Sunday, 14 February 2010

The BoardGameGeek Game

Wan and Shan are two new friends whom I got to know via the internet. Well, strictly speaking I got to know them through Chong Sean and Han, because the four of them gamed at Carcasean Cafe together. I'm back in Kota Kinabalu now and finally had the chance to meet Wan and Shan in person at Carcasean Cafe. We met up on Sat 6 Feb 2010, and played The BoardGameGeek Game.

The BGG Game is designed by Richard Breese, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of When producing the game, Richard invited BGG members to submit their avatars for him to put on the box of the game. I submitted mine too, and was in time to get it included. Chong Sean submitted his but was declined due to copyright concerns. His avatar is a passenger from Ticket to Ride: Marklin.

The Game

The game itself is about selling and buying (or rather, collecting) games. Every player takes two roles - game publisher and game collector. Throughout 6 rounds, you supply games to some shops, and you also buy games using three buyers, who are dice. You can't buy your own games. You need to try to collect sets of other players' (i.e. publishers') games. Each time another player buys your game, you earn money, and money = score. At game end, you also earn money based on how impressive of a game collection you have. Each game in a completed set (i.e. of the same number) is worth $6, else it is worth the number on it (which ranges from 1 to 6). So there is less incentive to make sets of games with higher numbers. Duplicate games are worth $0.

The numbers on the games determine which shops you can sell them to, kind of like different types of games with different target audience being sold at different types of shops. Different shops have different price ranges, so this is one consideration when you decide how much you want to sell your game at. When placing your game at a shop, you can decide how to price it (within that shop's price range) and how long it will be available. You can price it high (i.e. you'd earn more if another player buys it), and it will be available for longer at the shop. You can price it low and it will be available for a shorter time. Sometimes you may want to do this to prevent your opponents from collecting complete sets.

Throughout the game all your games (both the ones published by your company that you are going to supply to the shops, and the ones that you as a collector have bought) are hidden behind a screen. So it will be difficult to keep track of what everyone has sold and bought. You can try to keep track of some of this information, but it is quite impossible to remember everything.

One nasty thing that you can do to your opponents is false advertising. Two of your 20 published games are blanks. Games are supplied to shops face-down, and buyers are sent to the shops before they are turned face-up. So you can place a blank tile at a shop to lure others there, only to later find that there is no game for them to buy.

Behind my screen. The top row are games from my publishing company (Treefrog line of Warfrog) which I have not yet supplied to the shops. The bottom row are games that I have bought. All happened to be from Ystari.

The game board is basically 6 game shops. The dice are people visiting the shops to buy games.

Close-up of the #4 shop. From the stand-up sign board before the door, you can see that this shop only sells games numbered 3 to 5. The numbers in the red arrows are the prices for the games in those rows. There are 9 spots where publishers can place games. Currently 3 games are sold here. There is only one buyer here, my green die showing 1. Although the positions of your dice are determined by what numbers you roll, you can pay money to reroll or to move your dice.

The Play

We played a 4-player game, Wan, Shan, Chong Sean and I. It was the first time for all of us, so we didn't have much idea what to do. We just tried to make sure we bought games with every buyer (die) every round. Turn order is the game is very important, because it is important to be able to choose which game to buy, and sometimes being late in turn order means you can't even buy at all. To be first in turn order, you need to have your buyers at the lower range shops, which sometimes may conflict with your buying (collecting) plans. It can be a tough decision.

From the start of the game, Chong Sean was trailing the rest of us in points. His publisher wasn't selling many games. I wonder whether it was because he had been intentionally placing his games in such a way that they went out of circulation quickly. Or were his games priced too high and the rest of us were cheapskates? However he was quite successful in buying games. I think he was the least burnt in terms of wasting a buyer because of being unable to buy a game.

I went with an undercutting strategy. I tried to price my games cheaper than others to attract buyers. I'm not sure how successful I was. Wan, Shan and my scores were not far from each other throughout most of the game. In fact towards game end my score fell behind more and more and I wasn't far ahead of Chong Sean.

When the game ended, Chong Sean had collected 5 complete sets (the max possible being 6 sets). That 90pts! Wan had 4 completed sets, and Shan and I only had 3. Wan won the game with 134pts, only 2pts ahead of Chong Sean. Wan's lead during the game was too big for Chong Sean to overcome.

The Thoughts

The BGG Game feels rather like an abstract game to me. However when I reflected on the mechanics I was surprised to find quite a number of thematic elements. Duplicate games in your collection are worth nothing. Games which are not bought at shop will be discounted in the next round. Even the whole set-collecting aspect reminds me of the Alea published games, which are numbered and tempt gamers to collect them all. I guess the only glaring unthematic part is how buying a game costs nothing. When Chong Sean explained this rule, I quickly tried to apply it to real life, pointing at a game in his shop and saying, "I want that one." Unfortunately some things stay in the game...

The game is of medium complexity. On the whole there is nothing that really draws me in, despite there being interesting decisions and strategies. But this game is a much more than just a game. It is a snapshot of the BGG community and the boardgame industry (albeit mostly focusing on Eurogames). I recognise all the games inside, and have played many of them. The game contains tons and images from many many other games, many of which I recognise. If I were less unsentimental, I would buy a copy. But since I try to be very strict about game buying, I won't be getting this game, because I don't think I will be playing it a lot.

One thing that I didn't like is the use of the screens. Not that the screens themselves is an issue. It is the memory part of the game that I didn't like. If you can remember what games have been sold and bought, you will do well. The screens are there to prevent you from having perfect information. I can understand they are important to prevent analysis paralysis, but I can't help having the unpleasant feeling that if I were less lazy in remembering I would have done better at the game.

Somehow I don't have as big a problem with the use of screens in Arkadia. In Arkadia you just need a general feel of what seal colours your opponents have been collecting. That's sufficient for you to make meaningful decisions. In The BGG Game if you want to be 100% sure of your moves, you'd need to remember the exact numbers and colours of the games that your opponents have bought. That's too painful so I don't bother. And having a rough feel doesn't quite cut it, e.g. remembering that Wan has collected many #1 games isn't really helpful if I don't remember whether he has collected the full set, and which colours he has collected.

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