Friday 27 December 2019

my 2019

My boardgame playing patterns and statistics have been about the same since 2016. There was a significant drop from 2015 to 2016. I realise now the change might have been because of a transition in my work life in 2015. Aug 2015 was when I joined a mobile game company. Work became busier. I had much fun at work and also committed more energy to my work, compared to my previous jobs. I had less time to play boardgames, but I still played a lot, and I still enjoyed boardgames as a hobby. Overall it was good - I found more satisfaction at work, while still having enough time to enjoy my hobby. I am now undergoing another change in work. I will be starting something new in 2020. I don't expect my boardgame playing to change much, and I'm pretty happy with its current state.

In 2019, I played 58 distinct games (lowest since 2003) a total of 339 times (slightly higher than the previous 3 years). I played 40 new-to-me games, which is the highest in the recent 4 years, though not by much. My wife and children still played some games, each having had around 30 plays of 10-15 distinct games. We completed the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle campaign, and also the Machi Koro Legacy campaign. We played some Exit games. My family are not regular players. They are occasional players.

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

Two of my dimes (games played 10 times or more) are the same ones again - Star Realms (146) and Ascension (79). Han and I are still not yet tired of them. Another dime is The Mind (12), which I found very interesting. It worked very well with casual players and non-gamers. The last dime is Machi Koro Legacy. The campaign takes exactly 10 games to complete. I played most of them during the Christmas holidays back in Sabah. My fives are Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, Keyforge, Spyfall and Pandemic: Rising Tide.

The Mind

13 games entered my collection in 2019. Four were Exit games which my wife Michelle encouraged me to buy, so that we could play them as a family activity. Two were legacy games, Machi Koro Legacy which I have just completed with my family, and Betrayal Legacy which I am now playing with Benz's group. 6 of the 13 games were bought because of nostalgia, or because I liked the series - Pandemic: Rising Tide, Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue, Santiago (out-of-print game which I first played many years ago in Taiwan), Machi Koro Legacy, Food Chain Magnate: Ketchup Expansion, Axis & Allies & Zombies. Only two games were completely fresh - Res Arcana and Photosynthesis. I bought Res Arcana due to my admiration of Tom Lehmann and his Race for the Galaxy. Photosynthesis was a gift. I don't buy many games nowadays. There are more than enough new games in my circle of friends. I am a lucky guy.

I gave away some games in 2019. Most of these are games I have not played for a long time. I think it's better to give them to people who would appreciate and play them. Some of the games are children's games which my daughters have outgrown. They were given to my nephew and niece, who are of the right ages for these games.

The most memorable new-to-me game was Three Kingdoms Redux from Singapore. Happy discoveries this year include games by Wolfgang Warsch - The Mind, The Quacks of Quedlinburg and Fuji; and Mooncake Master (also from Singapore).

Three Kingdoms Redux

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

The most memorable game session was Wingspan, due to the juvenile jokes about birds and eggs. I must clarify that the game itself does not encourage or condone such inappropriate behaviour. I introduced Ra to Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin, and that turned out to be a very funny series of games we played. Ra is magical.


New-to-me games in 2019: (alphabetical order)

  1. All Manor of Evil
  2. Axis & Allies & Zombies - A fun Axis & Allies variant which shakes things up a bit, but it's still Axis & Allies.
  3. Betrayal Legacy
  4. Caverna - For me mostly an Agricola variant.
  5. Colonial Twilight - COIN (counter insurgency) game for 2 players.
  6. Cryptid - Interesting deduction game, something different from the usual Eurogame fare.
  7. Detective: City of Angels
  8. Era of Kingdoms
  9. Exit: The Game - The Forbidden Castle
  10. Exit: The Game - The Sunken Treasure - Too easy for experienced players. I played it more because I wanted to spend time with the family than because I was looking for a challenge.
  11. Fireball Island
  12. Founders of Gloomhaven
  13. Fuji - Cooperative and unusual.
  14. Greenland - Somewhat complex, and luck can screw you. I like Neanderthal better. Luck can screw you too there. Life is not fair. Just enjoy the ride and laugh at your own misfortunes, and often others' misfortunes too.
  15. Gugong - Popular, but it didn't work for me.
  16. Hurlyburly
  17. Illusion
  18. John Company
  19. Knister
  20. Machi Koro Legacy - I prefer Machi Koro with the expansion rule, i.e. the dynamic card market. Machi Koro Legacy offers some novelty, and a shared journey.
  21. The Mind - One of the more memorable games. Something quite unusual. It is fun to teach this to new players, and watch how they learn and strategise. Don't teach them the tactics. See how they figure them out.
  22. Mooncake Master - A simple and pretty game that'll work for non-gamers.
  23. Mystery Rummy #2: Murders in the Rue Morgue
  24. Mysthea
  25. Neanderthal - Successor to Greenland. See Greenland above.
  26. New Frontiers - The Race for the Galaxy boardgame which has similarities to Puerto Rico. It's just okay for me. I prefer the two earlier games.
  27. Pandemic: Fall of Rome
  28. Pandemic: Rising Tide - More unforgiving than expected. I guess that's not surprising when one of the designers is Jeroen Doumen (Splotter Games).
  29. Photosynthesis
  30. Q.E. - Clever but a little dry.
  31. The Quacks of Quedlinburg - Enjoyable push-your-luck and combo-building game.
  32. Res Arcana - Few but impactful decisions. You have to know what you are doing. No muddling around.
  33. The River - Worker placement for beginners.
  34. Scythe
  35. Spyfall - I played using an app and not the physical game. It's very much about lying convincingly, and quick thinking.
  36. Stephenson's Rocket
  37. Terror Below
  38. Three Kingdoms Redux - A complex economic game that rewards good planning and prioritising. At its core a worker placement game, and it has some area majority too.
  39. Western Legends
  40. Wingspan - A well-deserved KdJ winner. Well produced. Decent gameplay. I had a pleasant experience with it.

Wednesday 25 December 2019

boardgaming in photos: Ra, Coconuts

23 Nov 2019. I met up with Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin to continue our Betrayal Legacy campaign. The campaign takes 13 games, so it requires some commitment. That day, I also brought along Ra and Carcassonne. I thought it would be nice to have some variety. To my pleasant surprise, we had an absolute blast playing Ra. We enjoyed it so much that we played a few games back-to-back. I had originally expected to play the whole afternoon. Eventually we played all the way into the evening, only taking a break for dinner.

Ra is a 1999 game. It is a classic by Reiner Knizia. It is an auction game with an Egyptian setting. You compete in auctions to win various types of tiles. Different tiles score points in different ways, and these ways of scoring are all related to the Egyptian setting. The game is played over three eras. In each era there is a countdown. When time runs out, you may no longer collect any more tiles, even if you have unspent suns in hand (suns are your currency). In the photo above you can see that the Ra tiles have almost filled up the countdown track. One more Ra tile drawn from the bag and the era will end. At this time everyone with suns remaining is nervous. At any time the era will end and all unused suns will be wasted.

When I taught the game and played it, I was proactive in explaining how to evaluate the set of tiles on the board. I described the options available to the active player, and explained the pros and cons of each option. I wanted to make sure everyone understood the implications of the possible actions. Because I was so enthusiastic, I ended up sounding more like a used car salesman than a sincere teacher. I was convincing and my arguments were sound, but that only made me even more suspicious. Ruby said she had never seen me so keen and talkative, having known me for more than four years. I kept saying yeah this set of tiles are good, because of so-and-so, and then with another set I said again this is great too because of so-and-so. They all found it hilarious.

Benz said my #1 sun was the most powerful sun in the game. The #1 sun is the lowest valued sun in the game, and thus the weakest. When I had the #1 sun, I often invoked Ra, i.e. I triggered an auction round. In Ra, if your suns are weaker than others, you must not allow too many tiles to accumulate on the board. By the time a valuable set of tiles are gathered, the players with higher suns will certainly beat you in the auction for it. By invoking Ra early, you put them in a dilemma. There may be some tiles they are interested to get. If you succeed in making them win the tiles, you would be forcing them to spend their high suns without claiming too valuable a set. If you win the set yourself, you are only spending a low sun for a semi-decent set of tiles. I understood this principle and explained it to everyone. I used it to good effect, and everyone with high suns felt under pressure. That was why Benz said my #1 sun was the biggest threat.

We kept making fun of one another for being uncultured swine. In Ra, you need to collect at least one culture tile every era to avoid a 5VP penalty. This felt painful and everyone felt an urgent need to have some culture.

As we played more, we realised that fighting for pharaohs was important too. If you win the lead and stay in the lead for most pharaohs over three eras, you will earn 15VP, which is a lot.

Suns in hand are scored at the end of the game. Highest total scores 5VP, while lowest total is penalised by 5VP. In this particular game the suns I held were 1, 2 and 4, so certainly I came dead last and had to take the penalty.

21 Dec 2019. We celebrated younger daughter Chen Rui's birthday in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, my hometown. It was a family dinner event at home. I brought out Coconuts. I had brought the game to Sabah because I was going to give it to my nephew Oswald and niece Lauren. The occasion was a non-gamer occasion, so I taught the game without the action cards. It worked fine that way, probably better than it would have otherwise.

In Coconuts any coconuts which land in cups must not be taken out. If all coconuts are used up and no one has won a 6th cup, you compare the total number of coconuts in the cups you have won. Whoever has the most wins.

Chen Rui won this particular game. She got so excited that she fell off her chair. Literally.

The monkey-shaped catapult.

It was the first time Michelle's uncle played, and he won. In this game Chen Rui robbed a cup from him, and he became determined to take revenge and win back his cup. It was funny watching them play. This is what gaming is about - adults get to be children again.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Friday 20 December 2019

why you totally should hire a boardgamer

You are a company CEO. Your business is growing. As your headcount grows, you start needing a strong management team, from middle to senior level, which can help you run your business. You get your HR person to create a job posting at Jobstreet (recruitment website), or LinkedIn, or Glassdoor, or Wobb. You get a flood of resumes to sift through. You dread the many interviews you'll need to conduct. This is so much work. But there is a simple solution - go hire a boardgamer! Here's why.

They are fast learners - These fellas play a new game every week, often more. They devour new rules faster than most people finish a glass of teh tarik. They are always keen to learn and to explore. Think of all those weird strategies they come up with trying to break a game. Remember the Halifax Hammer?

They are strategic thinkers - Many employees drag their sorry bums to work day in and day out and work like mindless zombies. Boardgamers, however, are people who are motivated and think three steps ahead. When playing A Game of Thrones, they consider every possible move of every opponent and the implications of every move. They always see the big picture, the bird's eye view. They know what are important and what are not, where the risks are, and where the opportunities are. They know how to prioritise.

They are good at planning - In Agricola, they are already building a new room and stockpiling baby food even before the make baby action card (a.k.a. family growth action card) appears.

You save on legal costs - These rules lawyers... if they can argue game rules so convincingly, like the honour of their family depends on it, imagine what they can do in real business.

They are often good judges of character - Such skills are honed in games like Poker, Sheriff of Nottingham and Liar's Dice.

They are decisive - If they can send thousands to die on the beaches of Normandy, you can rest assured they have the stomach for tough decisions. They weigh their options coolly. They quantify the risks and rewards. They pick the most practical approach without being swayed by their personal biases.

They are creative - Those crazy stories from Dixit; those wild clues from Codenames; those seemingly NSFW sculptures in Klaus Teuber's Barbarossa. That's innovation. That's genius.

They are excellent warehouse and storage experts - How else could they have managed their collections of indecent sizes?

They are well trained in stealth and deception - Think about those games they manage to sneak past their spouses without leaving any financial trace.

They are top-notch negotiators - These people would trade their grandmothers in Diplomacy and Genoa. Sometimes even Bohnanza.

They start with the end in mind - They are crystal clear what their goals are. They have a laser focus. You don't need to remind them what the victory conditions are. They are trained to remember all the sources of victory points. They are able to quickly analyse and determine the most efficient ways of scoring points. In Puerto Rico, they are already eyeing the large purple buildings by the end of Round 2.

They are good at maths - Especially those who play Power Grid without a calculator. Even more so those who play Francis Tresham's Civilization without a calculator.

They are walking encyclopedias - They can tell you about obscure ancient battles, names of towns in countries you don't even know exist, and how cats meow in more than 7 languages. They can strike conversations with any kind of client you may be serving. They are well learned and they are excellent spokespersons for your company.

They are excellent trainers - If they can teach Paths of Glory, they can train your staff on any topic.

They are dedicated and hardworking people - All those painted miniatures, sleeved cards, pimped components, laminated player boards. I've seen people sleeve Carcassonne tiles and Samurai tiles. These boardgamers have passion. That's love and dedication!

Warning: Never make them your financial controller - The way they buy games... how they Kickstart games... and the sets of metal coins in their collections. They are going to bankrupt you if put them in charge of procurement.

So yes, go boardgamers!

Sunday 15 December 2019

Axis & Allies & Zombies

The Game

Plays: 4Px1.

Axis & Allies is an established brand. I consider the series more mainstream than niche. I have played many games in the series, starting with the 1984 Milton Bradley version. I have fond memories and there is certainly some nostalgia. I'm a fan. When Axis & Allies & Zombies was first announced, my first reaction was this might be jumping the shark. Zombies?! This version is not designed by Larry Harris but by another design team. When Axis & Allies 1914 came out in 2013, the series was already going a little off topic. The 1914 version is about World War I, and the combatants in WWI were not called Axis and Allies. Still, it is understandable that the Axis & Allies brand is leveraged upon. Games are to entertain and need not always be historically accurate. Even the original Axis & Allies is not exactly historically accurate. Well, at least not precisely so. Axis & Allies & Zombies is simply a variant of the well known global arena Axis & Allies game. Think historical fantasy. If you are comfortable with that, it will work fine.

Let's do a quick summary for those unfamiliar with the series. If you are a veteran, skip this paragraph. Axis & Allies is an entry level wargame about World War II. Up to 5 players control the major powers - USSR, Germany, UK, Japan and USA, and they fight it out on a world map. This is a team vs team fight, with the Axis being Germany and Japan, and the Allies being USSR, UK and USA. You fight for territories, which generate income. Money is spent on armies, navies and aircraft, which are needed for battle. You fight until you capture all your enemies' capitals, or until they surrender. You will roll many dice during battles. The game mechanisms are not particularly complex, but it does take some effort to digest, in particular to remember the unique abilities of the different unit types and their interactions. The game takes a long time to play. Expect to spend one full day at it.

The story in Axis & Allies & Zombies starts with an experiment being done by German scientists going awry. A zombie plague breaks out. Zombie infections pop up randomly all over the world, creating trouble for everyone. These random outbreaks are more annoying than debilitating. The bigger headache is whenever any infantry unit is killed, it becomes a zombie. Zombies are generally passive. They don't move about. They aren't organised. However, they do occasionally bite if you share the same territory. When there's a battle, gunfire triggers them, and they may bite both attacker and defender. The likelihood of attackers being bitten is higher, so in battle the presence of zombies is slightly beneficial to defenders. However cohabiting with zombies comes with risks.

The seemingly small rule addition of dead infantry becoming zombies changes the game dynamics significantly. In the Axis & Allies series, infantry is arguably the most important unit type. They are cheap. Their defensive ability is not exactly high but it's good value for money. They serve as cannon fodder, because the battle resolution system allows players to pick which of their own units to lose. Naturally you want to lose the cheap infantry. With the introduction of the zombie rule, suddenly the heavy use of infantry comes with significant risks. You will likely create many zombies, for better or for worse.

The victory conditions are changed too. Now your goal is to capture just one enemy capital, while still controlling all capitals of your side. This win condition is checked only at the end of a round, i.e. after all five major powers have taken their turns. There is an alternative ending - humans losing the world to zombies. If zombies control too many territories, the game ends, and the two sides compare the total economic value of their zombie-free territories. The side with a higher value wins the game. You don't win the war. Both sides lose the war to the zombies. It's just that you enjoy a less pitiful lifestyle compared to your enemies.

The Play

Jeff hosted an Axis & Allies & Zombies event, and eight signed up. We split into two tables of four. At my table were Allen, a couple, and I. The couple was new to the series, while Allen and I had experience. At first I thought it might be better to partner an experienced player with an inexperienced player. Allen suggested not to break up the couple, lest in-game battling lead to real-life quarreling. So Allen and I paired up as the Axis, playing Germany and Japan respectively. These two major powers were far apart and could not collaborate much. The boyfriend played UK and USA, because these two nations usually needed to collaborate closely to plan for D-Day. Also letting him play two nations meant he got to play more. The girlfriend played USSR, which was a less messy nation to play. Ladies tend to be less enthusiastic about war games, so we recommended that she play a less tiresome faction.

This was the full board in the early game. The Germans started the game only one territory away from Moscow, so on USSR's first turn it already needed to decide how to deal with that. The first instinct was of course the defensive one - to kick out the Germans from that territory immediately adjacent to Moscow. However it was also important to consider how much to commit to that battle, and how to position the troops after the battle. The European continent was already fully under German control. UK and USA needed to plan carefully how to break in. Pearl Harbour had not yet happened. On Japan's first turn it had to decide whether to do it. It would deal a heavy blow to USA, but it would also divert some of Japan's navy and air force to the Pacific Ocean front against USA, away from the Asian mainland. Japan had only this one chance in Round 1 to pull off a Pearl Harbour, because its turn came before USA. If it didn't attack in Round 1, USA would consolidate and better protect its navy.

That white thing is a zombie. This is the German and Soviet front. This is a place you can expect many infantry units and thus zombies. The game we played was more a learning game than a serious competition. Axis & Allies & Zombies is not a complex game by wargame standards, but to players new to the genre it is daunting and it requires some effort to digest. I tried to help the new players by reminding them of their options, and alerting them in case they made any obviously bad moves. Sometimes this meant exposing my own agenda and the possible countermeasures, but I think it was right to treat this as a learning game and to be open about all this. We should not just bash the new players and let them learn from the pain.

My hometown Sabah (on Borneo Island) was infected. That lone British infantry unit now had to worry about getting bitten whenever it went into the bushes to take a poop.

In Round 1, the UK orchestrated a massive attack to capture Thailand (and the Malayan Peninsula) from Japan. UK's turn came before Japan's, so Japan could not do anything to prevent this.

After the Australian army went off to fight in Thailand, a zombie popped up in Alice Springs. Trouble. Australia has a factory pre-printed. This is one of the differences between Axis & Allies & Zombies and the standard Axis & Allies. In AAZ you don't get to build new factories. That's why they are pre-printed on the board as opposed to being represented by game pieces. Also there is a special type of factory which only produces infantry. Both China and India have such infantry-only factories (called recruitment centres).

The skull marker indicates that a territory is zombie controlled. A territory becomes zombie controlled if there are only zombies and no units from the Axis or the Allies. If the territory has a factory, it is controlled by the zombies only if the number of zombies exceeds the territory's economic value. Zombies have no leaders and don't proactively invade neighbouring territories. So even if there are many of them right next to you, you don't really need to worry about them coming after you. However in general they are still annoying and they disrupt your plans. Battles in zombie infested territories are slightly more unpredictable. Zombies which randomly emerge in safe territories far behind the frontlines can be a pain in the neck. Sometimes they capture your safe territories and deny you income, and thus force you to divert energy to recapture the territories.

Our USSR player (girlfriend) played aggressively. Our session was at Black Horse Cafe, and they closed at 1am. We didn't have a lot of time, and knew we likely wouldn't be able to finish. So we just went all out and didn't really plan very far ahead. Just whack and see what happens. USSR pushed back strongly against Germany, but it was a costly counterattack. Under normal circumstances this likely wouldn't be sustainable.

My Japanese forces recaptured Thailand and destroyed the British fleet protecting it. Infantry units killed in combat became zombies and now they were becoming a real problem. Chinese armies (in this game represented by American pieces) had all been destroyed now, and had become zombies too. Although there were no more Chinese defenders, China still had a factory which could produce new infantry units. Also those hordes of zombies made sure Japan conquering China was going to be painful. One of my Japanese bombers was forced to land on the Chinese coast, and was now colocated with four zombies. This was a dangerous situation.

UK had a factory in India which could produce infantry units. It sent a fighter and a tank from the Middle East to protect India. My Japanese forces in Thailand was no serious threat to India yet. In fact I had to worry about UK attacking Thailand again. Further north, I started to make headway into Chinese and Soviet territory. I had decided not to attack Pearl Harbour. I committed the Imperial Japanese Navy to support the land grab on the Asian mainland.

The Soviet offensive went all the way to the gates of Berlin. However the attrition was severe, and things didn't look good now for the Soviets. Germany had built up a formidable army of tanks and infantries and was poised to counterpush.

In the end, we only managed to play up to the middle of Round 3. The cafe was closing and we had to pack up. Japan was now pushing towards Moscow, but it was not a major threat yet. The frontline between India and Thailand was a hot spot now. The Imperial Japanese Navy still hung around Japan supporting the transfer of fresh troops to the Asian continent.

The Thoughts

Axis & Allies & Zombies is still very much Axis & Allies. The designers did not try to dumb down the game to cater for the masses, just because the zombie theme was a wide-appeal one and would help to attract new players. If you are hoping to convert some friends to the Axis & Allies series and you don't think the standard Axis & Allies would work, then Axis & Allies & Zombies would not work either. This is not a gateway game. It's more a variant meant for people who already like the series, or for people who can accept this kind of complexity in games and this genre.

You will see the familiar dilemmas in Axis & Allies & Zombies. The Axis often opts for the Kill USSR First strategy, while the Allies usually try to squeeze Germany from both directions. USA needs to decide how to allocate its resources - Pacific theatre or European theatre or both. Zombies throw a wrench in your plans, and I find that a welcome challenge. I see the game as historical fantasy and I don't mind the silliness of the story. It translates to an interesting predicament, and I find that enjoyable.

Some subtle optimisations were made to the board design. I find that some territories are designed such that they are more easily reachable. Many territories are in range of many combat units. This means fewer turns needed for just moving troops. There is a higher sense of danger and threat. It feels you are going to start fighting sooner. I like this urgency. I think the tedium is slightly reduced.

Now I am hoping to schedule another session, and to be able to complete a full game.

Thursday 5 December 2019


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Hurlyburly is a children's game. Or a drinking game. That sounds rather extreme, but I'm sure it works in both situations. It is a dexterity game about building towers and using catapults to destroy them. Your goal is to build a tower of a certain height, and have it last one full round undamaged. Whoever achieves this first wins the game. In this photo, on the left you can see a single-storey tower. This is your starting tower, which, admittedly, is not much of a tower at all yet. On the right you can see the catapult loaded with a rock (the wooden cube).

Every turn, you get to pick one action out of a number of options. You may build your tower. There are two ways to go about this. The steady approach is building one storey using two wall pieces (cards folded into an L-shape) and one floor / roof piece (card placed horizontally). The second storey in the photo above is built using the steady approach.

The other approach - the fast approach - is building two stories each using one wall piece and one floor piece. The 3rd and 4th stories in the photo above are built using the fast approach.

If you choose to build, you may build defenses instead of the tower itself. When building defenses, you add three pieces in any combination of walls and floors. Defenses are built around your tower and must not touch the tower itself. They protect but do not support your tower.

Another action type you may select is to collect rocks. They are the ammunition for your catapult. When you perform the collect rock action, you take one rock per storey of your tower. The higher your tower, the more efficient this action becomes.

The most fun action is, of course, attacking! This photo above shows how it is done. When you choose to attack, you may spend as many of your rocks as you like, and you may attack as many of your opponents as many times as you like. You are only limited by the number of rocks you hold. For each opponent you successfully attack, i.e. you knock down at least one floor card, you steal one wall piece and one floor piece from him to build one floor at your own tower. If you manage to hit three opponents, you will build three storeys at one go! This is "no pain, no gain" - others' pain becoming your gain.

If you are out of rocks, you may still pick the attack action. You get one free rock (a pity rock), so you can still launch one attack.

The catapult card is thin and cannot launch the rock very far. One of the actions you can perform is to upgrade your catapult. You do this by adding a thin card to your catapult like in the photo above. This gives your catapult a bit more power.

The flag does not have special meaning. Knocking it down is not considered a successful attack, but there is a consolation - you take your rock back and can use it again for another attack.

With 4 players, your goal is to reach 4 stories. Once your tower reaches the 4th floor, and it lasts one full round without getting knocked down, you win.

The Play

The most joyful aspect of Hurlyburly is demolishing your opponent's towers with one well-aimed shot. You can get so much fun from this that someone eventually winning the game feels anticlimactic. Hurlyburly feels like a game of skill. After all you are the one taking aim and unleashing the rock at your opponent's tower. However, I am not exactly sure how much control you really have. The catapult may not be a very precise instrument in the first place. I may be overthinking this. It's a kid's game (or a drunk buddies game) for goodness' sake. It doesn't really matter whether the catapult is a pRecIsE iNstrUmenT.

One thing you can control is timing. I find this very important. When your opponents have many rocks in stock, you should not try to build too fast. It would attract attention and you would become public enemy number one. Instead bide your time and wait for when your opponents are low on ammo. If your tower reaches the required height at such a time, it is much more likely to survive one full round. This is very much the competitive and calculative veteran boardgamer in me talking. Kids may not think this way, and would still have a blast playing the game. When playing with like-minded old farts, the game becomes a game of chicken. Let's see who dares to sprint ahead. Whoever does so will be beaten back by the rest. The next guy who tries it will be targeted by everyone too. There may be some ebb and flow as people patiently collect rocks and build their towers, and then the towers get smashed. The number of walls and floors are limited so when they run out, you are forced to attack others and steal their walls and floors. Eventually there will be a time when everyone is low on rocks, and whoever seizes the right timing will build, and with some luck last the full round, and win.

We did a 4-player game. At the start of the game, the starting player gets one rock, and the subsequent players get 2, 3 and 4 respectively. Everyone starts with a single-storey tower. Whenever a tower is completely demolished, you get to rebuild a single-storey tower for free. Think of it as having insurance.

We hadn't followed the rules properly. Afterwards I looked up the rules and found that all towers should be about 50cm apart. Also when you shoot, your catapult should be further away from the opponent tower than your own tower.

It may look easy, but damaging an opponent's tower is not exactly easy to do. Sometimes you miss to the left or right. Sometimes you shoot too near or too far. Even if you land a blow, it may not topple any wall or floor. Once during our game the rock landed neatly on one of the upper floors, looking more like a DHL parcel delivery than a flaming boulder from hell. Yet sometimes just one lucky shot can completely destroy a full-height tower.

The Thoughts

Hurlyburly is a simple and straightforward game. You get the exhilaration of smashing your opponents' towers, and the anxiety of becoming the victim yourself. You may think it's just child's play, but when your painstakingly built tower gets pulverised, you will want revenge on the jerk who did it to you, and you won't care if you are being childish. That's what the game is about. That's why hurling wooden cubes at cardboard towers can be so engrossing.