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Preview: Journal of Boardgame Design

Journal of Boardgame Design



Analysis and appreciation of board games.



Last Build Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 20:33:43 +0000

 



Essen 2008 Unwrapped: Part 3 - Cavum

Sat, 06 Dec 2008 22:59:00 +0000

Cavumby Wolfgang Kramer and Michael KieslingIn Kramer and Kiesling's new "Cavum ", the designers offer a new "gamer's game" that reflects the unique sensibilities which have given us games from "Torres" to "Maharaja". As is typical of this team, they present us with a wide ranging menu of choices each turn and enormous freedom to manage our strategies. For some, this freedom lets players fully manage complex strategies, while for others, the freedom only means confusion and headaches. What is especially interesting is how the designers' style is expressed in a new way - disguised but still unmistakably Kramer and Kiesling.Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have been working together as co-designers since 1995, but they came to the attention of many gamers with the release of Tikal and Torres in 1999. In both of these games, players had free form turns in which they could choose from a menu of actions - moving, building, exploring, creating new pawns - each of which required the expenditure of some number of "Action Points" which were limited every turn. Tikal was followed by Java in 2000 and Mexica in 2002, and these games are regarded as a trilogy - for their obvious use of this shared system, for the use of masks on their box cover art, and also for the graphic design used in the games by artist Franz Vohwinkel. Depending on how you felt about these games, the "AP" trilogy either referred to "Action Points" or "Analysis Paralysis" because such freedom could lead players to get stuck managing the details of each game turn.With some subsequent games such as "Maharaja", "Australia", "Bison", and even "Sunken City", this system got stretched in different directions, but what remained constant was the use of a menu of potential choices confronting players that allows them to manage their turns with great flexibility.Cavum is a relatively complex tile laying, track building game in which the designers place their stamp in a new way. At the beginning of the "phase", players fill their player mats with the 12 assets shown above. Each represents an action he'll be able to take once. Four of them are ordinary tiles to lay, although each one has a different amount of track (or in this case, "tunnel") One has a piece of track with a big ol' piece of dynamite on it. The three cubes are stations - and these are the only pieces that a player truly owns. They will serve as starting and ending points for paths the player will trace in an effort to claim gems, and they will also block other players' paths. The gray tile with stones on it represents a "vein" which the player may place and "discover" - and will be a source from which all players claim gems. Then there are two wild tiles which may substitute for any of the above, and finally the symbol for prospecting. This will always be the player's last action in the turn, when he traces a path between any two of his stations, crossing through any quantity of tunnels, in an attempt to pass through previously placed veins, and pick up as many gems as possible.Here is where I think the designers really show their true colors. During a phase, a player is going to engage in all twelve of his actions. However, the phase is broken up into any number of turns. During a player turn, he must select between one and four of his actions to perform before passing his turn. So these twelve actions might be distributed among as many as twelve and as few as three player turns per phase. Each phase always culminates in the prospecting action. So one player might choose to rush with his actions, to ensure that gems are still on the board when it's time to prospect. Another might proceed very slowly, forcing all players to take their actions so that he may use all the resources out there when he finally prospects.With such flexibility, it is easy to see why this is very much a gamer's game - and one which can succumb to Analysis Paralysis in the wrong hands.I wonder to what degree Kramer and Kiesling were inspired by Martin Wallace's "Age of Steam", as they seem to have created a[...]



Essen 2008 Unwrapped: Part 2 - Dominion

Fri, 05 Dec 2008 07:08:00 +0000

DOMINIONby Donald X. VaccarinoIf Sylla was a blend of old wines in a new bottle, Dominion is a tasty young wine which seems unlikely to mature greatly.Dominion has become an overnight hit, and so many readers have already played it to death since its recent release. I've played it only once, but what stands out about it is its originality despite its simplicity.The goal is to collect the most and best victory point cards into your deck. Each player has his own deck of ten cards - seven with (1) gold and three with (1) VP. He draws five cards from his deck and can use the gold cards to buy either more gold, more VP's or any one of ten special power cards ("kingdom cards") which are arranged in a display. Cards so purchased are placed into his deck for future draws. After the player has used a power from one of his special cards and purchased a card using his gold, then both used and unused cards from his hand are placed in his discard pile - to be recycled when his draw deck has been used up. In this way, players are consistently drawing five cards, taking actions, buying new cards, and then drawing more. Cards used - or not - are continually being recycled, but at a slower pace as his deck grows in size. When sufficient cards have been purchased, the game ends and the player with the most points in VP cards wins.This feature of continually drawing and renewing one's own deck, and building that deck on the fly is very original and the game plays like no other Eurogame. Because a player must, as a default, draw exactly five cards a turn and work with only those cards at any given time, the game requires a player not to maximize his assets with the most extensive display of powers possible. Instead, the game is about concentration. How can a player build a deck such that a random assortment of any five cards at a time be most powerful most consistently? What we see is that the cost of adding gold cards to his hand is disproportionately high with higher values of gold. Gold cards valued at (1) have no cost; those valued at (2) cost three, and those valued at (3) cost six. This seems counterintuitive until you realize that normally a deck consisting of all (1) value gold cards could never buy anything costing more than five (and then only rarely), while a deck of (3) value gold cards can much more easily accumulate brawny values used to purchase big VP cards or strong powers.In any given game, there are ten different kingdom cards to choose from, but the game comes with 25 unique decks, so that the smorgasboard of choices may be different with each game. Examples of powers in the set I used were ones that gave players extra actions and/or extra opportunities to buy cards. There were powers which allowed a player to add three cards into his hand (remember, they all recycle, so this is an alternative way of concentrating your hand), and ones which permitted gold cards to be upgraded to the next higher level.Player interaction is very limited and from what I saw came in two forms. One is that there are a few cards which enable a player to "attack" others, for example by forcing them to discard down to three cards, and other cards which enabled players to defend against such attacks. In my game, these were used sparingly because they don't really help you advance your agenda, and even a defensive card needs to "just happen to be" in your hand at the time of an attack for it to do any good. The other form of player interaction concerns the pace of the game. A strategy which relies on gradually building up a killer hand and then collecting VP's can be counteracted by a strategy which attempts to buy lots of cheap cards and end the game quickly. In practice, I don't believe that players gain from building up large decks because their powers are not cumulative. You're still drawing only five cards at a time. The value of a large powerful deck is that it is less diluted by VP cards. But an opponent cannot surprise you by ending the game. If other players switch into "collecting VP [...]



Essen 2008 Unwrapped: Part 1 - Introduction and Sylla

Sat, 29 Nov 2008 05:32:00 +0000

It's been a long time since I've contributed to this Journal; the last article appeared over six months ago. That's just wrong. I have been working on an article - about the "Frustration Factor" in games. However, work and writer's anxiety have been pushing it out and out and... It's a tricky thing to create an article about types of game mechanisms because the subject is so vague. Worse, any given topic seems to be so broad that I keep writing when I ought to just wrap it up. So in an effort to get the train moving again, I'm offering a sort of article that I've specifically avoided in the past. Game reviews. OK - This is not your father's game review. It's not even Schloesser or Vasel's game review. It's a game review JBD style. 1) The focus is on the game mechanics. Expect little or no discussion about the theme or components. 2) Game mechanics are described in their most essential form. There will be no rehash of all the rules, but instead a focus on the handful of mechanisms that drive the game and the decisions they offer.3) I may provide only a passing mention of whether I think the game is good. Don't expect a buyer's guide. More emphasis will be placed on what mechanics are innovative or effective and why. In most cases I only had a chance to play the game once. One reason I've avoided writing reviews in the past is that there are so many of them out there already. Tossing another one onto the net seems redundant. However, I had the good fortune to attend BoardGameGeek.con and had a chance to play many new games which I know there's lots of curiosity about. I'm going to limit each post to a single review. This will hopefully make it easier for people searching for information about a given game to find it, and will also keep each post to a manageable length. My hope is to publish a new review every three or four days. Here goes....SYLLA by Dominque Ehrhard Ehrhard used to be a considerable force in Eurogame design, but he hasn’t been on the gamer’s game radar for a while. When they came out, I had great enthusiasm for both Condottiere and Serenissima, but those are over ten years old. Sylla is released by Ystari, and it has their fingerprints all over it. It appeals to gamers, and has oodles of features that feel familiar – competing auctions, income generating tokens, food shortages- and it offers situations where scarce resources must be carefully allocated among competing needs. The driving mechanism is that players each start with several character cards, and will get to add another to their hand in each game turn. Each character has one to three colored symbols (red/blue/yellow) and potentially an additional special power. After adding a new character at the beginning of each game turn, players may use these in any of several auctions for tiles which grant benefits. Each auction is color coded, so a character with a red symbol may only be used in a “red” auction, while a character with all three may be used in any of them (but may only be “spent” once) – the three colors make him three times more flexible but not three times more valuable. Among the other assets that players take – each turn and also potentially from winning auctions – are disks in any of three colors. These disks will have varying values at the end of the game. Players also earn money every game turn and also take income from certain tiles and from one of the characters. The most original phase comes in the election to suppress bad events. Four events are dealt out, and two of them will occur each turn. Now, unspent cards with the appropriate special power (the soldier in the upper left, and the rather matriarchal looking "vestal virgin" in the upper right) may contribute to influence these events. (The first event card, on the right, may receive votes from both soldiers and Virgins, the one below it only accepts votes from Virgins.The two events receiving the fewest suppressing votes are the ones that occur, and these may cause the va[...]



What is this board game about?

Sat, 01 Mar 2008 19:38:00 +0000

Printer friendly"So what is this game about?" is the natural first question you might ask when someone brings out a new board game for you to try. That question can have one of two answers, depending on the angle you look at the game from: theme or mechanics."The game spans 1500 years of Egyptian history. You goal is to influence Pharoahs, build monuments, farm on the Nile, and advance the culture of the people in an attempt to appease the god of the Sun.""Okay, but what is the game about?""It is a set collecting and auction game. There is a wide variety of tiles that you'll collect, which combine in myriad ways to score points. On your turn, you'll decide whether to add one more tile to the pool, or to auction off the ones already there. Your goal is to collect those tiles which will be most valuable to you, prevent your opponents from getting too many tiles valuable to them."Either of the above is a reasonable description of Reiner Knizia's "Ra". Since this is the Journal of Boardgame Design, I'm interested almost 100% in the latter. Either description could reasonably be called the game's "theme", but in practice "theme" has come to mean the historical context in which the game supposedly takes place. The designer drapes a bunch of mechanisms around the theme, and he has a game. Maybe the mechanisms are closely tied to the theme and often, in Eurogames, they aren't.A game, at its best, is more than a bunch of mechanisms. It is a coherent system of mechanisms with a theme of its own. Let's call this theme that summarizes the system of mechanisms the game concept. There is nothing to prevent a game built from a bunch of connected mechanisms from being lots of fun, but I think that having a strong game concept takes the game up a level. It helps to focus the players' goals. It adds meaning to the game apart from the theme. It defines the game."Players choose among a series of actions which help them to score points, gain resources, or avoid catastrophes. The more you are able to take the same action during the game, the more valuable it becomes. The trick is that in each turn, a player is presented with three possible actions, and he must decide which one to play, and which ones to make available to the players to his left."-Notre DameI enjoy explaining game rules, and I always introduce the game by first describing the game concept. Every rule has a role in supporting the game concept. If players can wrap the whole idea of the game around their heads, then all the individual rules ought make sense. Players can sit down and get to work at trying to win. If they can't get the game concept, then most likely you'll see the "deer in the headlights" look. "Okay, you explained the game to me but... what am I supposed to do?"The issue of game concept surfaced when I recently first played "Amyitis" by Cyril Demaegd. On any given turn, a player will take one of five different actions. The Merchant and Peasant each give you distinct types of resources. The Engineer gives you immediate points and a shot at a majority battle, for more points, on the main part of the board. The Priest lets you take part in a different majority battle in a small part of the board, which help you win more points or resources depending on where you choose to play. Finally you may move the caravan - in which you spend the resources you earned elsewhere to earn: points from cards, income, faster caravan movement, or the ability to earn points on the main board, which in turn is limited by choices made by players who chose the Engineer earlier in the game.Deep breath.So the game Amyitis is about... I'm not sure.Cyril Demaegd has a defense of the structure of Amyitis which is worth reading. He described it as having a "star structure" rather than a "line structure". I think I understand his point. Some games, ones with a linear structure, have their elements lined up like dominoes. The first one effects the next one, and so on down, until the last mechanism which affects the v[...]



Look me in the eyes before you do that to me!

Wed, 18 Jul 2007 19:40:00 +0000

Printer friendlyHow do board game designers make gaming more social?The author avoiding paparazzi while enjoying "Wildlife".I greatly prefer playing games live to playing them over the internet. This is despite the fact that I'm not an especially extroverted guy. Some who speak to the advantages of board games over electronic games speak to the benefits of just being with people and having the opportunity to socialize. When I play game, I tend to focus on the game and not the social interaction. So why do I prefer gaming in a social setting?An important aspect of playing a game is the feeling that you are playing with and against people. Some games bring that spirit out and some games bury it. To some degree, I can understand when players complain of a game having little interaction, even when, objectively, players absolutely can affect each other. The question begins to become - how much of the game is personal and how much of it is purely about the game mechanics? Sometimes the interactions in a game are like the interactions of a pinball against the bumpers - lively but impersonal. The greatest gaming interaction brings out the players' personalities and lets you feel that you are playing with and against the people at your table, and not just managing a bunch of battling wooden cubes.In the question of interaction, one of the more controversial games is Seyfarth's "Puerto Rico", which some people feel has little interaction and which others say has plenty of interaction. I find there to be plenty of interaction in the game, but the naysayers have a good point. The interaction in Puerto Rico tends to be impersonal. Players must, for example, consider when to produce and when to ship, and these choices can have substantial impact upon opponents. Players will often strategize in a way to avoid producing the same key commodity as their right hand neighbor in order to avoid getting shut out in a trading round. But look at how that is couched: avoid mirroring your right hand neighbor as opposed to, say, avoid mirroring a very aggressive player. When making tactical decisions in Puerto Rico, the consideration is overwhelmingly based on the way that decision affects the complicated interactions of player positions - who is a strong producer, who is vulnerable to having goods thrown overboard, etc. These decisions generally play out in a clear and predictable manner once you understand the game. The interactions in Puerto Rico are important but generally impersonal. Players keep their eyes on the playing mats as they ponder the next best move. A game with greater interaction gets players to also look not only at their opponents positions, but into their eyes as well.Compare Puerto Rico with a game like "Louis XIV" by Rudiger Dorn. Louis XIV is a majority-control game in which many contested areas have a "do-or-die" element. "I really-really-really need a helmet to insure that I can complete one of my missions this turn. I think I can take it by putting two units on the Dauphin - but what is Bryan going to do? It looks as though he'd be better off spreading his units across several nearby characters, but Bryan is the sort of guy who likes to play defensively and smack people down when they look like a threat. But I'd really like to place my third unit on Louvois, where I think I can pick up an easy influence card..."In both Louis XIV and Puerto Rico players can have an important effect on their opponents. In Louis, though, there is a much greater degree to which a player naturally considers the motivations and alternatives of his opponents. I'll call the player interaction in Louis XIV "warm" and the interaction in Puerto Rico "cold". It is warm interaction in which you have a great awareness not only of your opponent's positions, but of your opponents as people and are likely to interact with them as such. Play styles differ - and a game of Louis XIV might take place without any table talk, but a player of Louis XIV [...]



A Gamer's Journal: Board Game Designers Are Alive and Well and Living In Utah

Tue, 03 Apr 2007 05:20:00 +0000

Printer friendly versionBeing raised in New York and currently living in Los Angeles, I tend to think that the nexus of all civilized activity occurs in the big cities on the coasts. There is nothing better than actually getting away from the supposed center of things to open your eyes up to what the rest of the world is really capable of.I recently had the occasion to travel to Salt Lake City (pop. 182,000, 5% of Los Angeles) on business and, being a gamer, part of my travel plans included locating a local games group. Some SLC expatriates directed me to the Friendly Local Game Store "Game Night Games".I googled them and was immediately impressed with the website. Not only did they have the expected game search feature, plus an obvious focus on Eurogames, but also a detailed calendar of events, and even a forum for local gamers to communicate with each other. I knew I'd probably be free on the 15th. When I checked the calendar I saw the night was reserved for... the Board Game Designers Club of Utah.Double take.How many Board Game Designers can there possibly be in Utah?When I arrived in town I called the store, and the man at the desk told me that, yes, I was welcome to just show up as long as I understood that I'd be playing prototypes but that "some of these games are actually pretty good." I was a little dubious, but the guy behind the desk seemed genuine. Any way, who cares. I was out in a new place and I HAD TO PLAY GAMES.I arrived a teensy bit after the eight o' clock start. The front door said "closed" but the place was lit up and filled with about a dozen board game designers of Utah, and the door proved to be unlocked. Inside I was immediately impressed. The store was small enough to be cozy, but fastidiously organized, and entirely inviting. Shelves of games were carefully lined up and obviously dominated by Euros. The selection, it turned out ran really deep. There were of course the expected Settlers games and Tickets to Ride, and Puerto Ricos. This being Salt Lake City, I took a look over by the Settlers section and sure enough saw a sizable stack of the Mormon-themed "Settlers of Zarahelma". But in addition to the obvious choices, the catalog ran deep - into the old catalog of games like "Doge", a lone copy of "Himalaya", SEVERAL copies of "Canal Mania", and way on the top, a proudly displayed copy of "Roads & Boats"!The store being cozy, I was quickly in the middle of the meeting being held. The dozen people were seated around on some nice, sturdy wooden tables in a section of the store clearly reserved for playing. From the warmth of the wood and the comfortable poses of the guests, any visitor might easily think he'd just walked into a coffee house - not a Starbucks, but rather one that encourages you to relax, sip leisurely, and stay a while. One club member was laying down the law - literally - to the other members, telling them about how they could go about submitting games to publishers. He talked about trust, legal copyrights, "poor man's copyrights", costs, and even the option of patenting. He also made a discouraging assertion to the effect that one reason not to worry about having your brilliantly original idea get ripped off is that it probably isn't all that original. Publishers get so many submissions that the chances are they've seen something pretty close to it already. He further warned his audience to expect waiting a long time, like six months, before hearing anything from a publisher.The audience listened, asked questions, and offered their own perspectives. There seemed to me to be a fair amount of realism in the room. Everyone of course wanted that golden opportunity to be published, but there was no one there (I think!) with fantasies of getting rich, selling their home, quitting their jobs, and pursuing their game design dreams for the next twenty years (for that story, try seeing the story of Marc Griffin and "Bulletball"[...]



The Designer's Mind: Silk Road

Thu, 18 Jan 2007 21:17:00 +0000

THE DESIGNER’S MIND: SILK ROADThe development of Ted Cheatham and Bruno Faidutti’s “Silk Road” from conception to publication.Printer friendly I love to pick apart a game and see what makes it tick. Behind every finished product is a story of how that game came to be.This month I’m delighted to be able to bring the story of the complete development of Silk Road in the words of its designers, Ted Cheatham and Bruno Faidutti, as well as its publisher Zev Shlasinger of Z-Man Games.Silk Road started out as an abstract game, and I got to play a very early version of it in 1999, when Ted was its sole designer and the game was known as “Valencia”. In the intervening years, Ted developed it, shelved it, then got Bruno Faidutti involved, and in late 2006 a very different but still recognizable game, “Silk Road” was published by Z-Man Games. Along the way, the game evolved from an abstract, to a fantasy theme, up into a science fiction game, and ultimately to its current historical setting in Southern Asia.It is my hope that “The Designer’s Mind” will be the first of a series of articles to profile the development of a single game in great depth.Silk Road is a “pick up and deliver” game – in which all players share the same caravan, which moves each turn further west from its starting point in Changan, China. With each move, players must bid for the right to control which direction the caravan will move. Once it arrives at its new city, the high bidder gets to choose which of the actions available in that city he will take for himself. Then it is he who decides which player gets second choice of action, and so on, until the last player who gets… no action.In the first half of the game, players are investing in goods, and in the last half they are selling off the goods they collected previously. However, if a player cannot direct the caravan in a way to sell off what he has collected, he will receive little or nothing for it at the end of the game.JBD: Well, let’s get started learning about Silk Road by asking about the very first idea that started it. I’ll gladly fall the into cliché trap and ask “which came first – the theme or the mechanisms?”Ted Cheatham: Silk Road definitely came from mechanisms first. I decided it was time to try my hand at a game when I was in Mississippi (around) 1997.Auction games always have a trade off of bidding for what you need at the cost of letting another player get the thing that he needs most. The initial premise I had was, let's make an auction more important as things leave the board since people will have less to choose from and in many cases not get anything at all. What if there were circumstances where only one or two people would benefit by winning an auction and the other players got screwed over? So, with 4 players, if the first player moved and made a play that only lets one other player have an action, it is critical to be second or first. Anyway, that was what drove the idea of the game initially.Commentary: This basic idea does make it into the final product – but with a twist. The winner of the auction gets control of the pawn and gets first choice of the spoils. However, instead of the second choice going to the next highest bidder, the high bidder gets to choose who goes next, and so on. Ted: The first cut was a grid with no real theme at this point. The base part was a set collecting game.A player would bid to place a leader pawn on a spot on the grid. (He) could then take that tile or any tiles around the spot where the leader pawn was placed. It was a true auction where you auctioned 1st, 2nd , 3rd and 4th place player (one auction with most money first, second money second, etc).So after the first turn, the board may look like this after 4 players played. The shaded spaces represent tiles taken.The “1” shows where the pawn is. For the next round after bidding, if a p[...]



Are Game Designers Auteurs?

Mon, 06 Nov 2006 21:34:00 +0000

Printable versionWhen I created The Journal of Boardgame Design, one of my goals was to pull the nature of board game writing up a notch, beyond game reviews that were intended to be buyer's recommendations and into the level of critical analysis. Treat games as an artform that could be analyzed in the same ways that music, painting, literature and film are treated. If this seems to raise game design to a level that isn't warranted, we should remember that there were times when dance and film were regarded as merely recreation and entertainment. As game design has become more ambitious, so should its criticism.In the 1950's, Francois Truffaut advocated looking at film in a new way which became known as "Auteur Theory". According to Wikipedia:"The auteur theory holds that a film, or an entire body of work, by a director (or, less commonly, a producer) reflects the personal vision and preoccupations of that director, as if she or he were the work's primary "author" (auteur)."Truffaut's theory maintains that all good directors (and many bad ones) have such a distinctive style or consistent theme that their influence is unmistakable in the body of their work."For a time, auteur theory was of interest only to academics and intellectuals, while ordinary filmgoers could care less about who the director of a film was. Your grandparents probably never talked about seeing the latest Billy Wilder movie (though they might have been aware of the latest Alfred Hitchcock movie.) Still, public awareness of the role of directors became widespread through movie critics who promoted the latest foreign film directors (including Truffaut), and in the 1980's the earth cracked open when names like Stephen Spielberg and Martin Scorcese became part of our daily vocabulary.It seems as though we are coming in to a time when game designers are beginning to have the same visibility that film directors began to have thirty years ago. As in the 1970's, the talk is mostly among devotees, and mostly about Europeans. As once film had it's Truffaut, Bergman and Fassbinder, today boardgaming has its Teuber, Kramer and Knizia. Once there was a reawakened appreciation of Howard Hawks and today we rediscover the groundbreaking work of Sid Sackson.Before we elevate game designers from being artisans to being auteurs we ought to ask: does this comparison really make sense? Is there really a basis in comparing games to films, music or literature? Can one really look at the body of work of a game designer and make out a distinctive style or consistent theme? To the extent that it is possible - is it of any consequence?I didn't initially set out to write an article that questioned the value of examining the collected works of game designers. I set out to find a game designer whose body of work I could analyze, hoping to create a series around this. I soon hit a wall. It is difficult to identify a meaningfully consistent style in most designers. Even Reiner Knizia, who tended to create perfect efficient miniatures early in his career with games such as "Medici", "Modern Art", and "Tutankamen", soon moved on to create sprawling (by Eurogame standards) games such as "Euphrates & Tigris" and "Stephensons Rocket", which seem to have sprung out of an entirely different mind.Then there is the question of what merit there is in the exercise. Take Rudiger Dorn. We could look at his three best games and indeed see a pattern. In "Traders of Genoa", "Goa", and "Louis XIV", Dorn uses a common mechanism to limit the choices that a player has. In each case, choices are laid out on an orthogonal board and players place markers on locations along a path (Call it the "poop dropping" mechanism). It's a nifty way to structure player choices, and best of all, it's a pattern! We've successfully applied auteur theory to game design!Okay, so let's compare that observation with one that film critic P[...]



The Well Constructed Game - Reader's Comments

Mon, 09 Oct 2006 19:52:00 +0000

There were two people who responded publicly to "The Well Constructed Game", along with a few private emails.

One theme that came up a few times questioned my experience with Oasis. In my playing, I've never found the threat of being closed out on the game board to be very consequential. That's not to say it never happened at all, but it was infrequent and tended to have a marginal effect on the players. People who wrote in had different experiences with the game, finding that the board had a very significant effect.

I mention this just to hedge my own opinions. I've only played the game a few times (because, after all, my experience wasn't favorable). However, I don't feel that uncomfortable with my criticism because:

1) The game has lots of other problems (most especially, the auction mechanism in which you neither know what you're bidding with nor what you're bidding for.)

2) The point was just to illustrate how if a game board isn't constructed well, and doesn't sufficiently threaten to close off a player's options, the effect is to create a boring superfluous mechanism.

3) Hey, even a "review" is typically based on just a few playings and is similarly limited.

I always feel a great responsibility to be fair to a game I criticize, though.

Richard Abrams questioned whether my (modest) complaint with Caylus, that it has inferior privelege tracks, can't be mitigated by players tweaking the rules.

"...what's stopping us from re-doing the favor track to make each of the tracks approx. equal in value? ... Tweaking the favor track should be easy, and would allow players to choose the track that best fit into the strategy they were pursuing."

It's not easy. It requires playtesting (in a 3 hour game) to properly balance. And that's the job of the designers. Yes, any game's problem can theoretically be solved by the players, but then it's a different game. I think it's fair to say that a Well Constructed Game doesn't need to be stamped "Assembly Required".

Markmist agrees that the hard work comes in playtesting:

"To design a "well constructed game" is an exhaustive process - one in which you need to constantly be analyzing playtests (looking for what works and what doesn't work)."

Markmist writes as though he himself is a designer. Are you?

He also agrees that Caylus makes much better use of the different commodity types (cube colors) than does Keythedral:

"I played Caylus first and then played Keythedral and I felt that Keythedral was the vastly inferior game based on the points you mentioned. The color of the cubes in Keythedral seemed inconsequential and arbitary compared to Caylus."

Perhaps I'm too cautious, but I feel more comfortable praising a well rated game (on the Boardgamegeek) and criticizing one with a mediocre rating. But Keythedral, with its 7.5 rating, is a game in which I feel that the Emperor has no clothes. I can see the appeal: the whole way of building cottages and claiming resources is really fascinating. However, every time I played it, I found that there seemed to be little cause and effect going on in that system. You can bid for control and get totally screwed. You can hang back and see things just fall into your lap.

I also agree with Markmist that Through the Desert is an exceptionally Well Constructed Game, and one of my favorites. See my article on Story Arc for more details.

Coming attractions:
My next article will examine how possible it is to identify a specific style in the works of any given game designer. I am trying (foolishly!) to get it out within a reasonable time - hopefully within about a month of my last article.



The Well Constructed Game

Mon, 25 Sep 2006 20:58:00 +0000

Printable VersionSome board games seem constructed like a Mercedes and some seem contructed like a Yugo. Some games respond actively to every touch of the pedal and hug the road on every twist of the wheel, while some have trouble shifting and then bang around noisily from all the loose connections.In game terms I mean that some games have all of their mechanisms tightly tuned, where every rule presents an agonizing decision, and every decision affects your game, while some games are thrown together, with rules that hardly matter and frequent decisions that are barely relevant.Even if the latter game "basically works" it lacks the thrill of the feeling you get when a game has been trimmed and tuned. That's what The Well Constructed Game is: one which is not only fun, but which has all of its mechanisms tied together, effective, and purposeful. In this sense, The Well Constructed Game truly is a work of art - it has an aesthetic thrill that goes beyond its basic function of entertainment and competition. This artistry is very difficult to pull off and is the mark of a great designer.I want to talk here about compactness and elegance in a game design - deliberately avoiding what neccessarily makes it "fun". In admiring The Well Constructed Game, I don't want to imply that this characteristic is either neccessary nor sufficient for a game to be good. But we can certainly admire it when we see it.For much of his early career, Reiner Knizia was especially admired for how much good game he got out of some incredibly simple designs. Modern Art is a terrific example of a very simple and Well Constructed Game from this era. The basic structure of the game requires players to maximize their income both when they sell works of art (cards) to other players, and then later when they sell the art back to the bank. What drives the game so wonderfully is the scoring mechanism which creates a spectrum of implications for the players. Basically, the cards auctioned off come in one of five suits ("artists"), and the artist whose works have been most auctioned in that round pays the most. Players therefore have motivations to promote the auction of artists whose cards they hold in their hands - knowing that this will make them fetch a higher price - and they have motivation to auction off cards by artists they've already bought in the round - thereby bolstering their value at pay off time. Additionally, Knizia incorporates an excellent scoring bomb by having the values of paintings accumulate each turn - but still paying zero if that artist isn't in one of the top three positions. With just an auction and a well designed scoring mechanism, Knizia creates a very tense and engaging game. Every element in the scoring mechanism has a way of working to create strategic decisions for the players.Actually, one could fairly argue that there is a supefluous mechanism in the game. There are 4 different ways that a card may be auctioned, and each card specifies how that card is auctioned. It might be through an open outcry, or a closed bid auction for example. These alternatives definitely add color to the game, but are they neccessary? I think that they're a little fiddly, and they detract from the game's basic elegance - but I love 'em anyway. I suppose that this shows that being Well Constructed is a nice thing - but it's not everything.The Well Constructed Game is efficient but it need not be simple. It is not important that there are very few rules - only that every rule contributes significantly to the game play. Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich created a miraculous design in "El Grande". In El Grande, players place wooden cubes from their "court" supply onto any of nine regions on the board, in an attempt to get first, second or third place leadership positions during the game's [...]



Taking Care of Business Games - Readers' Comments

Fri, 08 Sep 2006 20:17:00 +0000

The comments on “Taking Care of Business Games” mostly focused on games I had omitted from the discussion. My goal was to look at a certain kind of business game and examine the mechanisms found in it. I wanted to see how different games in the genre deal with some of the problems that are specific to that genre. I also wanted to show the breadth of games, themes, and mechanisms that I believe still share common links. Unlike my series on scoring mechanisms, I decided to identify four games and stick with them for the entire article. The idea was to show just how games can share common mechanisms, face common design issues, and still be very different. I didn’t want to just look at a bunch of mechanisms – I wanted to look at the whole game. For every angle, I wanted to compare *every* game in my list, if possible. That meant keeping the list down. If I had six games instead of four, the article would have been 50% longer, and it was quite long enough. The need to limit the games I examined and the desire to look at the whole game meant that some excellent and relevant games wouldn’t make the cut. The most significant of these were the 18xx series and Age of Steam. In both cases, I felt that these games had so much more going on than just “production”. The rail-building aspect of the games, and the stock aspect of 18xx dominate a player’s decisions. So while it is true that in Age of Steam, players invest in rail lines, reap income from them, and reinvest the proceeds in more lines, I couldn’t fairly examine that game without getting into the specific issues that occur on the game board - which were outside the scope of my article. Martin Sz said: “... what about Acquire? An all- time classic, and possibly the best pure business game ever. Lord knows I love both Power Grid and Settlers, but to focus on these to the exclusion of Acquire in an article centerd on business and eco-dev games is perhaps a serious oversight, in my opinion at least. To a lesser extent, Puerto Rico merits a mention as well.” Regarding the omission of Acquire, adiamant nailed it when he responded: I don't think Acquire actually fits the mold here... Jonathan is talking about production oriented business games, while Acquire isn't that. Puerto Rico certainly fits and is indeed mentioned in the article, even if not analyzed thoroughly. Yes! I wanted to focus specifically on games where players build up some sort of production mechanism that grows and pays off ever more as the game develops. Acquire is more a game of stock speculation. Players owning shares in an Acquire hotel aren’t getting income from it. They might get a big payoff if it gets acquired, but that creates entirely different strategies than the ones found in the four games I focused on. Adiamant also said: Civilization games are probably more similar to the production business games. AH Civilization was what came to mind as an example of producing a variety of goods then using them to buy future production capability, but the way it's used is more circuitous, less direct. I agree with this. In games like Civilization or Antike your “factories” take the form of population or cities on the board. But like Age of Steam, what’s happening on the board dominates the game in a way that would have taken the discussion in a different direction. Puerto Rico also takes its inspiration from Civilization. I excluded it similarly because it has so many mechanisms outside the basic invest-produce-reinvest structure. Also in Puerto Rico players don’t invest in plantations, they just get them as a result of certain actions. Anonymous took us beyond the realm of games and into the dismal science: You seem to come from the bigger [...]



Taking Care of Business Games

Wed, 26 Apr 2006 19:32:00 +0000

Printer friendlyIn the introduction to this blog, I state that what I really care about in a game is its mechanisms, not its theme. And that's true. To a point. Some popular Eurogame themes tell you nothing about the mechanisms involved: Ancient Egypt, Renaissance Italy, Pirates. There are some themes, though, that do imply something about the mechanism involved. Offhand, these include racing games, railroad games, and business games.Business games are my personal favorite genre. It's a natural for me, since my graduate degree is in finance, and my career is in business planning. I like the idea of building things that make money, and reinvesting the proceeds to build even larger things that make even more money. I prefer the challenge of competition to that of conquest - and so I prefer my escapades to come from playing a business game rather than an empire building game.But not all business games are about economic development in the way I described. Some, like Chinatown, are about trading. Some are about buying and selling at a profit. This would include many "Pick up and deliver" games like Eurorails, as well as speculation games such as "Buy Low, Sell High", and operational business games like Schoko & Co.But what really gets my juices flowing is the idea of building a commercial empire - investing in capital, reaping the profits, and reinvesting. This doesn't truly even need to take the form of a "business" game. It can have any darned theme. I'm going to call these "economic development" games, and I'd like to pull a few of my favorites apart to see what makes them work.The games I'm going to examine are, in many respects quite different from one another. Power Grid, by Friedmann Friese, is probably the most obvious and pure form of this genre. It's modern. It's literally about business. Goa, by Rudiger Dorn is themed as more of a trading game, but players don't trade with each other or with the environment in any real sense. The heart of the game is gaining resources - spices, ships, and money - and reinvesting them in a way that increases your future output. Settlers of Catan , by Klaus Teuber, is themed as more of a community building game, but it is a game of economic development in the truest sense. Finally, The Scepter of Zavandor , by Jens Droegemueller, avoids the theme of economics entirely and instead cloaks itself as a fantasy game of collecting magical gems - but who's kidding whom? The game is adapted from the Sci-Fi economic development game, James Hlavaty's Outpost, and plays like a business game. Zavandor is familiar to the fewest readers, so I'll explain its mechanics, later, in more detail. It is expected to be released in an English language edition later in 2006.By my own standards, games of economic development come handicapped. They tend not to involve majority control, and so it is more difficult to create "bombs" that provide disproportionate rewards. Indeed, by their nature, they tend to be rather incremental. In the case of Power Grid, the rewards for maintaining larger systems are actually *less* than proportional. For example a size "4" grid pays off 46, whereas a size "8" grid pays off 74 - less than double. So one challenge in making such a game successful is in creating that "do or die" tension in other ways.Conversely, another pitfall is in avoiding the runaway leader problem. Economic development games can be low on player interaction. If four players are each building up their empires independently, without getting in each other's hair, how can a player in fourth place ever hope to catch up with the leader? The leader presumably has all the advantages - not only more money (perhaps) but also a superior infrastructure that guarantees him the future advantages.Finally, these games may [...]



101 Ways to Score - The Art of Scoring Part 2

Mon, 03 Apr 2006 22:05:00 +0000

Printer friendlyAll our talk in the first part of this article, "The Art of Scoring", has covered 3 narrowly defined ways that strategy board game designers have used to provide focused efforts with disproportionate rewards: majority bonuses, triangular scoring, squared scoring. What does a designer do when he wants to get a little creative? It's a tough problem because at first blush, there aren't a lot of choices out there, apart from just creating a table. But sometimes the above 3 ideas aren't quite what the designer wants - either because it doesn't provide the proper reward and incentives, or it's too cumbersome, or... he just wants to try something new.After the triangle numbers (1,3,6,10) and the square numbers (1,4,9,16), the most obvious mathematical progression is exponential - especially doubling: (1,2,4,8). I'm aware of only one game that uses this: Palmyra, reissued as Buy Low, Sell High. The game was introduced in 1996, the scoring system was used in the value of contract cards, it seems to have never been used in any subsequent game, and it works poorly. At the low ends, the rewards are too slight and at the high ends the rewards are too great. Specifically, in Palmyra, there is a set of four contract cards that can generate payoffs for a given commodity. Playing the second one - half of all the cards available - only gets you one point - the same as the first one got you. The third card gives you two more points - only upping the stakes by one. Only in the unlikely event that you can get all four cards down does the payoff start reflecting the effort. But if you went to five or six cards, suddenly the payoff would explode. Indeed, in Buy Low, Sell High, Knizia caps it so that another card is never worth more than 4 incremental points per share. I've never played it the following way, but I suspect the game would have been better served if those cards had paid off in a triangle progression.In Reef Encounter, Richard Breese took one of the simplest - and extreme - approaches possible. Subtract four; only count what's left. This obviously creates a strong (actually mandatory) incentive to only collect coral tiles when you've got at least 5, and to keep on going beyond 5 as much as possible. It also helps simplify the math because each tile scored may have a base value of from one to five points. If you had to say "a five tile group has a value of 15, times its 3 point base value equals 45", you'd find the final scoring to be that much more cumbersome. But note that, in the range of tiles that people typically take in a set (5 - 9 in my experience), it's a pretty steep curve with big benefits for collecting large sets. Collecting 6 tiles is twice as good as collecting 5. Going from 7 to 8 tiles improves your score (4/3) 33%. Even in a steep "squared" system, your value only goes up (64/49) 31%, and the relative difference is greater for the Reef Encounter scoring system at lower numbers.Some of the consideration in choosing this method, I'm sure, was just simplicity of the calculation. But some must also be an issue of what you want to reward. In the case of Reef Encounter, the rules are implicitly saying: "any dope can feed a group of four tiles to his parrotfish." The game is about the harder effort to put together a larger group, which is going to be much more vulnerable. Indeed, the game is set up so that any player can place a cluster of up to five tiles on the board that can't be attacked (because they are all adjacent to the player's shrimp). So Breese is effectively giving players credit for a single tile, and then rewarding any tiles that go above and beyond that. The Bomb is the reward for placing *vulnerable* tiles on the board, and keeping them there for at least a turn.In W[...]



The Art of Scoring

Mon, 20 Mar 2006 01:29:00 +0000

How Game Designers Encourage You To Get MorePrinter friendlyIn my Games Theory 101 Article on "The Bomb", I explain why the majorities scoring used in games such as Acquire, El Grande, and Union Pacific is used so widely. Briefly, it enables explosive scoring opportunities in which the payoff of an additional share or cube can be very disproportionate to the investment. This creates tension as the need to get that one or two additional shares (or whatever) becomes very great.Scoring for majorities is one of the most popular mechanics in Eurogames. I scanned my own collection and found that out of 100 games, I identified 35 of them that use scoring for majorities in some form. But there are other ways that designers have come up with to grant disproportionate, typically escalating, scoring in their games. It's pretty darned hard to come up with something new, but fortunately there are a lot of creative designers out there. I thought it would be fun to see what people are using, and to see what different effects they can have on game play.We're going to talk a lot about "set collecting" games here, and for our purposes I'm going to use a very broad definition. A set collecting game for this discussion is any game in which players can collect assets which come in different varieties and whose collective value is not proportionate to the quantity of each variety of asset. The idea is that the game is either encouraging you to concentrate your collecting efforts (Coloretto, Civilization, diversify them (Tigris & Euphrates), or offer some conflicting alternative (the monuments in "Ra", and any majority game such as "Union Pacific"). Having different varieties just means that you can collect cards of different colors, or shares of different companies or whatever. If there's just one type, then the game isn't directing players to collect sets of anything, it's just encouraging them to build up assets. If value is just proportional to the quantity of an item you collect, then there is no set collecting element either. Suppose you get 1 VP for every yellow card, 5 VP for every red card, and 10 VP for every blue card. In such a case cards are just a way of storing VP's, like money in different denominations. But 1f you get 5 VP's for every color of card in which you have the majority - but 0 VP's for all other cards - you have the elements of a set collecting game. In this case the incremental value of a red, blue, or yellow card all depends on the situation. It might be worth 5 VP's and it might be worth none. There's now the rudiments of a "game" here, depending on how players acquire the cards.Moreover, for this purpose, "area control" games such as "El Grande" and "Web of Power/China" are really set collecting games in disguise. The difference between an "area control" game and a "set collection" game is just the difference between "put" and "take". Want to convert "El Grande" into a set collecting game? Create different colored cards, one for every region on the board. Now, instead of placing two cubes of your own color into "Baskenland", you take two green "Baskenland" cards. When scoring, each player sees how many cards of each type they have to determine majorities. Of course, "Web of Power" also gives bonuses for connecting chains - but to that extent it is neither a set collecting game nor an area control game. Want to convert "Union Pacific" into an area control game? Create a board showing all 10 companies. Now every time you'd normally take a share card, just discard it and put your colored cube into that company's area. Voila; "Union Pacific " is now an area control game. In fact, that's how Goldbrau operates. Players play shares in beer halls and breweries, but mark th[...]



Ticket to Ride: Readers comments

Fri, 17 Mar 2006 06:44:00 +0000

I've been gratified by the thoughtfulness of the responses I've received to the "Ticket To Ride" article. I'd like to highlight some of the comments received, and provide my own commentary. As the JBD develops, my hope is to organize the articles into different types - ones that focus on a specific game, mechanisms, and who knows what else. The next article, coming soon, will focus on scoring systems. It takes off on the idea of the "bomb", and looks at how majorities scoring and escalating scoring systems have been used in games, and what makes each appropriate to its own context. I invite ideas for articles from readers with the caveat that I tend to be so darned independent that I'll bet a lot of suggestions will be made before I adopt one. But the more realistic expectation is that understanding what interests readers can help spark my imagination and help direct future articles - however indirect the effect may be.I'm a little envious of some of the other blogs and sites out there. I have a feeling that just reviewing new games, for example, is the "fun stuff". More readers seek it out, and it's cooler to turn people on to something new than it is to pull apart games in what might be an abstract way. But I'll blog on, hoping to add a distinct voice and to provide material that ultimately helps people enjoy their gaming even more. Another possibility - especially to fill in a void for those times when I feel that I can't find anything new to say - would be to create a sister blog that will focus more on new games - ones that I haven't played enough to really give a detailed analysis of, but where I can still apply a critical look at the mechanisms within.Enough avoidance. Let's look at the comments.Larry Levy (huzonfirst) offered an especially thought provoking view:...(N)ot all of the aspects of the game are "features" for me. For example, the ticket "bomb". While it adds considerably to the game's tension, its all or nothing aspect detracts from the game a bit. In most games, missing out on even one moderately sized route eliminates you from contention.Chris Farrell agrees and adds some additional observations on the issue:If you feel that you can't win without finishing your big ticket, this significantly constrains your play. You can only use other tickets that compliment this route, and you can't build much track that doesn't work towards your goal.TtR basically forces a certain level of risk on you, which you then have faily limited tools manage. If people don't feel well-rewarded for the risk they've taken, or if they don't feel like they have control over their level of risk, this can lead to frustration. Bombs come in many sizes, from point advantages to make-or-break requirement. I do agree with Larry that the tickets in Ticket To Ride have a danger of dominating the game. A player typically only has a few of them, and it's a shame to feel that one missed opportunity is not just a strategic issue - it's the whole game. I think that designers need to balance this carefully, and that the tickets are definitely on the "nuclear" side of bombs. I'll propose these two (untested) variants - and be eager to hear from anyone who tries either. One is to reduce the penalty for missing a ticket to halve the value. This will encourage players to take more tickets, take more chances, and spread the risk. The other goes a step farther. Double the benefit for making a ticket, but keep both the penalties and the ticket bonuses where they are. This is really the equivalent of halving both the penalties for a missed ticket AND halving the values for laying track. This accomplishes the earlier objective and also puts more emphasis on making tickets. [...]



Ticket to Ride

Tue, 24 Jan 2006 21:04:00 +0000

Printer friendlyI completed the last of my four-part "Games Theory 101" series in March 2004. In that series, which I have linked to and will gradually be republishing here, I identified four qualities that contribute to a game's excitement and richness.Ticket To Ride, by Alan Moon, came out within a couple of months of that last article. I was immediately very impressed with it. The game seemed to dispense with obviously clever mechanisms often found in Eurogames, and just deliver a lot of fun. It started tense and got to be more so as the game wore on. It forced you to plan, to readapt, to take painful calculated risks. And yet, it was so simple, that people apologized when they taught it. "Well, there's not really much to the game. I hope you weren't expecting something for gamers. Here is all you need to know..."When I compared "Ticket to Ride" to the four qualities identified in Games Theory 101, I was delighted to realize that Ticket to Ride had them all. Moreover, Ticket to Ride proved to have a strong and wide appeal. It quickly became a very well regarded game in gamers' circles, getting high ratings and frequent plays recorded on Boardgame Geek, and then went on to win the Spiele des Jahres. It was as though a hypothesis had been proven through a real life experiment.Not only is the game so effective, it has simple rules and a straightforward and breezy gameplay. Ticket to Ride seems to me to distill the essentials of a good game into the most uncomplicated presentation.What makes it so good? How does it do that so elegantly?Alan Moon put tremendous excitement into a connection game by giving it several bombs - all or nothing scoring opportunities. The most important, of course, is the use of "tickets" which put high stakes on being able to connect to a specified pair of cities - especially the big tickets which have the cities on far sides of the board. The prospect of gaining or losing 20 points has a wonderful way of focusing the mind.To my mind, this feature is an innovation in Ticket to Ride. Typically, connection games have fallen at either ends of a spectrum. On the one hand there is the pure connection game like Hex, Twixt, or Punct, in which the entire game rests on making a connection. These have typically been pure abstracts. On the other hand are games of incremental connections such as Magna Grecia, Through the Desert and La Strada, in which players have a series of skirmishes over gaining a few victory points each. In all such games that I can think of, players are usually trying to get to any of several specified points on the board - the more the better. Usually, you're not trying to connect two specific places, although these games have you build a network off of an existing line, so this happens as a matter of course.The tickets - especially the big tickets - in "Ticket to Ride" elevate the big payoff to a strategic level. This applies especially to "Ticket to Ride - Europe" where a player typically is going for exactly one long ticket. Players have many different goals, but that big ticket colors everything you plan and execute. Players must also plan for their short tickets based on how they connect into the large ticket, and a lot of the fun in the game comes from the interaction between the big ticket and the smaller ones. While there may be many viable ways to make your big ticket, needing to get the small tickets as well creates many more conflicting alternatives for the player. Best of all, the player also needs to not only consider how to make the small tickets, but whether to. Once the going gets rough - which finger do you decide to cut off?The nature of a connection game naturally[...]



Introduction

Sat, 21 Jan 2006 19:34:00 +0000

I created this blog because I wanted to go a step further after writing a series of four articles in "The Games Journal" entitled "Game Theory 101". I've been playing and loving boardgames for my entire life - really the first present in my life I ever remember asking for was "Clue". When, in Junior High, I became aware of the 3M series of games I became obsessed with them - in spite of what seemed like their insane cost of $8 each. Nonetheless, after endless agony, I bought and loved "High Bid", and in time added "Acquire" and "Stocks and Bonds" to my collection.Just before entering college, I discovered and subscribed to Strategy & Tactics (through an ad in National Lampoon!) and bought many SPI games but the truth is I rarely played them. They were overly complicated, made it hard to find opponents, but most of all they were slow moving. Even back then, I was a little outside the norm because I preferred multiplayer games.(The one nice thing about spending money on so many SPI games that went unplayed is that I was able to sell many of them years later at a hefty profit - funding my current habit quite nicely!)During the 1980's I discovered more player-friendly games, often through exposure to Games & Puzzles, The Gamer, and Games International magazine. It was in this period that I picked up games ranging from 1829 and Civilization to Organized Crime and Conspiracy. While simpler and more approachable than the wargames, it was still very difficult for me to find opponents and many of these games just filled shelves.Things picked up significantly when I moved to Southern California in 1986 and discovered some of the conventions that are held in Los Angeles. It was here that I got to meet gamers who shared interest in the types of games I enjoyed best, and I started pulling these games off the shelves and actually playing them. I played in public groups and in a small private group - where some of the games of choice included Merchants of Venus, Eurorails, Guerilla, and The Great Dalmuti.But in the early 90's, things started breaking open with the discovery of Eurogames. The exposure came from several angles. One was meeting a few gamers at these conventions who were taking the trouble to import games directly from Germany. The games were elegant, playable in an hour or two, typically possessing impressive components, and just had plain exciting gameplay. At open gaming tables, I got my first exposure to the beautiful deduction game "Inkognito", the auction business game "Modern Art", and the ambitious game of travelling "Elfenroads". Soon thereafter, I gained access to the Internet, and a friend pointed me to Ken Tidwell's "The Game Cabinet" which featured reviews and rulesets for more of these intriguing games. Soon, at a convention, I was introduced to the recently released games "Manhattan" and "Settlers of Catan". I just had to own them.Settlers is a favorite of many people - but for me it was the game I had been seeking for over a decade. I love economics and the principles free trade, and had always imagined some game where players collected and traded commodities, and built up their economies. I had actively sought out such a game for many years. The few I found did not really work that well. "After the Holocaust" had more rules than gameplay, and was really plodding in the way it portrayed economic development. "Pecuniary" was a privately published game with some of the cheapest components imaginable (a sheet of paper for the map, sequins for the markers), but more important, all of the mechanisms of the game were flawed. There was a gold standard mechanism, in which you could [...]