Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Origins Awards and Spiel des Jahres

One post, two sets of awards.

I'm ... not completely dissatisfied with the Origins Awards Winners. In fact, several categories turned out much better than I had expected.

This post is mostly just a list of winners, with a bit of commentary from me.

Best RPG: The Dresden Files. Good. I agree that it was the best on the list - Fiasco is really good, and I wouldn't have minded seeing it win, either.

Best Supplement: The Dresden Files RPG: Our World. The second half of the Dresden Files RPG. Once one of them won, it was almost guaranteed that the other would.

Best Board Game: Castle Ravenloft. I was right previously, even though I much prefer Fresco.

Best Traditional Card Game:  Back to the Future: The Card Game. I predicted Ascension. I'm dissatisfied with this category's outcome, as I wasn't a fan of the winner.

Best Family, Children's, or Party Game: Zombie Dice - the game on the list that ... um ... most appealed to non-children and family gamers won this category. Not surprising, considering who the voters were.

Best Accessory: I called it. The Cthulhu Dice Bag won.  But this is unsurprising. It's a weird category, as it's open to nearly everything. This is the "I can't figure out where to fit this item," category. This was the most universal of the items on the list.

Best Miniatures Rules: The winner was the new edition of Heroclix. Or, more accurately, the latest re-release of the Heroclix rules set with minor mechanical tweaks. I'm not a fan of the game.

Best Historical Board Game: I was right previously.  Catan Histories - Settlers of America won.

Best Game-Related Publication: Shadowrun: Spells and Chrome. Previously, I'd suggested that this was e-book only. I was apparently wrong - the title is slightly different on Amazon's site - Shadowrun Anthology Volume 1 - Spells & Chrome. I'm still disappointed at its win. I find myself wondering if the paperback was in the Origins swag bag this year.

As to the Spiel des Jahres - for me, this is the more important awards set. It's more relevant to me than most of the Origins Awards. And there isn't a deep list of categories - there are only three of them (one of them is new).

Their website has an interesting question in the FAQ:
Is „Spiel des Jahres" meant to provide an award for the „best" game of the year?

No - for two reasons: For one, apart from external features the quality of games is not subject to objectivity; the same applies for other cultural products like books or films. Judging a game to be "the best" remains subjective. The jury has to look at the quality with regard to the target group - which means we are talking about a very heterogeneous group where hobby gamers and games specialists form only a very small part. So what the latter might deem to be an excellent game could easily overstrain the average consumer, keep him from playing and thus do damage to the idea of playing games.
In other words, the Spiel des Jahres is for the average consumer, not for the hardcore gamers. Several games over the last few years have caused a furor over their nomination and/or victory. Dixit, for example, took a lot of flak for being too simple.

Spiel des Jahres: And the winner is ... Qwirkle. Not many people saw this coming - especially since the game has been out in the US for several years. What most people continue to forget is that SdJ isn't about the hobby market - the Jury thought that Qwirkle was a good game that deserved recognition. Was it the best game of the three nominated? I don't know - I haven't played Asara. I wasn't a fan of Forbidden Island. I did like Qwirkle.

Kennerspiel des Jahres: And the first-ever Kennerspiel award winner is ... 7 Wonders. Not surprising. It's been winning nearly everything it was nominated for. And it is as good as you hear it is - I can't wait to take Leaders for a spin ...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Next Week's Post

... may be delayed.

You see, the Origins Awards will be announced this weekend, and I'd like to be able to assemble my thoughts about the winner and get a post up.

If that weren't enough, the Spiel des Jahres will be announced on Monday. Well, two of the three will be.  The Kinderspiel will be announced in another month.

Either way, I'd like to be able to assemble thoughts on both sets of awards and post them.  This being the internet, if I wait until next week most of you will have forgotten all about the awards.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

GenCon: EconoHazard

GenCon Exhibitor Map 2011The GenCon team finally posted their Exhibit Hall Map and the List of Exhibitors.

As I did every year, I printed out the map and the list and started color-coding it (after the year I dropped close to $500 at the IPR booth, I realized that the extra homework would be a necessary step.

This extra work has really paid off the last few years, as I didn't drop every single nickel I had, and even managed to send my wife to pick up items at some booths. And, even more amazingly, still had a few bucks in my pocket for the plane ride home.

Of course, these days my wife needs her own map with her own color codes ...

This is a snippet of the 2011 map. In summary: My wallet is in big trouble. Asmodee will be in Booth 511.

Booth 412/413? That's IPR, among others. It's the most dangerous booth at GenCon for my wallet.

Booth 605? It's another accumulation of publishers who make several games I like. I'll be shocked if I don't come home with Oz: Dark and Terrible and probably several other books.

Booth 711? Cubicle 7, home to Victoriana and the new Abney Park game. And the Laundry Files RPG (read the books if you haven't already).

Booth 311? Burning Wheel. The only reason Burning Wheel is less dangerous than IPR this year is because they'll only have one book I need - Burning Wheel Gold.

Booth 825 is Dream Pod 9. Tribe 8 continues to be one of my favorite RPG lines of all time. While I doubt I'll see more for it in the near future ... well, it's worth checking on from time to time. And their other lines are also thought-provoking and entertaining.

In other words, I may need to have my wife blindfold me and lead me to the booth every morning. Because these other guys are just too close for comfort.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gamethyme's Game of the Year - Currently Eligible Games

A few months back, I mentioned that I would give out my own personal "Gamethyme's Game of the Year" post during GenCon this year.

To be eligible, a game must be new to me since the start of the previous year's GenCon. That's the only requirement. I promised no "short list of eligible nominees" - this is a complete list (to date).

Now, this isn't necessarily the final list of eligible games, but here is the current list and a few thoughts on some of the games contained therein:

Win, Lose, or Banana - This game takes as long to explain as it does to play.  I'd heard about it before GenCon, and wanted to check it out.  At $1, I bought a bunch of them. We played it a lot, and the game nearly always left us in stitches. I call it $1 well spent.

GoSu - As I wrote about earlier this year, I like this one.  It's a solid game, and I wish it had broader exposure. The expansion is due in September, according to Moonster's latest update.

Water Lily - Another gift from Asmodee. It was a hit with my group for a while - and I still like it a great deal.  I've just played it to death.

7 Wonders - Since I wrote about it a few weeks back, it's been nominated for several significant gaming awards (and has won a few others).  The expansion is in process of hitting (and I hope to have it before GenCon ... )

Mr. Jack Pocket - It's the easiest to carry of the Mr. Jack games. I don't play two-player games that often, but I haul this one with me to game night because I can break it out for a quick game while we wait for more players.  I don't play it much, but it keeps a bunch of other folks busy.

Sobek - a fast-playing Egyptian-themed game with commonality with Cleopatra and the Society of Architects?  Sign me up! Cleopatra left me a bit cold - it was too gimmicky for my tastes, and seemed to take too long for what it was. Sobek, on the other hand, I quite enjoy.

Hex Hex XL - Curt Covert makes fun games. Smirk & Dagger games are fun. This is a Curt Covert game. I'll let you do the math.

Revolution - I'm automatically skeptical of any game which says "Steve Jackson Games" on the box - there have been too many let-downs and mediocre games. I know that they make huge piles of money off of Munchkin, but I just don't get why. Regardless, I'm very glad I looked past the publisher and gave Revolution a shot.  It's a lot of fun, and the expansion doesn't seem to hurt the game at all (which is, as I'm sure you know, all too common with expansions). It's also worth mentioning that the designer of Revolution has another game on Kickstarter right now.

Tichu. Yes, I know.  I'm late to the party. I finally decided to check this one out a few weeks ago. And I found that I like it. A lot. It scratches a similar itch as Rook, but has more strategic depth.

Those are the games which (so far) have a shot.  Here are games which are technically eligible, but are (at best) long shots:

10 Days in the USA- Yes, I'd somehow missed out on the 10 Days series. It was fun, but lighter than I tend to enjoy.

Call of Cthulhu - the FFG Living Card Game.  It failed to make an impact on me - I'll play it, but it's not one I would actively seek out.

Tikal II: The Lost Temple - It's not a bad game. It has a lot of negative reviews on BGG, but most of those reviews don't review the game for itself - they review it by comparing it to the original Tikal, where it does fall short in several respects. I'd like to get it to the table more often, but my group also compared it to the original.  It's not the original. It's a different game with a similar theme. I think that, had this been released as The Lost Temple, it would have done better. The reason it's a long shot this year is because I've had so much trouble getting it back to the table.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


It should come as no surprise to many of you that I am a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of novels. I was really disappointed a few years back when Steve Jackson Games published GURPS Discworld.

But it's grown on me.  Not a lot, mind you, because I'm not a fan of GURPS.  I have a number of their sourcebooks and the (3rd Edition) core books. Since it was first released, I've been trying to find a better system for the series.

I occasionally make the mistake of mentioning this to people. They inevitably ask me, "Why don't you use Toon?" The answer to this question is surprisingly simple: Because Toon is for wacky games.  The Disc is comical, but it's not wacky.  The characters on the Disc sometimes seem to be aware of the fact that they are characters. What they're not aware of is that they are in a comedy.

I have a long commute to work. Every day, I spend more than an hour in the car on the way to work. Thankfully, Stephanie and I can carpool part of the way. It means we can switch off driving.  The rule in our car is that the driver controls the stereo. When I drive, usually listen to the satellite radio.  When Stephanie drives, we'll often listen to her audio books. And she's often listening to the Discworld books.

When Stephanie drives, I'll read books so as not to get carsick (Yes, I know. I'm wired backwards). On May 19th, she was listening to Night Watch. I was reading Burning Wheel Revised. You see, Luke Crane had just announced that BW:R had gone out of print. I was reading about Beliefs when Vimes started chewing out another character who hadn't followed the rules. It was an epiphany for me - Burning Wheel is the ideal system for Discworld.

It's really really difficult to write comedy into an RPG. The humor in most games (in my experience) comes from player interaction (and odd rolls). A few years ago, we had a D&D party that had to head through a portal to another plane. The portal guards did their best to disarm the party. We did opposed conceal vs perception checks. The Rogue didn't manage to get so much as a toothpick through due to some really poor rolls on his part. We all chuckled at this.  Then, one of the Dwarves didn't bother with conceal - he tried to Bluff.  He convinced the guard that it wasn't an axe - it was a proper Dwarven Belt Buckle. We all laughed - but we all remember it. Even had the Dwarf failed, we still would have laughed, but it wouldn't have been as memorable.

I think that because comedy is so difficult to write into a game, most comedy RPG's are doomed from the outset.  Toon is fun, but it's not a great game. Paranoia is funny, but it's hard to have long-term games with it (it's best-suited to one-shots). The Red Dwarf RPG is funny, but (again) I think it's best as a one-shot. Or short campaign.

Can Burning Wheel do funny? I think it can. And I'm apparently not the first one to think so:
In short, yes. A slightly longer answer is that Burning Wheel takes the setting completely seriously, even if the setting itself involves crooning molerats, an earring-sized battle axe known as the Wee Prick, bar brawls with gangs of nine-pin hooligans, and extra-dimensional brain-tearing missle weapons that can blow holes in buildings.

Another way to put it is that life can be really funny, but falling off your roof still hurts. Burning Wheel is kind of like that.
I intend (at some point in the not-too-distant future) to try it out. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Classic Games: Variants as a Way of Life

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while know that I have a weakness for classic games. Mah Jongg continues to be a favorite of mine (and of nearly everyone I've played it with).

A few weeks ago, while cleaning the apartment, I stumbled across one of my Rook decks. Rook is a game I used to play with my great-grandparents. I hadn't played in many years, so I took it to Game Night.

Only one other person there had played before. After a few seconds of discussion, I learned that we played it differently.  After referring to the rulebook, I discovered that neither of us played what is the default - "Tournament Rook."

See, when she played, the deck used all 57 cards, and the counters are 14, 10, 5, and the Rook itself. The Rook is considered to be the highest trump card.

In my family, we also used all 57 cards, the counters were 13, 10, 5 and the Rook itself. And the Rook was the lowest trump card.

In Tournament Rook, you remove 1-4 from the deck. The counters are 14, 10, 5, and the Rook (If the Rook is being used). If it's in play, the Rook is the high trump.

I wrote a few months ago about House Rules. I don't know that any of these could be considered house rules - they're more like regional variations. The "Tournament Rook" rules are "official," as handed down by Parker Brothers and Hasbro. The book included a number of common variants (not including the one I grew up playing).

So why are there so many variations?

My wife and I are reading The Westing Game together. More accurately, she's reading it to me as we drive home from work some evenings.  It's a book I loved growing up, and she's never read it. Even now, more than twenty years later, I'm enjoying it.

At one point in the book, there is a discussion about the phrase, "May God thy gold refine." The characters argue over whether it's Shakespeare or the Bible. At one point, a character goes to a library and talks to the librarian, where they discover that it's from the song "America the Beautiful." It's one of the central puzzles early in the book.

I stopped Stephanie when we reached that point.  "Wow," I said, "You can sure tell this was before Google." And it's true - if faced with a similar puzzle these days, I'd pull out my phone and Google it. The Heirs would have licked that puzzle in minutes rather than weeks.

The internet has very much changed a lot of things for us. I learned Rook from my great-grandparents in Grant's Pass, Oregon. They brought it with them from the Midwest.  Anyone that they taught to play uses the variant my family uses. Unless they forgot a rule or misremembered a rule, which could (and would) spark another variant.

This sort of confusion is no less common, today, but we also have more resources. The Rook cards come with a rulebook that is much clearer than it used to be. Boardgamegeek has thousands of folks handy with rules clarifications. Many manufacturers can (and will) respond to rules queries by e-mail. Wikipedia has dozens of game entries with rules summaries and occasional clarifications to common issues.

That's not to say we won't see regional variations, anymore. Another game I grew up playing is Pinochle. The part of my family that plays this game lives in rural Montana. Rural enough that, until three years ago there was no cellular service. There's still no reliable high-speed internet. And small-town Montana is not alone in this. But it means that this is an area where rules disputes have to go to whatever rulebook is on hand or whoever the local expert is.

I learned Pinochle from my grandparents. When I first went to play online, I was confused. Why was a ten chopped from the scores? How did I get more than two of a kind? Where is the nine? And - most of all - why couldn't I pass cards to my partner when we won the bid? I've since learned that the "standard" Pinochle game these days is double-deck, which doesn't use the nine, and the card-passing thing? I've only ever found one reference to it anywhere. But my grandparents used to play as part of the local Pinochle Club, which pulled fifty or so couples, all of whom used the same set of rules.

I have to wonder - is the gradual loss of regional variants a good thing? Or do we lose some of the richness and possible depth that many of these games contain?