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

Friday, December 29, 2006

End of the year games (part 2)

In addition to the games I've played with gamers to round out the year, I've continued to have more success with friends & family, too. Those are much lighter games, but that never bothered me in the first place, and of course those are much more approachable (and more fun) for people who don't enjoy learning new rules all the time. I had another chance to break out a few light games during some breaks at work. Those opportunities evaporate with the holidays, but I was happy for them while they lasted. In the past we've played good ol' Hearts, and what a great classic that is. But these coworkers know I play lots of other games, and expressed some curiosity about them. So I took that as in invitation to show them a few others, keeping them short & light. The games I had onhand were Elchfest, For Sale, Coloretto, and Dynasties.

Elchfest is one of the Kosmos/Mayfair 2-player series, a dexterity game where you try to flick disks across the table, into position as stepping stones for your wooden moose/elk piece. Your opponent takes turns doing the same, and the two of you try to reach the other side of the table (river) before the other. As simple as that, there are some subtleties around the fact that the three stepping stone disks you each have are neutral pieces--they don't belong to either player. So while it feels natural to flick just the stones on your side during your turn, before long you & your opponent are tempted--and well advised--to flick the other stones, too. Then it becomes more than a dexterity, finger-flicking face, it also adds some offensive & defensive play. But flicking games aren't for everyone, and this one didn't go over too well. I still enjoy it.

Then we had four players for For Sale, followed up by three for Coloretto, two little card games that really show some imaginative gameplay for someone only used to traditional card games. That was the whole idea with their selection! It's funny to compare how it turned out against my attempts with those same two games and my family. At work, For Sale was interesting but not especially compelling, while they suck their teeth into Coloretto. At home it was close to the opposite, having fun with For Sale but finding Coloretto a bit too dry and requiring more tracking (and direct confrontation). In both cases I'd call the experience an overall success, just to find one hit. I guess the difference comes from the audience, though I wonder if it's really that cliché--that the family enjoys the lighter game, and the engineers want something that can be studied?

The last one at work was Dynasties. You'll hear me mention this one as my faux sleeper of 2006 in the next Boardgame Roundtable podcast, hosted by Doug Garrett. (It's a faux sleeper because it really came out in 2005, I just didn't find it until this year--in a math trade!) This has been my biggest hit at work. It's an area-majority game, and a bidding game. I find those unusual qualities for a 2-player game. My buddy at work requested a game with "sneakiness," and this has fit the bill. In this case, that sneakiness comes from bluffing and double-think, not backstabbing or trick plays. It was such a hit with him that he borrowed it for the Thanksgiving weekend, and now closer to Christmas I got to introduce it to someone else at work. Another success.

On the homefront, it's been more light games with mostly my kids. Over on the Family Boardgaming Podcast they recommended Quicksand for parents & kids, so I snapped up a few from the recent Fantasy Flight sale to play at home and give as gifts to a cousin and the local Toys for Tots drive. Sure enough, it was a hit with my daughter. We've played with family, just the two of us, and--best of all--she wanted to teach her neighborhood friends all by herself. It's a very light game of hidden identity (as in Clans, which didn't impress the kids), a race game played with cards, themed around a jungle expedition. My favorite moment came when I helped one of Molly's friends who wasn't having as much fun as the rest of the girls. She had a hand full of cards that moved the blue pawn/explorer forward, but that wasn't her color. I whispered that she should play them all at once anyway, move the blue pawn as poorly as possible, and then get to refill her entire hand, hoping for better cards. "Ohhhhhh.....," she said, starting to get it. And then, "Good thinking!"

I packed games into other games to save space during our trips to see relatives over the past week. However, all we played was one more game of Quicksand, and once I got to play Harry's Grand Slam Baseball with my son. He liked it, and I hope we'll get to play more later. But nothing else, not even a game of Hearts with grandpa. What we did play was the Wii, Nintendo's new game system that features interactive, wireless controllers that you wave around instead of pressing a million buttons.

Ok, here I go again. I even mention it during that Boardgame Roundtable podcast. Yes, it's a video game. But I'm telling you, we got everyone into it, had lots of fun, and the social experience was right up there (or beyond) what I brought with my in my boxes of board & card games. My brother & his wife laughed through tennis, and she's pretty much opposed to all videogames. At my in-laws' we did even better, getting everyone into it. I couldn't believe how much fun my mother-in-law was having with the bowling game, cheered on by her grandkids. The golf game just about convinced my brother-in-law to go out and get a system for his family. The nieces played constantly. It's not unusual for kids to play videogames, of course, but even the littlest one found it easy and intuitive to play. We all got into it together, and that's what felt so special.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a newbie to listening to gaming podcasts and reading gaming blogs. I've heard you mention "math trade" several times. Could you tell me what is a "math trade"? I didn't find the term in the glossary at BGG. Thanks!.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Mark Johnson said...

Hey Jim,

A "math trade" is something run on BGG to find large trading "loops." If you & I trade games, that's simple. But what if I don't want what you've got for trade? Now imagine we add a third person, Steve. You want my game, I want Steve's, and Steve wants yours. If we can find that out--and trust each other--then this 3-way loop can make a trade happen.

By using a large, trusted community like BGG, a bunch of people can list a large number of games they have available for trade, browse the ones others are offering up, and submit a list of wants. A computer program does the analysis to find the most trades (or largest loops) of mutually acceptable deals. That's the "math" part, what the computer is doing.

One of the coolest bits is the no-risk part. You list your games, and if you find nothing you're willing to trade for, just submit a blank wantlist and you are mathematically protected from ending up with any trades at all. More likely, you'll find a few games you consider longshots and take a crack at those . . . and end up with no trades found. But hey, you got to window-shop, you took a chance, and lost nothing.

For more info, check out Lindsey's Math Trade Guide on BGG, as well as Eric Burgess' Boardgame Babylon podcast on the same subject.

8:07 AM  

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