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 auction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label auction. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mass Market – Monopoly

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Every month I try to take one posting to talk about a mass market game.  This month is Monopoly; do I really need to review this game?  Yes, Monopoly is worth looking at, since it is such an influential game in society.  Granted, Prince William and Prince Harry weren’t allowed to play it, but so many people are familiar with the game that idioms such as “Do not pass Go” have sprung from it.  However, Monopoly does suffer from several problems:  a) the game is long and has player elimination, b) house rules extend the length of the game and c) there are better economic/real estate games to play.  It’s sort of like cheese pizza.  It’s never bad, but there are better things to eat.

Player elimination in a long game is just a bad idea.  If Monopoly is the chosen for of entertainment for the evening, people are guaranteed to be sitting around with nothing to do but watch at some point.  After a few hours, one or two players will be eliminated, with a few hours to go before the winner is declared.  Worse, this is a game that telegraphs the ending.  So often you know who win before the game is actually over, leading to everyone being bored in the end game.

Our other version.  (Image by Dean)
The problem is magnified by house rules, both intentional and unintentional.  Intentional house rules are things like money in Free Parking.  This is actually against the written rules, but many people include these house rules as an attempt to solve the player elimination problem.  The catch is that it just prolongs the inevitable; players eventually have to be eliminated for someone to win.  It surprises most people, but there are unintentional house rules too.  The most common one is the rule that landing on a property is the only way to buy it.  According to the official rules, however, if the player who lands on a property chooses not to buy it, the bank puts it up for auction.  This should speed up the game, since the properties will be sold sooner.  However, I know that I have never personally played in a game where that rule was followed.

A Monopoly spin off that is supposedly pretty good.
Let’s take a moment and talk about ways to speed the game up.  First of all, get rid of all house rules.  Demand that debts are always paid in full; no one gets off light to stay in the game.  If the game still needs to move faster, the official rules suggest shuffling the properties and dealing them out.  Of course, that could set up an uneven game from the start.  Hasbro tournament rules put a 90-minute or two hour time limit on games.  In these rules, the winner is determined by adding up all assets at the end of the game.  Somehow, none of these ideas seems to be particularly satisfying.  I have another idea, though some people won’t like it.  Play a different board game.

I will suggest two real estate games to replace Monopoly.  The first is For Sale.  I haven’t played this game yet, (but it is high on my list) so I won’t review it in any way.  It’s worth mentioning solely on its reputation.  The game is for 3 − 6 players ages 8 and up.  (The BoardGameGeek entry is here.)  It plays in 20 minutes.  The other is Acquire, which is one of my favorite games.  I will review it next time, so you will have to wait a couple of days for the details.  Both are currently in print.

Of course, if you love Monopoly, than by all means play it!  There is a saying amongst amateur astronomers, “The best telescope isn’t the one with the best optics, it’s the one you will use the most.”  The same goes for everything else in life, including the games you play.  After all, there is a reason Monopoly has been around since 1933!

It’s Your Move!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

3rd Sunday Gaming Group – February: Modern Art

Yesterday was our monthly gaming session. As you can guess from the name of our group, we normally meet the third Sunday of every month. In all, we played three games of three different titles for a total of nine games: No Thanks!, Pandemic and Modern Art. I only remember who won Pandemic; the game won two of three. Pandemic is the big brother to Forbidden Island; both are designed by Matt Leacock. They are both cooperative games and share some mechanics, though they have different storylines and feel differently. (At some point I will review Pandemic, though there are lots of reviews available on the web if you are really curious now.) No Thanks! I have previously discussed. 

Since there were only four of us, we were able to try something new to us: Modern Art. Players are art dealers who buy paintings from each other through different types of auctions. Each round, or “auction season”, will see four paintings from five artists auctioned. When the fifth painting hits goes to auction, the season is over. Those paintings are then sold back to the bank for money. After four auction seasons, the game is over, and the person with the most money wins.
Of course, we played it wrong the first two times, missing a small rule with a big impact. In fact, there aren’t really any complicated rules in this game. (I was reading too fast.) Each player has a hand of cards with paintings and the associated type of auction on them. The first player selects a painting to sell, and everyone, including the seller, generally has a chance to buy. The next player offers a painting, and the game continues. When the fifth painting hits the table, it is discarded and the season ends. 
Photo by Chris Norwood
The key to the game is this fifth painting and the way paintings are sold back to the bank. The fifth painting counts as a sold painting, even though no player auction takes place. (Think of it as being auctioned to a foreign collector, with proceeds going to charity.) Furthermore, since there can be double auctions with two paintings, the fifth painting may hit the table with the fourth, or with the sixth. In this case, these paintings are also discarded and counted as sold even though no money has changed hands. Remember, the paintings are each from one of five artists. The top three selling artists have a corresponding value assigned to their paintings, and all the paintings are sold back at those values. Four seasons are played, and the values add up over the course of the game, making some artists very valuable.

I know, this sounds pretty boring. I might not be able to express how much fun this is. First of all, some of the auction types allow the seller to manipulate the price of the painting. Furthermore, because with the fifth painting (and perhaps the fourth and sixth paintings) no money changes hands, they become a way to swing the value of paintings before they are sold. This forces a player to make tough decisions on what he or she thinks paintings will be worth at the end of the round, based on how much they can influence which artists are sold the most, and how many of those they own. Yet, there are no guarantees that someone might frustrate your plans by the end of the round. Having only played this once, we have only scratched the surface on the strategy, and I can’t wait to play more.

How is it for casual or family gaming? While the rules are fairly simple, there is quite a bit of “think” in this game. It won’t be hard to learn or teach, but the strategy is probably too much for kids, and it isn’t a theme that will appeal to kids either. It also may not appeal to those who like a light game or like chucking buckets of dice. On the other hand, a group or family that likes a thoughtful game without having to learn page upon page of rules will find this to be an excellent game.
My cautiously given rating is:
Good Casual Gaming!
Roll on!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


This past weekend was the annual trip our Scout Troop takes to Angola, IN. We spend a few hours on the iced toboggan run of the nearby state park as the focal point of the weekend – 35mph worth of fun! Since it’s a three hour drive, though, we go up Friday night and come back Sunday morning, which leaves quite a bit of time for games. We have a big gym available to us at the National Guard armory where we stay. Much of the gaming is dodgeball and other physical games, but there is some boardgaming that goes on, too.
Typically, the Scouts play Magic: the Gathering, Axis & Allies, and a few other games. Apples to Apples seemed to be big this year. It’s always interesting to see what the Scouts bring themselves, and to see where there interests lie.
I brought an assortment of games that I consider travel games. Those are games that, at least individually, would easily fit in a briefcase or backpack for playing on the road or trail. Of the games I brought, two made it to the game table:
clip_image002Hive. This game has been a hit for a while now in the Troop. In fact, two other leaders have copies now, so it gets played fairly regularly on outings. It is an abstract strategy game for two players in which you move your different “bugs” around the hive in unique ways in an attempt to surround your opponent’s queen bee. There isn’t much theme, much of a storyline, in this game. It has been described as “the new chess”. I won’t go that far, but it does have the same strategic elements as chess: time, space and material. The rules are few, the components are great (you can wash them in the sink if they get dirty!), and it is a LOT of fun. There is a bit of “brain-burn” to it, but not too much. I would say more than checkers, but less than chess. Hive may not work for kids younger than 10 years old.  It takes around 30 minutes to play. 
clip_image003No Thanks! This is not a new game, but it is new to me. I had just recently purchase it, and was eager to play it. The game is a reverse auction, in which you pay to not take a card. Each card is worth points, and you are aiming for the lowest score. Very light on rules, they only took a minute to read, understand and teach them. No deep thought is required. The components are cards and small chips, which is perfectly appropriate for this game. This game doesn’t even pretend to tell a story, but is great fun. It played in about 15 minutes, so we played nine times! No Thanks! Is designed for 3-5 players, but we stretched it to six for a couple of games without an issue. This game should work pretty well with younger children.  This was a great purchase!
thumb-up Kid Friendly!
I also played a game brought by one of the other leaders. I only managed to play it once, but it proved to be a lot of fun:
clip_image004Abalone. This is another 2 player abstract strategy game, in which you place a group of marbles on a hexagonal board across from your opponent. You then attempt to align your marbles so that pushing a line of them (maximum of three marbles) against a smaller number of your opponents pieces shoves them off the board. This was a good, solid game, again with few rules but some thought needed. I personally enjoy Hive a little more, but Abalone is probably a little bit easier to grasp.  It would be a great introductory abstract for children. Playing time is roughly 30 minutes.
thumb-up Kid friendly!
Roll On!