The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - April, 2002

Rob Derrick: Frank, you have hit on what I consider to be the ultimate truth (for me) of gaming. [GGA - The Mysterious "Fun" Factor] The most ludicrous game with little or no skill, governed by chaos beyond even luck, and bizarre mechanics, can still be an "experience to remember", very fondly, if the group of players are all committed to the premise that it is their mutual responsibility to try to make the game fun for everyone else.

Last week, I was privileged to attend Gulf Games in Pensacola. Two games I played stand out for their appropriateness to the subject.

One was Das Stoerriches Muli, a game beyond silly that has the appropriate chaotic mechanics, a very simple mechanism that gives the illusion of a bit of control, and the realization that one could likely play it randomly and do just as well as if you tried to "strategize". The game, coming at the right place and time, was an immense hoot. But not because of the game itself, but of the tremendous players and their willingness to suspend any preconceptions and just have fun. Add horrible "Mexican" accents, snippets of Michael Jackson songs (don't ask me "why", I still don't get it) and a general camaraderie. We created the fun. One person who wanted to could have brought all that fun crashing down. But we had that mutual bond.

The second one, and I tell this on myself, was a game of Fossil. This game is mostly skill, really, with the only luck being the initial board layout, and who gets to go first. And mainly this does not affect winning play. It is a nice looking game, and a straightforward set of rules. It is clean. So why do I dislike this game so much? Mostly, I feel that on your turn your main goal is to try not to make a mistake that gives the next player too much advantage. The decision just isn't that interesting to me. There is little planning for the future, because you are bound to take only what your righthand player offers you. And despite several playings, with relatively skilled players, which makes a tolerable game, and with one unskilled player, who simply gives the game to the player on their left, the game just doesn't work for me. And in the game I played this past weekend, I became the person who makes the game unfun. I owe apologies to the other players. I did try, at first, to make the best of the situation, but as the game wore merrily on, I became less and less able to keep up the joie de' vivre. An early mistake, on my part, because I wasn't concentrating enough, gave a slight advantage to the player on my left. Well, once you've made such a mistake, about the only possible way to recover is is hope that the person on your right would make a similar mistake. And, this was just not going to happen, despite the lateness of the hour (about 2am). I think the person opposite me also gave up a good move to their lefty, so the game I believe came down to the player on my right and left. And I just was feeling like I was in a black hole where fun cannot escape. Finally, I was given the chance to end the game, or let it continue on for another fun-filled 15 minutes or so—during which time we would find out who would finally be forced to make the move that would give up the two big 3-point pieces to the next two players. I had to end it. The player on my right was rightly indignant because he felt, and was correct, that he needed a chance at the rest of the board to pull out a win. So, in essence, I gave the game to the player on my left. In retrospect, I wish I had continued to simply play as logically as possible, and play on as long as possible, but I selfishly took the fun of the game away from the others by ending it prematurely. To the other players' credit, they were fun and gentlemanly and decent.

In the end, most of us did consider the game to be less than stellar. But, I broke the mutual pact.

So, with the right people, I believe Fossil could still be fun, despite that it is a game that makes you take it more seriously than you ought. I promise, that if I ever play it again, I will try not to be the unfun-Guy.

The principle remains—the playing of a game is a compact between the players—we make the fun.

Mikko Saari: Yet another wonderful issue! The article on production values was definitely interesting. Many good points, there.

It's tough balance between clarity and usability and good looks. Rio Grande's Medici definitely looks better than Cheapass Games' Kill Doctor Lucky, but I find the latter much better design and one I'd rather play.

Frank Branham's article about the fun factor made me read through my reviews (online at http://www.melankolia.net/pelit/ - however, only in Finnish) to see what games I had described as fun. Here's the list: Dragon's Gold, Give Me the Brain, Gother Than Thou, Lord of the Fries, Ohne Furcht und Adel and Svea Rike.

Few words about these: Lord of the Fries, Give Me the Brain and Gother Than Thou are basically parody games and therefore their problem is that the joke just might wear off. At least Gother Than Thou's game mechanism is so bad that I just won't play it, no matter how funny the cards are.

However, Dragon's Gold, Ohne Furcht und Adel and Svea Rike are, in my opinion, truly fun games. It's in the way the encourage people play a certain role and those roles are usually quite funny.

In Dragon's Gold, the arguing about the treasure gets people (even non-gamers) excited easily—it's such a basic thing, to fight over stuff. In Ohne Furcht und Adel, the characters always cause some roleplaying, which usually results in fun. In Svea Rike, it's the chaos and the (mis)fortunes of the Swedish Empire that create the fun. What describes it well is the laughter that resulted when someone suggested "Let's play a silent game of Svea Rike" when there were people sleeping in the same room. You can guess they didn't sleep long... When the first battle came, everybody was yelling the mandatory "ETT, TVÅ, TRE!!" battle yell. Which is fun.

I could add other games, Cosmic Encounter comes to my mind first. Sure, playing any game can be fun or boring, but some games encourage having fun more than others. Of course, this has nothing to do with how good the game is...

But I guess this is what Frank was saying: it's not enough to just say the game is fun, one should also tell what makes the game fun. At least I'll watch a bit what I write from now on...

Joe Scoleri: I enjoyed the article on production values (although the title made me think of the movie Tapeheads, where "production values" had a different meaning...)

With regards to your endorsement of mounted mapboards, I heartily agree! Unfortunately, my aversion to unmounted boards (along with a perceived lack of quality or value) is one of the reasons I stayed away from SPI games back in the "old days." I still suspect that some of today's paper mapsheet fanatics (I mean "defenders") are stalwart SPI aficionados. To me, commonly advanced criticisms of mounted maps such as "they don't line up right" (within a millimeter) or "they have that awful valley in the middle" (that only affects six hexes) are "paper thin" complaints.

However, if you want to talk about NICE unmounted mapsheets, a nod has to go to Standard Games of England. The thick, glossy, and colorful maps they used for their boardgames, including the Cry Havoc series games, are spectacular. If all unmounted mapsheets could be like the ones Standard Games used, I don't know that I'd miss mounted mapboards that badly.

Ave Caesar
    chariot & coin.P.S. Will those Ave Caesar chariots fit two spaces on a Circus Maximus (Avalon Hill) board?

GGA - The Ave Caesar chariots are a a little too big for the Circus Maximus board unfortunately. They're about 10mm x 37mm.

Dan Becker: Oliver Igelhaut's Finger Weg von Mona Lisa! sounds like a good game, but judging from your review in The Games Journal of March 2002, the game sound suspiciously close to Parker Brothers' Clue: The Great Museum Caper of 1991.

A description for the game is located at the Boardgame Geek at www.boardgamegeek.com, and if you follow the links, you can see the rules and other resources. The Great Museum Caper is a fun game that our group pulls out two or three times a year.

Both games have hidden thief movement in which there are indefinite and exact glimpses of the thieves. Both have a similar board size and configuration. Both contain security cameras that can be disabled by the thieves. Both have locked exits.

I don't own the former game, but they sound so similar that I wonder who would buy both? I would appreciate comments from someone who has tried the two games.

Brandon Clarke: I feel I should say something in response to Shane Irons:

I suspected that my article about the interpretation of "Advance token to the nearest railroad" would generate a varied array of responses. I've had a couple of emails from people saying they enjoyed reading the article, and that they had never thought of that (the second) interpretation.

With the publication of the March 2002 issue of The Games Journal I got to read Shane Irons' response. All I can say is I shook my head when I read Shane's comments that he "got a little annoyed" and that he thought 17 years was a "long time to argue over one rule". I feel I should clarify things a little for Shane and anyone else who had a similar response to the article.

Firstly Shane, don't get annoyed. Let it go.

I tried to show in the article that I appreciated both arguments, something that Chris Brua picked up when he penned his response. When I said "17 years of arguing this point with various people has taught me that essentially there are two views on this." I hoped that it was clear that I haven't been arguing over this rule constantly for 17 years with anyone I could get to shut up long enough to listen to me. Actually, after a heated debate with my friend when the issue originally cropped up, I stopped worrying about which answer is more correct, and which answer should be the one you play by. In the 17 years of arguing the point with various people, those arguments were never had over a board during a game of Monopoly.

The arguments, or more correctly debates, that I have had with people over this point have instead been intellectual exchanges primarily focusing on the way we use language, and the interesting ways people interpret things, and how they think, rather than about which rule we were going to use when we play Monopoly. I mentioned that I had been (intermittently) having this argument with various people for 17 years merely to illustrate that that database of experience has allowed to me learn that people basically just see it one of two different ways. I then went on to explain in the most objective way I could what those two views were and why people came to each of them.

I've always been fascinated by the argument and the different ways people react to it, not from a 'which rule will we play by' point of view, but because it interests me as a case study in and of itself . This is why, Chris, I have never bothered asking the makers of the game for a ruling... and I never thought of asking Parker Brothers (in particular), because where I come from they don't make or distribute Monopoly.

Shane, you're not the first person I've seen get annoyed about it. I have been annoyed about it several times myself. Other people sit back and think about it quietly for some time before expressing a view. Some people answer instinctively (not surprisingly almost exclusively in favour of answer number 1) and then often refuse to acknowledge that answer number 2 has any logical basis, despite compelling arguments that demonstrate that while it may not be the interpretation you'd play under, it is an alternative logical interpretation.

You may be interested to know Shane that of the dozens of people I've discussed this with about 10% of them think answer 2 is the more correct, and 90% of people agree with you and Chris Brua that answer 1 is the more correct answer.

The important point of the article I thought was when I said:

"So the protagonists for each answer seem to be divided as those who believe the DETERMINING of "the nearest railroad station" and the ADVANCING to it are inseparably tied together as part of the same action (these people favour answer 1) and those who believe you should determine which station is "the nearest" and then advance to it."

It's just two different ways of thinking and interpreting language. I completely agree with Chris Brua when he said "Anyway, I see both sides of the argument, but I think Answer #1 is more compelling.

TC Altus: really liked your summary on German board games. I've always had a hard time explaining them to people who haven't played games outside the Parker Brothers realm.

I had one note to make on shopping for these games. In the U.S., a number of comic book dealers have fair collections of German (or German-style) board games. They sometimes don't list in the games section of the phone book, saving their advertising money for the comic book section. This may be worth giving a mention.

Franz-Benno Delonge: Hello over there, here's the designer of Big City. Nice to see that some people overseas are eager to improve my game! [GGA - Big City Expansion] I will build me your proposed new stuff and try it. Especially the "parking-lot" seems to be a very nice idea.

Ted Cheatham: I guess it is time to get on the lookout for some little buildings... I will check the dollar store. Unfortunately, half the neat stuff people like is the 3D plastic pieces. Maybe a full color sticker to put on a block of wood may suffice... I will keep looking around.

GGA - I had actually written up the new buildings some time ago and had delayed publishing the article while I searched for appropriate pieces to use. After all, much of the fun of the game is playing with the little buildings. Sadly I haven't found ideal buildings as of yet. If anyone manages to discover anything please let us know.

Jim Clapperton: Still haven't had a chance to try the new buildings, but am eager too. I've been thinking about this a bit though, and may have a couple more suggestions:

Stadium: This could be somewhere in between a park and a factory in its effect on the game. Maybe you could substitute it for the 2x2 factory. Anyway—the Stadium would give bonuses to businesses nearby, while detracting from any residences. So it could give the -1 to residences, and the +1 to businesses. It could also be plunked down just about anywhere—some stadiums are built downtown, some are built in the 'burbs. A streetcar connection should be beneficial as well.

Radio/TV station or tower: A single location building, this could function much like the post office. Maybe even give it a bigger bonus if its right next to City Hall (gotta get that scoop first!). A square bit of wood or a cone shaped piece could function as the bit.

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