Tuesday, 31 July 2007

long or complex games

The boardgame style that I like most is Eurogames. They are usually short (mostly 45 minutes to less than 1.5 hours). Their rules are usually concise and streamlined. There is usually meaningful decision making. Most games have some luck element (some more-so than others), but it is usually not a dominating factor. In most cases you do need to strategise and plan smartly to win. These are the strengths of Eurogames. One of their weaknesses is sometimes there is a disjoint between the gameplay and the theme. Sometimes the games feel like a mathematical or logical puzzle or exercise, and it seems any theme can be applied to it. The theme seems to be needed to enhance the playing experience and the imagination, rather than the game itself being designed with the theme or story in mind. This is one of the complaints some people have on Eurogames, and I think there is some truth in it.

I'm getting a little off topic here. Coming back to the length of Eurogames, most of them are relatively short and are suitable for playing casually, like as a family game. However there are some longer and more complex Eurogames too, e.g. Age of Steam and Power Grid. Most boardgame hobbyists tend to gravitate towards such games, because they are willing to invest more time and effort to learn and to play these games, and they gain more satisfaction out of these games. Among American style games, there is probably a higher percentage of longer games. There are some of these that I like too, like games in the Axis & Allies series, and Hammer of the Scots.

Axis and Allies (2004 version)

"Long and complex" is relative. My "long and complex" games are games that can last from 1.5 hours to 5 hours, and their complexity is about the complexity of Hammer of the Scots. To hardcore wargamers, this level of complexity and this type of game duration are peanuts.

So why do I like some of these longer and more complex games? Some of these longer games can really tell a story - how the German offensive surged and then dissipated in Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge, how civilisations rose and fell in History of the World. Sometimes you create your own story - how Japan conquered India, Moscow and Alaska during World War II (Axis & Allies), how William Wallace (Braveheart) was trapped and killed before he ever started his rebellion (Hammer of the Scots) (of course, that would probably make a short game). You can really immerse yourself in the story and the experience.

Longer games also allow longer term planning and strategising. You decide on a strategy and try to execute it. You watch the game unfold and see the impacts of your previous moves. Sometimes twists of fate force you to adjust your plans. Sometimes your opponents' moves force you to change tactics. The momentum picks up, the table turns, the tension builds as your mind races to consider the emerging opportunities and approaching dangers. Playing through a long exciting game can actually be a tiring experience, but it is also very fulfilling. You really get into the game and get very involved and very attached.

I have played a complete game of A Game of Thrones only once, with Han, Chee Seng and Ricky. This game is based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, the first book being A Game of Thrones. Players are great Houses (clans) in the fictitious land of Westeros, and vie to win by conquering a specific number of cities, or to control the most number of cities by the end of Round 10. Battles are very simplistic and deterministic, so diplomacy, collaboration and treachery (at the right time) becomes important. In this game, players plan actions secretly, then reveal their planned actions simultaneously, and only after that they execute the actions. So, there is also an element of bluffing, of double guessing your opponents.

In our game, I played House Baratheon (yellow, in the south east), Han played House Tyrell (green, in the south west), Chee Seng played House Lannister (red, in the middle) and Ricky played House Stark (white, in the north). Bloodshed started early between Han and I. After losing an infantry to him early in the game, I became obsessed with attacking him. His House had become my sworn enemy. Chee Seng fought mostly with Ricky. There were fewer battles between them, but some of these battles were larger in scale. After a few exchanges, Ricky backed off back to the north a little, in order to consolidate more power to prepare for a major strike. Chee Seng inconspicuously conquered the Greyjoy lands (islands, to be more accurate). Greyjoy (black) was supposed to be played by the fifth player, but since we only had four, this House was just a passive House. Then, to everyone's surprise, Chee Seng struck out and conquered 7 cities, and won an instant victory. We had not been watching his army positions closely and allowed him to win early.

That single game of A Game of Thrones was a very involved game. I enjoyed the tension of trying to out-guess your opponents, and also the tension of who will blink first and betray his ally. Treachery is only a matter of sooner or later, because afterall there can only be one winner.

This post is getting long. I'm splitting it up.

Friday, 27 July 2007

ADVICE ON EBAY SHOPPING

I am not an expert in eBay trading but I would like to share some of my experiences (mostly boardgames, also some miniatures, books … but theses are just general advices that can be applied to all).

1. BE PATIENT

Don’t rush into buying, don’t do impulsive buying (which I am also guilty of from time to time). There will always be somebody else selling the stuff you want. So, cool off, just wait for another time with more reasonable price.

2. RESEARCH & SET YOUR LIMIT

You should be familiar with the stuff you are buying, do some background research. Know the market price and set YOUR OWN VALUE. It’s different if you are a collector or looking for profit (unlikely for boardgames) but gamer usually buy games to be played; with so many new games coming out each year, ask yourself a question: do you really need to pay that much for an old game? Ebay come with a neat feature of bidding, you just need to put a max bid and the computer will do the bidding for you. (I usually don’t use auction snipping program). For me, after I set a bid; if I get it, great! If I don’t, no tear lost as I won’t spend too much.

3. ALWAYS CHECK FOR SHIPPING COST

For those of us staying in Malaysia, shipping cost is definitely a huge factor. Always ask before bidding and consider it when you evaluate your maximum bid. Now that US has no more surface shipping, the cost is sky rocketing.

4. VS ONLINE RETAILER

For new games, it’s usually cheaper to buy from online retailer (for example: TimeWellSpent). For OOP games, it’s wise to check whether there is any reprinting in progress, for example: Republic of Rome, Titan, and Tales of the Arabian Night. For older games, it’s worthwhile to search if anyone is selling theirs cheap as long as you don’t mind a used copy.

5. BID WITH CAUTION

Fraud does happen but 95% of the sellers in eBay are OK. But when you have doubts, always check with the seller before bidding. Look carefully at the item description and the seller’s feedback again and again. Use Paypal rather than directly with credit card.

I have bought quite a few items from eBay for the last 2 years.

BAD EXPEREINCE:

Item lost – 4 (1 refunded, the other 3 no news)

Item delayed – 4 months (Despite using airmail and Insurance)

Cheated on shipping cost – 1

Item not as described – 2 (One was refunded immediately)

Item not as expected – 1 (My fault, I order the wrong version without double checking)

GOOD EXPERIENCE

Most sellers are good and professional, some do great packaging but some just dumped everything together.

Best purchases/ Rare Items:

Magic Realm

Star Wars: Epic Duel

Still waiting:

Space Hulk

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

stella

On Fri 20 Jul 2007 I met up with one of my Taiwan boardgame group - Stella. She was in KL on a business trip, and we arranged to meet up on Friday night. Actually it was the only time we could meet, because I arrived in KL from my Manila business trip on Friday night, and on Saturday morning I was flying back to Sabah for holidays.

It was good to catch up with an old friend. Stella is the 2nd Taiwan friend to visit me in KL. Jessy visited me last year, and she was also on a business trip. And of course, we played a few games too! All three games were new to Stella, and they were Blokus Duo (we played using my Blokus set), Through the Desert, and Pickomino. I picked these games because they are easy enough to teach and are suitable to be played casually. Through the Desert was actually picked by Stella herself. She remembered playing my home-made version when we were in Taiwan, and was interested to now play the real version.

Stella and Blokus. See how we used a smaller area of the Blokus board to play Blokus Duo.

Me taking a photo of Stella taking a photo of Through the Desert

Last time when Jessy was here, I played Blokus Duo, Ingenious, Traumfabrik (Hollywood Blockbuster), Lord of the Rings, China with her and her colleague Yu Chieh. Stella challenged me that the next time another friend from Taiwan visits, I must teach him/her a totally different set of games from what I have taught her and Jessy. This is so that there will be more games that they, as a group, will have learnt to play. Well, the next visitor will probably be Rick.

Stella said that after I left Taiwan, they just do not get together to play boardgames as often as before. One of the reasons is I have been their walking rule dictionary. So when I'm not around, it is just inconvenient to have to remember how to play all those games. Stella still has not played her copy of Attika. Every time (not that it is often) she plays games with friends, they always prefer some other game, like Carcassonne, or Citadels. So her copy of Attika is still good as new.

Friday, 20 July 2007

concise reference sheets

I have a habit of making rule summaries for games. These summaries or reference sheets are useful for teaching a game, and for capturing important information that can be referred to easily, e.g. how many cards or how much money each player should have at the start of the game. When creating a concise reference sheet, my objective is to filter and fit all the key rules into half an A4 size piece of paper, i.e. in Microsoft Powerpoint, just half a slide. I am successful in most cases. There are some exceptions for some of the more complex games, like Die Macher, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, Rommel in the Desert (none of which I have played yet), but I still manage to fit everything into one piece of paper.

Of course I am not able to list all the rules, especially for games that have many exceptions. But the basic structure of the game will be clear. Winning conditions will be clear. To use these reference sheets, one will need to have read the full rules, and preferbly to have played the game before.

My habit of doing these summaries started when I was in Taiwan. Michelle and I visited the boardgame cafe Witch House 女巫店 very often. They have many games, so I'd research the game rules beforehand, and I'd make these rules summaries (hand written notes), so that when we got there, we could help ourselves to the games. We didn't need the staff to teach us to play. Anyway I think most staff do not know how to play. Only Yoyo and Yu-Ching are game players, I think.

So, one of the reasons of doing these summaries is that I hope to play these games (that I do not own but am interested to try) some day. There are some games that I have done summaries for but still have not yet played, e.g. Around the World in 80 days, Niagara. There are boardgame cafes in KL, but now that we have two young children, it is not so easy to be able to spend a whole weekend afternoon at a boardgame cafe.

The latest "published" version of my concise reference sheets, v3.0, has been uploaded to the Traumfabrik (Hollywood Blockbuster) game page at Boardgamegeek.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

games played a lot

There are some games in my collection that I have played a lot, much more so than other games. Since starting to record my games played in mid 2004, for the 90 games that I own and have played at least once from then to now, I have played 1638 times. More than half of these times played are contributed by the top 10 games that I have played the most. They are:

  1. MR1: Jack the Ripper - 200 plays
  2. Carcassonne (including with expansion) - 186 plays
  3. Ticket to ride - 126 plays (if adding TTR Europe and TTR Marklin, it would be 162 plays)
  4. Lost Cities - 93 plays
  5. Blokus (and Blokus Duo) - 84 plays
  6. LOTR Confrontation - 76 plays
  7. San Juan - 53 plays
  8. Coloretto - 45 plays
  9. 6 Nimmt - 44 plays
  10. Gulo Gulo - 43 plays

Among my 90 games owned and played, on average I play a game 18.2 times. The median is 8 times. So, obviously the skew is towards the more frequently played games, i.e. there are fewer games that get played a lot, and more games that do not get played a lot. When I calculated this I was surprised, because the average and median are much higher than I expected. When I take into account games that I do not own and have played, the average becomes 10.5 times, and median 3 times. So, that means there are many games that I do not own and have just tried once (or twice) and decided I don't need to buy it.

Five of my most played games are card games, i.e. shorter games, so play time being short definitely contributes to a game being played more frequently. The other main reason that I play these a lot is Michelle likes them too. She is my most convenient boardgame kaki. Although she is not crazy about boardgames like I am, I am thankful to have a wife who does like boardgames and who does humour me sometimes. She doesn't complain that I spend too much money on boardgames. Maybe because I kept conditioning her that boardgames are better and cheaper than if I were to go out frequently for night life / karaoke / drinking etc. It's all relative.

The game that we have played the most together is Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. This is a card game based on Gin Rummy, but many twists have been added. The basic are still there - drawing cards, collecting at least 3 of a kind to play melds, adding cards to your own or your opponents' melds, discarding cards. However there are also additions such as determing the identity of Jack the Ripper, Ripper Escapes, scoring points, victims and scenes, and gavel cards (we call these hammer cards).

There are cards in the game representing 6 characters who are suspected to be the true identity of Jack the Ripper. These cards have point values on them. At the end of the game, the character with the highest point total is Jack the Ripper. Players score points for cards they have played, but cards belonging to the Jack the Ripper character double their points. So, players compete to try to make "their" character Jack the Ripper.

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. See all those gavel (hammer) cards? Usually, that's baaaad.

We used Shee Yun's cloth diaper as a tablecloth to play on the floor, on the other side of the master bed, opposite from where Shee Yun was sleeping, so that the glare of the table lamp does not disturb her sleep.

There are some special cards called gavel cards which have special powers, but only one gavel card can be played on a player's turn. Some cards allow you to take two cards from the draw deck. Some cards allow you to pick any one card from the discard pile. There are some alibi cards which when played will make a character definitely NOT Jack the Ripper. However, only one alibi card can be in play at any one time, so when another alibi card is played, the previous one will be discarded.

The most interesting addition is the alternative ending - Ripper Escapes. In real life, Jack the Ripper was never caught. In the game (at least in 2 player games that I always play), it is very difficult to achieve Ripper Escapes. If you have the Ripper Escapes card, you win instantly when the 5th victim card appears. In this alternative ending, the player playing Ripper Escapes scores 35 points for the card, and other than that, only scene and victim cards give points. No points for other cards. Ripper Escape is hard to achieve and can be very satisfying. It also gives you a big boost and makes it difficult for your opponent to catch up (multiple hands are played in a game and the first player to reach 100 points wins). I think this is a master stroke, because it creates the additional tension of Ripper escaping. If you get the card, should you attempt an escape? (if you still have the card when the game ends normally, you are penalised) If you have many victims, do you play them (they let you draw more cards)? Is your opponent trying to escape?

These additions add to the flavour of the game and make it very interesting, but it also makes the game a little daunting to learn when first played. One rule that we do not like and do not play is the voting rule. Players can guess who Jack the Ripper will be and if he/she is right, he/she gets an extra 10 points at the end of that hand.

Our other favourite game is Carcassonne. This is the Spiel des Jahres (the prestigious Game of the Year award in Germany) winner of 2001. The basics are simple - you draw a tile and add it to the landscape, and then you can choose whether to place your meeple (a slang in the Eurogame hobby, meaning "my people") on one of the features on that tile. When placing the tile, features of the tile must match the other already placed tiles of the landscape, e.g. roads must connect to roads, plains to plains, castles to castles, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. The meeples placed help you to score points, depending on whether they are knights (when placed in castles), priests (when placed in cloisters - we call them churches), robbers (when placed on roads) or farmers (when placed on plains).

Carcassonne. I'm always green. Michelle is always red.

Carcassonne is an easy game to teach new players, and also looks attractive. It can be played in a friendly way, with players advising or coaxing one another about where to place their tiles. In fact it was responsible for creating my boardgame group when I was in Taiwan. This innocent looking game drew in my colleagues and allowed me to introduce them into the boardgame hobby. However, Carcassonne can also be played in a very aggressive and strategic way, especially when playing with fewer players. With fewer people, there is less luck and more control. Serious players of Carcassonne can remember what kind of tiles are in the game, what have been drawn and what have not. They try to neutralise or steal their opponents' scoring opportunities, e.g. by joining their small castles with their opponents' large castles. They play tiles in a way so as to lock their opponents' meeples. In Carcassonne, whenever a feature is completed (e.g. a road is completed) the player scoring that road can retrieve his/her meeple for future use. However, if a feature cannot be completed, that meeple will be stuck there until the end of the game. So Carcassonne can be played quite viciously. And this is how Michelle and I play most of the time.

We always play with the Inns and Cathedrals expansion too, which introduces some new features and makes the game more strategic and more interesting. One important addition is the big meeple (we call it the fat boy), which counts as two meeples, and is a powerful piece to be used to steal your opponents' hard work.

Carcassonne has many many expansions. Inns and Cathedrals was the first one. Traders & Builders was the second one. I have played this before, but did not like it that much so I did not buy it. Other expansions that I have played include King & Scout, River. Expansions I have not played are Princess & Dragon, The Tower, Catherers (a mini 4-tile expansion). There are some other mini expansions which I cannot remember all of. There was one that came with the Knucklebones magazine which Han subscribes to and he gave it to me. There are some games which are variations of Carcassonne, some by the same designer, some by others. I own Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers; I've played Carcassonne The Castle and Ark of the Covenant; I haven't played Carcassonne The City or Carcassonne The Discovery. So this simple game spurred a LOT of expansions and variations. But I'm quite content with just basic Carcassonne plus Inns and Cathedrals and do not see myself buying more.

How many times a game is played should not be directly interpreted as how good a game is, since the length of a game is a big factor in how frequently you'll bring out a game to play. I will pick another day to write about some of my favourite longer games that do not get played very frequently.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

buying games

I probably won't ever tell myself enough is enough, in terms of buying boardgames. I buy around 15 to 20 games a year. I usually buy in batch, from online retailers in USA. Their prices are much lower than the recommended retail prices, around 25% - 30% less. This is offset by the shipping costs to send the games all the way to Malaysia, but it is still cheaper than if I were to buy in KL. Also some games are not available in KL.

I have so many games in my collection now, there are many games that I don't even play once in a year. It would be too much of a chore if I try to force myself to play every game at least once a year. I really do have enough games to choose from whenever I feel like playing a game. My collection is sufficient for any occasion and any type of game that I may feel like playing, and even for any groups of friends that I may be able to lure into playing a game. But I cannot resist buying new games. I always follow the latest news in the boardgames industry (with focus on Eurogames), so I know what are the popular new games and what are the upcoming games. It is these games that interest me. I seldom buy "older" games now (defined as published more than 2 years ago), as I would have read all about them on Boardgamegeek and would have decided to buy or not to buy them.

My collection on 4 Mar 2007. There have been some additions since then.

The other shelf where I put most of the larger box games.

So, I guess buying and playing boardgames is a little like buying books or watching movies, at least for me. There is always something new that is interesting. Of course books and movies cannot be watched repeatedly too many times (usually). Good older games can always be pulled out to play. Sometimes playing a game again after a long time can give a new perspective and expose some new strategies. I actually do not have many games that I have played so much that I consider myself an expert or near-expert, as in I have fully explored all the strategies. So, there are still many games that I own that I can explore more. On the other hand, it is always a joy to try a new game, and to discover new favourites. It is like reading a new book or watching a new movie. It is about discovering how the game works and how to defeat your opponents, or how to achieve a higher score.

I have some games that I probably should sell or trade away. There are games which I have bought but do not particularly like. Not that I feel very possessive about and just will not let go of them. It is just that I cannot be bothered to sign-up on eBay to sell them or to arrange via Boardgamegeek to trade them for other games. Too much trouble to package the games and to send them. If there is any friend who plays one of these games and likes it, I would happily give it as a gift.

How about the cost? I have once tried to estimate how much money I have spent on boardgames. It is not a small amount, having accumulated so many games over the past few years. I have not done a latest estimation. That one time that I did an estimation was maybe 2 years ago or so. Some games are really worth the money. I have played Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper and Carcassonne so many times that they are starting to look worn out. I looked at some of the games that I have played the most, and calculated the cost per game (as in how many times I've played the game), by dividing the price I paid for the game by the number of times I've played it. This is what I found:

GAMEPLAYEDCOST PER GAME
Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper200RM0.20
Ticket to Ride (some games are played online, which is much faster)124RM0.81
Carcassonne184RM1.00
Lost Cities93RM1.20
Blokus (including Blokus Duo games that I played using my Blokus game)84RM1.27
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation74RM1.51
San Juan53RM1.92

1 Apr 2006. This is how Michelle and I use my Blokus game (4 player game) to play Blokus Duo (2 player version). The only change is a smaller play area, and the starting position is at (5, 5) instead of at the corner.

Compared to other forms of entertainment (movies, karaoke, going out for drinks with friends), the boardgame hobby can be a cheaper hobby. One game bought can provide hours and hours of fun. But of course as a boardgame hobbyist, I do have many games that do not get played that many times, and games that I have bought but still have not played. Using the same calculation method above, my A Game of Thrones and its expansion A Clash of Kings cost me RM311 altogether and I have only played it once. That's one expensive RM311 game (4 players, over around 3 hours) compared to those 20sen games of Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper.

This value-for-money concept can be a good guide to buying games. If there is a game that I don't think I will be playing many times, then I probably should not bother buying. But the word "value" does not necessary only translate to how many times to play a game. Some games are long and do not get played very frequently, but the times when they are played can be very memorable and enjoyable. So "value" is also these great experiences and the unique fun some of these less frequently played games can bring, for example games in the Axis & Allies series, and my yet-to-be-played Die Macher.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

unplayed games

Having unplayed games in one's collection is probably quite a common phenomenon among boardgame hobbyists, especially among people with large collections. There are some games in my collection that were bought a long time ago and still have not been played. There are some which I have doubts I will ever play. There are some which I am hoping to play in the not-so-distant future.

Advanced Third Reich was bought in Hong Kong, maybe around 2000. This is one of only two wargames in my collection (the other being Wilderness War. In the boardgame hobby, the term "wargames" usually refers to hex and counter wargames. They are usually quite complex. They are usually played on a paper map with many hexagons, and they usually have many small square cardboard pieces representing armies. At the time I was rather naive and thought no games could be much more complex than Axis & Allies and if I could handle the complex (I thought) Axis & Allies I could handle anything. How wrong I was. I made two attempts to read through the rulebook and failed twice. Forget about even setting up the game. This one, I see zero probability of ever playing in future. Maybe I just try to keep it for another ten years and try to sell it at a high price on eBay because it is out of print. Unplayed status: approximately 7 years. Likelihood to play: 0%.

Wilderness War was bought in 2003. This is also considered a wargame, but it is in a slightly different genre, called card-driven wargames. Players play cards to take actions (like moving troops or attacking) or to make certain events occur. I bought this after reading positive reviews. I did manage to go through the rules. It is less complex than Advanced Third Reich, but more complex than anything I have played before. I think there is a chance that this will get played. Unplayed status: 3.5 yrs. Likelihood to play: 20%.

Struggle of Empires was bought in 2004. This game is for 3 to 7 players, but I suspect you need at least 5 to make it interesting. This is a Euro-style game, but is on the complex end of the spectrum. I think the likelihood of playing this is less than Wilderness War because of the number of players needed, and not just any player but gamers who are OK with the complexity and length. Wilderness War only needs 2 players. Unplayed status: 2.5 years. Likelihood to play: 5%.

26 Dec 2005. Shee Yun (9 months old) attempting to help me play my unplayed games, Wilderness War (in the foreground) and Struggle of Empires (which she is holding with her left hand).

I guess I can't really say I have not played A Clash of Kings. This is an expansion to A Game of Thrones. This expansion introduces 9 independent additions to the base game, and you can mix and match them when playing the base game. One of these additions is the introduction of House Martell, to allow a 6th player to play. The base game supports 3 to 5 players. I have only played A Game of Thrones once, with 4 players, and I used the harbour component from the A Clash of Kings expansion. So, in a way, I have played A Clash of Kings. However, I think the most important element in A Clash of Kings is House Martell. The best way to play A Game of Thrones is with 5 players. Considering that this is a long game (3-4 hours) and is war-themed, I don't think I have much chance of getting 6 players together to play this. Unplayed status: 2.5 years. Likelihood to play: 5%.

18 Jun 2006. Ricky, Han and Chee Seng. Four of us did play A Game of Thrones once.

The game board of A Game of Thrones.

On a more positive note, it is highly likely I will play Caylus. This is a 2 to 5 player game, and I think 2 player is an OK way to play. 5 player is probably too long. This is a Eurogame, but it is one of the longer and more complex Eurogames. Unplayed status: 6 months. Likelihood to play: 99%.

Die Macher is a game about German politics and elections. It is a very long and complex Eurogame, more so than Caylus. It is considered a classic (it was first published in 1986) and is well respected among Eurogame hobbyists. I am very keen to play this, but it needs at least 3 players. It is believed to be played best with 5 players, but I hope it will be good with 3 players. I have made a concise reference sheet for it. I have taken it out twice to set up and mock play. I am just waiting for Chee Seng to visit KL again so that I can play this grandfather of Eurogames with him and Han. Unplayed status: 3 weeks. Likelihood to play: 99%.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Conan attacks Roman Castle

On Sat 14 Jul I had my regular boardgame sessions with Han. This is it is a morning session (we usually play in the afternoon). I played 3 new games this time - Roma, Conan CCG (collectible card game) and Castle (thus the weird title today). Among the three, I enjoyed Castle the most. Maybe it is because it is the simplest one and has the lightest gameplay among the three. There are definitely more strategies to explore in Roma and Conan CCG.

We started the day with Roma. I have read the rules beforehand so we jumped straight in. Han just had a night shift (being a doctor, he often needs to be on-call at the hospital) and came straight to my home from the hospital after his shift. Just 15 minutes before he arrived Michelle reminded me to offer him breakfast, in case he didn't have any before coming to play. But as soon as he arrived, I forgot all about it and we both dived into the game. Only when Michelle passed by she asked Han about breakfast and indeed he didn't eat anything before coming. So Michelle made a sandwich for him. I think Michelle must be internally shaking her head at these two uncles behaving like 7-year-old boys, only remembering to play and forgetting about everything else.

Roma is a 2-player card game with dice. Every card has a special power, e.g. some allow you to attack the cards of your opponent, some allow you to gain VP (victory points). Each player starts the game with 10 VPs, and there is a common pool of 16 unclaimed victory points. To win, you either exhaust the common VP pool while having more VPs than your opponent, or you make your opponent lose all VPs. At any one time, you can have up to six cards in play. On your turn you roll your three dice and the die rolls determine which of your cards you can activate. You can also use your die rolls to collect money, or to draw cards.

Roma

Han and I played very aggressively and kept attacking each other. It was very difficult to earn VPs. It was difficult to even retain VPs. Both games ended with me losing all my VPs. Both were destructive games, both players aggressive force the other to lose VPs. The other possible approach was the constructive approach, i.e. racing to earn victory points from the common pool. In these games the common VP pool would dwindle quickly. The other possibility is one player may play a constructive game, and the other may play a destructive game. These may take the longest, as the players would see-saw between one side grabbing points and the other side forcing him/her to lose the points gained.

I found the game OK. The card powers are not too complex. The die rolls simplify the decisions you need to make, so that you are not bogged down with a too complex decision tree. Yet there are still meaning decisions to make and different strategies to pursue, and to adapt to, depending on how your opponents plays, or what cards you draw. I definitely would play this again to explore more.

Conan CCG was the first collectible card game that I have ever played. The most well known game in this genre is Magic: The Gathering. In fact, it started the whole genre. I have never bought a CCG before, but I think basically the idea is you spend money to buy small packs of cards, without knowing what kind of cards are inside. Some cards are common, some are rare, some are weak, some are powerful. But basically it is a card game that you are playing. I think you do need to buy some starter pack to make sure you have enough cards to play a proper game. I have considered buying the A Game of Thrones CCG before, since I liked the books on which it was based, but when I found out the price of even buying a starter set, I decided no. Many people find that CCGs are too expensive a hobby, because people tend to buy and buy and buy, hoping to get rare / powerful cards, or buying new expansions that come out frequently. So, I probably will not ever get into CCGs, although I am interested to try Magic: The Gathering, just to find out why it is so popular.

In Conan CCG, each player plays his own version of Conan. There are a few variations of Conan, and they have different powers and strengths. On a player's turn, he puts his Conan (OK, I'm being a bit sexist here, but basically I'm saying only boys will be silly enough to get into CCGs) at the centre of the table, and plays out his Conan's story / battles. The other player(s) plays enemies and use these enemies to attack Conan. There are basically two types of cards - enemy cards and movement cards. Enemy cards represent enemies that appear and attack Conan. Conan needs to defeat these enemies in order to earn renown. Movement cards are used by Conan (played by the active player) to attack enemies, and are also used by enemies (played by the other player(s)) to attack Conan. You win by being the first Conan (this indeed sounds a bit strange, as if there is cloning technology in Conan's world) to reach 40 renown points. You can lose by getting killed by your enemies (of course!).

Me (acting surprised) and Han playing Conan CCG

Conan CCG. Conan is being attacked from all four sides.

I found Conan to be just OK. It has the feel of a role-playing game. You are constantly tracking your Conan's health level, prowess level, renown level, scar level. It feels a little like Marvel Heroes, in the way that players take turn to be the hero, and all other players act as enemies trying to hinder / kill you. We didn't finish a complete game. We just played two rounds to experience the game. Han bought this off eBay at a cheap price. He has about 500 cards.

The next game was Castle. This was the simplest game of the day. Players have a hand of cards and a deck of face-down cards. They compete to play all of their cards, from both their hand and their deck. There is a castle at the centre of the table. Cards are characters, which can be played on one of four areas - the inside of the castle, the outside, the walls (or more accurately, the ramparts), and the towers. Every character card has some special ability, many of which allow you to kick your opponents' characters back to their hands (the barbarian archer shoots someone on the wall or in a tower). Some cards protect other cards (the knight is played onto another card and protects it), some cards prevent other cards from being played (if the queen is present, the mistress may not come). So the game revolves around the unique abilities of the cards. In the first one or two games, you'll need to spend some effort reading the text on the cards and to get familiar with the character abilities. It helps a little to know what kind of cards are in the game and what their powers are, but I think it is not a major advantage or disadvantage knowing or not knowing them. Well, I think this is a light game and should not be played too seriously. The only strategy that I use is I try to keep those cards that can be used to kick other players' cards back to their hands, and only use them when I can best use their powers. I suspect players who get many of such cards will find it easier to win. But since this is a light-hearted game, that's okay.

One interesting thing in the game is the soldier cards and the siege engine cards. There are many soldiers, which can only be placed on walls (4 per each of the 4 walls), and there are I think 6 siege engines, which are placed outside the castle next to the wall, and there can only be one siege engine per wall. Whenever a wall is filled up with soldiers, the siege engine (if any) facing that wall will be defeated. However, whenever there are four siege engines (one at each wall), all the soldiers are defeated. I find this an interesting tension. You can play your soldier cards and our siege engine cards, but must watch out for both situations where they can get defeated.

My favourite card in the game is the Ghost card. The ghost scares away any occupant of any tower and claims the tower for itself. The game designer has a sense of humour.

Castle, halfway through the game.

My favourite card from Castle

I played one again against Han, and then Michelle joined us to play a 3-player game. Michelle won her first game. We keep teaching her how to best use her cards, and forgot to hinder her before it is too late.

We also played Taluva. This was my second time playing. First time with three players though. It does have a slightly different feeling with three players. I do prefer it with two players. With more than two, there are more opponents to be careful of. I also find that because it is an open-information game, trailing players will discuss and coordinate to hinder the leading player. This can make it less fun for the leading player, because of the feeling of being ganged up upon. So, I think I prefer to play this with two, slightly over more than two. Michelle feels the other way round. She doesn't want to play this with just two because she thinks there is too much confrontation.

Michelle and Han pondering over Taluva.

Six games (well, 5.5 actually) in one morning. That's not bad.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

games for children

My daughters are only 2 years 4 months old and 6 months old, but I have already bought some children's games to be played with them. The games are meant for slightly older children, but I have already started playing Gulo Gulo, Dawn Under, and Villa Paletti with Shee Yun. In fact, Gulo Gulo is the game I have played the most so far in 2007. I don't use the full rules. I create simpler rules to be used when playing with her. In Gulo Gulo, a game about flipping over tiles and stealing eggs from a nest without triggering the egg alarm (not allowing the thin stick to fall down), I use fewer tiles, and I get rid of the end game tile stack which randomises when the last tile (purple) will appear. In Dawn Under, a memory game about picking the right coffin for the right young vampire to sleep, I also use fewer vampires. I completely omit the rules about the rat plague, the garlic and the stakes. In Villa Paletti, a Jenga-like game, where players build a tower higher and higher by removing and reusing pillars from lower levels, I make up a rule that you roll the die and the die dictates what coloured pillar you must move. Players are not assigned a specific colour anymore, differently-shaped pillars do not have different point values, and there is no one sole winner, there is only one sole loser (whoever collapses the tower). Simplified rules make it easier for younger children to grasp the rules and to enjoy the game.

Dawn Under

Villa Paletti. 13 Sep 2006. Shee Yun was 1 year 6 months old then.

In my games with Shee Yun, I usually make the decisions for her, since she is unable to do it by herself yet. I also prompt her to take her turn (or stop her from taking an extra turn when it's not her turn). She enjoys the games. Somestimes she asks for the games, but sometimes she loses interest halfway before finishing a game.

Sometimes she also plays with my other games which are not children's games. She just plays with the components. She likes to pour out the pieces, and mix them up. Unfortunately, she usually doesn't bother to pack things up after playing.

On my recent trip to Port Dickson I had the opportunity to play Gulo Gulo and Villa Paletti with Ricky's two girls (6 and 3.5 years old). They enjoyed the games and were keen to play. Lok Mun (6) even created her own game and own rules on the spot, using the components of Gulo Gulo. I played along, although I had no idea how it was supposed to work.

Gulo Gulo

I look forward to the day that Shee Yun and Chen Rui are old enough to play the real "adult" games. Maybe something like Category 5, Carcassonne, or Blokus.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

self-made games

I have self-made quite a number of games. I did not design these games. I just bought materials and hand-made them myself, by referring to available information of these games, e.g. number of cards, how the board looks like. In some case I self-made these games because they were out-of-print, or they were too expensive or too difficult to buy. In most cases I am just being cheap-skate and want to save some money. Most of my self-made games are self-contained, i.e. I have all the required components in a box or in an envelope (or both) and I can just take it off my shelf and play, e.g. Ca$h n Gun$, Medici & Strozzi, En Garde. Some games need some components to be taken from another game, e.g. Samurai (which uses the nice soldier pieces from Samurai Swords), Can't Stop (which uses markers and dice from Age of Steam). Some games I shouldn't really claim that I own or that I have self-made them, because I can simply use components from another game to play them, e.g. Babylone (I can use the different coloured tiles from Tigris & Euphrates), Loco (I use the Sticheln cards and the plastic poker chips I bought from Taiwan). The disadvantage of these games which use components from another game is that I tend to put them together with the other game, and when I scan my boardgame self for games to play, I won't see them and won't think of pulling them out to play. Even for the self-contained self-made games, their boxes are not as flashy as the real games. Sometimes they are just in envelops and they are not eye-catching.

Can't Stop

This is my current list of games that I have self-made (I'm pretty sure I will make more in future):

  • Through the Desert
  • Traumfabrik (Hollywood Blockbuster)
  • Modern Art
  • Ra
  • Ca$h n Gun$
  • Acquire
  • Samurai
  • Battle Line
  • Medici & Strozzi
  • Yinsh
  • En Garde
  • Poison
  • Verrater
  • Can't Stop
  • Kingdoms
  • Reef Encounter

For some of these games, I ended up buying them later anyway, because I like them, or because they were later republished (i.e. I made them when they were out-of-print). E.g. Modern Art, Through the Desert. 10 out of 16 games above are designed by Reiner Knizia. It's because I tend to like his games, and also his games tend to be easier to self-make.

Verrater, rethemed from clan wars in the Scottish highlands to the Romance of the Three Kingdom's period in Chinese history

The first game that I self-made was Samurai. This was even before I really got into the boardgame hobby. At the time my hobby was still PC games, and I downloaded this free PC version of the Samurai boardgame. I didn't even realise it was originally a boardgame. I played it and liked it and thought that this could be made into a boardgame. So I did it. Only later I realised Samurai is one of the highly regarded games in the Eurogames hobby.

Sometimes I wonder whether the effort spent making these games was worthwhile. Some games were made and then only played once or twice, e.g. Kingdoms, Reef Encounter (a LOT of effort into this one). Time spent making them was more than time spent playing them afterwards. I guess I am enjoying the process of making these games as well as playing them itself.

The self-made games that are most worth the effort are Ra, Ca$h n Gun$ and Traumfabrik (Hollywood Blockbuster). I played Ra many many times with my friends in Taiwan. I had a lot of fun playing Ca$h n Gun$, and I liked Traumfabrik (roughly translated as "Dream Factory") a lot.

Traumfabrik (Hollywood Blockbuster)

The tools I use in self-making games include Microsoft Powerpoint, hard cardboard paper, wide sticky tape, cutter, scissors, permanent marker pens, and cheap game components (like cheap playing cards, cheap Go pieces). I download pictures from the internet to create my own gameboard and game components. I bring printouts to the nearby shop to be laminated (some are for gameboard, some are for cards, after cutting them up).

I like some of my self-made games more than the real ones, because when self-making a game, I can apply a different theme to it which I like more. For Traumfabrik, a game about movie-making, I downloaded some files from Boardgamegeek which allowed me to create my copy about movies, directors and actors from around the 90's period, as opposed to being about old, classic movies which I am not familiar with. The recently reprinted version, Hollywood Blockbuster, uses modern day movies, but the publisher distorted the names a bit so as to avoid copyright issues. Also the actors are cartoons and not photos. For Ca$h n Gun$, I used photos of Hong Kong actors holding guns, as opposed to the cartoon characters in the original game. Sometimes when playing this game we call it "Infernal Affairs" 无间道 (which is an award winning movie starring Andy Lau 刘德华 and Tony Leung 梁朝伟). It is especially relevant to the movie when playing the undercover cop variant. I have both Andy Lau and Tony Leung in my self-made version.

I wonder what will be my next handicraft project.

Friday, 13 July 2007

disasters

After writing about great experiences, it is time to show the other side of the coin. I have also had some unpleasant experiences when playing boardgames. Here are some of them, and lessons learnt.

Know your audience before teaching them a game. Different people have different levels of tolerance for complexity in games. I once played a game of The Settlers of Catan with my Taiwanese friends. It was getting a little late, and it was slightly more complex than some of them could stomach. So the game dragged on as people started losing interest and losing focus. The game was much longer than it should be, and only ended when I realised that Ingrid was only one step away from winning. She didn't see it, so I quickly pointed it out to her and she won the next turn. Another similar experience was with Tigris & Euphrates. This is quite a deep game. I taught 3 others who have never played before, and I came in dead last! I am not good at this game. Stella, who was tied in 2nd place, told me, "I have no idea how I beat you. ". Wrong audience for this game. And I guess I should learn some strategy and do's and don'ts of the game (not just the rules) before I teach others, especially since this is a deeper game. Another example is Power Grid, but it was not so bad. At least some of the new players had some idea what they were doing by the end of the game. But I think Power Grid needs players who are more towards the hobbyist side than casual player side.

Power Grid. This is the Germany map.

There is another unpleasant experience when a few friends and I played Category 5 at Witch House. I took a wrong game, which was not the basic Catogory 5, but an advanced version, with more complex rules. I didn't know the difference. The cards were quite similar. When we started playing, another customer noticed the mistake and came to instruct us on the right way to play, without being invited. In the end, we politely asked her to just let us play our way, even if it was the wrong way.

Teaching games is an important skill, especially when trying to introduce new friends to the boardgame hobby. The priority should be making sure people have fun, and learn the game. Learning games should not be played very competitively. Strategy hints and tips should be provided appropriately to new players. Michelle and I were once taught the game of Adel Verpflichtet (Hoity Toity) (a Spiel des Jahres award winner, no less) by two strangers. They went through the rules quickly, but did not give us any hints or tips. So we had no idea what is a good move and what is a bad move. We more or less randomly decided what to do. The two strangers played competitively, leaving both of us far far behind. I did not enjoy that game. Maybe this is "learning things the hard way", and I did learn a little about what I did wrong and could have done better in the next game. But this experience left a bad taste in my mouth and scarred me from wanting to try this game again.

Some of my games of Citadels can be quite painful, especially when played with many players (the game can be played by up to 8 players). Sometimes some players can take a long time to make a decision. Sometimes some people are just distracted. In Citadels, everyone secretly picks a character card, and then the characters are called out in a fixed order, and players take their turns accordingly to this order. However, not all characters get picked by players every round, so sometimes when a character is called and noone answers, we just move on to the next character. Sometimes some players are not focused and don't realise it when their chosen character is called. They'd suddenly realise it and declare it, and we'd have to undo a number of turns to get back to his/her turn. Major pain. Lesson learnt: Don't play Citadels with too many people.

Some games are just bad. In my humble opinion only. A guy who looks like the Taiwanese singer Richie Ren (任贤齐) taught Michelle and I Fluxx at Witch House. He quite liked the game. Unfortunately for me it is too random, too silly, too much luck-dependent, and there is no long term planning at all that can be done. Too bad. Richie seemed to be a nice guy.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

great experiences

I have had a lot of great experiences playing boardgames. Some are quite memorable.

The Settlers of Catan - Oct 2003, Hong Kong (if I remember correctly). I had just started working on a project in Taiwan, and I was using one of the company-paid flybacks to visit my friends Ah Chung and Ben in Hong Kong. I visited the Wargame Club at 8/F, 678 Nathan Road (I always remember this address), and bought The Settlers of Catan. That night, we started playing at 11pm. One game followed another, until the sun came up (around 6am). We had played 6 games straight. The game came with a dice shaker (this is the Chinese version published by Capcom, a Japanese company). By the end of the night, the transparent plastic dice shaker had started to crack and already appeared blurred due to wear and tear.

Ca$h n Gun$ - I home-made this, because it was difficult to buy and also very expensive. Instead of the cartoon characters wielding guns in the original game, I used photos of Hong Kong actors wielding guns. This is a game about gangsters splitting their loot. Over 8 rounds, players point "guns" at each other to either scare them into backing off from sharing the money of that round, or to really shoot at them so that they cannot take a share during that round. If you get shot 3 times you are killed and automatically lose, even if you have accumulated the most money from previous rounds.

In one game that I played with Ricky, Cin Yee, Chee Seng and Alicia in Kuching, I was falling very far behind in terms of money collected. It was getting quite hopeless when we reached the last round. Then I noticed that all of the leading gangsters already had two injuries, i.e. if they got shot again, they would be killed and would be out of the game. I had no bullets left and could only bluff. The good thing was that since I was very very far behind, I was not perceived as a threat. So when it was time to point fingers (guns), I put on my most fearsome and vengeful look and pointed mine at Ricky. All the leading gangsters pointed at one another. No one pointed at me. When it was time to back off, everyone did so except me, so I was the sole winner of the remaining stash of money, and I came from last place to win the game in the very last round! Ricky could have won had he not chickened out in the last round.

Another memorable moment was when we played another game adding the undercover cop variant. The basic game is the same, except now there is a secret undercover cop, who tries to win by calling police headquarters for backup three times, and then surviving until the end of the game. The real gangsters have to prevent this from happening, in addition to trying to get the most money. I was a real gangster. By round 6 or so, everyone had deduced that Alicia must be the undercover cop. So there was always someone pointing a gun at her, to prevent her from calling police headquarters for the third time. So we reached Round 8 safely, and guess what... someone had called police headquarters in Round 8, and we were surrounded by police! Chee Seng was the real traitor! Not Alicia! I still wonder how Chee Seng managed to pull this off, how he managed to divert all the attention to Alicia. I had thought my deduction process was very logical and the conclusion was worked out perfectly. Poor Alicia, being targeted by everyone and unable to do anything. Well, probably she made Chee Seng sleep on the couch that night.

Saboteur - This is another game with a traitor element. Players are dwarves try to dig tunnels to find gold. The secret traitor(s) among them try to prevent this from happening. The dwarf who finds the gold gets the most reward. Other good dwarves get a smaller reward. But if the traitor foils the plan, he/she is the only one to get gold. The game is played over three sessions and whoever accumulates the most gold nuggets wins.

3 Sep 2006. Saboteur with Chee Seng, Jeanne and Simon.

In one of the games I was the saboteur. I pretended to be a good dwarf and played many good cards to help the expedition. I sowed mistrust among the good dwarves by openly suspecting whether Simon was the saboteur or Chee Seng. (Jeanne was the 4th player in the game) In this game, there is still some competition between the good dwarves because the one to reach the gold does get a bigger reward than the others. So sometimes there is an interesting tension among the good dwarves, struggling between cooperating and competing or hindering each other. I acted so well that no one suspected that I was the saboteur until when we almost reached the gold. It was then that I started playing all those bad cards, collapsing tunnels, creating dead ends, damaging others' equipment. Oooh... I feel a little ashamed that I lied so well, in order to win.

Blokus - The games themselves were nothing spectacular. What makes them memorable was the fact that we managed to persuade my father to join us to play. He is usually a serious person and is not interested in boardgames. Somehow that day he agreed to play with us. So, my father, my mother, my sister and I played Blokus together. I remember it was the Sunday after Shee Yun's first birthday party. My father even commented that Blokus is a game about international diplomacy and politics.

5 Mar 2006. Blokus with my father, my sister and my mother.

Lord of the Rings - This is one of my favourite games. It is a cooperative game where the players are hobbits trying to make the journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring of Sauron. So everyone is playing against the game system. In this game, bad things keep happening to you, and you just try to survive to the end. Most of my games are very exciting. There is some randomness and luck element in the game, which makes one game different from another. It is fun to try to work together to achieve the common goal. There are some games that come down to that one last event tile draw - if a bad tile is drawn, we would immediately lose the game. After so much effort and pain going through many obstacles, we come to that one decisive moment. The tension is so high, and you are almost reluctant to turn over that decisive event tile. When you win these kind of games, you just feel like standing up and cheering.

2 Apr 2006. Lord of the Rings with Jeanne, Simon, Joey and Yeong Shin.

Playing boardgames is not only about special memorable moments, although they do make good memories. They are a bonus. What I like about playing boardgames is the mental exercise, strategising and planning, the maneuvering to better your opponents, the exploration of the game mechanics and the strategies. When I play a game and can do all of that, that is a great experience.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

port dickson

On the weekend of 7-8 Jul 2007 my whole family joined Ricky's whole family on a trip to Port Dickson. We stayed at Ricky's in-laws' holiday house. In addition to bringing the children there to play, I also managed to play some games. In fact, I brought some games to be played with the children too (Gulo Gulo and Villa Paletti). It was a wonderful feeling to be going to a trip bringing two bags of boardgames. The last time I had this feeling was in December 2004 in Taiwan, when my Taiwanese friends and I went to Jessy's aunt's holiday house, nicknamed "Little Wooden House".

Over the weekend I managed to play Coloretto, Taluva (new game for me), Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation and The Settlers of Catan (in addition to the games played with the children).

Taluva is new to me. It is one of the new games that arrived at end June. It is designed by Marcel-André Casasola Merkle, designer of Attika, which I quite like. The rules of Taluva are quite simple - your turn consists of placing a tile (which consists of 3 hexagons) and then a building(s). The basic goal is to finish building 2 out of 3 types of buildings (huts, temples and towers). As the players place tiles, the island of Taluva grows wider and higher, and volcanic eruptions destroy huts. The island grows into a beautiful 3D landscape.

Taluva

Taluva close-up

Taluva is an open-information or perfect-information game. The only luck element comes from the tile being drawn, and this is not a major factor at all. Players race to build as many of their buildings as possible, or try to prevent their opponents from doing so. They try to protect their huts from being destroyed by volcanic eruptions, and yet sometimes they intentionally destroy their own huts. There is a little chess-like feel (not that I'm a chess player), in that you will tend to look ahead a few moves. Maybe I feel that way because I have only played a 2-player games against Ricky. I tend to think: if I do this and then he does that, and I then place this tile here, he would be able to do this, so I shouldn't do this. To spice things up a little, there are two other alternative winning/losing conditions. If no one can finish building 2 out of 3 types of buildings, the player who has built the most temples wins (if tied then towers, and if tied again then huts). The other condition is that any player who is unable to build any building on his/her turn immediately loses. These two additional conditions create an interesting tension.

I quite like Taluva. Once the players get familiar with the rules, I expect this can be played quite quickly, only pausing occasionally to do some looking ahead. There are many possibilities for clever play. When I played against Ricky, there were a few "Aha!" moments, as in "I should have done this and this". Some reviews of this game say that it is most suitable to be played as a 2-player game. I have not tried it with more than two, but I think I will agree to this assessment after I try it with more players.

So, I am happy with my purchase.

I have played Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation with Ricky before, but he has forgotten most of the rules, so I had to teach him again. However he did well and won both games as the Dark player. LOTR Confrontation is a lot about guessing your opponent's intention, and this time Ricky made all the right guesses. He slaughtered me. He knows me too well.

I played the Light side in Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

It was Ricky's first time playing The Settlers of Catan. There were only two of us so we used variant rules for 2 players - start with 3 houses instead of 2, and win at 15 victory points instead of 12. We played two games and each won one.

Ricky studying the Settlers of Catan board

The Settlers of Catan close-up

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

weekend gaming

After returning from Taiwan at the end of 2004, I continued my boardgame hobby - playing games, buying games, and reading about games on the internet (and now writing a blog about boardgames). Unfortunately, I never managed to build up a regular gaming group like I did in Taiwan. When I first came back, Michelle was my most regular opponent. We played a lot together. The frequency of gaming was affected by the arrival of our children, Shee Yun in March 2005, and Chen Rui in December 2006, but Michelle is still interested to play and enjoys playing. At least I don't think she is just humouring me. But of course now the girls, and rest, come first. She is not crazy like I am about boardgames. I can still continue reading about boardgames on the internet until midnight, even if I have had a tiring day at work. She wouldn't give up her precious sleep for boardgames.

When I first returned to KL, I had known Han via Boardgamegeek for about half a year, and we have exchanged a few emails, but we have never met in person. We first met at a small public gaming event organised by Edwin Wong of Pan Global Insurance. I thought I had better meet this guy in public first before inviting a stranger to my home. Who knows what kind of weird people can be found on the internet. He probably also thought the same about me. This was the first time in my life I made a friend through the internet, and this sure sounds weird knowing that I was over 30. Han turned out to be a pretty decent guy, and since then we have been playing regularly, usually on Sunday afternoons at my place. Recently we switched to Saturday afternoons, to match his wife's yoga lessons.

21 Jan 2007. Han and Chee Seng playing Marvel Heroes.

We don't make our weekly boardgame sessions a fixed activity, although they turn out to be more or less fixed. We still do confirm on a weekly basis whether that week's session is on. Sometimes we invite other friends. However lately it has been mostly just the two of us, and sometimes Michelle too when she is not busy with the girls or asleep. The benefits of a regular timing is we can always plan other events around it. Not that we must always have a session every week. Sometimes we skip a week or 2 (or more) because of other events / plans. I like regular sessions because I can always look forward to the next session.

Throughout the roughly two and a half years of more-or-less regular weekend gaming, Han and I have tried many different games. I find that there are many games which we have only played once. Although we do play often, strangely we never seem to be able to catch up with the games we buy. Maybe we should buy less. Or maybe we should play more!

Han and I have slightly different tastes in boardgames. Han's favourite type of game is American-style games, which have strong emphasis on theme and flavour and story (e.g. Marvel Heroes, War of the Ring, Hunting Party, Star Wars: Queen's Gambit). He likes fantasy and role-playing elements in games. I tend to like Euro-style games, which tend to focus on gameplay mechanics (Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan). Rules are usually quite simple and streamlined, and games are usually not too long, in the range of 45 - 90 minutes, and yet players get to make many meaningful strategic and tactical decisions throughout the game. This works out well, because our game collections complement each other and we get to play more different games.

My weekly boardgame sessions are something I'm always looking forward to. Although we tend to only have 2 (or at most 3) players, we still enjoy the gaming a lot. Lately I am a bit out of steam in trying to convert friends to regular boardgame players. I have not been trying as hard as before to invite other friends to our sessions. Maybe I should launch a "recruitment drive". The other way to is start training and brainwashing our children (Han has 2 boys, I have 2 girls) to be our future gaming group.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Taiwan Boardgang

Carcassonne was the game that created my boardgame group in Taiwan (we called ourselves Boardgang, a play with the word "boardgame" and the way the Taiwanese sometimes pronounce it). My colleagues visited my apartment after dinner one day and noticed my small collection of boardgames on the shelf. So I pulled out Carcassonne to teach them. They all enjoyed it. Soon they became my boardgame group and we played together a lot.

We did not have a fixed schedule. Sometimes we played on Friday after work, sometimes on weekends, and sometimes even on other workday nights. Usually the venue was my apartment. We have also been to Peter's apartment, Crystal's apartment, Rick's apartment, Witch House, and another very nice, cozy home-like cafe which I cannot remember the name of. We have even planned trips on which we brought boardgames along to play. We had a day trip to the north east (I think) of Taiwan. We spent a weekend at Jessy's aunt's holiday house (小木屋). Those were good times. I think we even played on one of the typhoon "holidays" (typhoon was severe enough for the government to declare a no work day).

Dec 2004 at the Little Wooden House (小木屋). Peter, Cheryl, Cher, me, Jessy. This was the first time I taught them Puerto Rico, and the only time I have played Puerto Rico with them.

We played in the office during lunch time. Some of us would go out to buy lunch, while the rest set up the table and game. We used the Managing Director's (I think) office. He had his own office at another location and his room at BAROC was never utilised. In fact, I don't think I ever met him throughout my project. We could usually complete two games over lunch time. It is no surprise that they declared me the best project manager. My mum questioned me, "What kind of project manager are you? Leading the subordinates to play boardgames at the office?!".

Some of my boardgame friends taught their friends to play boardgames, especially Jessy, and Crystal too. And their friends liked the boardgames too. Some of them started buying boardgames too, but they were not as crazy as I was in buying boardgames. They only bought games that I've taught them and they liked.

The games we played the most of were Carcassonne and Ra, followed by Ticket to Ride. Other games we have played include Citadels, Category 5, Princes of Florence, Bohnanza, Coloretto (nicknamed "Make It Dirty!" / "弄脏它!") and Werewolf. These are the ones that I can remember which we have played more than once. When in Taipei, I have played with Jessy, James, Crystal, Peter, Cheryl, Cher, Ingrid, Rick, Carol, Stella, Joao, Angela, Yew Guan, Melissa, Shirley Chen, and Gloria.

The most memorable gaming moment in Taiwan was a game of Ra. During the time Ra, a well-liked Reiner Knizia auction game with an Egyptian theme (Ra is the Egyption sun god), was out of print. So I hand-made my own copy of Ra. It was tough work, with about 200 tiles in the game. Thankfully they liked the game and we played it a lot. Then one day at a gathering at Peter's home, I was the start player, and the first tile that I pulled out of the tile bag was... a full-coloured real tile from the real game! My friends had bought for me a 2nd-hand copy of this out-of-print game, all the way from Germany! They had intended to give it to me on my birthday but since it had arrived, they couldn't resist to surprise me. What a great bunch of friends!

My Taiwan Boardgang was the only real boardgame group I ever had (unless my regular 2-player sessions with Han is considered a "group"). It is a pity that I never managed to build up a regular group after I came back to KL at end of 2004. Over time, I have played with various friends, but I only have one regular gamer friend. The only other close friend who is into boardgames is Chee Seng, but he works in Singapore and I can only play with him when he's back in KL, or I visit Singapore.

I wonder whether my old friends in Taiwan still play regularly now. We don't keep in touch very frequently, and I think they only meet up once in a while. Jessy has visited me once when she was in Malaysia in Jul 2006 on a business trip. Well, the next time I visit Taiwan I will definitely meet up with them to play a few games.

Friday, 6 July 2007

how it started / Witch House

I entered the wonderful world of German boardgames (also known as eurogames, designer games, and family strategy games) around end of 2003, via a boardgame cafe in Taipei, Witch House. I stayed in Taipei from around Sep 2003 to Dec 2004, because of a work assignment. I searched the internet for boardgame shops, and one of them that I found was Witch House.

Witch House is located very near the National Taiwan University. It is not purely a boardgame cafe. They also operate like any normal cafe, just that they have a library of boardgames and cardgames. They do regular mini concerts and various types of shows, one of them being "cloth bag" shows. I think these are puppet shows, but I have not seen one. I later found out that one Taiwanese band which I quite like, Luan Tan, actually started their career playing at Witch House.

At Witch House, I can just buy a drink or two, and spend the whole afternoon there playing boardgames. It is usually not very crowded during the times that I visit. The owners are a couple, a German guy, Yoyo (nickname) and his Taiwanese wife Yu-Ching. I ordered some games through Yoyo and also bought some games from him. He taught me some new games too, including Carcassonne.

Carcassonne

When I first played Carcassonne, I thought it was just so-so. I didn't think it was particularly cute, or interesting. I guess it was too different to what I was used to playing at that time (Axis & Allies type of games). There was no aggression. It seemed like a children's game. Not very exciting. Little did I know I would come to love this game. It is now one of my favourite games, and when playing two-player games against my wife Michelle, it can be very aggressive and merciless, contrary to its cute and innocent appearance.

During the time in Taipei, Michelle and I visited Witch House very often (most weekends). I would take note of what games they had that I was interested to try. I searched the internet for the rules of these games, and then I made rule summaries for these games. So whenever we went to Witch House, I will have some loose sheets of paper of my handwritten notes. The waitresses there probably thought I was nuts.

Most of the time we played by ourselves, just the two of us. Sometimes we played with some strangers, but not very often. There were also a few times when some of my colleagues joined us too. I had the opportunity to try many many games before I decided whether I wanted to buy them. That was the best thing about Witch House. They also had some games which were out of print, and I was glad to have the chance to play them.

We also played a lot at our apartment. Michelle was my Number 1 boardgame kaki. These new games were non-confrontational and not about war, so she liked them and actually did (and still does) well at playing. At the time Shee Yun was not born yet. Michelle played many games when she was pregnant with Shee Yun, so hopefully Shee Yun will grow up to be a boardgame fan too. I surfed the internet a lot, primarily Boardgamegeek (which I still do surf a lot of now). There was such a wealth of information about boardgames which I never knew of. I was surprised that my beloved game Axis & Allies ranked around 200 or 300 at Boardgamegeek. I had thought it must be one of the best games available out there. Not that it was a bad game, just that there were many other more highly regarded games. And at the time I have never heard of any of the Top 10 games.

So, it was with Witch House, and with Boardgamegeek, that I started down this road of boardgame hobbyist.

WHY DO I PLAY GAME?

This is my first blog, so, be gentle. :)

I came from a background of reading gamebook when I was young. Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf and others fueled my imaginations before I moved on to SF & Fantasy fiction later. Never did play RPG but tried one session before, never into the Magic CCG, played some computer games like everyone else but not a hardcore.

My first foray into the boardgame was when I was reading George R.R. Martin’s fantastic “Game of Throne”; there is an ad at the back of the book introducing the boardgame version published by Fantasy Flight. Intrigued, I searched their website and in the process discovered BoardGameGeek.com; and the rest, as they say, are history.

It is in the BGG that I met Hiew, I have email contacts with him for nearly a year before we finally met up in person when he came back from Taiwan. Since then, we are having almost regular weekly gaming sessions if time permits (But it’s never enough time).

Back to the question: why do I play game?

It’s a rhetoric question but as with all creative human activities; why do we read book? Why do we watch movies? Why do we listen to music? Dances? Opera?

Because we human always wanted to experience more. More than our ordinary life can offer where we can break away from the routine of daily living, working, dosmetic chores ….. We need an escapade and respite from our mundanity, a few hours and an imaginative world where we can immerse and lost ourselves in.

Every form of art will try to achieve this. And every form of art will have its unique features in which we will enjoy them. As for boardgame, it’s an intellectual exercise (in a fun way) with decision angst. A good boardgame will provide a clear rule set with strong mechanism and theme in which a player will face difficult decisions in every turn and every action/movement. But with good play and planning and perhaps some luck, the more skilled player will be able to orchestra a good strategic move in overcoming his opponent or the game.

Decision angst is sweet. When to attack? Now or build up some more? How much to bid? What to get? …… There are never enough resources or actions to do all you want. You always need to balance things and re-evaluate the situation. And since this is just a game, you can approach it however you like, aggressively, high-risk gambling, balanced strategy (all-rounder), opportunistic, long-term build-up… it’s almost like approaching life itself with a different philosophy each time you played a game. And unlike real life, you can see the effect immediately or later at the end of the game whether you made a right decision or not; and if you lose, no problem, there is always the next game, and hopefully we have became wiser and have fun in the process.

People always try to categorize and stereotype other people by their occupation. And in my case when people ask me what do I do? Instead of telling them my job, I wish to tell that I play game. It sounds good and convey a nice image of myself (of course in own opinion, that is. Some people still thinks that playing game is childish)

It’s as a good a hobby as any you can think of. It’s fun; provide good social and family interaction. It has been said, playing is the highest form of human creative invention; and so I said, let’s play a game, shall we?