The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - August, 2000

James Bentley: This is a little off topic, but I was wondering, can you tell us why Games magazine never had a website.....I absolutely love this magazine, I can't get enough of it, and waiting for the next issue is almost as frustrating as waiting for your turn to come back around in Tikal (ha ha).

Burt Hochberg: The idea of a Games web site has been considered for years. But it was never clear how the site would be profitable, which is the most important aspect from the point of view of a commercial publisher. The site could function as a sort of advertising for the magazine and invite subscriptions, but the cost of producing and maintaining a site for that purpose alone would have been prohibitive. I believe the magazine's current staff are preparing a site to be launched perhaps later this year. It is far from clear what the content will be, but it's safe to assume it will include many puzzles.

Unpopped: This is a comment on Bruno Faidutti's interesting account of the Spiel des Jahres awards ceremony. First of all, let me congratulate Bruno for making the finals of the award in the first place. This is a wonderful achievement, of which he should be very proud.

I found it fascinating that the German contingents that sat at Bruno's and Leo Colvini's tables were surprised at Torres' win, especially since most observers in Britain and the U.S. thought that Torres was the favorite from the beginning and an almost certain winner once the final three was announced. I agree with Bruno that none of the three finalists really fit the SdJ mold, but given Torres' bloodlines and the fact that it was the only non-card, non-filler game of the three, it was considered the most likely winner.

Actually, I think the game that best fit the profile of previous SdJ winners was Knizia's Taj Mahal. It's accessible, it has good player interaction, and it's an excellent game. It's a little more complex than the average SdJ winner, but less so than Torres, which I feel is unquestionably a gamer's game. While I think last year's crop of games lacked a true standout, in a blind test, I would have bet on Taj Mahal. Of course, given the jury's previous slights of Knizia and their (quite deserved) love affair with Kramer, the results are not at all surprising.

Gary R. Hodge: Re: Greg Schloesser's article on forgotten rules, I can add this one:

Acquire: I missed the rule that said you could only buy 3 shares per turn. So almost always folks would buy 12 share to go with their free one as soon as they started a hotel chain. The game was still fun, and we played it that way a number of times before we discovered the error. That was 20 years ago, and I still hear about it.

GGA - Yikes! That's about the biggest mistake I've heard concerning Acquire and would seem to absolutely destroy the game. It's interesting to read that you still enjoyed the game however. I guess it moves the emphasis much more towards the tile play and gaining the second majority in chains.

Larry Levy: What a thrill to have The Games Cafe resurrected, now as The Games Journal! When TGC met its untimely demise, we all were hoping that someone would step forward and save it somehow. It looks as if our prayers were answered. Many thanks, Greg and Frank—you're providing a wonderful service and we're all very grateful.

I think you've kept the parts of TGC that I most liked, so I have no complaints about how TGJ is shaping up so far. One suggestion: would it be possible to indicate the date of the articles on the page that lists them? This may change in future months, but right now older articles are mixed in with new ones. If the date of publication is given, it's easier to pick out the articles we haven't read yet. Listing the article's author on this page might be nice as well, as long as there's room.

Thanks again guys—I missed The Games Cafe while it was sleeping. In fact, I'm so grateful that I'm sending this note at the risk of making Frank feel all warm and fuzzy, a notion I'd rather not think too long about. I'm already looking forward to next month's articles!

GGA - Thanks for the kind words Larry. By far the most requested changes were the one you suggested and adding descriptions to the article links. The added descriptions were a no-brainer, hope everyone likes the change. The Archive index is a little trickier. The are a number of methods of sorting, none of which strikes me as the "one true way". I toyed with the idea of having multiple listings but dismissed that as cumbersome, too much information can be just as bad as too little. As such I've decided to sort the articles by author because (as Kevin Maroney points out) "well, it's completely reliable." Having a chronological listing is still useful though and to this end there will be an Archive heading entitled "Month". This will link to the front page of each months issue and from there you may then view those articles. Hopefully this will be adequate for your needs. As always, feel free to yell at me if they don't.

Harlan Rosenthal: [GGA - Writing in reference to Steve Kurzban's Budgeted Action Points article.] Perhaps new in board games; old essential in wargames and RPGs.

GGA - Like Steve, I lack detailed knowledge of wargames and RPGs and so would love to see a (partial) list of such games that use this. The only wargame that springs to mind is the series of Columbia "Block" games—normally you can only move a very few of your stacks of blocks. Deciding which to move (and equally important which NOT to) is the primary decision in these games. Victory: The Blocks of War does away with this restriction and I believe that to be one of the main reasons why I find it to be the least satisfying of all Columbia's games.

Anyone care to enlighten us about other wargames or RPGs?

Dan Reger: Thought I'd take a moment to write some feedback, especially after seeing your plea on the July letters page. :)

I got to your site via a mention of it on The Game Report. I've really enjoyed it.

I particularly enjoyed "Games and the Anguish of Life." Thought I don't agree with everything the author said, rarely have I read such an interesting and thoughtful article related to gaming.

I also enjoyed "The Spirit of Gaming" though I think the author perhaps underestimates the importance of the "meta-game" that occurs with any gaming group. Back in high school I played Illuminati with a group of friends on several occasions (ah, the old days with the tiny cards and megabucks). I had them scared of me, and in a game like Illuminati, Machiavelli's advice that "It is better to be feared than loved" pays dividends.

But I think the same thing is true, to a lesser extent, in other games. In some situations I think it may be better for the long term prosperity of a gaming group if one player knows that there will be consequences to betraying another player, even if it upsets the balance of one individual playing of a game.

The author writes, "Depending on the length of the game, pausing a turn or two before wreaking havoc upon a tormentor may be acceptable if it doesn't slow your progress so much that you can't recover. If such a strategy makes it unlikely you will progress further, or even sets you hopelessly far back, then it's not a good idea."

But in some situations taking this action and sacrificing this game will pay dividends in future games.

But, enough about disorderly gamers. Now for a serious ramble.

Another intriguing issue—one the author doesn't address is the issue of "Trick Plays" in gaming. By trick play, I mean taking an action that is dangerous and will cost you something if one or more opponents responds appropriately to it, but will reap greater rewards if the opponents err.

This sort of tactic isn't available in all games. The game that brought this to mind is Go.

The author writes, "I've always firmly believed that players should try above all to enjoy each game while of course making their best efforts to win. Even if a player feels he can't win, he should still do his best to maximize his finishing position."

If you're behind in a game of Go (or at any point in the game, really) it's possible to play moves in certain situations that lead to unexpected and negative results when the opponent responds in the "wrong" way. In fact, the very natural and "apparently" correct response is the one that leads to the problems. These moves, however, always have a downside, in that if the opponent responds properly, the player has typically essentially wasted a move or at least suffered some small loss.

So, by playing such a move, especially if behind, a player is attempting to maximize his finishing position. However, in a sense he's also expressing disrespect to his opponent. As if saying, "I bet you'll screw this up."

Go isn't really a game of gambling, (in that there's no luck involved), and so this sort of gamble tends to be looked down upon.

The most extreme examples are senseless invasions into apparently secure territory at the very end of the game. A player is clearly losing at this point and figures, "Well, I have nothing to lose." But they do have something to lose—the respect of their opponent, the time to play another game where they might do better, the opportunity to review the game and learn from their mistakes.

In my Go studies I've been taught to always play "the best" move. Well, the best move my feeble Go skills can discern. In fact, people who play trick moves, and especially those who make senseless attacks in the endgame are generally looked down upon. You're supposed to beat your opponent "honestly" not wriggle out an undeserved victory at the last second because your opponent made some tiny blunder. (It's important to note here that it is not considered bad form to make an invasion that you've read out and are confident does work, only those that you haven't read out and think might work.)

I wonder what Mr. Schloesser's thoughts would be on this. I guess I'm essentially pointing out another facet of the same point he made in his article.

GGA - Very interesting ideas. I'm particularly intrigued by the concept of the "establishment" looking down on a player that makes "incorrect" moves. I don't know very much about the Go community but I've also heard this accusation leveled by Bridge players. To my mind it's ridiculous, particularly when it's made against a victorious opponent. The object of the game is to win and if a player has deviated from conventional strategy to do so then more power to her. However, I do understand the complaint when made by your partner in Bridge after a loss but certainly not by your opponents. Why bother playing against humans if you want absolute predictability? I also understand the complaints when someone plays "wrong" in a multi-player game. Here the dynamics of the player interaction affect more than your "side". I recently played a game where one player decided to execute an obviously bad move. When asked why he did so his answer was "I wanted to end the game". The fact that other players might have been able to win had the game continued seemed to be lost on him. Both winning and losing in such affairs becomes somewhat meaningless.

David Wilson: Now that Hasbro owns both Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast maybe their future will be a bit better. Personally I hope that Hasbro will provide funding for the publication (resurrection) of Avalon Hill's The General. If they would place this under Wizards magazine publisher, Johnny Wilson, formerly editor of Computer Gaming World Magazine, I believe that both the magazine (and games) would see a serious rise in sales, etc.

Perhaps a letter writing campaign to Hasbro requesting such a move would be helpful.

Antony Swift: Call me Mr. Confused, but, why did "Citadelles" become "Ohne Furcht und Adel" given that there is also a game called "Ritter ohne Furcht und Tadel." Shurely shome mishtake???

GGA - There's apt to be some confusion over this whole issue so here's a primer on what's what:

Bruno Faidutti invents a game which he calls (in French) "Citadelles". A German language version of this game is then released called Ohne Furcht und Adel. Eurogames/Descartes release a completely different game called Ritter Ohne Furcht und Tadel designed by Hartmund Witt. Further confusing this is the fact that Eurogames is due to release an English version of Mr. Faidutti's game sometime in the next few months. (Presumably under some version of the name "Citadels".)

Given the timing of the two releases I'd suspect that neither was aware of the other game (or at least the names) until it was too late to change anything. Then again, maybe not. There are many examples of games being released with similar (sometimes identical) names. The best example would have to be the "Bazaar" games from Sid Sackson.

Note: Ohne Furcht und Tadel is a German phrase meaning "Without Fear or Reproach". Ohne Furcht und Adel is a play on this and means "Without Fear or Nobility" referring, no doubt, to the less than noble actions players might take in the game.

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