Making the Dick Move

Hollywood Blockbuster CoverWe were attending the last party in Hollywood Blockbuster (2006). That’s the Reiner Knizia game of auctions and moviemaking that’s also called Traumfabrik (2000) and Dream Factory (2009) because name changes sell games. I’d finished all my movies except one, and I hadn’t started that last one, so I had no use for any of the resources being offered.

Two players were going after me, and I glanced at each of their movie boards. One had a movie that was nowhere close to completion, but the other needed just a single audio effect to finish a film. I grabbed the only audio effect chit at the party, then tossed it to the side, unused.

That was the dick move. Continue reading

The Tao of Board Gaming VI

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April 2010). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012). Koans X-XII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming IV (May 2014). Koans XIII-XV can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming V (December 2014).

XVI. The Buddhist Nature of Munchkin

There was once a gamer who seemed to have a perfectly Buddhist nature. When he played Monopoly he simply nodded as all of his money was stolen away by fat cats. When he played Risk he had a light heart when his armies were cleared from the map of the world, even unto Australia. When he played Munchkin he smiled when he lost cards, and even levels, as his opponents cried out, “Take That!”

However the Buddhist gamer’s nature seemed to crack when his gaming group began to change their play from American games to their European brethren. He was still able to accept the loss of a meeple in Carcassonne, of a route in Ticket to Ride, or of a hex corner in Catan. However, he then took no joy as he collected his points, completed his tickets, and built his civilizations. Worse, he became agitated and unhappy, losing the Buddhist nature that was his core. Continue reading

The Dissastisfaction of Victory

Codenames BoxCodenames (2015) by Vlaada Chvátil is a wonderful game. You work in teams, you come up with clever clues, you talk with your friends about possible solutions, you laugh at hilarious possibilities, and eventually someone wins. It often doesn’t even matter who wins because the gameplay is so much fun.

Except that a few months ago I played a game of Codenames that fell flat, and it was because of the victory. You see, my team won because our opponents guessed the assassin word (“mass”). Poof! Instant loss for them, instant victory for us. But it wasn’t because of our hard work covering codenames with red tiles. It wasn’t because of our cleverness. We won because our opponents screwed up.

And it felt empty.

Mind you, I think the assassin is a good deterrent for the game. It introduces tension. It sometimes creates obstacles when you’re trying to pick out a good clue. But when the assassin actually goes off and someone wins because of it, that can feel hollow. Continue reading

Talkin’ ’bout My Degeneration

Scrabble FridgeThis week, NPR wrote about how the French Scrabble tournament had been won by Nigel Richards, a New Zealander who doesn’t speak any French, but who spent a few weeks studying a French dictionary. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an extremely impressive learning curve for Mr. Richards — one that I suspect classifies him as a sooper-genius. But otherwise I was utterly unshocked by the news.

You see, I learned a lot about Scrabble several years ago when I read an intriguing book about the game called Word Freak (2001), which talked about the culture of tournament-level Scrabble. What struck me most was how unlike casual play this tournament play was. Players obsessively memorized two-letter words, then three-letter words. They studied the Scrabble Dictionary to mind their Qs and Zs. 538.com famously described the results of high-level Scrabble play as looking like it’s “played in Martian”.

And that’s much of why I don’t think Scrabble is a good design.

It’s a degenerate game. Continue reading

Dissecting Dominion, Part Two: What a Difference a Box Makes

Dominion BoxContinuing my look at the original Dominion deckbuilding game.


This past Christmas I got a very generous present from my long-time friend Christopher Allen: a beautiful wooden box for storing my Dominion cards, complete with labeled dividers showing which cards went where. It’s a thing of beauty — and also a solution for a few different problems that I’d had with Dominion over the years.

The Problem with Dominion Boxes

Previously, I had a mighty stack of square Dominion boxes atop one of my book cases, running from the original Dominion (2008) to Dark Ages (2012) — with a few of the smaller boxes located somewhat nearby. Unfortunately, I always found the individual boxing of Dominion supplements to be troublesome. It might seem a silly thing to complain about, but boxes can have real repercussions for how you collect and play games (as I’ve written about in the past), and I think that’s particularly true for Dominion.

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The Tao of Board Gaming V

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April 2010). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012). Koans X-XII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming IV (May 2014).

XIII. The Problems of the World

The best gaming store in the world was located in an urban center that was peopled by progressives, anarchists, minorities, and other persons who sometimes felt the need to speak out against the establishment. Thus, the student of gaming who regularly attended events at that store sometimes found his route there blocked by protests arising from questions of social justice.

This was the case one day in the long winter when reports revealed that protesting in the urban center had turned into looting, vandalism, arson, and assaults. Sadly, this was not unusual.

Undeterred, the student of gaming set out for his regular gaming evening.

Continue reading

The Tao of Board Gaming IV

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April 2010). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012).

X. The Serious Gamer and the Silly Game

Once there was a serious gamer who enjoyed playing more thoughtful games. He loved riding the edge of the bankruptcy express in Age of Steam, and enjoyed tallying his precise incomes and expenses in Power Grid. If there was a game that could make your eyes water as you counted out the math or that could make you wince as you figured out your moves three turns in advance, the serious gamer loved it.

But then a new game appeared at the gaming club, where you took on the role of monsters. You flicked discs around, threw wooden vehicles, and collapsed buildings constructed out of cardboard and meeples.

Continue reading