Schlagwort-Archive: podcast

The Gaming Year 2011

Transcript of the podcast published January 2nd, 2012.

Thoughts on the year as a whole
I think this was a solid year for games – there was lots of meaty stuff for gamers to enjoy and there were surprisingly few duds and annoying games. The quality publishers kept their quality and didn’t disappoint, and the publishers of Munchkin or Fluxx?, well, they published Munchkin and Fluxx!…. My feeling is that the scene is in waiting mode regarding the development and increasing success of iOS and android board games, hybrids and conversions. I suspect that the most innovative things will happen there the next year.

Best game
That would be a very close race between three different games in three different genres: “Strasbourg” would win in the Euro category, “Mansions of Madness” in the Ameritrash category, and “Olympos” in the civilization building category.

Best reprint
Of course one should mention the new version of “Puerto Rico”, but as a fan of the game I also would especially recommend the “Game of Thrones” board game, which still ranks among the best franchise themed board games ever made. We shouldn’t also forget “Airlines Europe”, a loving reprint of a gaming classic.

Biggest disappointment
The biggest disappointment as a game this year was “Sid Meier’s Civilization” by Fantasy Flight Games. It didn’t work at all for me – a dull civ building game with all the known problems of the genre amplified by take that cards and imbalanced player powers.

Biggest surprise
My biggest good surprise this year was the sudden emergence of Pegasus games as a serious Euro game publishing contender, and of excellent Euro games to boot. This is as surprising as if Fantasy Flight Games would suddenly publish “Agricola”.

Biggest news
Rich Sommer from my most beloved show “Mad Men” on the Dice Tower? That’s frakkin’ unbelievable! Next thing you probably want to tell me that internationally known games expert Tom Vasel and famous voice actor Eric Summerer are on the show as well. They are? Aaaaahhhh!!!!!!

Best card game
Apart of “Game of Thrones CCG” I also like “Lord of The Rings The Card Game” for its bold innovative idea of making solitaire or group play the basic mechanic of the game, something that had not been done that well yet in the expandable card game genre. Perhaps anybody remembers “Ruins World”, which went into that direction? It was an excellent idea, but awfully handled, FFG did it right.

Best expansion
I have only played it on the iPad yet, but “Ascension: Return of the Fallen” is a good expansion to an already great game.

Best children’s game
It’s a strange choice as it isn’t marketed as a kid’s game, but Polish game “Drako” is simple enough to be played with kids and actually teaches them concepts like hand management very well. It also plays very quick, in 10-20 minutes, so it is really an excellent introduction to meatier games, like their game K2 a year back was as well.

Strangest game
I haven’t played it yet, but “011” looks extremely strange and interesting, a little like my beloved “City of Chaos”. But is it a good game? I haven’t tried it yet, but some say it’s like a bad “Cluedo” variant, we will see.

Worst game
I don’t know if you heard about the three Nazi terrorists in Germany who were recently discovered by the police. In their backyard they produced a game with which they hoped to finance their terrorist activities – it was called “Progomly”, a miserable monopoly variant that actually sold a handful of copies in terrorist circles. I don’t know what’s worse – the idea of such a game or the notion to be able to make money of it.

Biggest brainburner
Ok, at some point in ambitious online Carcassonne play the realization sets in, that from a certain level of play on luck will play a huge role in determining the winner. But how on earth can people get to an ELO of nearly 2000 then, whereas I seem to get stuck between 1700 and 1800? Why????????

Most innovative game
It was a late discovery for me, but “Olympos”, the new game by the designer of “Small World”, has many extremely interesting concepts, like the handling of resources possession and the way civilization advance is handled. It also plays really quick, for me it was the surprise hit of 2011.

Favorite gaming event of 2011
My favorite gaming event continues to be our summer visit at Alea gaming apartments on Paros, Greece, and the time spent there with Dimitris Varrias and his family.

Wish I had played
“Warriors and Traders” is a game that created quite a buzz in Essen and which I have sitting on my shelf. I love the idea of an empire building and conquest game that gives you the option to win peacefully and solves the typical problem of whoever battles or is battled first loses.

Best components
Ok, I just live “Mansions of Madness” and its many bits, a lot of attention to detail has gone into the creation of this monster haunted house game, and it shows.

Best art
I have to say that Fantasy Flight Games “Game of Thrones” card game holds a continuous standard of excellent illustrations, even though recently a slight resemblance to the TV version actors shows through in recent illustrations. But that is not the worst thing, as the TV series is excellent too!

Special Award
The best inside joke award in game design goes to Geoff Engelstein and his son for their inclusion of the Eggert reactor in their excellent game “Ares Project”. Actually I wish I own that reactor and have endless power!

All the best for our friends in 2012, the year of the where the creepy Mayo prophecy will finally come through. Yes: French fries actually DO taste better with Mayo, I don’t care what Quentin Tarantino says.

Electronic Gaming

Transcript of the podcast published October 26th, 2011.

Since I own an iPhone and recently an iPad I find that I look more and more at news on iOS- and Android games on Boardgamegeek, which are thankfully and regularly provided by Brad Cummings. Thinking about it I find that we are finally on a threshold which was long foreseen: the merging of board gaming and electronic gaming into something new. Finally we have devices which can recreate the social experience of board gaming – and that is playing with other players – increasingly well through electronic media. Somehow the computer or TV screen doesn’t seem like a barrier anymore – players are directly involved with the game via touchscreen, live voice messaging, movements and even objects that are manipulated to induce electronic game effects.

One of the main criticisms of pure electronic gaming – that it is mainly a visual and abstract affair for couch potatoes – is increasingly becoming untrue, which is shown by the immense success of the Wii or similar movement-translating gaming devices. Suddenly the players’ physical presence is really important, dexterity, stamina and fitness as well as cleverness directly translate into the gaming experience. The idea was there since the invention of the first paddle connected to the early Ataris and Nintendos, but only now has the technology reached a stability and ease of use that it is fast becoming widespread. I own a Wii myself, and I cannot say how much the clever little games of the Wii fit program have helped me to lose weight in a fun and engaging manner. In short: the haptic experience of gaming is increasingly present where it was absent before.

I am not a blind believer in electronic development and like you I enjoy most the direct company of friends while gaming. There is nothing that beats the mutual laughter and table talk. But the detractors of electronic gaming find that their arguments are losing ground.

Let’s look at the main criticisms of electronic gaming:

1)  Electronic games are too solitary

This used to be the case, but it is not anymore. One can probably say that most of today’s computer gaming is not –as it used to be – against AI’s but against live opponents, be it in a Massive Online Role Playing Game or a social game via Facebook or a mobile phone game via Bluetooth or internet. Granted – very often the experience is still abstract and limited to little chat windows, and some people use the anonymity apparent in these games to continue with their sad and mostly lonely life, but the technology to make the other player’s present also as people, be it via Skype or video conferencing, is basically there and is increasingly used. I don’t think it will be far away until we play online games where we see the other players as if they are sitting at our table, and in 3D.

2)  Board Games are haptic and Computer Games are not

This is increasingly untrue as well. Of course – right now nothing can beat a wargame or a roleplaying game with miniatures. But there are many physical aspects of games that are actually more annoying than a true joy. Keeping track of countless markers on tracks, shuffling hundreds of cards in a game of Arkham Horror, setting up hundreds of counters for a complicated wargame. Gamers become increasingly lazy with this kind of stuff and are actually happy if there are programs that take care of it. 18XX pro’s started already decades ago to use computer programs to keep track of the immense amounts of money changing hands in a typical game, I know players who refuse to play without these helper programs. Most players I know hate game upkeeping. And if you like miniatures, why not have miniatures AND electronic gaming? Many of you have seen the demo video which shows how real miniatures can be used on a tablet like-table where the computer keeps track of their stats. It will be increasingly easy to combine the aspects of gaming which are fun to handle while having the computer do the annoying stuff, like shuffling cards or keeping track. We all know that the future of gaming will lie in electronic gaming tables which can save thousands of games and set them up instantly.

3)  Computer games are different from board games

I think the lines increasingly blur. The first computer games were basically dexterity and reaction games but quickly tabletop gaming ideas were transported to the electronic world. In fact the most successful computer games like “Civilization” or “Star Craft” would be impossible without their boardgaming roots. Many modern computer games actually take their cues from board games, and the elegance of Euro design has had a huge influence on many types of games. I firmly believe that the attraction of board games lies in the fact that calculations aren’t hidden but that all elements of the game are clear to everybody.

Whatever may be your stance to electronic board gaming – and the fact you are listening to a podcast already shows that you are on the positive side – we live in interesting times that will see huge changes to the hobby and the delivery of games to a larger public. More about that next time!

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…

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.