Schlagwort-Archive: Agricola

New Names for Games – 1: “Silent Games”

Transcript of the podcast published on July 5th, 2011.

I think that newcomers to Boardgamegeek probably find it increasingly difficult to understand what the heck we are talking about. The forums are proof to this, with newbies asking eternally the same questions: what is a “Euro”? What is “Ameritrash”, and why do so many people love them? What is AP (Analysis Paralysis), is it some kind of gamer sickness? What is a grognard, what is a meeple, what is a Kramertrack?

In addition there are a huge number of genres – anyone who ever tried the advanced search engine of the geek can attest to this. There are roll-and-move games, war games, empire building games, tile laying-games, crayon games and so on. There is a problem with all these terms, though. Although they describe exactly what a game uses as a mechanic they say very little about how it feels to actually play the game.

To give you an example: In a way “Groo the card Game” is an empire building game, like San Juan or Puerto Rico, as one tries to lay out cards to form a village with different buildings. But in contrast to these games Groo is a chaotic affair in which you randomly attack your neighbours and in which there is no perceivable strategy to how you build your village, because Groo will come and destroy it anyway. The most useful term for these kind of games is of course the good old “Beer & Pretzel”, a term which simply says: “relax, venturing gamer, this is not a serious or brainy affair, it is just a free for all entertainment in which the main goal is to annoy your fellow players and have fun”.

For some gamers this exact description is a caveat, for others – especially for lovers of the game “Munchkin” – it is a badge of excellence. Whatever the case, the limits of the term can quickly be demonstrated by mentioning a very different game, ”Junta!. “Junta” is – at its heart – a chaotic Beer & Pretzel game, as there is no dedicated strategy to win, there are lots of random events and decisions, and very often you will be at the whim of other players’ decisions. But at the same time “Junta” involves real diplomacy, backdoor dealing, and in parts it is also a real war game with meaningful tactical decisions. So what is it?

I find we are missing terms for what games really are, so I would like to start a little series where I will try to invent some new terms for the BGG database.

My first term is simple, “Schweigespiel”, which means “silent game” in German.

What, you may ask, is a “Schweigespiel”? I try to give a definition: silent games are games that tend to inhibit verbal communication between players because of their sometimes secretive and brainy nature and also because of the moves of the players themselves ARE the communication. Silent games will very often be played with little to no talk during the game.

I don’t know if you ever had this experience: you play a game and suddenly you notice that you are so much in your own little world of thought that there is this all-pervading silence all-around. Every time we notice this in our gaming group we call out – “Schweigespiel!” and everybody knows immediately what is meant.

To give you some examples of a silent game, let’s begin with the most obvious prime candidate, and that is Chess. Chess has never been known to be a particularly chatty game, but this is because communication between players is abstracted and only takes place through the movements of pieces on the board. Also a lot of the strategy of chess comes through the fact that one doesn’t want to have the opponent know your secret plan. Chess is such a silent game, that there are actually rules which force you to talk and announce certain threats, lest you forget.

But there are also examples of games that are more our fare. Let’s take “Agricola” – a good example because it is also somewhat of a multiplayer solitaire game as well. Or “Euphrates and Tigris” – a game which gives you so many possibilities where to place your tiles and what to do with them that actually the Analysis Paralysis alone will keep you pretty silent most of the time. Or “Carcassonne, at least in its basic version. The excellent Carcassonne iPhone app has a chat feature, but most of the time one doesn’t know what to say except perhaps “wow”, when a huge city has been finished. Most of the time the communication is through the game, in a complex sign language of tile-laying. Most players hesitate to state the obvious, like saying “Ha, look, I just placed a meeple that will threaten your meadow domination in a very surprising way”. This is why iPhone Carcassonne players mostly use the chat for insults or complaints about lag (the many Dice Tower listeners I met through this app are absolutely not fitting in this category but have been friendly and ready to chat).

You may ask yourself: Are there any “loud” games? You bet there are, and I will talk about them next show…

Mit Lookout-Games und Ali Baba zur Agricola-WM

Der Spieleverlag Lookout-Games sucht die besten Agricola-Spieler. Bei der Weltmeisterschaft im November in Wien wird die Frage geklärt, wer der beste Landwirt des Mittelalters ist. Hier werden auch drei deutsche Teilnehmer um den Sieg kämpfen. Diese drei werden nicht einfach ausgelost, sondern bei bundesweit drei Turnieren ausgespielt.

Hierzu hat Lookout-Games mit der VHS Bremen und dem Ali Baba Spieleclub zwei Partner gefunden, die diese Qualifikationsturniere ausrichten. Jeweils eine Qualifikation findet in Bremen, Köln und Nürnberg statt. „Agricola ist ein sehr beliebtes Spiel und ich denke, dass die Turniere schnell ausgebucht sein werden“, sagt Hanno Gierke von Lookout. Denn bei den drei Turnieren ist die Teilnehmerzahl begrenzt.

Teilnehmen darf jeder, der Lust und Zeit hat. Das erste Qualifikationsturnier ist am 3. September in Köln, gefolgt vom Turnier am 10. September in Bremen. Abschließend finden die Süddeutschen in Nürnberg ihren besten Spieler beim Turnier am 8. Oktober. Egal, ob in Köln, Bremen oder Nürnberg, die Teilnahmegebühr beträgt jeweils drei Euro.

Allerdings ist eine Voranmeldung zwingend erforderlich. Dies geht über die Turnier-Homepage Nach der Anmeldung, bekommt jeder Spieler die entsprechenden Informationen zum Turnier zugesendet. Endgültig angemeldet ist man dann nach Zahlungseingang.

Neben der Teilnahme an der Weltmeisterschaft winken den besten Spielern der drei Turniere hochwertige Spiele aus dem Lookout-Games-Programm.

Gaining Speed

Transcript of the podcast published on May 1st, 2011.

One of the biggest challenges in game design is the creation of speed. Each game has its own sweet spot of length. 10-16 hours of playtime might be the ideal length for an immersive and narrative game like “Here I Stand”, but it would kill a game like Carcassonne if it was that long. It would just fall flat.

Most Euro gamers perceive 2 hours as the maximum ideal length for a game – and this includes explaining the game! I know many German gamers who will – no matter how much you coax them – flatly refuse to play anything even 1 minute longer. 2-3 hour Euro games like Agricola are actually extremely rare. I would compare it to the ideal length for a film – many people think that 1½-2 hours is the best length for a film, and anything beyond that is either Lord of the Rings or boring. Or both!

It’s interesting to note that films longer than 2 hours are usually sprawling sagas with more complex narrative or boosting amazing special effects to keep you entertained – this can be compared to the much longer American style games, which usually fall in the 3 hour or more range. Think of games like Arkham Horror or Talisman – even hardcore fans would immediately admit that these games take a lot of time, not to speak of war games, which are the kings of the hill when it comes to length!

The speed of a game has two aspects, though. It is a mixture of two conflicting perceptions: the length of the game as a whole and the length of downtime that you experience while it is not your move. Some early war game designs featured a lot of downtime as your opponent pondered moving his hundreds of counters over a cluttered board. Games like ASL with their more complicated turn structure made sure that this downtime was separated into little chunks, but still, as an opponent you were mostly rolling dice while your opponent had something to do.

Even though the game is actually one of my personal favorites, History of the World in its old versions is a good example of bad downtime. If you ended up first in one epoch and last in the next one you theoretically could look at up to an hour waiting, with no meaningful decisions at all and some dice rolling at the best. A game like Cosmic Encounter was actually not only deemed revolutionary in its time because of the changing player powers but also because it attempted to keep everybody constantly involved by giving them the ability to ally with attacking or defending players. This involvement outside your turn was actually a very fresh idea at the time, people tend to forget this.

Nowadays most game designers try to create a mix of interactive elements to keep players involved who are not active at the moment. Classical basic strategies for this can be easily named: bidding, negotiation or trading. This always involves all players and is mostly easy to pull off design wise. Newer interactive strategies would be card drafting (like in 7 Wonders) or role selection, where players in turn select roles that then affect all players, like in Puerto Rico. All these game design strategies are usually perceived as giving the possibility of interaction. An additional strategy which is more difficult to pin down could be called “reaction window”. What this means is that a player has the possibility out of turn order to insert an action into the flow. A good example for this is for example having a “bomb” in the card game “Tichu”. With a “bomb” you can interrupt the card play anytime, but it also involves the risk of other players having bombs as well. Or take “Cosmic Zap” in Cosmic Encounter – any card that can be played out of turn order gives players a reactive game element. But of course there are also real ”reaction” moves, when players react to each other’s actions. But there is a difference between meaningful and a “lucky reaction”: Let’s say a player attacks a space you occupy with troops in a war game. Usually you would roll dice to determine the outcome. Even though rolling dice can be fun it is not what I would call a meaningful decision. If all you do as a reactive action in a game is rolling dice it can become dangerous for the game experience. But now imagine this dice rolling results in a retreat of your troops, and you now have the decision to retreat them to hex A, B or C. This usually would be a meaningful decision, as this will set things for your next turn.

Don’t worry, most war games involve this kind of decisions, and newer designs like “Combat Commander” go to great pains to make the game flow as interactive as possible, with both players constantly being involved in meaningful decisions. But in a way the worst game possible would involve a convoluted and long turn order which only involves one single player. But luckily the time of these games seems to have passed.