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).

Monday, June 10, 2013

Moving to a new location!

Since this blog name is so hard to remember, I am moving to a new blog name and address:

Hope to see you there!


Friday, May 31, 2013


I don't know how many times I have been told that my blog is too hard to find.  Furthermore, since webcrawling bots have invaded my metrics, I have no idea how many of my hits are from sources made of carbon or sources made of silicon.  My actual readership is a complete mystery.

So, figuring I may have absolutely zero branding to lose, I am thinking about moving my blog to another, simpler name.  I would love to know what people might think of moving my blog, and I would also love suggestions for a new name.

What do you think?

Friday, May 10, 2013

3 Great, Easy-to-Find Boardgames to Play on Your Patio this Summer

Last weekend I was camping with our Boy Scout Troop, enjoying some great weather and managing to play a few games.  (I was actually undefeated in three games of chess, three games of backgammon and three games of Hive - a very rare thing indeed!)  Playing outdoors is a lot of fun, but not every game can handle it. I wrote about this after the same campout two years ago, but with a focus on games good for camping.  This time, I want to talk about three excellent family games that could be played on a lazy Sunday afternoon right on your patio; games that would be easy to find.

The difference between a game good for camping, and a game that you would play on your patio, is the weather. When you're camping, you have to be prepared for any kind of weather that might come along. That limits your selection of games to those that could get wet. However, on a patio, you can wait until the weather is dry before you go out. That opens up some additional possibilities, like having an actual board in your boardgame. Another possibility would be having some tiles. Either boards or tiles will soak up some water if the surface is wet. You can avoid that on your patio. Additionally, a lot of picnic tables at campsites are not flat, but most peoples patio tables are fine. In fact, the only real environmental issue on a patio is the wind. So now that we understand why games good for camping are not necessarily good for the patio, let's move on to the actual games:
  • ScrabbleHere's our first case in point. Scrabble is a great game: a timeless classic. It does not work well as a camping game because it has a board which would soak up water if anything dropped on it, or was it laying on the table. However, on a patio, that's not an issue. Furthermore, this game's wooden tiles won't blow away in the wind. The best part about this game is that you probably have a copy laying around. Almost everyone knows how to play, or is at least somewhat familiar with its ideas. I know some people don't like Scrabble, because they don't feel their vocabulary keeps them very competitive . However, I wrote a whole article on approaching Scrabble as a strategic game, rather than a word game, and that will make anyone a winner..

  • Qwirkle.  Qwirkle can be thought of as Scrabble with colors and shapes. It has the opposite problem than Scrabble does though; it has no board.  It is therefore susceptible to unevenness in the playing surface. Picnic tables don't work well for this game. However with chunky blocks as the playing pieces, this game isn't going anywhere. Qwirkle was the Spiel des Jahres winner a couple of years ago, and that means it's a great game. This German award is given to the best new family game each year. My full review which can be found here.
  • Blokus.  The last game is Blokus. Blokus has a plastic board, so it cant get wet. Since its plastic, it's also rigid, and therefore doesn't care what service its all. It might think that this would make it a good game for camping, but some of the pieces a rather small and could be easily lost in the grass. This will be a great games to play with the little ones, it's fairly easy to understand and very colorful. I wrote about the entire family of Blokus games several years ago. 
These are three great games for the family that will make a great afternoon or evening outdoors in the fresh air.  All of them are readily available at stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Barnes & Nobles.  None of them are terribly expensive, and the latter two are certainly playable by the under 10 crowd (probably down to about age five or six).  I've seen these games at all of those stores, as well as bigger grocery stores.  Barnes & Nobles stores are carrying more and more good games all the time.

Bonus.  This brings me to my last point.  Speaking of B&N, I can't help but mention one other game that plays really well outside: Carcassonne.  This is another game without a board; you actually build the board by laying down tiles.  This game plays very well with anywhere from two to five players, and I just can't say enough about how good this game is.  This is one of the very few games I rate a 10/10 on BoardGameGeek, and I have played more than a few games.  At one point, we actually owned three copies, so we would have one for my wife and I each at work, as well as the one we keep at home.  I don't play games at work anymore, so that copy now belongs to a neighbor who loves it.

Pick a warm night under the stars with a lantern and play.  Take an afternoon in the shade and have a blast.  In any case, everyone in the family will be a winner.

It's Your Move,


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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Wow.  This has been a pretty different year.  Lots of things in my personal life have worked against my gaming, which is why I haven't posted as much.  Here's a quick recap.

So far, I am on pace with last year.  In other words, I am having another bad year in terms of number of games played.  At this point in time last year, I had played 28 games of twelve different titles.  This year, I have played 27 games of 14 different titles - though seven of those games are a special case as you will see below.  It's amazing to me that I have dropped off that much.

I have received a lot of fun by learning new games.  I have found that I learn a new game, and I am much better able to teach a new game, by playing the game through by myself with several players.  It's a sort of "multiplayer solitaire", but it's been good.  Of course, that's also kind of sad; I am getting the most gaming enjoyment from playing a game by myself.  Ugh.

The good news is that the gaming group is managing to meet every month.  The group was very hit an miss last year.  Right now, we are hitting on all cylinders, and it looks like there isn't anything to get in the way this year.  That's great, because my gaming outside of the group is down.

We also finally got the chess club started at the school.  With only a month left, there was some question as to whether or not it was worth doing, but the kids really wanted it.  We are just going to play, and not give much formal instruction.  I played seven of the kids at once this past Wednesday, which is what I was referring to above.  So instruction will be on an individual basis, as I point things out to the kids as they play. 

We are going to try something different this year.  I play a lot of chess on, which is a great site.  (My number of plays doesn't include online chess games.)  They have an associated website for kids, on which parents and coaches can control the amount of contact their kids have.  I will be introducing it to the parents, so that the kids can continue to play over the summer with each other, and with me.  I will be able to comment and keep track of their progress.  If I can keep them playing, I will.

It's their move!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Catching Up

Well, it's been almost two months since I have posted to this blog. It's been busy around the house and at work, and I haven't gotten to play as much as I would like. That said, we did get in our February and March game group sessions. 

In February, we brought out an old favorite, Acquire, and had a blast playing it. That's one game that I will never get tired of. Since that game takes about 90 minutes, it took the majority of our time, and the only other game we were able to play was King of Tokyo.  So there's no game to review from the February session, we played good old favorites.

On St. Patrick's Day, we played medieval themed games. I actually have a game related to Ireland, Hibernia, which is also medieval. However, we didn't end up playing it. The Irish ambiance was limited to the food and drink: corned beef and cabbage with beer. We started the afternoon with Dominion, and played a couple rounds of that.  The new game was Rheinländer, an area control game like China, but Rheinländer is not quite as complicated and actually plays better with a larger number of people. We played with four players, although one of us had to leave before the game was over. We just left his pieces on the board as obstacles. Not only would the game have been better had the fourth person stayed, but it really could have used a fifth player.  

I need to catch up on reviews now; hopefully I can do that soon. In the meantime, you can check the existing reviews for some of the games we played over the last couple of months.  And you can take some time to play some great games.

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review of China

In our last monthly gaming session, the I managed to get a couple of new games to the table: King of Tokyo and China.  As I said in my review, the former is a great family/casual game.  The latter is on the edge.  Since I gave it a 9/10, and also because it seems to be on sale right now for almost half price at online retailers like Thoughthammer and FunAgain, I should let you be the judge.

China is the brainchild of Michael Schacht, the German game designer that also gave us Zooloretto.  Over the course of a 45 minute game, each player attempts to gain control of different territories and roads in ancient China.  At the same time, players try to form alliances between other territories that may not be under their control.  In the end, the person with the most territorial control and influence becomes the new Emperor of China!

Or not.

This game is a European style game.  Like many games of this style, determining the winner is accomplished by counting Victory Points.  The player with the most VPs wins.  Many European style games, like China, have very little connection between the theme or storyline of the game and the gameplay.  In fact, there is another version of this game which uses a European map called Web of PowerIn China, the primary mechanism is called Area Control/Influence.  Specifically, you are trying to get more pieces in the various spaces than the other players.  There is no direct confrontation, such as in Risk.  It's not possible to eliminate other players or their pieces.

On his or her turn, a player will have a hand of three colored cards.  (Cards have not values.)  They use these cards to place pieces according to a simple 1-2-3 rule:  in 1 territory, a player can place 2 pieces using their 3 cards.  For each piece placed, the card must match the color of the territory played into, though two matching color cards can be substituted for one card of any color.  (If I have a green card and two yellow cards, I have two options.  I can play two pieces into a yellow territory using the two yellow cards, or I can play two pieces into a green territory, using the green card for one and using the two yellow cards as a green card for the second piece.  If I have green, yellow and purple, I could play one piece into any one territory of those colors, but that's all.)  Pieces consist of houses, ambassadors and fortresses (in the advanced game).  Houses are played onto house spaces, which set on roads, with one house per space.  Ambassadors are played onto the "dragon space", which doesn't have a fixed amount of room.  However, the total number of ambassadors in a territory cannot exceed the total number of houses in play in that territory.  That's it!  You've just learned 90% of the rules.  The hard part is the scoring.

Image by Chris Norwood
Scoring China is a little complicated because some of the score is relative.   I will leave out fortresses in this review.  There are two ways houses score points.  The first is that they score 1 point for each house that is part of a string of at least four houses along a road.  That's pretty straight forward.  There are a fixed number of house spaces in each territory.  The person with the most houses in a territory gets 1 point for each house in play in that territory.  The person with the second most number of houses get 1 point for each house that the player with the most houses has in play.  The player with the third most houses gets 1 point for each house the player with the second most houses has in play, and so on.  (For example, if Adam has 4 houses, Bonnie has 3 houses and Carl has one, the scoring comes out like this:  Adam gets 8 points since 4+3+1=8.  Bonnie gets 4 points for Adam's four houses, and Carl gets 3 points for Bonnie's three houses.)  This forms one of the basic strategies:  how hard to I try to control something, since putting more houses down only gives someone else points unless I manage to have the most.  Ambassadors score by a simple majority, however, I must have the majority of ambassadors in two adjacent territories to score points.  Add to that the fact that the total number of ambassadors is limited by the total number of houses in the territory at any given moment, and timing comes into play.  The tension between these two different area influence scoring systems is where the fun is!

As you can probably tell, this game is a little "thinky".  Depending on your gaming style, that is either good or bad.  As you can tell by my rating, I like games that require thought (have I mentioned Chess recently?), particularly if the rules are simple.  China's rules are simple; once you play the game through the first scoring, it will all be crystal clear.  The rulebook does a far better job explaining than I did.  (But then, Mr. Schacht takes a little more room to explain the game than I did.)  If it does suit your style, this would be a great game for casual play, or for family play with older children.  It might be tough for the 10 and under crowd.

As I said, the game seems to be on sale right now in the US.  That's probably because the US publisher has been out of business for a few years now, and online stores are dumping the last of their stock.  At roughly $20 USD, this is a great buy if it appeals to you.

                Ages:                    12 and up
                Time:                     45 minutes
                Players:                 3-5

 If you like games that require some thinking, otherwise no.

It's Your Move!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

King of Fillers: A King of Tokyo Review

We normally don’t play many fillers in our gaming group.  For the most part, we know each other well enough that we spend time catching up before we start playing.  I have been trying to curtail that, since we have plenty of time while gaming to catch up, and we are trying to limit the session to four hours.  A couple of weeks ago we had a couple of people running late, so a filler was in order.  King of Tokyo was what made it to the table, since it met the player count and wasn’t too long.  Did we like it?  Well, we finished with it too…

Promotional Image
King of Tokyo is meant to be a light game where each player takes on the role of a giant monster attacking Tokyo.  There is light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek humor which is evident from the moment players start selecting their monsters from the pool consisting of Meka-Dragon, Cyber Bunny and Alienoid.  During the course of the game, each monster will gain special powers, helping them defeat the other monsters (by doing damage) or lay waste to Tokyo (by gaining victory points).  Players win by either gaining 20 victory points or by eliminating all other monsters.

Here’s the thumbnail version of the rules.  On their turn, each player picks up a handful of dice and rolls them Yahtzee-style.  Each die has six sides with the same faces: the numbers 1, 2 and 3 as well as a claw, a heart and a lightning bolt.  The dice are rolled up to three times, with the player selecting which dice to keep and which to re-roll each time.   Rolling three numbers of a kind awards that many victory points.  In other words, rolling three 1’s gives 1 victory point; rolling three 2’s gives 2 victory points.  Rolling a claw is an attack, rolling a heart heals, and rolling a lightning bolt awards the player with an energy cube.  Energy cubes are the currency of the game, and are used to buy cards that give the special abilities mentioned before.  Players outside of Tokyo damage the one player inside the city (two in a five or six player game), and vice versa.  I won’t go into details on how one gets to Tokyo.  Suffice it to say that being in the city is a higher risk / higher reward position, and there are ways to force people into Tokyo.

I won with Alienoid in the first game, but he let me down
in the second! (Image by Raiko Puust)
This is a GREAT game!  In the first game, I won by being the last monster standing.  I had the chance to move into Tokyo on a turn late in the game.  On my next turn, I played an “Air Strike” card which dealt everyone – including me – three points of damage.  I then rolled four claws, doing damage to everyone outside the city and eliminating them all!  Since it was a six player game, it was just between myself and the other player inside Tokyo.  A couple of turns later there was a showdown and I barely won.

The second game lasted a little longer, and resulted in a victory point win for one of the other members of the group.  On one hand, this was a little less climactic, since only two people were eliminated (including me).  On the other hand, a longer game allowed more special powers to be put in play, and there’s some drama and humor to be gained that way, so it was just as fun!  Cards with titles such as, “We’re Only Making It STRONGER!”, this game begs to be played in your best B-grade creature feature voice.  In fact, part of the fun (at least for me) is going over the top with this.

The cards add special powers to the monsters, not to mention some corny humor!  (Image by Raiko Puust)
  At a half hour play time, this game has that in-between playing time that is a little long for a filler, and a little short for a full experience.  It’s kind of like getting loaded baked potatoes for an appetizer; should I stop here or order more food?  I am also not sure how well this will do with kids.  The theme is perfect for them, and they will easily be taught the rules.  However, being forced into Tokyo and then having everyone whomp on you just might be a little traumatic for some younger children.  I’ll still call it a good kids’ game, because I believe a typical 8 – 10 year old will be past that point.

The only other issue with this game might be finding a copy!  You will either have to go online or find a local gaming store to purchase it.  Do yourself a favor and find a way to get it!  When I recommended this on my 2012 Gift Buying Guide, I hadn't played it.  I based the recommendation on the games reputation, and it has more than lived up to it!  This is a great game that will be fun for many gatherings.  It will play well in both casual groups and in family groups across generations.  I plan to make it available at all of our game group sessions for quite a while, since it was a big hit with nearly everyone. 

King of Tokyo
                Ages:                    8 and up
                Time:                     30 minutes
                Players:                 2-6 (but I think it really needs at least three)

It’s Your Move

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Goals for 2013

Image by Columbia Pictures
I am not a big one for New Year's resolutions.  They seem to be strong assertions that often are just abandoned.  I personally believe that leaves a lot of people feeling bad about themselves.  I do believe in goals, however.  I have one for this year, and its a big one.  Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man size big.  It will probably be my goal for several years.  And it's about gaming.

As of today, 28 January 2013. my family's current game collection stands at a little more than 250 games.  (Say, 10% more-ish, but who's counting?)  The past two years have seen a lot of game acquisition.  In 2011, the number of games grew, well, significantly.  The total number didn't grow as much in 2012, largely because I traded away games I knew would never get played for new titles.  Looking at the situation, and specifically looking at the shelves filling up, I realized that this year has to be about something different.  So I've slowed down.  (Okay, I guess getting three games since New Years Day fails to be a shining example of restraint, but I'm a work in progress.)  I realized that I have games that I have had for years and never played.

So this year, or rather starting this year, I am going to play through the unplayed games in my collection.  Not all of them will get played; I really don't feel the need to play games aimed at preschoolers.  However, that still leaves a stack of games to be played, and I am determined to get through them.  In order to do that, I am going to focus on not getting new games.

King of Tokyo is rapidly becoming a favorite - and could
probably use a Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man!
What does this mean for you, the reader?  Does that mean that I will run out of games to write about?  The answer to that is "no", not for a while.  You see, that leaves me with about 50 games to try.  My gaming group meets 11 times a year (not in December), so I have a solid four years of games to review.  Of course, as I discover the dogs I will get rid of them, either by trading or selling, and  acquire new games.  And so it goes. 

Of course, this won't go smoothly.  In February, we are playing economic games, prompted by a request for Acquire.  I will try to squeeze in a new game, but since Acquire is on of my all-time favorites...  I can't say I will give up all of my favorites for four years while I get through the unplayed titles.  In fact, since I hope to discover some new favorites, this might just get harder and harder to do.  We'll have to wait and see.

It's Your Move!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Lessons

Yesterday, I got in the car and started listening to one of my favorite gaming podcasts, On Board Games.   In this particular episode, the hosts, Donald Dennis and Erik Dewey, were talking about teaching games with their guest, Giles Pritchard.  It was a pretty amazing coincidence to me, since I had an interesting teaching challenge this weekend at our gaming group.  Back in April 2011, I wrote about not being prepared to teach 7 Wonders, and I actually put it away rather than ruin the initial play experience for my gaming group.  I was teaching a new game at our monthly meeting on Sunday and once again wasn’t prepared, but in a way that caught me completely off guard.  Playing the game is one thing; scoring is another.

[As a complete aside, I really have to endorse not only the On Board Games podcast, but also Giles’ blog, Castle by Moonlight.  These are great resources for those interested in gaming at any level.]

We started off playing a couple of filler games until everyone arrived.  Afterwards I announced that I was teaching China (a fantastic game I will review soon).  I have never played the game, but I often end up teaching games that I have never played before.  It’s unavoidable, since I don’t get to other groups or conventions to play games with experienced players.  The game play is straightforward in China, literally taking only a few sentences to explain.  Normally, explaining the game play is the hard part; it can be very difficult to explain the various phases and options the player has on their turn.  Let’s use Monopoly as an example.  If you are playing strictly according to the rules, the player rolls the dice and moves their token.  From that point, they either: a) pay the owner of the property; b) buy the property; or c) do nothing.  Option a) is dictated if the property is owned.  If the player chooses option c), the property is put on auction, and there is a set of rules for that.  Of course, all of this goes out the window if the player lands on Chance, Free Parking or one of the other places on the board that have their own set of rules, too.

The scoring for Monopoly, however, is simple; there isn’t any scoring.  The winning player is the last person standing when everyone else has been eliminated.  Many games, and nearly all of the games our gaming group has played, have relatively straightforward scoring systems.  A few others are an exception, like Carcassonne, having a relative scoring element as one part of the whole score.  In Carcassonne, scoring farms is relative to how many completed cities touch that farm.  In China, nearly all of the scoring is relative.  That’s the difficulty in explaining the rules.  That’s what I wasn’t prepared for.  How much you score in a given province in China is relative to how many pieces other players put in the province.  That tension between gaining points and possibly giving away points forms the strategy.

I probably should have seen this coming.  I have trouble teaching Carcassonne precisely because of the farm scoring.  Instead, I fumbled around with an explanation of scoring on Sunday.  Fortunately, the other players were willing to play anyway, and after a first “learning game” we played a game with everyone understanding all of the rules: both game play and scoring.  It’s not that the scoring is hard to understand; it’s just hard to put into words.

In teaching the game I learned a lesson.  In the past, I would teach a game by first introducing the game’s theme or story, giving the game objective in story terms, giving the game objective in terms of the rules, and then explain what a player did on his or her turn.  Along the way, I would explain the various game components.  Explaining the scoring was simple enough that it just worked out in explaining everything else.  In China, that’s just not going to happen.  Explaining the scoring will need its own focus, and will probably need to include examples as I teach.  I will need to work a little more on my teaching technique.

It's Your Move!

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