Sat, 23 March 2013
Not to spoil you but here is another Boardgame Babylon that was recorded at Orccon 2013. Inadvertently, this show was done with all the guests at Orccon on the same panel and it feels to me a bit like Graham Norton’s chat show - an opportunity to bring the audience a blended Q&A session with our guests. Sometimes that format works best, especially when you have articulate guests like Richard, Justin and Anne-Marie. I really enjoyed this conversation and hope you will, too.
Please check below for details about the Fireside Games tour of the U.S. that is currently going on. You will definitely want to check out their fun family games and you won’t meet a nicer couple of game designers (okay...Andy and Kristin Looney are right up there, too. And Dirk and Barbara Henn. Wait - maybe there are a lot of these wonderful pairs...)
Thanks for downloading and listening.
Plus - what the heck is this?
Direct download: 101_Boardgame_Babylon_v101_-_QA_Panel_with_Anne-Marie_and_Justin_DeWitt_plus_Richard_Breese.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:57 PM
Wed, 13 March 2013
Yes, it's been six months since the last Boardgame Babylon. Listen in for my excuses but mostly, you should download this show to hear the wonderful stories of Richard Breese, designer of Reef Encounter, The Boardgamegeek Game, Keythedral, Aladdin's Dragons, and the top-rated Essen 2012 release, Keyflower. Richard was kind enough to join us here in sunny Southern California (yes, it was gorgeous over Presidents' Day Weekend - why weren't you here?) for our first Strategicon of the year, Orccon 2013.
Direct download: 100_Boardgame_Babylon_v100_-_QA_with_Richard_Breese_at_Orccon_2013.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:18 AM
Sun, 3 March 2013
Gaming lost the creator of the hobby’s greatest games earlier this week. I share in the game community’s mourning for Allan Calhamer, designer of the masterful game Diplomacy.
In many ways, this is the game that made me a gamer. Sure, I grew up playing card and board games and I played plenty of Dungeons and Dragons before I ever found Diplomacy. But this was the first game where I really thought about the rules, where I carefully read them when I was not playing, and where I read a guide about how to play the game. That's when you're a serious gamer, right? When you think about a game seriously and focus on it outside of play opportunities. Even with my years of playing chess (and reading a short book or two about it), I don't think I really thought about how I might come up with my own strategies - heck, chess strategies are just there for you to use. Diplomacy really got me thinking because it wasn’t just strategy and using the rules - you had the squishy negotiations there. The strategy wasn’t just making good choices and trying to anticipate moves; in Diplomacy, you could persuade your way to a win. This was new and amazing and although the rules are pretty simple, I studied them carefully to figure out ways to improve my play, studied the map, considered ways to manipulate other players in the game. That sure seems to me like a point of transformation from person who plays games to ‘gamer’.
This was 1985. I've told the tale of my exposure to it at weekly games held by the SysOp of a BBS I called back at that time on the podcast before. It was glorious; I was routine trounced by older gamers - some just a few years older and some twice my age. I was back-stabbed, front-stabbed, betrayed, left for dead, and generally mistreated by the folks who taught me the game. And I loved it.
We used to joke that my friend Rob had a 'backstab gland' - some internal organ that would push him to turn on someone no matter how well he and his alliance might be doing. He felt that the game strongly encouraged that behavior.
Also in the 80's, I refereed my first Diplomacy tournaments at Strategicon Conventions. They were vicious games with the nastiest bunch of players filling out a two round tournament. 49 vicious players would fill a hotel conference room with 7 games so that one winner could go on to the final round from each table. That last table had the same guys frequently - the biggest snakes in L.A. gaming. It was wonderful to see these guys go at it; although many of the conversations were private, you could hear the way they were twisting things around to convince each other and lying through their teeth about the perceived value of a certain piece of land. The alliances didn’t come easily with players at this level. How could you trust these people? I wasn't going to be able to play at the level these people were operating on but it was thrilling to listen in on their duplicitous discussions.
While I never got good enough to actually advance in the tournament to the final table, I believe the time I spent playing Diplomacy improved my negotiation skills immensely, taught me about how to measure risks, and how to be more conscious of ulterior motives in general. I believe that I owe a lot of my strengths in these areas to Allan and his wonderful game. Thank you and rest in peace, Mr. Calhamer. My condolences to his family and friends.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:39 AM
Thu, 31 January 2013
If there was a game in the entire series that I knew would go down well with the family, it was Royal Turf. One of the most approachable games in the entire Alea series, Royal Turf is light but interesting, has some opportunities to be nasty, and it plays quickly. I should preface this by saying that we traditionally cut the game down a bit even though it is pretty short. I’m ready to be done with it by the time we get through two races. Although a third race surely evens out the luck (or makes for a miserable final go for someone suffering a bad streak), I find that casual players are fine with two games - and we usually don’t bother doubling the last one. Second, I would note that while I love the ‘0’ bets to bluff others into thinking you might or might not favor a certain horse, I tend to leave it out for first time play and even a second play for some casual gamers. Does it seem like I love the game a bit less because I’m tinkering with the Good Doctor’s sacred rules? Perish the thought - Royal Turf is a wonderful game that we always enjoy playing.
In this case, the Family Challenge took on an extra dimension - my parents played with us. We're lucky enough to have my parents just a mile and a half away and we regularly dine with them once a week. In years past, dinner was at their house and I always wanted to play a game after we ate. While I grew up in a card-playing family, my parents had never really gotten into ‘These Games of Ours” despite my efforts. I mean, they played contract rummy - quite viciously - with my aunts and uncles all the time. Yet, when I showed them a few Gateway Games, they were reluctant. I can recall trying to convince my dad to play Ticket to Ride and him looking down his glasses at the plastic trains and smiling politely as he shook his head. Our usual tricks to lure people into the hobby were not working.
Finally, one night after our usual dinner, I brought out what I dubbed (to myself) a ‘Pre-Gateway Game” - in other words, a game that even the most casual of card players couldn’t really sneer at because it just had numbers and chips - no funny business. That game was Geschenkt (or No Thanks, if you prefer). I just slapped it on the table and told them we were going to play it. Thankfully, they sat down, listened to the rules politely. and ended up really enjoying the game. That was the beginning of a couple of happy years where we’d enjoy a weekly game or two with my parents after dinner while our kids played with whatever toys lived at the grandparents’ house. Coloretto and Drive led to many others and, eventually, Mystery Rummy: Rue Morgue became the big hit. How I loved hearing my parents bicker when one would pass the other a questionable card. They were hilarious! We had such a great time every Tuesday night (surely the lousiest night of the week - but no more!). I even triumphantly got Ticket to Ride to the table...and they just loved it.
Unfortunately, this fun was cut short by my father’s stroke five years ago. We are thankful to still have him in our lives but he’s not what he once was. The games stopped and although my mother played the occasional game of cribbage with him, it was mostly just going through the motions. When I’d brought up the possibility again, my mother discouraged it and my father didn’t respond. We starting dining out at restaurants for our weekly dinner, creating an environment less friendly to games even if it kept our traditional family dinner going.
But this week, we got takeout and ate at my parents' house and I took my chance to simply make it happen again. I knew I could do it if I was armed with the right game and Royal Turf was going to be it. My mother and father are horse racing fans (I grew up close to the storied Santa Anita Race Track), if casual ones, so I figured the theme could work. Furthermore, Royal Turf lends itself to ‘helpful suggestions’ by others since there is little hidden information so I figured we could help my Dad with the game if he got a bit lost. At the last minute, I canceled plans to have him play on a ‘team’ with my mom so we had the full complement of six players. The kids were excited to play, having been disappointed that we didn’t play the other night when Wyatt Earp hit the table.
What ensued was some glorious racing fun. Though I did minimal explanation upfront (another notable plus for RT), everyone ‘got’ the game immediately and we dove right in. Three or four rolls in, my daughter and mother sorted out the value of ‘trashing’ another horse with a lousy roll - and the nastiness that my wife, son, and I had been doling out became more obvious. My father gleefully bet on the horses I deemed long-shots (Early Grey and Albino), only to see them snatch places in the Winner’s Circle in both races. Darn me for only betting on old Earl Grey in one of the races - I almost always throw a chit on that old nag. In the second race, he was already comfortably ensconced in the 1st Place spot (with the pace bonus) while the rest were barely halfway around the track. Indeed, one of the most enjoyable parts of Royal Turf is when just the right roll comes up and a horse rockets ahead 13 to 15 spaces. I was reminded about how much I like the lopsided die, which heavily favors the horse head (3 to 1 of each other icon) and how that plays into the steady runners and long-shots. In this way, the game reminds me of the looseness of Ra because although you can work percentages out a bit, they don't seem worth it. Better to simply just take your shot and go with your gut on what to select. I love that in a game.
The intensity and negotiations were thrilling, with the kids coordinating rolls and figuring out the probability of success sometimes (unlike me, my son is a numbers guy through and through) - and perhaps over-directing my parents and their choices. But their advice was always reasonable - even if it occasionally favored their horses. Hey, I’m okay with it. I’m raising smart, dynamic kids that should know all the angles. They see their dad doing it, too (and gleefully trashing his wife’s horses - hey, what can I say? She’s cute when she’s annoyed at me for a silly reason). It really makes a father proud to see them giving it their all.
In the end, Early Grey’s second and then first place showings gave my father a nice margin of victory over my daughter and me. My son and wife scored dreadfully; only after the final count did I realize we neglected to deduct the 100 pound penalty for each bet on the last place horse. In this case, it would have only robbed the poor of their meager winnings so I turned a blind eye to the mistake. It occurred to me that this penalty feels kind of like a ‘poor get poorer’ situation - particularly with such a large number of players. With fewer, scores tend to be tighter (in my experience) and so smacking down a horse or two to drop someone into the last spot can be a good choice. In this case, it would have just seemed cruel. So, we ignored it and cheered on my father and his big win. He had left the table mid-game to get a Santa Anita hat on and attributed his success to his stylish chapeau. How's that for getting into the 'pasted-on' theme? Score one for Dr. Knizia.
The kids really enjoyed the game. Although my son did poorly, he enjoyed the minor wins (a horse of his coming in) and that reminded me of how a game can pump players up with in-game successes. Those little victories help make the game more enjoyable for young players even if the final outcome doesn't end up going their way. My son was immediately keen to play the game with friends, knowing the rules are not a burden for casual players and the game includes the activity most people associate with games - rolling dice. RT was way ahead of the curve on using dice in eurogames for this kind of situational luck (which offers more options than a Settlers roll). But, of course, Reiner has never felt a mechanism is bad; it's about the implementation. I'm glad others have come around to that idea because I quite like rolling dice. Yahtzee and Backgammon are just forever in my blood, I think.
I know I’ll remember this night. I’m thrilled that Royal Turf let us recapture a wonderful tradition of playing games with my parents (and now the kids) after our weekly dinners. Although I can’t really expect to play many more of the Alea titles with my parents, I’m really excited that we could share the experience of one of the lightest games in the series with them. RT ended up being a big hit that we know we will requested again - and you can bet that I will have another game under my arm when I go to my parents’ house for dinner next time. Sometimes you just have to make those family traditions come alive again (or be born in the first place). You (and hopefully everyone) will always appreciate it in the end.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:58 AM
Sat, 26 January 2013
One of my gaming goals this year is to introduce my family to the entire Alea series of games (yes - the Big, Medium and Small box sets). It's a big list and some of the games are a bit more complex than the games we are usually playing with the kids but I'm partly doing this because I realized that my kids are suddenly 11 and 13 - well past the age to play most hobby games. Where did the tween years go? I let them slip by me and never made a good enough transition from the younger player games to the more serious stuff I generally prefer. We'll change that with this challenge.
I love the Alea series as both a gamer and a collector. Yes, other publishers put numbers on their boxes now but Alea were the originals to have that audacity - and no one has a library like this one. So, I'm going to see how far we get. My plan: Small to Big...but we won't stick to just doing them sequentially. I'm going to dip into the different sizes a bit but if I don't do them sequentially within the series, we'll end up with a bunch of clunkers at the end (yes, although the quality is pretty high, there are clunkers - but I'm not naming names...yet).
The Alea Series Challenge began tonight with Alea Small #1: Wyatt Earp. I'm a big fan of rummy-style games and Mike Fitzgerald's charming Mystery Rummy series (of which Wyatt Earp is an unofficial member) hits a sweet spot between the simple card play and some extra rules for interest. Although the conventional wisdom is that WE is best with three (MR: Rue Morgue, with its delightful partnership rules, is primo for four), the family played it tonight. Three rounds in, Gwyn and I were tied at $23K each (one K shy of the winning condition) after everyone but Xtina lost a big payout due to nasty Hideouts. The fourth round was vicious, with the Hideouts out again and more special cards putting a share in the big takes out of reach of the second place players. In the end, Gwyn triumphed on picking up the one big bounty from the previous round that hadn't paid out at all. Although the game ran a bit long because of the excess of Hideouts in the third round, it was a good experience and kept the kids engaged once they recalled the rules and felt they were in contention. Although we planned to hit Royal Turf as well, it got late so we called it a night. Off to a good start with the Small Box games...although I better read those Die Sieben Weisen rules again...
I'll surely do an official podcast at the end of the run but you can see my brief session reports until then.
Category:general -- posted at: 7:18 AM
Sat, 8 September 2012
Another Strategicon convention has gone and another fantastic Guest of Honor has been recorded for posterity. Antoine Bauza has hit big with the Kennerspiel Des Jahres-winning 7 Wonders but he was already well-known for other great games like Ghost Stories, Hanabi, Pony Express and many more. We were honored that he flew all the way from France to spend the weekend playing games with us. On this show, Antoine answers questions about his ludography, his history in games and he shares some fun stories about design and development. I hope you enjoy it.
Antoine even brought us a copy of the Essen 2012 exclusive Leader "Esteban". And why not have a little contest here - those of you going to Essen will surely get plenty of opportunity to get a copy of Esteban. But for those that won't make it, I'm going to give away two copies to some lucky listeners. I'll pay postage but you need to listen to the show to win.
To enter, answer this question: What three games does Antoine say define his career up to this point? You might guess one or two but you'll need all three. If you listen and have the answer, send it in my e-mail address for the podcast: boardgamebabylon AT GEEMAIL DOT COM. I'll pick two winners on October 5th and, with any luck, you'll have a copy of Esteban before the folks at Essen do.
Thanks for downloading and listening to Boardgame Babylon. We love your feedback so thanks for sending it!
Sat, 25 August 2012
Gateway 2012, The Battle of Red Cliffs, Gamex 2012 Podcasts and where most of my 'extra' time is going
Boardgame Babylon has been largely quiet this year. Between working on two existing designs, starting a new one, working with Ta-Te Wu on The Battle of Red Cliffs and some other Sunrise Tornado projects and helping on Strategicon, I've had precious little time to really record shows. And I even lost three good shows that I was looking forward to releasing to the inanity of the Dropbox application. As I look ahead to Gateway 2012, when I will record a Q&A session with Guest of Honor Antoine Bauza, I am thinking again about where we'll go with BGB.
Next year, I give up some of my responsibilities for Strategicon. Although I will still curate, store and staff the awesome Boardgame Babylon/Strategicon Board Game Library (with my group of friends), I am stepping away from many of the other duties, including marketing efforts, Special Events and VIP invitations that I used to perform. This is so I can spend that time focused on my current projects for my game company, 3Sided Card. My longtime friends Chad Smith (no, not the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Clark Mason have come on-board as developer and operations director so we can get focused. I think anyone who has written me an e-mail to ask why I haven't done a BGB show in a longtime and then promptly seen one come out knows how much I respond to external pressure. Chad and Clark will be doing that to get all these games to actually get these games out the door.
As for BGB, I will continue the show but I'm planning to start a new series that are diaries of what we're doing with 3Sided Card. Some will be design discussions with the team or various other designer friends who have been involved with our projects. Others will be my meditations on the way to enter this industry and the measure of success in a business where making money clearly isn't the main motivation. I know people do this for money but that's not why I make games. How will that change over time? It's already changed a bit with a serious re-theme of one of our games. Hopefully that series will be interesting to listeners.
Lastly, the Gamex 2012 shows. Sigh. I had a very nice listener offer to clean them up but he eventually said he couldn't find a solution. I'm going to spend a little time on it this autumn to see what I can do. I haven't hit up my friends in the BG podcasting community yet and they may have a solution that is less painful than what I've been contemplating. I really hope I can save these shows because the Richard Borg Q&A is really enjoyable, the Kickstarter one is quite good and I loved doing the Wiz-War: In Depth with Tom Jolly. I would love to make those available to the community but it's just a matter of time and, in that, I'm quite the pauper.
Oh, one more thing - The Battle of Red Cliffs is back on Kickstarter for the third and final time. This is a game I helped develop from designer Ta-Te Wu and we're very excited that after just a few days, it's over 50% there. But the time is short so if you're going to support, please do so now. The campaign ends on September 5th. Here's a link.
Thanks again for downloading and listening to Boardgame Babylon.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:07 PM
Wed, 15 August 2012
San Juan is a solidly constructed version of this Andreas Seyfarth game that plays well and includes the key component of most successful eurogame ports: asynchronous play. This one feature often makes or breaks a game in terms of number of plays. While any player will knock the teeth out of the AI a few times, eventually we crave the opportunity to play with our friends from far away and close via this little computer in our pocket. So, we’ve been enjoying a few plays between my iPhone and my wife on the iPad in recent days, which beats the heck out of local play and challenging the passable AI players. I beat each AI level on my first try but I’m also pretty good at San Juan. The Game Center implementation seems pretty good and even has a nice quick start action to get it going quickly. You can even do multiplayer games against the AI and other players. Seems a bit silly but I guess it’s better that it be there than it not be there. I prefer San Juan head-to-head so my expectation is that sad little Salvador will not be joining one of my online games.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:54 AM
Mon, 23 July 2012
Yes, Ta-Te Wu pulled the original Kickstarter campaign for The Battle of Red Cliffs in order to cut pricing on the game after he reconfigured the box. It's available again and there is even an option to pick up the game from me if you're in the Southern California area (or if our network of gamers intersects...). Thanks for your support!
Category:general -- posted at: 4:20 AM
Tue, 17 July 2012
As I find a solution for recovering the Gamex 2012 podcasts, I'm releasing a few shows that I had in the can and this one, which I just recorded with game designer Ta-Te Wu. I've enjoyed Ta-Te's games for a number of years, particularly the wonderful Mahjong card game, Tien Zi Que (which I just learned to properly pronounce) and his light deduction game which was a Kickstarter success earlier this year, Di Renjie. So, I was only too happy to help him with his latest game, The Battle of Red Cliffs, which actually expands the game play options in Tien Zi Que to allow 1 to 9 players to enjoy this fun game.
It only seemed appropriate for me to get Ta-Te on the microphone while he is visiting Southern California from Taiwan. We talk about his ludography, his game company Sunrise Tornado Game Studio, his history in gaming and his newest campaign on Kickstarter for The Battle of Red Cliffs.