The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - March, 2002

Iain Cheyne: I read your editorial to February's The Games Journal with interest. I totally agree. One thing that I think all designers should do is to include an "irregularities" section, in the same way that According to Hoyle is written. For instance, the rules of backgammon state what to do with cocked dice, premature plays and set-up errors. These rules are simple to work out before hand, would defuse arguments and remove the need for a lot of game FAQs.

Shane Irons: After reading Brandon Clarke's Monopoly article I have to admit I found myself a little annoyed. Games rules are rarely perfectly written, and I can't even count the number of times of overheard Magic: the Gathering players argue over specific game play rules in the same fashion as Brandon does in his article.

17 years??!! That is a long time to argue over one rule, and I consider this kind of "rules lawyering" game play along the same lines as bad sportsmanship, as it is often a turn off to newer gamers.

Yes I understand that sometimes two different players will reach an impasse at how they interpret the rules. This is especially true when playing German board games where you have to rely on an "unofficial" and often confusing set of English rules translations.

Why didn't you write the author/designer/game company what they intended? Most are very happy to help clear up rules, and use feedback to post FAQ pages to their web sites.

I took 5 minutes and wrote Hasbro about Brandon's question referring only to square numbers since their names are different here in the states:

A player lands on the Chance square that is on the seventh space of a Monopoly board and draws the card that reads:

"Advance token to the nearest railroad station. If you pass go collect $200. If it is unowned you may buy it from the bank. If it is owned, pay the owner twice the normal rental."

The question is, where should the player advance to?

Answer Number 1: (space number 15). The player advances around the board until (s)he reaches a railroad station and stops there.

Answer Number 2: (space number 5). The player determines which railroad station is the NEAREST, and then advances to that railroad station. Kings Cross Station is nearest railroad station (around 2 inches away) so the player advances all the way around the board to the number 5 space Station, passing Go, and collecting $200 on the way.

Within another 20 minutes they sent this response:

Thank you for contacting us. Your answer number 1 is correct. The player advances around the board until he/she reaches a railroad station.

Please, this is not meant as a flame, but a plea begging fellow gamers to think outside the box once and a while. It's what attracts new gamers and slowly breaks down non-gamer classifications of us. We are not "geeks"—well ok maybe I still am, but at least game time is not wasted arguing as much.

Chris Brua: I enjoyed reading Brandon Clarke's dissertation on what is meant by "the next railroad station" on the Chance card in Monopoly. Answer #2 may be valid from a literal point of view, but I think Answer #1 makes more sense in the context of the game and in accordance with the generally accepted understanding of what is meant by "the nearest X" in relation to movement (in American English, anyway). I am sure Brandon has heard this all before, but here is are my thoughts:

Think of the Monopoly board as a large city block. The streets are all one-way streets (you can not move backwards unless directed to by law enforcement). Your house is on space #7 (the Chance space). You are told "drive to the nearest train station". Which station do you drive to? My guess is space #15. I can not imagine that any rational person would drive all the way around the block, passing three train stations, in order to get to space #5.

Let me change the example slightly. You are sitting on your front step when a motorist pulls up to you and asks, "Please tell me where the nearest train station is located." Which station do you direct the motorist to? Would you point to the station 200 meters behind him and say "Right there", knowing he will have to drive all the way around the block, or would you say "Make a right at the next intersection, drive 300 meters and you will see it."

I question the social skills of anyone who would answer the first way. While literally correct, it is clearly not what the motorist was requesting. If we change the scenario to be a motorist running low on petrol and asking for the "nearest" service station, the answer becomes even more compelling.

You can not take the word "nearest" out of context. The context on the Chance card is in relation to movement, so "nearest" means "shortest distance" or "shortest time", not "closest proximity". Since rate of movement is not relevant in the game, "shortest distance" is the most logical meaning of "nearest" for the Chance card. The movement being referenced to is the "advancement" of a token on the board. You therefore have to take into account how the token can actually move (i.e., all of the constraints on token movement) when determining the distances involved. Space #5 may be the shortest distance "as the crow flies", but you can not move like a crow in the game, you can only advance your token along the track in a clockwise direction. Therefore the "shortest distance" station that you can "advance" your token to is space #15.

Anyway, I see both sides of the argument, but I think Answer #1 is more compelling. I am surprised to hear that this argument has gone on for so long without some kind of official ruling from Parker Brothers (Hasbro). Perhaps there is no way for them to determine what is the original design intent for that Chance card, but I would think they would rule on it just to settle the matter.

I do agree with Brandon that "Advance token to the NEXT railroad station" would be clearer if that is indeed what is meant.

Clay Blankenship: I enjoyed the mention of Double Fanucci in your article on playing cards. One of the later Zork games—it might have been Beyond Zork or Zork Zero—allowed you to play Double Fanucci. (It was a mostly-text game with a few graphical puzzles.) It was amusing (and infuriating) because it didn't tell you the rules. You could try a play and it would respond with some arcane prohibition like "You can't undertrump a 5 fromp on a Thursday." I do believe that the rules were consistent because eventually I was able to figure out a few things I could do that would give me points.

Harlan Rosenthal: I very much enjoyed this article [GGA - Games Systems, Part 2], in both parts. (Actually I enjoy the whole Journal, and some items are of particular interest. Thanks for publishing it!)

An additional fictional game: Foks on Terry Pratchett's Discworld play a  fiendishly complex card game called Cripple Mr. Onion. The deck includes eight suits, each with thirteen cards: Swords, Octograms, Turtles, Crowns, Cups, Coins, Sceptres and Elephants. A quick search online found numerous more-or-less serious sites dedicated to playing this for real, based on the various descriptions of play in the books.

Alphabet decks: We play Quiddler, from the publisher of Set (which you mentioned as an abstract deck).

Ilari Kajaste: I hope that you realize, that what you have on is a treasure.

For someone like me, who has been playing quality games since stumbling upon Settlers, and likes to read all sorts of articles relating to own interests, finding your article archives is quite amazing.

And it's not like I would have the interest to read any any game related stuff that I happen to find on the internet (which I don't even browse that much). No, it is the professional feel of the text, the interesting analyzing (and other such stuff :) and generally the intelligent yet relaxed tone of the text that is exactly what I'm looking for. And that is exactly what I have found from your site. Your site stands right up from the crowd. Your collection of articles is way, way more than I ever hoped to find on the internet (or anywhere else, for that matter). And then there are not just few, but many articles like that, easily accessible, from one site!

On top of that, on the technical side, your site does not use excessive (often even distracting) graphics and the article layout is simple but good (especially great thing are the pictures in articles). Your site is a good example of the right way of using the www.

And mind you, I am usually (as also is this case) quite critical about all of these things. You should all be proud of what you have created. Something like this is what I have been looking for, but expected never to find.

I thank all the authors of the articles, they have done a great job, and I thank you for giving me (and all others alike) the opportunity to read all this material. It is, as I said, a real treasure. And I thank you for sharing that treasure with me.

Harlan Rosenthal: Regarding Alfredo Lorente's letters on how "anything worth doing is worth getting paid for"

To some extent, I agree. On the other hand, my wife and I am currently in the throes of organizing drinks, food, and treats for a 9-school district fencing meet to be held at the local high school. We've spent hours of time, we've laid out money, and we'll be working at least some of the day rather than watching our son compete. The funds raised will go to equipment for the team and a pizza party for the kids.

This isn't all altruism; my son enjoys fencing, so there's some selfishness involved. The key is that it's not enough that we can pay for his equipment, because it's no fun to fence by oneself. It is in our interest, therefore, to work for the support of the entire team, and beyond that to encourage all of the schools in the area to continue supporting their own teams. The effort and time spent in this pursuit is part of the maintenance of one's community. I regard - and applaud! - The Games Journal in that light.

Ray Smith: Here is a follow up tip concerning recent Hints From Hell, Louise articles and letter submissions. For those of us who enjoy the pristine nature of self-laminated game boards or games designed as such, there is the resulting headache of how best to draw upon them. Crayons are messy, not very legible, and an effort to remove. Water based markers are easy to remove, but bead up and disappear throughout play of the game. Permanent markers work great, but are permanent (duh!) and must be removed with a solvent, like miraculous Goo Gone.

After much experimentation on my part, I have found two excellent choices, both of which can be purchased at any office supply store and are standards for teachers everywhere. The first is the old reliable overhead projector (wet erase) markers. These will write very clearly on any plastic coated surface and are easily erasable with any damp wipe or with the frequently used, but uncouth, spit. The other choice is the white board (dry erase) markers. These write just as strongly, but can be removed just by rubbing with any wipe. Much easier to work with, but could rub off if the players are not careful where they rest their hands. Both are available in a fine tip configuration in several colors.

I'd also like to mention that using grease pencils will work also, but I have not been able to find them in the variety of colors usually necessary for game play.

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