Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Voicemail and more play-by-web

It was pointed out to me that the BGTG voicemail line (206-222-BGTG) didn't have an outgoing greeting, making it a little weird to leave a voicemail. That's now fixed, so it should be more inviting to leave me a message. Now I need to do the same for my Skype account.

Speaking of voicemail, I've received a few messages lately that were a few seconds of silence . . . nothing more. Recent messages from Brent Mair, Eric Burgess, and Rick Thornquist came through fine, but if you're not one of those people then I didn't get anything from you. Please try again, and thanks for your patience.

After finishing the first two play-by-web (PBW) games with BGTG listeners, I'm kicking off a few more. Look for more games of Reef Encounter, Wallenstein, and (gulp!) Amun-Re on SpielByWeb. They'll all say Boardgames To Go somewhere, and use BGTG as the join password. Over on Ludagora I'll start another Durch die Wüste (Through the Desert) game using the same method. And on Boardgamegeek for Euphrat & Tigris, as well as Auf Heller und Pfennif (Kingdoms). I'd like to start Alhambra and Torres games on Boîte á Jeux, but there's no easy way to "password protect" games on that site. (Although if you email me your BAJ usernames, I can invite you to a game there. They're down for maintenance today but should be back up soon.) Yowza!


Monday, January 30, 2006

BGTG 50 - Jan 24, 2006 - A Look Back at Essen (with Mike Siggins)

My fiftieth podcast! Wow, I really wasn't sure I'd ever make it this far when I started last March. The show has morphed a bit over time, mostly in response to some limitatation I want to address or opportunity I want to seize. The feedback has been pretty great the entire time, so I trust that I'm on the right track. In other words, I'm happy that my listeners appreciate the kind of shows I personally want to do!

For this show, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at two past Essens. To do this, I again enlisted the help of gaming luminary Mike Siggins. Mike went to lots of earlier Essens--it was his trip reports that we all read back then to find out about new games and the show in general. After a lengthy hiatus he again returned to Essen last year, and you may remember that I got to go myself in 2003. That gives us two past shows to talk about from firsthand experience. In addition to that, we also use the Fairplay Scout data to frame the discussion, using those lists to reconsider which games were considered the hits and misses of those past Essens. (I thought we might also talk a little more about longevity in modern boardgames, but we ran out of time.)

Naturally, we talk about a lot of different game titles in this show. Rather than list them all in the shownotes, I'm instead including links to two different files you may want to download, print out, and refer to during the podcast. One is the same reformatted list of the Fairplay Scout ratings for Essen 2005, just last year. The other is an Excel spreadsheet with the Fairplay Scout ratings for 2003 . . . as well as some more data. I transmogrified the 1=good/6=bad rating system from Fairplay to the familiar 10-point scale, then included the Boardgamegeek ratings for the same games. Now that a couple years have passed, how do these "settled in" (?) ratings on BGG compare to the initial reaction at the Fairplay booth? What does that tell us about Essen enthusiasm in general?


P.S. This show came out just a bit longer than fits on a single audio CD, but not so long as to make splitting up into two parts (A & B as I've done before) very logical. How much of an inconvenience is it for everyone? Rather than cutting out a good 10 minutes of content, I decided to put this show up as-is for the main link and podcast feed. For those of you who really need the show split, here I've done a quick & dirty job of it for you (part 1, part 2).

Essen 2003, A Look Back (Excel spreadsheet)
Essen 2005, Fairplay Scouting Report (PDF file)

Board Game Internet Awards

This podcast won an Honorable Mention in the BGIA's Best Game Podcast or Videocast category! I appreciate the selection, and most of all the initiative of the Gone Gaming blog that dreamed up these awards. There are a lot of categories and they've all served to put a spotlight on some great content on the net about our hobby. There are blogs, strategy articles, advocacy articles, humor, and more highlited.

Congratulations also to the winners of the various podcast awards, BoardgameSpeak for best overall, BoardgameSpeak again for best individual episode (Knizia at Kublacon), and Boardgames with Scott for the best new podcast/videocast.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Join me for play-by-web games?

I play a somewhat steady stream of play-by-web boardgames. If listeners want to join me, just pop over to one of thsoe sites and look for games called Boardgames To Go. On the sites that use passwords for games, I always try to use BGTG as the password to restrict the game to my podcast listeners. Right now I've got games of Reef Encounter and Through the Desert waiting for players.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

BGTG 49 - Jan 21, 2006 - Five & Dime Lists (with Mark JACKson)

Though it's happening less often nowadays, in the past people have confused Mark Jackson and myself. Though that's mostly due to the similarity in our names, we have some similar tastes in games (e.g. original Entdecker), we've crossed paths a few times, and since Jackson moved here in 2003 we're both Californians. California is a big state, though, and we're not so close that we see each other at Games Days and whatnot. Luckily, last weekend Mark came down to visit the SCBers and play some games. We recorded this podcast while he was here, and his annual Five & Dime list project was the main topic. As you'll hear, Mark has done a variety of projects where he synthesizes data and opinions from a variety of hobbyists online. The Five & Dime lists are an annual tally of the games folks have played at least five or ten times. And this is the one project he's working on that anyone can participate in.

This was also a good opportunity to talk about replayability and longevity in boardgames. It was Matt Sab who'd asked the question, and started a similar discussion on spielfrieks. (Sorry I forgot your name on the air, Matt!)


P.S. Rats, I forgot to have Candy take a photo of us.

Game Central Station
The Apples Project
The One Hundred
Five & Dime (and email your own data to Mark)
The Tao of Gaming (Brian Bankler's blog, now with Tom Lehmann, too!)
Shannon Appelcline's Year in Review: 2005 blog entry at Gone Gaming

Help a brother out?

I'm raising some GeekGold so that my logo designer (and onetime BGTG guest) Greg Wilzbach can get an avatar on BoardgameGeek. A nice listener spontaneously donated some GG to me last week--which was very nice--and now I'm running one of those BGG auctions where the currency is GG. The game up for auction is Alan Moon's Slow Freight, the gamekit exclusive Funagain. It's still for sale on that site for seven bucks, but I'm offering a pristine (uncut) copy for nothing more than GeekGold. As I write this, none other than Tom Vasel is the high bidder in the auction that runs three more days.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

BGTG 48 - Jan. 14, 2006 - Retrospective on 2005

For a long time I've posted a retrospective on my past year in the hobby, first to, then spielfrieks, then my blog. This year, of course, I've shifted it over to a podcast episode. That's the first big shift. The other comes from not having kept track of my game stats last year. And yet . . . I still have things to say. :)


P.S. As I mention in the show, the call-in number for feedback. The new one is 206-222-BGTG (2484). Of course, you can still use Skype for free to send me a voicemail. My username there is 'boardgamestogo'.

Boardgame Podcasts: Boardgame Babylon (new!), The Vintage Gamer (still new!), Have Games Will Travel, The Dice Tower, It's Time 4 Games
Hits: Attacktix, Diamant, Elasund, Fjords, Mission Red Planet, Pingvinas, Tempus
Misses: Doom, Go West, Mall of Horror, Shear Panic
Games Unknown: too many to list!
Consistently good: Medici, Entdecker, Euphrat & Tigris, Bohnanza, En Garde, For Sale, , Settlers, Carcassonne, Web of Power, Vinci

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

iTunes glitch

A little note for those of you who download this show in iTunes (and hopefully read the blog, too, or else you'll miss this). For some reason, iTunes refuses to list episode 46A in its listing, even though other podcatching software sees it correctly (it shows up in the feed). So if you missed the first, larger half of my latest Session Report & Feedback show--the part with the news & session report--you'll need to download it manually through this website.


P.S. As long as I'm posting about a software issue, I'm going to insert the code to claim My Odeo Channel (odeo/fc96822f3eb17ded)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

BGTG 47 - Jan. 8, 2006 - Behind the Scenes at BGTG

This is more or less an update of the "intro to podcasting" show I did way back in May, 2005. It's especially intended for people who might start up their own boardgame podcast--whether they were thinking about it already or not! It might also be of some interest to general listeners of the show, who are curious how a podcast like this comes together. There's not much to it, really.


BGTG #8 Listening to podcasts--and recording them! (podcast host) (blog software, and could be host)
Feedburner (feed manager)
Public domain music loops (more music, use appropriately with attribution)
Creative Commons
Podcast networks: The SciFi Podcast Network, Gaming Podcast Network, Goblin (Gaming Broadcast Network)
Audacity (recording/editing software)
Total Recorder
Headset mic
Audio splitter (Y-adapter)
PAR-Pro (for recording on Palm device)
Other podcasts (Mommycast, Grape Radio, History Acc to Bob, Manager Tools, The Transmission, In Our Time)
This American Life (including how-to comic about the show & Ira Glass)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


That hurt.

Fight on!

In about an hour my alma mater, the University of Southern California takes on the University of Texas for the college football national championship. But get this--Texas is also my alma mater! Yeah, my two colleges are ranked #1 and #2, facing each other in the storied Rose Bowl today for all the marbles. Am I conflicted? (Everyone asks.) No! Grad school was more like a job--undergrad was where all the fun was. I'm wearing a USC Trojans shirt, Rose Bowl hat, hoodie, "Beat Texas" button, and we're flying the USC flag on the pole at home (Candy also graduated from to USC). I've got a CD of the band playing right now on my computer!

When USC wins it will be the first "threepeat" in college football history! It's been done in other sports, but never college football. We can't wait!!

S-O-U-T-HERN "Beat the Longhorns" C-A-L-I-FORNIA
Southern Califorrrrrrrrrrnnnnia!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Vintage Gamer (new boardgame podcast)

Jam Van Verth has just started a new boardgame podcast. It's called The Vintage Gamer, and he intends to cover the older games that are forgotten while we all play the "shiny, new" ones. And by older, he doesn't mean 1998 . . . he means 1978. Or 1958! Something like that, anyway. By its nature I think he'll end up covering boardgames more than any other type of game, but he's also thinking about some vintage RPG and computer game coverage. Though I never owned one myself, I spent years working on Macs and his reference to Dark Castle brought a wave of nostalgia. Ah, throwing rocks at bats . . .

Monday, January 02, 2006

BGTG 46b - January 2, 2006 - SR: Lots of games, and Feedback

Here's part two of this episode, just the feedback portion. Keep 'em coming! :-) It's good to be back.


Skype (my username is BoardgamesToGo)
Naturelich Games (blog)
(what did I miss?)

BGTG 46a - January 2, 2006 - SR: Lots of games, and Feedback

Yea! I finally got to record a new podcast! I needed to do a fair bit of catching up, which meant the podcast got to be pretty long. With that in mind I split it into two parts. This is the first part, about an hour of me catching up for lost time and talking about some games I've been playing recently. The second part, which I'll post next, is the feedback segment.


BGTG Frappr map
Comment feed:
Gone Gaming's Board Game Internet Awards
Board Games with Scott (videoblog)
Battlegames magazine
Kriegspiel (double-blind chess)
Entdecker (New & OLD!)
Tigris & Euphrates
Star Munchkin, Munchkin Fu
Havoc: The Hundred Years War
Aqua Romana
Go West
Cloud 9
Drunter & Drüber

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year (and 30 questions)

Happy 2006! The holidays are just about behind us now, and my schedule will soon be returning to normal. With that will come a chance to get back into some podcast recording. I had no idea I would be out of commission for so long, and I'm eager to get back to it.

In the meantime, another blog post. I borrowed this idea from Mark Jackson . . . who lifted it from Mark Haberman. A good idea worth spreading--pretty soon it'll expand beyond the Marks. :-) I've included some bio material in my podcasts, of course, and there's some on my old web page, too. But this is fun, and a quick, up-to-date snapshot.

1. How long have you been gaming?
I discovered German-style boardgames by reading in 1996. There was a lot of talk about Settlers of Catan, which Mayfair had just introduced to America, along with some others. I managed to form a game club, the Tri-Valley Boardgamers in Pleasanton, California, and away we went. Been playing them ever since, so almost a decade now! Of course I'd played the usual Monopoly, Battleship (and The Farming Game!) as a kid, and got into hobby gaming in junior high school with Metagaming's line of Microgames (Ogre, GEV, Rivets, etc.). During high school & college I was into RPGs (Traveller, Champions, Justice Inc., GURPS), and I spent the early mid-90s loving Magic: The Gathering.

2. What was your first Euro game?
The first I played was Settlers of Catan, and it appealed instantly. I ordered a copy for myself shortly thereafter, along with Streetcar (e.g. Linie 1). I was very fortunate to have some local gamers in the group, and at my old job(!) that already owned some great games. So right away I got to try others like Medici, Das Leztze Paradies, El Grande, and Die Erbraffer.

3. Which game sucked you in?
Settlers and Medici were a 1-2 punch that showed me how these games were just different and better than what I'd played before.

4. What is your favorite game?
For years I've said Entdecker, and I think that's still true. I'm not as fond of the newer edition, but I'll gladly play the original as-is, with the "Manu variant," or my own mixture of the old game with some parts of the new that I do like.

5. What is your least favorite game?
I'll just say that I'm never wild about games that practically encourage analysis paralysis by their very design (too many choices whose effects are calculable--so some players feel compelled to think it through every time). Torres is an example. These games overstay their welcome. And though I love to laugh and make jokes during a game, I don't care for titles that use a central joke as the backbone of a chaotic game. Such as Munchkin. I actually don't think either of those types of games are bad--I still play both of my examples on occasion--but they aren't my favorites, not by a long shot.

6. Open or closed holdings?
I'm not picky. I guess open feels the best to me . . . unless I'm playing with AP-type players (see above!).

7. To gamble or not to gamble?
I've got no problem with gambling, but I hardly ever do it. Even now that my in-laws have moved to small town Nevada, where even the movie theater is in a casino.

8. How much luck do you like in your games?
In general, a fair amount. Which might feel like quite a bit to serious gamers. But that's usually with my favorite game duration of about 45-60 minutes in mind. For the times that I go for a more serious 2-hour game, then a little less luck makes more sense.

9. Last three games played?
Drunter und Druber, Cloud 9, and Attika. The first two were with my family, over the holidays, while Attika was the last game of the year for the Santa Clarita Boardgamers.

10. Last three games purchased?
Just placed an order for Pizza Box Football Expansion, and Wings of War: Watch Your Back. Both of those are to complement other games received as Christmas presents. Before that I'd picked up Viva Pamplona on German ebay.

11. Packrat or trader?
Hmm, although I'm no collector, I guess I'm more packrat than trader. It's hard to let go of games (and my collection is modest anyway), and these days shipping costs make it even less appealing. I keep saying I want to be more ruthless in deciding which games should be sold off (to finance others!), but it hasn't really happened yet. I'm still working on it.

12. What game are you thinking about right now?
I'd been reading a little mailing list discussion about Wildlife, one of my favorites. Besides wanting to play it again, I'm wondering if I might attempt an All About show on it, hopefully with Jonathan Degann. (If I can get him to do a show with me, it would either be that or La Citta. Hopefully both, eventually.)

13. What is your favorite Mechanic?
I like most tile-laying games, which is the closest I get to a satisfying discovery/exploration mechanic in boardgames.

14. What is your favorite Theme?
I've got three I keep an eye out for. First, exploration, especially Age of Discovery exploration about when the greater world was being mapped out. Entdecker doesn't do it all, but it's a nice step in the right direction.

Next (and related to the former) is the impact of geography on human history. I'm just fascinated about the separate developments of the New World and the Old, or the West and the East. There are lots of factors that drive the differences, but simple geography plays a significant part, and that amazes me. It's no wonder that the Mediterranean plays such a part in historical games. I look to Vinci as an example of those sort of game. Even Euphrat & Tigris, too.

Last, I think the systems in nature could make some incredible game systems. Food chains, evolution, habitats and competition for resources. I love it all. Reef Encounter inspired me to buy the Blue Planet documentary on DVD!

15. Who is your favorite Designer?
Between Entdecker & Settlers I'd have to say Teuber. I sure like a lot of Knizia and more than a few Dorra titles, too.

16. Best Gaming experience?
Wow, I don't know! I remember a really satisfying feeling when I put together my first game group, thinking how I'd pulled these handful of strangers together to have a good time playing games together every other week. I also really enjoyed the time my wife, a mostly non-gamer, was charmed to meet several of my email friends during our visit to Essen. After seeing so many gamer stereotypes, she was impressed by these friends, as well as the general family atmosphere around gaming in Germany.

17. Worst Gaming experience?
Probably when the world's slowest player was part of an earlier game group. He'd drag a Settlers game way past two hours. And I distinctly remember him finally deciding to build a city, grabbing the piece . . . and then suspending it over the intersection he was considering while taking ANOTHER eternity to confirm this strategic choice. It just sucked the fun right out of the game. He was a reasonable guy in other settings, like when we'd talk on the way back to our cars at night. But at the game table he could make time stand still. Later he decided he preferred video games and left the group. Whew!

18. Favorite game for 2?
These favorites change all the time. Right now I'd say En Garde. I also like Rosenkönig quite a bit.

19. For 3?
Either Big City or San Marco.

20. For 5?
I've recently discovered by game collection is lacking in 5-player games. Especially games that are good or best with five. I like race games, like Ave Caesar, or card games like Mü. I still like the original Bohnanza, too.

21. For 6?
Oof, even tougher. I might try pulling out Schrille Stille or Bang!.

22. Favorite party game?
Taboo. Even among friends, I'm too self-conscious to really enjoy games with charades-type acting. Or singing. I'll sit in on Werewolf, but it's not my thing, either.

23. Do you value Theme or Mechanics more?
I used to say theme, but I always meant theme that made its way into the core mechanics. These days theme is more often interpreted to mean the look, bits, flavor, and extra details of a game. (I would've called that chrome, not theme.) In the All About Euphrat & Tigris show, my guest Greg Pettit described a concept for theme as the metaphor in which the game mechanics both work and make sense with the subject matter. That's the kind of theme I like.

24. What color so you want to be?
I used to always be green, until I started having trouble when I wasn't. So I've started trying to play various colors. (Especially orange, where available, since that's the color in my BGTG logo!)

25. What is your favorite movie?
I'll say the original Star Wars. It's not the best movie, of course, but it was hugely influential to me as a kid. I think it played no small part in my college major and adult career! The fact that I can enjoy it so much with my own kids, now all these years later, is another thrill.

26. What is your favorite book?
I don't have a single favorite.

27. Last 3 books read?
I haven't gotten into reading fiction for years, so this list of non-fiction titles is going to be boring! Right now I'm on a kick reading up about past space missions done where I work, so I've read Roving Mars (Squyres), Managing Martians (Shirley), and Sojourner (Mishkin).

28. Last 3 movies watched?
Troy, The Sound of Music, and Syriana.

29. Favorite alcoholic beverage (or non-alcoholic if you don’t drink)?
I never used to drink, but lately Candy and I are getting more interested in wine. We've lived near or in wine country our whole lives, so we're just now catching up. I'm liking Rieslings the most.

30. Who are the three most important people in your life?
My wife and two kids. (I wonder how someone with more than two kids will answer this!)