Monday, May 30, 2016

Tales of Gaming Part 1: World at War

I didn't play a lot of wars games growing up. There was the occasional game of Risk, or Castle Risk, its speedier cousin, but nothing complex. It wasn't until I go to college and I joined the Medieval College Society that I came in contact with War Gamers. Having lots of time on my hands and loving all things epic, this held great appeal for me.

I never did figure out what was Medieval about the society, but I did later become president for failing to show up to elections so I couldn't say no.

Gathered in our cramped student office, the first war game I played was World at War . World at War was an Axis and Allies spin-off that adds country specific rules and costs to increase Historical accuracy.  For example, the U.S. And Russia aren't allowed to declare war until they are attacked or a certain number of turns have passed while Japan can make one sneak attack during the game, which basically meant they could attack twice in a row.

Looking at the game now on BGG, it has the sort of mix of reviews you would expect from a game that was deeply flawed but filled many with nostalgia.    My favorite comment, “My one and only play almost ended in a fist fight. I was being a dick. I see that now. “ This didn't occur in our group, but it certainly could have.

I played the U.S., so I had lots of money and little to do. I loaned what I could to Britain, and spent the rest buying random stuff, waiting for Japan to attack or me to figure out some sort of strategy. So I got a fighter here, a destroyer there, and ooh how bout a nice shiny battleship. Meanwhile Japan is slowly sailing around me, avoiding any conflict that would allow me to declare war, and heading North towards Britain.

An hour or two in, Getting kind of bored with being unable participate in battles, I took a bathroom break. The following is recreation of the conversation that occurred next.

"Japan attacked."

"Oh great. How is Britain doing?"

"No... Japan attacked you."

"Oh, okay. How is my fleet doing?"

"No... Japan slipped around your fleet, invaded the Eastern U.S. Through the Gulf of Mexico, took it over, and are now using their sneak attack to attcak the Western U.S. And win the game."

And that is how,“Damn you to Hell for invading the U.S. Through Texas!!” became a greeting.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wit and Wagers

The Wit and Wagers Layout.  Irrelevant math equations are not required, but also are not not required

Wit and Wagers is a trivia game that fixes the genre’s biggest problem: having to know stuff.  In this game it is much better to have a wife who has lots of random knowledge and a terrible poker face.

North Star Games


Dominic Crapuchettes

Elevator Pitch:

A player reads a trivia question that will have a numerical answer.  Each player writes down an answer on a card, usually a complete guess, and then flips them over.  The answers are revealed and each player bets on which answer is closest without going over (Price is Right rules).  The process repeats for 6 more rounds where questions from different categories are asked.    

Personal Impression:

I don’t have a good memory for details, so trivia games aren’t my strong suit.  Wit and Wagers asks questions I shouldn’t remember, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience.  Sure I am still sometimes off on questions by several magnitudes.  Sometimes though, I know something random, which is pretty exciting.

Good for People who Grew up Playing

Trivial Pursuit
Ease of Learning:

Very simple.  Shouldn’t take more than a minute or two to get everyone on board.  The most difficult part is remembering which chips count for which value.

Fidgety Index

You get an erasable marker and a small white board to draw on.  Have at it. (Get your own erasers.  A scrap of a paper towel will do, but we’ve found great success with pom-pom balls from the craft store.)  

Universal Theme:

Like most trivia games, doesn’t really bother with the concept of theme.

Player Count and Length:

3-7 though can it go higher if you play in teams.  At any count it is fast to play and shouldn’t take more than half an hour to get through.


The Expansion Pack offers more questions when you use up the original ones.

Spin Offs:

Wit & Wagers Family makes the game more family friendly, not that the original isn’t.  It removes the gambling aspect of the game, which to me is a pretty vital part.

Wit & Wager Party takes the lighter questions from the expansion pack and makes a game of it.  Not sure I see the point of this one either, but it is likewise supposed to be more kid friendly.

Introducing the Game to New Gamers: 

No advice needed here.   Experience, beyond remembering answers, is not helpful.


Given the social nature of the game, making a good app for Wit and Wagers is a challenge.  The app created is a noble effort.  The ai uses players’ answers to questions as ai answers in future games.  So you can play against your friends, but not in real time, which limits the effect.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Blog Mailbag: Take That

Ooh I got mail. Well, I got a comment, which caused me to get an e-mail notification, so close enough. This one didn't even tell me I screwed something up (though I appreciate those comments too).  Now I can do a mailbag post!

I have mixed feelings for Small World. Just a few years ago I couldn't get enough of Vinci, Small World, and (Brief) History of the World. Now I think the gang up on the leader mechanic is souring me to the game - to the point where I'm thinking of getting rid of some/all of those. 

I mostly agree. Attack the leader is definitely not my favorite mechanic and over time it is becoming increasingly more so. In these games I feel like my decisions are meaningless. All I'm really trying to do is convince the rest of the players that I'm not winning, so they go after someone else. The person who deflects best wins.

When I hear of upcoming games that use this mechanic, I'm less likely to give them a try.   It is often just a lazy design choice.   You don't need to ensure a game is balanced and fair if you have a strong "take that*" mechanic, because the players will just take care of it themselves. Munchkin is a prominent example of this with uber powerful cards and completely worthless ones. Munchkin at least has humor, but many don't even have that.

Take that is a game mechanic where players can choose to attack an opponent of their choice.  This lets players gang up on the perceived leader.

Still, I think "take that" games can be enjoyable.   They can work well when the skill level of players is vastly different. I can make optimum decisions without worrying I'll crush new players. They just bring me down if I get ahead.  I don't own many "take that" games, but they occasionally come in handy.

They have to be really good though, which for me means adhering to the below rules.
  1. It is fairly simple. Don't make my head hurt optimizing moves, if they don't really matter.
  2. It is relatively short. Nothing makes me despise a game a 3+ hour game that is decided at the end by a player being ganged up on.
  3. You can do fun stuff. Since efficiency isn't important, at least let me have some neat plays.
  4. There is a drawback to always attacking the player in front.  If a player has to give up something to attack the leader, it will vastly reduce the frequency of attacks.
  5. Being attacked can cost you victory points, but doesn't cause you to be stuck. I don't want to pass 3 consecutive turns waiting to be able to play.
Small World passes these tests for me. It doesn't take too long and turns don't require that much thought. You can find interesting combos regardless of how other players are treating you.  Sometimes attacking the leader is an optimum move for an individual player, but sometimes it will cost you excess units.  If your race gets too beaten up, you can always put it into decline and get a new one, so you are never stuck.  Vinci, and though I haven't played it, I'm sure Brief History, would fail #2.

Lastly, I think it can be an important mechanic for legacy games.  Since it is difficult to balance a series of games dependent upon each other, "take that" can be an important tool.  Risk Legacy heavily used "take that" to keep the game fair, while players took the design in any number of ways.  Pandemic Legacy, as a co-op, didn't have that option, so it tightly controlled the story limiting the impact of player decisions.  While I'm enjoying Pandemic Legacy, it feels like the game is playing the players rather than the other way around as in Risk.  I prefer the Risk model, but to do so, some degree of "take that" might be necessary to keep wild shifts balanced.  Seafall sounds like it will be somewhere between its predecessors, so will see how that goes.

Monday, May 2, 2016


A Codename board

Codenames arrived in 2015 and has quickly taken its place in the pantheon of great social games.  I usually don’t get excited about new games until I get to play them, but Codenames was an exception. I’ve been looking for a good word game for a while and Codenames had gotten rave reviews from the start.  Vlaada Chvatel has made some of my favorite games though none was anything like Codenames or any of his others for that matter.  When I spotted the game brought to a party*, I was desperate to play.  I quickly explained the game rules, which really confused people shortly thereafter when I told them I hadn’t played before.

*Yes, this is the kind of parties I go to.

Czech Games


Vlaada Chvatil

Elevator Pitch:

There is a grid of 25 words where 8 or 9 belong to a red team and a blue team.  The rest of the words are neutral except one assassin which results in instant loss.  Taking turns, a Spymaster says a single word to clue a selected number of words of their color.  For example, a spymaster might say apple (3) to clue New York, lemon, and pie, in the picture above. Field Operatives on the spymaster’s team guess words from the 25 until they run out of selections, pass  or are wrong, and the play passes over to the other team. First team to have all their words guessed without choosing the assassin wins.

Personal Impression:

It would be hard to match the hype I had given Codenames, but the game absolutely delivered.  Games are meant to be fun and everything about Codenames is fun.  It is fun to give clever clues matching disparate words with multiple meanings, only to be thwarted by your team’s inability to understand your brilliance, or more often, missing that different word was even more appropriate for my clue.  It is fun to discuss which word has been clued, while the spymaster sits silently exasperated at your logic just waiting to burst.  If it fun to watch the opposing team guess as you explain how every answer, no matter how absurd, would be completely appropriate.  It is fun to kibitz the game, playing along or laughing at participants.  And it is fun to tell stories of after, like the time robot clued rock and sock, or when in a player’s first game they happily called Tennis (3) only realizing their mistake when Court, the overlooked assassin was selected.

Good for People who Grew up Playing

Password or other word games
Ease of Learning:

Very simple to understand what you are trying to do.  There may be some questions on gameflow or the legality of plays, but they can be answered as you go along.  Worst case scenario a round gets screwed up and you just begin again.

Fidgety Index

Nothing to play with, but you can always heckle your opposition on their turn to pass the time.  Just be careful not to accidentally give them any good ideas.

Universal Theme:

Spymasters are competing to contact all of their agents first.  It is a pretty nonsensical theme that has absolutely no effect on game-play.

Player Count and Length:

2-8+  There is a co-op version to play with 2 or 3 which works okay if you aren’t too concerned about scoring.   With at least 4 players you can divide into teams with at least one spymaster and one guesser per side.  After that just keep adding to teams.  You can play with any number, but after you hit 8-10, teams will start getting unwieldy.  A round takes about 15 minutes, so length is a question of how many rounds you wish to play.


None yet, though Codename: Pictures is coming.

Spin Offs:

No official ones out yet, though Codenames with Dixit cards works surprisingly well.  You feel just as helpless.

Introducing the Game to New Gamers: 

Do a couple of practice words.  Make sure they play a couple rounds before they become a spymaster. Encourage clues that go for multiple words.


No app to play the game yet, but there is a companion app that helps with selecting teams and setup.  You can also play the game through forums. An official app is in the works, and looks pretty neat.