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

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!)


Blogger Mike said...

I had no idea you were that taken with Entdecker. I guess if you like the exploration theme (as do I) then it makes sense, but it always struck me as just okay.

Interesting comments on theme as metaphor, I shall have a think on that one.

Happy New Year

Mike Siggins

4:24 AM  
Blogger Mark Johnson said...

I can certainly see why other (most?) folks find Entdecker to be just ok. It just all comes together for me. But even at that, I'm still waiting for the exploration game that REALLY works for me. The restriction of exploring from where you've already started (a continuing voyage) is what I'd prefer, actually. Africa does that reasonably well, but there you're not discovering the landscape, not making a map--you're finding out what's in the map. For me, that doesn't scratch the exploration itch. Goldland was just too puzzle-y for me to enjoy.

What are the other good exploration games?

9:47 AM  
Blogger E R Burgess said...

Good list of questions. I'm posting my answers on my blog, too. Wow - stealing from three different Marks all at once!

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your comment on theme. Bad mechanics will ruin a game, but bad theme you can tolerate. My favorite games are those that use the theme to help define the mechanics.

I know slow players can ruin a game, but my wrost experience is the guy who says "Do that, and I'll never trade with you again, in any game, ever!"

4:39 PM  

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