Knizia-thon, Part One: Marco Polo Expedition v. Blue Moon City

KniziathonAs I’ve played an increasing number of German games, I’ve increasingly grown fond of those by Reiner Knizia. Sure, he’s the big grand poobah of German gaming, and he designs more games than most small countries, but I’ve discovered that I like his games because they’re just more fun for me than a lot of what I play.

To some extent this surprises me, because they’re pretty analytical and pretty mathematical, neither of which matches my definition of fun, but of everything I play they’re the ones I come back to the most.

I came to this realization late last year, so this year I’ve set out to play as much Knizia as a I can. I’d hope to have a pile of Knizian nickles by year’s end, and though that hasn’t come about, I’ve still managed quite a few plays.

To date my 2007 play list looks like this: Ingenious x5, Blue Moon City x4, Quo Vadis? x3, Through the Desert x3, Amun-Re x2, Colossal Arena x2, Dead Man’s Treasure x2, Dragon Parade x2, Escalation! x2, Genesis x2, Great Wall of China x2, Hollywood Blockbuster x2, Marco Polo Expedition x2, Ra x2, Taj Mahal x2, Buy Low Sell High x1, Ivanhoe x1, Kingdoms x1, Knights of Charlemagne x1, Loot x1, Lord of the Rings x1, Palazzo x1, Relationship Tightrope x1, Rheinlander x1, Stephenson’s Rocket x1, T&E Card Game x1, Too Many Cooks x1, Tutankhamen x1, Winner’s Circle x1.

Which I suppose one really can’t complain about, since I’ve been playing at least one Knizia game a week.

All this play of Knizian games has gotten me thinking a bit about his design, and thus I offer up the first of what will eventually be several articles on his games.
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Review: Winds of Plunder

Knucklebones: Final IssueThis is a reprint of an review written in October, 2007 for first publication in the March 2008 issue of Knucklebones magazine; it was the final issue. It’s the only review I ever wrote for Knucklebones, designed to connect up with an article I’d written several months earlier about pirate games. Despite the original source of this article, this blog is in no way associated with Jones Publishing or Knucklebones Magazine.

My pure reviews are more generally published over at RPGnet, but due to the Knucklebones connection of this one, I decided to reprint it here as well.

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Can’t We All Just Get Along: Cooperative Gaming

Knucklebones: Final IssueThis is a reprint of an article written in October, 2007 for first publication in the March 2008 issue of Knucklebones magazine; it was the final issue. Because of its origins, this article is more introductory and (hopefully) more polished than many of my online writings. Despite the original source of this article, this blog is in no way associated with Jones Publishing or Knucklebones Magazine.

Since I wrote this article, I’ve spent much more time extensively analyzing co-op games. A series of co-op interviews talks with designers from the genre while a partial history of the genre begins to trace its evolution. I’ve also co-authored a complete but unpublished book on cooperative design with my friend Christopher Allen, which I hope will see print in 2015.

Most games are about competition. However, in the last twenty years, a small but increasing number of games have instead focused on the opposite type of gameplay: cooperation. There’s still competition in these games, but instead of working against each other, players tend to work against the game system (sometimes embodied by a singular player). They must either achieve victory together or else fall down ignobly to defeat.

Because of this unique cooperative play style, these games allow for a degree of socialization that’s unprecedented in most strategic games. Players talk together about the best way to overcome the challenges that they face. They pool their thoughts, their strategies, and sometimes even their resources in order to try and reach a shared victory.

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Tie Breakers

Thurn and TaxisLast week, when playing Thurn & Taxis, we momentarily thought we had a tie. (Momentarily, I say, because I added up my 21 points of chips and got 19, but that’s neither here nor there.) This inevitably led us back to the rulebook for the perennial question, “What breaks ties?”

In Thurn & Taxis the first answer was, “the player who earned the ‘game end’ bonus tile'”, which makes a lot of sense, because that’s a distinct goal that players should usually be going for. However, the second tie-breaker didn’t make sense, because it was, “if [the person with the tile] was not among those tied, the player closest clockwise from this player who was tied with the most is the winner!”

To offer a reminder, Thurn & Taxis works like this: when a player goes out, play continues until all players have had an equal number of turns, and thus ends to the right of the start player. This means that unless the last player is the one who went out, the winner is a player who was advantaged because he had more of an opportunity to react to the game ending, which seemed to me to be the opposite of what the tie-breaker should have been. I suggested that going counter-clockwise from the ending player would have worked better, because that would have been a player more likely to be disadvantaged, which led me to a general pondering about how tie breakers should be written.

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