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).

Showing posts with label accessories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label accessories. Show all posts

Friday, July 8, 2011

Making Your Games Bloom – Floral Stones

At times, ramping up the Awesomeness Factor on a game can get expensive.  Let’s face it; a custom made dice tower isn’t going to be cheap.  If the miniatures in the game aren’t pre-painted, and you can’t paint them yourself you just might as well give up on that upgrade.  There is an inexpensive alternative that can add some flair: floral stones.  And, should someone just happen to have a craft table (or a fish bowl) in the house, a few of these might be “liberated” for a greater purpose – gaming!  Here are a few ways to use them, in increasing order of Awesomeness: scoring, game copies, and replacing parts in existing games.

Using stones for scoring is probably the easiest and most common use.  Qwirkle comes with scoring rules that require a piece of paper and pencil to keep track of in the same way Scrabble is scored.  We printed out a scoring track from BoardGameGeek (BGG), and viola! – instant Awesomeness.  The best part about this is that scoring is always open information for everyone to see.  Ivanhoe is another game I own that I use stones for scoring.  This is a card game where the object of the game is to win several different fighting tournaments out of the number played, such as jousting.  Which tournaments a player has won is tracked by the player keeping different color tokens for each tournament type.  The tokens that come with the game are little poker chips that are, well, not impressive.  Different color stones serve the same purpose, have some weight, and just look better.

Creating a copy of a game is another use.  Before you get upset, I am talking about copies of public domain games.  Games like Brandubh, Nine Man’s Morris, Mancala and Senet are all ancient games that could easily be produced using floral stones.  (Stones were the original pawns.)  Rules can be found on the internet and boards for these games could be anything, including drawn on a piece of paper (though that does severely hurt the Awesomeness Factor).

Replacing tokens in already awesome games is another way to use them.  My favorite example is the fantasy game Runebound, which has heavy cardboard markers on the board.  These represent places “where there be dragons” – literally if they are red in color.  These markers are called “jewels”, but they really don’t look like much.  Now, replace these with translucent floral stones of the appropriate color, and the board is transformed!  The Awesomeness Factor goes way up.  Now I just have to find the time, and courage, to paint the figurines and my copy will peg the meter on Awesomeness!

Floral stones in Runebound (image by Richard Johnson)
Did you ever imagine that something so mundane could be so cool!  Go down to your closest craft table store and pick some up.  You can often find them on sale and in large bags with a mix of colors.  If you figure out some other uses, let me know!

It’s Your Move

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Take this game and shelve it!

My apologies to everyone for being so late this time.  I normally try to post on Friday, but work overwhelmed my gaming life.

A corner shelf being assembled
I have to say that I am one of those lucky guys who’s wife supports his hobby.  Not only does fix food for my monthly gaming sessions, but she plays games when she isn’t too busy with other stuff.  However, the strongest support she gives is in providing me shelf space.  In fact, she found the shelving units we use for games.  It’s a little industrial in its look, but it holds the games wonderfully.  There are several things I love about these units: they have more than sufficient strength, they are deep, and they come with many shelves in each unit.

One of my shelves is getting pretty full...
Strength?  Really?  We are talking about games, right?  Yes, and some of these are heavy.  Additionally, I don’t have to worry about the poker chip carrousel, which is a heavy old wooden one that my parents have.  Additionally, if I were ever to get into miniature wargaming (heaven help me!), they accumulated lead figures would be fine.  In the end, this is not so much a great thing as just a potential issue relieved.

Depth is far more important.  These shelves are 18 inches deep, which allows more games to go on the shelves.  “Big box” games can go on the shelves with the short side showing, and that is a great space saver in the long run.  These big boxes often are holding games with a lot of theme, which tend to be the kind of games I love.  With normal bookshelves, which are 12 inches deep, those games must be placed lengthwise.  This is not only space consuming, but also ugly. 

Lastly, and most importantly, there are six shelves per unit.  Now, if these shelves are so strong, why does it matter?  While the shelves can hold the weight, game boxes cannot.  Stacking games more than two high is a little risky.  Unless they are exactly the same size, so that the sides can hold the weight, the larger box will “dish”, or become concave.  (Some people insist that games should be stored vertically to prevent this.)  Many shelves allows better use of the space when stacking two high.  (Okay, three in a pinch.)

We added a table to the space, and now I have my gaming “room”.  We don’t always play there, but when a game takes a long time, we can leave it set up to finish later.  I really love the space.  My wife thinks it looks a little to “industrial”, but I like it!

This table, while cozy in the space, is great for games that can't completed in one sitting.

Where are your games stored?  A closet?  Shelves?  Regardless, it warrants consideration.  As your game collection grows (and it will!), give careful consideration to where you store them.  It will save your games a lot of wear and tear, make them easy to get to, and visible when you are choosing what to play.  Where will you keep them?

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Helping Hands

Sadly out of print (image by Patrick Carroll)
This weekend I was talking to one of my cousins about playing games with his three-year old.  They are playing the classics: Candyland and the like.  It brought back memories of Clue: Little Detective played before bed time with Daniel, my now 13 year-old.  I remember the beginning being about teaching him a basic game mechanism: draw a card, play a card.

Of course, that's fine with Clue: Little Detective, since you aren't holding a full hand of cards. Managing a hand of cards becomes one of the first game playing skills a child learns.  Small hands have a tough time though, particularly with standard sized cards.

Enter the card holder.  They come in two main variations.

Promotional image from Gamewright Games.
Most card holders commonly found in teacher's store and the like are a variation on a theme: two disks fastened together so that cards slide between them.  Sometimes they are just a half circle, sometimes they have evolved into having a handle attached such as the ones from Gamewright Games above.  These work great.  The best part is that the cards are displayed in the natural fan of an adult holding cards, so the rest of the card handing habits are formed.

Sunnywood rack promotional image
The second type is more like a tile rack.   This type isn't held in the hand, but rather set on the table.  This isn't so great for little ones, since it doesn't allow for teaching things like holding your hand where it can't be seen, and laying it down face-down when its time to go potty. Where it has it's advantages is at the other end of the age spectrum, where holding anything in the fingers for very long might cause arthritis pain.  Cards are self standing and fully on display to the player.

As it is, we have a set of the first type (literally two disks fastened together), and I am about to purchase two of the second type.  No, I don't have arthritis, but there are games where having the cards up where I can see them while my two hands are doing other things would be very convenient.  This is particularly true in games where the cards have a lot of text on them.  The first game that comes to mind is War of the Ring, but historical card driven war games like For the People (the American Civil War) or political games like 1960: The Making of the President would be helped too.  On a more casual game level, I can see using them for themed variants of Risk, like the copy of Risk: Star Wars - Clone War Edition we have.

We need more Star Wars movies so we can have more great games like these! (Photo by Rich Chamberlain)
Getting some type of card holder is almost essential if you have little ones running around your house, either as parents or grandparents.  The opportunity for family bonding is something to start early, and those before-bed game sessions, short though they be, have the same effect as reading to a child.  The biggest difference is that you can involve more of the family.

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Game Storage - On Speed

This past weekend I was camping with our Scout troop.  It was a lot of fun, as usual, but I was racing around Friday morning trying to find all of the stuff I needed to pack in my backpack.  Normally, I just have to pull together my clothes and whatever games I am taking (of course!).  Most things are largely ready to roll, since I have like items packed together in large freezer bags.  To be honest, I started reflecting on how plastic bags have become part of my organizational strategy in life, and particularly in camping and gaming.

Last month I wrote about making tuckboxes to store the cards in your games.  I mentioned plastic bags briefly then, but I want to talk about using them to organize game play, not just storage.

It is pretty easy to see that plastic bags keep like things together so they are easy to keep track of.  Pandemic has twenty-four disease cubes for each of four different colors.  Keeping each color in a plastic bag helps with keeping them from getting lost.  That’s important because running out of a color ends the game, so you have to have the right number of them.  Z-man Games, the publisher, provides bags in Pandemic.  The bags are large enough lay out the cubes in a single layer while still in the bag.  This allows me to square them up into a 4x6 rectangle, so I know all twenty-four are there without opening the bag.  Keeping each color separate also speeds play, since we don’t have to pick through all of the cubes to get the right color.

There is another, less obvious way to use bags to speed game play.  I am talking about getting the game started.  There are lots of games where the set up takes some time, which can lead to reluctance to play the game, particularly if you are running short on time.  Organizing the setup in the box is a great way to speed things along.

One game that could use this idea is Monopoly.  Players start with an assortment of money totaling $1500.  Rather than count that out at the beginning of each game, it would be faster to make “player packets” by packing four to six sets of starting cash into several plastic bags.  Then, to start a game, each player just needs a bag of money and a player token, and play can begin.  At the end of the game there will be enough money on the table to reorganize the packets quickly, rather than just putting all of the money back into the money tray.

For games with multiple phases, this concept can be used to organize the various phases.  When Phase 2 needs to come out, it is already organized into its own set of bags, and is set up in no time.

I have used this with The Fury of Dracula, which probably has one of the longer set up times in our game collection.  Between the player packets and the tuckboxes, everything is organized to start play, and the game table can be ready in just a couple of minutes.

I find that 3”x5” (76mm x 127mm) plastic bags are the most useful, since they can be used to store a decent number of anything, and can hold a small deck of cards in order if necessary.  They are available in most craft stores.  Honestly, though, sandwich bags will do.  Just remember, organizing the game in any way tends to speed things up.  After all,

It’s Your Move!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Game Storage and OCD

Tuckboxes by mrkaf
Lately, I have started making tuckboxes for my games.  Everyone who has ever played cards with a traditional deck of 52 cards is familiar with tuckboxes; they are the cases the cards come in.  My niece, who thinks 200+ games is obsessive anyway, would probably say this is an OCD issue.  (Feel free to weigh in on this, Ang.)  What are the alternatives?  There are three that I know of, but they all have their issues: free floating cards, rubber bands (ouch!), and plastic baggies.  Let’s examine each of these, and then I will explain how I go about getting tuckboxes for my games.

The easiest way to store cards, and the easiest was to dismiss, is just letting the cards lie loose in the game box.  That’s because it is the easiest way to lose cards.  There is only one time when I will do this, and that is when the box insert has a well for the cards that will be covered by a heavy game board.  Even then, I stick some tissue paper on top of the cards, so they can’t travel to the top of the well and slide out.

Rubber bands are the ruination of card decks.  Applied across the deck, the cards tend to fan out at the ends, creating some cards that are warped in one direction or the other.   Of course, one could run the rubber band one way, give it a twist, and then run it the other way, so that the deck is bound both in width and length.  This is certainly better, since it keeps the cards from warping.  I don’t do this because there are games, Like Fury of Dracula, that only get played at certain times of the year.  After a year of storage, the rubber bands tend to either break (see above!), or worse, melt.  There is also the problem of the Rubber Band Gremlins in our house, who always have stolen the exact size of rubber band I need at the moment, leaving behind only the ones that won’t work.

Plastic baggies are the best solution of these three, but can also have their issues.  Common kitchen baggies will keep the card from getting lost, won’t warp cards, and don’t melt or break.  However, the cards can slide around within the baggie if it’s too large, allowing the small possibility of card damage from heavier game components during transport.  For several years, I used 3” x 5” (76mm x 127mm) craft baggies.  They work great, but won’t hold many cards, so a deck has to be split amongst several baggies.  That’s really the only downside, which admittedly isn’t much.

So, why did I convert to tuckboxes?  First of all, all of one type of card goes in one container, rather than several.  This allows for faster setup and cleanup of the game.  How to put the game away is now clear to those helping, and even more so to anyone who borrowed the game and is cleaning up on their own.  Secondly, there is the Awesomeness Factor; it just looks much better.  Lastly, it gives me a way to work on my collection without spending money buying new games.  (I know; it’s pretty sad.) 

How do I get the designs?  Tyson Manwarren has created a tuckbox creation website.  After providing the needed dimensions for the tuckbox, and uploading jpg artwork for it, the website creates a pdf of the tuckbox to be cut out, folded and glued.  Prior to going through that process, however, I check the file section of that particular games page on BoardGameGeek to see if anyone has already created one to download.  The Fury of Dracula pattern was created by BGG user Helen Holzgrafe; I just downloaded it. 

I use 110 lb paper in my printer.  The boxes aren’t very solid, but they are going inside the game box, so they really don’t take a beating.  Besides, I can remake it if I have to replace it.  My wife is taking over making them for me, since she has craftier hands.  (No, she is not OCD. She is a loving supporter of my hobby!)

So, I guess the final thing I have to say is: FOR THE LOVE OF HEAVEN, PEOPLE, STORE YOUR CARDS RIGHT! 

Umm, sorry…

Rather, for the sake of your games’ longevity, decide on a good way to store your cards.  Use baggies as a minimum.  Unless you have another idea, of course, which I would love to hear about.  While you are deciding that, you can also decide on whether I need a twelve step program or not.  Feedback is welcome – in the meantime,

It’s Your Move…

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Favorite Game Movie and The Coolest Way to Roll Dice!

My favorite gaming movie is Dice Boot, which is the story of toy U-boat and its adventures before sinking in port from a bunch of small plastic cubes being dropped on it.  No, wait, I am confusing that with the movie Das Boot...

So, what is a dice boot?  Now that we have talked about dice trays and cups, its time to show the coolest way to roll dice:

This Chessex product is called a dice boot, which is a type of dice tower.  In general, dice towers are gaming accessories that are used to roll dice through internal baffles.  They come in all sizes and shapes, and are incredibly useful two reasons beyond containing dice and helping little hands; they help prevent "dice snatching", and they add to the fun.

A gaming group I once belonged to had one player whose dice vice was “snatching”.  Having rolled, this player would snatch the dice right back up, declaring the result but not allowing anyone to see it.  After a while, it gave, well… a poor impression.  While no one ever accused him of cheating, there certainly were some very timely rolls!   With a dice tower, not only can the group have the rule that only the next player may pick up the dice, but the dice tower itself will make dice snatchers think twice about risking damage to the tower.

Lastly, many of them add to the Awesomeness Factor of a great game!  Come-on, who wouldn’t want o play an epic fantasy game with one of these for rolling dice:

My palms are already starting to itch…

Not being the craftiest person in the world, though, our house has two purchased towers.  The first is a dice boot, as in the video, which travels well because it can be assembled and disassembled.  (See a video here.)  It is a bit noisy though.  The second is a permanently assembled mini-tower from Blue Panther.  I haven’t used it much, but it is a little quieter, and is always ready to go on my game shelf.  Either of them can be purchase online for about $20.00 (USD).  I may paint this one as the Dark Tower in Lord of the Rings, but I also like the look of the natural wood.  It may just stay the way it is.

Some day, I want to design a dice tower to look like the ghost towers of the Delaware coast, which are part of the old WWII coastal defense system.

Some day…

It’s Your Move!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cups and Trays

Dice trays are certainly a help when rolling dice.  There is another accessory which many of us will be familiar with – dice cups.  Anyone who has ever played Yahtzee or backgammon has used a dice cup before.  In backgammon, they are a genteel way of rolling the dice.  In Yahtzee, as well as for our little ones with little hands, they are a cool way to roll more dice than we can hold.

There are several ways to obtain a dice cup.  One easy way is to steal one from another game.  For a while, I used our Yahtzee cup.  Others I know have used a Farkle cup.  Both of these hold a decent number of dice.  However, I soon wanted a separate dice cup.

Leather dice cups are great looking, but will set you back around $30.00 (USD).   As I said last time, I tend to be cheap on game accessories; I’d rather be buying another game for that amount.  There are “leatherette” cups, otherwise known as vinyl, for roughly $5.00.  Those will be found online.  However, that may only make sense as part of a larger game order due to shipping costs. 

Once again I went another direction.  I found a pencil holder at Wal-Mart that is a lined cup.  It even has genuine faux leather on the outside!  Oh, wait, that’s vinyl again.  Well, it looks nice, gets the job done, and only cost around $5.00 with sales tax. 

The only possible issue is that it may not be enough.  There are many times, particularly with the kids, when both the dice cup and the tray are both needed to contain the dice.  There is one more solution, though, that allows small hands to roll lots of dice and keeps things contained.  Best of all, it is a solution that can rate much higher on the Awesomeness Factor.

Until then,

It's Your Move!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dice Bowling, or Dice Bowl?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  The Luck o’ the Irish brings to mind Notre Dame Football (Go Irish!) and those little cubes that are found in so many games: dice!  I will stick with the latter topic and save the flame wars for ESPN.

For those of us who grew up on Risk and Monopoly, there is a certain amount of nostalgia in chucking dice.  There are fond memories of rattling those bones around in your hand, hoping for that one roll you needed to miss that run of hotels, or hold out just a little bit longer in Siam.  How many times, though, did you manage to roll the dice right into the opposing armies, stopping the game until everyone could agree on how many armies were in each country?  At least in Monopoly, the center of the board is pretty open for rolling dice, so it’s not as big a problem.  In some games “dice bowling” can be a disaster.

Growing up, we used the box lid for a lot of dice rolling.  This kept the dice generally contained, though they occasionally did bounce out.  It was a cheap and readily available solution.  The problems with this solution were two-fold:

  • The box lid was frequently half the size of the board, so it still took up too much space.
  • The repeated handling of the lid had a tendency to tear the corners out, so that the box stopped staying shut.

There are a few solutions I will suggest…

Image from Kaplow
The first option is to purchase a dice tray.  These can be bought for $10-$20 (USD) either online or at a gaming store.  The larger ones are particularly nice looking.  They contain enough space for a good roll, but with a felt bottom inside and decent sides, the dice stay in the tray.  There are only two drawbacks to them: the cost and size. (The one pictured is 10 inches across.)   Particularly for games with big boards, there still may not be enough table space for one of these great trays.  Furthermore, I am not wild about spending half the cost of a game on a small accessory. 

One could always use a cigar box, but those are getting harder to come by.  The size is decent, and the cost is zero.  They may not look the best, but that could be fixed by someone with some crafting skills.

Then there is my favorite solution.  One day I was playing a solitaire game of B-17: Queen of the Skies, and got tired of having to get up and go around the table to chase down dice that had rolled over the edge.  I had received some handkerchiefs for Christmas, and the wooden gift box was lying around just holding keys.  It made perfect sense as a dice tray; it’s made of wood and looks nice, it’s small enough to fit some tight spot on the table, plus it already has felt on the inside!  And it’s free!  Well, it was almost perfect.  Because my new dice tray was small, the dice did bounce out at times.  I adjust my rolling technique to hitting the side of the tray first, not the bottom, and that solved that problem. 

If your group has trouble containing dice, keep an eye out for something to use as a dice tray.  It can be a huge help, particularly for children who have small hands and large motor skills.  The purchased ones are beautiful, but there are around-the-house options too.  I, for one, can always use a few more handkerchiefs. 

I have a couple other suggestions to help with dice rolling, but I will cover them soon in another post.

Keep rolling along!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Table Talk – How to choose your gaming table

Photo by Manuel Pombeiro
For Christmas, my wife gave me a card table. This isn’t the flimsy type with the padded top our (or at least, my) parents bought; this has a resin top and folds in half. It was a great gift, since we have run out of gaming space once or twice during the monthly gaming sessions. However, card tables aren’t always the best option, particularly for games with larger boards as in the photo, and so the question of “where do we set up?” arises. Size, shape, height and surface are all considerations. There is no right answer, but left in a dark room with no food, water dripping, and a single light bulb, I would probably break down and say the best overall gaming surface is a dedicated square table 54 inches (20 ft2), slightly below desk level, with a felt surface.
I don’t own a table like that.

Size, as in the length and width of the table top, is easily the biggest consideration. We play on four surfaces in our family and gaming group. (However, it’s not like they are all for gaming; only two of them are!) There is the aforementioned card table (roughly 9.5 ft2); an old, round kitchen table in the basement where toys and games are stored (42” across, giving about the same area); the dining room table (3.5’x 6’ or 21 ft2), and the actual kitchen table (4’x5’ – 20 ft2). The larger two tend to work out better, since there is more space around the board for players to use for their player area or tableau. As an example, playing Monopoly requires each player to have space for money and their properties. Of course, you also need space for the bank and unsold properties, and many games have similar needs. Larger tables help.

Shape comes into consideration, too. This is where the number of players enters the equation. If you tend to play with your spouse and another couple, a round or square table is fantastic, since you get the most amount of area for a smaller periphery. (Did I ever mention I am an engineer?) Three couples, or a family of six, work better around a rectangular table; round tables get to be too large to reach across and still give everyone elbow room. If you have a family of odd people (and who doesn’t!), say five players, the round table once again becomes a very good choice. Our dining room table seats six, and we often play five with one person on an end, or four with two on each side and no one at the ends. Shape isn’t critical, but is worth considering.

Our kitchen table is counter height. That works well for eating, but not as well for gaming. A height that’s a bit below normal is better because everyone is looking slightly down on the game, and can see everything more clearly. Enough said.

I believe surface is the least of the things to worry about, but there are advantages to felt or padded surfaces. They make it easier to pick up cards, and rolling dice becomes quieter. Do not, however, use a table cloth. A table cloth will inevitably be shifted, disturbing the game, which is particularly bad with tile laying games. If some pad is really needed, gaming stores offer them. Boards and Bits has a 48” square pad for sale, and other dimensions are available. This will also increase the size of your card table if you need the space. I have never used one, but they get good reviews.

Those are the considerations. The table may need to fold, like my card table. For most people, it is merely a decision between the dining room and kitchen tables, if that. More thought is required if you have a recreation or toy room, however. The billiards table might work, (foosball tends to be a little tough to use…), but a dedicated gaming table might make sense. With a little money or talent, an excellent table can be obtained for any casual gamers. The best table, after all, is the one that gets used the most!

Roll on!