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Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Kudos to Thoughthammer

After playing PitchCar with children for several years I found I was missing four of the original eight car disks.

After several months of searching (on and off) for a website to order disks directly from the manufacturer, Ferti, I came up with nothing.

I recently placed a game order with Thoughthammer and inquired if they could sell me individual disks. If they couldn't no problem, I would just buy a new PitchCar base game.

Ferti was unresponsive to their inquiries. They came through with four car disks anyway.

Thank you Thoughthammer.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


It could have been me.

Our regular Friday night game extravaganza was interrupted by a phone call. Seems as though a friend of one gamer had a flat tire, no jack, and no lug wrench.

At -40.

With his wife and infant in the car.

At least he had a spare tire.

On our way to rescue him we tried to access the trunk of my car to grab a lug wrench. My trunk is frozen shut. We never did get it open.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


It's baaaaaack.

I mentioned that I was tired of winter back in December. Since then we have had a rather mild winter. Temperatures have mostly been in the single digits (both above and below 0) here at Coldfoot Manor for the last 2 1/2 months. It has been slightly warmer in Fairbanks. For reference temperatures in the single digits are simply "seasonal" for us.

Looks like most of our cold weather has been in Canada and the lower 48.

It is currently -30 with more in the forecast.

Not extremely cold, but rather refreshing. For me anyway.

Bring it on.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Boardgame knowledge.

Boardgaming is much like any hobby.

Some people are only superficially into their hobby and their needs can be met at WalMart.

Some people want to become more immersed in their hobby and their desire for more knowledge drives them out of WalMart and into specialty stores.

Still others become so enamored with their hobby that their desire for knowledge leads them to study the hobby, seek out experts and advice, and the hobby ends up consuming much of their disposable income.

How does one obtain boardgame knowledge? From playing many games?

How does one obtain knowledge of literature? By reading many books?

I've worked with women who read two or three books every week. By "books" I mean "romance novels", with the occasional Stephen King or John Grisham novel thrown in for good measure. Their knowledge of Shakespeare, Milton, Twain, Chaucer, Cervantes, or Joyce is less than mine, and my idea of a good read is the rules to BattleLore.

By the same token a guy who spends his high school years playing Magic and his college years playing Risk, Munchkin, Illuminati, and Axis and Allies may not be boardgame literate even though he has thousands of hours invested into the hobby.

Knowledge and appreciation for literature are fairly easy to come by, if you are so motivated. Some people got lucky and had a high school or junior high teacher who set them on the path, oriented them to what was good and bad literature, and told them why it was good or bad. After reading many books they were able to develop their own taste and preference, and know why they liked certain literature above other literature. Those folks probably have a grasp of what constitutes literature, even if they can't explain their reasoning.

For most people literature classes are available at a local college or other institution of higher learning. Bookstore employees are often knowledgeable and can offer guidance.

Where does one go to study boardgames?

There are a few lucky people whose parents are gamers and who have imparted some knowledge to their kids. Unfortunately, most parents think of a "good read" as The DaVinci Code or a Steven King novel, and only one game springs to mind when they think of "games", Monopoly.

I understand there are a few schools offering special classes for boardgames, but those schools are few and far between.

Gamestore employees are notoriously unknowledgeable about boardgames, or worse, have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. The guys who hang out at the local game store are probably oriented to miniatures, CCGs, or are the aforementioned college students who play Risk, Munchkin et al. If you are searching for knowledge about Warhammer, RPGs, or Magic: The Gathering, the gamestore might offer a Ph.D. level education in those subjects. Boardgame information taken from the local gamestore must be taken with a grain of salt.

So how does one become knowledgeable in boardgames?

First, obviously, one needs to play a lot of games. But one needs to play those games with like minded individuals. Like minded individuals can offer feedback and counter-thought to your observations. That does not mean that you should have an after-action session after every game, comments made during the course of the game often serve as thought provoking feedback.

It is important to play with other people who appreciate good games. Even if Uncle Alf likes Ticket to Ride his ability to compare it to other games begins and ends with rummy. On the other hand, if you can play T2R several times with like minded people you can begin to have a meaningful debate on whether the east-west routes are over valued, or if a bad draw of initial routes breaks the game. This debate doesn't have to be formal, it generally just happens during the game.

This is not dissimilar to the English majors (and guys who are hitting on English majors) who sit in the coffee shop, read their horoscope, do the crossword, and passionately discuss Ulysses.

Second, one needs to search out boardgame information. Ten years ago this was an exercise in futility. Books and magazines on the subject were hard to come by, or dedicated to a certain type of game. Mostly one had to find a knowledgeable gamer and glean as much information from him as one could. Unless you could find more than one knowledgeable gamer this method was of questionable value. Learning from one teacher is like... well... learning from one teacher. Imagine earning a degree if every course was taught by the same teacher. Even if he is a good teacher, one must be exposed to other viewpoints to appreciate just how good or bad the teacher is, and evaluate his information.

With the advent of the internet boardgame information is more readily available than ever before. More importantly the quality of that information is very good, if you look in the right spots.

With the internet one does not have to advertise in a specialty magazine for old copies of "The General". Old copies of "The Games Journal" are readily available on-line. Certain reviews from "Counter" magazine are available on Funagain, a commercial, internet game store, and free game reviews are widely available on blogs and other specialty sites.

Third, one needs intellectual stimulation. Just reading about games is like reading a book about literature. It's not a bad source of information, but reading about the subject with other students, and discussing the subject with other students under the direction of a good teacher is a much better method of learning.

That's where Boardgamegeek and ConSimWorld enter the discussion.

On these forums there are a plethora of students offering their opinions on any boardgame topic imaginable. To varying degrees these are informed opinions. Boardgamegeek and ConSimWorld are great places to ask questions, offer opinions, float trial balloons, and defend your thoughts which forces you to better analyze your reasoning. In many respects it is similar to a classroom.

Occasionally an exceptionally informed person will enter the discussion. This is were BGG fails. Without following many discussions over a period of several months it can be hard to discern who is exceptionally well informed, and who is blowing smoke. Sometimes a person will be a good source of information on one topic and blowing smoke on another.

It is much easier to discern who is exceptionally well informed on CSW, but those discussions are mostly limited to specific games. If there is an informative discussion about a general topic it is much harder to find, and once you find the discussion it is much harder to follow. There are not more experts on CSW, it is just easier to spot them in the crowd.

On second thought, maybe there are more experts on CSW. Since experts are more readily recognized in that forum, they are given due deference by most users. Where ConSim is weak is that it only covers a narrow spectrum of boardgames: wargames, and not even the whole spectrum of wargames. An expert on BGG will undoubtedly, eventually be called-out by some know-it-all, snot-nose punk. Snot-nosed punks act as expert repellent. I can recall at least two episodes in the past where snot-nosed punks told the game designer he was wrong concerning the rules to his own game.

Game designers are not the only experts who make appearances on BGG. Off the top of my head I can point to a couple specifics: Chris Farrell's commentaries are invaluable and his geeklist of 18xx games is a "must read" for anyone looking to acquire games in that series. Randy Cox and Matthew Gray's statistics are always interesting and full of information even if that information is not immediately useful. DW Tripp is always there to answer questions about the retail side of the business. Brian Bankler, Alex Rockwell, Richard Fawkes, and others' game commentaries are always good to read if a particular game interests you. And people with expertise in internet sales, boardgame history, traditional games, copyright issues, etc., etc., etc. lend their voice to the discussion at various times.

However, few if any of the people offering opinions on BGG and CSW consider themselves to be students, they consider themselves to be teachers. If you consider everyone offering advice to be a student, except for a few people who you know are experts in a specific field, your search for knowledge will be much smoother and less agonizing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Deep Thoughts: By Coldfoot Handy

Having read about the nationwide game sale at Barnes and Noble, I swung by my local B&N to take a gander at any gems that may be 50% off. There were a lot of Monopoly, poker and trivia games on sale, but there were also a few of TGOO. Blokus (both regular and the Trigon versions) were abundant, as well as at least one copy of Puerto Rico, Rheinlander, Hey! That's My Fish, and Knights of Charlemagne.

A man and is son were perusing the same stack of games as I. The boy was holding Hey! That's My Fish. Dad was holding a copy of some Monopoly themed game. Dad said, "How 'bout this?" The boy shrugged. They took Monopoly and walked away.

And that got me thinking (Warning: Deep Thought begins now)

Anyone who knows me knows that I will often speak my mind. Even if my opinion is unsolicited. Even if my opinion is unwanted.

I've seen people perusing games in a game store, overheard their conversation and offered my thoughts on the game in question. I've only done that a couple times, and only if I thought I could be of real assistance.

I've overheard numerous cell phone conversations in my taxi and have offered such advise as, "Why are you going back to him if he beats you?" OR "Did you just call your mother a bitch? Your mother is a decent lady. You need to call back and apologize or you can walk." OR "Only a self-centered prick would try to persuade his girlfriend to get an abortion. She deserves better than you." (Yeah. I've said that.)

(Warning: Deep thought begins NOW)

So I was thinking, if I were to chime in that H!TMF is a pretty good little game, and if they were to buy it, and if they were to play it, could they appreciate it? More than they appreciate Monopoly?

Probably not.

There is quite a bit of strategy packed into that innocuous looking game. Granted, H!TMF isn't chess, but analyzing board position is very important in a chess-like way, and the better player will win 90%+ of the time. If you don't have some knowledge about games beyond that of a lay person, the depth of the H!TMF compared to its simplicity of rules and shortness of play would go unappreciated.

Being in a bookstore I had a fleeting thought that games are similar to books in that regard.

For example, a regular Joe could read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and enjoy the book. It is a fine adventure story with some humor thrown in. A person with knowledge of literature could read the same book, enjoy it, but also be impressed by the way Mark Twain raises questions of prejudice and the basic human condition. He might also be very disappointed with the way Twain hurried up the ending in order to meet publishing deadlines.

A critic wonders how good Huck Finn could have been if it had been properly play tested if Twain had taken the time to resolve questions he had raised. To a lay person it is a fine yarn.

At this point you will have to forgive me. My musings may exceed my knowledge of literature, but I believe my point will not be lost on the reader.

If H!TMF were a book what would it be? Perhaps a short story by Raymond Carver?

If Reiner Knizia were an author who would he be? His work is voluminous, but uneven. His best works are brilliant, but he churns out "pulp fiction" games at a remarkable rate.

As a full-time game designer Knizia isn't selling games to us game snobs. He is selling games to publishers in a manner similar to professional writers. Both have to give the publishers what they want. More often than not, game publishers are looking for a specific type of game to appeal to a specific market. Just as book publishers are looking for a book that will sell at WalMart or a book that will sell during the Christmas season, game publishers are looking for games that will sell at Toys R Us, or games that will meet the demand for 3-5 player, 90 minute, spouse friendly, Eurogames.

"That's a nice, little card game, Reiner. (Can we call you Reiner?) But it has a medieval theme, and is limited to 2 players. Could you rework it to an adventure theme for 6 players and have it done in time for Essen?"

"You have a novel about "man vs. nature"? That's good, but where's the romance? This story needs a "love interest" perhaps even a "love triangle" in order to appeal to a wider audience. Work on it and get back to us."

Richard Berg? Similar to Knizia? Large volume of games, but rather uneven?

"That's an interesting game Rich (Can I call you Rich?), but we really like your new WWII European theater game. The combat resolution was very innovative, congratulations. The reason we wanted to talk with you was to ask if you could re-do your successful WWII game into a "Pirate's of the Caribbean" theme with the same combat resolution system?"

Again, as a prolific designer, Berg's market is game publishers. Publishers are generally interested in the LCD (lowest common denominator), and which segment of the boardgame market has the MMBAHITP (most money burning a hole in their pocket). There just isn't much money to be made selling quality games to the niche market that appreciates quality games.

Francis Tresham? He has designed a small number of high quality games. Tresham is designing games for our little niche market. I assume the themes of his games are not up for discussion when he meets with game publishers? Maybe a tweak here or there for production reasons?

This could be a great game Frank (Can I call you Frank?), but this "slave revolt" calamity... I don't know. The boys in the Legal Department want you to call it a "colonist revolt" instead.

Let me get this straight... You think my Civilization game would sell better if it included more dice? Multi-colored dice? Dice depicting little shields, pyramids and ships? And you want me to make it politically correct? No thanks. If you'll excuse me, I've got an appointment to make an appointment with another publisher.

Francis Tresham actually reminds me more of Woody Allen than a literary figure in that regard.

Bruno Faidutti? More prolific than Francis Tresham, yes. But is any one of his games a "gamer's game"? Must his body of work be considered as a whole to push him into the realm of great designers?

Is he perhaps a Kurt Vonnegut, or Dr. Seuss?

Next, consider the value of a mentor.

Puerto Rico is a fine game. To a group of children with no guidance it would be dreck. (The person who ships the most corn wins. What's the fun in that?) They probably would not finish their first game and if they did finish their first game it would probably never hit the table again. The same group of children would find Romeo and Juliet to be booooooring, and possibly unreadable, but under the tutelage of a good teacher Romeo and Juliet is a gripping story. Likewise a good teacher could point out subtle strategy and the children's enjoyment of Puerto Rico would be enhanced, especially when they put the screws to the guy shipping corn.

I have had the opportunity to play HeroScape with many different children. Several of those children owned the game before playing with me. Several others acquired the game after playing with me. To a person, the kids who owned HeroScape before playing with me did not know how to play before I taught them. They just used the miniatures like other kids use little, plastic, "army men". To my knowledge (and this may be overly prideful on my part) the kids who acquired the game after first playing with me, acquired the game because the game is fun to play. Again, a minor mentor, one who could simply read and understand the rules, and then direct the flow of the game, was needed before the game could be appreciated.

Would the boy and his father whom I saw in Barnes and Noble take the time to get past the basic HeroScape rules and into the advanced rules before discarding it as a game and finding better use for the groovy, plastic miniatures as toys?

If games are art, akin to literature, where does the Stephen King parallel come into play?

Are there games with huge mass market appeal that are racking up millions of dollars in sales, all the while being snubbed by the "literate" gamers?

Do I even need to answer that question?

And therein lie some of the similarities. There are more, but that is enough. Trust me. I've given some thought to the subject and I could write more.

Game design is an art. Game designers are artists. The best designers can make a living doing their art. Lucky designers can make a killing by creating marginal designs with mass market appeal. Few people have enough knowledge of the art to be experts in the field, but everyone has an opinion. The situation is not so different from other arts.


Possibly Next,

perhaps soon,

or maybe never,

Thoughts on obtaining boardgame knowledge.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Stumbled across this on Boardgamegeek

Looking at some comments about a certain moderately-hyped game I ran across this comment which made me laugh.

Rating 10: i would give an 8 but i want to make the average a little higher

The author does not rate any other game, and has posted 18 comments on BGG all of them concerning this particular game.

The honesty is refreshing.

The self centered little prick thinks his vote matters. How quaint.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Gotta scratch that itch

Warning: Completely self indulgent post follows. Nothing here to further the advancement of mankind, nor the hobby of gaming at all. There is nothing here that even I find humorous.

In our group we have access to all the top 50 games except Crokinole, Modern Art and Maharaja. Various people in the group own all of the top 50-100 games except Union Pacific, Bonaparte at Morengo, Santiago, The Republic of Rome, Blood Bowl, Time's Up, Space Hulk, and Die Saeulen der Erde.

Ya know what I want to play?

The revised Axis and Allies.

I mean I have really been craving a game of Axis and Allies for quite a while.

I know. I know.

I have access to grails (for lack of a better word) such as: Up Front, Hannibal RvC, La Citta, 1830, Civ and Advanced Civ, Roads and Boats, Antiquity, Dune, and Die Macher several of which I have never played. I also have access to lesser ranked grails such as Kremlin, Chinatown, Die Handler, Ambush, and possibly Merchant of Venus and Age of Renaissance (I don't know if he E-Bayed those or not).

Maybe I need to start hanging out at the University dorms where I could play Risk, quarters and Axis and Allies any night of the week.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Maybe you had to be there, but it was funny at the time.

So, this cab driver gets sent to pick up at a certain address...

Shortly thereafter he came on the radio asking the dispatcher to repeat the address.

The dispatcher repeats the address. The driver says that address doesn't seem to exist. No problem, it happens all the time. The people will call back to complain that their cab never showed up and the dispatcher can get the correct address, or get accurate directions to the address.

Within 30 seconds the dispatcher calls back and says, "I just got off the phone with them. They say it's a church and it's in the middle of the block."

"There's no church on that block."

"It's supposed to be a little church with a sign printed in Korean on the lawn."

"Well, I'll go back and look."

A few minutes later, "I don't see a church or a Korean sign. I think they have the address wrong."

A few minutes later, "I just spoke to them again. This time I talked to someone who speaks English and he confirms the address."

"There is no church or a sign in Korean on that street. I even checked the surrounding blocks and I didn't see anything."

"They said they would send a kid out to the sidewalk to flag you down when you drove by."

"Fine. I'll go back."

At this point tempers are starting to flare. The dispatcher is busy and does not want this one call tying up his time. The driver is certain that they've got the address wrong, and doesn't want to waste his time looking for a person who doesn't know his own location.

A few minutes later a flustered cab driver came on the radio and said, "I've been up and down the street and the side streets and I don't see a kid, I don't see a church, and I don't see a Korean sign."

"I just got off the phone with them again."

"I think this is a crank call."

Tempers are really starting to flare at this point.

The exchange continued, "I've sent cabs there before."

"Not to this address you haven't."

The dispatcher responded, "I recognize the lady who is calling. She is a regular from (such and such an address). What street are you on?"

"I am at the corner of (such and such). I am looking at the green street signs."

By now both are really getting pissed.

"Well it should be right there."

"Yes. It most certainly should. There is no church on this block."

A third voice breaks into the ruckus, ".................," He keyed his mike for several seconds to ensure he had the floor. A voice with a calm drawl came on the radio, "Just calm down guys. The next time they call just tell them to walk to the nearest bar and have the bartender call. We'll find 'em."

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