The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - March, 2003

Doug Orleans: I have two comments about letters in the February issue:

1. Tom Jolly mentions Tom Sloper's site for a game design course. Unfortunately it is a course about designing computer games, not board games, and seems mostly to be about the business aspects of that, so it's not really connected to the idea in Will Baker's article.

2. Larry Levy writes about dice decks and their problems related to card counting. I think most dice decks, including the one that comes with Die Siedler von Nurnberg, have one or more "shuffle the deck" cards, so you can never guarantee that a certain card will or won't come up. For example, if the first card is a 12, you know that there is a lower than usual probability that another 12 will show up in the near future, but it's still nonzero: the next card could cause the deck to be shuffled, and the 12 might end up on top again. 

Jim Deacove: From time to time I have read critical comments about the means of keeping score provided in some board games. And some of the scoring tracks or separate cards have been difficult to work with. Then there are games that require pencil and paper to keep score. These I find detract most from the contest at hand. Players want to see who is moving ahead, by how much they may be leading or behind, and so on. Our group solved these issues in this way. We dragged out our old cribbage board, rounded up five different colored pegs and kept the ongoing score this way. It worked well, especially since we were able to find pegs whose colors matched the colors the players were working with in the game. Fortunately, our children are much grown up and didn't mind my snipping a few pieces off their old PickUpSticks game to fill out the pegs needed.

Mikko Saari: Another great issue! Richard Vickery's article was definitely the best and most interesting one this time. I'd like to see more something like that.

Rob Burns: Right on, Richard Vickery! I'd been mulling over such a classification system of board games for quite a while, and thinking that the key lay in how the game played, but nailing it down more precisely was elusive.

What prompted me to think of this was the fact that there are many gamers out there who loathe my beloved Cosmic Encounter. Why would there be such divergence among the gaming community about Cosmic Encounter? I knew it had to do with the way the game played, but again, pinpointing it was like trying to catch an eel.

Richard Vickery - thank you, sir. "The Plan" and "Forward Evaluation" are the two experiences you can't get from Cosmic Encounter. You can't implement a pre-game plan for Cosmic Encounter, and looking several turns ahead and trying to plan accordingly is a recipe for frustration. But it's not all slapping down a nasty card and saying "Gotcha!" or "I'll nullify your big card" either, as many of the Euphrat & Tigris and Go crowd say. It is a game of management, and you manage three things: your tokens (a limited resource, especially if Void is in the game), your cards (hand management is key), and your opponents (through careful negotiation).

Richard Vickery said he felt Cosmic Encounter's "experiences are Mind Games and Aha! Secondary experiences are Roleplay and Tension". I agree, but I might amend that by saying Tension is perhaps another primary experience of Cosmic Encounter. Might depend on the group, actually.

Without a doubt, though, Richard's right—Cosmic Encounter combines Mind Games and Aha!—and I would say does that better than any other game out there.

You're Philanthropist and you've just flipped Anti-Matter's color. Void and Insect are the other two players in the game. Everyone has 4 bases. The cards in your hand are: 12, 7, 5, a Compromise, and a Force Field. Anti-Matter has 2 cards. What card do you give Anti-matter (or someone else)? What card are you going to play? Use the Force Field to stop Void and Insect from allying against you, or save it? As Philanthropist, you probably have some idea as to what others might have in their hands, but it's your own wiles that'll carry the day...

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