The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - February, 2005

Lars A. Doucet: The biggest thing that your magazine needs is a little more of an opportunity for reader interaction.

For instance, About.com intermittently sponsors a game design contest—some examples have been the 8x8 contest where you had to make one to play on a standard chessboard, other themes were things like "unequal forces" where the opening setup in game-lingo was "asymmetrical" or rather, each player did not start with the same exact setup and/or resources.

You could sponsor contests like these occasionally or something. You probably couldn't sustain a contest per month, but it might be a fun semiannual or annual event. At the very least, you'd get a submission from me each time :) (now I'm not promising anything fantastic here, but hey).

GGA - We have run many puzzles (as opposed to contests) here on The Games Journal but the response rate has dropped significantly. The "Name the Components" puzzle we ran in October received only 3 responses! 

Also... the magazine is interesting, but it has two downsides: 1) There isn't enough content each month. Now, your monthly update is one of my monthly highlights, but you need a little more content. You might think of some new sorts of articles to write... or put out feelers for people who want to write a column each month. This is all non-profit anyways, right? (correct me if I'm wrong on that one)

GGA - Yes, we are an entirely non-commercial website and the writers receive no compensation for their work. I agree that an increased amount of content would be a good thing but how does one go about getting that content? Beyond what I myself write we are reliant on contributions from readers. I've had talks with many people about becoming (semi) regular contributors but this is difficult when you can't offer any form of compensation. 

2) The content is a little too tunnel-visioned. Please don't misunderstand me. I love the things you have to say... but your focus is a little... how shall I say? Esoteric. Now I'm familiar with the degrees of board game players. You've got those who've never graduated past Monopoly, those who think Risk is avant-garde, then you've got the Steve Jackson nuts (of whom I am one), who like the kind of off-beat, humorly themed games that are a little too nerdy and game-y for the absolute mainstream, then you've got the people all into stuff like Cosmic Encounter and Settlers, (again, of whom I am one), and then there's the guys who like almost exclusively German or "designer" board games, or ones similar in theme. As for your magazine, if you imagine the groups I described being on a (artificial, of course) spectrum from left to right, with the Hasborg and mainstreamers, the Scrabblers and Pokers on the absolute left, and the guys who like Puerto Rico, Tikal, Korsar and stuff like that on the right, with Steve Jackson's Munchkin smack dab in the middle, then you guys really tend towards the right end of the spectrum.

Most young people I know who play board games tend towards the middle, only tasting of the stuff on the right after they've been thoroughly opened up to the world of German and designer board games once they've realized that board games can be fun again. That usually happens when they play one of three games:

  1. Munchkin
  2. Settlers of Catan
  3. Cosmic Encounter

I've been a pretty good games evangelist, and I've had the most success with the three games listed above. Now, our growing games collection tends to grow with most games in the middle-right of the spectrum I described. Why? Because the esoteric "designer" games are less accessible? Hardly. I've played several and they're very fun and not harder to learn than anything else. No one's just ever heard of them outside the hobby. So it's good you write about them on The Games Journal—or else I'd never hear about them at all. It'd just be good to cover a little more about games that are being made in non-Germany (Steve Jackson's crazy stuff, mostly), as well as Cheapass games' marvelous collection and the warm spot it's earned in my die-shaped heart.

GGA - This is a good point but it again raises the question of how to acquire this content? It's difficult to publish articles about Munchkin (or wargames or party games) if no one submits them. 

Mario Lanza: As far as improving The Games Journal, the only thing I crave is more content. I subscribe to Counter, Undefeated, Games Quarterly and I regularly read your journal and the blog on Gamefest. The idea is that we enthusiasts have an insatiable hunger to read about games.

Obviously, I don't mean to burden you and the regular contributors with a heavier load. I simply say "more content" if only to make the statement that my main purpose for visiting The Games Journal is already being met. Your site is already a good thing; therefore, all I could envision if the sky was the limit is more of that good thing. Realistically, I know that putting the monthly journal together is a lot of work. Sometimes I imagine it can be difficult coming up with new ideas. (Thus, your recent request for more contributions as well as ideas.) So, instead I simply offer my thanks for continuing to put out interesting articles that I look forward to reading.

Since you did ask for input, I will offer my preferences about the articles that would most interest me:

1. Rather than game reviews, how about in-depth strategical/tactical analysis of games combined with some great moments from notable sessions. Often times the reviews I read are for games that I already own or have played; therefore, I read the article if only for the pleasure of the read. By offering something more than the facts surrounding the game itself (like strategies) I can only imagine a more engrossing article (if only from my point of view).

2. I absolutely love articles about game design and about breaking into the game market/industry. Many avid gamers fantasize about running a game publishing shop or about being a game designer. You have been providing such articles lately (e.g. Prototype... Prototype... Protospiel and the Living The Dream articles) so I can ask for no more than more of the same.

3. I can never read too many interviews from game personalities (esp. designers). Perhaps, I'll conduct an email interview with a designer to help out here. For me the lack of doing so is more for the matter of having the right contacts so as to not be too forward to ask for someone's time who is but a stranger to me. Plus I'd have to be familiar with at least a few of the designer's games in order to conduct a proper interview. If you'd provide me with some feedback about how I might go about doing this (in an appropriate fashion) I would be delighted to help. Your call.

4. One of the main things I love about your site's articles is that many of them are about games in general or games-related topics, rather than specific games. Your recent idea to publish articles on basic strategy is wonderful. The great thing about these articles, unlike reviews, is that they can be read by and are often more appealing to a broader audience. Kudos!

Thanks again for all your hard work. Another thing that sets many of The Games Journal's articles apart is their longevity and essay-like style. Unlike blog entries, your articles are much more polished and can often be read (and still be useful) years later. I really enjoy the fact that the contributors took the time to polish their writing. This makes The Games Journal a true archive of enjoyable gaming articles.

Jacob Lee: I look forward to reading The Games Journal every month, but I have always felt (and have written previously to express) that it lacks game reviews. The reviews found on this website are some of the best I've read because of how intelligently written they are in conjunction with applicable pictures. I can honest say that your reviews have influenced my purchases in games (both positively and negatively) and I don't regret this. But there just aren't enough reviews to satisfy me.

I was told before that the Journal strives to review games that don't garner as much attention as the mainstream, heavily hyped games. If this is true, then Maharaja certainly deserves some coverage in your journal. There was no way it was going to win the Spiel des Jahres for advanced strategy game—but I firmly believe it should have. Nobody knows much about this terrific game despite the fact it comes from a man who single-handed turned the German gaming world on its ear.

I can't offer stronger suggestions than these.

Matthew Wills: Just a quick note that I am really impressed with your site—came and visited it after your recent Tom Vasel interview. One suggestion I would make is to make a big bold 'Archives' or 'Previous Issues' link up the top. There is one down the bottom, but it's easy to miss—leaving the impression there is only a few articles on the site. Which is sad since the articles (once you find them) are of incredible quality.

GGA - First off, I would like to thank everyone who wrote in with suggestions or comments, it's much appreciated. By far the greatest request was simply to provide more of what we are already publishing. This is encouraging as it means that we're on the right track. However, as I mention above, it's also the most difficult thing to implement. The recent interview I did with Tom Vasel has helped tremendously in this regard as there have subsequently been many people writing in to say that they'd like to contribute an article. We have a very full issue this month and I've already got a couple of article ready to go for March, hopefully this trend will continue!

As for actual changes to our site, the Archives were mentioned the most and so I'll be looking at how we can implement some of the suggestions over the next few months.

Andy Merritt: Just to say that Larry didn't say anything about Quirks in his article—it was listed amongst their games, but was never mentioned. Otherwise, an interesting article—thanks Larry.

Personally of all Eon's games Quirks is the one most to my taste. It has its flaws, but it is just so unique and such a wonderful idea that it deserves to be mentioned (and played) even today. 

Quirks is a game of evolution of a very strange form. As the game progresses the climate repeatedly changes and there is a dominant and sub-dominant plant, herbivore and carnivore, each controlled by one of the players. What is unique is that each of these life-forms is made up of three segments, so for an animal, a head, a body and a "tail" (often actually some sort of special attribute not related to a tail). Each of these pictures a part of a real animal and has adaptations for certain climates but not others. When combined they make very weird creatures indeed, e.g. a duck's head, a bear's body and a human's intelligence. Putting these together to form wonderful and silly animals and plants is the heart of the game. Game play involves deciding how fast to push on climate change, adapting your creatures and challenging opposing species of the same type, hopefully in a climate which favours your species more than theirs. The game has some flaws such as the fiddliness of the coloured card strips used to hide some 'guide letters' on the cards, and can end very rapidly or go on a very long time depending on the initial setup and how people play. It also had two (now very rare) expansions which added to the mix of life-form parts for greater variety. I have some house rules to Quirks which can be found on my website ( http://homepage.ntlworld.com/andy.merritt/MainPage1.htm), and overall, I still enjoy an occasional game of Quirks now and then.

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