One might expect from my avatar that I am interested in motorsports. Which is true - specifically I am enthusiastic about Formula 1, the only sport I really ever cared about. However, I never really cared much about motorsport board games. It wasn't always like that, though, and I did have some Formula 1 themed games in my wishlist. In my beginnings at the hobby, when I got very disappointed with 7 Wonders, I traded it for Formula D. However, after reading the rules, I felt it wouldn't be very interested and didn't even play it before accepting an offer to trade it for Imperial. Which was definitely not bad, as it quickly became a perfect ten game to me and showed me economic games could be fun, but what about games related to one of my strongest interests?
Lucas Industries were founded in Birmingham in the late 19th century. They produced electrical equipment for cars and had ads that could be seen in virtually all racing events in the 50s-70s - making it easy for me to get a cool avatar
From the other racing games I added to my wishlist over the years there is GMT's Grand Prix which got some praise (but from what I heard it is inferior to the Nascar-themed one using the same system, Thunder Alley), Legend: History of 1000 Miglia seemed to be a very impressive simulation, and Race! Formula 90 had a lot of appeal as it clearly targeted a generation of racing enthusiasts I was part of.
At some point I actually had the idea of making a Formula 1 game myself. One that was not necessarily about winning races, but making money out of them - players would be team principals who would hire drivers and spend money on car development and hope to make a profit, and heavily investing in driver quality and car technology or getting pay drivers and trying to make the most out of modest machinery would be viable strategies.
After finishing a minimally functional prototype, I did some playtests with strangers and friends and the game worked - but was too long. Ideally I wanted it to simulate a season (at least a short one), but even playing a single race was taking more than I wanted to. And so the project became dormant.
At some point I found out about Wolfgang Kramer's racing games. His very first published game, still in the early 70s, was based on this system on which you players were handed cards that moved pawns, placed bets on them, and then used the cards to manipulate the movements to get what you bid for. It became obvious the system could be themed to motor racing, and so Kramer made many games with that system: Formel 1 Nürburgring, Top Race) Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix, Daytona 500 and Niki Lauda's Formel 1.
The latest incarnation of that system is Downforce, released in 2017. It is telling that I didn't even bother to add it to my annotated wishlist, as I got to a point I wasn't really putting much effort into looking for racing games. But then BoardGameArena added it to their catalog and I've been playing it like crazy - just a couple of weeks and it already became one of my top ten most played games ever.
With social isolation, all my games have been untouched for months. There was no other option possible but to adapt to online board gaming, and so sometimes I played with friends (those I played with before covid19 and those now away from me), sometimes with people who attended a weekly public gaming event in my city, sometimes with people from the Deep Cuts guild. And what happened was that in all these groups, people were commonly asking for Downforce.
The appeal is obvious: the game is bloody quick (I've once had five plays of it in a single night), its rules are very straightforward and it is hilarious. As I said before, players get cards that move all the cars - but since cars can sometimes block those that are behind them (especially if you placed on tighter corners), which of course leads to loud tables (or, in these times we live in, a lot of cursing on Discord).
Any cards with movements for the yellow and/or the red cars will be useless for them as long as the blue car is there (Picture: Raf Cordero)
All of a sudden the Deep Cuts gang with which I've been playing train games or stuff like Container or Fresh Fish was having all those ideas about racing games they'd like to test or revisit - Mississippi Queen, Circus Maximus and... Formula D.
Which we just played yesterday, with the Monaco track from Formula Dé. It is a very different idea, as it is a game about winning the race only (no bidding involved) and the mechanics is more about pushing your luck with some "hazard management" stuff added to give players more control. It was also very fun, but it is a much longer game than Downforce, the length being exactly proportional to the number of players (which is not the case for Downforce as there are always 6 cars and players usually move all of them during the race).
In the Formula 1 season of 1956, Juan Manuel Fangio, one of the best (for many, the best) driver to have competed in the sport arrived in the last race at Monza with a good lead, but in principle it was still possible for him to lose the title to his team mate at Ferrari Peter Collins. As was so common at the time, Fangio was the fastest on the track and got pole position by 0.8s, but by the 30th lap his car broke. When Collins pitted his car, he saw Fangio without a drive and didn't even think twice before handing his car to him - which was allowed by that time (the two drivers then collected half the achieved points for the final position). That, of course, meant Collins would have no chance of winning the championship, but this act of sportsmanship is a testament to how much Fangio was respected by his peers. After jumping into Collins' Ferrari, Fangio finished 2nd on that race, he and Collins got 3 points each, and Fangio won his fourth of five world championships.
I arrived late to the Deep Cuts gaming session yesterday and I misunderstood the initial plan, thinking we would be playing just one lap of Formula D. Doing a couple of laps would be too much for me, as my timezone is one hour ahead of US East. But since NotJeff destroyed his tyres and spun, I left the race and he picked up my car, which ran on last for most of the race (until that spin, of course). He still managed to finish third with it! Well, Formula D is not as quick as Downforce, but it can also be fun.
The title of this post is a quote from Murray Walker, who used to be the main Formula 1 pundit in UK and was famous for not thinking a lot before making comments which led to hilarious results - like for example saying "there was nothing particularly wrong with his car, except that it's on fire". Watching old races with original Murray Walker audio can also be great fun.
A place for my recollections and opinions about board gaming and what else comes along.
- [+] Dice rolls
01 Jun 2020
In a moment the world is facing a terrible threat (in Brazil, two), it's not easy to find the mood to write about games. But in other times it was clear that writing was actually a good thing to do, so after being nudged to write a post in my blog about train games, I guess I should to the same here as well.
Early this year I bought a second-hand copy of TransAmerica, one of those games that seemed to be right up my alley (very simple rules, player-driven game). Some issues delayed its delivery and I just put my hands on it on mid-March - i.e., when playing games face-to-face was all of a sudden a thing of the past to me.
In the first days I had bigger things to worry about than gaming of course - I had just two recorded plays in March, both online games I have started before I had any idea this would be the case for all my later games in the following months. But when I became calmer and adapted my life to the new situation, I started to think about it. While I have tried online games in sites like yucata.de or BoardGameArena in the past, I wasn't really a regular and the only frequent online gaming activity I still had (since the sad day when Tigris&Euphrates at BGG was shut down) was doing some 18xx game with the Deep Cuts folks. Which was really great as it made me test a lot of 18xx designs so I could decide what would be a good mini-collection for that kind of game (I told a good part of that story in the post lbleicher's 18xx world tour - part I, in my train-related blog (for the record, after deciding I'd like to have "an 1830-like, an 1829-like and something quirky" I settled with 1889: History of Shikoku Railways, 1846: The Race for the Midwest and 18Rhl: Rhineland).
So in April I got a BGA premium account, which made possible to play with a couple of friends I mentioned many times in this blog (they lived from walking distance and were always up for anything I suggested) - mostly longtime favorites Carcassonne and For Sale. Many times I mentioned how Carcassonne is underrepresented in my records as I wasn't registering plays in a time me and my wife played - while we probably got our 10th play in less than a week, only almost a decade after that it officially became a "dime" to me. There's a reason why it is one of the few games with a maximum score on Martin's board game ranking based on popularity over time - this game really doesn't get old and I can't think of any newer game that could get its place. And BGA's implementation coupled to audio (premium gives their own implementation, but of course one can also use Discord) really makes online For Sale almost as good as the real thing. It is my favorite filler of all time and the game itself is already wonderful as is, but all the ooohs and aaaahs on that kind of game contribute a lot to the experience.
Earlier this year I declared Container had just became my fourth perfect ten game. So, after starting to play online I obviously looked for a way to play Container (and, by the way, few geeklists are more useful these days than this one: The Exhaustive List of Board Games You Can Play Online for Free). And I found boardspace.net, a website I have read about in the past (I've subscribed to the geeklist Proposed BoardSpace.net games for quite a long time) but never used. It is a bit old-fashioned in design and gameplay itself happens on a java executable rather than on the site itself, but it is really great. I mean really great. Not just because it has a great implementation of one of my favorite games, but also because when we ran into a bug and I wrote the developer (Dave Dyer) mentioned, he just joined my next game as an observer to see it happening, fixed it shortly afterwards, and after I asked if the site took any kind of donations to cover costs he just answered "No I don't take donations. You can help by doing your best to increase my expenses by playing more and bringing your friends."
Thanks A LOT, Dave!
Container at boardspace.net
Another web-based site we tried was boardgamecore, which has The Great Zimbabwe. I'm pretty sure it must be a great way to do it for experienced players, but learning that kind of game (which is quite opaque and has a lot of details) may not be the best way to do it. Their interface works great, though.
I also bought Tabletop Simulator, with which one can play dozens and dozens of games. I had mixed feelings about this one - it is a very heavy interface as it simulates the physics of the board (you actually pick up stuff on the board and move them around), which at first turned me off and felt counter-productive (as seen from the fact that a Container game in TTS took roughly one hour more than the same game on boardspace.net), but now I think that, for the same reasons learning a game like The Great Zimbabwe didn't quite work for me in an online implementation such as the one in boardgamecore, the fact you actually see things being moved around in TTS may facilitate the process of learning new games. At first I tested it with games I already knew (I had a game of Fjords, a couple of Chicago Express plays and also Northern Pacific) but in May I tried two games I always wanted to play, never had the chance to, and probably would wait years until I had the opportunity of doing so.
The first one was Fresh Fish. I've read about it many times and had many reasons to believe I would like it. The first one is sort of esoteric: it comes from 1997, the same year of [thing=42][/thing], a time I fondly relate to the idea of board games with simple rules that had immense implications, a lot of interaction, player-driven gameplay and everything being done in a central communal board, not in individual tableaux. And Fresh Fish is all that. A "before the fame" masterpiece from Friedeman Friese which I hope I can find a copy at some point.
The second one was Dutch InterCity. A friend got permission from the publisher to make a TTS box for personal use as he had a copy, and so I got the chance to play this very interesting early Winsome design - already a great distillation of track building, auctions and stock holding (coming eight years before Chicago Express), and with some very curious stuff such as auctions going on until one player runs out of money, railroad directors making blind bids to fight for building rights if two railroads simultaneously want to lay track on the same place, and treasury money being divided between shareholders in the end of the game. I enjoyed this quite a lot, and I hope that, now that a lot of Winsome designs are getting new editions by larger publishers, someone picks this one up.
Another nice thing that happened in these weird times was making some online activities with the Meatballs Geek Chat League. We did For Sale, Wavelength, Codenames and I finally played Coloretto as it should. Up until 2010 modern board games were simply not a thing in Brazil - but then came the first Brazilian edition of Catan, followed by Coloretto, which I bought when I had just moved to a new city and could only play with my wife. Which was wonderful for Carcassonne as I mentioned, but after trying the 2-player variant for Coloretto it seemed very uninteresting and I just traded it away. Turns out I should have kept my copy (it is now rare to find here), as the multiplayer game is quite interesting.
Finally, the current situations made me give second chances to two things I'm not overly excited about: wargames and solo gaming. Being a huge fan of Tom Russell's minimalistic masterpiece Northern Pacific, earlier this year I decided to buy the PnP files for his game Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy, which I've seen described somewhere as "a wargame for train gamers". All hope for playing it vanished with isolation, though, and so I bought another set of PnP files for one of his solo games: Agricola, Master of Britain. Turns out the game is quite interesting, and I expect it to have much more replay value than my first attempt at solo wargame many years ago with Field Commander: Alexander (which was fun, but once you completed a scenario there wasn't much of a desire to do it again).
Well, for obvious reasons I couldn't do something I was really looking forward to: the first train game event in Brazil, which would have happened in April and where I was hoping to play all those 18XXs I would never have the opportunity to play otherwise, plus other interesting stuff. I hope things get better soon so we can think of doing that in the future. Stay safe!
- [+] Dice rolls
21 Feb 2020
I do a lot of computational biology, a field on which there are many complicated models for doing lots of stuff. Some of that stuff I use, but I also create some methodologies. My favorite one, which I have been using to study protein families, is based on very simple math. Part of this is because I don't have the statistical/mathematics background to create sophisticated models myself, but another important reason is the joy of seeing something simple being useful.
Of course, not always the simplest solution provide useful insights. What if we ranked the board games on their average rating - a simple metric anyone can understand? Well many problematic artifacts would follow: for starters, any game that had just a single rating of 10 would go straight to the top of the ranking (tied with all others in the same situation of course). So the reason why the current BGG ranking is based on complicated statistics is because it has to deal with the many things that can distort it.
It is very clear, by looking at the current ranking, that it is very heavily skewed towards newer titles. Are board games always getting much better than the ones made in previous years, in order to justify the quick cycling of the top 100? Or what it actually measures is the current hotness? There is of course a heavy dose of personal opinion about that, but it would be hard to disagree that the ranking may be overrepresented by games that get a very big number of early high ratings - even if it actually has games that are quickly "substituted" by newer ones.
This week, fellow geekbuddy qwertymartin came up with an incredibly simple and very useful way of ranking board games. For each year, he checks the top 100 most played games (by unique players). Then he simply adds how many years a game was among this top 100. So, what he's actually measuring is what are the games that get played by a lot of people over many years - which to me is more informative than the regular BGG ranking.
The first thing that gets immediately noticed by people looking at that list is just how familiar it is. It feels familiar for obvious reasons - if year after year those games still get played by lots of people, you probably were one of these people at some point, and for many games it is likely that you still are.
As per the current ranking, the highest "score" is 15 years among the top 100 most played games, and the games that got that accolade are Catan, For Sale, Lost Cities, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, No Thanks, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: Europe
I entered the hobby in 2009, and back then I remember Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride being considered "the holy trinity of gateway games". Over the years I wondered if it still made sense to say so, and it felt comforting to see that is still the case. I understand why some people might decide to stop playing those and move to something else, but the fact these games keep being among the most played games after so many years (Catan is from 1995!) proves that for far more people they are still worth playing. Ticket to Ride is the only one I didn't keep in my collection (I found a game that is even simpler than Ticket to Ride and even more interesting to me).
I entered the hobby with Tigris & Euphrates, a game my wife (then girlfriend) hated. So when we got married I tried to figure out what could please her, got a copy of Carcassonne and it was love at first sight. For some period in 2010 we would play it virtually every day (commonly more than once). We got some expansions after that (from what I remember The Count, The Cult, Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders), but ended up getting rid of all but Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders, which have been called the "essential" expansions. But you know what? I would be fine without even those two - the base game is already perfectly fine with no expansions, and it is to this day my favorite of the "holy trinity".
I had thoughts of selling/trading Catan but my wife insisted we keep it as it used to be her favorite game. She wasn't playing it much, though, and a poor game experience a few years ago let a bad taste in her mouth (I remembered it as more fun). But it seems the thing that didn't age well in Catan may be the fact the game is a bit longer than other similar games in a way that is not very interesting (the start game is a bit slow as people are getting very few resources and there is not much trading as everybody usually wants the same things when the game start). So I heard about a simple variant that made a big difference: letting people start with one settlement and a city (instead of two settlements). This shortens the game in its less interesting part, and since then the thoughts of getting rid of my copy haven't been occupying my mind.
So, while plays per year I had for the "holy trinity" varied greatly (for Catan and Carcassonne it had big streaks of plays but also a few years without any), the same cannot be said about another from the top scorers in Martin's list: For Sale. Please excuse me if you already read this somewhere (I lost count of how many times I retold this story in various BGG threads), but it is a game I bought at some point in late 2010/early 2011 because I've read many times about it being the "perfect filler", but I read the rules and thought "Wait, the game is just this? How can it be any fun?" - and so it spent a lot of time collecting dust in my shelf. Until the day I finally played it and became ecstatic. It's been almost a decade and I am now one of those claiming it is the perfect filler. Eric Brosius says there's a famous saying in his group: "there is always time for For Sale", and I could just as well say the same. It is perfect for opening or closing a game session (or both), for playing back to back many times, for an "emergency" gaming session... My BGG gaming log has 28 entries for it, a number I am absolutely sure is greatly underestimated, I played it every year since I bought it, and I just can't get tired of it.
While I shamefully never played Lost Cities or No Thanks, I suspect I might like them as well.Mogul, which created the mechanic used in No Thanks.
And seeing Power Grid among the top scorers was quite a nice surprise. Another story I told many times over the years was how I got into "economic games" - in the very first years on the hobby I didn't even consider playing any of them, as I thought "games about economy couldn't be any fun", and during a period on which most of what I did on BGG was look for that short duration civ game holy grail, I asked on a mailing list if anyone had Antike for trade, nobody had it, but some guy offered Imperial, which was from the same designer. I was still skeptical about the "economic game" thing, but I've read good things about it and decided to give it a try, and I'm so glad I did - it quickly became my second perfect 10 game, and now I have many economic games in my collection - they can be incredibly fun as well, some times to the point of hilarity.
I suspect Power Grid is one of those games that could have been something I'd play a lot, but it wasn't the case simply because of timing. For too many years in the hobby I never had the chance of playing it, but when I finally did I already had a lot of games that, as seemed to me (I could be wrong), would fill its niche. I did enjoy it a lot in the single play I had, though, and I would gladly play it again. Especially because the fact it got 15 years in the top 100 games with most unique players (it still is) teaches an important lesson I already learned a few years ago: economic games can be fun, and even one released sixteen years ago can be played a lot to this day and attract new fans.
I have been thinking about that list all the time since it was posted and it's been very fun to follow the comments from other users. In a half-serious/half-joke comment I mentioned that Martin's next cool project could be to come up with another metric to find the hidden gems. And I have also been thinking about which other simple ideas could give other useful information.
One thought that crossed my mind, for example, was that the fact the data used was unique players from each year, that could mean different things as we don't know who those unique players are: are the thousands of unique Catan players in 2019 the same (or at least a good overlap) of the thousands of unique Catan players in 2009? Note that there is really no problem if they are not: that would still mean that Catan is such a good game that, even though it is now 25 years old it still attracts a huge number of new players. And this is obviously the case, as can be seen from the simple fact that Catan is still being sold a lot.
Since the two situations (new unique players every year and lots of unique players that keep playing those games) are seen as the same in the input data, one interesting thing to do would be disentangling those in order to separate the list in two categories (not really black-or-white, but looking at the extremes would be interesting): the great gateways, i.e., those that are such timeless classics they are getting new players every year, but then those players move to other games after some time, and the great keepers, those which the same people keep playing over and over for many years.
Perhaps a simple way to find the second category (or perhaps even unearth some hidden gems) would be a sort of game-specific h-index, on which a game would have an h-index of n if there are at least n unique users who played it at least n times.
It seems that would not be a difficult number to get, as each game already has a page showing the players who played it the most. If you are curious and want to see how does it look like for your favorite game(s), just click on this link:
And then substitute 42 for the id of the game you are interested at (if you enter the BGG page of a game, it is the number before the game name in the URL).
I was quite surprised to find out there are more than 10 games on which I'm on the first page (i.e., among the 100 people who mostly played them): Tigris & Euphrates, Chicago Express, Imperial, 1846, Fjords, Northern Pacific, Tempus, 1889, Poseidon, Trick of the Rails, 1830 and Gheos. Which gave me quite a good feeling I described in the comments on Martin's list: I may not play as much as I like, but I do replay what I like.
Well, this post became quite big and I must be going: I have plans to replay Container and Modern Art tonight!
- [+] Dice rolls
13 Feb 2020
While my ratings are usually good overall, I don't give many games a perfect ten. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not too strict - isn't it too harsh not giving a 10 to games I love so much such as the 18XXs I own (1889: History of Shikoku Railways, 1846: The Race for the Midwest and 18Rhl: Rhineland) just because they are much longer than what I usually play?
The first game I rated a 10 was also my first modern board game - Tigris & Euphrates. I'm nowhere close of playing it as often as I did a decade ago, but I did it recently and I stand by my rating. A few years later, Imperial was next, and it is also a game I play far less than I'd like (last time was about a year ago), but whenever I have the chance to do it, I confirm it deserves the perfect ten rating I gave it many years ago.
The last time I rated a game a ten was two years ago - Chicago Express joined that very exclusive club in January 2017, and for this one I really can't complain about not playing it often: it was my third most played game in 2019, the only two ahead of it being very quick games (Northern Pacific and For Sale). Chicago Express seems to have everything I like in a game in the same package: it has very elegant rules, it plays in less then one hour, it has shared incentives, it has simple auctions, it has stock holding, it has trains. I simply never get tired of CE, even more because of the fact that, as opposed to other people, it seems I virtually never face the commonly reported problem of seeing the game break with newbies. I admit I've seen it twice, but in 30+ plays that simply isn't a serious problem to me - perhaps because I usually give some basic advice for newbies when explaining the rules (with such a short ruleset it's not as if that meant serious delay).
Well, a few days ago I just had my 6th play of Container. And I found out there was really no reason to keep delaying what was simply unavoidable - to rate it a perfect 10 as well.
As with T&E, Imperial and Chicago Express, Container has a very simple ruleset - the players drive the game, not rule intrincacies. It may be just the epitome of this quality, as everything in the game seemed to be chosen in order to make the game only playable by interacting with others. You produce containers, sell them to warehouses in ports on which cargo ships can buy them and finally export them, but you can't buy the containers you produced, you can't dock into your own port, and while you can refuse to accept the highest bid when a shipment of containers is exported, choosing to do so comes with a great cost.
And the great news is that most people I played it with loved it (well, perhaps not all of those who were in the couple of games on which I got two very important rules wrong and we tanked the economy), which means replaying it many times probably won't be a problem - in the last game one of the players even wanted to include it in the group's 10x10 challenge.
Being the sole 18XX owner in the city I live until recently, I face this difficult conundrum: I don't play often enough to play them fast (my 1889/1846 games have lasted around 3h30-4h), and the fact I don't play them fast mean it has been difficult to set up gaming sessions. There are two great news on that front - some of the guys I recently presented 18XX games to got so excited they're contemplating the idea of getting their hands dirty on PnP 18XX projects, and a frequent economic gaming partner (who just loved Poseidon, 1846 and 18Rhl) who moved out some time ago is coming back with a vengeance - oh, wait, not a vengeance, but a copy of Steam over Holland she found for a great price while living in Rio.
Oh, and now there's also this: [Save the date] First Brazilian Convention on 18XXs and economic games - April 18-21
I always felt a bit jealous of all those nice stories about gaming conventions, and I always told fellow traingamer worol that there should very obviously be a train game convention in Minas Gerais state (well, it isn't obvious for those outside Brazil - refer to my previous post Trains with trains). It still didn't happen, but he and his friends in Brasília (our capital probably has the highest concentration of train games per citizen in the entire country) decided to finally pull the trigger and do a convention on train games (and other economic stuff as well). I'm going of course, and judging from the geeklist with games being brought/requested, it will be the opportunity I needed to play all the stuff I have always liked to play but didn't because either the games were nearly impossible to find (say, most Winsomes not picked up by other publishers) or that could be found with some effort but were unlikely to be played here due to time constraints.
For quite some time I have been curious about Harzbahn 1873, a game mixing the usual 18xx standards with mining. The Brasília gang has just ordered a copy from Marflow Games, and when they mentioned it was for a convention, Wolfram kindly offered a prototype of an upcoming Marflow release to be playtested - another great example of how nice this community is.
- [+] Dice rolls
17 Jan 2020
While 2019 was not a great year for the blog itself (only four posts), I played great stuff - and also much more than in 2018 (143 plays vs 69).
As usual, I'll start by electing the Game of the Year. I admit this category seemed to be quite biased since I started doing that - nothing but train games since 2016 when the winner was Steam, my first acquisition since I decided to use a more rational method to organize my wishlist.
This year it seemed as that trend would finally have an end after I had the chance of get a lot of repeated plays of Gheos, a very curious game that can be described as a stock holding game disguised as a civ builder, or perhaps a sort of Tigris&Euphrates with shares. All those plays showed it is indeed a very interesting game, but one that really needs a table of attentive players who won't let someone get away with super powerful kingdoms. While it's easy to break a continent in smaller parts (it's as if most tiles could be a catastrophe tile as those in Tigris&Euphrates), it's also easy to mend it again - which means that in a multiplayer game it is desirable to have two players doing it to ensure the leader doesn't keep his goldmine for himself.
This quirky game seemed to be the strongest contender for my 2019 Game of the Year, finally putting an end to the endless train of train games (sorry about that), until I discovered something ridiculously simple and ridiculously brilliant: Northern Pacific.
Further thoughts can be found in the review I wrote (yeah, that "ridiculously simple, ridiculously brilliant" link), but I'll try to summarize it here.
I have always been a fan of board game elegance even when I wasn't aware about what that meant (I started this journey in 2009, with Tigris & Euphrates). Doing a lot with little is a designer quality I have always admired, and I would struggle to see a more dramatic example than this.
This game can be explained in 20 seconds. Really. But then it provides the player the most unbelievable distillation of shared incentives a game could possibly have - it's all about making temporary alliances and drive the gamestate to situations that suit you - or at least that are better to you than others, or if they are better to others, than at least to the others that are behind you.
I always mention the fact that For Sale is a game that spent quite some time collecting dust because I was skeptical about it after reading the rules, and when finally played it immediately became my favorite filler - and even though I got many other stuff over the years, nothing took its place. Well, I guess it now has at least something to put it in rotation with.
I easily amassed 14 plays of it this year (to put it in perspective that is 10% of all my plays in 2019), and by the third quarter it seemed that, once again, my pick for Game of the Year would be, once again, a train game. But then something happened.
I don't have a huge game collection, but as many people I do have a shelf of shame, a problem that I hope to solve this year and get everything I own played instead of buying anything new. Currently, these are only 5 in my 56 collection. One of them is a game I bought in the same opportunity I had with Northern Pacific. A couple of years ago I wrote a post titled Am I done buying games?, and indeed I haven't bought many game since then. The fact that the exchange rate for R$ is now terrible definitely helps anyone here wanting to spend less on games, but I did have a chance to get games shipped to a US address this year, and so I decided I should get one game I really must have, and then one or two quirky games that would be impossible to find here. The first one, as one might has guessed, was Northern Pacific. The two others would be Confucius, a game that caught my attention due to being based on the concept of players owing favours to each other, creating a web of mandatory positive interactions, and Conspiracy, which has been called an ahead-of-its-time hidden gem that also has ridiculously simple rules and the game is all about the players.
The BGG marketplace seller who I would get Conspiracy from just couldn't find it on his attic on time, and so I ended up with just Northern Pacific and Confucius. The first one, as I already mentioned, was a blast. The second I tried to play once on a day when my schedule was tight, rules explanation was taking too long to allow us to actually play it, and at one point I just decided "you know what, let's play this another day and just play Northern Pacific instead".
So Confucius is still part of my shelf of shame and I hope to finally play it at some point in 2020, but now I really suspect that it should be better if I just made a better effort in trying to find another copy of Conspiracy.
Oh, did I mislead you into thinking Confucius would be the 2019 Game of the Year? Sorry about that.
The actual 2019 Play the Game Tonight Game of the Year is...
See, the reason I was talking about shelves of shame is because I have bought Container in July 2018 and it was never played for over a year. Actually, it was only in mid-November that I finally played it. And then two other back-to-back plays just a couple of days later. Then another play with a couple that had virtually no experience with any modern board game. And only after that with the recommended player count with five.
You know, I have read a lot about Container really needing five players to shine, and about the risks of newbies making the economy crash, and so I delayed its debut forever. Only to finally do it and exclaim to myself how did I spent so much time in this hobby without playing this?
Container is the epitome of elegant, player-driven game. It is the perfect antidote to the solitaire engine builder - here, it is just impossible to "do your thing on your own". You start producing containers, but then you set a price so that someone else buys it. Too much greed and they will acumulate dust in your warehouses, buddy. You can also sell containers in your port, but those are not the ones you produce, they are bought from the other players according to the prices they set.
And finally there's a simple pickup-and-deliver on top of that on which everybody has a boat with which they can visit ports to buy those containers (sorry, buddy, you can't buy containers from yourself - you have to visit the ports from the other players and pay what they are asking for them), and finally ship them to an island on which there's a region for each player and the amount of containers and their types (differently according to each player) will determine how much money you earn at the end of the game - most money from the sales plus what you have on hand wins.
That final level of the economy - selling a shipment to the island - is the single action on which it is possible to be selfish on the game: it is sold in a blind bid auction, and the seller can either take the winning bid or pay the same amount to the bank to keep the shipment himself. But even that isn't encouraged - first because when you sell a shipment to someone else you get her bid and the same amount from the bank (so you spent X instead of earning 2X, which makes quite a difference), and second because if players remove money from the economy (by paying for the shipment to the bank), the next bids just won't get much better and that is how the economy can crash (not playing by the correct rules can also cause this of course - I forgot players start with a container in the $2 space and that ships start on the sea, and that is exactly what happened).
So this is an incredibly interwoven economic system that creates an outstanding player-driven game with very few rules. Which is quite a relief when we think of how complicated economic games can be these days - sometimes unnecessarily, I dare say.
So yeah, for the first time since my first Game of the Year in 2016, we didn't have a train game, but a ship game!
Of course, there are a few honorable mentions I should write about, so let's do it!
It may be weird to add to the list a game I have just removed from my collection, but the fact I did it actually proves its worth. The reason I bought 18Lilliput was because, in the situation of being the sole train game enthusiast in a city full of eurogamers, 18Lilliput seemed to be just the perfect gateway for people in my situation. By making a simplified Series: 18xx with euro mechanics, it seemed to fit the job of bringing eurogamers to 18xx. It did just that. And it did it so well that now I feel I won't really struggle to find players for my "regular" 18XXs, which meant 18Lilliput could go and do its magic for someone else. Thanks for that, Lonny!
When I played 18Lilliput with a couple of friends (she was already into economic games, he had virtually no experience with them), they liked it so much that I felt I could make a bigger step after a few days - and so I debutted 18Rhl, this wonderful 18XX from Wolfram Janich. Remember I mentioned importing games to Brazil is now awful? We had the opportunity to ship to an European address in the end of 2018, and so I asked Lonny to ship them 18Lilliput, and I asked people what game from European publisher Marflow Games would be best for what I was looking for - a game that was as elegant as possible, not too long and different enough from 1846 and 1889 so that I could complete my ideal "minimal 18xx collection": a 1830-like game, a 1829-like game and something quirky.
18Rhl was the recommended game and it didn't disappoint. It has a lot of interesting things to do on the map (thanks mostly to the fact that it is divided by a river that can only be crossed at four specific points), special routes that players will really fight for, two different capitalization modes according to the phase, and Montan bonuses for routes connecting coal and steel sites (with variable places for one each of those sites). The fact it is longer than the other 18XXs I own meant I couldn't really play it as often as them (I just had my second play), but I can safely say I now consider it to be at least as good, and I can't wait to play it again.
Maskmen and Belratti
You know, I just love games in small boxes. If I was forced to point out a single thing I dislike about Northern Pacific, it would be the box size. It is just the perfect game to be carried everywhere and pulled out whenever a group of people had ten minutes to spare for the single-run game, or a bit more for the three-runs game. Instead they made a big one, and that is probably my only issue with that wonderful game. Maskmen and Belratti, though, were two lovely games I discovered in 2019 that fit in lovely small boxes. Maskmen is a quirky card game on which suits "fight each other" to determine their relative value, while Belratti is a co-op that is impossible to play solo on which players alternate from two "teams" - the artists who hand "paintings" according to the round theme, and the others that have to identify those instead of the "fake" paintings added randomly by Belratti the fake artist. I highly recommend both, and fitting shelf space definitely won't be a problem.
North American Railways
I have talked a lot about my admiration for The King Is Dead/König von Siam, on which Peer Sylvester creates a masterpiece in board game design by making an elegant, short and incredibly clever distillation of the area majority mechanic. Being a fan of such distillations in general and loving stock holding/commodity speculation games, it was just natural I would like this one, and it didn't disappoint.
High Society and Acquire
I still have a lot of "classics" to play (and, specifically, many Reiner Knizia designs are among my favorites, but there are a lot of his most respected games I didn't play yet). This year I finally played one of his "auction games with a twist", High Society, which is indeed a lovely game. The trick here is that players bid for stuff that will let them win the game but the biggest spender is automatically removed from contention - so you need to fight for the good stuff while also trying not to pay too much for them.
Also, I played Acquire, a game that was unbelievably released in 1964! It is a very elegant game about stock holding and mergers whose only fault is the high dependance on luck of the draw. Still, when we consider the kind of games that were coming out at that time, this is really sheer brilliance.
Clash of Cultures
Civ games are the kind of thing that always caught my attention, but which I never really got into due to game length, which is why I spent years of my early years in BGG looking for shorter options, a journey I wrote about here: My quest for the Civ-lite holy grail: Tempus
Clash of Cultures deliver an excellent civ experience (there's exploration, there's conflict, there's technology development, there are units spreading on a map - sorry, Through the Ages, to me a civ really needs a map), in about 30 minutes per player, four players maximum.
Peloponnes Card Game
I remember playing the original Peloponnes years ago and thinking "now this is what 7 Wonders should have been!". But the game was hard to find and usually expensive, so it was quite great news to learn that there was a card game version which, according to reports, played very similarly to the original and that was released in Brazil. I got it, played, enjoyed it quite much to the point of carrying it everywhere in my backpack - which was stolen last November. I didn't think twice before getting another copy.
Cannes: Stars, Scripts and Screens
I've had mixed feelings for the games from cult publisher Splotter Spellen, and perhaps not surprisingly it seems to be a time-related thing. 1999 game Roads & Boats was love at first sight, just as the brilliant 2005 economic game Indonesia, but their 2015 hit Food Chain Magnate, while very enjoyable and fun to play, seems to have the usual "modern euro" characteristics I'm not too fond of. This lesser known 2002 game is actually quite cool - it could have been just another resource-convertion euro, but it has a very interesting network building component that makes it stand out of other games in this genre. I guess I should make an effort for trying their 1999 game Bus.
Phew, it seems in this post alone I wrote more than in the entire year of 2019! But wait, there's more:
Everybody else is doing it, so why can't we?
Of course I wouldn't miss the opportunity of making my very own lbleicher's 2010s in board gaming, so there it is.
Outside of board gaming, 2019 has not been a very good year around here, and the early days of 2020 suggest it won't get much better. So what we set out to do was to make our connections to people stronger, meeting more our friends (my wife's book club was excellent in that role) and even making new ones, so we could deal better with the current state of things.
And BGG itself was instrumental to make more "virtual" bonds as well - I am having a great time with the Deep Cuts gang and the Swedish Meatballs GCL. Thanks a lot!
- [+] Dice rolls
I commonly joke about my wife qualifying to X-Men, because her memory should definitely count as a superpower. I mean, seriously. Ask about anything that happened during her lifetime, from important to ordinary, and she will tell you when it happened with scary precision.
One time a couple of friends came over to play Carcassonne. Many weeks later one of them asked me, sort of just for the sake of trying, if I happened to know exactly the day they came over, because that day they had some trouble in the automatic gate of the building they lived and they needed that information to report the company in charge of it. I said "well, I don't, but I'm sure my wife will know".
So I asked her and in a matter of few seconds she did her magic by remembering what exactly happened during that specific week, what day of the week it probably was, and voilà: "-April 15".
With stuff that happened many years before she usually don't get the exact day right (but sometimes she still does, as she remembers stuff such as "oh, that happened right after this or that holliday"), but virtually all the time she can pinpoint when something happened with at least month-year precision. She has been recently complaining about her memory not being as good as it used to be. Yeah, right - that "not as good" is still well above that of normal human beings.
We are about to complete ten years of marriage in a couple of months, and so we've been spending recent nights looking at all the pictures we took since then so we could make a nice album instead of just collecting digital pics.
Which also enabled me to also do some fun stuff - look at the many pictures we took at gaming sessions during all these years and see which of them I had recorded on BGG.
I've written many times that the biggest discrepancy in my logged plays and what I actually played was Carcassonne - when we moved here my wife and me used to play it all the time for weeks. Every day, usually more than once. But that was before I started logging plays on BGG, so I have "officially" 5 plays when it is likely I have a few tens.
One thing I'm sure she will never forget will be the day I added a cathedral to a city she needed just one tile to complete (picture: sergut)
There was a picture from that day when the couple of friends came over, and so I updated my plays. There were others - a curious one was a game of Cartagena on which we had the terrible idea of playing with more players than the game allows.
Cartagena is a game where players who go last have some advantage over who goes first - it's a very simple race game on which you use cards with specific symbols that let your pirates move to the next unoccupied space with that symbol. Since the board is empty as the game starts, the first player will have nobody to "jump" and will place their pirates in the beginning of the board, while whoever goes last has a lot of occupied spaces ahead and can therefore jump a lot of positions and quickly get close to the boat where all the players pirates must land.
So we were visiting the city I was born and had all these younger cousins visiting and we wanted to play something - but the 2-5 player count of Cartagena was not enough for everybody, and someone suggested "why don't we just pick meeples from Carcassonne and use as extra sets of pirates?"
Well, given the game trait I just described a couple of paragraphs above, that was obviously not going to work, but we did it anyway. Only to see the last players (those "extra" ones using Carcassonne meeples) just place most of their pirates in the boat with just a few cards and the game lasting almost nothing. Well, there's a reason it is a 2-5 player game, right?
Here we also adopted the tradition of letting the winning player kick everyone else's pirates out of the boat(picture: CEnzo)
Anyway, finding out the info about that day made me update my logged plays and Cartagena just became a dime for me (I suspect the actual number may be higher anyway). It's a fun filler which I never took seriously (i.e., played with the Tortuga variant on which cards are open) and I don't know if I want to - if I wanted to play something more strategic I would probably just go for something else, and I guess I could try other Colovini games for that (I've heard great things about The Bridges of Shangri-La and Clans).
The archaeological excavation also recovered one "Halloween play" of Fearsome Floors, one of my wife's favorites and a quite a hilarious game that I'm surprised at how unknown it seems to be (I'm pretty sure I'm the only person owning a copy in the city I live).
Speaking of superpowers, in a recent GCL Meatballs entry I mentioned that for some reason it's incredibly rare that I face a problem commonly reported in comments about Chicago Express - that newbies not only struggle too much with it, but they can even break the game. I just had my 30th play of this wonderful game today, again with a couple of newbies, and it went perfectly well - that "newbies breaking the game" scenario is something I saw happening only twice in all those games.
Then qwertymartin very kindly said perhaps that was because I was a good Chicago Express teacher. Could that be my own superpower? I did a terrible job recently teaching Container (a game that has a lot of commonalities with Chicago Express and Modern Art) in my second game when I forgot about a critical rule that tanked the economy in two games in a row. I recovered a bit of my faith as an explainer of player-driven economic games when the fourth play was actually a big success, but the greatest achievement was really in the fifth one: two players had virtually zero experience in boardgaming (with the exception of stuff like Pictionary), and the game went perfectly well - and they had a great time and want to play it again. Felt good really.
Now I just need to get my act together and learn the rules of Confucius and Steel Driver so I can finally play them.
- [+] Dice rolls
05 Oct 2019
In the very beginning of my modern board gaming journey, when I fell in love with T&E, there was not much of that in Brazil - the revolution would only start in 2011, when Catan was finally released here.
But back in 2009, at least we had Monopoly Deal Card Game. My initial impressions about that game are the same I have today: It turns a long and boring game into a quick and fun one. I played it many times in 2009-2010, but then I found out about so much better card games (I got For Sale in 2011, for example, and it still is my favorite filler ever) that I can't remember the last time I played it (it was before I started recording plays at BGG).
My later attempts at "Game X - The Card Game" or "Game X - The Dice Game" were not that successful. When my wife became very enthusiastic about Catan we thought of alternatives for two and we tried its card version (Rivals for Catan) and the dice version (Catan Würfenspiel) and we didn't like either. It also didn't help that, after we became crazy about Modern Art, we got Masters Gallery later and thought it was very uninteresting.
So I can't remember ever being hopeful again in any card/dice versions of games I'm interested in.
In my early years at BGG I had this crazy obsession about Civilization games. I knew it would be unrealistic to get the "standards", as finding people willing to reserve an entire day for a board game was very unlikely, so I spent probably more than 90% of my advanced searches looking for what seemed to still offer what I was looking for while playing quickly (I ended up settling for Tempus - more about that journey here).
I also remember having high hopes for 7 Wonders because of all the hype surrounding it when it came out - an incredibly quick civilization game, even when played with up to 7 players! Well, not that I don't like it - I played it many times after trading my copy - but it's just an engine builder with a clever way of making a game go fast: people do everything at once and you only interact with your neighbors.
And then one day I played a friend's copy of Peloponnes. My first impressions were that it was what I wanted 7 Wonders to be, and if not for it lacking a fighting mechanism (I like civ games to have some sort of conflict, but not those which are all about the conflict) it would be just the perfect "quick civ". But it was usually expensive enough that I never prioritized it over other stuff I was interested in and I ended up never playing it again.
So it was a very pleasant surprise to find out a Brazilian publisher brought Peloponnes Card Game and that, according to early reports, it was just as good as its big brother. So I got a copy.
Having played it three times and not having written anything on this blog for quite some time (2019 Brazil is really draining me), I thought it would be a good opportunity for a few thoughts.
I debuted it with a friend of mine who enjoys heavier stuff, and after reading a GCL Meatballs geeklist on solo gaming I then decided to try the solo rules. I've owned many games that could be played solo over the years, but I never tried those solo variants. It was somewhat fun, but of course it would be probably very unfair to rate a game based on auctions after playing it only in what tend to be the worse player counts for such games.
Well, today I finally played it with three, so I guess I could have a better idea about the game. And as expected, it gets much better.
It was always obvious that I would prefer this when compared to 7 Wonders, because auctions are among my favorite mechanics and I never cared much about card drafting. Just as 7 Wonders, the "civilization" theme is quite thin, but there's something quite interesting in this game that 7W does not have: the preparation for "disasters".
On each round six cards are laid on the table, and the first two are checked to see if they have a symbol of one of five possible disasters (most of them have it, by the way). So you move the "disaster countdown" counter one position - if they reach the final position, that disaster strikes.
From those six cards, some of them are laid on a "conquest" track on which the first to bid guarantees the card but has to pay +3 compared to its minimum cost, while the rest are open for bids - first on player order can bid for the minimum price, and then other people can bid on the same card for a higher amount (and the player with the previous bid can raise the bid or give up and bid for something else), until everybody gets a card, which are then used as buildings (usually give points and sometimes special powers) or fields (which produce resources). Those cards have a lot of stuff on them - the minimum bid, what resources are needed for them to be built, what they produce, whether they have inhabitants on them, whether they give any immediate resource to the owner, and also stuff that protects you from those disasters. Most have a symbol for each disaster that will let you be protected from it if you collect three of them, some rarer ones immediately protects you from a specific disaster right away.
This is quite fun because even though disaster strikes are luck-driven you see them coming and can try to prepare for those which are more likely to happen soon. Each disaster affects players in a different way, but will happen for all those that didn't get protection from it.
There are also multi-use currency cards that players get according to their current population (a possible runaway leader problem that could arise from this is mitigated by the fact that there are "feeding events" during the game on which those with higher population needs to feed them all and remove construction cards with people if they cannot do it) and can be used during the auction phase using the coin side or as resources in the hidden side.
The game ends when the construction deck is exhausted (there are three decks that are separately shuffled then piled sequentially), and the score is the lower amount of points among those gained by "power" (that comes from the constructions) and "people" (the total population plus "people cards"). Cards on hand help raise those scores (if the player has "people" cards they count as population, the rest can raise the total "power" as every six cards equal one power point).
There are of course a few more details on the game as this isn't an attempt to do a thorough review but rather give my initial impressions, which were quite good. It clearly seems to be the kind of game that shines with higher player counts, as more people will fight for cards on the auction phase, but more players probably won't mean the game will last too longer, because after that phase everything else is done simultaneously by the players.
And considering the fact I'm part of the Movement for Smaller Gameboxes (hey, I even have a geekbadge for that!), the fact it has everything on a small box that can fit in any backpack is really a big plus. I suspect this is a keeper.
- [+] Dice rolls
18 May 2019
No, I don't like games on which actions are scripted and it seems you have no choices. This post is not about that.
It is about something that usually becomes increasingly rarer for gamers: having opportunities to play and no options to choose from.
It should be obvious that the first time it happened to me was when I bought my very first modern board game: Tigris & Euphrates. I had this delightful process of uncovering the nuances of an opaque game with a group of friends who were also just starting to play and we only played T&E, because, well, it was the only game I owned. The (small) ruleset of T&E just lets you know what you are allowed to do, how you score points and how a game ends and the winner is chosen, but there is nothing obvious about what is to play well. Night after night we were discovering bits of what playing well looked like, and adding those bits to what we learned a few days earlier. -Oh, look at him, he's making a checkerboard pattern with temples and leaders! -Nah, I won't build this tiny strip of tiles to get that treasure, it's just too easy for someone to just disconnect me from all those tiles with a single catastrophe. -Oh, it seems it is much better to steal monuments than to actually build them! -Wait, what if I use my first action to create a war I won't win anyway, and then use the second one to put my leader back in this huge kingdom with an internal conflict I actually can win? -Ooooooooh!!!.
One of the very few flaws my wife has is not liking T&E. Actually, she not only dislikes it, she hates it. So, shortly after we got married, I bought Carcassonne, and since T&E was not an option, the result was that, for a few months, we played Carc over and over and over. It is one of the games for which my plays are very underestimated, as I started logging my plays on BGG after that period.
Then my game collection grew, people I played very often with moved out of town and so it's been quite a long time since I last had anything remotely similar to that. Well, until this week.
I went to a conference where I was going to give a short course and share a hotel room with two other guys who also play games, but are not collectors. So that would be the perfect opportunity to revive that situation of playing a lot, but having no options. I had enough space in my bag to bring more games, but I decided not to do so. And so I gave a quick glance to my shelf and thought: which of these games I wish I could figure out? And then Gheos passed through my eyes.
I dedicated an entire post to Gheos in A hidden gem arises from the shelf of shame. And then I wrote a little bit about it in another post when my geekbuddy qwertymartin decided to buy it and I had played it again with three players, as my debut match was with only two and I already thought it was one of the most interesting games I have played in a long time). But after that I never played it again. This was the perfect opportunity to see if this was really a keeper or if I was just overexcited about its quirkiness.
To make things even better, Gheos is a short game. It says 45-60 minutes in the box, which is true for most games, but sometimes it can end even earlier due to the randomness of the Epoch tiles. For those who never played it, it is a game on which players use tiles and may place tokens a la Carcassone but with a lot of twists, one if them being that the game ends after a certain amount of those Epoch tiles (which trigger scoring) are revealed.
So in the first night we had one game which was almost as if everybody was playing for the first time, as I hadn't played it for so long and just twice, and then we just started another one right away, on which I started to figure out how to play well. For example, once you use all your three cup pieces there's no point in keeping followers from civilizations without pyramids, so that's when you should focus on causing mayhem. Think of it as a T&E game on which everybody has infinite catastrophe tiles and you just have to pay a small price to use them (which can be zero depending on the situation), or instead of catastrophe tiles they can be used to create wars on which, as opposed to T&E, you won't be handing points to other players.
Things got vicious. After two plays on the first night, we had three in the second, as the first one finished in 20 minutes or so because the last Epoch tile came out very early. All of a sudden there were winning scores of more than 100 points, and big swings were happening now that we were figuring out how to effectively manipulate those wars and migrations to our favor.
There was "only" one game in the third night, but this time with four players, as we convinced an italian scientist (who never played a board game before) to join us, he had a great time and said he wants to buy a copy to play it with his son (I hope he's lucky with that, as the game is out of print). And so in a matter of just three days Gheos came from a game I played just two times to a game I'm now two plays short of making it a dime.
In that second post on which I talked about Gheos, I said:
If the next games show me there is more room for creative play, this can easily become a 9. What could make it go down would be finding out the learning curve is too flat and too much is decided by luck (this is more or less what happened to Tempus, a game I always enjoyed, but which dropped half a point after my enthusiastic initial impressions.
After those six plays in a matter of three days, I decided to raise my rating to a 9. Of course, it's still possible that it has a fate similar to that of Tempus, but up to now it's holding up pretty well.
Oh, and I can't wait to have another "no option" opportunity like that. Stephenson's Rocket would be great for the next one.
- [+] Dice rolls
As usual, let me start by reminding how things were a year ago. I started by saying I was a bit sad by the fact my number of plays went down, to 120 recorded plays. I wouldn't have imagined the number would even be considerably lower the following year: in 2018, I had only 69 recorded games, and if I remove online games (I'm recording online 18xx games as they usually involve a simultaneous chat channel which makes things much more interactive) that means my total number of plays was cut by a half this year. Oh, speaking of that subject I even dedicated an entire post about logging game plays.
I have also chosen 1846 as my "2017 game of the year" (in 2016 it was Chicago Express, the masterpiece in board game design elegance that became my third "perfect 10" game). I think those were not surprises to me, but looking at what I played most in 2018, I really need to choose what I wouldn't expect back then as my 2018 Game of the Year: 1889: History of Shikoku Railways
It makes sense to choose it as it was my second most played game last year (six times - did I mention I didn't play much in 2018?), but what makes this unexpected to me is the fact I never played it face-to-face. All plays were using board18.com, virtually all with the Deep Cats.
And why is 1889 so interesting? Because after my 18xx world tour I found out that 1889 is the perfect companion to 1846 when it comes to my gaming interests (elegance and reasonable playing time - two difficult things to achieve in 18XXs), as they are complementary in many ways. 1889 has more of the famous "stock market shenanigans" associated to 18XXs, including stuff that are not possible to do in 1846 and most one-dimensional market games - as for example running a "yellow strategy" (purposedly making a company have a low stock value in order to have more shares than the limit). So here it is: 1889 was my game of the year and, after trying a few games that seemed to be interesting, was also my decision of my next 18xx buy.
2018 also had some other nice surprises as well. Here are some highlights:
I had only two plays of it yet, but it is by far the most curious game I knew in 2018 - the short description for it being "a share game disguised as a civilization game". As weird as that sounds, that will make sense once one plays it: it is a game that look like a civ as players are spreading peoples through a map that grows each turn, but the catch is: players are not attached to "their" civilization: they actually manipulate the civilizations to grow, fight each other, creating conflicts or destroying their terrain by changing the terrain, all while making "a profit" according to how many followers of a given civilization they currently have (yes, as in "some times receiving dividends from companies according to how many shares they have" - see?).
What is funny is that I believe I could probably try to play this with the kind of people who "hates economic games especially those involving stock" and they won't even notice that Gheos may also be that (I knew a few people who had that kind of strong dislike for such games and I should really do that experiment), while at the same time it will probably also be interesting for those who do like such kind of game.
Ok, I played this only once, but this certainly deserves mention, because it was my first "experience game" (or, my first "epic" game, as the fans of such games like to call them). My full account is here, but to keep things short, I still have a soft spot for civilization games even though in recent years my "main thematic interest" has shifted from them to train games, and even though this is definitely not the kind of thing I would play frequently (it's a full day game, perhaps a weekend if with a full table of, oh-my-goodness, 18 people), I'd gladly play this once or twice a year - the game owner plans to stage some games this January and I'll be on holidays for most days, so perhaps I'll do it soon.
Perhaps the most interesting short game I knew in 2018, this has a type of auction (later made famous by No Thanks, which I never played) on which people put tokens on a pot to stay on the auction or get whaterver is already there to pull out, while collecting shares and trying to make them more valuable. Very simple rules, but what is "good playing" is not obvious at first sight (at least for me, as I lost by a good margin in my two plays).
There are economic games which are purely deterministic, including what makes stock prices fluctuate, and there are those that involve hidden or random elements - those commonly being more raucous. I love both kind of games - sometimes I want to play a 18xx, sometimes a Ponzi Scheme, and Tulip Bubble is a very nice example of the second category of economic games. People buy and sell flowers whose value can have wild swings in price - both due to things players control (as the supply/demand of flower types) as well as random "event cards" - which even determines when the final crash will end the game (in one of the last three rounds), so there's also a heavy push-your-luck element here. I'm not in a hurry to procure a copy because I feel as it is on the same niche as Ponzi Scheme which I already own and I already know a guy who has a copy, but I had a very very nice first impression.
And what do I expect for 2019 in gaming?
First, I need to act on my shelf of shame: most urgent items are Steel Driver (which someone recently described as "Martin Wallace trying to be Knizian", something that of course caught my interest), the actual Knizia High Society, Container (which I'm a bit afraid of debutting without a proper player count - I've been told it really shines with 5) and two games from local designer Luish Coelho, Recicle: Tempos de Crise and trick-taker Afluentes. By the way, Luish also finished his game about producing cheese, Canastra, and is already in contact with publishers it seems).
Also, I need to try my recently bought 18XX games 18Lilliput and 18Rhl: Rhineland!
-wait, but didn't you just mention that the perfect companion to 1846 would be 1889, the game you just elected your 2018 game of the year?
Yes, I did. However, (insert Boromir meme here), one does not simply walk into a board game store and get the 18xx you want. Many of the games widely touted as the best by the community aren't even available (e.g., 1860), while most others can be bought, but from print-on-demand publishers, which means a much higher price when compared to games produced by "regular" means. This is not criticism - I'm very glad there are companies like All-Aboard Games, Golden Spike Games or Marflow Games, which are basically one-person operations, who dedicate their time to make these games available, so the price tag reflects the fact they are made in a semi-artisanal fashion.
But being a Brazilian, the unfavorable exchange rates, shipping costs and import taxes mean it is prohibitive to buy 18XXs from here, except of course those produced "normally" (and thankfully there are now some good options available, GMT's 1846 being the most obvious, among others), or or when a mule is involved. And since in my case that meant the possibility of bringing something from Europe rather than from the US, I was restricted to the Marflow catalog. 1889 will have to wait until I go to the US or someone can bring it to me.
Since the Marflows seem to have a much smaller audience (or at least a smaller audience of people who play them and use BGG), this means there is far less information about them when compared to what is in the AAG/GSG catalog. But after questioning other people in the hobby about what could be their best title that would fit what I want, i.e., having a simple ruleset, reasonable playing time, and being sufficiently different from 1846 to be a good companion to it in what is expected to be a small collection, I was directed to 18Rhl. Having had great success introducing 1846 to two new players in December, I guess I won't need to wait too much until I put this on the table.
As for 18Lilliput, it was a very rare case of me kickstarting something. The price was very fine as it didn't include shipping/import costs to Brazil, and its design principles of being a 18xx-inspired Euro suggests it will get a much higher probability of being played even with people I'd usually not suggest regular 18XXs to.
Well, I'm still recovering from a late-2018 cold, but it is likely that I'll right a wrong this weekend: if I get better I'll finally put Brass on the table again, with a couple I played a lot with but who has been away for a sabbatical year. It's a game I rate a 9, but that was criminally sitting unplayed on my shelf since 2016! Sounds like a great way to start 2019, right?
Happy new year gaming for you all!
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Many are probably aware by now (the international press is actually doing a better job than most of our own), but the situation in Brazil is not that great - and we don't know how much worse it will get. The mood hasn't been great here, which reflected on the fact that I wasn't really finding the motivation to write long posts about games.
But you know what? In times like these, being apathetic is exactly conceding defeat. What my wife and me learned after that huge blow is that what we should really strive to do is meeting our friends, supporting each other, and keep doing what always motivated us. Well, I'm still not playing as much as I'd like, but I can still write about games, for crying out loud!
Knowing that what I wrote a couple of posts ago convinced my geekbuddy qwertymartin to buy Gheos I felt simultaneously proud (for this compliment to my gaming tastes) and worried (what if he finds out he actually wasted money on it?).
Well, his first-play impressions, rating it a 7, were these:Quote:I'd heard about this one as a disguised stock-market game ages ago, but geekbuddy lbleicher put it back on my radar with an enthusiastic review. And it does indeed contain some of my favourite things - confrontational tile-laying that can dramatically reshape the board (a la Tigris & Euphrates) and differential player investments in non-player entities (a la Acquire and several other favourites). Want to try again soon as the first play suffered from one player who really wasn't into it and a lot of AP.In my case, my first play had the downside of being only with 2 players, but the advantage of being with a really nice opponent (local game designer Luish Moraes Coelho). So I was obviously keen to play it again with more people, which I did only three months later. But this time with three players - all of them interested in the game. As expected, it works even better with more players, and I'm now rating it a strong 8.5. If the next games show me there is more room for creative play, this can easily become a 9. What could make it go down would be finding out the learning curve is too flat and too much is decided by luck (this is more or less what happened to Tempus, a game I always enjoyed, but which dropped half a point after my enthusiastic initial impressions. I hope it will be the first option of course.
Oh, and as was mentioned in Martin's blog, Gheos has what may be the best video review on this entire website:
Hello! A review of Gheos
I'm a big fan of the stock holding mechanism, which has the curious characteristic that, in principle, it can be added on top of virtually every kind of game (I usually like to playfully say "just add stock holding to everything" as those people who claim everything can get better with bacon). A brilliant example is Hayashi's Trick of the Rails, where a very simple stock holding system is added to a trick-taking game and it just works.
We did have a few instances of stock holding games before (as in the always ahead-of-his-time Sid Sackson with Acquire), but the first complete version of the mechanic, on which stock do represent shares of different companies, controlled by the major stockholders, shares fluctuate according to how companies perform and they can pay dividends to its owner appeared with Francis Tresham's 1829, still in 1974. The bloke pretty much invented railroad investing games, modern stock market games, and he would later also invent the "civ game" as we know it, including the concept of tech trees.
A major feature in his 18XXs (which I don't know if he invented) was the concept of obsolescence in board games, where in order to produce more money you get more modern machinery (in his case, trains) but as the more modern ones start to go into play, the older ones go obsolete (they "rust" in 18XXs) - which may be my favorite mechanism for removing the "rich-get-richer" problem that plagues so many games. Get a lot of the currently available machinery and you will probably make more money than everyone else, but you will also be the one to suffer most when things go obsolete. So this simple idea forces people to play well during an entire game and prepare for what will happen in the future; getting a huge initial advantage is definitely not a guarantee for success.
1830 already had all that and a lot more other stuff that became the standard in 18xx games (the "private companies" that pay fixed values and give special powers, the route building, etc.). Since then many games were made by adding things to those main concepts, but nowhere as many were made by distilling them.
As a fan of board game elegance, I'm always interested in the latter, even if the attempts commonly feel like something is missing. A nice example is Poseidon - I bought it because by the time I was still discovering 18XXs it was one of two games that were commonly pointed out as good for newbies (the other being Steam over Holland, which I never played). Since it was my first 18xx experience, it was only after playing the "standard" ones that I could admire the efforts from the designers to simplify the system, and after reading more about it I found out that is only one of other attempts from them to make simpler games using 18xx core concepts.
So it was great when I found out there was a bloke selling Railroad Barons for ten euros and after thinking "oh, so what, the shipping costs will probably be much higher than the game itself" I decided to ask, found out he could send it to Brazil for just another ten euros, and a couple of weeks later I had a copy of this out-of-print "meta-18xx for 2 players".
And so I finally played it, and I quite enjoyed it. It is a 2-player 18xx card game, with a simple linear stock market and an obsolescence mechanism (for the "railroads", which actually work like the trains in regular 18XXs), which are my two favorite parts of the 18xx universe. Not that I don't enjoy the route building part, quite the contrary, but the stocks+obsolescence combo is something I'd really like to see applied to other money generating mechanisms or themes. Since Railroad Barons is a card game and there's no such thing as routes, the money generation mechanism is as simple as it can be (players have tokens that limit how many cards he can use and how many he will have in the end of the round).
I know this is not the only game doing this - the famous-among-18xx-enthusiasts-but-unknown-for-the-rest-of-the-community Rolling Stock, as I've been told, is an excellent game which also uses the stocks+obsolescence combination as a card game without route-building. It would be wonderful if some clever designer could distill this idea even more - or make some wacky combination with another mechanism just as the wonderful train-game-meets-trick-taking mashup in Trick of the Rails.
A few posts ago I wrote about other designers. I always think it is interesting when I find out two completely different games I've known or read about for quite some time are from the same bloke. While there are some designers who focus on a specific type of game through all or most of their careers, some make surprisingly different games. Whenever I teach 1846 to a new player, for example, I always mention "it is from the same guy who made Race for the Galaxy", which is usually a surprise for them.
I may have mentioned it before, but I'm a huge Formula 1 fan. I've been watching F1 since the 80s, and I can safely assume I have watched virtually all races and most of the qualifying sessions from 2000-2017 - yeah, I was commonly waking up on 4 A.M to watch a session that wasn't even worth points. Interest faded away a bit this year, I don't know if because there were some really bad races in the beginning of the season (what really disappointed me was that not only we weren't seeing overtakes in places like Monaco, but even in venues that always produced amazing events such as Canada) or if the overall mood affected that hobby of mine, but thankfully there have been some nice races recently as well, so I guess I'm not just going away.
Of course, this also means I enjoy reading a lot about F1 history (I am such an enthusiast for Nigel Roebuck that I feel many of his books would probably be a good read even for those who don't care much abut Formula 1 - what a wonderful writing style!) and looking for what is done in racing games.
Curiously, though, I don't own any F1/Grand Prix board game. I did have Formula D for a while, in a time I wasn't playing much, and traded it for Imperial without even testing it as it seemed from the rules it wasn't that great. I found out there is this insanely detailed simulation called Legend: History of the 1000 Miglia, but it seemed like the kind of game I would very unlikely find, and if I did, it would be hard to put on the table.
But I've read many great things about Race! Formula 90 and how it was such a great game about F1 racing, themed on an era I have great memories from. Copies were always very expensive though, so I never had the chance to play it - but it has been lying on my wishlist for some time.
More recently, I became a train game enthusiast and I've been testing many different 18XXs to find out what could join 1846 in my shelf (at the moment, the winner is clearly 1889). Being a fan of elegance in board games, I've been looking for games that make the system simpler, and at one point it was mentioned (I'm pretty sure it was Eric Brosius) that one of the games on which the dividend calculation is simpler was 1865: Sardinia.
The information was recorded on my annotated wishlist of course, but it seemed I would never really find out what it was like as it is one of those games that had a small print but are not available in the print-on-demand publishers such as AAG/GSG/Marflow. Also, it wasn't on board18, so I couldn't even test it online.
But I'm writing all this because I recently found out that Race! Formula 90 and 1865: Sardinia were both designed by the same bloke: Alessandro Lala. It seems he's also the one in charge of Gotha Games, which published both games and a few others.
A curiosity is that on the Gotha Games website they mention their attention to aesthetics, which is rarely a concern among 18xx games. At first I thought there was a bit of snobbery from the community, but when I played a graphic redesigned version of 1889 on board18 I understood why some people are so vocal about not changing the (usually dull) graphic standards. But I always thought aesthetics and usability shouldn't be mutually exclusive, and perhaps it was just that there wasn't much effort for meeting both ideals.
Too bad I probably won't have a chance to try this title anywhere soon - I hope there is a reprint or Lala contemplates the possibility of a print-on-demand deal or even a board18 box. I must say I became even more curious about 1865 after knowing it came from a Formula 1 fan.
P.S. #1: If you were ever curious about 18xx games, my last post on my other blog is about my experiences with other titles to decide where to go after the widely available 1846.
P.S. #2: Just like all the cool kids I made my list of "favorite unknown games". Some nice stuff there.
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