The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - August, 2004

Michael Becker: I have always been interested in making my own reaction timer (for lack of a better term) for party games. I am interested in something similar to that found on Jeopardy or other game shows. The first person to press their device would cause a light to flash or stay lit and possibly include a sound or beep as well. Ultimately it will have nodes for maybe as many as ten people.

I don't play party games that often but it would be something I would be interested in making if someone taught me how.

GGA - What you want are "lockout buzzers". A search on the net will find a great many resources for these. You can buy pre-built ones or find schematics to build your own. The ones problem is that they tend to be quite expensive. A much cheaper solution is to look for used copies of the game Quizzard that come with a battery operated 6 station lockout buzzer.

Richard Huzzey: Thanks for another great issue of The Games Journal. A few comments—Regarding Jim Deacove's letter about Uberplay's Oasis; I'm no lawyer, but I'd have thought that a common English word, such as "oasis" was difficult to claim as a trademark, when it is not instantly recognisable to the public as a famous game (such as, for example, Monopoly—but infringements of that trademark are a whole different kettle of fish). Anyway, I see that the Uberplay game now has an alternative title (Desert Oasis).

Is that a new addition to indicate a change for future printings, perhaps? Still, that part of his letter is a subject between the two publishers, but I was concerned by this sentence towards the end "I am writing about this, so other designers and their publishers make certain that their concepts haven't already been done...".

While title issues, as I say, are a matter for lawyers, the implication that "done concepts" shouldn't be touched seems to be a strange assertion to make. I haven't played it myself, but the mechanics of the 1999 Family Pastimes game appear to be completely different to that of the 2004 Moon/Weissblum design, judging by the description of it as "cooperative" and a "children's game". Therefore, I can't see how any "concept" they published has been done before, if the mechanics of play are in question. If we're talking about theme, then it is ludicrous to talk about a thematic concept being "done". There could be unlimited scope for new games based on desert travel and the use of oases, without stepping on each others' toes. Indeed, Jim Deacove's own game came a year after Reiner Knizia's Through The Desert, so he could be accused of failing to check that the concept had not been done before, if we're talking theme. Sorry to go on, but I don't understand why there is the need to warn designers and publishers to stay away from these vague "concepts" that have already been "done". If I've missed something here, I'm more than happy to be put right.

I completely agree with Mark Johnson that getting thematic justifications for some of Hansa's mechanics are a bit confusing—I had the same bamboozlement. Still, a really nice little game that I admire, although I still prefer Kogge for more meaty Hanseatic trading. Hansa does fit a lot into its short playing time, though.

Mikko Saari: My favourite deduction game is Black Vienna. The reason why I like it is the use of investigation cards. As the cards remain on table (with the exception of cards with no hits), the need for record-keeping is reduced. Thus, I've done well this far using a very simple system have a column for each player and mark + or - when you are certain a player has or doesn't have a certain card. There's—I think, but I haven't won a game yet—little need for anything else.

The important thing in Black Vienna is to play the investigation cards to your advantage. Record-keeping isn't crucial. Therefore Black Vienna is a good deduction game to start with, if the record-keeping requirements of other games might make one uncomfortable.

The downside of Black Vienna is, of course, its low availability. For most people, creating a home-made copy is the only way to get their hands on the game. Fortunately that isn't a heavy task, but really—isn't it a time someone republished this gem?

Robert Fuhrer: I have just read your excellent review of Coda, and it is the most insightful I have seen on this game. I am curious as to your ultimate conclusion about the use of the dashes and whether the player receiving one has too much of an advantage. When I recently played the game with my 10 year old son, he chose to begin the game with 4 black tiles. I asked him why he responded that he wanted to increase his odds of getting a dash. Children always seem to have a keen sense to discover an advantage don't you think? I also have played the game with two players numerous times and find it to be fun, I hope you find the same result.

In case you are interested in the history, Coda originally came from Japan where it is a best-selling card game, sold by Gakken Co., Ltd under the name of Algo. In Algo, the color selected is by luck of the deal, not selected by the player. My company, Nextoy, LLC (www.nextoy.com) specializes in working with Japanese toy and game companies, and I brokered the game to Winning Moves who created the tile version, and added the optional dashes play.

Matt J. Carlson: I wanted to write a short note to the reviewer [Heroes Incorporated]... I enjoyed the review and particularly empathized with the rules confusions...

I noticed a couple of things he was doing wrong in his description... (I know I played with some things wrong several times...)

a) two crimes in one spot are considered one crime for the duration of the turn.

b) heroes with the "blaster" power are still stuck in one place even if blasting from outside a square to defeat a crime. It doesn't matter if they're in the square or adjacent, they can't go on and fight a new battle....

Jim Deacove: I have noticed a puzzling trend in my latest acquisitions of Rio Grande Games coming from German designers. For example, on the last pages of rule booklets, I find the designer giving thanks to people who have tested the game and reworked it and thanks to people who have rewritten the rules and so on.

It is beginning to sound like an Academy Awards night. This designer even thanks his wife for her support. The list of people thanked is 26 in total. With all this acknowledged help, my question is: who gets the royalty?

Gerald McDaniel: I just read your article on your site titled My Record Keeping Experience. I enjoyed it and could relate to it. My wife, son, daughter, son-in-law, and I play board and card games together almost weekly. Over the past twelve years or so, we have accumulated a number of new games, especially some of the German games such as Carcassonne, and we have played them many, many times. We sometimes found ourselves saying, "I never win this game," especially when playing one after a long break from it. Finally, in January 2001, I suggested we start keeping a record of who won each game, and the date of the win. I created a Word document listing all the games we regularly play and began keeping track of the wins. After each weekend's game session, I updated the list, so we would have it for future reference. I soon added a spreadsheet that summarizes the total wins by game and by player. After a year of keeping these records, I added a small spreadsheet that shows the number of wins by person, by month, for each year. This year, we decided that players should get credit for being in second, third, fourth, and fifth place, so I created another spreadsheet that credits a win with 8 points, 4 points for second place, 2 points for third, 1 point for fourth, and zero points for last place. As of last weekend, and beginning in January 2001, we have played 456 games of 36 different games. Our son (the youngest of the group at age 32) has won 25% of the games; our daughter and our son-in-law have each won 20%; I've won 19%, and my wife has won 15%. The other 1% have been won by our six-year-old grandson, who has played only a few games with us, but is already a whiz at several of them.

We only count the games all five of us (or six or seven, if our grandchildren are involved) play, so the records are fair to everyone. Now, we can see at a glance who usually wins which game, the last time each person won it, record high scores, and how each person is doing in the overall competition. We don't really take our gaming too seriously, but we are all competitive and have a great time together. Our grandchildren (ages 8 and 6) are quickly becoming expert game-players, also. It is a wonderful way to spend family time together, and the records will become family history documents in the future.

Rob Burns: I wanted to briefly comment on Greg Schloesser's letter to the editor from last month, regarding my series on the Gamemaster Series and its "heirs". Greg feels that Eagle Games' line does indeed seek to emulate the classic Milton Bradley line, but falls short in that most of its products are not well playtested and require some research for errata or development of house rules in order to be playable. Because of such faults, Greg feels they have a ways to go before measuring up to their predecessor, the "king".

I thought about commenting on this, as this is frequently noted as a problem with Eagle's line at the major board game hobby forums. I decided against it, for two reasons. One is that the only Eagle game I own and have played is Age of Mythology, and it didn't seem particularly faulty (the dice combat resolution seems clunky, but it doesn't "break" the game).

The other reason I chose not to mention it is because the Gamemaster Series themselves were not exactly fully satisfactory. Conquest of the Empire and Broadsides & Boarding Parties have incredibly clunky and random combat resolution methods; both games are arguably "broken" out of the box. Fortress America and Shogun are much better, but Fortress America's got a big loophole that could have been identified and corrected with a little more development (the invaders should wait until they've surrounded the requisite number of cities before attacking and taking them, thus preventing America from using its most valuable reinforcement cards). Axis & Allies is perhaps the best product, but everyone I've played it with either plays "No Russia first attack" or quickly adopts that hallowed house rule.

My impression, based on other gamers' comments, is that Eagle's products are less "finished products" than even the clunky, overlong Gamemaster Series games. This could be true. Nevertheless, Eagle Games is trying to make the same kind of "beer and pretzels" wargames with great bits Milton Bradley once did, even doing the games Milton Bradley wanted to do and didn't, and that makes them a legitimate successor. I myself personally appreciate both the approach and the products (games) of the new Avalon Hill more, and consider them the better successor, but only because my own personal taste in games has changed somewhat and because I think they're aspiring to reach the broader "family strategy gaming" market with quality games. But someone's who in the niche may consider Eagle the more true heir.

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