The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Archive for May 2011

A Quote to Remember (Analysis Paralysis Edition)

In the days before chess clocks, a player might wait for hours while his opponent decided on a move.

The most notorious slowpoke in England was Elijah “The Bristol Sloth” Williams: In the fourth game of his London match against Henry Thomas Buckle in 1851, Williams lavished such exquisite care on his 25th move that Buckle had time to write two chapters of his History of Civilization.

Buckle won. “The slowness of genius is hard to bear,” he said, “but the slowness of mediocrity is intolerable.”

[Found on Futility Closet.]

(And I’m going to start using that nickname. Who will be The Alamo Sloth?)

Written by taogaming

May 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Misc

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Recent Repeats

Played another two games of Rallyman (actually more like 5-6 individual heats to teach people, but there you go. Not counting the really long course I ran multiple times to improve my time. I went from 10:30 to 13:12 to 15:lots. So … not much improvement. Apparently my first race was lucky).

The second game of Airlines Europe helped to alleviate some fears. The board was still a bit open (4 players), but the player who ignored AA won, and there wasn’t as much “I’ll drop 1 of every stock”. (Part of the problem may be that the 4 player game removes the Yellow Airline, which is right in the middle of the board, but doesn’t remove any of the spaces. A two sided board?)

I’ve played Cartagena twice, or maybe 3 times, which now officially makes it my favorite Colovini game. Actually, I may up my rating, I would have enjoyed this more except for the A.P. (Look, maybe the game deserves some AP, it’s quite clever and Colovini likes thinky abstracts. I just don’t want to play that way). If this had taken 15 minutes, it would have been great.

Written by taogaming

May 24, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Posted in Session Reports

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Meet the new El Jefe ….

So last night’s new game was Junta: Viva el Presidente. Here’s my board game progression (discounting children’s games and classics). Junta was one of the first games I played, but it never aged well. It took too long (even in those heady college days).

So let’s just say I’m the target audience for J:VeP. It certainly captures the essence. I’m not sure it’s a great game, but Junta wasn’t either.  The president divvies up the loot, people assign their dice to attack and defend, you resolve. If you attack the president you forfeit your loot, if the presidency fails everyone except the president loses theirs. To balance that, the president must give at least one card to each other play. If you successfully attack someone, you get one of their cards (at random). The president can’t attack, and his dice don’t get to roll, unless he loans them out.  Many of the cards are money, which buy troops (dice), cards or VP. Each player starts with 1 VP, the Presidency is a VP, and you buy a VP some turns. First to six wins.

It really works as a ‘reboot’ of the series. Good, not great. I probably won’t buy it, but I’d certainly play it again. 45 Minutes instead of 3 hours is fine.

Written by taogaming

May 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Airlines Europe

After one play, I like this.

I like:

  • Getting Air Abacus (“Union Pacific”) shares take you a whole turn instead of just being a free option.
  • The choice between trading shares for AA at 1:1 or 3:2 is good.
  • Being able to trade in stock on the table for AA, helps players who suddenly find themselves shut out.
  • Money to buy routes instead of matching cards is better.
  • Handing out a free stock (from the display) for each of the first two scorings means that the player who just missed a turn gets first pick, a clever attempt at balancing. And also ensuring the board is swept at least twice.

I dislike the point scoring track. In UP, first place would be X and 2nd would be X/2, but here you see scoring like 4:2:1, then when it improves 5:3:2 then 6:4:2:1. So a company that “spent” 18 dollars earns the leader something like 5. If I put a single stock of a company down, I may get a few VP in the first scoring (as before) … but now if I get cut out and fall to 3rd for the second scoring, I’ll get a few VP. Points for the majority shareholder grow slowly, and new positions grow quickly.

In short, the design removed the scoring ‘bomb’ from every stock other than AA.  It may be that the point of the new game is to slap down 1 of every stock, fight over a company or two, and win AA.

Does the scoring change override the small improvements? Maybe.

Written by taogaming

May 22, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Reviews

Rallyman Review

I’ve now played a single learning stage and two games against TaoLing.

Simply … Rallyman is a fantastic game with a novel idea — It’s not how many turns you take, it’s how much time. The key mechanism is that each gear (1-5) is a die with two hazard markers (the ‘1’ gear only has one hazard marker). There are also two ‘gas’ dice (white, one hazard and 5 blanks each). You start with the gear you were in last turn, or one higher or lower. Then you roll a die and move one space, no matter the gear. You then chain the dice, with the gas being whenever and otherwise you can only go up or down one gear (as you expect).

When you stop, you take a card showing your final gear. 5th gear is 10 seconds, 4th gear is 20, etc. (There the same for each gear, and are also used to show what you can do on your next turn). But if you rolled 3 hazards, you lose control and end your turn. You take the gear card normally, then flip it over. It will show a zeroeth gear ( afull minute!) and if you just spun out or went off the road (which may cost you some tires, which limits the # of dice you can throw).

Of course there are corners, you can take the inside lane at low speed or drift through the outside at higher speed. That takes extra spaces, but if you end your turn in a higher gear, it’s probably worth it. There are also shortcuts (in the dirt) that may cost you some tires, but throw dirt on the road, and bumps, which can let you gain a space or two, at the risk of crashing.

In the advanced game, stages snow (or mixed) and you have to pick your tires. Also, most ingenously … you can choose to attack … you declare your roll in advance and then roll all the dice. For this risk, you gain 1 second per die! Seconds can also be spent on a safe turn to not roll a die, but just place it on a safe side. (The first die is cheap, but they get expensive quickly).

Since it’s a rally, there’s a staggered start; while it could happen that you have to deal with people in your way, that’s typically only if they crash. (So in a four player game, the turn order is A,A,B,A,B,C,A,B,C,D and then front to back from then on). A normal game is 3 stages, but you could play more.

If you want, you can play with checkpoints (announce your time the turn you pass the checkpoint). Or you can play solo and try to best your time for a rally or single stage.

If I sound enthusiastic, it’s because Rallyman is the grail. Simple design, but complex gameplay and strategies. You an study a track, and then discover new tricks. I suspect, at some point for some tracks you get ‘optimal’ designs, but then it becomes “Well, when do I attack and risk a crash, when do I roll one at a time … and when that 2nd hazard comes up do I stop, roll, or spend a few seconds to roll safely?” My feeling is that the game plays at the level you want to play it at. A quick fun game or a cut-throat endeavor.

Maybe it’s the newness talking, but I’ve been remarkably resistant to the cult of the new recently (a fact even commented on at the last game night. “Of course Tao thinks Troyes is meh” (For the record, I upgraded to Meh+ the next day). Finding a game with new, simple mechanics and depth? Great!

Being able to play it with my son as well? Amazing. In fact, in our second game I lost to the TaoLing by 2 minutes! The track is here (course 1), and I was up by 40 seconds going into the last stage … then I lost control in an straightaway with an unlucky roll (3 hazards on a 4 die attack) and suddenly I’m behind. Meanwhile he’s throwing seven die attacks with no problem. It’s still a dice game.

So — I’m amazingly enthusiastic about this one. I’ve upped my rating to an 8. Well see how it goes from there. I’m not going to print out the dirt expansion, but If I’m this stoked in October I’ll get a copy after it’s published.

PS — I”m not one to customize a game, but damn. Just, damn.

PPS — The modular board design also allows for a large number of tracks. You can combine the 4 (double sided) boards in a number of ways … they don’t have to line up in a square. The Rallyman site offers many (multi-stage) rallies.

PPPS (May 22nd) — With four I think it’s a bit long. See comments below.

Written by taogaming

May 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Webbly Wobbly

  • My “Top 20 outside the Top 200” geeklist inspired other people, which I think is good. I’m surprised how often Cribbage is on the lists … (I just tossed my cribbage board into the game bag last weekend and played a few games). In any case, making the geeklist propelled me to rotate the games I bring to include a good chunk of that.
  • The OG’s game of the year summary list. Good list of games worth checking out.
  • I recalculated my H-index (conservative estimates of games played before I started tracking) and my number is at least 34. To be fair, I only did this because I wasn’t gaming. I’m not quite so stat-addled that I’ll play Hera & Zeus 3 more times just to bump it up a notch, though.
  • There should be an H-Hour index, where you count time spent (in hours) instead of games.  Although I think my number would state the same (4 games would have numbers plummet, but I think at least 4 games would have numbers shoot above 35. (Hell, 18xx games alone probably cover my losses).
  • I updated my games for trade page, I’ll have an auction in the next month or two, but if any readers/locals want to make an offer first, that would be fine.
  • I don’t play Hannibal enough to want the expansion, personally.
  • Barnes review of Yggdasil

Written by taogaming

May 21, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Misc, Open Thread

Be not afraid …

… of actual gaming content!

I played Troyes last game session. My initial reaction was JASE, but the next day I found myself thinking about it. It certainly has several original ideas (it may be a worker placement type, but that doesn’t feel right. Better to say “Limited Actions” but the exact number of actions are dependent on player actions… there could be anywhere from 6 to 18 actions each turn).

And while it has the lamest theme known to Euros, I like the medieval style artwork on the cards. It may still be a JASE, but I think my initial reaction (“Meh”) was overly cynical and I hope there’s a good game there. Not quite willing to pull the trigger on it, but it will be high on the list of new games.

I also played …. Small world. And I had totally forgot there was a “More powers and races” expansion I didn’t have! I’ll have to correct that. I suffered my worst trouncing in Small World in …. well, forever, I think. Lesson Learned — Do not pick the pixies unless you have a massive spread out power (like Maurading)…or people will just eat you alive. Possibly with a side of hummingbird.

And my new game order arrived — frabjous! The Lewisnky, Monica expansion adds a new map with a few new rules, or some cards to use on the old map. I’m still playing with the nerfed token scoring rules …

Also in the box — Rallyman and Airlines Europe. The former counts as the first “I’m vaguely intrigued and willing to take a flyer” purchase I’ve made in a while. I did a single race just to get a feel for the rules, and then the younger TaoLing and I played a 3-stage rally. Clever push your luck mechanism, plays pretty fast, although I think that a reasonable variant is to time people’s turns with a stop watch and penalize them (maybe getting ~20 seconds for free, or penalizing 1 second for each 5 seconds taken). Pretty little game, too. One or two rules questions, but nothing major.

A.E. is basically a remake of a series I like, so even though it was basically blind purchase, I knew what I was getting. So there.

Written by taogaming

May 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Too many notes

Today was the “Slightly longer games” session. No monster games (those will be in the summer), but a few games that can be a touch too long. Some of which I played for the first time…

Starcraft – Despite owning this for a few years I’ve never played it, but we got a 4 player game (with the expansion). I was hazy on the rules but there was another new player, we quickly summarized things and started. By the mid game I think I got the basic idea and a fair chunk of the details. This game actually didn’t take too long, about 3 hours (with rules, setup and tear-down).

I think the rules should be simplified, a little. And I think I know why… (wait for it).

After that we played Mare Nostrum, which has been absent for a few years. I’m happy it was well received, hopefully it will hit the table again. Old Horse Nose charms with a simple elegance: near minimalistic rules but options and growing complexity as turns pass.

After that I taught Up Front, still a classic game (and yes, one of the best of the 80s), but I think I may prefer Combat Commander, just for the simple reason that even after not playing for a year or two, I remember most of the CC rules. Even on the patrol scenario, I still had to look up a point or two. Heaven help me if there are AFVs. Such complexity.

… The problem with Starcraft is that it has complex rules and complex rule-breaking. I think you can get by with one or the other. Up Front has complex rules … but once you know them, that’s it. Mare Nostrum has simple rules, but then you get Gods, Heroes, Monsters and Wonders. They can each break the rules (in a very simple way), but the possibilities in the combinations provide the support. Should I buy a wonder, or maybe a mythological creature and a legion (or city?)

Starcraft, on the other hand, has rules that run way too long. (Although I think you could build a bullet point summary of them in a page or two). And then each player has ~10 units, each with their own features. And you have technology and event cards (similar to M.N.’s wonders) but they aren’t big sweeping effects that are easy to remember, but a number of small cumulative effects.

Mare Nostrum — He Bought the wonder that lets him double up on fortresses and the hero that lets him buy mercenaries.

Starcraft — He bought stim packs (so his combat deck has two cards to make Marines suicide to take out bigger units), a module for +1 build, a module for a special order, the terran event card that gives him a special victory during phase III for having two worlds, the medic technology, his units have ground splash sometimes, and a good starport. Oh, but he depleted Hydrax’s minerals to get that.

Multiple each by 6 players, see what you can remember.

Which isn’t to say that Starcraft is bad … just that the learning curve feels more like a Collectible Card Game … knowing the rules isn’t enough, you have to know the deck (or potential deck, since players start with ~15-20 cards and can buy roughly as many during the game). But Magic has simple rules (well, not that simple, but in theory dead easy).  Cosmic has simple rules, too. Starcraft’s rules should be simpler. Anyway, at 3 hours it’s not horrible. (That was with 4 players, and I think each player would add roughly an hour).  I’m not eagerly anticipating another game, but I’m glad I tried it, and I’d play again (with 3 or 4).

I also played Fighting Formations (Scenario 0) — FF loads complexity into rules, but no rule-breaking. (The asset decks didn’t really come into play). My plan to take over the center of the board (& related objectives) as the Russians failed because the German tanks were so much better. (I wasn’t paying attention and I’ve never really studied WWII enough to just know that). Tough to tell if there’s a great game here. FF contains interesting ideas, to be sure. The initiative track (similar to Glen More or … that other game I can’t think of), deploying/mustering, the chit hit system (done before, but providing a nice elegance) all work. So you have a ‘fluid’ system, but … for my tastes, I’d rather have more fog of war (like Up Front or CC). The only hidden information you’ve got is your opponent asset cards, and sometimes those will be used as a discard to trigger special unit effects (so the text doesn’t matter).

Another point I’d like to investigate … do the tanks just wind up dominating the map? A tank can get, say, 15 Movement points to an platoon’s 6, and can really blitz down the roads. I think it would be realistic, but not necessarily interesting. I’d play again (we only needed about an hour, not counting some rules discussion, since I had only skimmed them). I’d also like to look at the scenario booklet a bit more and see just how different each scenario feels.

Written by taogaming

May 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm


As is typical for the last few weeks, I mainly played bluffing or semi-cooperative games. Troyes hit the table, but I didn’t play it. Perhaps next week.  Not much to report on the gaming front. The blast from the past this week was Wrasslin, a fast 3-player Battle (Whatever the diminutive of Royale is). Battle Minimale?

So, instead of gaming insight, I offer randomness from around the web.

  • Conor Friedersdorf’s “Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism” from last year has something for everyone. I’d already read several of the pieces (Michael Lewis on the Greek meltdown, Malcolm Gladwell’s piece on Operation Mincemeat, Mark Bowden’s “The Case of the Vanishing Blond”  and Joshua Berman’s “The art of the steal”, among others) but there’s a ton of great reading there.
  • I missed Mikko’s note on the “H-index” last fall, but I wholeheartedly agree that having artificial stats tracking your collection is a great way to inspire you to drag oldies out of your closet. (Over the last two years, I’ve improved my Friendless rating from negative to 12!). Incidentally, my H-index is  at least 30. (That means I’ve played at least 30 games 30 times), although that’s counting a few games that I don’t have logged on BGG, but that I played religiously for a while (Go, Chess, Magic, Titan). But I don’t count expansions separately, which would also boost my number (Race + Dominion, mainly)
  • Barnes’ “Best Games of the 80s” I may do something like this, if someone can tell me an easy way to sort games on BGG by year. Incidentally, having owned and sold 7 of those 10 games, I’m left wondering if the 80s had any games I still really love. (Here’s his “Best of the 70s”)
  • Someone should redo Gunslinger and streamline it. Great idea that didn’t age well at all.
  • The Opinionated Gamers “Best of 2010 lists” are all over the place, which is expected. But of particular interest to me is the fact that they are posting Mitch Thomashow. Apart from the fact that he’s one of the true gentlemen of gaming, he mainly plays 2 player abstracts (which I mainly … avoid) and likes Dominant Species. I think it didn’t work with lots, but now I want to try it with 2 or 3.
  • Speaking of stats — an interesting new friendless stat is the “Games you haven’t played ranked by most # of users having played.” Most of them I have played, just before I started tracking items in BGG, but it’s interesting.
  • Also, I’m approaching a decade since I’ve played Paths of Glory…I guess I should trade it.

Written by taogaming

May 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Pro Guitar Update

I’ve finished Medium. Even the “Nightmare/Impossible” songs aren’t much harder, although your hand moves around the fretboard for the melody. Yoshimi (and King George) were much harder, since you had chords.

I’ve tried all of the “Hard” warmup songs — power chords now use three strings and … the pinky. That took a bit of work, but wasn’t bad. (Ironic Archer — “Hooray!”)  Hard also introduces Barre chords, and I can’t do those at speed at all, so I’m unlikely to finish the set anytime soon. Actually, I’m having a really tough time doing those at all. (A Barre chord, in case you haven’t played the guitar, involves putting your first finger across most/all of the strings and pressing them down, then playing 2-3 notes with other fingers. It’s amazingly easy to not press one string, say if it falls in the crook of a knuckle. And needless to say, it’s a whole new world of callus generation. My finger hurts, again).

I’m actually practicing the guitar. I’m paying (vague) attention to the TaoLing’s newly started guitar lessons, and I’ve ordered a book on finger exercises. May help, couldn’t hurt. That’s the point, so far. After defeating a hard song, I plugged my guitar into the amp and played the chord structure. Still missing notes, but it’s a zeroeth order approximation of the song.

Beating a song in Rock Band only means that I’m hitting 60-90% of the strings semi-cleanly.  Training mode indicates that the controller can be strict and accurate with regards to hitting a string outside of the intended fret. That’s really easy to do on a Barre chord and for a while I thought the trainer was wrong but when I plugged into the amp and tried the chord, I realized I was only pressing down on 4 strings (crook of the knuckle). In medium the game will let it slide if you accidentally hit a 3rd string, or are close to the right fret, I’ve noticed. Hard seems stricter, and the trainer is very strict. If I’m not imagining it, a nice touch.

How many people play pro guitar? Not many. At my current score I’m in the Top ~7% of bands. There’s a big gap between the actual guitarists and the learners, of course. I doubt I’ll ever get in past the top 3%.  (For comparison, beating almost all keyboard songs on hard barely got me in the Top 10%).


Written by taogaming

May 7, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Misc

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