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Core Games 2014

November 23, 2014 Leave a comment

So I was looking through some of my BGG bookmarks recently, and I came across the link to this, the core games of 2008.  And of course it got me to wondering what this list would look like in 2014.  I did several different searches on BGG, but I wasn’t able to come up with anything.  So I decided to create the list myself.

I used Tony Ackroyd‘s methodology, or something close to it:  to be in the core games list, a game has to be ranked in the top 100 games, has to be in the top 100 owned games, and has to be in the top 100 played games.  When looking at the top played games, he only counted plays by distinct users, so I did the same.  I decided to look at all the plays in 2014, from January 1 to now.

First, I pulled up the top ranked games, then the top owned games, and finally the top played games.  Then a little magic in LibreOffice Calc, and here they are:  the core games of 2014.

How does this compare to the list from 2008?  It’s quite a bit different, really.  Of the 27 games on this list, and the 38 games on the list from 2008, there are only 7 games that are on both:  Twilight Struggle, Agricola, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Race for the Galaxy, Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Ticket to Ride.  Might be good to check those out, if you haven’t already.  :-)

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gaming gift guide 2014

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Okay, so I thought I would post another gaming gift guide — hopefully this’ll get me back into blogging a bit, but I’m not making any promises.

I’ve learned a lot about games in the last few years, and I hope to share some new discoveries.  Some of these games may be out of print, but that’s okay — it’ll likely still be possible to track them down.

A disclaimer:  most of these games are in the light-to-medium range, as I tend to prefer games that can be taught in 10 minutes or less.  I like gateway games — games that are suitable for gamers and non-gamers alike.  Heavy games are fun, but I find it a lot easier to get mid-weight games on the table.  And if I’m honest with myself, I’m up for a one-hour game a lot more often than I’m up for a two- or three-hour game.

These are the games that I’m almost always up for playing, the games that I can recommend without reservation, the games that I like best.  They are also, because I’m a designer, games that I consider to be elegant.  They are, in most cases, games that I wish I had designed.  Some of them are drop-dead brilliant.

So here they are, in order of their ranking on boardgamegeek:

  • Ticket to Ride — my favorite game to teach to newbies, it can be taught in 5 minutes or less.  There’s great tension, simple but meaningful choices, and a whole lot of fun.  My only complaint is that it can go on a bit long, but hey — it’s still a classic.  My favorite with 4 or 5 players is the original; my favorite with 2 or 3 is Nordic Countries.  The whole family of TtR games is discussed on the family page that’s devoted to them.
  • Jaipur — an excellent game for two, my wife and I play this one often.  The key to this game is getting into the flow of it — when you’re in the flow, you always seem to get the right cards at the right time.  Control the pace and you control the game.
  • Carcassonne — a tile-laying classic, this is the game that got me back into gaming.  It makes me feel like a kid when I play it, kind of like a sandbox where you can keep score.  Just don’t throw too many expansions in, though, as that’ll bog it down.
  • Battle Line — a great Knizia game for two, it’s kind of like Lost Cities‘ less popular cousin.  In many ways, though, I like it better.
  • Hanabi — if you like co-op games, you should give Hanabi a try.  It’s easy to teach to new players, unlike a lot of co-ops, and it’s fun, too.
  • San Juan — better than both Race for the Galaxy and Puerto Rico in my opinion, San Juan doesn’t get the love it deserves.  Sure there’s a lot of luck, but that doesn’t bother me.  It’s fun, it’s relatively easy to teach, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.  One downside is that it takes a game or two to get used to the cards, but that’s true of a lot of games.  Can be hard to find.
  • For Sale — a brilliant, two-stage auction game.  I’m not any good at it, but I still enjoy playing it.
  • Lost Cities — another excellent two-player game by Knizia.  Lots of tension, and you can never do all that you want.  The big lesson?  Never bite off more than you can chew….
  • Santiago — a brilliant auction game with some very clever mechanics.  I definitely wish I had designed this one.
  • Blokus — like a strategic version of tetris, you want to get rid of as many of your pieces as possible.  A classic.
  • Coloretto — absolutely brilliant.  Schacht is probably my favorite designer, his stuff his clean and elegant.  I like this one better than both Zooloretto and Aquaretto (larger games based on the same mechanic).
  • Morels — a relatively unknown game, it’s an excellent game for two.  As far as I know, it’s only available on Amazon.  My one complaint is that there’s a lot of card sliding, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying it.
  • Hey, That’s my Fish! — very abstract, but lots of fun.  A quick game of positioning and area control.  Reminds me a bit of Amazons, but it’s lighter and more playful.
  • Incan Gold — a classic push-your-luck by Faidutti and Moon where you’re also trying to second-guess what your opponents will do.
  • On the Underground — a great connection game with a lazy passenger.  The only problem is that some players have a hard time figuring out how the passenger will move.  Fussy, in other words, but good.  One of my favorite discoveries of the last two years.
  • Word on the Street — a great party game if you like words.
  • Zombie Dice — a great filler, fun to play while you’re waiting for your guests to arrive.
  • Cockroach Poker — you like lying to people?  Good — get Cockroach Poker.  It’s very clever, and some of our friends absolutely love it.
  • Lascaux — no, this isn’t designed by Schacht, but the core bidding mechanic is his (from Mogul).  It’s brilliant.  My only complaint is that the cards can be hard to tell apart when they’re all the way across the table.
  • Fastrack — an excellent and highly-addictive dexterity game.  I played a larger version at BGG con and loved it.
  • Battling Tops — what can I say, this game is awesome — it’s really fun to watch the tops do battle with one another.  More an activity than a game, but a great activity.  And there’s probably a great drinking game in there, too.
  • Nada — a quick dice game requiring very fast thinking.  Simple and elegant, it’s a nice filler if you have somewhat manic friends.

I hope, if you try them, that you enjoy these games as much as I do.

recent activity, Goblins Inc.

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Okay, so I haven’t been blogging much recently.  What I have been doing, however, is playing a lot, designing a lot, and trying to get things published.  I went to BGG.con in November, and it was a blast.  It was a kind of a busman’s holiday, where I was both trying to enjoy the con and talk to publishers.  I really enjoyed it, and I was also able to convince a publisher to take one of my games home with them.  Hooray!

So what have I been playing?  New games since the last time I blogged include Roma (a giveaway at BGG.con), Knizia’s Samurai, a number of Schacht’s games (Hansa, China, California), Lowenherz (picked up at the BGG.con marketplace), a number of Feld’s games (Notre Dame, Castles of Burgundy, The Speicherstadt), Friese’s Famiglia, Friese’s Copycat, Goblins Inc, Goa, Finca, and Princes of Florence.  For me, the standouts have been Roma, Castles of Burgundy, Goblins Inc, Goa, and Princes of Florence.

The wonderful thing about being a designer is that all these new games (and game purchases, if my wife is reading this) are all research.  I need to know what’s out there….

I’m currently working actively on about three games:  City Builder (an update of Hacienda, for those who’ve been keeping track), 12 Lords a-Leaping (a strange cross between Container and Coloretto), and Venture Capital.  City Builder is the one that’s been taking up most of my time recently, as I’ve said I would get a copy of the rules to a publisher by the end of the month.  That’s really going to be pushing it….

What am I looking forward to?  Two things:  Cabin Con 2013 (a gathering of friends in March) and owning my own copy of Goblins Inc.  I played it at BGG.con, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There’s a lot of chaos, kind of like Galaxy Trucker, but in Goblins the mayhem is personal.  Published in 2012 by Czech Games Edition (and brought to the US by Rio Grande), it’s a fun game for people who don’t mind a bit of luck.  It plays in 60 minutes and is Filip Neduk’s first game.  I hope it won’t be his last.

For those who haven’t heard much about Goblins Inc, it borrows many of the mechanics of Galaxy Trucker (building a ship before piloting it, rolling dice for destruction, &c.) and wraps them in a theme involving battle bots.  It says it plays from 2-4 players, but the nice folks at BGG don’t recommend it for 3 — it’s recommended for 2 players, and it’s said to be best with 4.  Having played the game with 4, I have a hard time imagining how a 3-player game would go — there’s probably some clever mechanism in there to make it work, but it’s most naturally a 4-player game.

Battling robots (not sure where the Goblins bit comes in) is a team sport, where players must cooperate to both build and pilot their bot.  While players are cooperating, they’re also competing with one another, as each player has her own personal goals that differ from the goals of her partner.  It’s an uneasy alliance.

In the building phase, one player picks out the components that the other will have to use to build their ship.  While the builder might want more guns, his partner might want more engines.  And since his partner is the one picking which pieces will be used, he’s going to have to make do with engines.

Once the two bots are built, then they go into battle.  One player of the partnership chooses which tactics to use, while the other player drives the ship.  This doesn’t require as much cooperation as one might want, but it does give both players something to do.  If both ships survive the current round, then the two players switch roles and the bots go at it again.

This is one of those games that’s just fun to play.  In both of the games I played, players were laughing and whooping it up.  It didn’t really matter who won or lost, it was just as fun to see your own ship blown apart as it was to score a lucky hit on your opponents.

It’s not for everyone, obviously, but that’s true of any game.  Players who like Galaxy Trucker and want something a bit more confrontational should definitely pick it up.

If you want to read a review with a few more details about the gameplay, check out “Giant Robot Smash Up” by JohnBandettini.  He does a good job of explaining the game, and he includes a lot of pictures, too.  :-)

 

Trebuchets

April 22, 2012 3 comments

When I send out an invitation to game night, I typically include an easter egg somewhere in the list of things to bring:  “Please bring a snack, easter egg, and/or a beverage to share, and bring any games you’d like to play.”  Past eggs have included bowling balls, light sabres, and tam-o-shanters, but this months hidden directive was “trebuchet.”

I got several responses asking (a) what a trebuchet was and (b) where they could find one, so I sent out a follow-up email with a link to youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wVADKznOhY) and a link to instructables (http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Curiously-Strong-Trebuchet-A-Pocket-Sized-Me/).

(For the relatively incurious, a trebuchet is essentially a catapult with a sling on the end to give it a bit more oomph.  Wikipedia has a very nice overview.)

I wasn’t thinking anyone would actually go to the trouble of making one, but I got a couple emails suggesting that a trebuchet was in the works.  This got me to thinking, and I decided that it might be fun to build one myself.

I knew basically what the concept was, but I was still a little unclear as to what released the payload.  As far as I can tell, there are several different ways of doing it.  There’s the simple way, where one end of the sling has a loop in it that slips over a pin on the end of the swinging arm, but then there are more complicated ways, too:  ropes in various configurations that trip a release mechanism when the arm gets to a specific point.  The advantage of the former is simplicity, while the advantage of the latter is greater control over the angle of release.

I opted for simplicity.

I did a bit more research to get some idea as to the design principles and considerations involved:

One problem was that I didn’t have a whole lot of time — I needed to get going, and I didn’t really know where to start.

So I turned to the construction material of choice for would-be modelers of the slacker generation, Legos.  And not just any old Legos, but the real deal:  Lego Technics.

I happened to have a couple small sets on hand (quel coincidence!), so I started building right away.  I didn’t have any specific plans in mind, but I knew I needed a base, two sturdy towers for support, and a pivoting swingarm.  I figured I could iron out the details later.

I didn’t know exactly how big I wanted to make the thing, but I knew I was restricted by the available materials — I opted for a swingarm that was 8.75 inches long and had a pivot roughly 1.5 inches from one end.  When the swingarm hung straight down, the end of it was just slightly above the base.

Once I had the basic structure down, I still needed four things:  a counterweight (and a good way to attach it to the swingarm),a pin in the end of the swingarm, a sling of some sort, and a smooth track for the payload to travel along (the bumpy tops of Legos would not do).

I fashioned the counterweight out of a little plastic box by cutting the top off, trimming the sides, and punching two holes in it (for the pivot pin) with a paper punch.  I figured I could then fill it with as many coins as necessary to get the right amount of weight.  I hung it off the short end of the swingarm and put about $8 worth of quarters in it.

The pivot pin was a little trickier, but only because I was overthinking it.  I originally thought I would need something both fairly rigid and yet bendable (because of the way they were bending the pin to adjust for distance in that second youtube video), so I started with a paperclip that I bent into shape.  All the while I was bending and tweaking the clip, I was making a conscious effort to try to channel MacGyver.

As it turns out, though, it didn’t need to be so complicated.  I switched to a simple plastic Lego pin at some point to try to ensure a smooth release, and that works just fine.  A longer pin seems to make for a later release, and a shorter pin allows the sling to slip off earlier.

The track was easy:  I started off with a bit of Hot Wheels track and then, when everything seemed to be working well enough, switched to a dedicated bit of masonite.  The original Hot Wheels track was too long, and I couldn’t bring myself to cut it up.  (Yes, yes, I know — I do appear to have kept a number of my childhood toys.  My wife occasionally makes the same observation.)

Far and away the hardest part (and the part I’m still playing with) is the sling.  I started with some heavy cotton string and a bit of plastic bag (for the pocket) but then needed something a bit lighter and more flexible.  I’m currently using some black thread and a bit of nylon.  In order to get the pocket to have a bit of depth, I bunched up the ends, but I bunched them up a bit too much:  sometimes the payload gets stuck and doesn’t come out at all.

The difference between success and failure in the trebuchet business is a very fine line.  Small tweaks to any of these details (weight of counterweight / weight, size, and shape of payload / materials in sling / length of sling / length of pin / &c.) will mean that the payload either flies across the room in a satisfying way, gets stuck in the pocket, shoots straight up, falls out of the pocket, shoots backward, zips around in a circle (when the sling doesn’t slip off the pin), or just doesn’t go all that far.  If the payload is too light, it won’t cause the sling to slide off the pin soon enough; if the payload is too heavy, it’ll cause the sling to slide off way too soon.  Everything has to be balanced.

This makes it sound like a pain to get it dialed in, and I’ll admit it’s a little tricky.  But when  you get it to work, and specifically when you’re able to fling a small d-20 across the room and into the side of a cardboard castle you’re wife built (because you’re a very lucky guy), it’s very satisfying.

Here’s the castle S built:

Here’s the trebuchet against the same background:

And here’s the trebuchet sitting on our table:

You can see the release mechanism in that last picture, it’s the black plastic rod there on the left:  push it in to hold the swingarm in place, pull it out to let ‘er go.  The counterweight falls down, pulling the swingarm around; the swingarm pulls the sling around with its payload safely in the pocket; the payload swings out as it comes around; the sling releases from the pin in the end of the swingarm; the payload (hopefully) flies across the room.

So how did game night go?  As it turns out, this was the only trebuchet there.  It worked well, didn’t hurt anybody, and even hit the castle once.  I’d call it a success.

I was hoping to have several trebuchets present, so we could have a contest of some sort, but that’ll have to wait until next month.

I’m thinking it would be fun to build a bigger trebuchet (I may have caught the bug), maybe one that could launch a baseball.  It wouldn’t be that hard to do, and I don’t think the counterweight would have to be all that large, either.  A few free weights, a few 2x4s, a bit of nylon cord, and some leather for the pocket, and you could have a pretty decent baseball chucker.  I’m hoping to get a few of the other guys from game night interested, too.

And of course I’m inspired to try to come up with a board game about trebuchets, but so far I haven’t had any luck.  It seems to me the real appeal of this kind of tabletop trebuchet is its physicality, and the fact that you have to play with it to get it dialed in.  I’m just not sure how that would scale up (or down) to a board game:  you could have a game where multiple trebuchets attack a castle, or you could have a game where you’re building a trebuchet, but in the end you’ll still be left with a bunch of plastic bits and some cardboard.

Some things can be easily abstracted (building a railroad, creating a financial empire, &c.), but some things can’t (riding a motorcycle, firing off a trebuchet, &c.).

So you could make and sell a trebuchet toy, but I fail to see how you could make a good trebuchet game.

If anyone has any thoughts they’d care to share, I’m all ears.  :-)

Power Grid mods

January 7, 2012 Leave a comment

After a grueling 4-hour Power Grid last night in which (a) the power plant market stagnated and (b) the order in which power plant cards came out had a considerable effect on the end game, I’m thinking of instituting a few house rules.

Now I know house rules are anathema to some people, but I’m a designer, and that’s what I do.  I tweak, I play, I play with, I tweak, I play some more.

In the interest of full disclosure, so you know better where I’m coming from:  we were playing with 5 on the France board, and we had the cards from the BGG promo deck in there, too.  We were using the original power plant deck, not the modified one.  And, as far as we know, we were playing correctly.  :-)

At first I wanted to keep it minimal, and I wanted to use a three-pronged approach:

  1. Take out a few of the power plants.  Either that or slip the Step 3 card into the deck 2 or 3 cards from the bottom.  This would help prevent stagnation.
  2. Tier the power plant deck, breaking it down 1-20, 21-35, and 36-50.  Shuffle each tier independently, then stack them.  This would help prevent small and useless power plants from turning up late in the game when nobody wants them.
  3. If all players pass on a power plant that turn, it’s the smallest power plant and not the largest that’s removed.  Again, this would help prevent stagnation.

So a lot of stuff to keep power plants moving through, but not a lot to counteract the “luck-of-the-draw” issue at the end of the game.

Some, of course, would argue that the luck-of-the-draw is not so much an issue, but a feature.  I’m of two minds about it, honestly.  In many ways I enjoy the luck-of-the-draw aspect to the endgame, as it keeps the game tense and exciting, but it can also be somewhat frustrating at the end of a four-hour marathon.  It makes the game a bit more family-friendly, but it also seems a little out of place.

So I decided to get a bit more ambitious, a bit more radical.  What if, instead of building up the power plant deck for Step 3 out of the largest power plants throughout the game, the Step 3 card was simply inserted between the cards for tier 2 and the cards for tier 3?

What I was thinking went something like this:

  1. Tier the power plant deck by breaking it down 1-20, 21-35, and 36-50. Shuffle each tier independently, then stack them. Put the Step 3 card between the second and third tier.
  2. Each time someone buys a power plant, the new plant is introduced in the 8th slot of the power plant market.  All others shift down, ignoring the numbers on the cards.  Like in the original game, only slots 1-4 are available at any given time.  So the new plant comes in at number 8, what was number 5 becomes number 4, and the cards in the top row are shifted down until the hole is filled.
  3. Don’t clear out the highest power plant at the end of the turn, obviously, as that would break the new system.
  4. If all players pass, take out the lowest 1 or 2 power plants and put them in the box.  All four could be taken out, but that might move the game along too quickly.
  5. When Step 3 comes, continue doing the power plant market in exactly the same way.  Don’t switch to a 6-card market.  Implement the other changes for Step 3 (new resource refresh rate, 3 players per city, &c.), but leave the power plant process unchanged.

I can see advantages and disadvantages to the new way of doing it.

Pros:

  • People can see what power plants are coming, so they know better what power plants to bid on.
  • Players can plan more.
  • The game is a bit more orderly, a bit more predictable.
  • The game is a little less fussy, involving a slightly fewer number of rules.
  • The luck-of-the-draw in the endgame would be reduced if not eliminated.
  • The power plant market would not stagnate.

Cons:

  • People can see what power plants are coming, so they know better what power plants to bid on.
  • Players can plan more.
  • The game is a bit more orderly, a bit more predictable.
  • The luck-of-the-draw in the endgame would be reduced if not eliminated.
  • The game would be heavier and less family-friendly.
  • Because it would be possible to look further ahead, the game might take longer.

So it would change the game, but it might not improve it.  I do think, though, that I want to try something along these lines the next time we play.  If I can get my gaming group to go along with it, that is.  :-)

More full disclosure:  some of these changes may have already been made in the expansions.  I wouldn’t know, as I’ve only played France and Korea.  I’ve played with the BGG promo deck, but not with the new power plant cards.  My experience with the Power Grid universe is fairly limited.

Also, just so folks know, though the order in which the cards came out did have an impact on the end of the game, my relatively poor showing had more to do with poor play in the beginning.  That, and the fact that C and I were in direct competition for both cities and resources throughout most of the game.    

top 5 gateway games

December 5, 2011 7 comments

What is a gateway game?

A gateway game is a game that can be taught to newbies to bring them into the hobby. As such, it should be simple enough that it doesn’t scare them away, yet meaty enough to hold their interest.  It should be relatively easy to teach, yet it should offer interesting choices.  It should take long enough to warrant the effort required to learn it, but it shouldn’t outstay its welcome.

There appears to be a general consensus among the gaming community that the top 3 gateway games are Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride.  But what about the fourth and fifth?

The quest.

In The Universally Agreed Upon Top 5 Gateway Games, BGG user oeste asked the community what the fourth and fifth universally-accepted gateway games are.  Not surprisingly, there was no consensus.  I think at one point I commented something to the effect that trying to get consensus on a question like this was like attempting to herd cats, and left it at that.

But it’s an interesting question, no?

If one were to wade through the 5 pages of responses, one would see that the games that came up most often were Stone Age, Dominion, Forbidden Island, Ingenious, Pandemic, Blokus, Citadels, 7 Wonders, Small World, Bohnanza, Lost Cities, and Dixit.

One would also find a link to a geeklist entitled Which game deserves a seat as the fourth Great Gateway Game: Settlers, TTR, Carc, and ?  78 games are proposed in this list, and folks have been voting with their thumbs:  127 votes for Dominion, 99 votes for Pandemic, 95 votes for Bohnanza.  But thumbs, for a variety of reasons, aren’t necessarily the best measure of a game’s suitability as a gateway game.

The poll.

And if one were to continue with this adventure, one would eventually come across a BGG poll:  [POLLS] The Best Gateway Games – Round 1.  You can, of course, go through the various stages of the polling experience yourself, or you can cut to the chase and skip to the final results:

1 Ticket to Ride
2 Carcassonne
3 Settlers of Catan
4 Pandemic
5 Ticket to Ride: Europe
6 For Sale
7 Diamant / Incan Gold
8 Coloretto
9 No Thanks!
10 Hey, Thats My Fish!
11 Forbidden Island
12 PitchCar
13 Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
14 Category 5 / 6 Nimmt!
15 Bohnanza
16 Lost Cities
17 TransAmerica
18 Blokus
19 Liar’s Dice
20 Can’t Stop

The Dominion Dilemma.

The first question I’m sure some of my readers will ask is “what the !@#$% happened to Dominion?”

It got booted in round four:  as Tony Ackroyd (the pollster) put it, ‘In case people are interested, Dominion suffered ejection because despite the high number of “Best” votes, it also had 8% votes for “Not a Gateway”.  Wits & Wagers suffered similarly, with 7% of its votes being “Not a Gateway”.’

It could of course be argued that 8% of respondents voting “not a gateway” shouldn’t be sufficient to knock it out of contention, but as I happen to agree with that sentiment I’ll let it stand.  As Mark Salzwedel put it, “Way too many special ability cards, tough to predict the game end until you’ve played several times, and deck building is not a newbie skill. It is short game, true, but a new player is likely to finish the game wondering what happened.”

Hey, he said it, not me.  :-)

The Fourth Gateway Game.

Based on the top twenty listed above, I’m content to add Pandemic as the Fourth Gateway Game.  It’s got a reasonable heft to it (with a weight of 2.3, it comes in just below Settlers’ 2.4), it’s got decent components, it’s challenging without being too challenging, and it gives players the opportunity to play against the game itself.

Some, I know, have argued that Forbidden Island (a lighter co-op by the same author) is a more accessible game, but I just don’t see it catching on as well with adults.  It’s a fine game, but I don’t believe it has the same kind of staying power.

So … I, for one, am ready to add Pandemic to the canonical list and rename the “Big Three” the “Big Four.”

But what about the fifth?

I have a hard time, somehow, including two TtR variants in the top five, so that lets out both TtR: Europe and TtR: Nordic Countries.

For Sale, Incan Gold, Coloretto, No Thanks, Hey Thats My Fish, Forbidden Island, Category 5, Lost Cities, TransAmerica, Liar’s Dice, and Can’t Stop are all good games, but they all seem too light.  I mean, yes, they’re a definite step up from party games, but I’m not sure they have quite enough heft to pull people into the hobby.

Pitch Car is a dexterity game.  I have nothing against dexterity games, but somehow it would seem out of place on a list like this.

I frankly don’t understand Bohnanza.  It’s one of my failings, I know, but I just can’t get my head around the game.

And Blokus is an abstract, begging the question….

Gateway to what? 

Good question — let’s step back a bit.

When introducing new players to the hobby, we are necessarily introducing them to our hobby, not the hobby as a whole.  I’m not going to teach people how to play role-playing games for the simple reason that I myself don’t play them.  I’m also not that likely to teach anyone how to play Risk, because I’m not very interested in that game at the moment.

We can’t, in other words, take ourselves and our preferences out of the equation.

Likewise, we can’t take “the newbie” and their preferences out of the equation, either.  No one is really a newbie when it comes to games — everyone has a gaming history, and it’s our job, if we’re going to teach them a new game, to find out what that history is.  Have they played Clue?  Monopoly?  Chess?  Hearts?  Pinochle?  Gin Rummy?  Scrabble?

What games have they played, and how do they feel about those games?  If they’ve played Monopoly and loved it, I might teach them Power Grid; if they’ve played Chess and hated it, I certainly wouldn’t teach them Hive.

In order for a game to be a good gateway game, in other words, it needs to be (a) a decent gateway game, (b) a game we’re interested in, and (c) a game that our friend might be interested in, too.

Choosing a game to teach someone, especially someone who’s just getting into gaming, is more an art than a science.  One size, in other words, does not fit all.

That being said, however….

I still feel that lists like these have merit.  Sure, everyone could and possibly should come up with their own “top 5 gateway games,” but a list at least gives folks a place to start.  Some games are, after all, better than others to teach to newbies, and while everyone’s situation is different, lists like these do serve a purpose.

So, what have we got so far?

  1. Settlers of Catan: 3-4 players, 90 minutes, ages 10 and up, 1995, weight of 2.4.
    The importance of Settlers to the modern gaming scene cannot be overstated: it single-handedly reinvented the industry. And with good reason — it’s tense, it’s fun, and it’s paced well, too.
  2. Carcassonne: 2-5 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2000, weight of 1.9.
    A personal favorite, this game is extremely creative. You build a landscape by placing tiles, then inhabit that landscape by deploying your meeples.
  3. Ticket to Ride: 2-5 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2004 weight of 1.9.
    My favorite game to teach to newbies, this one is always a hit. It’s easy to teach and easy to learn, and with a playing time of under an hour, you really can’t go wrong.
  4. Pandemic: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.3.
    An excellent game where players play against the game itself to try to eradicate diseases.  It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve introduced it to, and it’s a great couples game, too.  Not an easy game to win, but very satisfying when you can pull it off.

Do we even need a fifth?

Of course not, no. Absolutely not. (We don’t need 4, either.  Or, for that matter, 3.)  But I’d feel like a right proper git if I titled my post “top 5 gateway games” and then stopped at 4.

So what I’ll do is offer my own personal choice for the fifth game.

I doubt it’ll be a popular choice, but I’m going to go with Blokus.  Why?  It’s an abstract, and that makes it a little different from all the others.  And I like abstracts.  And I like Blokus.  And my friends like Blokus, too.

So no, it’s not as universal as the four listed above.  But it does have really cool, Tetris-shaped pieces, and it’s short, and it’s easy to explain, and it’s popular, and you can buy it at Target.

Without further ado, I therefore present:

  1. Blokus: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, 2000, weight of 1.8.
    An abstract strategy game with pieces that remind most people of Tetris. It’s a fun, lightweight introduction to abstracts, and it’s very colorful, too. Here’s a strategy tip: forget trying to block people out of your areas, and instead focus on flowing as smoothly as possible through their areas.

If Blokus ain’t your cup of tea, let me know what you’d suggest in the comments below.  :-)

top ranked games, sorted by weight

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, in retrospect, I’m not sure this was really such a good idea.

But when I got done with my gaming gift guide, and I sorted it by weight and all, I began to wonder.  Sure, these are the games I like, but what are the games other people like at these various weights?  More specifically, what are BGG’s three top-ranked games for every weight, from 1.0 up to 5.0?

Of course any list like this is a bit suspect, since it matters greatly how you break up the weight ranges.  What I did was look at ranges like 0.95 to 1.05 or 2.15 to 2.25, but you’d get very different results if you went from 1.0 to 1.1 or 2.2 to 2.3.  By changing the range, you’re choosing (arbitrarily) which games are competing with one another.

So it’s not a perfect list, and I’m not sure how useful it really is.  But it’s kind of interesting, and so, without further ado, here it is.  Make of it what you will.

Weight of 1.0:  Loopin’ Louie, Eat Poop You Cat, Tumblin’ Dice.

Weight of 1.1:  PitchCar, Telestrations, Gulo Gulo.

Weight of 1.2:  Time’s Up, Wits and Wagers, No Thanks.

Weight of 1.3:  Crokinole, Dixit, For Sale.

Weight of 1.4:  Dixit Odyssey, King of Tokyo, Werewolf.

Weight of 1.5:  Lost Cities, Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition, Hey, That’s My Fish.

Weight of 1.6:  The Resistance, Jaipur, Winner’s Circle.

Weight of 1.7:  Survive: Escape from Atlantis, Bohnanza, Schotten-Totten.

Weight of 1.8:  Blokus, The Downfall of Pompeii, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age.

Weight of 1.9:  Ticket to Ride, Battle Line, Carcassonne.

Weight of 2.0:  Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Ingenious.

Weight of 2.1:  Citadels, Tobago, Dream Factory.

Weight of 2.2:  7 Wonders, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Ticket to Ride: Märklin Edition.

Weight of 2.3:  Pandemic, Memoir ’44, Galaxy Trucker.

Weight of 2.4:  Dominion: Intrigue, Dominion, Tichu.

Weight of 2.5:  Claustrophobia, Samurai, Alien Frontiers.

Weight of 2.6:  Stone Age, Thunderstone: Dragonspire, Warhammer: Invasion.

Weight of 2.7:  Commands & Colors: Ancients, Space HulkDVONN.

Weight of 2.8:  Space Alert, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, YINSH.

Weight of 2.9:  Race for the Galaxy, Endeavor, Glory to Rome.

Weight of 3.0:  Railroad Tycoon, A Few Acres of Snow, Navegador.

Weight of 3.1:  El Grande, Battlestar Galactica, Chaos in the Old World.

Weight of 3.2:  Combat Commander: Europe, 1960: The Making of the President, In the Year of the Dragon.

Weight of 3.3:  Twilight StrugglePuerto RicoPower Grid.

Weight of 3.4:  Hannibal: Rome vs. CarthageGoaShogun.

Weight of 3.5:  SteamTroyesDungeon Lords.

Weight of 3.6:  Agricola, Tigris & Euphrates, Runewars.

Weight of 3.7:  Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board GameEarth RebornCivilization.

Weight of 3.8:  Le HavreBrassCaylus.

Weight of 3.9:  Dominant SpeciesAge of SteamAdvanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit #3.

Weight of 4.0:  War of the Ring Collector’s EditionGoIndonesia.

Weight of 4.1:  Through the Ages: A Story of CivilizationTwilight Imperium (third edition)Here I Stand.

Weight of 4.2:  Roads & Boats, The Republic of Rome1870.

Weight of 4.3:  Antiquity1856Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648.

Weight of 4.4:  Die Macher, Magic Realm, DAK2.

Weight of 4.5:  Empires in Arms, Case Blue, Pacific War.

Weight of 4.6:  World in Flames, Advanced Third Reich, Bloody Omaha: D-Day 1944.

Weight of 4.7:  Advanced Squad Leader, A World at War, 18C2C (Coast to Coast).

Weight of 4.8:  Korsun Pocket, Starfire New Empires, Carrier Planes in Flames.

Weight of 4.9:  Europa Universalis, La Grande Guerre 14-18, War in the Pacific (second edition).

Weight of 5.0:  Second Front, Renegade Legion: Prefect, The Campaign for North Africa.

I’m tempted to go back through and put in links to all the various game weights, but I think I’ll just illustrate the concept with one link at the end:  www.boardgamegeek.com/search/boardgame?sort=rank&advsearch=1&floatrange[avgweight][min]=3.25&floatrange[avgweight][max]=3.35&B1=Submit will take you to the top-ranked games with a weight of 3.3 (between 3.25 and 3.35).  A little URL hacking will allow you to get to all the others.  :-)