The spatial reasoning mechanic

trajanmancala

A while back I decided to stop doing board game reviews for various reasons, but I also wanted to still talk about board games that did cool things. In a non-review-type setting, of course.

Mostly I just end up talking about my own games, because that’s what my brain focuses on all the time, but today I am here to talk about cool things in other games (mostly). And those cool things are spatial reasoning mechanics.

Now, on their own, spatial reasoning mechanics are widely regarded as abstract games. Without economic engines to build or dice to roll, most abstract games rely on spatial reasoning of one sort or another to provide challenge and strategy for the players (more…)

My Christmas wish list

present

My wife keeps asking me what I want for Christmas, and I never really have a good answer for her.

Now that I make lots of game prototypes, I could probably use a nice printer. Maybe even a scanner. But those aren’t very flashy gifts. For some reason, Christmas gift-giving seems centered on giving people stuff that they’re going to have fun with.

So I finally broke down and supplied her with a list of board games. There were 3 games on the list. They were all at least 4 years old.

I don’t know if that last fact is super-important to this story, but I think it is important to realize that, in a time where everyone seems so focused on the hot new thing, there is a wealth of great games already out there that are worth picking up and trying out (says the guys whose new game is coming out in a couple months).

Anyway, here is the list of games I provided to her. I’m pretty excited about unwrapping one of them in a couple days.

spacealert

Space Alert: The genre of real-time co-op games has always intrigued me, though, at the same time, it has eluded me thus far. My main problem is that I do most of my gaming once a week in a very public university food court – a place where it would be very difficult to play something that needs an accompanying soundtrack due to the noise it generates and the noise generated by other people.

This board game blind spot has got to go, though. I participate in a couple other game groups now that meet in more private locations, now, so I think it might be time to try it out.

What game to get, though? Escape: The Curse of the Temple has always intrigued me, but I think the best person to guide me through these uncharted waters is the inestimable Vlaada Chvatil, whose has already proved he can craft a masterful real-time game with Galaxy Trucker. I have heard that Space Alert takes a couple plays to get used to, but that’s pretty much the way it is with any good co-op, right?

Oh, and the best thing about real-time co-ops? The thing I’m most excited about? No opportunity for an alpha player to rule the game. I’m not worried about other alpha players. I’m the alpha player, and I simply cannot control myself. I always end up “suggesting” what other players do on their turn, and I always feel like an ass afterwards. I’m really looking forward to not feeling like an ass after playing this co-op game. At least not for the normal reason.

loyang

At the Gates of Loyang: Did you know that Uwe Rosenberg actually designed At the Gates of Loyang before designing Agricola, but didn’t get it published until after Agricola became a huge success? At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down. Don’t quote me on it.

Did you also know that At the Gates of Loyang is actually very similar to the first game I ever designed, Forge War? This actually totally blew my mind because I had never played Loyang until long after Forge War was created.

So anyway, I am way more excited about sitting down and playing this game some more (I’ve only ever played it online) than I am of playing Uwe Rosenberg’s newer titles, Caverna or The Fields of Arle. They aren’t bad games, but they are fundamentally different and just less interesting to me. Rosenberg seems to have made shift towards making games that are easier to play, and while that may sound like a good thing, I just can’t get behind it.

I want to be challenged. I want to make mistakes and learn from my mistakes. If I lose a game of Agricola, I can usually pin-point what I did wrong. “Well, I didn’t get that wood when I needed to, so I couldn’t build fences when I renovated, and so lost too many points on open spaces and farm animals.” If you lose a game of Caverna, I think it’s much harder to pinpoint what went wrong and improve your game, because points are so plentiful.

There’s also the issue of sandbox games versus games with more specific goals. I think Rahdo summed it up really well in his final thoughts for The Fields of Arle.

Different people just prefer different things, and I prefer to explore Uwe Rosenberg’s older gameography. In particular, At the Gates of Loyang feels like a different enough game to provide a unique experience.

troyes

Troyes: This desire stems almost exclusively from the fact that it is so high on Rahdo’s list of all-time favorite games. Look, I love Rahdo’s videos largely for the game play. He’s got a great way of thinking through each of his moves that really gets the viewers involved. I love yelling at my screen what move he should make and then being satisfied when he finally makes it after many minutes of thought. Like I said, uncontrollable alpha player. Seriously, don’t play co-op games with me.

But I’ve also become increasingly aware that our tastes in games correlate pretty strongly. Take the aforementioned opinions on the evolution of Uwe Rosenberg’s career. Or the fact that we both totally love Forge War. I’ve got Rahdo’s back, and I want to give this Troyes game a fair shake.

I’ve watched videos. The game looks pretty entertaining, though I must say that I am skeptical of the artwork. I guess I understand where the publisher is coming from in terms of providing an authentic experience of Medieval France, but, well, it kinda hurts my eyes. I mean, not literally, but I think the game could stand to look much, much better. I can get past it, but I’m concerned it may be difficult to sell other people on it when there are flashier games involving monsters destroying skyscrapers.

My favorite new board game of the year

King's Forge

I’ve been thinking long and hard about this one, and I’ve decided that King’s Forge is my favorite new game of the year.

There. I’ve said it. I can’t take it back now. And, no, it’s not just because it has “Forge” in the title.

You see, to be honest, I’m rather embarrassed by this decision, since King’s Forge is a lighter game full of dice and randomness (more…)

Is it fun?

catan-fun

I like to play Flash games. There are a lot of great gems out there made by people with great ideas and a bit of programming knowledge. We live in an age where people have the power to create whatever they want. And, sure, there’s a lot of amateur garbage out there, but there’s another side to that spectrum that is pure awesome fun times.

And awesome fun times is really all anyone is after. We play games to have fun – to stimulate that pleasure center in our brains, because that’s what humans do (more…)

I guess things need to change

Statler&Waldorf

I’ve been struggling a while with writing reviews. I love writing them. I love being critical and dissecting what does and doesn’t work in games. It definitely helps me in my own creative endeavors to figure out why something is awesome and why something just doesn’t feel quite right.

So if I were just a reviewer, that would be the end of it. I would write reviews all day every day telling people which games I thought were terrible and which games should be enshrined in the temple of superlative game design. But I’m not just a reviewer anymore (more…)

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