Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunburns and board gaming...

I am lucky enough to be spending a week in Cuba at one of the nicest resorts I think I've ever seen.  What makes the trip exceptional, though, is how wonderful the people here are.  Warm, helpful, and all wonderfully friendly - especially the bartender who has taken a keen interest in the games we've been playing...   :)

Roma - a fun Stefan Feld 2-player with his now trademarked "clever-use-of-dice".  Surprisingly light, though,  and much more luck than I expected...

Yest another round of Hive, our new favourite srategy game.  Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, but MUST be played with the Ladybug and the Mosquito otherwise it's a bit prone to draws.

Vincent playing with the giant chess board on a neighbouring resort.  Nah, I think we'll stick with Hive...
 To top it off I have a partner who is as happy laying on the beach as he is chilling out and playing cards in the cafe bar.  Yep, lucky.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You tell me: vacation gaming...

I'm lucky to be getting away from this awful winter for the upcoming week and I'm even more lucky to have a partner who's willing to play game after game with me whilst chilling in the tropics. I think I struck gold when I found this guy.

What games do you play on your vacations? Would you bother bringing them with you or am I just nuts?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

I hate bugs and I hate Chess...

...but I LOVE Hive!  Imagine if Chess were much shorter, more intuitive, and far more dynamic (the pieces make up the board).  I've played 7 games of it this weekend alone which says a lot as I tend to avoid games of pure strategy.  Abalone was the last great abstract strategy game that I fell in love with but this one is much quicker and way more portable.

I imagine it's going to go really well with the mojitos next week on the beach...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Early impressions of Innovation (or, Lucy, you've got some splayin' to do...)

When I first heard about Carl Chudyk's Innovation it was in an article by the other Eric Martin, comparing his confusion during the card game to the confusion he felt studying Rudin's Principles of Mathematical Analysis.  Having been a university math student for over a decade, that was more than enough for me.

But times change, prices drop, and as other more positive reviews came out, I gave in.  I've played two rounds now of this neat, little card game and I have to say I think I like it.  Which is weird because it's a bit long for a card game, there's lots of text to read, and it's chaotic as all hell.  Ha.  But there's something deliciously nasty about activating one card to splay a big pile of yours out (spreading the cards in a certain direction to reveal more symbols), overpowering your opponents in a symbol, and then promptly demanding they give you all their points.  And it's all rather clever the way, unlike Race For The Galaxy which also has shared actions, your actions are only shared with the players with at least as many of the corresponding symbols showing as you.  And as the game progresses and players move through the deck, the actions get pretty damn cool and way too powerful.

I definitely need to play this a few more times to get a feel for it but I'm surprised at how much fun I've had.  In defense of the other Eric's review, I think there's tons of strategy there somewhere, too, but after two games I've yet to discover it.   Thank goodness the game is fun....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The science of dice...

Interesting little video on how to make the perfect polyhedral dice (thanks, Magdalicious!)

Love the theme music. Is that Bowie?

Monday, March 14, 2011

In the grand scheme of things....'s not that big a deal that my pre-order of Alien Frontiers is taking longer than expected.  I was a little annoyed and wondering where it was this weekend until I read the apologetic response by the company in this thread on BGG.  It looks like their shipment stopped in Yokohama, Japan for a transfer near the end of last week right before the earthquake and devastating tsunami.  Oh.  Right.  Okay, take your time.  I think I'm gonna go donate some money now.  And not just to Japan, maybe to Haiti and New Zealand, too.  And then I'm gonna go home and hug my dog and be thankful that I live in the centre of a very large, stable land mass.  My thoughts go out to everyone affected by these disasters.

Oh, and Opinionated Gamers is doing posts about Japanese games only this week.  Very thoughtful.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A rather positive review of Black Friday...

Black Friday, the new game from Friedemann Friese, has been getting some real flack in gaming circles.  And rightly so.  The rulebook is one the worst I have ever read or seen.  Horribly organized, full of useless examples, and missing tons of information that is required to fully finish a complete game.  And yet for this game, I've ended up going to the trouble of typesetting my own FAQ with information gleaned from the net and BGG.  This is something I have never bothered doing for any other game.  And there's a reason - it really is worth the effort.  Where Friese's classic Power Grid is a brilliantly stark and analytical economic/auction game, Black Friday is what I would call the stock market equivalent.  And although it's lighter and shorter than PG, or maybe even because it is, I think it may be an even better game.

So what do you do in Black Friday that makes the game so interesting?  Well, you basically have 4 simple options each round - buy stock, sell stock, buy silver, or pass.  The prices of stock and silver are evident on the board so these actions resolve very quickly.  In addition, you can take government subsidies up to the current limit, which you'll have to do as all players start with zero cash.  Purchases and sales of stock move directly to and from the market ("pile of briefcases beside the board") so certain colours of stock will be more or less available at various times during the game.

What drives the brilliant market engine is what you do after you pick one the four actions.  It's a bit hard to describe here but in play it's quite simple and quickly makes sense.  There are essentially three tables active at any time - the stock purchase table, the silver purchase table, and the current sales table.  When stock is purchased from the market, a corresponding briefcase, usually of one of the colours purchased, is placed FROM the market on to the stock purchase table.  When stock is sold, the price in that colour is moved lower and a briefcase is taken from the sales table and added TO the market, thereby flooding the market with more of that stock.  Get it?  When silver is purchased, the player can pick any coloured briefcase they want and add it to the silver purchase table.  In addition, when any colour is completely removed from the market or 3 of that colour show up in a sales table, the value of that stock increases.  So the choice of what briefcase to move after your action is an important, albeit relatively simple, decision. 

Eventually one of these tables grows to 5 briefcases or drops down to 5 which causes a price adjustment.  This is the fun part.  Players must pay interest on their subsidies and then the active player draws a certain number of briefcases from the bag.  Depending on how many of each colour get drawn, prices can increase or decrease.  These price changes can also cause the game to reach new levels which allow players to purchase and sell more, take more subsidies, and draw more briefcases out during the next price adjustment (which, of course, causes the market prices to swing more wildly for good or bad).  The pulled briefcases then go into the market and the briefcases from the table which caused the change are thrown into the bag.  In addition, a few black briefcases may be tossed in as well.  These are always bad.  They cause the price of silver to increase as well as possibly lowering the prices of stock when they are pulled.

Okay, so what's the point?  The point is to buy as much silver as possible because in the end that is all that counts.  Unfortunately as the game progresses, the price of silver only increases.  Ideally, you've invested early in cheap stock, sold the stock while the price is high right before the market crashes, and then grabbed as much silver as possible.  The one who's manipulated the system the best wins.  It's all rather cynical, I must say, especially since you don't have to pay back any subsidies at the end of the game. 

In terms of mechanics, the game is very different than Power Grid.  But the comparison is interesting, I think, not only due them both being designed by Friese, but also since they are both very number-crunchy and timing plays such an essential role in strategy.  Like PG, in Black Friday you really need to wait it out for the exact right moment to attack.  Sell stock too early and you get cheap silver but you've permanently invested your funds and they'll never grow.  Sell too late and the price of silver may have skyrocketed.  Just waiting the one extra price adjustment and watching the price of all your stocks bottom out is heartbreaking.  And hilarious.  And often foreseeable.  Although the choices are simple, one can really pay attention and make the right purchases and sales at the right time.  There is some randomness to the price adjustments but you know exactly how many coloured briefcases are in the market, on the tables, or behind your screen.  The rest have to be owned by other players or are in the bag.  And you can always count exactly how many of each black briefcase is in the bag so it really is possible to make informed, interesting decisions.

Having played with 2 players all the way through to 5, I can say this game works for every group although I'd say it's probably best with more than 2 players, 4 seeming to be ideal. And it's fun, a lot of fun, partially because it plays pretty quickly.  But it's even more fascinating as the market is so responsive to the player's actions.  It's enthralling to watch the slow growth of the stock prices when everyone cautiously buys silver or to watch everyone start selling off their stocks out of fear and seeing the prices hit rock-bottom quickly after that.  The more silver that gets the sold, the quicker the silver price goes up.  The more red stock is purchased, the more red briefcases end up in the bag for later price adjustments.  It's simple and elegant and way too brilliant.

And it's this simplicity of play that leads us to the major complaint leveled at this game.  The rules as explained in the rulesbook suck.  They're awful.  They take a fairly simple game and make it seem convoluted and overly complex.  As well, there many situations not covered in the rules that have shown up in play.  The worst thing for a game is to have it stall as no one knows how to deal with a rule.  The players then argue about what should be done as we did or, in some cases, give up.  Take a look at the BGG threads, if you don't believe me.  It doesn't help the situation when the inventor and publisher suggest online to the players that they really should have figured it out.  In Friese's defense, he seems to have changed his tone and is a lot more helpful now that he's realized that no one can play the game with the useless rule-set provided.  This is the only game where I've had to read online references after browsing the rules the first time and saying, "What the....?"  And I have three university Mathematics degrees (you think I'd win games more often...)

So where does that leave Black Friday?  Well, it's a great game, brilliant even, and one of the most cunning market simulations I've ever seen.  And it's surprisingly simple to learn once someone knows how to play and has covered their bases by reading the errata online.  It's sad, really, because this game deserves a much wider audience and would be a great contender for the Spiel des Jahres (strategic but not too heavy, simple gameplay, plays in under an hour) but I think the shoddily written rules may disqualify it.  If you like market simulations and extremely clean and elegant game designs, or if you just feeling like reliving the highs and lows of the recent economic crash on a smaller scale, pick this one up.  It's worth it.  Just make sure you do your homework before you dive into your first game so you've got your bases covered.  Or email me your questions as I'd be happy to clarify, too.

We've played this 8 times now in the last month and will again tomorrow.  Excuse the pun - but it's definitely worth the investment.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

The death and life of Monopoly...

Seemed kind of appropriate to post a link to's podcast on the death and life of Monopoly.   Just sayin'...

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Enjoyed a few expansions in the last week or so.  Dominion: Prosperity (which really should have been called Dominion: The World Is Friggin' Yours!) has reignited our love for the game after a long Tichu-filled hiatus.  All the reports are true, the Scarface edition is a riot and every person who ever loved Dominion should try this one out.  Worth every platinum coin.

Oh, the poor mid-west.

Also, played TTR: The Monster Expansion yesterday night.  Definitely adds a nasty element to the game although in our 5-player game, the person who won by a lot actually moved the monsters the least.  This might not bode well for the expansion.  We shall see...

Dexter humbly ponders the utter devastation of LA.  Sigh.

Side note:  Biblios, the long-awaited reprint of Dr. Finn's acclaimed Scripts & Scribes, finally arrived in the mail today.  Most of us only heard about how good this indy card game was but never got a chance to play it.  Now, it's time...