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

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My wife's favorite type of boardgame

Wow, when I said my family gaming was starting to work, I wasn't kidding! Last night my wife & I played our new copy of On The Underground.

Not only that, but this was a game she requested, or at least she agreed that it sounded interesting after I described it to her the week before. That was after I'd played it for the first time at my local game group, and thought the mechanics and--especially--London theme would be a hit since we'd just made plans to take the family to London in April. I was confident enough that I ordered a copy for myself immediately. Most of that story is a fairly typical experience for me: think a game might be a good fit for Candy & I to play together, then order it. And though it does happen, it doesn't always work out that she likes it. (Paris Paris is an example of one that struck out.)

Yesterday she mentioned during the middle of the day that she might like to try On The Underground in the evening. We played it, she beat me handily without any handicapping or holding back (I don't do that), and she enjoyed the game. It took a bit over an hour, which was a longer than the games we usually play together (e.g. Thurn & Taxis), but she still liked it.

Not only that, but in talking about it afterward she observed that she liked "these sort" of games, in general. I asked, and we figured out that meant connection games like T&T, OTU, and Ticket To Ride. Holy cow! My wife has a favorite type of boardgame!


P.S. Any tips on maximizing the sale of Deluxe/Limited edition of the Lord of the Rings? This is the same cooperative boardgame by Knizia, only published by Sophisticated Games, and comes with a metal ring, metal figures, and a numbered edition print. The game itself is a numbered edition, too, as I recall. I don't have any idea how to price the game for sale through the BGG marketplace, and there aren't even any recent games sold on ebay. Not this edition, anyway, just the more common one.

Friday, February 16, 2007

BGTG 68 - Feb 12, 2007 - Looking Back at 2006, Forward into 2007

A quick show with my thoughts on boardgaming over the past year, and what I anticipate for 2007. These retrospectives are a little harder to do without stats . . . but then what would stats tell me, anyway? For me, the real point is to talk about games that have become new favorites, especially ones I think will be keepers for the long haul. To be honest, I'm not sure how many of even the "hits" will keep getting played over the next five years, but I think Thurn & Taxis is a safe bet.

As for my look forward, I wonder my desire to physically produce a game of some kind--either my own prototype or an existing game component upgrade--makes sense to other people. Some of my local game friends have done this. For some it's a matter of art production (I think), of trying their hand at game graphics. That's not exactly my thing (i.e. I'm no good at it). Instead, what I hope to get out of it is an education in the struggles & successes with a game's functionality.


P.S. According to my new stats on BGG, in the first six weeks of the year I've played 39 games a total of 61 times. If I keep that pace, I'll end up with over 500 total plays. Yep, I thinking my family focus is actually leading me to playing MORE games than ever before. Sure, there are those Pass the Pigs games with my daughter, but also Thurn & Taxis with my wife. And you know what? I had a great time playing Pass the Pigs with her! :-)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Some Essen titles (Yspahan, On the Underground, Elephant in a Porcelain Shop, and Null & Nichtig)

As of this writing, I've actually recorded two podcasts. One of them had to be scrapped for audio quality reasons, and I'm in the process of redoing it. That one is with a special guest, so I really hope I can get it redone sooner rather than later. The other is a more routine solo show, no technical problems, just needs a little more work (editing, test-listen). It's my retrospective on 2006, and a look forward to 2007. So, hopefully you'll be hearing me before long.

In the meantime, I can share a little bit of opinion here on the blog about some Essen titles. Unless you go to Essen or BGG.con, the lag from that huge event to a local game table can take this long. It's starting to happen for us, though. Greg & Ryan, who have both been on this podcast, tried Mr. Jack a few times last month. The whole group tried Marvel Heroes when I wasn't around. So I can't comment on those, other than to imagine that the Marvel game is too long for my finicky tastes.

When I finally made it back to game night, however, we played Yspahan. It was an immediate hit, and we played back-to-back games. (I don't know how many other groups do this, but we talk about back-to-back games a lot more than we actually do them.) And it leads to a confession of mine. I missed Ys, thought Mykerinos and Caylus were good (not great), and felt a rising contrarian emotion regarding Ystari. A little like the reaction to Days of Wonder or Fantasy Flight (or Fragor), it feels like everyone else in the hobby was acting like Ystari can do no wrong. And while I didn't find anything amiss with Ystari's offerings, neither did I understand the disproportionate outpouring of love. I mean, you don't read the same devotion to Hans im Gluck, Kosmos, or Abacus. I merely thought they had similar track records.

That's a longwinded way of saying I didn't expect Yspahan to be as good as it is! Lots of fun gameplay, tough choices, and a healthy dose of randomness, all in a one-hour page. Is this one of Siggin's superfillers? Maybe so. Maybe that's just the sort of game I like. Both times, it felt like the game ended just as I was getting my act (i.e. point-generating engine) into gear. In fact, you feel that three times in one game, at the end of each of the game's "weeks." However, I suspect if it really were any longer, the tough choices that drive the game would lose a lot of their punch. A real winner, and one I hope makes it to a play-by-web format soon. It's a natural for that.

By the way, I've been waiting for a game to make good use of the "die roll leftovers" mechanic I first saw in Groo. That game was fun, but ultimately too silly & chaotic to really shine. The mechanic isn't quite the same in Yspahan, but it's related, and works well.

Another Essen title tried was On The Underground. Originally I had looked past this one, too. I'm not sure why. I think it just looked a little too similar to Ticket To Ride (it's not very close, mechanically). Also, I was more drawn to the other Essen subway-themed game, Metromania. I'm still interested in that one, although opinion has started to coalesce on both of these games, with OTU definitely on top. Now I have plans for our family to visit London this spring, and my interest in OTU immediately jumped up. Add in Candy's continued interest in Thurn & Taxis, and I begin to hope that this could be another family game hit. Well, I haven't tried in that setting yet (which will be 2-player), but the 5-player game we played with the SCBers was encouraging. A little fiddly to figure out the scoring paths near the middle of the game, but I've heard that diminishes quickly with experience. That feels about right. Through travel books I'm getting more familiar with the map of the Underground system and its stations, and the game's "accuracy" is a strongly appealing factor. I immediately ordered a copy for myself after that one play.

Rounding out this Essen report are two little card games. One good, one not-so-good. The good one is Elephant in a Porcelain Shop. (The literal translation bugs me a little. Our idiom is 'bull in a china shop,' but the cards clearly show elephants all over the place. 'Porcelain shop' just doesn't have a ring to it. However, is Elephant in a China Shop any better? Probably not.) Elephant is by Michael Schacht, whose little card games will forever be compared to Coloretto. I do the same. And why not? I enjoy Coloretto so much, I keep hoping he'll have another gem like that. Uwe Rosenberg went through this after Bohnanza, right? Schacht's Diabolo was one of my stinkers for the year, but at the price & size of a card game, I've got no problem trying again.

Ok, I don't think Elephant is up there with Coloretto, but it's definitely good. We all liked it, even me. I say "even me" because I suffered a combination of bad luck and bad strategy that put me in a hole I never climbed out of. But it was still fun, and everyone else had a more competitive time. I'm a bit concerned that this will become one of those games where everyone has to be careful not to hand the game to the person on their left, balancing that against playing their own game. But we'll see, because we're definitely going to try this some more.

Last is Null & Nichtig. Oof. It's a new twist on the trick-taking game--at least one of these is published at every Essen. Five suits, but no need to follow suit, and no trump. The "clever twist" (they all try to have one) is that the cards you collect in tricks won are separated by suit, stacked in the order collected . . . and only the one on top counts for face value. The last bit reminds me of Loco/Quandary/Flinke Pinke, but the trick-taking mechanics give a lot less control than Knizia's simple placement mechanics. In a word, it tanked. Oh well, it was worth a shot.