Archive for November, 2013

Game Theory: Theme as a Model

In my previous discussion of theme and isomorphism, I glossed over theme a bit, so I wanted to go a little more in-depth in my descriptions of theme, how it relates to the game as a model, and ways the idea of a model can be used to design and play games. Read the rest of this entry »


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Notes from New Bedford – Part 7: Strategy Considerations


With EuroQuest finished, I finally had some time to sit down and out together my thoughts on strategy in New Bedford. From the start, I wanted multiple strategies to be viable. There were several ideas that had to be eliminated or dramatically weakened because they could lead to unbeatable strategies. I was left with several strategies that could be planned independently, but still included interaction with the other players. No strategy relies on the others, but they still require a player to pay attention to everyone else’s moves. For those who prefer to find their own strategies, don’t read the rest of this post. For everyone else, keep reading. Read the rest of this entry »

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Review: Brew Crafters

Something Good is Brewing

I finally had an opportunity to play Brew Crafters from Ben Rosset and Dice Hate Me Games at EuroQuest. As an amateur home brewer, I was interested in it since I first heard about it, but had missed some previous opportunities to back it. Now that it is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign, I wanted to play it even more, to make sure it was worth backing. It is.
[Update: Kickstarter funding has ended, but expect it in stores in 2014]

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Euroquest Wrapup

Saturday was a long but successful day.

I woke up a little after 6AM to make the almost 2 hour drive to Euroquest. This ended up being a relatively pleasant drive down Interstate 95. There was an incredible moment as I was crossing the Susquehanna river, and the fog on the river was lit with the early morning sun, and I could just make out the silhouette of a train starting to cross a bridge in the other direction a half mile down the river.

I arrived a little before 9, and was able to sit in while Geof Gambill explained Black Diamonds (BGG entry).  This is an unpublished game about the history of coal mining and Unions in the Lehigh Valley, in Pennsylvania. As a PA native, relative local, and fan of the time period, I was excited to see this. This is a heavy economic games, and between the railroad, canal, industrialization, the market, mining operations, and the constant threat of unionization, there are a lot of well thought out thematic elements that have to be carefully balanced. There are also a lot of moving parts, in the physical sense, which is a bit daunting to me. Parts of the mining and shipping reminded me of whaling in New Bedford, so it’s great to see how other designers approach some similar problems. I had to jump out after the rules explanation to set up New Bedford at the next table.

Players deep in a game of New Bedford at EuroQuest

Players deep in a game of New Bedford at EuroQuest

There was a small crowd ready to sit and play New Bedford, as soon as I got it set up. The first four player game lasted about 1 hour and 15 minutes, excellent time for new players. There was a lot of building and whaling during the game, and then everyone remembered the bonus buildings toward the end. All players did well, and the winner had 29 points, which is impressive for a first play. The last few rounds came down to a fight for the sperm whales and the church.

The final ship is ready to join the others on the whaling board

The final ship is ready to join the others on the whaling board

It was only just after 11 AM, and I had the table reserved until noon, so I met up with Kevin Kulp, designer of Pigpen, which was recently Successful on Kickstarter. He sat for a 3-player game that I participated in. We finished just after noon, for about a 55 minute game. I am afraid I was a bit of a thorn in his side for this game (a trend which continued through the afternoon). The game ended with a 2-way tie at 25 points, with the third player winning the tie-breaker with the most whales.

I was afraid that the game would stretch out to more than 30 minutes per player with extra time needed for rules explanation. But these plays showed me that even first-time players could play through pretty quickly. Then again, maybe that is to be expected from players at a board game convention specializing in Euro-style games.

I also discovered an error in my current printing. The Lighthouse uses a version that I had tested and rejected for being too overpowered, but I guess I never changed it in the files for printing. Fortunately, I had some older (correct) versions of it in my older copies, and was able to switch one out when I handed off a copy for another blind play testing session.

After cleaning up, I sat for the Game Designers forum. Luke Peterschmidt led the roundtable discussion with Ryan Miller, and I got some great advice for how to take New Bedford to publishers from them, Ben Rosset, Andrew Parks, Volko Ruhnke, and others.

After the forum, I was fortunate enough to play Ben Rosset’s Brew Crafters, which is currently nearing the end of its Kickstarter Campaign and heading for the 5th stretch goal, or so. I want to write a more formal review of it this week before the Kickstarter campaign ends, but suffice to say this is a fantastic deep worker placement game in the vein of Agricola, but with better theme integration and some elegant and more natural mechanics. It convinced me to rush home and back it.

After Brew Crafters, I took a break and sat for a while. I showed a new game to Kevin Kulp and Eric Handler, who provided me with some critical advice on how to move the design forward, so expect to hear more about this game soon.

I finished the night with a play of Castle Dice. This is a clever take on dice drafting to grow your village and castle. It was for the most part, easy to pick up and jump into, with some great mechanics for competing, interacting and selecting dice. It took us a long time to play, which I will attribute to the fact that I was tired and had no idea what I was doing.

After not winning any of the Essen games that were given away as door prizes, I had to call it a night and started my drive home. I really appreciate the work done by the organizers of EuroQuest to help promote new games and designers.

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Review Category Added

I am adding a new category to the site for game reviews. This will incorporate both new games I have purchased or played, and older games. The style of these posts will vary, but most reviews will include what comes with the game, how it plays, what I like and dislike about it, and my general opinion. Older, well-known games that have influenced me as a designer will also be presented less formally, with a detailed discussion of elements that I have taken inspiration from.

This second category will serve as a complement to my game design notes, grouped by influence rather than product.

I start with reviews of two scenarios for Settlers of Catan–one good, one bad–showing that some relatively small changes to a game can make a huge difference.

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Review: Catan Oil Springs

There Will Be Blood

Catan: Oil Springs  (BGG) is an official expansion that is part of the Catan Scenarios series, and can be used with up to 6 players. An official version costs only $5 and revenue is shared with an organization that promotes sustainability, with whom the manufacturers and Catan GmbH worked to develop the scenario. Interestingly, it is also available as a free print and play version. That is the version I played.

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Review: Helpers of Catan

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Catan

For a while, there have been special “helper” cards that were only available in German, as “Die Helfer von Catan”. Catan Scenarios: Helpers  (BGG) finally brings an official version to the US.

If you are familiar with Star Trek Catan, you are aware of the Character Cards (Kirk, Spock, etc.) that give you special abilities. The Helpers are the same abilities, but themed for regular Catan, using artwork and characters from the digital versions of the game, and the wider Catan universe. They make the game less dependent on dice and really add a new level of strategy while leaving the base game mostly untouched. Here’s what makes them a must buy for anyone who owns Catan.

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