The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - January, 2003

GGA - There were many responses to Henry Jennings' query about the game Nomic in last month's letters column. Rather than publish all of the responses I'll just note that many people mentioned the designer, Peter Suber, has his own website at:

Hopefully we'll be publishing an article about the game in the near future.

Joe Golaszewski:Some time ago I was pondering the same questions that Greg Aleknevicus raised in Specialize! Diversify! and I posted the following on the newsgroup: "Assuming you had a limited amount of gaming time, which would you prefer, repeatedly playing games that you like, or trying as many different games as you could?" However, I had to have a catchy title for my post, and so I chose "one game five times or five games once?" and this ended up being the question that most people actually answered.

The conversation was variously interesting, some polarizing the question into extremes of black and white, others explaining in detail the particular shade of gray they inhabited. Those in favor of repeat playings contended that most games that are worth playing will only improve when players have the benefit of a little experience; those in favor of diversity said that they enjoyed keeping up with the new releases and, well, diversity in general.

It is the old dichotomy of the fox and the mole. The fox likes to cover a lot of ground, while the mole likes dig deep into one spot. Of course, one outlook is not necessarily better than another. The fox likes being a fox and the mole likes being a mole.

Anyway, after the chatter died off, I tallied up the votes, and, for those who I thought voiced a clear preference, the count was six who prefer to repeatedly play games that they like and ten who prefer to try as many different games as they can.

You can stick me squarely in the "repeat playings" camp. As far I am concerned, to play a game only once is a tiny step up from never having played it at all. I find it draining to spend a gaming session playing too many games that are new to me, and even a little boring. Unless the game is just some mindless fun like Unexploded Cow or Guillotine, I tend to think of first playings as dry runs, and I don't usually care much if I win or lose. On repeat playings a game becomes less like a postcard and more like a place that one can actually visit; players can settle into a groove and enjoy the path that the game takes without having to worry too much about making rookie mistakes or forgetting fiddly rules.

Nevertheless, new games come out all the time; there's a lot of buzz after a batch of releases, and certainly it's nice to be up on the latest stuff. I do appreciate all the foxes who try out the new titles and report back. However, I think that a lot of people take this "keeping up" part of the hobby too seriously. I often read desperate posts on newsgroups that plead "I just got Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Tigris & Euphrates and El Grande—what do I buy next?" My reaction to this is always the same: "you just got Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Tigris & Euphrates and El Grande—why don't you play those for a while?"

Stewart Tame: In the issue previous to this one, Greg Aleknevicus tortured those of us who are too financially challenged to arrange travel to Germany by showing some photos from Essen 2002. In particular I was intrigued by the photo of the used games dealer. So many wonderful games, selling for (presumably) less than retail... Do any of the European used games dealers do business online—even an old-fashioned mail order catalog would do? Are there any used game dealers in the US or Canada who specialize in German games? So far my experience with used game dealers has been fairly disappointing from a boardgame standpoint: lots of sourcebooks for various RPGs, old wargames and back issues of The General, older US boardgames—mainly TV show tie-ins and old Monopoly sets, and that's pretty much it. Aren't there any used Rio Grande or Mayfair products out there for the gamer on a budget?

GGA - The first stop for anyone looking for used items these days should be eBay. It seems that pretty much everything turns up there sooner or later. Recently the BoardGameGeek expanded its marketplace section, so I'd recommend paying them a visit...

Jon Power: I'm sure Greg Schloesser needs no advice [see When Good Reviews Go Bad], but for others writing any review, I remember the apocryphal story of the editor handing back a film review with the comment "Review the film you watched, not the film they should have made".

BTW, when Counter started, they did regular articles covering games by one publisher, usually out of print games, or games of one theme. They were just terse lists with a brief line or two on the nature of the game and rating A-E. They haven't done this for ages. Any chance The Games Journal could take this up? I found this style of article much more educational than long reviews and gave me a good education and info to build my shopping lists with.

GGA - We're always looking for article ideas and this sounds like a good one...

Darin McGrew: When I read a review of a product, I'm not really interested in whether the reviewer liked it. Rather, I'm interested in whether  I'm going to like it.

With that in mind, I think it's important to include information  in a negative review that would help someone else decide whether  he/she would like whatever you're reviewing, even if you don't.  Good negative movie reviews do this ("Fans of ... will enjoy the ... in this film, however I found it ...."). Good game reviews should do the same thing.

Andrés Voicu: There are three different Risk rule/game sets in the world. The one depicted in the article of The Games Journal [Risk: The Evolution of a Game] is only U.S. Risk; there is also the European Risk and—probably the most strange one—the Italian one (Risiko). This one has several important differences, and it has its own editions: e.g. at the Italian Mind Sports Olympiad (Milan, Dec. 5-8, 2002) will be presented a new edition with a modular board. The whole history of the game has been explained in a new book by R. Convenevole and F. Bottone La Storia di Risiko e l'Anello Mancante (The History of Risiko and the Missing Link). By the way, at the end of their book there are also the new rules - in English too - for "hidden Risk". A little picture of the book is on

Mark Johnson: I was very impressed with your article on The Games Journal about modifying games for the blind. Very resourceful! Though I've since moved away, in my earlier boardgaming days I played with a friend who is quadraplegic  following an auto accident. We rigged card-holders, oriented the board for his best view, and made other accommodations so that our buddy could play games with the rest of us. He lost interest after a while, but that's mostly because he was always a roleplayer more than a boardgamer.

Innovan: I'd say there's more than just a casual link between TSRs 1988 release of Buck Rogers - Battle for the 25th Century Game and the later Risk 2210 AD.

Buck Rogers was the first to take Risk to space, and features orbiting planets and asteroids, as well as one "leader" token for each player.

While it has a fascinating amount of bits, the orbiting mechanic is a lot of fiddling. It seems each player takes over a planet, equivalent to being holed up in Australia. Then as your Australia gets swung near other Australias, you both fight it out.

We got frustrated with space ships being left behind in the wake of orbiting planets and not being able to catch up, but other people seem to have made the system work.

Phil Brady: I have to respond to something I read on the latest Letters page.

Scott Slomiany: The question "Why do British and American games companies churn out bland packages intended to be bought as Christmas presents and  played once or twice?" is fairly easily answered.

Mr. Slomiany goes on to explain how he sees the influence of the Big Two in  keeping the quality of American games down. I won't argue too much with his analysis, but I do think there's an important factor he's missing: the consumers.

I'm a life-long a gamer that's been working at a retail chain game store for over a year. (I'm surviving my second holiday season, thank you very much.) When guests come into my store, I am never surprised to hear them say "We always buy a game and play it at Christmas." Even off-holiday I'll hear this statement, just not as often. Some people come to my store with the sole intent of buying a holiday game.

The implication is that Christmas (or New Year's) is the only time games can be played. As a gamer I find this sad and a little hard to understand. That's why I have to applaud Hasbro's "Plan a Family Game Night" campaign. Even though it's meant to push their sales up, I think it delivers a beneficial message: You can play a game any time you want.

I believe there is a symbiotic relationship between the makers and the players. A change in one of the two will force a change in the other. Why are there so many custom Monopoly games that don't get played? Because a large fraction of the buyers store them away as collector's items. All the more reason for USAopoly to pump out more editions. Once Americans accept the idea of games as an "anytime" event (and an "anyone" event, not just children), I think the quality of American-made games will go up. It's a natural response in the maker/player relationship.

So spread the word! Go play a game!

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