Monday 29 November 2010

blogging in Chinese

One thing that I have been contemplating is whether to start a boardgame blog in Chinese. I am a Malaysian citizen, born in Malaysia and brought up in Malaysia, and I am an ethnic Chinese. In July 2010 I added a widget to this (English) boardgame blog, which let me keep count of how many visitors I get from each country. After having tracked the visitors breakdown by country for a while, I was a little surprised and also a little disappointed that the number of visitors from China (CN)- most populous country in the world - was very low. I didn't expect the number to be high, this being a blog in English, but I didn't expect it to be that low either. They have the same number of visitors as tiny Macau (MO)! I understand the number of visitors from USA may not be accurate, that some of them may actually come from other countries. I wonder how much the statistics are skewed by this.

A snapshot of my flag counter on 23 Nov 2010. This is about 4 months of data.

I have read that boardgames is booming in China, being a new hip pastime. Boardgame cafes have mushroomed. Games are getting licensed to be published in Chinese. There are games designed in China specifically targeting the local market. There are even pirated versions of boardgames. I have seen some when I visited Hong Kong recently. When the pirates are active in an industry, that means the industry is probably big enough to be lucrative for them. I'm not sure whether boardgames will be just a fad, but hopefully not.

I do get a decent number of visitors from Taiwan (TW) and Hong Kong (HK), where Chinese is the main language. Surprisingly they contribute more visitors than Australia (AU). Singapore (SG) is a country with mostly ethnic Chinese, but they all speak English, so it is not surprising that I get many visitors from Singapore. Also Singapore is a neighbour of Malaysia (MY), and for a few years in the 1950's we were one country.

Now why do I get this urge to do a blog in Chinese? In a nutshell, it's because I'm Chinese. I read and write Chinese. I grew up in a Mandarin-speaking family, and now that I have started a family of my own, I too speak Mandarin with my wife and my children. However I definitely read and write in English more than I do in Chinese. I only use English at work, I read mostly English novels, I visit English websites, I watch more English movies than in other languages, I play English versions of boardgames. But English is always a second language. I probably don't write in Chinese better than English, but I have a feeling that some things that I want to express are just better expressed in Chinese. I'm looking for a feeling of community of people who speak Mandarin as their mother tongue, in particular those who speak Malaysianised Mandarin, or maybe even Sabahan Mandarin (Sabah is a state in Malaysia where I come from).

I added this little widget not long ago, because I was wondering whether it would help to encourage Chinese-readers to read this blog. Then I tried it. Conclusion: machine translation is pretty bad. Go ahead and try it (top right of page).

There's no noble intention or grand objective about thinking of doing a Chinese boardgame blog, like promoting boardgames to the Chinese community (whether in China or otherwise), or providing information to Chinese people who are already boardgamers. If I do it, it's only because I enjoy writing. When I started this blog in 2007 I said that I expected to be updating it once every few months. What an understatement. It amuses me no end to read my first blog entry. I enjoy writing and expressing my thoughts, and I certainly feel very encouraged when there are others who enjoy reading my blog and find it useful or informative. So what's stopping me?

  • A blog in Chinese will likely be mostly a translation of what I write here in this English blog. It doesn't sound so enticing when I think about having to repeat myself.
  • I always think of boardgame terminology in English. I don't know the terms used in Chinese boardgame circles. I don't know most of the Chinese translation of game names. In some cases I think the names are translated different in different Chinese markets, e.g. Dominion is translated differently in Hong Kong and China. There will be some struggle to get used to using Chinese terminology, and to find out what commonly used terms are.
  • Not sure whether I'll have time to keep up regular-enough updates.

China... the boardgame. Sorry, couldn't resist...

I have not entirely made up my mind whether to not do this, or to just give it a shot. I don't feel like starting something that I'm not confident enough to persevere in. I tried to look at what Chinese boardgame websites are out there, to see whether I would be adding any significant contribution if I were to start a Chinese blog. I didn't search for long, because after finding just a few of them, I realised that reading about boardgames in Chinese is quite tiring for me, because I am so used to reading about boardgames in English. I'm too used to the English terminology. Much of the content that I found could be found at English websites. There is some content about games designed in China, but I didn't find them very interesting. So I probably will not be reading about boardgames in Chinese much in the future. I only subscribed to the RSS feed of one of the websites, WanZhuoYou.

Here are some Chinese websites that I found. Any other good ones anyone can recommend?

Now this, is one very long rambling post about something that I am trying to convince myself not to do.

Tuesday 23 November 2010


Martin Wallace doing a complex card game? Count me interested. I like Race for the Galaxy, Innovation and Dominion, so I'm always interested when I hear about card games with some depth. Allen pre-ordered the game direct from Treefrog Games, and we played it soon after he received it.

The Game

The game is about rebuilding and developing London after the Great Fire in 1666. The story arc goes up to the start of the 20th century. The game is mostly in the cards. There is a board, but it plays a lesser part in the game. During the game, you play cards into your play area in front of you. You can play cards on top of other cards already in your play area, creating stacks. The number of stacks is an important consideration, and once you create a new stack (by playing one card by itself), it cannot be removed. Cards represent various buildings. You always need to discard a card of the same colour when you play a card, which forces you to make a choice of what to build and what to abandon. Some cards require a payment before you can play them. Some cards come with victory points (VP). Most cards provide some benefit when activated, mostly along the lines of earning money, earning VP's, and reducing poverty. The tricky part is how to activate your cards.

On your turn, one of the things you can choose to do is to "run your city". What this means is you can activate any or all of your cards in your play area, in any order. Since cards give benefits, it seems to be best to run your city as often as possible. The tricky part is poverty points. Every time you run your city, you need to check whether you gain or lose poverty points. This is determined by the number of stacks of cards in your play area, plus the number of cards in your hand, minus the number of boroughs you have bought on the gameboard. In London, it is easy to gain lots of poverty points, and poverty is something you need to manage carefully throughout the game. At game end, you are penalised based on the relative positions of every player in managing poverty.

Many cards are flipped over once you activate them. They are still your cards, i.e. any VP's on them are still yours, but you can't activate them anymore. This is another reason you don't run your city so often. You will normally want to make every run count, by having many cards that you can activate.

I had run my city, and some of the cards had been flipped. These round wooden coins come with the pre-order copies only. Normal copies have plastic coins.

Now, the board. You can buy boroughs on the board. That costs you a turn (and money). When buying a borough, you gain cards and VP's. Boroughs help to reduce the number of poverty points you gain every time you run your city, but I suspect usually you will need other means of controlling poverty. You can only buy boroughs next to those that have already been bought. There can be a bit of a race among players to buy different boroughs. Some may want to go for the cheaper ones. Some may want to go for the ones worth more VP's. Some may want to get the ones next to the River Thames, because one of their cards' benefit is linked to number of boroughs on the waterfront.

These wooden building pieces only come with pre-order copies of the game. The normal game only has thick cardboard tiles. The three numbers below the borough names are cost, number of cards awarded, and victory points.

The board is also where you discard cards to. Cards discarded become available to other players. That's another consideration. Only when the spaces on the board are full, half the cards there are permanently removed from the game.

Overview of the gameboard. The spaces at the bottom are for cards discarded by players. The number of spaces to be used depends on the number of players.

In summary, you will be carefully building your little city in front of you, planning when and how frequently to run your city. You need to make money to allow you to buy boroughs, play cards (that cost money), and in some cases even to activate some cards. You need to control poverty and watch how your opponents are managing, because in the end it's the relative positions that matter, not the absolute value. Cards often get flipped over after activation, so you rebuild over them. That's how you gradually evolve your little (or maybe not so little, depending on your strategy) city through the centuries.

The Play

Han, Allen and I played a 3-player game, all of us being new to the game. I was the overly brave one to start running my city without worrying too much about poverty points. Bad move. Both Han and Allen were more conservative about poverty, which meant I was eventually penalised for not taking good care of my poor people. To help dig myself out of that hole that I had dug for myself in the early game, I tried to buy as many boroughs as I could. Eventually I bought 8, while Allen and Han bought 6 each. I didn't run my city much. Most of my money was spent on boroughs, so I didn't play many cards with VP's. I spent a lot of effort on making money, and I was richest at game end. I tended to prefer cards that don't get flipped after activation, and took time to build a "perfect" city before I ran it. That was probably not such a good idea. I was getting too attached. I should accept the fact that most buildings do get flipped over and I should keep advancing by playing more new buildings.

My city in the late game. I had two Omnibus and two Street Lights. Omnibus gives money depending on number of boroughs owned, which was good for me. Street Lights help reduce poverty, but even two of them was not enough to save me.

I felt the game moved very quickly. It might be because I had been buying boroughs a lot, so I drew cards often, and discarded often too because my hand size kept being exceeded. We went through the deck quickly, and suddenly when we realised the deck was going to run out soon, we found that we had not been running out cities often enough. OK, at least I felt that way. Han and Allen probably did better in this regard. So the last few rounds were spent trying to get the most out of our cities before time ran out.

At game end, Han won with a distant 74, while Allen had 60, and I had 53. Han did better than us in playing cards worth VP's. I did worst. He also managed to catch up to Allen, who did best at controlling poverty throughout the game. I had a lot of cash even after repaying my loans. Every 3 Pounds is worth 1VP, and I had 30 Pounds. However, it was poverty that killed me. I had 8 poverty points more than Han and Allen, which cost me -11VP's.

The Thoughts

I'm not sure whether I'll like London yet. That may be a good sign, as I had a similar reaction to Innovation after my first game. London certainly has some depth, and it is quite distinct from other card-games-with-depth that I have played. Han and Allen didn't feel like they had been developing a city, but I think the city-building feeling is there, albeit a little abstracted. Han explained his analysis of the game. He looked at it as a typical Eurogame - gain some money, then use it to gain VP's as efficiently as possible. Indeed he had been walking a tightrope with his finances. He took some loans, and had barely enough money to repay them all at game end. He tried to play cards with VP's as much as possible, and probably ran his city the most. His strategy was getting all or most of the cards in his hands played onto his play area, and then running his city; get more cards, play most of them, then run city again; and so on. It worked out well for him.

Close-up of the board.

All of us had about 7 or 8 stacks in our play areas. I'm interested to find out how a city can be run with many more, or fewer, stacks. I think both are possible. There's more to explore and one game is not enough to see all the possibilities in the game. Other than the number of stacks, the frequency of running your city is also an important consideration. How to build your city (types of cards and combinations of cards) is key to your strategy. There are cards that flip and cards that don't. There are cards that give money and cards that give VP's. There are some cards with special abilities, e.g. allowing you to flip it instead of another card which should be flipped.

The game is very much about the timing of your city development, and also about watching what cards are available on the board. Cards discarded by your opponents always go to the board before they are removed from the game, so you need to pay attention to what they make available to you, as well as what you make available to them.

Another important timing aspect is the pace of the game - how quickly you are going through the deck of cards. Do you have enough time to reap the most benefits from your city? Do you have enough time to build an elaborate city or do you go for the quick wins?

I need to visit London again.

Saturday 20 November 2010

boardgaming in photos, and Dominion: Prosperity

24 Oct 2010. This is how we set up Innovation when we play, which is different from the nice clock-like setup recommended by the rules, but this saves space.

I like the artwork of Innovation. Simple and tasteful.

This (top left) is how I like to arrange the cards in my score pile. Instead of tucking them all under the left side of the reference sheet, I try to group them into sets of 10pts. This makes it easier for everyone to see how close everyone else is to the next threshold.

I was pleasantly surprised when I received this in the mail from Wizards of the Coast. I had contacted them to request for additional Japanese tactical bombers forAxis & Allies Pacific 1940 after reading on that some others have done this and have received the extra game pieces. Previously for Through the Ages I have contacted FRED to request for the fix pack twice. Twice they told me they had sent it, but I did not receive either pack. I don't know whether they were sent at all. Maybe they were lost in the mail. Maybe someone saw the shiny American stamp and decided to swipe my mail. When I did not receive anything about 3 weeks after contacting Wizards of the Coast, I was ready to give up. On the very day I was thinking this, this came in the mail. I wonder whether the fact that it doesn't have a nice traditional-style stamp has anything to do with this.

A letter, six Japanese tactical bombers, and the slightly bent corrected battle strip. I don't mind the battle strip. I don't use it anyway. Now I need to get the game back onto the table. And Axis & Allies Europe 1940 too.

24 Oct 2010. Innovation. This was one very crazy game where I had many dogma effects that let me tuck or splay, so I had many many icons displayed.

Michelle's civilisation was more normal. Innovation may be the next card game that becomes our default go-to game, after Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper and Race for the Galaxy.

28 Oct 2010. I found a Dominion program on the internet, which let me play against AI opponents. This is not an official software released by Rio Grande Games, but I read that RGG is planning to release such a software. The program doesn't come with artwork, because that's copyrighted. I replaced the artwork that comes with the game with scans of the Dominion cards I found also on the internet. This program comes with the Prosperity expansion, so I have been using it to try out this latest expansion.

Prosperity introduces treasure cards that have special abilities. It also introduces Platinum, a cost $9, value $5 treasure, and Colony, a cost $11, 10VP victory card. There are some expensive $7 cards too. This is the first time $7-cost cards appear. Prosperity sounded very interesting when I read about it. It changes some very fundamental concepts. Now you have to consider whether to go for Platinums and then Colonies. The treasure cards with abilities are an interesting addition. However after having played this a number of times, this latest expansion wasn't as earth-shattering as I had thought. It is nice to have new cards to play with, but overall I think I enjoyed the Seaside expansion more. Still, Prosperity is good, and Dominion fans should buy it.

Bishop is an interesting card. It makes you trash a card, and then gain some victory point (VP) markers. This is a new concept - VP markers that are not part of your deck. In the past VP's are always VP cards that clog up your deck making it inefficient. The AI's like Bishop. See that Ben AI had used Bishop so much he has less cards than he started the game with. I don't remember exactly what I did right (or maybe the AI's did wrong). I had 11 Provinces! I think there must have been something wrong with the AI's strategies.

This was one game that I made use of Bishop a lot. I had 41VP worth of VP markers, and a very small deck. This game ended by having three decks exhausted.

31 Oct 2010. I was schooled by the AI's. They went for Platinum, and bought many Colonies. I was slow in realising my mistake, and never caught up. I went for the Duchy + Duke combination, but that was peanuts compared to Colonies.

I got schooled by the AI again. I don't remember how that Ben AI managed to get 74VP in VP markers by using Bishop. The Peddler certainly helped it a lot. Peddler is interesting. Although its cost is a prohibitive $8, it becomes $2 cheaper for every action card you have in play. Its power of +1 card +1 action +$1 isn't anything fancy, but when chained together can be very powerful.

17 Nov 2010. I lost the game with only 9VP. What a disgrace. I was too careless and didn't notice that the AI's were going for the 3-decks-exhausted game end. What a stupid mistake.

Exhausted decks have red text.

I had only 6VP, and I won the game. The AI's had 6VP and 4VP. This was one brutal game with heavy use of the Sea Hag (force opponents to discard top card of deck, then place a Curse at the top of the deck). I had not intended to use it, and was forced to buy one when I saw that both the AI's kept buying it. In this game I think Tribute helped me a lot.

Friday 19 November 2010

Alien Frontiers

Alien Frontiers is by a first-time designer and a first-time publisher, and the publication of the game was funded by a kickstarter project, where supporters and customers pledged to buy the game, and only when enough funding was secured, the actual printing went ahead. This kickstarter project received good support, and the first printing of the game had sold out. Some retailers bought some stock (Cool Stuff Inc and Fun Games Cafe), but I wonder how many units they had. I'm guessing it would be difficult to buy a copy of the game now. I wonder whether a 2nd printing is being planned.

The Game

In Alien Frontiers, the players compete to colonise an alien planet. You gain points for every colony you establish, and also for control of each region on the planet. There are a few other ways of gaining points, but these two are the most important. The game ends when one player has established a certain number of colonies, and whoever has most points at that time wins. It will not necessarily be the player who ends the game, but I think usually it will be the case.

Everyone starts the game with 3 spaceships, and in this game spaceships are dice. On your turn, you pick up your dice from the board, roll them, and then assign them to the various spaces on the board to do different things. The spaces are limited, and have different requirements before you are allowed to put a die or dice on them, e.g. some need pairs of matching numbers, one of them needs precisely a 6. When you place your dice, you gain resources (energy and ore), you gain special ability cards, you colonise, you can even rob another player. There are 3 ways of colonising, (a) spending a lot of expensive resources (constructing a colony), (b) spending fewer resources but one dice (using a spaceship as a terraforming station to construct a colony), or (c) spending fewer resources but having to commit dice over multiple rounds to complete the colonisation (colonising using colonist huts). You can also build more spaceships, i.e. get yourself more dice. You can have up to 6 dice. Naturally more dice mean better chances of meeting dice-placement requirements, as well as being able to do more on your turn.

Game set up and being explained. The game is for 2 to 4 players. Depending on the number of players, some spaces on the board are blocked off, and we used the red dice to do this.

I think these are bonus pieces. They are supposed to be your colonies. They look like an electronics component. The normal colony is the M&M-like piece on the right.

Correction 20 Nov 2010: Allen, who owns this copy of the game, clarified that he had bought these pieces from a hardware store. They didn't come with the game. My mistake.

The Solar Converter is one of the spaces on the board where you can place dice. You place dice here to harvest energy. The icons tell you how much energy you harvest for the different valued dice you place.

When you colonise a new territory, you gain a special ability. Every territory gives a special ability, e.g. an extra die (an alien spaceship), discount when using alien artifacts, faster colonisation by colonist huts. More than one player can establish a colony in the same territory. Whoever has majority enjoys the special ability provided by the territory.

So basically the game is a race to establish colonies. You need to collect resources to do that. Along the way there are many things that can help you - the alien artifact cards, and the special abilities provided by the territories.

Components (left to right, top to bottom): dice (i.e. spaceships), colonies, territory special ability tile, energy (orange discs), and ore (grey cube).

Well, this was what first came to mind when I saw these three discs. These markers come into play via some of the alien artifact cards. When placed on a territory, "R" locks the territory preventing new colonies or colony migration, "I" disables the special ability of the territory, and "P" makes the territory dominance worth 1pt more.

The Play

I played a 3-player game with Allen and Han. In the beginning we all went for new territories and did not compete. It was a race to claim the territories with the most attractive special abilities. By colonising a new territory, you gain 2pts - 1pt for your new colony and 1pt for being dominant in the territory. If another player establishes a new colony in the same territory, you'd lose 1pt because you'd no longer have dominance. You still keep the special ability though, even though you are tied on majority with your opponent. You only lose it when the other player outnumbers you.

I went for the territory that gave discounts for building spaceships, and focused on getting all my spaceships out. I also intended to use the terraforming station as much as I could, because it was a quick way of establishing colonies, albeit at the cost of losing a spaceship each time. Spaceships were cheaper for me anyway. From the start of the game, both Han and Allen claimed the alien artifact that protected their resources from robbery. There are only 2 copies of each type of alien artifact in the game, so I was out of luck. Throughout the game, I was robbed a number of times, which slowed me down. I was the only target available, since both of them were protected. We had forgotten that the robbery space (called Raider's Outpost) also allowed robbing an alien artifact card, and the protection card didn't protect against that. So in hindsight I could have robbed the protection card from them, to protect my own resources. It would also have made them reluctant to accumulate to many resources.

Mid game. Han (yellow) had 5 colonies, Allen (blue) 3, me (green) 2.

Baby Ethan was a good boy and slept through most of the game as Daddy Allen played.

Han was the quickest in establishing colonies. I turned out to be the slowest, although I later caught up a little. I neglected the alien artifact cards early, but later when I got myself some, I found them to be quite useful. E.g. they can be very handy in helping you make the die rolls that you want. Most of them have two uses, a normal power that you can use every round, and a strong power that forces you to discard the card once used.

Some of the alien artifact cards I had. I controlled the Pohl Foothills territory, which made it cheaper for me to activate the alien artifacts. Many alien artifacts require some energy to operate.

Close-up of the board.

As game-end approached, I used my Plasma Cannon card to force Han to return one of his dice. It was a bit too late though, he still managed to establish his last colony soon, ending, and also winning the game.

The Thoughts

Alien Frontiers is a very smooth game. Medium complexity. Suitable for families and casual players, and interesting enough for hardcore gamers. There is some luck in the die rolls, but you rarely feel you have nothing useful that you can do with your dice. You always have options, and you always have something interesting to do. The game is a constant race from beginning to end, at first to claim the lucrative territories, and later to compete for dominance. You can adopt different strategies. You should make the most of the territory special abilities and the alien artifact cards abilities.

The game makes me think of The Settlers of Catan and Cyclades, although it is not like either game. Well, maybe a little like Catan, in that you need to collect resources to build colonies. They feel similar in complexity and accessibility. And granularity. I can't think of a better word. The game gives me a feeling of being very succinct, that it has been simplified as much as possible, but not overdone that interesting aspects get left out.

Considering this is a first-time designer and a first-time publisher, I am very impressed with Alien Frontiers. The game design is solid. The game production is very professional. I hope there will be a second printing so that more people will get to play this game.

Friday 12 November 2010

2009 games eagerness ranking

Recently one reader asked me to rank the games published in 2009 that I have played. This was an interesting idea. I did a filter of 2009 games at (those rated by at least 50 users), checked those that I have played, and tried to rank them. I found it a very challenging exercise. It was like trying to choose your favourite child. To be fair to the games, I am ranking them according to my own eagerness to play them again, rather than the arbitrary "how good is the game" criteria, or "how they should be ranked" (see all those "underrated" or "overrated" comments on BGG). So. Here they are. All ranked, and also grouped into three categories. Note that expansions are excluded from the list.

    Keen to play

  1. Automobile - Tight and thematic. There seems to be not many things you can do, but every decision is important in this game.
  2. Hansa Teutonica - Very interactive. Simple actions, but a wide-range of strategies. The many scoring options can be overwhelming.
  3. Endeavor - Quick, and you have the feeling you are just a few actions short of executing your perfect strategy. Some say a bit too polished and too streamlined, but I don't think it was overdone. I like it so much that I'm actually proud I could resist buying it.
  4. At the Gates of Loyang - Not bad as a 2P game. I've only played with two (against my wife), but I can imagine how it can drag with more.
  5. Axis & Allies Pacific 1940 - Have only played half a game. Japan seems overpowered at the moment, even without attacking in Round 1. There is a variant where Japan is not allowed to attack (except China) in Round 1, to balance the game. Need to play again.
  6. Shipyard - A pleasant surprise. I had expected something overly complicated, and the rondel mechanism itself isn't something I drool over. It turned out to be a nice build-things-and-feel-proud game, and the rondel mechanism just fades into the background. It's a seamless part of the game, but it is not the game.
  7. Automobile


    Happy to play

  8. Cyclades - Clean, streamlined, multi-player conflict game. Feels like The Settlers of Catan in complexity.
  9. Campaign Manager 2008 - Thematic card game for 2 players. Normal game (i.e. with card drafting) is much better than the beginner's game.
  10. Bonnie & Clyde - 5th in the Mystery Rummy series, which I've always enjoyed. I don't think any rummy game can ever replace Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper as my favourite rummy game, but Bonnie & Clyde is quite decent, and unique too.
  11. Power Struggle - The corporate politics theme did not annoy as I feared. In fact it helps to tie the many moving parts together.
  12. Dungeon Lords - Given such a complex game, the double-guessing part turned me off a little.
  13. Roll Through the Ages - I really should play this more. I'll probably like it more if I play it more. There are many different techs and combinations of techs that I haven't explored. And this is a short game.
  14. Waterloo - The combat resolution is a little convoluted and takes time to digest. I will have to relearn it when I play again because I've forgotten it all by now.
  15. Vasco Da Gama - I think I missed the big picture in my first play, and was too tactical. Pang won decisively by one big move which he had planned for for some time, and none of us saw it coming (or at least didn't really try to stop him).
  16. Summoner Wars - Well-balanced battle game.


  17. Carson City - Construct buildings, earn money, fight when necessary / profitable, then plan to convert what you build into victory points. Didn't feel very new or different, despite the gunfight mechanism.
  18. Macao - it felt JASE (Just Another Soulless Euro) to me (sorry), despite the never-seen-before windrose mechanism. There are multiple paths to victory, but they feel like mechanisms looking for a theme, and the mechanisms aren't very interesting to me.
  19. Homesteaders - 10 rounds of auctions, but there is a lot of thought you need to put into every auction decision - which tile to bid for, how much to bid for, when to pass etc. It's a lot about getting good combinations of buildings.
  20. BoardGameGeek Game - It's mostly about collecting sets. Although it's fun to see so many boardgames and elements of boardgames in one single game, the gameplay didn't really grab me.
  21. Middle Earth Quest - The game is fine, and I did enjoy my play. It's only the genre that deters me. I'm not very into the fantasy theme or Role Playing Games-like boardgames.
  22. Ra the dice game - Nothing wrong. Just unnecessary. Because Ra is better.
  23. Rabbit Hunt - It was a pleasant surprise when I first played it. It certainly is quite unique. You need to keep a poker face as you hide your rabbits, and you need to try to read your opponents. I'm not sure why my enthusiasm dropped very quickly. Maybe I just don't like games with bluffing, although mechanism-wise I think the game concept is interesting.
  24. Greed Incorporated - I'm biased by my very poor performance in the only game that I played. This game is brutal. Boohoo... I'm scarred for life...
  25. Greed, Incorporated.

Have not played enough to decide: Factory Manager. I certainly enjoyed installing lots of interesting equipment in my factory. The artwork style (by Lars-Arne "Maura" Kalusky) contributed a lot to my liking of the game (I guess I am superficial at times). The game mechanism is a little quirky. The game is quite fast. I just need to play more to decide whether it has good replayability.

There are many other 2009 games not listed simply because I have not played them. Here are some of the higher ranked games of 2009 on BGG:

  1. Dominion: Intrigue - Well, I tend to think of this as an expansion, although it contains components for a complete game. Dominion would be in the Happy To Play category for me.
  2. Steam - I'm happy enough with Age of Steam (Keen To Play), so trying Steam is low priority.
  3. Chaos in the Old World - Han has this, but we still have not had the right occasion (4 players exactly) for this. He has played a few times.
  4. Small World - I've played Vinci, and it'd be a Happy To Play. No real urge to try Small World.
  5. Imperial 2030 - Have not tried the original Imperial either.
  6. Warhammer: Invasion
  7. Claustrophobia - likely not my cup of tea.
  8. Space Hulk (3rd edition) - I've played 1st edition with Han a few times. This would be a low Keen To Play or high Happy To Play game.
  9. Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! Kursk 1943
  10. Egizia
  11. Thunderstone - I'm contented with Dominion being the only deck-building game I play.
  12. Tales of the Arabian Nights - I think of this as a much older release. I have played it. It's very different, and eagerness to play will depend very much on who I'm playing with. At the moment, I'm probably Lukewarm, but I hope when my children are older we can play this together.
  13. Railways of the World - I have played Railroad Tycoon. I think it's quite similar to Age of Steam. I'm happy enough with Age of Steam. I actually prefer the more spartan artwork of Age of Steam.
  14. Tobago - interested to try at least once.
  15. Mr. Jack in New York - Played the original Mr Jack and thought it was just okay.
  16. Stronghold - I have heard this is quite a tense game. Would like to try but I don't know anyone who owns this.
  17. Maria
  18. Rise of Empires
  19. Jaipur - Probably would be a good spouse game. But then I'd rather play something meatier. At the moment my wife is willing to play Race for the Galaxy and Innovation. We don't even play Lost Cities much, so no point for me to get a quick filler type game.
  20. Finca
  21. Last Train to Wensleydale - Martin Wallace game. This tempts me a little now that First Train to Nuremberg is out and it contains this game too.
  22. Richard III: The Wars of the Roses - No big urge to try this since I have Hammer of the Scots. I hear it's cleaner, more streamlined. I don't mind some of the rough edges in Hammer of the Scots, and enjoy the very asymmetrical sides.
  23. Peloponnes
  24. Maori - interested to try.
  25. Axis & Allies Spring 1942 - I wonder how much quicker this is compared to Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (AA50). If it is significantly shorter, I may actually prefer to play it over AA50. It uses the new concepts introduced in AA50, which had improved the game.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

interview with an online game retailer

CK Au (@ Jeff @ jack208) is one of the owners of (BGC) (Facebook page here, blog here, online store here), and the guy who started the regular open-to-public gaming sessions at Old Town Kopitiam (OTK) Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, which is near where I live. I had known about this OTK group for quite some time, but first joined them to play only in September 2009. CK runs an online boardgame store serving Malaysia, and I thought it would be interesting to interview him about what it's like running a boardgame business.

Warning: This is the probably the longest post in the history of this blog (3+ years, 350+ posts).

Note: Photos are courtesy of BGC.

    CK the gamer

  1. How long have you been gaming and how did you get into the hobby? What were the games that hooked you?
  2. July 2005 was when I discovered the more recent Eurogames, and my first game was A Game of Thrones, and interestingly my 2nd game was War of the Ring. In fact it was not until early 2006 that I actually learned how to play The Settlers of Catan.

    If we are to look at when I actually started boardgaming, that has to be many years ago when I was still a student, with the usual Parkers Brothers stuff like Risk, Totopoly, Formula One, Buccaneer etc., then moving on to Rail Barons, Acquire, Diplomacy and a couple of Avalon Hill wargames like Afrika Korps and Battle of the Bulge. That was also the time when I was very involved with Subbuteo, a tabletop football (soccer) game which I am still hoping to revive.

    Work and business took over most of my time then and I had kinda “forgotten” about boardgaming until I rediscovered Eurogames in 2005. And I’m glad I did!

  3. Did your taste in games change over time?
  4. No, not really. I suppose I am and have always been a “board” person and as such didn’t really get into Collectible Card Games (CCG's) or miniatures. Another branch of games that I like but have not really been able to spend much time on is hex-based wargames such as Afrika Korps, Victory in the Pacific, and the more recent Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) Starter Kits.

  5. What are your top 5 games (or game systems) now?
  6. 18XX games certainly has to sit right at the top. :-) Within this game system, 1856 would be my top game, with 1830 being a close second and 18EU the third. I have 1841v2 but I have not yet had the chance to play it. I suspect it’ll feature somewhere among my top 18XX games.


    Diplomacy takes my 2nd vote. A confrontational game where no one player can win without the help of the other player(s) but since there can only be one winner, everyone is just watching out for the inevitable “knife”. When playing this game, we should heed Oscar Wilde’s quote, “True friends stab you in the front.”

    The Werewolf (or Mafia) game system is my top choice for social games. My preferred game for this would be Lupus in Tabula as I feel the special characters from this set are the most balanced. This is not a game system where the players can optimise and strategise to win. It’s a system where players are pit against one another and you literally have to lie out of your skin in order to outwit your opponents.

    Let me share an interesting story on a Werewolf session. There was this gamer – he’s an OTK regular but I shall not name him (grin) – who is so honest that he cannot even bring himself to lie in a game. In that session, he drew the werewolf card. During the day session when we were all discussing who’s a suspect wolf, I sensed him fidgeting. I immediately asked him point blank, “Are you a werewolf?”

    I mean, the only answer to this would have to be a fast and firm “NO!”. But instead he tried evasively to get out from having to answer that question!! He was lynched that day!! LOL. I find this game to be deliciously wicked!!

    ASL – in particular the Starter Kit series – would be my next choice. I know I do not play enough of this game system to even claim to be knowledgeable about it but from the few sessions I’ve had, I can appreciate the depth of its mechanics in simulating a squad-level engagement.

    Economic games that has a semblance of a real economy as opposed to a false economy. What do I mean by this? Take the economy in Puerto Rico. Regardless of how many barrels of corn we produce, there’s always demand for them. Compare that to games with a real economy such as Container, where the demand rests solely on the other players and not on a false economy sitting “outside” the game that’ll always be able to take the 9 barrels of corn you produce. Wealth of Nations is another game that has a real economy. We do not see many games fitting this description. I hope we’ll see more of them.

    I know you asked for five but I really want to mention Dune here. We played a semi-complete session a few months ago at OTK Cheras (of which you did a very good session report) and I can see the game is very closely themed with the book. A full game with all 6 players who are familiar with the game and its characters would have to be a full tilt experience, I think.

    Ainul, CK, Ken and Arm playing Dune at OTK Cheras.

    You mostly named game systems. What if you have to choose five favourite games?

    1856, Diplomacy, Lupus in Tabula, ASL Starter Kit, Puerto Rico.

    Puerto Rico? I thought you said you prefer real economies?

    Umm... the game is fun.

    Any train games other than the 18XX series that you like?

    Age of Steam, Railways of the World (formerly Railroad Tycoon).

    CK the online retailer

  7. When was started? What triggered you to decide to start up an online boardgame store? What were the goals that you set for yourself?
  8. I was running a business doing e-commerce back in 2005 so naturally the idea of using the internet to form and drive a local boardgaming community was always on my mind. The domain name was registered in Nov 2005 and the site was online around Dec 2005.

    In the early days, all I wanted was merely a forum for boardgamers to gather, discuss about games and arrange meetups. At that time, there was only a single distributor for boardgames in the local market and that’s Imagine Games. Initially we thought of selling games just to earn some revenue to help in supporting the website. We worked with Imagine and the online store was thus born!

    Our goal for back then – and even now – has always been simple: to promote the growth of boardgaming communities in Malaysia.

  9. You still have a day job right? What do you do? How much time do you (and your partners) spend on
  10. Yes, unfortunately. LOL. I work as an IT/PMO (Programme Management Office) Consultant, and right now I’m involved in a project managing and driving the implementation of an enterprise-wide application for a shipping company.

    We don't really track how much time we spend on this business. Time spent on meetups is considered "play time" and not really "work". :-P

    Other than meetups, how much time per week on average is spent on the business side of things (processing orders, updating the online store, corresponding with distributors)?

    It's quite irregular, so it's hard to measure. Things can get very busy when a big shipment arrives and we need to update our inventory, send out pre-ordered games etc.

  11. Can a person make a decent (average) living running an online game store (only) in Malaysia?
  12. “Decent” is a relative term especially when we are talking about “money” so it’s really hard to answer this question; but I suppose you can say it’s possible but very challenging, since our local market has not yet achieved the critical mass required.

  13. Top 3 biggest challenges in setting up shop?
  14. I presume you are asking this from the perspective of an online retailer. If you are a distributor (which is what BGC is) the challenges can be different. For a retailer, they would be:

    1. Getting a supply of games - Who to buy from? Directly from the publishers? From master distributors? Distributors? Some publishers like Rio Grande Games, Fantasy Flight Games and Z-man Games do sell directly as long as you have the volume. Some like Days of Wonder only work through distributors.
    2. Knowing which market to serve - For example do you focus on the hardcore gamers or the more casual gamers? Some retailers target the 1st wave. They always get the newest games, but in smaller quantities, and these games are often quickly bought up by the hardcore gamers. BGC mainly targets the 2nd wave. We do ship games in about once a month, but we don't always have the fresh-out-of-the-oven titles. We wait and see what the more popular games are before deciding to stock them, and we usually order in bigger quantities.
    3. Getting to the market - E.g. BGC mostly sells via its online store.

    BGC is a distributor? I thought you're a retailer.

    Normally a supply chain looks like this: Publisher --- Distributor --- Retailer --- Consumer. BGC is currently a mix of distributor and retailer. So we are not a pure distributor either. The hobby boardgame industry is unusual in that there is a wide range of products, and you can't really try to stock many units of the same product unless you have a huge customer base. In many other industries (Hiew: and in the mainstream boardgame industry too where you have Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble), the product range is smaller, and you can stock in bigger quantities. The hobby game market in Malaysia probably cannot easily support a pure distributing model yet.

    We do hope to grow our retailers. If we can build up the boardgaming community in Malaysia to be able to support more retailers, we see ourselves eventually shifting towards being a true distributor.

    Do many retailers buy from you?

    Not many yet. They mostly operate offline (i.e. not a webstore like us).

  15. Who and where do you order games from? Distributors / publishers? USA / UK / Germany / China / etc? You fly the games in? Or ship them (by ship)?
  16. We order our stocks direct from the publishers, mostly in USA. However our recent Citadels Malaysia edition tie-up with Swan Panasia means we’ll slowly shift some of our orders to come from North Asia. We mostly bring them in by ship though we are now exploring FEDEX as an option (but this again goes back to challenge (ii) above).

  17. Do you collaborate with other local stores?
  18. Yes, but perhaps not yet as much as we'd like to. I suppose while “ the community” has been around for some time (since 2005), “ the distributor” is still a new kid on the block and for the past few months, we have been mostly busy with engaging our suppliers on purchasing, setting up the internal system to handle inventory tracking, sales, etc. We’ll be focusing more on getting to ground-level over the next few months, partnering with retailers and other stores to move our games, and supporting more meetups and/or gaming groups.

    Any collaboration with other local online retailers? E.g. sharing information, batching together orders?


  19. Many challenges in shipping / insurance / customs / taxes?
  20. Not really. As long as we have factored the above into our cost model, we should be in a position to manage them. A more critical metric to us is the cash conversion cycle. The boardgame industry is rather unique in having a wide range of products and most products being slow moving. We’ve been tracking and measuring every purchasing metric for the past few months which now allows us to validate the conjectures we made during our initial start-up planning. We are getting into a better position to revise our business projections for next year based on more solid hard data (which we weren’t able to do earlier this year), and the numbers look very encouraging. :-)

  21. Any interesting (good or bad) stories dealing with customers? ("Do you have something like Monopoly?")
  22. Yeah, lots of interesting stories. But I find dealing with the variety of customers very engaging and usually refreshing! The response I always love to receive is when we introduce people to Euro Games and they go like “Wow… I didn’t know these types of games existed!! I thought it was just Monopoly.”

  23. Is your boardgame warehouse a spare room / garage (or two) at your home? :-)
  24. Spare room, garage, whatever space we can grab now. Our initial plan was to look into getting a proper storefront in about a year’s time but we’ve initiated ahead of schedule the search for a storefront which will also be our warehouse and regular meetup joint. Let’s hope we can find a good “home” for We do have an offer of a really good place, and we are now in the midst of looking at the numbers to see if they make sense.

    Henry and CK caught in a serious moment pondering Endeavor.

  25. How big is the hobby game market in Malaysia?
  26. I don't know, frankly. We are still “new” in terms of distribution and I can’t say we are in a position to provide this estimate. We can of course extrapolate from what we know but I don’t think we’ll want to share that publicly. :-) What I can say is that the current boardgame market is certainly larger than what it was when first started putting up boardgames for sale in our online store back in 2005.

  27. How many different titles do you have in stock now?
  28. An interesting nugget for you…. The first ten games we added to our online store (and that’s way back in 2005) were – Ticket to Ride, Memoir '44, Gulo Gulo, Hare & Tortoise, Buyword, Fury of Dracula, DOOM, Clans, Citadels and China. How many of you readers have actually played ALL these games?

    In terms of title count, we have close to 700 titles in our online store database. Obviously not all of these are in stock – or even in print anymore. As to titles that we do carry – or routinely restock – we have close to 400 titles. Out of these we have 250 different titles in stock now, i.e. physically available for sale locally. I suspect we might be one of those who carry the widest range of boardgames locally, no?

  29. Top 5 sellers (in past 1 year)?
  30. That’ll be the usual suspects of The Settlers of Catan, Citadels, Bang, Saboteur, Puerto Rico, in no particular order.

    Any game(s) that you decided to stock but sold so badly that you wished Malaysia had winter and you had a fireplace at home?

    Thankfully no. We are the "2nd wave" guys, so we wait-and-see what would sell before we decide to stock.

  31. You are also partnering with a retailer in Thailand. How does the partnership work? How did this arrangement come about?
  32. Not a retailer. Our partner in Thailand is also a distributor like us though at the moment, they are as “new” as we are in the market and probably assuming a “master retailer” role like we are. Over time, both of us are supposed to assume a more background role of promoting the market and letting our retailers move the game sales.

    He came to us first as a customer, a new convert to Eurogames but the real connection that linked both parties was our common passion to one day actively use boardgames to deliver education to children and young adults. The Boardgames in Education phase of our project will be primed under our BoardgameKids label and it’s really something exciting that I wish I could talk more about, but that’ll likely be another interview.

    In what form do you collaborate with your Thai partner, given that you are physically far apart.

    Mainly we approach distributors or publishers together, so that we have bulk. Our shipments are mostly separate, i.e. shipped directly to Malaysia or directly to Thailand. Our partner also has other businesses and has connections with shippers, which helps.

  33. How intense is the competition in the boardgame business locally?
  34. There are certainly a few more players in the market now compared to 2005. Competition is a healthy thing, if everything is done with integrity. I mean, if you are in the business which has no competition, that’s probably a “sunset business”. What we want to avoid is “monopoly” which is very unhealthy.

  35. How much does Facebook presence help in promoting
  36. Tremendously important! I would even say was reborn via Facebook after it went through a lull when I was not sure how to take it forward. Social media is no longer a fancy playground for the Gen-Z. Social media is now recognised fully as a key and important channel on which one can build a thriving business.

    Books like “The One to One Future” and “The Cluetrain Manifesto” were actually way ahead of their times. If these books were published when social media is as pervasive as now, they would be game changers. Go and pick up “Crush It” (yes another book) to get a more up-to-date perspective of the importance of social media to businesses of today.

  37. Do you think a real boardgame cafe will work in Malaysia? There has been some in the past, but it seems none eventually worked out.
  38. Mage Cafe initially started as a boardgame cafe, but has gradually switched to more of a regular food & beverage outlet. The food is good. They are still around. Customers come for the food and the atmosphere. Boardgames are a perk for those who are interested, but are not the main course.

    Pit Stop Cafe in Serdang is still around, and they have recently opened a branch in Section 17, PJ where we work with them to host meetups.

    Outpost at The Curve provided a good meeting point for sci-fi and boardgame fans, which was good for building a community. Unfortunately things didn't quite work out. They eventually switched to a kiosk.

    Settlers Cafe is a successful franchise in Singapore and they had opened a branch in Damansara Jaya before. The per-hour charge business model probably didn't work at the time. This model may work now, since Malaysians are gradually getting more used to it, e.g. cyber cafes.

    I would say Malaysian gamers are quite fragmented. We have many small groups in very dispersed locations. We don't have a strong concentration in any particular area. Opening a boardgame cafe is challenging, because gamers who do not live in the vicinity likely won't visit. There is no single convenient location for everyone.

  39. You mentioned a physical home for BGC. What's the business model you have in mind?
  40. Not exactly sure yet, but we think a physical presence will be important to further build the community. An online store is a cost-effective way to sell games, but it isn't very suitable for building a community. To us, selling games is just a means to support building a boardgame community. If we have a storefront, it will be helpful to introduce new people to boardgames. There is this impact when you walk into a store stocked wall-to-wall with boardgames. The physical store will be a place for meetups as well. It will likely not be a cafe though. We also hope this physical store will help in our education / creative learning initiative. Our OTK sessions are fine for hardcore gamers who don't mind meeting strangers in a crowded cafe to play boardgames in public, but this may not be the ideal setting for regular parents looking for an alternative educational tool for their children.

    Alvin, Heng and Michael playing Automobile at OTK Cheras.

  41. Is running BGC (a) a hobby that gives a little side income, or (b) a serious business investment with high aims?
  42. It's a passion. I don't expect it will grow to something very big. However BoardgameKids may have better potential. It's an educational service business, like Smart Reader, and is not really about selling boardgames.

  43. If one day you decide to stop running BGC, what would be the likely reason(s)?
  44. Definitely there is better ROI (Return on Investment) elsewhere. If I stop running BGC, it will be because I'm not a gamer anymore, but I doubt that will happen. BGC's business model may change over time though.

    One possible threat to the business is the big players, like MPH (bookstores) and Borders. They would be able to order in bigger volumes than us. But hopefully if they ever enter the market, by then the market would be big enough to support smaller niche players like us.

  45. Ever dabbled in game design?
  46. I have met many people who want to design games, but I think many underestimate how difficult it is to design a good game. They only see the end product and don't fully appreciate the hard work behind it. Playtesting and balancing a game is not easy at all. So, no. Not in the short term.

  47. Ever thought about game publishing?
  48. No. It's a big risk. You need to invest a significant amount of money, and you may end up with a lot of firewood.

    CK the game group organiser

  49. Since when did you start organising open gaming sessions at Old Town Kopitiam, Cheras? Why a public location as opposed to more private ones?
  50. We did our first meetup at OTK Cheras in Jan 2007. Looks like we’ve “camped” there for close to four years! Time flies when you are having so much fun. Not many people actually know my home is just a few blocks away from OTK Cheras, within walking distance! And I have my complete library of over 400+ games there. So why not just hold the meetups at my home? I think it depends whether I’m doing it as a closed community thing or to grow a community. Put simply, if I want to build something that’ll grow beyond me, it needs to be in a place that’s not an extension of me. My home is certainly an extension of me. If I’m out of town for 2 months, that’ll mean meetups will stop, yes? But if I do meetups in a public place, others in the same meetup group can continue to run those meetups in my absence.

    Secondly, when your intention is to get more people into gaming – and not necessarily gaming with me per se – the meetups will invariably attract new people to the group. Now these new people can be anyone, and they may not have met me before. Two questions arise, both equally valid.

    • For me, “Hmmm, I have not met this Norman guy before. How do I know he’s not a psycho?”
    • For him or her, “Oh... meeting up at his home? I don't know this guy or his group. I don't even know where his home is and who's in there! How do I know the environment is safe for me?” (especially if it's a lady)

    Obviously if you are only organising closed meetups, the above doesn’t apply at all since everyone knows everyone else and one of these people’s home is probably the best place to hold the meetup. It all basically boils down to whether you are doing a meetup just for yourself and your friends, or you are looking at a wider target.

    We are fortunate that OTK Cheras opens 24 hours, and they have infinite patience with our group, to the extent that the coffee table on the 1st Floor is kinda reserved for on Friday evenings. I would like to note our appreciation to the OTK Cheras people for providing us with a place where we have enjoyed so many meetups! In return I feel we’ve kinda made “OTK Cheras” a legendary place for boardgaming here in Kuala Lumpur!

  51. What were your goals in running these OTK sessions? Do you feel you have achieved them?
  52. The goal for the OTK Cheras sessions is simply to have a regular gaming group for the gamers who are in this part of town (i.e. Cheras). In the early days, almost ALL the gamers we knew were from the Damansara or PJ areas, hardly any from Cheras. Happy to say that now we are seeing more new gamers coming on board who live around Cheras.

    A second goal is obviously to have a place & people for me to game with regularly. :-)

    So, I would say yes, I have achieved both goals.

  53. How did the OTK sessions start out? Do you already know all the regulars (Henry, Heng, Allen) then?
  54. Some yes. Heng I met at Games Circle (Damansara Jaya) when we were doing meetups there. Henry first came to our BGC meetups in Cheras. Some like Allen, I met via OTK Cheras.

  55. You and Ainul recently started open gaming sessions at Cassian Kitchen, Subang Jaya as well, usually on Saturday afternoons. Will these eventually become weekly too?
  56. Possibly. Even if not weekly, the objective is to have monthly or fortnightly meetups. That’s Ainul’s domain so I’ll defer to his call (rather than impose on him the frequency of such meetups). But yes, we are certainly looking to go beyond just OTK Cheras. This will be part of our BGC Evangelists programme which we are working on now - to spread the love of boardgaming.

    Indonesia being played at Cassian Kitchen.

  57. You used to do MeetUps right (as in You no longer use it.
  58. It was actually very useful then. However I suppose Facebook would have made it obsolete now in any case.

  59. Where and when else do you play games other than the Friday OTK session? Who else do you play with?
  60. I used to play with a few other group of gamers. The Landak Group in Pudu, and the Terasek Group in Bangsar. Sadly these two groups are no longer active (and one of the common reasons is the hosts are no longer gaming nowadays). Then there’s the Damansara Jaya Group who used to be based at Games Circle but have since moved to Mage Cafe. I know CE (of Squark Games) is still holding Saturday meetups quite regularly at Mage Cafe. I do miss Tracy’s signature fried rice! :-) And of course, the weekend Midah Group (i.e. yourself, Han and Allen) which plays at either yours or Allen’s place! Too bad weekends are usually very busy for me. :-( I would also like to give a special mention to the Weiqi Boardgamers Group (they are all Go sifu’s - masters) who have recently caught the boardgame flu. They meet up regularly at their taikor’s (imperious leader) place every Saturday evening in Sungai Long but sometimes one or two stray over to OTK Cheras on Friday!

    Allen and Han. Hey guys, we have a name now - the Midah Group.

  61. When are you going to update the front page of :-D Or are you going to redirect the front page to your blog page? Or webstore page?
  62. That has been on my plate for some time but things just keep coming to take up my time. Hopefully I’ll get that sorted out before this year end. Part of the “delay” is also me trying to figure out how to meld all the various touchpoints into a coherent social network, without duplicating the content/effort or confusing the users.

    For now, our Facebook fan page is our de facto landing page for events & updates while our blog is our primary communication channel for what’s happening at But to answer your question, yes we’ll get our front page sorted out and yes it should be done soon. :-)

Saturday 6 November 2010

Axis & Allies Global 1940

Friday 5 Nov 2010 was Deepavali, a public holiday in Malaysia. Instead of lazing at home or wasting our youth at shopping centres, Allen, Heng, Wong and I spent a productive work-like 9-to-5 day at Allen's place, playing for the first time Axis & Allies Global 1940 (AAG40), which combines Axis & Allies Pacific 1940 (AAP40) and Axis & Allies Europe 1940 (AAE40) into one monster of a game. I have played half a game of AAP40 once, but have not even played AAE40 by itself. Here's how our game went.

We all reached Allen's place before 9am, all having already eaten breakfast. They have even printed out the reference sheets that I sent just a day ago. I had originally planned to arrive slightly earlier to set up the game, but Heng and Wong arrived very soon after I did, and we ended up all setting up the game together. Setup plus a quick overview of the rules took us an hour, I think about 40mins for setup, 20mins for rules.

Note: Sorry that some of the photos are blurry. Many were taken in a hurry while playing.

The starting setup. We had to play on the floor because the game board was just too big.

From the point of view of the Germans. Lots of U-boats (submarines) in the Atlantic ready to sink merchant ships (reduce income of the Allies). France is moderately well defended, but everyone knows it will fall to the Germans soon.

In AAG40, Russia and USA are initially not at war, and may only join the action in Round 4, unless provoked, by being attacked, or USA may also enter war if Japan attacks UK or ANZAC. This is one of the key differences between the 1940 series and previous A&A games. You start at an earlier point in history.

Heng and Allen contemplating the board. Heng played Germany and Italy, Allen played Japan. Wong played Russia, France and China. I played UK, ANZAC and USA. We decided on the country groupings up front, and then randomly assigned the players.

France had just fallen to the Germans. A French destroyer and a British cruiser have been sunk off the coast of Denmark. Heng didn't attack the my two British battleships.

After Japan's first turn. Allen pushed inland into China. He also interrupted the Burma Road on the left. Keeping the Burma Road open is important for the Chinese because it gives a bonus $6 and also allows China to build artillery. Normally China can only build infantry. Japan bought two minor factories on its first turn, and at the end of its turn, placed them in Kiangsu and Manchuria.

Japan attacked Russia early. All those planes were attacking Amur. In hindsight, Wong (Russia) probably should have moved his two stacks of infantry up from Buryatia and Sakha.

UK quickly claimed Sumatra and Java. In AAG40, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) can be claimed by the British or ANZAC and will generate income for them. If Japan enters them, it is an act of war against UK/ANZAC. However Japan can attack French Indochina without provoking UK, ANZAC or USA.

The British Royal Navy had sunk the German fleet off the coast of Denmark, taking revenge for the small fleet lost earlier. I wished I could enter the Baltic sea to sink that lonely German transport. In AAG40, to go past certain straits or canals, your side must control one or two specific territories next to the straits or canals. In this case, Denmark for the Danish Strait. For the Suez Canal, you need both Egypt and Trans-Jordan. For the Strait for Gibraltar, you need Gibraltar.

The two British battleships were tilted to one side to show that they had taken damage and needed repairs.

Egypt fell easily to the Italians. I didn't put up a good enough fight. I had evacuated Alexandria to stall for time. My ships in the Mediterranean ran away via the Suez Canal early, and eventually went to fight in the Pacific arena. My ships near Gibraltar never entered the Mediterranean. They had gone north to fight the German fleet. So when the Italians did an amphibious landing to attack Egypt, they could do shore bombardment. I didn't have any warships to distract their warships.

that caramel truck at the centre is a mechanised infantry, a new unit type introduced in the 1940 series. Cost $4, attack 1, defend 2, move 2.

USA couldn't fight yet, and on its first turn it amassed its units in Hawaii, while building more in San Francisco. All my early builds were dedicated to the Pacific theatre.

In the 1940 series there is now a new type of plane, the medium sized tactical bomber. Cost $11, attack 3, defend 3, move 6, and attack becomes 4 when paired with a fighter or a tank. It's cheaper than a bomber and more expensive than a fighter. You can think of it as getting a cheaper bomber with better defense, though shorter range. Pretty decent.

China (light green) counter-attacked in order to reopen the Burma Road.

They were successful. When placing new troops, the new troops were placed in the newly recaptured territory to defend the Burma Road. This is an exception unique for China. Normally you are not allowed to build units at newly captured factories. However China doesn't use factories. New units can be placed anywhere.

All the above happened in Round 1 of the game, and it took us slightly more than 2 hours.

This was round Round 3. Germany finally attacked Russia, pushing towards Archangel in the north, and also attacking south. The Germans had been efficient in gathering support (i.e. free infantry) from pro-Axis neutral countries. This is a new concept in the 1940 series. You can enter a friendly neutral country (i.e. pro- your side) during non-combat move, and it becomes your territory, not only giving you a one-time infantry bonus, but also long-term income. Finland in the north, and Bulgaria in the south, were both pro-Axis, and both had been claimed by the Germans.

Egypt had fallen to the Italians. UK had built some units at the minor factory in South Africa. They were now trudging slowly north.

Japan interrupted Burma Road again. Look at that stack of 8 Japanese fighters and 5 tactical bombers in southern China. There are more further north next to Mongolia. The Japanese has so many planes! They do seem to be short on infantry (but then they are cheap), and transports. Allen didn't buy transports early and opted to build 2 minor factories on the Asian mainland on his first turn.

The British troops (biege) had slowly advanced to Burma and Shan State. ANZAC (grey) had sent their fighters to South East Asia. Some British ships from the Mediterranean had reached West India. They would eventually combine with the Indian Ocean fleet to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). This was Turn 2. Hong Kong had not fallen because the Japanese had not attacked yet.

USA continued to amass a big fleet and a big air force in Hawaii. Some of these planes had flown all the way from New York. The Americans wanted to put more focus on the Japanese.

The Italians were unstoppable in Africa.

This was Round 3. Japan had attacked UK and USA, so USA could start attacking now. Hong Kong fell swiftly, and the Philippines too. Learning from my earlier game of AAP40 with Han, I had vacated the Filipino bomber and fighter earlier. The Japanese had built some transports by now. The Imperial Japanese Navy were split into two groups, one defending the homeland and the other in South East Asia.

The Japanese/Russian front had been very quiet after the first skirmish. Japan was planning to advance towards Moscow via China and not Siberia.

A British fleet had assembled in India, preparing to take on the IJN.

Off the coast of UK, the British fleet had been wiped out by the German air force, with heavy losses on the German side too. Germany then rebuilt their navy, and they gained naval superiority. The British only had a few destroyers offering token resistance. With Operation Sealion being a real threat, UK had to stock up on homeland defense.

One new concept introduced in AAG40 is that the British European funds and British Pacific funds are tracked separately. Money for one arena can only be used for purchasing units in the same arena. This means less flexibility, but one advantage is if a British capital falls, you will only lose part of your money. The other arena is not affected. Calcutta is the British capital in the Pacific arena.

The first major movement of the US Pacific fleet was to go north to the Aleutian Islands. My bombers would be in range of the Sea of Japan there, and if I later recaptured the Soviet Far East from Japan, they could be based there and could be used to strategic bomb Japan.

In the following round, the US Pacific fleet struck at the IJN off the Japanese homeland. Three fighters in Japan scrambled to help defend.

The Japanese were outnumbered and had poorer die rolls than the Americans, and thus lost the battle. I made a mistake here. A damaged aircraft carrier should not have been able to carry planes. I should probably have lost an additional plane and carrier. Sorry Allen... (he played Japan)

US eventually captured the Soviet Far East. Those transports were quite safe because no Japanese planes or ships were in range. The Aleutian Islands had a very busy temporary airport.

Start of round five. That Aton box cover on the right was one of our dice trays.

The world map at the start of Round 5, the final round that we played. I had to leave around 5pm, so we agreed to stop after finishing Round 5. On the left, some Americans had just landed in North Africa. In the UK, the Germans had attempted Operation Sealion twice, the first time successfully capturing Scotland (but it was later recaptured by the British), and the second time failing to capture England. UK had 4 fighters defending, which helped tremendously. However UK didn't have the money to build a fleet to repel the German navy. It needed USA to help in the European theatre. It was in bad shape economically because its income from Africa had been taken away by Italy. Italy was undoubtly the most successful power.

In the Middle East the Italians had a small army, and they had gained the support of pro-Axis Iraq. The Russians had presence in the Middle East too, having gained support from the pro-Allies Persians. China was now completely overrun by the Japanese. Japan was coming at Russia from the backdoor. Japan was also eyeing Calcutta. They still had a huge air force, but one difficulty was the shortage of ground troops, and the distance to Calcutta. Half the Japanese navy was gone, and the other half was about to clash with the British Indian fleet. The small ANZAC fleet, which had been so painstakingly built up, was utterly destroyed by the IJN off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The freshly built (and now rather lonely) aircraft carrier had to run away to Adelaide to keep itself out of range of the IJN.

A closer look at the Pacific arena. Hey Allen (Japan), you had a damaged carrier carrying a fighter too! So, fair enough ya, we applied the wrong rule consistently.

A closer look at Europe. The Germans had just attacked and captured Archangel, a very important city. They still had a huge stack of tanks left after the battle. The Germans were now building lots of infantry. The Italians were so rich that they had been building bombers. UK was rather helpless, and the only thing it could think of was to build bombers to bomb German factories.

Supported by its massive air force, Japan recaptured the southern Chinese provinces and French Indochina. The British was looking a little shaky now in South East Asia, and would need to churn out more defenders quickly in India. Well, at least I had recaptured Sabah (then known as North Borneo), my homestate, where I would be born many years after the end of World War II.

The Italians didn't give the Americans any time to rest after landing in North Africa. With the help of its bombers, Italy completely wiped out the first wave of US troops.

Africa was firmly under Italian rule. We ran out of Italian markers and had to use German markers flipped upside down. Julius Caesar would have been proud.

End of Round 5. We played in a bit of a hurry and didn't do all our purchases. We mostly did the fighting. USA had a medium sized navy in the Atlantic now, but the Italian navy supported by their bombers would be a big threat. Plus there was still the German navy to contend with. Thing were not looking so good for the Allies in Europe. Losing Archangel was a big blow to Russia. Now it had to try to hold out against the next German assault, likely to be against Moscow.

In the Pacific theatre, the British India fleet had destroyed the other half of the IJN, off the coast of Philippines. Japan had built 8 destroyers to try to fight off the US fleet camping outside Tokyo Bay, but that didn't work. Then again, we played the carrier rule wrong, so if we had played right, I (USA) might have lost the second sea battle in the Sea of Japan. Japan still had a huge airforce in China. It still had 2 factories from which it could churn out land units to threaten India and Russia. USA was not quite ready to invade Japan yet. Not enough transports and land troops, and also it had not maintained a supply of warships to deploy to the Pacific arena. So although Japan was now humbled due to the loss of its navy, it was not going to fall any time soon.

My thoughts after this marathon 8-hour game session is: I had a wonderful time, but I am actually not keen to play AAG40 again. The problem I have with it is its ROI - Return on Investment. Given the A&A game system, I feel playing AAG40 is too much time and effort spent for the amount of enjoyment gained. The game is too long. I don't have any problem with any specific element changed in or added to the 1940 series games. However all these things add up and make the game longer than I like. In A&A there is a lot of "work" - buying stuff, calculating money, moving troops, rolling dice to resolve battles etc. To play A&A well, you need a longer-term perspective. It is an economic game. You need a strong economy to build troops to fight. You often need to plan quite a number of turns in advance, making sure you buy the right unit types to send to the right fronts. There is long-term strategy, and it is important. However, there is a lot of work involved in executing your long-term strategy. That's how the system is.

To complete a full AAG40 game will probably take 12 - 16 hours, likely longer if all players play well. In that amount of time, I'd rather have played 4 games of Indonesia, or Die Macher, or separate AAP40 and AAE40 games, maybe even do a marathon of Axis & Allies Battle of the Bulge, Axis & Allies Guadalcanal and Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (AA50). In 12 hours I can probably play 5 games of Through the Ages. Not to say that AAG40 is not fun. Just that there's too much effort you need to invest. If I want to play a global A&A game, I'll play AA50. It's not that much more complex than A&A Revised (2004), and I think it also isn't that much more complex than A&A Spring 1942 (the current more mass market version of the global A&A game).

I may be a little biased by the fact that we did not finish our game, and did not even reach a point that one side could concede defeat. Overall the Axis did better, but reaching 14 victory cities was not exactly on the horizon yet. They had 10 - Berlin, Rome, Warsaw, Paris, Cairo, Archangel, Tokyo, Shanghai, Manila and Hong Kong. The next 4 would probably be Moscow, Stalingrad, London and Calcutta. The rest would be a little hard - Ottawa, Washington, San Francisco, Honolulu (no IJN), Sydney.

I wonder what's next in the A&A franchise. I hope it will be a battle specific game, like Axis & Allies Battle of the Bulge or Axis & Allies Guadalcanal. The A&A family is still my wonderful justification for playing with toy soldiers.

Heng, Wong and Allen saluting Hitler. Well, actually it should be Mussolini. Italy, played by Heng, was most successful.