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).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dracula meets Frankenstein

Almost.  As it turns out, I was hoping our monthly group would get to play both Fury of Dracula and Fearsome Floors this month, but it didn’t work out.  We only managed to get in the former, which is one of my all-time favorites.  Rather than give a full review, I am going to give two mini reviews of these games.

Image by Brian (ColtsFan76)
Fury of Dracula’s storyline has its roots in the original novel.  In this game, Dracula has come back from the grave (again) some years later, seeking once again to establish his vampire brood.  He also has sought revenge against those who brought him down in the novel, turning two of them into his minions (Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris).  The remaining members of that group have reformed to bring down the Count again: Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. John Seward, Mina Harker and Lord Godalming (aka Arthur Holmwood).  The game sets one player as Dracula, moving in secret throughout Europe as the four other characters hunt  for him, attempting to attack and kill him.  Dracula is more powerful at night than during the day, loses life when travelling by sea, and card play provides information to the hunters as well as arming them against Dracula and his accomplices.  This game is one of the most thematic games I own, and like so many other thematic games, the card play adds much to the theme by interrupting the normal flow of the game.  It is worthy to note that all five characters are in the game regardless of how many players are playing, leaving a good game for anywhere from two to five players.  (This is accomplished by players playing more than one role if necessary.)  It also means that it is a good game for someone to show up late to, or leave early from, with his or her character is picked up by another player.

That said, this is NOT a casual game.  In fact, I believe it is more complex than many of my other games.  The hunter roles are somewhat complicated, particularly with the impact of the cards, but they have each other to rely on.  Dracula is on his own, and is doing things in secret, so the potential is there for a completely screwed up game.  As it takes two to three hours to play, this can lead to a very frustrating evening.  This game is published by Fantasy Flight, and is typical of their style: very high Awesomeness Factor, but very complex.

(For those of you have been reading along, I never did paint the figures for this game.  My artistic skills are at the “paint by numbers” level, so I am incredibly nervous about trying to paint them.)

Promotional Image from publisher
I haven’t played Fearsome Floors at all, but that’s not going to stop me from reviewing it.  I have read the rules, and I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  In this game, the players have been imprisoned by an evil lord while trying to rescue a damsel in distress.  Now, they are poised for a massive breakout, but must avoid the monster that guards the exit.  Players have three or four disks each which represent their characters; the number of disks depends on the number of players.  The movement mechanics are simple, and the monster moves by its own rules.  As such, kids under ten could definitely play this, although they probably won’t play well.  The art is cartoon-ish, and isn’t really scary at all.  This is a good game for all players.  The one warning I have heard repeated  is that it can bog down in analysis paralysis, since the monster's movements can be figured out with enough thought.  The key is to play this as a light race game.  This game claims to take an hour to play, and can handle up to seven players, so it will fit most families and casual groups.

Below will be links to other reviews on this topic, including these games.  Personally, I am pretty selective about horror themed games, as well as movies, so Fearsome Floors is probably one of the very few “family horror games” I would play.  Other perspectives would be good.
The monster can be configured to look like the Frankenstein Monster -- or other horrors! (Image by Jesper Amstrup)

Okay, now that you have made it this far, I am going to add a few things about the Dracula and Frankenstein novels.  Dracula is in my top five novels of all time, and Frankenstein is also well worth reading.  They can be downloaded from Amazon or B&N to an e-reader for free, as they are in the public domain; they can also be downloaded as PDFs from the Gutenberg Project.  Similarly, LibriVox, a public domain audio book source, also has them.  I am currently listening to their dramatized version of Dracula as I drive around town, and it is excellent.  Do yourself a favor and read at least Dracula if not both novels.

 It's Your Move!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Revising my collection...

A few years ago, in my initial rush of enthusiasm, I managed to collect a good number of games that I was keen to play. These games included war games, fantasy games, sci-fi, and a few other games that would provide an epic story to tell. Here I am three years later, and some of them still have the shrink wrap on them.

It's because I am a geek.

It turns out that the same personality trait that provides all of the games for my gaming group is the same trait that makes me interested in fantasy, sci-fi and epic-length games - the genres that the rest of my group is not interested in playing. So, I am changing my collection. After all, a game that no one will play really doesn't have much value.

I have traded away most of my war games for very light war games. My boy loves fantasy, and I have conceded that he will probably take most of those with him to college. Some of my two player games will just have to go.

My wife tends to prefer abstract games, and I am okay with that. I like abstracts, some of them very strongly, even if it isn't my favorite genre. Our gaming group likes European style games, and there are a lot of fantastic games that I enjoy from that vein too. I have bought a few solitaire war games to satisfy that particular itch.

My dad always said, "To have a friend you have to be a friend", and that has always stuck with me. And so I salute those great games I no longer own, even as I go join my friends a game a can all enjoy.

It's your move!


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Friday, October 14, 2011

Publisher Profile: Hasbro, Part I -- Mass Market Brands

My father used to tell a joke, “Where does the 800 lb. gorilla sit?  Anywhere he wants!”  This is Hasbro, who could have such a positive influence on the boardgaming hobby with all of their size and money.  We all know their games, since we grew up with them as kids: Monopoly, Clue, Risk, Ants in the Pants – the list goes on and on.  Some of these had, and may still have, Parker Brothers logos, but that label is owned by Hasbro.  So are Milton Bradley, Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill.  Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill have always had their niche, so I will specifically talk about the mass market divisions in this post.

First, I have to say that Hasbro has singlehandedly given boardgaming the reputation in the United States as a children’s activity.  In that way, the company has caused a lot of harm: maybe more than can be undone in my lifetime.  This is primarily due to the large number of sub-par kid’s games they have produced.  There have also been a lot of cheesy movie tie-ins, which tend to bring down the reputation of boardgaming.

Image by Bruce LeCompte
Prior to 1998, Hasbro had a few truly great games, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer (based on the TV show), Survive! and the immortal game Scrabble.  They were lost in a sea of drivel, however.  In 1998, Hasbro purchased the Avalon Hill brand, and bought the company Wizards of the Coast a year later.  This seems to mark the beginning of Hasbro taking a more serious approach to games.  Several of the Star Wars games are excellent (just try to find a copy of Star Wars: Queen’s Gambit for under $150.00 USD).  Furthermore, Hasbro has taken Risk and turned into several very successful, first-rate games (including Star Wars editions and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition), some of which were published under the Avalon Hill brand.  The revised version of Risk is an excellent game.  Plus, while I haven’t played it, I have heard great things about Sorry! Sliders.

Much of this is due to two specific designers, Rob Daviau and Craig Van Ness.  Many of these better titles are due to the efforts of one of these two gentlemen, sometimes working in concert.  A list of currently in-print, superb games which carries one or both of their names would include:
  • Heroscape – arguably their all-time biggest hit.  There are four different master sets, and lots of expansions.  Each set or expansion can be played interchangeably with the others.  (Okay, technically this is now out-of-print, but you can still find sets in stores, so I am counting it!)
  • Battleship Galaxies – This game has an extremely high Awesomeness Factor index.  Awesomeness just oozes out of the box.  Seriously, I might have to buy this game just because of how cool it is.  I don’t need to know how it plays (which reputedly is equally awesomely).  I just want the miniature space ships!
  • Sorry! Sliders – Again, I don’t know much about this one, since my son would probably look down on it, and so we haven’t played it. 
  • Risk (Revised Edition) – This is a must-own game for me.  Risk with all of the fun in less than half the time.
  • Clue: Discover the Secrets – I have never played it, and only know that it has a good reputation.

Promotional Image from Amazon
From a practical perspective, knowing how good a mass-market Hasbro game is (including Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley) will not be easy to determine.  I still get teased by my wife for passing up on Star Wars: Queen’s Gambit and Star Wars: Epic Duels back in the day.  These are both Daviau/Van Ness designs also.  However, since Hasbro doesn’t list designers on their games, it will take a little research to determine who worked on the design of any given game.  In the end, that’s going to be the answer for any Hasbro game: research.  That is, unless it has a movie tie in and isn’t too expensive.  If that’s the case, buy one to try – odds are good you will eventually be able to sell it on eBay for $150.00 if nothing else.

It’s Your Move


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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Getting back to it...

I probably owe an apology to anyone who regularly looks for my posts.  Life has been crazy, as I have mentioned, and I have had no time for gaming.  This has resulted in a combination of writer's block and tiredness for the past several weeks.  Another issue with these circumstances is that I can find the time (thanks to the wonders of smartphone technology) to troll eBay for games.  As a result, my gaming purchases have gone up a little.

So now I am getting back to playing.

I am getting ready for this Sunday's monthly Game Day.  Our gaming group will be playing one or more of the following games, all with a Halloween theme.  Which games will depend on how many people show up, and what they pick:

  • Fury of Dracula
  • Fearsome Floors
  • Coach Ride to the Devil's Castle
  • Spooks
We have only played the first one, which is fairly complex; I have read the rules of all but Coach Ride to the Devils' Castle. I have that in my briefcase, and will read it at some point.

The next thing coming up is the school chess club, which starts again in a few weeks -- November 2nd to be exact.  I am a little scared, over 50 flyers have been taken by students, and I have no idea how many of them will show up.  This is probably the year to start taking dues.  Just a few dollars from each would help with some equipment needs, and it will help cut down on those kids who want to just wander in.

I am having a lively discussion over on BoardGameGeek about starting a chess club.  Another BGG member is taking up the task with his wife, and asked for advise.  One German gentlemen and I have a friendly debate going on over including chess variants and chess clocks.  He favors including both; I would exclude both.  Nonetheless, as Shakespeare says, "The play's the thing."  What ultimately matters is that the children learn to play the game!

Which leads me to ask if it's time that YOU get back to it.  Clearly, you have some level of interest in games, or else you wouldn't still be reading this.  There is a school out there where the kids are itching for someone to teach them chess.  The benefits are so clear for those kids who do play.  Is it your time to "get back to it"?

It's Your Move!

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