Posts Tagged ‘board games’


November 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Not a big deal, but I’ve been busy updating the site and cleaning up links, etc.  I’ve updated my About page, the Guide to Modern Gaming, the Links page, and a bunch of the links in the bar on the right.  You might want to check it out.  :-)


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.  :-)

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.  :-)


gearing up for Protospiel

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been getting ready for Protospiel these last few weeks:  playtesting like crazy, tweaking rules, getting everything together, and making sure everything is — both literally and metaphorically — in the box.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll be taking 7 games:  Horsefeathers 2.0, Hacienda, The Super Awesome Dice Game (SADG), Strange Bedfellows, Euronimoes 2.0, Puppet Masters, and Venture Capital.  I don’t expect to play all these games, mind you, but I plan to have them there just in case.  I never know what I’ll be in the mood to play / playtest until the moment is upon me, and this way I’ll have options.

Some of these games may already be familiar to some of you, as both Horsefeathers and Euronimoes have been released as print-and-play games here on my blog.  I’ve continued to develop and refine these games over the past year, and I hope to have updates available in the not-too-distant future.  The changes to Euronimoes have been slight (tweaks to the scoring, no chip bonus for drawing from the bone pile), while the changes to Horsefeathers have been more extensive (using cards instead of dice, revamping the points structure, creating a board, and adding more texture).  Both games are significantly improved.

Puppet Masters and Venture Capital should also be familiar to some of my readers, as I’ve blogged about their development before.  (Venture Capital used to be called Empire, then Metropolis, then Urban Conquest, then Capital, then Central City, etc. — it’s the proverbial game in search of a name.)  Puppet Masters hasn’t changed much, though I’ve tidied up the theme a bit and changed the way the endgame is handled.  Venture Capital, on the other hand, represents a significant break from previous development — in open source software terms, the game has “forked.”

I now have two games:  Central City retains the action cards, general gameplay, and overall feel of earlier versions, while Venture Capital has evolved into more of a stock market / speculation game.  Both are still auction games at heart, but the two play very differently.  Venture Capital feels much closer to “done” at this point, however, so it’s the one I’m packing for Protospiel.  Central City will have to wait another year (or two).

What else is left?  SADG, Strange Bedfellows, and Hacienda.  These are all light-to-medium fillers, taking somewhere around 30 minutes to play.

SADG is a clever little dice allocation game where players try to complete various items in three different categories.  There are two twists:  first, it’s rarely possible to complete an item all by oneself, so players have to cooperate in order to make points.  Second, a player’s overall score is equal to the score in their lowest category.  The game is played over three rounds.

Strange Bedfellows is what I would describe as a “political auction game.”  It’s subtitle, “everybody knows that elections can be bought — how much do you want to spend?” sums it up pretty well.  There’s a primary phase (choosing which candidates will run in that election), a negotiation phase (where players try to get other players to support their favorite candidates), and an auction phase (where players pledge their support to one of the candidates in that election).  Oh, and did I mention that there’s plenty of room for backstabbing and betrayal?  Just because a player says he’s going to help you out in the upcoming election doesn’t mean he actually will.

Finally, Hacienda is a modular auction game where players buy properties and try to connect them together into large ranches.  Ranches only count for points at the end of the game, however, if they’re also connected to wells, so players must choose where to put their wells carefully.

= = = = =

Looking back over this list, I count four games with an auction:  Hacienda, Strange Bedfellows, Venture Capital, and Puppet Masters (in Puppet Masters, there’s an auction to determine turn order).  By any standard, that’s a pretty high percentage of auction games.

I’ll admit I’ve had a fascination with auction games lately.  I enjoy playing them because they require an accurate valuation of the game-state; I enjoy designing them because they’re what I like to call “self-leveling.”

By self-leveling, I mean that some things (start money, income, etc.) become less critical — it’s up to the players to determine the worth of various in-game elements and bid accordingly.  Bid too low, and your opponents gain an advantage; bid too high, and you run yourself out of money.

As a designer, this means you can worry less about the amount of money in the game and more about the game’s overall flow and feel.  And that, for me at least, is a Good Thing.  :-)


the stay-at-home vacation: a holiday from modern life

February 25, 2012 1 comment

What is a vacation?

Historically a vacation involved getting away, traveling to some different locale, seeing different sights, breaking out of one’s routine.  A vacation was an escape from the day-to-day, a time to get away from work, a time to take one’s family on a bit of new-to-you adventure.

And that’s still true today, in a way, but times have changed.

I think more generally a vacation is an escape, a conscious break in one’s routine, a deliberate choice to get out of one’s rut.  And in the modern, ultra-connected world, the best and most effective way to change one’s routine is to unplug, as it were, from the matrix.

Sure, you can still take the family to Yellowstone, but you’re not really escaping if you’re taking your mp3 player, your cell phone, your laptop, and your DVD player along.  You’re not changing your routine if you’re still surfing the web, texting, reading your email, and doing all the things you usually do at home.  You might not be working, but you haven’t really stepped out of your workaday reality.  You haven’t gotten out of your rut.

It’s different now.  Going physically to a new location isn’t a vacation anymore; shutting down the computer, unplugging the TV, and turning off your cell phone is.


A couple years ago the power went off for a couple hours one evening.  There was an ice storm, and a tree went down and took the power lines with it.

When it first happened, I remember being frustrated and disappointed that I couldn’t continue doing whatever it was I had been involved with — watching TV, maybe, or working on the computer.  I just sat there for a minute or two, waiting and wondering if the power was about to come back on.

It didn’t.

Eventually I got up, found the candles and the matches, and lit them.  Then I asked S, my wife, what she wanted to do.  “We could read out loud,” she said.  So we did.

We read P.G. Wodehouse, but I forget which one.  Maybe it was one of the ones with Jeeves, the butler, and his intellectually-challenged master, Bertie Wooster.  Or maybe it was one of the ones set in Blandings Castle.  Or maybe it was Uncle Fred Flits By.

Anyway, we took turns reading to one another for about an hour, and then we decided to make popcorn.  Our usual popcorn maker was an air-pop job, and that took electricity.  The microwave was out, too.  So we got a pot, put some oil in it, tossed some popcorn in, and set it on the stove.  To light the stove (we have a gas range), we turned the gas on and lit it with a match.  Simple.

To keep the popcorn from burning, we’d shake the pot every once in a while.  And when the corn stopped popping, we took the lid off (gotta have a lid!) and poured it into a bowl.  A little salt, and voilà!  It was delicious.

Better, in fact, than the popcorn we usually made. (We have since gotten rid of the air-pop job, and we only settle for popcorn in the microwave when we’re at work.)

But what to do while eating this delicious popcorn?  We decided to play a game, I think it was Ticket to Ride.  And it was lots of fun.


There were a couple of things we noticed when the power was off.

First, it was very quiet.  The furnace wasn’t running, the refrigerator wasn’t running, the lights weren’t humming, nothing was making noise.

Second, it was very relaxing.  Peaceful.  Gentle.  The candles helped with this, of course, but in general it felt very … nice.  It was soothing, in a way, a kind of throwback to a simpler time.

In the beginning, we kept hoping the lights would come back on so we could get back to whatever it was we were doing.  But as time passed, we started hoping that the lights wouldn’t come back on so we could keep enjoying the peace and quiet.  As I remember it, the power still hadn’t come on by the time we went to bed.  We went ’round the house and tried to make sure everything was turned off, since we didn’t want the TV to turn itself on at 3:00 in the morning.

It was one of the most pleasant evenings I can remember.

It was also one of the best vacations we’ve ever had, and we didn’t even leave the house.


I’m not suggesting that we all turn our clocks back to 1850 — instead, I’m suggesting that we occasionally take a break from modern life.  Maybe we leave the lights on but shut the computer off.  Maybe we leave our cell phones on but turn the TV off.  Maybe we put down Angry Birds and bring out a board game instead.

S and I periodically do this:  step away from our laptops, step back from all our technological gadgetry, step out of the modern world, and step into a quieter time.

We don’t turn our phones off, but we hardly ever use them, anyway.  We don’t shut the lights off, as they’re actually quite handy.  We don’t shut the TV off, since it’s hardly ever on.

We shut down our laptops, turn off the stereo, set down the newspaper, and breathe.

We don’t do chores, and we don’t run errands.  We might take a walk, or we might ride our bikes.  We don’t drive.

I might play guitar, S might knit, we might have folks over for dinner, we might bake bread or have a fire in the back yard.  We might read out loud, might take a nap, might pet our cats or play a game.

We do quiet things, physical things, things that don’t require power.  We disconnect from the web, and we connect instead with one another; we disconnect from the “news,” and we reconnect with our friends.


Why am I talking about all this in a blog about board games?

Board games are a great way to connect with family and friends in a physical, real, face-to-face kind of way.  Most games don’t require power, they don’t require batteries, they don’t involve glowing screens or blinking lights or annoying beeps and bangs and buzzes.  They’re delightfully, gloriously low-tech.

More importantly, though, they actively encourage people to interact with one another.  In an age where many families don’t even eat together anymore, setting aside an afternoon or an evening for playing board games together is a great way to both make time for and spend time with the people you love.

What could be better than that?

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.