The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - February, 2002

Mark Thompson: I played Cosmic Coasters the other day for the first time, and we ran into the problem Matthew Baldwin mentions: toward the end it turns into a deadlock. Each player has an obvious best strategy, but not one likely to lead to a decisive victory. The game keeps cycling until someone wins two or more Rock/Paper/Scissors conflicts consecutively.

After playing, I thought of a fix. I suggest "money" be introduced to the game (in the form of chips, points, or whatever), and used to resolve conflicts instead of RPS, as follows. At the end of each turn, all players receive from the bank a number of points. For each token on a control point on your home world, you get 1 point; on a factory on your home world, 2 points; on a control point or factory on another world, 3 points. Each person's money supply is kept where other players can see it, except during conflicts. Then each player involved in the conflict hides a certain amount of money in his fist, and they reveal it together. A player wins the conflict by spending at least 25% more money. If neither wins it's a draw. Money devoted to the conflict is returned to the bank. I haven't decided whether teleporting should also cost a few points.

I think this plan would add a layer of strategy to the game, and diminish the random and indecisive element. It could still readily be played in a bar if peanuts from a bowl were used as points. If other Games Journal readers experiment with this, I'd be interested in hearing how it works out.

Darin McGrew: I just read through your Disturbing Themes article and thought I'd comment. My wife seems especially sensitive to the mental imagery generated by games, movies, etc. For example, she won't play Clue because of its murder-mystery theme. More morbid games like those you discussed in the article are right out.

Ray Smith:

There once was a man from Catan
Where German was lax across the land
He played games galore
But the rules were a chore
So he had to just wait for Rio Grande

Once Tikal was the hit of the show
Then Torres usurped that plateau
Then for lack of design
Some said it was a crime
That Java did both, as you know

Die Macher is a struggle for some
And Azteca for others is fun
But if your brain is going to burst
From the strain of those first
Switch to Cheapass and let it go numb

El Grande is a unanimous hit
And Aladdin's Dragons will also fit
But to play with just two
The selections are few
And Babel is as good as it gets

To summarize gaming today
It has never been better some say
So for fun and strategy
Fill your life with great glee
Sit down, and relax, and just play!

Aaron Sanderson: I really enjoy Bruno Faidutti's Bongo and feel that it is a great "filler" game: it's short and fast paced without being mindless. Unfortunately, I don't get to play it as often as I would like. The suggestion that we play it typically elicits a groan from the majority of my gaming group, who seem to feel it is too much of a mental challenge (i.e. they can't spend 10 minutes taking their turn). When I do coax them into playing they typically insist that we play the "basic" version without the predator dice, which is still fun, but lacks some of the mental challenge that makes it so great.

I started thinking about what it is that makes the predator dice more interesting than simply extending the basic concept with more dice or more animals or something else along those lines. The difference is that the predator dice require you to remember another piece of information, much like you must remember the "magic" number, but is more challenging because it comes from the same set of choices as the dice you are presently scanning. To see why this is different, imagine playing the basic version with the animal dice being replaced by dice with the numbers 1 through 3 on them.

It was while thinking about this that I thought of the concept for "Super Bongo" ("Insanity Bongo"?). You play with two full sets of Bongo dice including the predator dice. Both sets are rolled simultaneously (by two different people) into separate piles on the table. Each set is then "solved" just as in the regular game, but the overall solution is the Bongo-sum of the two sets: if they are the same animal, then that is the answer; if they are different animals, the answer is the animal not represented; if one is nothing and one is an animal, the solution is that animal; and if both are nothing, the answer is nothing.

I have not yet tried this but feel that it further develops the challenge added by the predator dice: now the solution to one set has to be remembered while scanning an entire second set of dice.

So, if there are any serious Bongo fans out there who feel they need to make the game more challenging, perhaps this could work for you.

GGA - Of course the obvious extension of this is SuperUltraMegaBongo - Play with seven normal sets. Each set replaces a single die in a normal (with the predator dice) game of Bongo. There are several issues with this but unfortunately there were no survivors (let alone winners) in the group I tested it with. Proceed with extreme caution...

Ray Smith: All right! Quit the whining! Sheesh.

All of the hoopla over the component problems of Funkenschlag are way over blown. Yes, the map and resource chart don't fit in the box properly. So, fold the dang things in half! Why 2F didn't do it themselves I'll never know.

After hearing of the "non-removable" crayon problem, I did several tests. And no, it does not come off easily or completely, even if you received the little microfiber cloth. So, what's the solution? Hmm? How about cold laminating the sucker. Gee, what a novel idea.

I just wanted to cast my vote for this very fine game, and to let everyone know, not to let these very minor fixes deter anyone from purchasing this fun experience.

Jake Talley: This is a response to Gilad Yarnitzky's response to Brandon Clarke's Princes (of Florence) letter.

To implement the strategy described by Brandon, you will not necessarily have all included bonuses for each work. I have used a strategy which would fall under his description of the optimal Princes strategy the past 5 games I've played I think. In the last one, only 1 of my works had all 3 bonuses  (building, freedom, landscape). I did manage to get out 7 works in that game, though. If you have 6 works, they would possibly follow something similar to this example:

work 1: freedom + landscape + jester + 6 cards = 14
work 2: building + freedom/landscape + jester + 6 cards + 3 bonus = 18
work 3: freedom + landscape + 2 jesters + 6 cards = 16
work 4: building + freedom + landscape + 2 jesters + 6 cards = 20
work 5: building + freedom/landscape + 2 jesters + 6 cards = 17
work 6: building + freedom + landscape + 2 jesters + 6 cards = 20

You would likely win 2 best work bonuses with works 2 and 4. With all the income from work 1 used for money, this would give you a total of 51 points from works (with bonuses). 9 more from buildings makes 60. a prestige card on top of this should make it 66 or 67. Extra landscapes or a better bonus card could raise this, making a win even more likely. There are certainly some variables that are unknown, but this is a very likely scenario. This is certainly not meant to be a definitive example, so just take it for what it's worth. In this example, 2 works are missing the required building and 2 are missing either the landscape or the freedom. So it's not all that stringent of a model. If you get lucky you could get even more points.

Brandon Clarke: Gilad seems to be assuming that it's impossible to publish a work without the building for that work. [GGA - see January, 2002 Letters] Recently I played a game in which I published 7 works, 2 of which did not have the required building and I know of one game where someone published 8 works. I have reconsidered my thoughts since writing that analysis, but still think the game has less to it than I at first thought. I'd certainly rather play Tigris and Euphrates.

Frank Branham: I read Alfredo Lorente's letter, and I agree with several of his points...especially that a writer's work should be rewarded but...

It is possible to run an online subscription zine supplemented by advertising. Pyramid manages it, (and quite well). But they also have the support of a large game company to start it, collect advertising, handle credit card transactions for subscriptions. Stuff that is handled by the website staff for Steve Jackson.

And setting up a full time staff, cooking up a business plan and just dealing with that pain is not in my plans for life. (I'm just betting that Greg feels the same way.)

The Games Journal would also have to change. Greg Costikyan wrote an article in the book Horsemen of the Apocalypse pondering what it will take to get gaming the status of an art. And that we can play games in public without fear of being ridiculed the following morning on the radio (happened to me once).

I feel that the only way we can have a good idea about how to approach how we play games, and what we want to get out of games is to try to get as many viewpoints as possible. A small group of even superb writers could never pull this off, but enough blind stabs at the "thing" that we need to progress gaming may make it apparent. (See, we can even include Jungian concepts while talking about gaming.)

Alfredo Lorente: Regarding my last letter and your response...

I'm not sure I came across very well—volunteers are wonderful, and often do great work. But the industry as a whole cannot depend on volunteers, because you can only expect so much from them. You and I are passionate about games (otherwise I wouldn't keep writing to you, no?, and most other hobbyists are, too. You do excellent work, and I want to believe I do too. But ultimately, there is only so much you can demand from people not getting paid anything, and if they have to choose between going to a movie or re-writing an article written for free, for example, you can't fault them for making the wrong choice. Another problem is how do you get experienced, quality people into the industry if the pay is a joke? I know for a fact that people in the American side of the equation make very little money, have horrid benefit packages (if any), and generally do this because they are passionate, not because of anything else. So how do you get quality, experienced graphic artist in the industry? Accolades are nice, but they don't pay the rent.

You might also be looking at the compensation issue with too narrow a focus. I will work for, technically, free. I just agreed to work for a particular company for comp games, a GenCon badge (if I can't get someone else to pay for it), and the occasional beer tap. I live in Minneapolis, the company isn't even local! In your case, an old game, or comp copies you might get for review (if you do), might do the trick. (And I am not trying to bum stuff from you—I now have too many things going on simultaneously on my plate...)

The issues you raise regarding revenue models are very real. And therein lies the problem. If Frank Branham decides he'd rather spend the $180 US a year on games, good-bye Games Journal. So, if Frank, yourself, and whoever else is involved decides The Games Journal is worthy of permanence, perhaps trying to find a self-supporting model would be of use. And that, of course, depends greatly on determining the value of your labor and services, versus the value provided, how much, if anything, would advertising be worth, etc. It is real work, and adds to your already full plate, but in the end, it might very well be worth it. Perhaps, $1000 isn't worth the hassle, or maybe it is. But to know that, the analysis needs to be done, and the more accurate the analysis is, the more valuable the analysis becomes.

As a parting thought, have you ever heard of Randy Cassingham and "This is True"? He has an interesting article posted on his site. Perhaps it will spur your imagination ...

Larry Wheeler: I enjoyed your article Competition in Gaming. I'm primarily an abstract strategy game player, and I've always enjoyed games the most when the game seemed evenly balanced, but not drawish. The feeling of being in the upper hand, but always having to be on my guard, is not necessarily better than being the underdog, and having a chance to turn the tables. Either one gets the adrenaline going. I don't think winning is the main thing, but competition enhances the enjoyment I get from thinking about the game and moving the game bits!

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