The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - June, 2001

"Topdecker": [re: Drakon] I just wanted to let you know that the physical problems that you had with the game (i.e. poorly cut tiles) might be unusual. My copy was so well cut that tiles would fall away from the sheets with gentle handling—which was actually a problem as I was trying to photograph it for sale online!

GGA - I hope this is the case but from the looks of the copies I saw at The Gathering I suspect it might be yours that's the exception. As I said in my review I hesitated to mention it as I thought it was a somewhat minor point. I also figured that the poor quality of the die cutting could simply have been the cheapest or only alternative available to Fantasy Flight. I then realized that this was crap. If they can't get proper cutting services locally then why aren't they using international firms? Better still, why aren't they complaining to their supplier about the poor product in an effort to get them to improve?

Andrew Swan: I enjoyed your well-written article on enjoyment and competition. [ http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/Competition.shtml ].

However, I think your definitions of these two concepts fail to recognize another possibility—that people can enjoy the game because of the tense competition it generates, while not caring too much about the outcome. As for myself, I am usually not too fussed if I win or lose as long as I competed well (same in sports). If I make a stupid move and win, it's a bit hollow, and if I do the same move and lose because of it, I feel really bad. I guess my preferences would be:

  1. Play well and win
  2. Play well and lose
  3. Play badly and win
  4. Play badly and lose

This seems obvious to me, but you might find that others rank these differently. I guess you could conclude that my enjoyment derives from the competition, they are not separable facets of the gaming experience.

Hints from Hell, Louise

Frank Branham: We've had a few of these implemented ourselves:

Twilight. As the deck is small, it is easy to wear through the cards quickly, so card protectors are very useful. Especially if you use two colors of protectors—one for each suit. That gets rid of the "How many Moon cards do you have?" questions that slow down the game a bit.

Scoring. For a lot of games, or games with dysfunctional scoring charts (Evo, Capitol), I bought a small portable whiteboard and dry erase markers. That way you can note the scores in huge letters that can be seen across the table.

Sand Timers. Feh. We play a lot of party games, and sand timers are inaccurate, and are silent when they run out. Get a kitchen timer with a large digital display. They cost about $7-$10, and work so much better.

David Reese: Great idea for a series of articles as I am always trying to find new ways to make the games I am fortunate to own and play more enjoyable. Here are some things that I have done:

  1. There are a lot of things that can be done to increase the gameplay in Atilla. The first is the colors of the markers. One of the primary complaints against this otherwise great game is that the score markers are the same colors as the meeples. This can make for confusing scoring. I have a solution. The most obvious is to get those wood cubes in different colors. I figure you need six colors and here they are: Orange, Purple, the included White, Dark Brown, Light Brown, Light Blue. Any other colors can of course also be substituted.

  2. Also in Atilla I have added a score tracking marker. In my case I have a small gargoyle figurine that I purchased from the Chicago Institute of Architecture. I use this to mark left-to-right the coring of the tribes in each of the rounds. This helps me keep track of what has been scored and what happens. Think the little black scoring track marker in El Grande. I justify this gargoyle because I know with the passing of time and the invasion of the tribes it will usher in the Dark Ages. Hence the gargoyle gets closer and closer.

  3. I recently received the Settlers of Catan: Knights and Cities expansion. I like the rules for the Merchant but did not see an effective way to keep track of who is controlling the Merchant. So I took an extra pawn I had which just happened to be a purple cone and now whoever has control of the Merchant has the extra purple cone placed by their development sheet. This allows easy identification of the player who is the Merchant and allow the card to be placed back in the deck so that the Merchant changes hands more often.

  4. I also substituted a bone dice for the included dice in my copy of Hellrail:2nd Perdition. This is only for thematic emphasis.

David Bush: I just read your Games Journal article for the first time. I haven't played the specific games you mention, but the column is a great concept! Here are some tips about my favorite game, Twixt:

Some players like to highlight what are called the "crucial diagonals" on a Twixt board. Attached is a diagram showing what I mean.

When you are "racing" against your opponent towards a corner, it helps to quickly see whose wall will be reached first. If you are on the corresponding crucial diagonal (or closer to your wall), that means you are likely to win that local battle. I'm glossing over the tactics here, but these lines can be a big visual aid, giving your eyes at least some "foothold" on the huge 24x24 grid of holes. But I don't know if such a board would be acceptable at the MSO tournament or at Essen.

Also, if you're looking for a way to scrounge up a set, Mark Thompson has made one from the base of a Lego set, which happens to be 24x24 with the corners missing, just like a Twixt board should! See http://www.flash.net/~markthom/html/twixt.html for a picture. This set has the added advantage of portability over the standard 4-panel board.

Cameron LiDestri: Here's my tip for replacing a missing card. If you know what the missing card is (as an example, you're missing the 90 degree copper elbow in your vintage Waterworks game), use the "card condoms" popular with Magic: The Gathering players (get the ones with opaque backs). Scribble, sketch or (if the game uses more than one of the missing card) scan a replacement, then put it and all the cards in the "condoms". Stiffen up the replacement by putting any ol' card in the sleeve with it (an extra MTG common, for example), and you've got a matched set.

Russ Williams: My group loves Carcassonne but quickly wished they'd supplied a tile distribution list. So I made one, suitable for printing:

http://russcon.place.org/RussCon/carcassonne/tiles.html

Another fellow in the group printed tiny wallet-sized reference cards from this.

Some games are marred by having no obvious way to tell who's what color. Besides the groovy 1960s coaster idea already mentioned, you can also do tricks like assign color based on shirt color (if that works), or make your own colored markers to put in front of players.

Some games are awful for color-blind people, which frequently affects a regular player in my group. Especially some card games which have different colored suits but the art is the same for each suit, only the color varies. E.g.:

Hat Trick has 3 suits, and each shows the exact same picture of a hat, just different colors—they could have easily had 3 different hat pictures, which would have given more visual variety and appeal as well.

Schotten Totten has the same Scotsman picture for same card number/value instead of for same card color/suit—argh!

Zirkus Flohcati gets it right—it has the same flea picture for same suit, not same number. Colorblind people can obviously distinguish numbers; it's color that's the issue, so the secondary means of identification (the picture) should distinguish the color not the number.

So, getting around to the hint... We haven't done it yet, but some of us have talked about drawing/stamping distinguishable art onto the cards to help the colorblind issue. Meanwhile, I wish manufacturers would be more conscious of this.

Long ago when I played A House Divided a lot, we found it inconvenient to count the size of each side's army each turn, so we made a chart with numbered boxes to hold all the units; unused units were laid along this track, and pulled from the track when brought back into play. This made it easy to see at a glance how many were in play on the board. This same trick can obviously be applied to any other game which requires calculating how many units are in play.

In Battle Cry, the cavalry are sometimes hard to distinguish from generals (both are on horseback). A player in our group painted the officers' horses white and the cavalry horses brown or black, which helped a lot.

The limited space for notes on a standard Clue notesheet is insufficient to play well. There's too much additional meta information to keep track of. I have no recommendation for a good format or notation to use, as everyone in our group plays with a different system, but I can certainly say that using bigger sheets of paper is recommended for serious play.

The races in Dampfross grow progressively more tedious to generate if you roll dice (as indicated by the rules) since previously rolled pairs must be rerolled. Much better to make a deck of cards with all possible dice rolls and draw from that.

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