The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - December, 2001

Mikko Saari: The Ricochet Robot puzzle was too devious for me, so after few days I quit trying. Seeing the solution is interesting, but one thing puzzles me. First, the blue robot is moved up, then several moves later, down. How is that possible? Aren't the robots supposed to ricochet in 90 degree angles? How delaying the second move changes this? Most of my solutions fell short because I couldn't make a 180 degree turn—and now I'm astonished to see the correct solution do that!

GGA - This is a point of contention with many players. Technically I believe you are correct as the rules mention ricocheting "left or right" but not "back". I think many players (myself included) ignore this assuming that what the rules say and what is meant are two different things. This is a dangerous assumption though and not necessarily a valid one. Personally I think its a better way to play as it does not require you to remember the direction of each robots last move. I'm anxious to hear what others think about this.

Marcel Sagel: I would like to react to some remarks by Alfredo Lorente from November's Letters section. He states that "initial impressions" from non-established reviewers are no good:

"An "initial impression" from anyone else is not much more than your alarm going off at 6:45 am on Saturday morning—annoying and usually useless."

I disagree with this. I always like to read other people's opinions on certain games—provided, of course, they do explain why they like or dislike a game. In fact, a number of impressions (with explanations!) from different people may tell you more about a game than one long review, no matter how well written or who wrote it.

As an aside, I think this kind of remark may also put people off contributing themselves to websites like The Games Journal—and that is exactly what we don't want to happen. I like the site and I would like to see it continue for a long time.

Kevin Whitmore: You pose an interesting question. Not so long ago I purchased Wongar. This fine game of influence is set to an Australian Aboriginal theme. Oddly enough, I think the beautiful treatment Goldsieber applied to the game detracts from the whole experience.

In my opinion it is a shame that this game was published in Germany. If the new Avalon Hill Company had produced it, I suspect it would have proven very popular. I can easily see this game recast with plastic soldiers, and a fantasy map to battle over. Certainly the designers, Alan R. Moon and Richard Borg, are no strangers to Avalon Hill.

In Wongar ten areas are battled over. Players place tokens on the board, showdowns occur, and points are awarded for dominance. There are several layers to the details. What I propose is a new approach to present Wongar, divorced from the theme the publisher applied to the core system.

In Standard Wongar

  • Playing Pieces are called Tjurungas (cubes, discs and cylinders)
  • Showdowns are called Ceremonies
  • The two figures are the Elder and the Ancestor.
  • There are Area and Ritual Decks.

In Wongar: the Wargame

  • Playing pieces are Spearmen, Swordsmen, and Archers.
  • Showdowns are Battles
  • The two figures are the Warlord and the King.
  • There are Area and Tactics Decks.

You get the idea. This comes from a longer article I wrote on this subject and submitted to the SGS for their member newsletter. (I have no idea if they plan to use it.) Ray's comments about presentation brought this back to mind.

David Einstein: I thought you might like to know that your Ricochet Robot puzzles spur a national competition here at Dataphile Software. About 12 programmers across the  country send emails back and forth proclaiming their latest low number. As players, I think that they are pretty good... (I am not certain if any submitted their solutions)... but I do know that the best anyone got was 15. (16 for me). Having them really difficult is nice, but it can become a bit of a chore when you don't know when to stop looking for a more optimal solution.

Last year, the Ricochet Robot 2.0 was sort of the ultimate in competitive puzzle experiences. No one got the optimal 22 on their own, though there were some 23s, 24s and 25s. But they were all different (with the same objectives)! So when people revealed their solutions, others would take some little trick and incorporate it, improving their own solution, eventually arriving at 22.

RR4.0 didn't have the same ending... because sometimes comparing solutions was like comparing apples and oranges. If we had known there was a 13, I'm sure that would have spurred things on further. But it was still much enjoyed.

Steve Gillman: I too am a thrift store junky. I have many reasons for justifying my addiction:

a) I get many good deals,

b) my purchases support charity,

c) I can always resell,

d) I can pass on to friends that don't play (there are many great games for younger kids, particularly in the Ravensburger series)

e) I can upgrade components of the games I want to keep (e.g. those brass wrenches that come with waterworks I use instead of the cardboard chits in RoboRally)

f) I love to count the bits, sort the cards, read the rules...

g) although I haven't done this yet, one day I will buy a copy of Myst by University Games just to destroy it! An extremely poor board game exploiting a computer game phenomenon. I think it's my duty to protect others from such crap! (I purchased my copy at a thrift store and promptly donated it to my son's school garage sale.)

WRT c) above: I recently picked up a pristine copy of Torres for $8 (Canadian) at a charity store. Of course I snatched it up (it was in perfect condition with all the pieces and cards!)

Now I could have been ecstatic at my find—I had saved about $52 off the Canadian street price! Or I could have been really bitter—after all I know the charity store paid nothing for the item; hell, if I'd been at the right place at the right time maybe I would have got it for $1 or less!

Well, I chose the former—I had a game I wanted at a bargain price. I suggest the person that paid $15 for a game with a $3.99 Value Village price tag choose to be happy too!

PS—I don't have the time to plough through rec.games.discussion groups so I appreciate the summary you gave re. the pricing issue. I look forward to your ezine monthly. Perhaps you, or someone, could commentate on, and summarize the major discussion points in rec.games?

GGA - Interesting that you should mention this as it has been suggested before (a summary of rec.games.board). Unfortunately there are some issues that make it unlikely to happen. The first is simply getting permission from the original posters to reprint their words. The second is simply the amount of time that this would take on the part of the summarizer. If anyone is at all interested in trying this out I'd be glad to talk to them about it.

I really like the idea of using WaterWorks wrenches in Roborally by the way. I wish I'd thought of it!

Mikko Saari: One thing I do with most of my cards: every game that has cards of suitable size, gets the plastic sleeve treatment. Having played lots of CCGs, this is very natural to me and I can't but wonder why other boardgamers I know don't do it. Surely there are negative points in the plastic sleeves, but I think the positive win the negative easily. I only need to take a look at my Settlers of Catan. Due the small card size, I haven't put sleeves on the cards and after the about three years I've owned it, the cards look disgusting. In the other hand, my collectable card games, which I've played more and where the cards are handled even more, look still as good as new.

The worst negative points about sleeves are, I think, the glare of reflecting light which in some conditions makes the card text very hard to see, but that's pretty easy to avoid. I had to ditch otherwise quite decent trays from Princes of Florence and Ohne Furcht und Adel boxes to make the cards fit, but that's minor (and in some cases, like Lord of the Rings, the trays are useless anyhow—in that case, the cards wouldn't fit the provided holes even without the sleeves). In the other hand, the cards look good after repetitive playing, you can play in worse conditions without worrying (like outside) and shuffling is easier. The plastic sleeves are cheap and the effort of putting them on is small and happens only once.

Also, you can distinguish different types of cards if you put them in different kinds of sleeves. For example, you could put the character cards from Ohne Furcht und Adel in black Deck Protectors to make them stand out from the other cards.

Summa summarum, I just can't help but wonder why so few people care about the health of the cards in their games...

Brandon Clarke: When I read the sorts of reviews the game [GGA - Princes of Florence] was getting I wondered whether it would live up to them...

Okay... when I first saw and played it I too was very impressed, and after four or five games I thought it was living up to the hooplah. However, after having played it a few more times I became a little less impressed. It appeared to me as if Princes of Florence was a "one best way" game. Although there was seemingly a rich variety of options and approaches to the game that initially all seemed rather well balanced, after a little analysis of the game it seemed that this initial picture was not really that accurate. After scratching the game's surface and starting to get to grips with it's inner workings, it seems that builders are a resource trap. While one builder is arguably worth getting early on, I can't see that three builders is ever a good idea, and that two is probably only attractive as a recovery strategy when you get your first choice strategy wrong.

To me it seems that you should spend the first couple of turns positioning yourself. I think that 6 is the optimal number of profession cards and that you should try to publish no less than six works, aiming to average 10 - 12 prestige points per work. (note: You might not bank 10 - 12 prestige points for completing a work, but counting the points for buildings, second landscapes etc. plus your banked prestige points per work you should be aiming at averaging no less than 10 -12 points per work i.e. 60 - 72 points in total to have a shot at winning)

The range of varieties in Princes of Florence actually becomes a flaw to me, in that it means that the "one best way" is actually quite a wide path... so that if you try to achieve it one way and are thwarted, you just fall back to an alternative approach to the order in which you amass the components you need to publish 6 works at an average of 10 - 12 points per work.

You get 14 actions in the game (2 actions per turn), so if you are to publish 6 works, that leaves 8 other actions. If you are lucky in your profession card deal and collection you'll only need to build two buildings, but you'll probably need 3, and if you are unlucky 4. If you only need 2 buildings, chances are you'll need all 3 freedoms, so that's 5 actions... if you need 3 buildings you might only need 2 freedoms... still 5 actions, possibly 6 (if you still need all three freedoms). That leaves two non committed actions (3 if you are lucky) which are needed for obtaining profession cards.

Typically that means an approach of:

  • turn 1 - buy a profession card and a freedom
  • turn 2 - buy a profession card and a freedom
  • turn 3 - either buy (a 6th profession card or a 3rd freedom) and build a building
  • turn 4 - build a building a publish
  • turn 5 - publish and build a building
  • turn 6 - publish and publish
  • turn 7 - publish and publish

With your auction targets being (often):

  • 1 builder
  • 2 jesters
  • 1 recruiting card (allows one of the purchased profession cards to be replaced by purchasing a bonus card)
  • 3 landscapes
  • 1 prestige card

So from games 6 - 12 I started to be a little disillusioned with Princes of Florence—I'd looked at it from a number of different angles and couldn't see other viable approaches which could yield as great a score consistently. Some could occasionally yield a score that would compete, but the path you had to tread when pursuing those approaches was a lot less flexible... your lower margin of error means that in percentage terms they are going to fall short more often, so better to stay with the tried and true method that allows maximum flexibility... it works even when three players are following the same approach.

That's when things got a bit more interesting and my opinion of Princes of Florence began to rise again. Just when I was starting to think it was a game that the initial burst of enthusiasm was going to wear off and see it consigned to the play occasionally shelf, a few more games with players who had all played before and who had all decided the approach above was clearly the best one and the game got it's second wind... now with all 4 or 5 players all trying to implement that strategy the auctions became a lot more interesting, and the chances of being pushed off the "one best path" were a lot higher.

Has anyone else had the same evolution of feelings about Princes of Florence?

Ray Smith: Hoo, boy, did I blow it! I didn't even realize that the games I suggested as transition games were mostly out of print. (This happens when you have more games than active synapses.) Let's try this again with games you can readily purchase (duh). Also, my intent was to lure people into wargames, not from them, but I guess it works just as well both ways anyway. In addition to the ones I've previously listed, El Grande, Rheinlander, Carolus Magnus, and Azteca would work wondrously as transition games. I should also mention that any of the block games from Columbia Games, or the much anticipated upcoming releases from Eagle Games and Phalanx Games are blatantly geared for the more game oriented wargamer. Check out their websites for more info.

Gilad Yarnitzky: I haven't read your great journal for the last 3 months for all kind of reasons but the point is that I wouldn't want to lose the journal. So this is an idea how to increase the number of articles. The idea is that there will be a section for small games created by the readers. One part will be for new game rules and the other will be suggestion for improvement on previous published readers games. The idea comes from several war game magazines that every month or two (depends on the journal), a small simple cardboard game was attached to the magazine. This sure made those magazines more attractive. Games created by people who submitted game reviews with technical info like strategies, pros and cons of a game, suggestion for balancing a game, and more (and not reviews of the "I liked the game" reviews) will be preferred because it will show they understand game mechanism and it will give the journal more game reviews articles. Well that's it. I'll be happy to hear what you think of the idea. Hope this helps in any way.

Larry Levy: I enjoyed reading Ray Smith's latest Hints from Hell article even though I really don't suffer from Parakeetitis. Still, we've become accustomed to a certain basic level in the components of our games, particularly after extended exposure to the games of Germany. It's rather like the graphics in computer games. Effects we were perfectly happy with five years ago now look incredibly primitive, not because we're more fond of eye candy, but because our standards have been raised through exposure to the newer applications.

I found your response to the article particularly interesting because when Ray asked which games we would want to see with upgraded components, the first game that occurred to me was Martin Wallace's Mordred. This was one of the few recent games I've played whose acceptance was clearly reduced by the quality of its components. Since I hadn't thought that the game was well known, I was quite surprised to see that not only did you include the game on your list, but that the game was, as you put it, "legendary" for its subpar bits. I consider this good news, since this would seem to improve the likelihood of such an upgraded republication.

GGA - Another reason for my mentioning of Mordred is that Warfog has greatly improved the graphic presentation of their latest games. They still have a way to go before I'd call them beautiful but there's no longer a question that these are professionally produced games.

I was also surprised to see you mention Eon's Borderlands as your top choice for upgrading, but for a different reason. Other than the fact that the map is plastic-coated paper, I never considered the components to be particularly substandard. However, I think I know where you may be headed. A Borderlands game with a larger solid board that used Axis & Allies-style miniatures for the armies, horses, weapons, and cities would be awesome. Of course, any republication of this great game would be incredibly welcome, regardless of the quality of its components.

GGA - It may just have been my copy of Borderlands that was particularly bad—the thin paper map had started to split at the folds and the paper on many of the counters had started to lift.

As for games not on your list that I would like to see reissued with improved bits, my somewhat surprising choice would probably be Uwe Rosenberg's quirky card game Klunker. This is a subtle and non-intuitive game that I quite like. But I think the cards were terribly done. They're too big, they're only indexed on one side, the colors are easily confused, and the illustrations are bizarre, tasteless, and very non-compelling. I doubt that Ray was thinking of card games when he wrote the article, but of all the games I play today, Klunker probably stands out as having the worst components.

GGA - You're correct in saying that Klunker is a surprising choice as I haven't had a problem with it. While I agree with much of what you say, it seems rather minor to me. I'm curious as to what you found tasteless about them though?

Now some non-Games Journal thoughts. My recent games of Babel are considerably improved these days, thanks to your Internet efforts. We're finally playing with the correct rules for Red cards that you posted and they definitely improve the game. Now all the card types come into play in a typical game, at least a great deal more than they did with the faulty rules. We've also started using a variant of yours that Mark Jackson posted on his Game Central Station web site, that each player has two piles of Temple cards. I like this a lot. Games are much snappier, but by no means too short, and there are no longer the long stretches in which no building occurs. It also seems to reduce the luck level of the game a bit. Our Babel games had become a bit stagnant, but these changes have revitalized it.

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