The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - May, 2003

Doug Orleans: In his review of The Antoni Gaudi Tile Game, Mitchell Thomashow asks, "Might someone design a plaza of city tiles where the pedestrian can take fifteen minutes and play a game on tiles by virtue of where he or she steps?" If a maze is a one-player game, then yes, Adrian Fisher designs mazes using paving stones. http://www.pavingmaze.com/

Jesús Torres Castro: We want to send to you this link. There you can see an unrealized work of Gaudi (like unfinished Sacred Family in Barcelona, Gaudi died suddenly in 1910, by a streetcar!, before work was finished). This is a building that has been a candidate to build in Manhattan (instead the Twin Towers).

Gaudi´s works are mainly in Barcelona, but there are buildings in other cities of Spain too.

Randy Cox: I read your review of The Bucket King (a game we also don't pull out unless begged to). Something about your variant caused me to wonder about official rules. Here's your quote "If I know (suspect) the player to my left has lots of yellow cards I can play a mid valued yellow hoping that he'll match it exactly. This will reverse the order of play and I can then add a high valued yellow to my total." Maybe it's not what you meant, but this would imply that you play some yellow (say 5) and then your left-hand neighbor, Bob, plays 5 yellow and says "right back at ya, Greg." Then you mention ADDing a high-valued yellow to your total. I was under the impression that you must always exceed the previous player's total. So, you'd have to come up with at least 6 more yellow to have the hand continue on in the counter-clockwise direction. Maybe I'm just reading it wrong (that you could add a 7 to your previously-played 5 for a total of 12). Do the English rules with Jay's version of the game (I only have Alles im Eimer) say you get to keep the total that is in front of you and ADD to that? It would make for a very different game. Anyway, it's a minor point, but I was just wondering.

GGA - (From the official Rio Grande English rules) For much of the rules, the wording used seems to indicate that you must play cards exceeding the previous total (seemingly indicating that you don't keep a running total). However, they then explicitly state that you add cards played to any previous cards (you) played

"If, on a player's turn to play cards, he has cards on the table from his previous turn, he may play 1 to 3 more cards of the same animal, adding them to his previous total and announcing the total sum. This must exceed the total of his right neighbor."

Hope this helps.

Jim Deacove: In your April Letters, Brian Drygas asks if you know any more cooperative games besides Lord of the Rings, Republic of Rome, and Scotland Yard. You added Venice Connection. I hate to be a picky purist, but Lord of the Rings (the coop version) is the only one of these titles that is cooperative. The others aren't. If you accept them as cooperative, then so is Diplomacy. Those titles always work towards one winner and the other players losing. Note to Brian Yes, there are not many truly cooperative games and at this point, I would like to tootle my own horn. Please check out my site, www.familypastimes.com to learn of my own cooperative game designs. I have been designing cooperative games for over 30 years now and information about 90 of them are posted there.

Rob Bakker: [In response to Brian Drygas' letter] I think the old The Fury of Dracula, Games Workshop 1987 by Stephen Hand could be called a cooperative game. In catching Dracula the other three players have to work together. It feels a lot like Scotland Yard/New York Chase but is more complicated because Dracula throw all kinds of events on you when you arrive in a town while chasing him.

Mike Siggins: In the letters Mr. Levy asks about Brian Walker's fate. I cannot offer a definite answer as he and I fell out somewhat over Games International, Sumo and German Game weight descriptions (!) so others may have better information. Since 1989, Brian has been a backgammon professional, a hip hop DJ, a writer for various magazines, and was and maybe still is a producer at a computer game company. I know this because I playtested a PC cricket game for him, some years back.

What impact did he have on me? Well he showed me Six Day Race and Homas Tour, for which I am eternally grateful, and Die Macher, for which the gratitude has worn off. He let me write for Games International, and introduced me to Fela Kuti's music. But apart from that, Brian and I never really saw eye to eye on, well, anything really (especially Schmiel's A La Carte, which I still think is a joke). It is just one of those cases where someone rubs you up the wrong way, you know it isn't going to be workable, and that was that. Brian moved onto computer game coverage, for reasons known only to him, and I started Sumo. At that point, our paths separated.

What did Brian do for advancing the cause of German Games? Impossible to quantify. Brian certainly introduced a number of people to them, but he in turn had been shown them by the great forgotten man of the piece, Eamon Bloomfield of Games Unlimited. Plus, I feel these things happen anyway, somehow, and as Stuart says in his article, it wasn't as if the German market was unknown. Stuart, John Harrington, Derek Carver, Alan Moon, and perhaps Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, had the secret knowledge. It was just a matter of who went public first. If nothing else happened, Mark Green at Just Games, or Eamon, would have made us aware in time. And over the years, such enlightened shops have been important drivers of growth.

We all probably helped, in our ways, to start the ball rolling, but I only needed to see the numbers of people happily playing the games who had never heard of Games International, Games, Games, Games, Cut & Thrust or Sumo to know what little impact we had. Certainly now, with Settlers appearing in the New York Times, and the Lord of the Rings selling all over the place, it is a different hobby to the one I enjoyed. As I said recently in response to someone who proclaimed, quite brazenly, that Settlers was The First Eurogame, for me, in many ways, it was The Last.

And in case this seems like the victor writing the history, I'd love to see Brian's views recorded on the site. Except on A la Carte.

Anthony Kam: Thanks for another very nice issue of The Games Journal. I like the [Hunters & Gatherers] review done jointly by Kevin Whitmore and Mark Johnson. In fact, I think this kind of conversational, point-counterpoint format is very nice for a review and I wouldn't mind seeing more of the same in the future. Some specific comments:

Kevin: Hmmm, I differ somewhat with you here. I rather dislike card-counting, or in this case tile-counting. I've been thinking about playing Carcassonne with a few tiles left out-just to avoid the temptation of using tile-counting as a strategy. 

I don't mind card-counting but I think it changes the character of Carcassonne, from a light game to a more cut-throat game, which may be better or worse depending on the players' moods. 

I've often fantasized about a computer version of Carcassonne where each new drawn tile is randomly chosen among the original 72—as if none had already been played. so, e.g., there are 2 cloisters-with-road in the original 72 tiles, so each new tile would have 2/72 or 1/36 chance of being a cloister-with-road. So, over the course of a game (still lasting 72 tiles total), on average you'd get 2 cloisters-with-road, but you can get 0, or 1, or 2, or 3, or 4, etc. There'd be no way to card-count, but you would still need a general sense of probability.

One way to very roughly approximate this fantasized version is to combine two Carcassonne sets, then counting out 72 tiles, and playing with only those. However, I've never tried this.

Mark: Something else about tile mix makes mergers and takeovers of rivers and forests less common than in the original game. There's a different mix of forest types, and fewer simple curves and straights for the rivers (and more terminating lakes). ... How you feel about the diminished role of mergers will hinge on whether you like your Carcassonne peaceful or combative. ... For those of us that prefer to play Carcassonne more aggressively, however, Hunters & Gatherers is a step in the other direction. 

For me, this is the best part of the review! It tells us about the "feel" of the game, from someone (Mark) who "graduated" from the peaceful style of Carcassonne to the combative style of Carcassonne (2-player games with much blocking and counting). Moreover, the difference in feel derives from changes in the tile mix, so someone like me who read the rules of Hunters & Gatherers but has never played, will have no idea about this subtle change. Thanks for the insight!

Jon Oetting: I just read your Random Factors article from the Archives section of the Games Journal website. I realize its an older article but I felt compelled to offer some comments at any rate.

I enjoyed the article and thought you did a great job going over the issues. I agree in general that a game where random factors have the predominant influence on the game outcome is not much fun to play. However, I do not have sympathy for those who complain about even slight to moderate random factors in a game. In my opinion, if the game is designed to include randomness, then all players should factor randomness into their strategies. Certainly there will be cases in individual game plays where unusual luck overwhelms even the most thoughtful strategy, but over the course of several games this will even out.

For example, consider Axis & Allies. This game is probably the poster child for complaints about randomness in games. Suppose you are considering a battle, you've done the calculations, and you've determined that with average or better die rolls you can take the region with 3 tanks and 5 infantry. At this point you have three options for the attack:

  1. You can take less than the 3 tanks and 5 infantry and recognize that the odds are against you. This high risk might be justified in your mind by the potential rewards. However, you should not complain about die rolls if the battle doesn't go your way. 
  2. You can take exactly 3 tanks and 5 infantry and recognize that you have about a 50/50 chance of winning the battle. Again, you the player have to make the decision whether this is worth the risk, and you can't blame the dice for the outcome. 
  3. You choose caution and throw in overwhelming forces, increasing your odds to something like 99%.

In all three options, the player has complete control over the degree to which they allow randomness to impact the game. Throwing in overwhelming forces will reduce the random factor to almost nothing. So the player who complains that the dice were against them should perhaps consider the level of risk they were assuming in each of their battles (the same applies to defense to the extent that you have options about how many forces to defend a territory with).

I will grant that in Axis & Allies there are crucial turns early in the game where a few unlucky dice rolls can doom a player, but as I stated above, given enough games that will even out.

To sum up, anyone who sits down to play a game involving randomness should be aware of that fact, and begin preparing their strategy to account for such randomness. Everyone playing (except perhaps a first-timer who hasn't been informed) knows that randomness will be part of the action. If you aren't prepared to accept the occasional loss due to bad luck, then you shouldn't be playing the game. Modifying the game to remove randomness is fine, but then you aren't playing the same game. For me, the challenge in "dice rolling" games is the very fact that you have to deal with the randomness. Over time, the best strategies will still win.

Walter Ries: I just discovered The Games Journal website and saw your hints page. May I offer a great improvement on an old classic Rail Baron. After getting tired of trying to read the pay-out chart when connecting two cities, my Dad created a "ruler" for this purpose. The ruler was a flat piece of sturdy wood cut so that it fits in the box (very important!) and then cut with scaled incisions. When you want to know a payout, just lay the ruler flat between the two cities (sometimes this requires using the ruler twice, using your finger as the new starting point), and read off the number on the ruler. If it was in-between, we would round up. The tricky part was creating the scale for the ruler, which my Dad did by comparing the payoffs for several city pairs. It was very accurate compared to the look-up chart. This sped up the game greatly, and we didn't have to worry about trying to follow the tiny lines on the pay-off chart.

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