The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - March, 2005

Mark Johnson: In your Optimist interview with Tom Vasel, you describe your preference against consolidating the hobby's many websites. In particular, this seems to indicate you'd rather keep The Games Journal distinct from the online center-of-mass for our hobby, Boardgamegeek.com. I understand your reasons, however I think some sort of creative partnership might be the best thing for both websites. The Games Journal tries to set the bar high regarding boardgame articles, but struggles to get enough submissions. Meanwhile, Boardgamegeek is wallowing in user-generated content, but it remains difficult to zero-in on the more thoughtful content. Rather than merge the two websites, I wonder if The Games Journal could serve as an editorial function regarding Boardgamegeek submissions?

At a minimum, this could help everyone locate the best articles, and give them the excellent page layout and supporting photos or illustrations that are a Games Journal hallmark. Even better—but more work and a challenge around deadlines—would be to provide real editing of the articles, not only proofreading them but suggesting modifications to structure or content.

Even if the "raw" submissions were available earlier on Boardgamegeek, there would be real value in reading the more professional Games Journal editions of the same articles (either online or in printouts). Other authors may prefer to keep their writing under wraps until it had a chance to be polished by The Games Journal's editorial staff.

Staff? At this point it's just you, Greg, but you might find volunteers as additional editors, with yourself as editor-in-chief.

GGA - Interesting, interesting...

Mikko Saari: Nice to see a thicker issue this time. Hopefully the trend continues!

I wanted to especially thank you for the Boards article by Dave Shapiro. It was brilliant! A real discussion-opener, hopefully it'll spark some interesting conversation on our boardgame society forum where I posted an overview of Shapiro's classification. It certainly has potential. Great work, Dave!

Oh, and nice to see a review of Tantrix. It certainly is an interesting game with lovely bits and a good source of puzzles. Using the forced moves well to one's benefit seems to be the way to rule the game.

Dwayne Hendrickson: I commend Dave Shapiro on an excellent article covering the types of boards found among games. I have found that my attraction has been toward anything that moves away from the fixed board system even to the point that I would rather play Betrayal than standard Risk.

Two other games that definitely fall into the hybrid category of shrinking boards are Survive!, with its random setup of the island and then it's slow disappearance into the ocean, and Omega Virus, which starts with a fixed board but according to a pre-set timer 1/4 of the board will close off until 3/4 of the board is gone.

I'm sure I'll be able to use this information when teaching folks a new game that may fall outside their idea of a boardgame.

Jim Deacove: For what it's worth, I disagree with those who call for more content. I think you have just the right amount of content and variety of topics. There are magazines such as Counter that offer more pages and are available for those who want more pages of analysis and opinion. And that's all it is... more of the same.

You have a nicely balanced and distilled journal with beautiful illustrations as well (mug shots of contributors excepted). My only complaint is that your contributors are much too good at whetting the appetite for some games no longer in print, leaving us frustrated trying to get our hands on a copy of them.

For example, does anyone have an old copy of Campaigns and/or Borderlands that they are willing to loan or sell?

Hey, maybe your Journal could have a Lending Library, For Sale Section?

Ray Smith: I know, long time no hear. But hopefully I can rectify this with a couple items. First a response to Andy Merritt's letter:

I'm also a great fan of Quirks. It's not only my favorite Eon release, but one of my overall favorite games. It's one of those games where winning is truly secondary, because it's so fun to play. Unfortunately, I can't give it the highest praise unless you also have the two expansions. The additional Quirks they provide enhance the game exponentially.

Andy Merritt mentions in his letter the fiddliness of the flimsy player strips that not only identify which player created the quirk, but they also are necessary to cover a Quirk's attributes. I have remedied this by using the spines of the slide-on plastic binders which are normally used as student report covers. They come in many colors, are really cheap, and can be bought anywhere that sells school supplies. Just cut them down to fit three cards. They do the job nicely on all counts, and also makes it easier to pick up an entire Quirk!

Jim Riegel: Excellent article Living the Dream 3.0 by Chad Ellis. He makes some good suggestions at the end of his article which I have wanted game designers to do for some time: present starting or beginner scenarios for games. Some games have previously done this, but from what I know they are usually simpler/stripped-down rulesets or versions of the game, and veteran gamers and reviewers often automatically skip such rulesets to get to the "real" game. I'm not talking about simpler rulesets (although those are welcome as well); I would just like to see more beginner or starting scenarios for the full game which have most or all of the rules of the main game, but which take into account a starting player's experience. (Make it clear in the rules that the starting scenario is a good representation of the main game, but is intended for the first few times you play, and that players should try the main game once familiar with the starting game.) For example, like Chad says, include a slightly different victory point goal than the main game that will make beginner's games seem more balanced or varied. I have seen some games provide different starting setups for beginning and experienced players.

Game length is another important consideration. Players almost always will play a game more slowly the first 1 or 2 times due unfamiliarity with game mechanisms, looking up rules, etc. These days, shorter games tend to be looked on more favorably, and a player may never come back to a game if it seemed too long on the first play. If it is a longer game, maybe a starting scenario can provide a shorter game length than the main game so that a starting game will be about the same length for beginners as the main game would be for experienced players. For example, the starting scenario can reduce the number of turns or the required points to win, and include any other needed adjustments to the game. Naturally, a certain number of turns, etc., may be inherent to the enjoyment and strategy of some games, but a reduced length can still provide starting players with a good feel for the game.

Many prominent game reviewers are constantly trying and reviewing games, and there are lots of new games coming out. I would think that these reviewers are simply unable to play most games enough times to find out if they really are as unbalanced or uninteresting as some of them might initially seem. A starting scenario, more balanced for beginners and/or shorter in length, is perfect for this situation—a game's chances for success may depend on it.

Wong Siow Hwee: [In response to Chad Ellis' article] I enjoy your writing and the sharing of your insights in game design and publishing. I would like to make a few suggestions to the problem of games which appear simple and take many plays for subtle strategies to emerge.

Firstly, it might be helpful to include strategy hints inside the rules. Though it is good for most gamers to discover strategies for themselves, and get the "Aha!" feeling, I sometimes see hints included with some rules such as some Out of the Box games. This prevents unnecessary mistakes that may lead to first timers thinking the game may be broken. Secondly, it is sometimes helpful to have a basic version and advanced version to a game. If done well, players would at least try out a game more than once, and appreciate the differences at being able to do more things. An example would be the prestaged and self-set-up version of Löwenherz. Placing the pieces during set-up is awkward if you have never played the game before, and understand the conflict level. Lastly, most gamers who buy your game will hope they have made a good buy, as opposed to reviewers without such vested interest. Hence, if possible, include advises on how to make their first trial of the game with their gaming group a success. I find this is especially important in a negotiation game.

Jeff Goldsmith: Kaliko is a published game with a full set of 85 "Tantrix" tiles. It was published by Kadon years ago. They used transparent tiles which look quite attractive. You can play online here http://members.toast.net/4pf/Kaliko.html Too bad the on-line version's graphics are not so good.

Joe Casadonte: Several of your favorites appear on my list, too [See My Favourite Game Boards]. Here is what I would pick, along with some brief thoughts:

  • Armada 3 (Artist: Franck Dion) - I disliked my one playing, but it is such a lovely looking board.
  • Doom: The Boardgame (Artist: Scott Nicely ) - It really evokes the theme well, what with all of the blood stains and all.
  • Hansa (Artist: Michael Schacht) - It may be a bit too green for some, but I truly like the way this board looks.
  • HeroScape - OK, maybe I'm stretching the definition of board here, but without the terrain tiles, the game experience would be much reduced (for me). It looks so cool!
  • Magic Realm (Artist: George Goebel) - A beautiful map once it's put together. Too bad about the game, though.
  • Sunda to Sahul (Artists: Don Bone, Phillippa Pratten) - This is really, really amazing to look at once it's all done. Like with Entdecker, functionally equivalent pieces look different, and it really adds to the look of the whole thing.
  • Ta Yü (Claus Stephan) - The board itself is very well done, though somewhat inconsequential in terms of game play. With the tiles on it, it really paints a striking picture! My comments on these are much the same as what you said:
  • Aladdin's Dragons
  • Elfenland
  • Tikal

Special mention:

Crokinole (especially Carl & Stan Hilinski boards) - The boards themselves are works of art!

Finally, I'll flip the topic around on its head (sort of): games I like despite the game boards:

  • Acquire - hard to get more utilitarian than this! 
  • Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers (Artist: Johann Ruttinger) - The colors are not easy on the eyes, and the ambiguities on the tiles make it hard to bring it out for newbies. A clear example of where the artwork gets in the way of game play, rather than adding to it.
  • Ebbe & Flut - Almost as utilitarian as Acquire. Thankfully the mechanics of the game evoke the ebb and flow of the tides quite well.
  • Lord of the Rings: the Duel (Artist: John Howe) - OK, my gripe is more about the cards than the board. Another example of the artwork getting in the way of a good game, rather than helping it. I certainly expected more from John Howe and Kosmos.
  • Magna Grecia - Enough has been written about this one. But, really, what were they thinking (or drinking)?
  • Medici (RGG edition) - Another one that enough has been written about. I'm anxiously awaiting the reprint!

David Stewart: I am one of your most regular contributors that never contribute anything, I wish I did but never do. Wish I could write smart/witty/informative reviews like in the days of Mr. Siggins. Nowadays though it seems you have to type in the full game instructions and walkthrough the game before letting anyone know if it's any good or not. I need to give it a go, I play enough games, but never get the reviews finished, and they are usually rubbish.

According to Lars [See February, 2005 Letters] I aim to the far far right, and would steer clear of all games in the middle and the left, especially if Munchkin is anything to go by. Sorry, I myself don't like posts that start long pointless debates, and I think the main reason I find your web site so enjoyable is its "simple" layout and "fun" feel to it (unlike games that don't make me laugh that are supposed to be funny and last any longer than 2 hours—sorry but I've got other games to play on a games night). I get bored plowing through websites full of—I think x is my favourite game and I hate y, with replies slagging and justifying how it couldn't possibly be better than z. (You don't like Puerto Rico!!! If only they'd made the components more attractive for you).

The reason I look forward to each month is due to the quality of the submissions and not the quantity. I'll try and contribute to bring the quality down, but know I probably won't. (Phew, say the readers)

The reason I didn't submit to the previous puzzle is because it was so hard, and I thought I knew a lot of board games. Make them easier and you'll be inundated with clever folk like me, who think they know everything! ie: What R is the most prolific games designer and costs gamers a fortune. a: Rudolph b: Reiner c: Rainman.

Christopher Weuve: Thanks for the very interesting article on the creation of your Space Hulk set. It looks like you spent a lot of time on it and did a nice job.

I would disagree with one thing you said about it, specifically, that

the game is only mediocre at best. The scenarios are generally unbalanced and in some cases it's practically impossible for the Terminators to win. The strategies are pretty straightforward and easy to pick up and there is plenty of die-rolling which may offend some people. So, from a purely game playing standpoint, it was a whole lot of effort for not much payout.

Admittedly, this is an opinion, and you are welcome to yours. I also understand that this was not a full scale review of the game, just a few comments tossed out in an article about painting and such. That having been said, let me offer a few points for consideration:

1) I played a lot of Space Hulk when it fist came out, on average about three games a week for several months. In the experience of myself and the other players, the scenarios are not unbalanced (although some are easier than others), it's just that they are balanced in a way that isn't common. If the marine player plays a perfect game, he will probably win, unless his die rolls are really really bad and the 'stealer player's are really really good. But if the Marine player doesn't play a perfect game (who plays a perfect game on a regular basis?), the 'stealer player can really punish him. So the deck is stacked against the Marine player right out of the box, but over time balance is achieved.

2) There is indeed a lot of die rolling, but one of the virtues of the game is that the die rolling is spread out in such a way as to keep both players engaged during each others turn. Overwatch rolls, for instance, both give the marine player something to do, and more importantly increase the level of suspense and provide him opportunities for decision making during his opponents turn. (Do I clear the jam? Do I go back into overwatch, or do I pay to take individual shots? If I spend the command points now, will I need them later?)

Likewise, such decision making forces the 'stealer player to carefully think through his plan, in order to influence how and where the Marine player spends his command points.

All in all, I find it to be a surprisingly sophisticated game, considering its simple mechanics.

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