zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Publisher Profile: Z-man Games

Some of the other publishers I have highlighted have distinct characteristics such as producing games with sky-high Awesomeness, or concentrating on family games.  Then we have Z-man games, who are the buffet line of games.  When I say this, I am not suggesting they produce lower quality games for the masses (Hasbro can keep that crown), but rather that they produce a variety of games for different tastes.  Perhaps there's a better analogy, but the makers of games like Wasabi! and Wok Star need a restaurant reference.

Z-man got it's start publishing card games, particularly those related to B-movie horror themes.  They still continue to produce many card games, and some of their most highly rated games feature a lot of card play tied to a board.  1960: The Making of a President and Campaign Manager 2008 come to mind.  Both are games based in American politics and are also share game designers. 

One of the most popular and highly rated family games, Pandemic, is a Z-man publication.  This game also features a lot of card play, but is a cooperative game rather than a competitive one.  Since I have previously reviewed it, I won't go into a lot of detail here.  Suffice it to say that it is a good representative game for the company, with strong game play, reasonable play times, and quality European style pieces, all packed in a very sturdy box.  That sounds blasé, but the level of game play is the key.  Pandemic is within my top five games of all time, and I have played it 19 times so far this year -- exactly half the number of times I have played it. Nearly all of my plays have been in our gaming group, so it isn't just me.

Image by Benjamin Pachner
There are other great games produced by Z-man also:  Tales of the Arabian Nights, Fairy Tale and more.  The most notable is Agricola, which spent quite a while as the Number 1 ranked game on BoardGameGeek.  This is where the cautionary word to the casual gamer comes in; Agricola is not a casual or family game.  This is particularly true for families with pre-teeanage children.  This leads us back to one of the defining characteristics of Z-man -- their lack of defining characteristics.  Z-man produces good games, and the man behind it all, Zev Shlasinger, is less concerned about the genre.  To finish my cautionary thought: the Z-man label is a harbinger of an excellent game, but not necessarily of a good family or casual game.  Many of their games are targeted at the hobby gamer.  Ask at your local game store to make sure the game you are considering is a good match.

Image by Tim Fowers
As for Wasabi! and Wok Star, I don't own them but really want to play them.  Both are about preparing Asian food, but one is competitive and one is cooperative.  I think they might appeal to my wife, who loves to cook.  (I love to eat; it's a good match!)  I can't personally say how good these two games are for families, but that seems to be the consensus on BoardGameGeek.  Wok Star is currently out of print, and is supposed to be reprinted.  I hope so, since the asking price for a used copy seems to be around $100.00 USD!

It's Your Move!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Three Years of Gaming!

I think the schedule is back to normal – at least for the moment.  No, that’s not it either.  In reality, I have adjusted to a new “normal”, which will last until the end of October.   At that point, football will end and “normal” will be redefined again!

This past weekend saw the three year anniversary of our gaming groups formation.  When we started in September 2008, it was just three of us:  Geo (my wife’s brother who I am close to) and Spud (one of our neighbors).  Others were invited, but didn’t come but once or twice.  Tom, our next door neighbor, started coming shortly thereafter, though he tends to come only during certain parts of the year.  As time went on, the group has expanded and contracted, but Geo and your truly have made every session.  There was even a session where it was just the two of us.  Now there are four regulars, and a few that come when they can.  The time we had twelve was a little crazy, but my wife, Kay, played so that she could help teach.  She’s better at that than I am anyway!

So it was fitting that Geo spent the night after my son’s football game Saturday.  (They won and are 4-0!)  The rest of the family was out of town, so it was just the two of us.  After watching Notre Dame dismantle Michigan State’s running game, we had dinner, finally breaking out a few games when we probably should have been thinking about going to bed.

First, we played The Kingdoms of the Crusaders, which I received a review copy of, and which will get a full review shortly.

Next we played Risk: Star Wars; The Clone Wars Edition.  This game is out of print, but can easily be found on eBay for a reasonable price.  (I would love to have the Original Trilogy Edition, covering Episodes IV-VI, but those are going for over $75 USD).  This is game that I really enjoy, and certainly does feel like the movies.  With Risk being the core game, the rules are familiar to many, which allows everybody to start playing quickly.

Image by
Next, we played Triumvirate, a two player trick taking game.  We walked away from that figuring it needed more play.  However, since it was 2:00am, we decided we were too foggy to really grasp any strategy.

Our gaming session started at the normal 2:00pm on Sunday, with two games of 7 Wonders, then a game of Ticket to Ride.  We had new players at each game, so things took longer than usual.  Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun.  These fall sessions are just about the only gaming I get right now, so having the extra time before was great!

Over the next couple of weeks I will also be talking about a new adventure in gaming.  I am going to start painting my figurines for some games.  Specifically, we are coming up on that time of year that calls out for Fury of Dracula, and I need to paint my miniatures to add to the Awesomeness Factor.  I am one of those rare people that can paint as well with my feet as with my hands – which is to say I can’t paint at all!  Hopefully, when I am done they look as good as these:

Image by Jacob Stormo
I will post pictures of mine when I get that far, with tales of how I am doing.  For now,

It’s Your Move!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chess is now a Boy Scout Merit Badge

This just has to be announced.  Boy Scouts of America has just approved a merit badge for chess.  I guess I will add "merit badge councilor" to my titles "school chess coach" and "troop leader"!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

That time of year again...

It's that time of year when things get so busy that gaming just seems to fall by the wayside.  Not that I want it to, but our family life is dominated by one thing - American football.  No, I am not one of those football fanatics who watches constantly.  (I am only a Notre Dame fanatic.  There was a lot of positive in last week's loss, but I digress...)  However, our 8th grade son plays on a team, and with practices four nights a week, we are running him around a lot.  Furthermore, with homework added on to that, I have lost my primary gaming partner.

This past weekend was a holiday weekend here in the US - Labor Day.  There certainly was labor (which seems to defeat the whole purpose of a holiday!), but there was picnicking and fishing too.  As a result, I missed my normal Tuesday post.  This day-late and dollar-short post will have to do.

Onirim (image by Shadi Torbey)
I did manage to play more games of Onirim this past weekend.  This is a solitaire card game (though it does have 2-player cooperative rules) with a dream-walking theme.  It sounds strange, and it took a couple of games to get into it, but there are definitely some interesting decisions to be made.  I'd have to say it has grown on me, and is my favorite solitaire game at the moment.  While it isn't played with standard playing cards, the game isn't too expensive.  Z-man Games makes a lot of good card games, and this is one.

(For those of you who are curious, Daniel's football team is 2-0.  They beat their rivals 15-14 in a nail-biter, and won last night 33-0.  If they win Saturday they will have had the highest number of wins they have had in four years.  You do the math - they haven't been good in prior years!)

It's Your Move!

Friday, September 2, 2011


Earlier this week I discussed Rio Grande Games.  At the end, I mentioned Carcassonne, which is a “must have” game for everyone.  Realizing I have never reviewed it, I thought I would correct that problem today.

(Image by Big Woo)
My wife would tell you that Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride are the two games that everyone joining my gaming group should play before playing any deeper games.  They show new players who are generally used to Monopoly, Risk and probably their kids’ roll-and-move games something entirely different; games that have a lot more going on and are incredibly fun.  I am not so exclusive.  However, Carcassonne scratches the strategic itch in a way that many games do not.  There are a lot of reasons why you should by this game.

(Just to clarify – I am not one of those that believes a game must be strategic to be a good game.  Many games, like Bananagrams for example, are primarily tactical, and are very fun.  However, there are times when I want to play something more strategic.  Hmm, maybe I need to talk a little bit about strategy vs. tactics in an upcoming blog.)

The first gotcha for new players is the fact that there is no board, just a blank table and a bag of tiles.  The board is built during the course of the game!  On their turn, each player lays a square tile with several possible terrain features on it: city, monastery, road or field.  Tiles must be place so that they touch a tile already  on the table, and each side must match the features of adjacent tiles.  The player may then place a token (meeple) on the tile just placed to claim it.  Once enough tiles have been place to build a complete road, monastery or city, they score points.  Farms are scored at the end of the game.  As you might guess, with a somewhat abstract theme and both ongoing and end game scoring, this game classifies as a “Euro”, a European style game.

Carcassonne in play  (Image by Aaron Tubb)
 First of all, Carcassonne plays 2-5 people, and six with the Inns and Cathedrals expansion.  Many games claim to do this, but few actually are a good game with the full range of players listed on the box.  I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t dwell on it.  Suffice it to say that Carcassonne works really well for 2-4 players, and is still a good game with 5 or 6.  Regardless of whether it’s two people alone after the kids are in bed, two couples getting together, or a fairly large family, this game will work for any number.

For the amount of strategy in this game, it is accessible to new players.  This game is easy to teach, and is one of those uncommon games that can be taught in stages.   Cover the basics of tile placement in a few minutes, then after a turn or two explain in more detail how scoring is done.  As the game rolls along, the game explainer can show how players interact in the game.  At the same time, there are many experienced hobby gamers that are completely willing to play this – including me!  Once again, it covers the range of players.

Lastly, this game accomplishes all of this in an hour.  With some experience, the games will move quickly.  A few years ago and another job ago, I played at lunch with a couple of others.  Once everyone knew the game, it was not uncommon to get in two games within our hour lunch.  The three of us even managed to play three games in an hour one day!  The game length is just about perfect for any evening.

This is the one expansion to get! (Image: Surya Van Lierde)
Carcassonne has a lot of expansions.  A lot.  Some are very good, and some are downright silly.  Personally, I think there is only one worth getting:  Inns and Cathedrals.  This expansion adds one more player (the sixth player) and several more tiles.  Two tiles have cathedrals on them, and several have inns on them.  Cathedrals make cities high risk, high reward propositions; inns do the same for roads.  They can be played for yourself to increase your score, or played late in the game to foul up your opponents big plan.  Of course, it may not work out as planned!  I would leave the other expansions alone.  While Carcassonne can be bought in a “Big Box” version that includes several expansions, I would save my money (and my shelf space) and just by the base game and Inns and Cathedrals.

I guess the biggest endorsement of this game is that we own 3 copies.  Yes, I said three.  Three copies of Inns and Cathedrals, too.  One set is at home (and it has a few more expansions which largely just sit in the box).  One set is at my wife’s place of work, and one is at her mother’s house out of town.  This is a game that we all enjoy, which can be a trick in our household!  It hasn’t made it to the discount stores yet, but I have seen it at Barnes and Noble as well as game stores. 

It’s Your Move!

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