Monday, August 31, 2009

1.7: What is this gaming thing? Part 3 - Modern Boardgames?

This is part 3 of the series, "What is this gaming thing?" Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found over here.

For this segment, rather than reminiscing, I figured it's probably a good time to explain what it is about the "Modern Boardgame" that is so interesting, and why adults and families coming together to play again.

First, let's start with the actual physical presentation of the games; one of the features of the modern boardgame is the aesthetics of the game. I have for you two photos of games--the classic game, Monopoly, and what is many a person's first foray into the modern boardgame, The Settlers of Catan (Note: click the game's name to get a larger view). The first things a person new to the modern boardgame often notices is the visual representation of the board, much bolder and more colorful than the classic boardgame, and the quality and number of bits that come with the game. In addition to the visual elements, the games often contain tactilely pleasent elements, that is, the parts of the game (wooden bits, cards, dice, thick cardboard chits, and even the board) are pleasent to the touch. Many of the "Eurogames" contain a number of wooden bits, while many "American-style" games may contain a number of intricately detailed plastic miniatures (don't worry about these terms, we'll come back to them later). Often this initial wow-factor was the initial source of intrigue for many veteran boardgamers.

I had mentioned in Part 1 of this series that classic boardgames, while having a place, can become uninteresting. This is due largely to a lack of choice, very limited strategic options, and high randomness; while any one of these may be present in the modern boardgame, the extent to which it plays a role will be moderated. I'm not trying to beat on anyone's favorite game here, but let's use Monopoly as an example that everybody knows. Without recapping how Monopoly works, I'll simply state that it is restrictive in choice and strategy (ie, the dice are a larger determining factor than the player's will or intuition), has a largely static board, but does have a decent asset trading scheme.

Now let's take Settlers as an example of a modern boardgame. First, the board; while this is not always the case with the modern boardgame, the board for Settlers is modular--that is, it is made up of a series of pieces which can be interchanged in order to alter the board. Look back at the picture above, and you'll see that the board is a series of hexagons; while the ring of water does always surround the island of Catan, the 19 tiles that make up the island can be shuffled around, greatly affecting play.

Next, player choice. During the game the player will obtain resources, which they will use to expand and develop their settlements (I'll be making a post that covers Settlers soon enough). Let's say they have one of each brick, timber, wheat, and a wool resource. They could build a road with a brick and a timber, which would extend the reach of their settlements, giving them the opportunity to expand and reach other resource tiles. However, if they did that, they wouldn't be able to build another settlement--since settlements (which sit not on, but at the junctions of tiles) are what produce resources, having more enables a player to produce more resources, different resources, and they can rely on them being produced more often. Also, a player may wish to hold on to all of these, in the hopes that they receive an ore resource, enabling them to build a development card. While which resource is produced each turn is determined by the roll of two six-sided dice, how and when each resource is used is entirely up to the player. Since the value of each resource is also determined by the game and individual players, the ability to trade resources is also an interesting part of the game--for instance, a player who needs one more piece of road to block out another player may be willing to trade extra resources for that last brick they need, or perhaps grain is overproduced in the game, and thus trading it for another resource results in a 2 or 3-to-1 trade ratio.

As you can probably see from this run-down, the depth and interaction in Settlers far exceeds that of Monopoly. Now, here's an interesting piece of information--an entire game of Settlers of Catan is 60 to 90 minutes; while a game like Sorry! may only be 30 to 45 minutes, how long was your last game of Monopoly?

Since this post is getting long, I'm going to cut it short here. The series will continue with another reminiscing segment, "What is this gaming thing? Part 4 - Where did I go wrong?"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

1.6: What is this gaming thing? Part 2, Discovery

This is part two of the series, What is this gaming thing? Click here to read part 1.

How many of you had a closet or shelf at your parents' house that held all the boardgames? Ours was the closet at the entry for our house (I suppose it would qualify as the "coat closet," but we live in Southern California...I don't think I even own a "coat"). We had the usual copy of Memory, Sorry!, Monopoly, Pick-Up Sticks, a few decks of cards; there were also a few more interesting games. Bazaar (a trading/set-collection game) and Dungeon Dice (a press-your-luck style game) are two that stick out in my mind--initially because we, as a family, played these often (you should see my dad's copy of Dungeon Dice, one day the box just gave up, it's atoms scattering into the ether). Secondly, though I didn't think about it in my youth, these were not the typical "roll and move" style games. To me, they were simply "more fun."

Let's hop forward a number of years, High School; little boardgaming to speak of in the interim, but hanging out at Brian's one day, he brings out a copy of Kingmaker, a game about the War of the Roses (not the movie). The board, which was actually just on glossy paper, took up almost the entirety of his floor, and there were all these cardboard counters and cards, and a 20+ page rulebook. Like fools, we glanced at the 20 page rulebook and jumped right in. Hours later my meager army was holed up in London with the next heir to the throne, watching the rest of the world's population (aka, Brian's army) march toward them. We flip an event card for my turn...and my entire army falls victim to the plague. At that point I have to resign, giving Brian victory, but I leave intrigued. I'd later learn this game, Kingmaker, is considered a Wargame, but at that point I have two thoughts on my mind: First, I'm never playing that again. Second and more significant, I've never played anything like this--what else is out there?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

1.5: Games for children, starting around age 2.

This is written in response to a friend's post, wherein she stated that she had just completed the world's longest game of Chutes and Ladders. This friend has two children, ages 2 and 3.

Let me start this post by saying that games are good, especially for children. They are a wholesome social activity in which they can interact with their parents on a more even playing field, and an excellent way to teach any number of skills (reading, math, memory, spatial relations, etc.) and develop their dexterity.

With that said, some games...let's use the phrase "quickly outlive their usefulness." Perhaps this isn't the most correct phrase, but if you're a parent who has just completed their 900th game of Candyland, you understand what I mean.

The goal of this post is to suggest games that serve this purpose, that is, aid the development of one's children, but don't bore a parent into a coma.


First, here's a link that takes you to a small list of games for children of about age two. While not linked here, with a little attention and tweaking, most children around age 3 should be able to play games listed "for ages 5 and up"--this greatly extends the number and variety of boargames available for play. Also keep in mind that development at this age is amazing--a child at 2 years, 2 months will be far more developed than they were at only 2 years.

Now, some more specific suggestions of my own, with summaries. Many of these games take 20 minutes or less to complete.

Gulo Gulo:
--Players draw wooden spheres from a small wooden bowl without knocking over the "alarm" stick; player moves to the same color on a track as the sphere they drew. The goal is to get to the end of the track first. Twenty minute play time, and kids tend to excel over adults due to smaller fingers. Note: The wooden spheres look somewhat like peanut M&Ms--if you children are familiar with this candy, either pay really close attention or pass on this game.

Tier auf Tier (Animal upon Animal):
--Each player has a set of thick wooden animals. On their turn, a player rolls two dice, and must stack the associated animals upon the crocodile (or upon the other animals already on the crocodile). First to stack all their animals without knocking over the crock wins. Good, simple dexterity game with solid, sturdy pieces.

Hula Hippos:
Another dexterity game, this game comes with a wooden ring and four sets of colored wooden hippos, six to each set. One player spins the wooden ring; everyone plays simultaneously, flicking their hippos. Players attempt to get the hippos in or under the ring once it stops spinning; these are removed from play, and the ring is spun again to start a new round. The first player to get rid of three hippos wins.

Hey! That's My Fish!
For two to four players, I'm actually considering this one for a child slightly older than two--perhaps three or four years old. The board is composed of a number of hexagonal tiles, each depicting 1, 2, or 3 fish. Players have two or three wooden penguins, and after placing them on the board, take turns moving any of their penguins as many spaces as desired in a straight line, and remove the tile the penguin started on. Eventually the board develops holes or separates into several pieces (think of the motorcycle things in Tron--hopefully everyone has seen that movie) as the penguins jockey for board position. The player with the most fish at the end of the game wins.

Lastly, I'll make two suggestions that I think are funny and unique.

Run for your Life, Candyman!:
If your kids can play Candyland, they can play this with a little help. This is Candyland in reverse--after discovering that the King of Candyland has been selling the gingerbread people to the children of the world (for eating!), you (a gingerbread person, of course) decide you need to escape. Of course, only one can make it, so if you have to beat on the other gingerbread people, so be it. This game plays exactly like Candyland except for two things: first, you hit and damage any player that you pass--this can ultimately lead to destroying an opponents arms, legs, etc. Second, you get weapons to help you hit your opponent more and/or harder. There is a little reading, but if you are selective with the weapon cards (all of them are cute, candy themed weapons) and play with open hands, this shouldn't be a problem.

Purely a dexterity game, players flick their cars (wooden disks) around a smooth wooden track. The goal, of course, is to be the first to pass the finish line. Great fun and playable by anyone that can flick, it is, unfortunately, on the pricey side, at around $80. is an excellent resource for all manner of boardgaming knowledge, has an excellent database of boardgames, and, best of all, it's free to use. All links in this post will likely lead to