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 mass_market. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mass_market. Show all posts

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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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gift Buying Guide 2012


Even though I haven't been writing this post for a while, many of you have still been reading.  I really wanted to give my perspective on gift buying before Black Friday.  This way, those family gifts and tough-to-buy-for situations have some good options.  The games on last year's guide are still available, so use that guide for additional ideas.

Just like last year, I am writing this with a focus for those who are casually interested in the boardgaming hobby.  These games will be available through local game stores or online, and man of them should also be available through some larger, mass-market outlet.  Target and Barnes and Nobles are now devoting more shelf space to the types of games that I have written about.

Links to my reviews of these games are embedded in the text.  Now back to the show!

Type 1: “I loved playing games as a kid!”
This person has fond memories of playing Risk and Monopoly as a kid, and probably played these games at least some as a teenager.  Last year, I recommended the revised version of Risk as a good game, and this is still a great choice.  This year I will recommend Risk Legacy.  This game has a truly revolutionary game concept in it.  As the game is played, there are actions that can be taken that permanently change the rules of the game or the game board.  Some of these changes remove cards from the game permanently.  By permanently, I mean tear the card in two and throw it in the trash.  In other words, each game will be played under slightly different conditions.  My first reaction to this was, "What!  Why would I deliberately damage my game?!"  I have come to think of this as an experiential thing, and I would love to play! Furthermore, playing through all of the actions will take 15 game sessions, so there is a lot of experience to be had along the way.   A copy of Risk Legacy will probably need to be purchased online or at a local game store.

Type 2: “We love/loved Scrabble.”
I am going to repeat my recommendations from last year.  Buy Qwirkle or Bananagrams.  These are two great games, and still some of the more economical choices, too.  If you bought someone on of these games last year, buy them the other this year.  All of the mass-market outlets will have Bananagrams, and many will have Qwirkle (Target has carried it for several years now).

Type 3: “My family plays/played cards when at family functions.”
I am going to go out on a limb here and say Bohnanza.  I haven't actually played this, and it probably will need a local Barnes and Nobles or a trip online.  However, it has a great reputation within the gaming community and with friends of ours.  As a bonus, it plays well with 3-7 players, so it works well for gatherings.  Don't let the age range on the box scare you at 13+, I know younger kids love "the bean game".  The game sounds silly, but that's part of the charm.


Type 4:  The family/casual boardgamer
This starts to get tricky, because there is the chance that you will give a gift they already have.  However, Deadwood is a pretty safe bet, since it was published just last year.  This is one of the less expensive choices on the list.  It's American West theme will appeal to many.  Deadwood is published by Fantasy Flight Games, who puts a lot of care into a games presentation.  Deadwood has recently become available at Target.

Type 5: The Dedicated Chess Player
Handkerchiefs.  See last year.

Type 6: The Geek
By far and away the best game to geek-out on this year is the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.  This is a dogfight game pitting X-wings and TIE fighters.  And Y-wings.  And Interceptors.   And the Millennium Falcon.  Not all of this comes in the box; some are coming out in expansions.  The box includes three fighters and everything else you need to play the game.  I have played the games predecessor, Wings of Glory, which is set in WWI.  As a geek, this game has me juiced, and my son is thinking he needs to own it.  Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is available at Target.


Type 7: Kids
Sorting through the drivel is the biggest problem.  I will go with the LEGO Ninjago Board Game.  It may not be the very best game, but hey, it's LEGO.  How far wrong can you go?  LEGO Ninjago Board Game has become generally available in the mass-market stores.






Type 8:  Families with no gaming experience
Last year I had Qwirkle and Forbidden Island here on the list.  These are still great choices. This year I will add King of Tokyo.  In this game, you play Big Monsters (think Godzilla) attacking the city of Tokyo, and each other.  Games are short and can be filled with lots of campy humor, since the monsters have such silly names as Cyberbunny and MechaDragon.  Sound effects are part of the fun.  Kids can easily play this, though the energy level might ramp up as they get into the them!  King of Tokyo is definitely going to be the toughest game to find on this list.  It might be between print runs as the holidays arive.  However, since the two choices from last year are solid options, I don't feel too badly about this one.


Type 9:  Party Gamers 
The Spiel des Jahres winner for 2010 was Dixit.  Think Apples to Apples with pictures.  One player makes up a sentence which tells a very brief story from a picture, and everyone else picks a picture from their hand to match the story.  The storyteller chooses the best match, and points are scored.  Sound a little similar.  What makes this a great choice is not only the proven style of gameplay, but also the excellent artwork.  Dixit can be found at many mass market outlets. 

Type 10: Couples / Everybody Else
Many of the games here work well for two.  For this, I am going to go with my recommendation for last year:  HiveThis game is an abstract strategy game the is incredibly popular in our Scout troop, and it is easy to learn.  There is now a smaller edition called Pocket Hive.  So, you can even recycle this idea if it was a big hit last year.  I have found Hive at Barnes in Noble.

I hoped this helped!  If you would like more personal suggestions, email me at
I will be glad to answer any questions!

It’s Your Move!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Game Buying Guide 2011


We have hit that time of the year when everyone is wondering what to gift to give.  I thought I would give you my two cents on what game to give as holiday gifts.  I have done this in the past in spoken word, and have already helped a few people this year, but now that I am blogging I figured I would write it down – before you spend all your gift money on Black Friday. 

First, let’s talk about where these games can be purchased.  There are a lot of websites, blogs and podcasts that will give you game gift ideas.  My approach will be a bit unusual; I expect that you, the reader, are not a “gamer”.  I am writing this as I do the rest of the articles here, with a focus for those who are casually interested in the boardgaming hobby.  Therefore, while these games will be available through local game stores or online, they should also be available through some larger, mass-market outlet.  These games are not only easier to learn and play but also easier to find.  Hey, that’s why I’m here!

Links to my reviews of these games are embedded in the text.  Now back to the show!


Type 1: “I loved playing games as a kid!”
This person has fond memories of playing Risk and Monopoly as a kid, and probably played these games at least some as a teenager.  He or she might well play them now, if they could find the time and opponents who don’t mind a four hour game.  This gift recipient will love the revised edition of Risk (or the deluxe version, Risk: Onyx Edition).  The game plays in roughly 90 minutes according to the box, and experience shows that to be accurate.  This game has all of the familiar game play and fun of the original, with different end game conditions to close out the game earlier.  A copy of the revised version of Risk can be found at nearly any mass media outlet.

Type 2: “I loved playing Clue!”
It would be natural to assume that this would be a subcategory of those above, but it’s likely this person did not like Monopoly or Risk.  There are many people, like my sister, who do not like direct confrontation in a game, and prefer the skullduggery of Clue.  Honestly, one of the best games for this person is to get them a new copy of Clue.  Of all of the mass-market games of old, this is actually one of the decent ones in the mystery genre.  However, I would first look for a copy of Scotland Yard.  I have not played this game, but it was published in the early ‘80’s and is still in print.  Furthermore, it won the Spiel des Jahres in 1983.  I am completely comfortable recommending this game.  Scotland Yard is currently being sold at Barnes and Noble.

Type 3: “We love/loved Scrabble.”
Interestingly, this is one game adults continue to play, and Scrabble has never had the reputation as something “only kids play”.  This group is at once the easiest and the hardest to buy for, since they are open to playing games but laser focused on one.  A more focused approach is called for:
Subtype 1: Families with small children.  Buy Qwirkle.  Not only is this the latest Spiel des Jahres winner, but it has been around in the United States for several years.  Qwirkle can be found many places, including stores for educators.  Target has been carrying it almost since first publication.
Subtype 2: Families older children or no children.  Find a copy of Bananagrams.  This is definitely a game for wordies, but it plays in 20 minutes.  Furthermore, it plays five and could probably play as many as six if you wanted to push it (not that I am recommending it!).  I originally blew it off, but after playing it found that I really enjoy it.  This is one of the more economical choices, too.  Furthermore, it’s actually hard to find a store that doesn’t carry Bananagrams; it’s the easiest game to find.  All of the mass-market outlets will have Bananagrams.

Type 4: “My family plays/played cards when at family functions.”
This is another tough group.  There are some great card games out there, and I will recommend something that is going to make hardcore gamers roll their eyes: Mille Bornes.  This is not a highly regarded game in the boardgaming community, but my wife and I have had a lot of fun with it and have introduced it to friends successfully.  The only warning I have is that there is a lot of “take that” in the game, so with little ones it can result in wailing and gnashing of teeth.  This game comes in a deluxe edition that is reasonably priced, and the basic version is found everywhere in the card game section of the store.  The basic version is very inexpensive, so it works as a stocking stuffer or in a $10 gift exchange as well.

Type 5:  The family/casual boardgamer
This starts to get tricky, because there is the chance that you will give a gift they already have.  However, if they have a few hobby games that they play casually, there is a decent chance they don’t have Dominion.  I realize in writing this post that I have been remiss; I have not reviewed this game.  I will correct that very soon.  In the meantime, trust me here.  This is an excellent game.  It’s a small step up in complexity from Ticket to Ride or any of the other games mentioned here, but anyone with a little experience will be able to read the rules and play.  This game works pretty well for those who used to play Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon or other collectible card games.  Dominion has recently become available at Target and Barnes and Noble.

Type 6: The Dedicated Chess Player
Handkerchiefs.   Seriously, this person is not hard to buy a game for; they are impossible.  The dedicated chess player has already ruled out any other games from their life.  Furthermore, they probably play a particular opening, prefer certain styles of pieces, and even have a favorite chess author.  No kidding.  I don’t consider myself “dedicated”, yet I have all of those things.  You are more likely to buy them something they don’t want.  If you live in New York City, there are brick and mortar stores specializing in chess items, so you could get a gift certificate.  My guess would be that’s true in London and Moscow (I’m talking Europe here) also.  If you live anywhere else in the world, buy handkerchiefs.  If you are worried about that taking all of the challenge out of gift buying, get 100% cotton handkerchiefs.  At least where I live, they are nearly impossible to find.  And then buy yourself a game, since clearly gift buying is a game you play already!

Type 7: The Gamer
Here’s another tough one, since you are more likely to get it wrong than get it right.  You have a few other options, though, that makes this person easier to buy for than the Dedicated Chess Player.  If they are looking for a specific game, you can find a local store or order online.  If you don’t know of a particular game, get a gift certificate.  If you prefer to do business locally, and game stores aren’t convenient, buy a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble that can be redeemed online.  Both B&N and Amazon carry games now.

Type 8: Kids
This is actually tougher than one might think, since there is so much out there that is just garbage.  I will suggest Blokus, which is not specifically a children’s game, but is kid-friendly and is colorfully eye-catching.  This game should be easy to find.  It was bought from the original publisher by Hasbro a while back, and since then Blokus has become available in the mass-market stores.

Type 9:  Families with no gaming experience
Subtype 1: Competition encouraged.  For this group, either Blokus or Qwirkle is a good choice.  Qwirkle is a little more flexible when it comes to number of players (we’ve pushed it to six players and it worked), but Blokus is a little less expensive.  Your pick.
Subtype 2:  Cooperation encouraged.  I will go with the game I was widely recommendung last year: Forbidden Island.  All players work together trying to take treasures off a mysterious island.  In the meantime, the island is sinking, threatening to take the treasures and players down to the depths below.  This is a great game!   Since everyone is working together, little players can be freely helped, making this a fantastic family adventure.  This game is also a great value, yet comes with very nice components packaged in a tin.  Barnes and Noble has carried Forbidden Island ever since it came out last year.

Type 10: Couples / Everybody Else
Seriously, you can buy anything discussed in this post and it will be a great choice!  However, I will make one more suggestion, and that is HiveThis game is an abstract strategy game the is incredibly popular in our Scout troop, and it is easy to learn.  Furthermore, it comes with a travel bag, so it is easy to pack and nearly indestructible.  I recently found Hive at Barnes in Noble.
It’s worth noting that every one of these games is available at Barnes and Noble.  (Just to be clear, I have no affiliation with B&N.  It’s not even my favorite bookstore.)

I hoped this helped!  If you would like more personal suggestions, email me at
I will be glad to answer any questions!

It’s Your Move!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Publisher Profile: Hasbro Part III – Wizards of the Coast

This will be our third installment on Hasbro, and we will take a look at Wizards of the Coast.  This is where some of my recent posts come together, since Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is the publisher of both Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon.  These games are  arguably the most successful of all collectible card games (CCGs), which we discussed last week.

WotC found its first real success with Magic: The Gathering.  This allowed the company to expand the number of employees and office space, and allowed the financing of additional projects including RoboRally and The Great Dalmuti, both of which are well known and well loved games.  In 1997, WotC acquired TSR, the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, the granddaddy of all role-playing games.  A couple years later, in 1999, the company produce Pokémon, which sold 400,000 copies in six weeks!  With such success, WotC started showing up on Hasbro’s acquisition radar, resulting in Hasbro purchasing the company later that year.

Promotional Image
Technically, Avalon Hill falls under WotC in the Hasbro hierarchy, so all of the Avalon Hill games are also WotC games.  Setting that aside for the moment, WotC games have a tendency to feature fantasy and sci-fi themes.  The exceptions to this rule are the games developed while still an independent company, such as The Great Dalmuti and Guillotine.  (RoboRally is under the Avalon Hill brand.)  Having the patent on CCGs allowed them to develop more of those games, but none were nearly as popular or long-lived.  Both Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons are still strong product lines.  New developments tend to be tied to those products, including the highly acclaimed Dungeons & Dragons board games, which attempt to capture the role-playing game feel in a board game setting.

As for myself, I have not played very many WotC games, and only currently own one:  Star Wars: Trading Card Game.  I haven’t played it.  We bought it after the second movie trilogy came out.  At that time, I had not started playing games again, and several copies of the game were purchased in mass market outlets as birthday gifts.  One of them ended up in my collection. 

Since all of the recently developed games are receiving a huge amount of acclaim, I would say that WotC is doing a great job publishing great games.  Are they family games?  Right now, I would say let the outlet be your guide.  Games such as Heroscape were found in mass market outlets, and would work well in a family or casual setting.  If the game is only found in hobby game stores, it is probably more complex than most families would find fun. 

How does all of this fit together?  Well, first of all let me make clear that I haven’t talked to anyone at Hasbro or its subsidiaries, so this is just speculation.  It would appear that the Hasbro brand is for those games marketed as “family” or “children’s” games, WotC tends to publish specific product lines, with Avalon Hill picking up the rest of the hobby game market.  As a result, Avalon Hill games are probably not family or casual games (with the glaring exception of Acquire).  WotC labeled games will be good, and may or may not be family games.  Hasbro games will be family games, but may or may not be good.  Sorry I can’t be more help!

In the end, it’s going to require some research, including playing someone else’s copy of a game if possible.  In the end, that’s always the best research.  If you want me to look at a specific game, I am always will to serve as your guide.  Just let me know!

It’s Your Move!



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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Publisher Profile: Hasbro Part II – Avalon Hill


Avalon Hill is a venerated name in the boardgaming hobby, particularly amongst wargamers.  Started in 1954 by Charles S. Roberts, the father of modern recreational wargaming, the company is alive today as a brand owned by Hasbro.  Current titles tend to be traditional Avalon Hill games and games within the Axis and Allies family.  These are produced for the hobby industry as opposed to the typical Hasbro mass-market game.

There are several memorable games from the Avalon Hill line that many remember seeing as teenagers.  Tactics is the first published game, written by Roberts himself.  Many of these games still have a following: Squad Leader (and Advanced Squad Leader), Panzer Leader, Kingmaker, Dune,  Civilization and Wooden Ships & Iron Men.  (None of which have I ever played, though I own a few!)  The purchase of 3M’s gaming line brought several non-wargame titles to the company including Facts in Five, Twixt and Sleuth.

An earlier version of Diplomacy (Bradley Eng-Kohn)
Some of these games are still in print, and are almost legendary.  Diplomacy, one the earliest titles, is still in print after over fifty years.  Acquire, one of my all-time favorite games, will be fifty years old next year.  Several are being printed by other companies who have acquired the license, including Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Britannia and The Republic of Rome.  Fantasy Flight is putting together a reprint of Dune, though under a slightly theme due to licensing issues.  Several companies have simultaneously announced a reprint of Merchant of Venus, and while it’s not a wargame, it appears to be setting up quite a legal battle. 

The current version of A&A (Promotional Image)
In the last ten years, Avalon Hill has still represented a line of games that are geared toward the hobbyist.  In addition to Diplomacy and Acquire, best selling games include Battle Cry, Betrayal at House on the Hill and Nexus Ops.  The largest publication efforts have been in marketing the Axis and Allies brand of lighter wargames.  The original Axis and Allies was a Milton Bradley game published in 1983, however revised editions were released as Avalon Hill titles.  The Axis and Allies rule set was then adapted to other WWII games, including Axis & Allies: Pacific, Axis & Allies: D-Day, Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge and Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal.  Naval and land miniature systems were also created.

One of Hasbro’s latest offerings, Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive, was released under the Hasbro line despite the fact that it really is a hobby game.  Given the fact that Hasbro has another game line, Wizards of the Coast (which actually operates the Avalon Hill line), it could be the Avalon Hill brand will not see new titles, but only continue to publish the titles it already has.

Are Avalon Hill games family games?  Generally, I don’t believe so.  Acquire could certainly be played and enjoyed by a family with older children, but often an Avalon Hill game is either too complex or simply too long for casual gaming.  Many of the older wargames are strictly two-player affairs.  If you are looking for family games, this brand is one where a little extra research on the game is necessary. 

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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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ticket to Ride at Target

At least in Ohio, Target has started carrying Ticket to Ride.  That means there are now five games that I can heartily recommend available for purchase there:
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Risk (Revised Edition)
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Qwirkle
  • Bananagrams
Any and all of these games would be great for friends and family!

It's Your Move!





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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Game That “Settles” In, Never To Leave - Yeah!


Promotional image from Mayfair Games
One of the great family games of all time has to be Settlers of Catan.  Not only did it win the Spiel des Jahres in 1995, but it is the game that really brought German style games to the American market.  It has broken ground again in being one of the first German styles games to move into the mass market; Settlers is available at Target stores.

In Settlers, players are on a resource rich island, attempting to build their colony the fastest.  Players collect resources (wood, sheep, wheat, ore or brick) based upon the location of settlements they own, and then use those resources to build more settlements, roads which connect them, or upgrade the settlements to cities.  These, in turn, produce more resources.  Cities and settlements count towards victory points (as do a few other things), and the first player to ten victory points wins.  Negotiation is a big part of the game, since the trading of resources is allowed.  These negotiations are full of worries about helping the other players more than yourself, particularly if you are negotiating with the point leader.

A game being played with a Third Edition copy. (Image by Mikko Saari)
 The first reason this is such a great game is how reachable it is.  With some help, a child down to about age eight could play this.  After a time or two they could play on their own, though they won’t play particularly well.  Once the boy or girl hits double digits, however, this game will take off.  I have successfully taught this game to a lot of people.  Keep in mind, it isn’t the first game I teach people, unless they have had some prior gaming experience.  It is a great second game.  I can’t stress that enough.  This game is a classic.

The second reason this is such a great game is that it has both dice and cards in it.  Most people are used to the idea of cards and dice in a game, but not necessarily together, and not used in this way.  These are not “roll-and-move” dice.  We are not thinking “draw a card, play a card”.  Dice are used to generate resources, and the resources are represented by cards.  This is a great game to break those notions of how dice and cards are used, and lay some groundwork for other games that use traditional game elements in non-traditional ways.

This game also has a modular board, which is a concept that is also life-altering when you first see it.  The “board” is made up of hexagons which are shuffled and set out, so the board configuration is always changing.  This means that your strategy and tactics need tweaking with every play, and Settlers stays fresh longer than many other games.

This game has some serious fans! (Image by Matthew M Monin)
Lastly, this game is fun.  I have played it somewhere around 25 times.  It’s not often the first game I pull out, but that’s mainly because I tend to play new games as often as I can.  It comes out every few months, and we enjoy it immensely.  In fact, most of our “Do you remember the time…” gaming moments come from Settlers games.

Settlers of Catan is a available at many game stores and online.  In my neck of the woods, it is also at Target and a Barnes and Nobles.  I highly recommend this game for your collection if you don’t have it already.  This game is a “must-have”.

Risk (Revised)
                Ages:                    8 and up
                Time:                     90 minutes
                Players:                 3-4



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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Games of Grief: How many players does this support?


Most of us have been caught in a game that we cannot win, cannot end, and cannot leave.  It’s the Triangle of Torment, and it’s too late!  Sometimes, we can avoid this because we know the game lends itself to this particular type of torture. Risk and Monopoly are the best known perpetrators, but there are far more.  At other times, it happens because a game is outside its “sweet spot”.  This is the number of players the game really supports, really produces a great experience, not what is on the box.  Sure, you can play Monopoly with six, but do you really want to?  Every game is lengthened by adding players.  At a minimum, more decisions are being made, and that will slow things down.  Yet, some games are relatively unaffected by the number of players.  They scale well.  This post will identify some of the signs of a game stretched too thin, or a game that can tolerate a wider range in the number of players. 

Rule 1:  If the number of players supported has a wide range, the game probably doesn’t play well at the upper limit.  The most obvious hint for how many players can play a game is the number of players listed on the box.  That’s useful information, just not perfect.  Generally, a game cannot be stretched past the top number of players due to the components included.  The number of pawns, player mats or something other piece is the limiting factor.  If someone wants to play Scrabble with five, there aren’t enough tile racks.  It would probably be a good idea to politely say “no”.  After all, there is a reason the game says 2-4 players.  Beyond that, many games are not great when played at the upper limit of their player count.  If the box says it plays 2-6 players, there is a pretty good chance it isn’t very good at six players.  This is particularly true when the spread of players supported is four or more.  Games where the spread is one are generally safe; Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries says 2-3 players, and that’s accurate.

Rule 2:  Sometimes a game has a number of roles that define the best number of players.  War of the Ring is a 2-4 player game where victory is achieved by good overcoming evil or vice versa.  There are two sides: good and evil.  Only two people need play.  In fact, unless you like the role of Igor, it is going to be a bad game with more than two.  This is true in so many games, which can be generalized this way: don’t count the number of players, count the number of roles.  Most historical wargames have two sides: North vs. South, Axis vs. Allies,  Romans vs. Carthaginians.  An exception is Diplomacy, which, like Risk, has multiple roles.  This is exactly the reason why Axis and Allies is great with two or five, but not with three or four.  The game is either played with two roles (Axis / Allies), or five roles (Germany / Japan / United States / Soviet Union / Great Britain).

Rule 3:  The conditions that determine the end of the game indicate how additional players impact the play.  Many end game conditions are actually similarly structured, with a few defining characteristics.  The first thing to look for is whether or not the game uses a common pool of resources that directly impact the endgame, or if resources are separate or immaterial to the end game.  Take Scrabble for instance.  The game essentially ends when the 100 tiles run out, plus a turn or two.  It is a common pool of tiles, so whether two people or four people are playing, they have to play 100 tiles.  Game length doesn’t overly suffer.  In Pandemic, there are three ways to lose: run out of disease cubes in any one of the four colors, run out of player cards, or have too many outbreaks.  The number of each is fixed, regardless of the number of players.  The game will end in roughly the same period of time – sooner if you manage a win!   On the other hand, resources have nothing to do with the end game in Monopoly or Risk, they are essentially infinite, and therefore more players will definitely increase the game length.

Rule 4:  How much confrontation a game has, along with how it is structured, have a big impact on game length with respect to the number of players.  Non-cooperative games without confrontation tend to last longer in direct proportion to the number of players involved.  If each person is trying to get to ten points, and the score of an average loser is 8, then a game with an extra player will have 8 extra points scored – more time.  If there is confrontation, the next question is does the game play with replacement or without replacement.  If I am playing a game where my ninja heals if not killed, then each attack, no matter how many players, has to kill me from full strength. (This game could go on forever!)  However, if there is no replacement, each attack weakens me, regardless of the source of the attack.  If I am playing 4-way chess, with the goal of eliminating everyone else, there are more pieces playing, but Player A taking a rook benefits Players B and C just as much, and the damage is cumulative.  The game is less impacted by the number of players.

Armed with this, you can avoid that never-ending game – you will see it coming.  Maybe you can redirect to a game that is better suited to the number of people sitting around.  After all,

It’s Your Move!