The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - July, 2004

Greg J. Schloesser: I enjoyed Rob Burns' article on Eagle Games as the heir-apparent to the Milton Bradley GameMaster series. However, I have some comments and quibbles.

Yes, Eagle Games look great. The immediate reaction from looking at these games and perhaps even playing them is that they are attempting to re-create the flavor, atmosphere and mechanisms present in the GameMaster series. I certainly applaud them for this effort and the great marketing that they have shown.

However, and this is a major beef, their games lack polish and suffer from an apparent lack of thorough playtesting. I've played several of their games and have found significant problems with each of those. The ideas and concepts are clever and intriguing, but they just don't seem to have been fully developed and tested to make sure that everything really flows well together. This has been a source of irritation for me as I oh-so-want to enjoy these beautiful games. Sadly, I haven't been able to get the enjoyment out of them which I seek due to the inherent problems.

I don't know the exact play-testing and development process that Eagle Games utilizes, but it seems clear to me that their games would benefit greatly from outside playtesting by established gamers and gaming groups. Most, if not all of the problems I and many others have had with the games could (and should) have been spotted early on in the process, giving ample time to correct them and develop a smoother, more satisfying system. As is, one seems to get the impression that their games undergo "in house" development only, or, at best, with a group of the owners buddies. That's simply not good enough. I'm willing to wait longer for a game that has been thoroughly playtested and developed.

Again, I applaud the goals of Mr. Dover and Eagle Games, as well as the quality that they are putting into the components. The games are extremely attractive and intriguing. Sadly, they are just not developed thoroughly enough. They seem to be getting closer to being what I would consider "finished products", but they are still not quite there. As such, as heir-apparent to the GameMaster series, they are falling short of the original king.

Jim Deacove: I noticed your review of Uberplay's latest release, Oasis. It is unfortunate that they are using this title, because I have prior rights to it.

Family Pastimes' OasisMy own boardgame, also titled Oasis, has been on the market since 1999, and this use of my title, without my permission, is causing confusion in the markets.

You would think it incumbent on publishers to do a search to see if not only the concept been done, but also its title as well. Uberplay has assured me that their error is innocent and is working to correct it. I am awaiting to see what steps they will take to cease and desist. I am writing about this, so other designers and their publishers make certain that their concepts haven't already been done and also their titles for their designs aren't already taken. I am generally a friendly guy, but others might not be so forgiving.

[In Greg Schloesser's review of Oasis, he posed the question: What the heck is an Ovoos?]

Dan Blum: An ovoo is a religious shrine, kinda.

Doesn't it actually mention this in the rules? I knew more or less what it was before finding this page, and I can't think where else I would have seen the word.

Mark Johnson: Multiple reviews of Hansa were published last month—I think yours in The Games Journal is the one that got it right. As you pointed out, designer Schacht cleverly omits a route building section of the game. That immediately shortens the game to his preferred length. (It's not just the designer that likes this 45 minute length—it's a sweet spot for lunch games, Games of the Month, and openers.) The economic system is interesting in its abstraction... I'm not sure I understand it all thematically. The number of barrels represents costs & profit, and discarded goods tokens are sudden losses. I think cashed-in goods tokens are the establishment of long-term economic infrastructure (e.g. customs houses). I'm unsure about the market stalls, however, particularly why they're spent to convert goods.

[re: Rob Lyon's Destination Gaming] What the heck was that?! I kept reading & reading, waiting for a coherent theme to emerge. Did I miss it? It was very disjointed, jumping around several sub-topics. Parts of it read like a history, other parts like an intro for someone who knows nothing about the hobby. To each his own on some of the choices (Colony?), but this strikes me as an odd article for this magazine's readership.

Mikko Saari: First an excellent issue. I didn't quite get the point of Rob Lyon's article, but it was a pleasant read anyway. The Basic Strategy article was, in the other hand, a clear gem. I hope the rest of the series will keep up the standard set by the first article.

What comes to RSS feeds, well—as was said, the nature of the updates on The Games Journal web site makes the RSS feeds quite useless in my opinion. They are a perfect fit on a weblog, but the stable updates of The Games Journal make it crystal clear when new content is available.

However, there's one use if The Games Journal offered RSS feeds containing the headlines for the latest issue, webmasters and blog keepers could add that information on their websites. I for one could think about displaying the latest headlines of The Games Journal on my blog front page.

Ben Smith: Yes, an RSS feed would be great! Or even better yet, add a blog that regulars can post to.

GGA - Well, the response to my suggestion of an RSS feed was abysmally low (the two responses above were the only ones I received). It's pretty safe to say that I won't be implementing one at this time.

Dave Wilson: Regarding the article Basic Strategy 1.0, I find that this basic strategy applies well in other games as well, even if they have no trading component per se. It takes the form of cooperative competition, and the best example that comes to my mind is Carcassonne. And the more players are in the game, the better it works.

Specifically, a big component of Carcassonne is the tactic of sneaking your meeples into someone else's city/road/farm. It might be tempting to try to take over the city (for example) outright, but I find that if I just try to share the city, then it's more likely to get completed, and I (and the player with whom I'm sharing ownership) get more points. In addition, we each will be getting points from tiles we didn't play, further increasing the value of the move. If I can do this with multiple players, then as you mentioned, I'm going benefit greatly. And when you consider that it'll take fewer resources to share than it will to try to steal, I'll have more opportunities to try to share more cities/roads/farms.

In a two-player game, I'll probably focus more on stealing, unless I'm ahead and I just want to nullify my opponent's scoring opportunity. But when playing multi-player, I'll definitely focus on joining and sharing with the other players as much as I can.

Rob Burns: Thanks Greg, for your idea and initial contribution to a series of articles on basic strategy. I honestly think that such a series, if it got wide distribution, would do a lot to bring more into the boardgaming hobby. If people didn't already enjoy talking strategy, sports talk radio (to name one example) wouldn't exist.

I wanted to comment briefly on your article about strategy in making deals, particularly as it related to deals in my favorite game, Cosmic Encounter. Cosmic Encounter's key feature is variable player powers that allow the player to ignore or bend one rule of the game to their favor. Deal situations arise in Cosmic Encounter typically when both players in a challenge decide to play a Compromise card—which means either lose and extract heavy concessions (when your opponent plays a number card), or deal (when your opponent also plays a Compromise card)—rather than try to get an edge in point values. The opposing players have one minute to make a deal, otherwise each loses 3 tokens to the Warp (tokens are the most valuable commodity in the game—as you can't win unless you have tokens to colonize other planets). Deals can involve cards, or one base (for tokens—you can offer a base in your system, but not elsewhere), and often many players allow information acquired about another player's hand to be traded too. "Base for base" deals are quite common as the object of the game is to get 5 bases outside your home system.

Typically, your power will allow you to not just bend the rules in the typical way, but also get good leverage on a possible deal. For example, the Pacifist alien power allows you to automatically win a challenge when you play a Compromise. Pacifist is thus rightly considered to be a powerhouse, and good players will try to avoid giving Pacifist a base in deals. A good Pacifist player will try to get Compromise cards in a deal, because for him, they are "I Win" cards. While most players will be reluctant to give Pacifist cards that let him cruise to a win, what makes the offer tempting is that for them, Compromise cards are almost always "I Lose" cards, and to be rid of them means you're that much closer to a new hand of seven cards without being stuck with these "dogs".

Some alien powers will thus find themselves in deal situations more often, either as a direct or indirect result of their powers. Empath and Diplomat turn regular challenges into deal situations, and so have to deal much more frequently as a consequence. Such players should know when to strike, otherwise they will find their opponents increasingly reluctant to deal with them. Pacifist is more likely to find himself in a deal situation too, because playing a Compromise is often your only defense against Pacifist.

The designers must have realized they had an interesting conundrum when it came to Zombie, though—Zombie's particular ability is that his tokens never go to the Warp. Naturally, Zombie never has to deal—he can wait out the minute with no consequences (typically). So the designers added an interesting little rule to Zombie: in a deal situation, he can offer players tokens back from the Warp. This makes it more likely that Zombie will deal, not because he has anything to lose from not dealing, but because his counterpart is that much more likely willing to give Zombie something he really wants so he can get some of his tokens out of the Warp. The carrot rather than the stick, so to speak.

Smart Cosmic Encounter players know how to use their Alien Power to their best advantage throughout a whole game, and one's Alien Power can often affect a deal in a subtle but effective fashion that the other players hopefully won't realize until it's too late. Deal situations arise enough in Cosmic Encounter that it's worth thinking about how your power might be used to best leverage in a deal situation when you're first dealt it. Also think about how other folk's powers affect a deal.

Matt Lanagan: I have been spending a bit of time lately looking at deduction games, partly because I suspect that my wife will enjoy them. However if the idea is to be sellable to her then I am going to need a decent record-keeping method to suggest and that is where I am stuck. There just doesn't seem to be anything available in the collective knowledge. I realise that developing a good system is part of the competitive advantage that some players have so I am not suggesting that players reveal all their tricks but maybe just some starters for people that have not been exposed to deduction games past Clue (like me). The games I am thinking of are Black Vienna, Sleuth, Code 777 etc. I don't know who would be in the market to write an article titled "Record keeping methods for deduction games" but I certainly know it is not me.

GGA - Consider this an open invitation for people to send in their record keeping methods for deduction games (and not just those Matt mentions). If I receive enough responses I'll organize them into an article.

Horizontal line

About | Link to Archives | Links | Search | Contributors | Home

All content © 2000-2006 the respective authors or The Games Journal unless otherwise noted.