. I poked around a little more and found Sid Sackson's out-of-print Samarkand, and 2038 an out-of-print 18xx game. These games aren't exactly grails of collecting, but they are both games that had sparked my interest for one reason or other and command $50+ in used condition.

There were a few other out-of-print games, none of which were too exciting. As I was buying 2038 and Samarkand the clerk (who I suspect was an owner or manager) looked the games over and asked me if they were any good. I told him I hadn't had a chance to play them yet. He made some more small talk. After he had the games bagged and handed them to me I told him those particular games had been out of print for a few years and TimJim, the publisher of 2038, had been out of business for quite a while. He said, and I quote, "Huh. That doesn't surprise me. We don't sell many games." He then went on to tell me about how hard it was for the store to liquidate its role-playing games.

But the story doesn't end there. I decided to go back a couple days later to ask if they had any games stashed in the back of the store. A different guy told me, "No, all our games are on the shelf. Sorry, but we don't have a very good game selection."

What an odd moment. Here I am thinking they might have another gem stashed away and the clerk thinks I'm dissatisfied with the selection. I just left it at that. The discussion could not have progressed any further. I was talking Harleys to a Huffy guy.

Don't Use Bad Pictures
Oh well. Here it is anyway.

Speaking of highlights, how could I forget? Did I mention that I met Alex Rockwell? No, I don't believe I mentioned that.

Hope you had some happy holidays, I did,

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