Monday, February 27, 2006

Carcassonne: The Wargame

One key to happiness – GAMES

For those of you who think the original Carcassonne game is too simple, soft, slow, or whatever, here is a suggestion. This is actually an inadvertent variation that we have played for four years, simply because we did not understand one of the rules. The one rule change that causes Carcassonne to become a “wargame” is to allow a player to place a meeple on any field, city, or road on the tile he plays, regardless whether it connects to the same type of feature already on the board with a meeple on it. This allows players to constantly compete for the majority of meeples on those features, to win all the points of them, or even to share the points of a very large city or road or a field that touches many completed cities. It is especially cutthroat when played with both the Traders and Builders and the Inns and Cathedrals expansions.

Think of the meeples as paratroopers who drop onto a battlefield about which little is known, because of the fog of war. The soldiers are essentially mapping the area as they arrive and trying to hold or take control of the most valuable cities, roads, and land (fields). As battles are concluded (finished roads or cities), soldiers are returned to base and are available for future deployment. Engineers are available (Builders), as are production units (Pigs), and one paratroop group carries surprisingly effective weapons (the large meeple). Cities with valuable stores (silk cloth, barrels of wine, and grain supplies, as well as the political value of cathedrals) are the most precious targets. Cloisters are even more defendable than Monte Cassino – no other army can take one from you.

The analogy plays out well, especially in cities, where a number of troops frequently gather, to take control of a large metropolis. Valuable transportation systems (roads with inns on lakes) are also frequent targets for combat. Near the end of the game, troops are often dropped into strategic locations in open spaces (fields), to hold as much territory as possible for the final victory.

So, if any wargamers out there want a slightly different challenge, try this variation of Carcassonne, which can include some interesting strategic and tactical decisions. It is a much more lively, confrontational, challenging game, which requires decisions regarding when to avoid a conflict, when to initiate one, and when to call a truce (and allow everyone with troops on the feature to score the points). You can sometimes employ spies, sneak into a city and steal all the valuable stores, while others are battling for control of the city (complete a city, taking the cloth, barrels, and wheat, without having a meeple in it). It just takes a little imagination to make Carcassonne into a conflict simulation, of sorts.

I believe Hunters & Gatherers could become the Battlefield of the Tribes, by making the same rule change. Also, consider playing Carcassonne (or H&G) in teams, allowing team members to combine their troops in cities, roads, and fields (or forests, rivers, and valleys), to outnumber their opponents. There are some intriguing possibilities here.

If you try either game with this simple rule change, let me know what you think. In the meantime, don’t consider Carcassonne to be just a friendly family game. There is much opportunity for confrontation, back-stabbing, negotiating, diplomacy, and other fun, war-like activities waiting for your enjoyment.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006

aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Games Played February 25, 2006

One key to happiness – GAMES

It was an interesting family game day Saturday. Sue and I planned a soup lunch for the group, and we fixed four different soups – Tortilla Soup, Tortellini Soup, Baked Potato Soup, and Meatball Stew. All the dishes were big hits, and that was a good start.

Our gaming was a mixture of things from different types of gaming days. Some game days, we play just old favorites; sometimes we try new games; occasionally, all seven of us play a game together. We did all of those things on Saturday, plus we played a game by the correct rules that we have been playing with an incorrect interpretation of the rules, from the first time we played it.

We have been playing Carcassonne incorrectly for four years! Somehow, we misread, misunderstood, misinterpreted, or just missed the rule that does not allow a player to place a meeple on a road, city, or field, if the tile with that feature connects directly to the same feature on another tile on which a meeple already resides. We cannot imagine how we misinterpreted that rule, since it is quite clearly stated and has illustrations to explain it. We play Hunters & Gatherers with that rule, correctly, but we just never re-checked the Carcassonne rules to be certain we were playing correctly. So, we played it by the printed rules, and it became quite a different game for us. It was a calmer, quieter, less boisterous game, which I will describe in more detail in another article. Results: Katrina – first; Sue – second; Mason – third; me – fourth; Joel – fifth; Dan – sixth.

Natalia joined us for a seven-player game of Bohnanza. I am always surprised by Natalia’s play in this game. It’s one of the very few games she will play with all of us, although she does play other games with her parents and brother at home. She is a very quiet person who does not get loud in this game. She seldom competes aggressively for a trade, but does make and accept offers; she is not “pushy.” We hardly notice that she is quietly accumulating gold during the game. It’s fun for all of us, and we have begun playing it more often, because it is fun having everyone involved. Results: Dan – first; Natalia, Sue, me – tied for second; Mason and Katrina – tied for fifth; Joel – seventh.

The new game we broke out was Station Master. This game is fun, in my opinion. It accommodates six players, so Joel played with us. The rules are simple, but the gameplay is challenging. Railroad car cards (called carriages), which have different values, are added to locomotive cards, to form trains. The number on the locomotive indicates the total number of car cards which can be added to that train. When that number is reached, the train is complete. The train is scored, and the cards are removed from the game. When all the locomotives have been removed, the game ends. In addition to adding cars to the trains, with the same number of trains being loaded simultaneously as there are players in the game, players also may add passenger tokens to the trains (choosing to play either a card or a token in each turn). The tokens represent either 1, 2, or 3 passengers, with the number hidden by playing the token number-side-down. The number on the locomotive card also indicates the maximum number of passenger tokens that may be placed on the train. There are some special cards that allow players to move cars from one train to another, to move passenger tokens from one train to another, to remove cars from trains completely, to complete a train at any time (Caboose card), etc. Scoring is a simple matter of adding the positive and negative numbers on the various train cars and multiplying that result times the number of passengers each player has assigned to the train. Obviously, players try to build high-value trains where they have multiple passengers assigned and low or negative-value trains where they have no passengers assigned. The scoring is added continuously, as each train is completed, so players can see who is leading, which is usually the person for whom other players attempt to create negative-score trains. We noticed that the lead changed frequently, sometimes by major amounts. It is an intriguing game that plays very quickly – about 30 minutes for the six of us. I believe everyone enjoyed it, and I expect we will play it several times a year. Results: Dan – 203; Katrina – 186; Sue – 173; me – 167; Mason – 158; Joel – 141.

The fourth game we played was the old stand-by – Settlers of Catan. Hardly a game day goes by that we don’t play this game. We enjoy playing with six players, although the board gets congested in the middle, usually. I like having the development cards, among which a player may acquire some of the ten victory points required for a win, without the other players being aware of how close that player is to winning. Although the two victory points, each, for the longest road and the most soldiers (largest army) sometimes seem almost over-balancing, they are points that can change hands during the game. It’s a good scoring mechanic that works. It was a close game. Results: Mason 10; Joel, Katrina, me – 9; Dan, Sue – 8.

It was a bit of an unusual game day for us, but was fun, as always. The list of un-played new games in the house continues to diminish. I’m still eagerly looking forward to Hacienda, Alhambra, Cartagena, and Australia.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006

aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Following Yehuda

One key to happiness – GAMES

On February 21, 2006, Yehuda posted a marvelous article on Gone Gaming – Session Report. His imitation of a wide variety of authors’ styles, as they might be applied to gaming session reports, really broke me up. He is a most creative writer.

I quickly wrote a comment to his article, but my off-the-cuff, brain-dead, response was so lame that I’m ashamed it is hanging out there, visible, in cyberspace. However, his fascinating piece ran around in my head overnight, and I woke up this morning with the germ of an idea for a more meaningful reply. So, Yehuda, (if you happen to read this) here is my ode to your wonderful article, with the application of much poetic license and a huge apology to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.”


Listen to the offers, as they dip into the coffers
Of the cards so slyly hidden in their hands.
Excitement fills the air, while I sit and simply stare
At the lack of progress made upon my lands.
Oh, it’s sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep,
Sheep, sheep, sheep.
It’s the bleating and the fleecing of the sheep.
And it’s wood, wood, wood, wood,
Wood, wood, wood.
Oh, the hewing and the chopping of the wood.

I fear my clever plan to expand my hearty clan
Faces many bumpy hurdles on its way
To that perfect score of ten, which is what I need to win.
So, I must make more trades without delay.
Now it’s wheat, wheat, wheat, wheat,
Wheat, wheat, wheat.
See the scything and the grinding of the wheat.
Then it’s ore, ore, ore, ore,
Ore, ore, ore.
It’s the blasting and the smelting of the ore.

We seek to make a trade, but of this I am afraid:
He will beat me to that port upon the shore.
My plan, it may implode, if I cannot place a road,
And all I have at hand is lots of ore.
So, it’s brick, brick, brick, brick,
Brick, brick, brick.
It’s the shaping and the firing of the brick.
I need time, time, time, time,
Time, time, time.
It’s the hoping and the praying for more time.

My hand is now eleven; oh, please don’t roll a seven.
I can see the robber moving to my eight.
Yes, I know you get to pick; please don’t draw my only brick.
Why must you be so cruel, nasty Fate?
It’s a road, road, road, road,
Road, road, road.
It’s the playing and the laying of a road.
It’s a port, port, port, port,
Port, port, port.
It’s the taking and the holding of a port.

I must stay cool as ice, as I pick up both the dice,
For I need but one more sheep to buy a card.
This is getting creepy; I just drew another VP.
With one more point, my win-streak stays unmarred.
Build a city, city, city, city,
City, city, city.
See the placing, yes, the placing of a city.
Roll the dice, dice, dice, dice,
Dice, dice, dice.
It’s the tumbling and the rumbling of the dice.

At last, old Fate anoints my hand with all the points
That I need to reach the goal for which I yearn.
But, what comes to my ear? The words I so much fear.
You won before I got to take my turn.
Yes, it’s the sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep,
Sheep, sheep, sheep.
It’s the bleating and the fleecing of the sheep.
And it’s wood, wood, wood, wood,
Wood, wood, wood.
It’s the hewing and the chopping of the wood.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Games Played February 18, 2006

One key to happiness – GAMES

The whole family was together again for food, conversation, and games.

First game we played was an old card game we have had for many years – The Last Card. I wrote recently about this game, pointing out that we had played it by a different rule interpretation than the one described by Mike Schuller (mike86) on BoardGameGeek. We decided to start the games with this card game. We had played the game only seven times in the past five years, and not since December 2002. We played five hands, so each person dealt once, and the results were: Mason – 178, Dan – 177, me - 132, Katrina – 112, and Sue – 88. That was quite a spread of scores. Like most card games, you can play perfectly, but if you don’t have the right cards, you can’t make many points. Of course, probably no one plays perfectly, so there might have been some missed opportunities. As Mike indicated, there is more strategy to this game than appears on the surface. Katrina said she has always enjoyed this game, and she holds the record score for us of 260, while I have not enjoyed it and hold the record low score of 83. Perhaps that’s why she likes it, and I don’t. We do prefer playing with Mike’s interpretation and will do so in the future. I’m not certain it will see much playing time, because it just doesn’t compare in our minds with games like For Sale, Boomtown, Mu, and Hearts, but at least we will not toss it out of the house.

Speaking of Boomtown, that was our next game. Joel played this game last weekend with us, when Mason was away skiing, and he loved it. The box says it’s for 2-5 players, but the deck of auction cards totals 60 cards, and there are no markers or other restricting elements that prevent 6 players from playing it. We tried it with all six of us, and it was as much fun as with five. I really enjoy this game, although I have not done well in competition with the family. The results were: Katrina – 70, Dan - 63, Mason - 52, Sue - 46, Joel - 40, and me – 31. That is a significant spread for this game, I think. Katrina was more than double my score, as was Dan. Shame on me! I do enjoy playing it; I just need to get better at it. Katrina told Joel, after the game, that she has a winning strategy, which she whispered to him. The rest of us are still in the dark. I would not be surprised to see Joel win next time; I’m sure he will request that game next weekend. I haven’t developed a theory about how to win this game, yet. I can see that if a Saloon comes out reasonably early, it’s a good idea to select it, and the Governor can pay off well. I had a terrible start, with only two mines, both “3.” I also ended up with the New Vein card on one of them. I then managed to get the Telegraph, but did not play it when I should have. When I realized that I had missed at least one opportunity to change a die roll to get a “3” total, I then had to wait several turns before I could do so again. By that time, Joel had Dynamited one of my “3” mines, which cut down considerably the effect when I used the Telegraph. All-in-all, I was certainly not on top of my game for Boomtown.

Next on the agenda was Through the Desert. Out of three plays of this in our group, Katrina has won twice (and holds the scoring record), and Sue won the other game. Results: Katrina – 72, Mason – 58, Dan – 57, me – 56, and Sue – 49. Sue had some difficulty getting to some oases, which hurt her score. I started off with a long caravan of purple camels, and I figured I would have no problem scoring for the longest string in that color. However, by the end of the game, I had been boxed in, and someone else beat me by one or two in that color. The other color I tried for also got boxed in. I can see that I need to work to keep some spaces available for a longer time period. I was very fortunate to have the score I did, since I was the only one with no points for longest caravan. I made up for those, to some degree, with a good enclosed area and with lots of 3-value waterholes, as well as connecting all my caravans to at least one oasis. TtD is a fun, fast-playing game for five people. The board certainly gets crowded by the time the game ends, which makes it very challenging.

We finished the day with all seven of us playing Bohnanza. This can be a madcap game, with seven vocal people, each trying to outbid the others to trade for a bean card that the current active player has available. Some of the trades look odd, until the player making the trade plants on his next turn, but usually it makes sense at that time. This is one card game in which negotiating and trading can go far to overcome a bad card draw. There are frequently many opportunities to trade for cards you want, and at the same time, to get cards out of your hand that you do not want to plant later. We are also not reluctant to donate a bean card to someone else, if that card would be an impediment to future plans. We never purchase the third bean field. After doing so a few times, we found that the harvest return seldom paid for the field before the game was over (with seven players, it doesn’t take long to go through the cards twice). We do not use the suggested rules for dealing cards for seven players. We use the same rules as for five players, but add the coffee beans and take out the garden and cocoa beans. We deal the same number of cards to each player in the beginning, and the active player draws only three cards at the end of this turn. In our experience, this works as well for 6-7 players as it does for 4-5. The game moves very fast; it’s loud; it’s a little wild; there is some funny negotiating; and we all have a great time at it. It is one of the few games Natalia will play with all of us. Dan and Katrina say that when they play 4-handed at home, Joel and Natalia almost always win and frequently finish 1-2. I know the parents do not throw the games or go easy on the kids; Joel and Natalia are just very good at this game. Our results: Mason and Sue (tied) – 10; Joel and me (tied) – 9; Natalia and Dan (tied) – 8; Katrina – 7. Now, that’s a close game!

So, “a good time was had by all,” once again.

I didn’t push for playing a new game this week, although I’m really getting antsy to play one of the five new games we haven’t tried (Australia, Hacienda, Station Master, Alhambra, and Cartagena). Of course, I also really want to re-play several of our newer games, such as Tongiaki, Around the World in 80 Days, and Princes of Florence. Too Many Games, Too Little Time!

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Friday, February 17, 2006

Gaming with a Grandma

One key to happiness – GAMES

I recently wrote about Gaming with a Grandson, relating some stories about my grandson. My wife and I were talking about gaming after that, and I mentioned remembering playing games with my grandmother. My wife suggested that might be the basis for another article, so here goes……

When I was in elementary school in a very small rural town in Oklahoma in the 1950’s, we lived a couple of blocks from one set of my grandparents (and across town from the other set). I walked to and from school, a route that took me past my nearby grandparents’ house twice a day. Most days, after school, I stopped at their house on the way home and stayed a while. Sometimes during these visits, grandma and I played games. They did not own any real commercial boardgames, and they did not play cards, but grandma taught me some games and some things about gaming.

The first game I recall learning from her was checkers. We played checkers a lot, although it has never been a favorite of mine. However, she taught me a checkers variation that I enjoyed very much. The game was called “Six Corner Kings,” and I believe she learned to play it a few years just before or just after 1900. I have looked for information about this game online, but have found no mention of it. If anyone reading this knows of a reference for this game, please let me know.

To the best of my memory, this is how Six Corner Kings is played. Using a regular 8x8 checkerboard, with a light square in the bottom right corner, both players place six checker kings on the board, in opposite corners. The kings are placed on dark squares in the player’s right corner, so they form two diagonal lines of three kings each, facing the same arrangement, diagonally, in the opponent’s right corner. The kings may move forward or backward, only diagonally on dark squares, normally one square at a time. A king may diagonally jump friendly kings (the same player’s kings) without removing them from the board, and multiple jumps are allowed. Kings capture (and remove from the board) opposing kings by jumping over them on a diagonal. Multiple jumps (with intervening open squares) may include both friendly and opposing kings, in any order, removing only the opposing kings. This allows some intriguing set-ups and trap plays. Jumps of opposing kings must be taken when available, including multiple jumps, but a player is not required to jump his own king, which may stop a multiple-jump move, if the player chooses. The object is to capture all the opposing kings.

Grandma was a whiz at this game; she probably played the game for over 60 years. We sometimes played many games of Six Corner Kings in one sitting.

She taught me dominoes, too. She only played a basic version, with scoring of combinations of 5 or multiples of 5. I had never seen dominoes played before she explained to me how to play this game. Interestingly, it was one of two games I played with my wife’s stepfather, much later in life, and he was a whiz at it, virtually always beating me. I also played with dominoes during lunch hours at work even later in life, playing a variation called “Shoot the Moon,” with six players on two teams. And, even today, our family occasionally plays “Mexican Train Dominoes,” but it was grandma who taught me the rudiments of dominoes.

The third type of game grandma played with me was one we made up (as have a great many people in this country, I’m sure) – States and Capitals. We each took turns naming a U.S. state, while the other person had to name that state’s capital. Oh, yes, there were only 48 states at that time. That game was a major reason for my long-term interest in geography, I believe.

Grandma’s game library and game interests were extremely limited, but we had many hours of fun playing those games together.

Beyond playing the games themselves, however, she taught me some things about gaming, not overtly, but subtly and by example. She did not play in a cutthroat manner, but played games for fun. I know she let me win a lot, until I realized what was happening and could compete well on my own. Then, she played to win, and any bad moves in checkers or missed scoring in dominoes had to stand. She laughed a lot during our game sessions, and the atmosphere was light and friendly, but still competitive. She would play checkers or dominoes anytime I suggested it, and she always congratulated me when I won. She displayed good sportsmanship (gamesmanship? gameswomanship?) at all times. She played until I was ready to quit, never indicating that she was too tired to play another game. She provided me with a gamer’s role model that could not have been better planned. I have realized only in recent years how much I learned about gaming from her, while playing only those two (or three) different games. I’ve also realized that she, even more importantly, taught me how to be a grandparent.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

{Originally posted on Gone Gaming on February 15, 2006}

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Genealogy and Games

One key to happiness – GAMES

My wife Sue and I enjoy the hobby of family history, which includes dabbling in the field of genealogy. Because of our interest in this, we subscribe to, an online organization that is a tremendous source of information about genealogy. As part of the subscription, we receive an electronic newsletter daily. Today’s newsletter included an article about quotes made by famous people regarding genealogy and family history. I enjoyed reading it, and a couple of them really got my attention, because they were listed as “taglines” for genealogist writers.

I recall not long ago that Coldfoot was trying to create a tagline for his writings about games. I believe he settled on: Boardgamers do it for hours. That is a clever tagline. So, when I saw the genealogist taglines, I remembered Coldfoot’s effort, and then I read one that totally took me by surprise.

Among the very clever genealogist taglines was this one: Genealogy is the marriage of a jigsaw puzzle to a Dungeons & Dragons game. Wow, I had never expected to see a cross-over reference between genealogy and gaming. Two of my hobbies joined in that line. Obviously, someone who worked jigsaw puzzles and had played or at least was familiar with D&D is working seriously in the genealogy field. Well, probably there are a lot of such folks, but I had never seen anything that confirmed that fact, until now. Gee, maybe my interest in a wide variety of hobbies is not so weird after all.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How I Store Games

One key to happiness – GAMES

I have read a lot of discussions about storing games, and I’ve seen some excellent photographs of the furniture and locations people use for game storage. Obviously, I’m not a “true” game geek, because game storage is not of major importance to me.

When we moved into our house almost 30 years ago, it had an unfinished basement. That was one of the reasons we purchased it. We wanted to be able to finish that space the way we wanted it to serve our needs. However, the walls of the separate rooms in the basement had already been roughed-in by the previous owner. After studying the floor plan and wall studs for a while, we decided that we basically liked the layout, so we did not change the arrangement. Over a span of several years, buying materials when we could afford them and doing the work on weekends, mostly, Sue and I eventually completed the basement to our satisfaction. The only two items we did not do ourselves were the plumbing in the bathroom and the laying of the carpet.

The first three rooms we finished were the bathroom, naturally, and the two rooms that have now become “my room” and “Sue’s room.” Sue’s room was designed to serve as a large bedroom, which it did for our son, when he out-grew his small room on the main floor, and until he graduated from college. My room, it appears, had been planned to be a small office. Both rooms had wall studs installed to form a good-sized closet in each. We decided to finish these “closets” into open storage areas. We installed wide wooden shelves, to hold quite a lot of things. The storage area in my room has held games, puzzles, photo albums, notebooks, paper and other writing supplies, and stationery. As we acquired more and more games, other things got pushed aside or moved to the attic, until almost half the closet was devoted to games. At the peak of our game collection, we had something over 200 games.

As we began purchasing more Euro-games, we found ourselves rarely playing our older games. Last year, I made the major decision to dispose of most of those games we had owned for many years. In all, I got rid of about 150 games. I traded groups of several games for a single new one in several cases, and the games no one wanted to trade for, I gave to a thrift store. We continue to purchase new games, and the space I had created by the “thinning” is beginning to fill up again.

After reading recently about some ways other people store games, I took a look at my storage pattern. While some people store games by publisher, by type of game, by designer, by box size, or some other criterion, it appears my storage is based primarily on the frequency with which the game is played. One area holds most of the games we did not eliminate in the “great reduction” last year. Most of these are seldom played, but were kept primarily for nostalgia purposes. Some of the them probably will never be played again, but we just can’t part with them. Some have been in our families since before we were married, and we will never get rid of them. Others are rather unique or out-of-print and are kept more as collectors’ items. Another area contains new games that we have bought in the past couple of years, but that only get played once a month or so. We enjoy them, but for various reasons, we just don’t get them out too often. One area holds the smaller card game boxes; they are easier to find when stored together. Then, there is the “active” game group. These are games that get played almost every weekend. They are front-and-center, easy to grab and easy to re-file. These are the boxes that are beginning to show the wear-and-tear of constant handling. This is also where the newest game gets stored, at least temporarily, until we discover whether it becomes one constantly-played, or whether it gets relegated to the “occasional-play” group. It appears that, by accident, my game storage has become one simply of convenience. This arrangement works well for us, so I do not expect to change it anytime soon.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Game Tinkering

One key to happiness – GAMES

Two events in the past week made me give some thought to the idea of tinkering with games.

When I joined BoardGameGeek in 2004, I uploaded a bunch of digital photos (all of too-large size, before I learned better) and information about a couple of games that did not then exist in the database. One of those games, with two photos, was The Last Card. This is a trick-taking card game. I cannot even recall where I purchased it or how I learned about it, but I acquired it in 2001. Our family group played it a number of times, enjoying it less and less, until we finally stopped bringing it to the table. I rated it “3” on BGG.

Last week, while I was reviewing and updating my games ratings on BGG (three cheers for me), I noticed that another person now is shown as owning the game – BGG username mike86. Not only does he own the game, but he has posted an excellent review of it, noting that it is one of his favorite card games (and this is from a serious Bridge player). Well, that got my attention, so I read the review to find out what he liked about it. It turned out that he and we had different interpretations of one of the rules, a key rule. After pulling out the game and studying the rules again, I could see how he arrived at his interpretation, but also believed ours was a reasonable interpretation. I wasn’t interested in debating which interpretation was correct; I wanted to find out whether his rules would make the game more interesting for us.

Four of us played two hands of the game this weekend, just to try the “new” rules. We did, indeed, find the game more interesting, although it was difficult for us to get our heads around the change. We had a lot of discussion about what cards could be played each round. In the end, we agreed that it would be worthwhile trying it with our full group (our son was off on a skiing weekend, so wasn’t there to try it). We will try it soon with the whole group, and it’s possible this old game might come out of the closet once again.

Later in the week, I noticed Coldfoot had posted an audio review of Carcassonne on his blog (although it is apparently far from being a favorite game for him). I have enjoyed his audio reviews, and Carcassonne is one of our family favorites, so I decided to see what he had to say about it. As always, he does an excellent job of clearly explaining a game, and when he mentioned the restriction of not playing a meeple on a road, city, or field on a tile you are playing that adjoins another tile that already contains a meeple on that road, city, or field, I was taken aback. I thought, “That can’t be right. I know that’s the rule in Hunters & Gatherers, but in Carcassonne, you are allowed to play a meeple under those conditions. That’s why we have so many battles over stealing or sharing cities, roads, and fields in our games.” Well, I pulled out the game and the rules and found, to my great embarrassment and consternation, that he was absolutely correct (no surprise there). We have been playing and loving Carcassonne for four years, with an incorrect understanding of a key rule. When I read the rule sheet, it was extremely clear about that point, with excellent illustrations to explain it. We cannot imagine how we not only missed that point when we learned the game, but also why we didn’t re-check the rules in Carcassonne when we acquired Hunters & Gatherers and found that same rule in it. We thought the H&G rules had made a change in the playing of meeples, which reduced very much the direct conflicts over ownership of the point-makers that we experienced in Carcassonne. It never dawned on any of us to re-read the Carcassonne rules. Amazing!

Well, we’ll give Carcassonne a try with the correct rules, but, as I told Coldfoot, we may unanimously decide to play by our unintentional modification of that rule. It may be that we enjoy the game so much because of that misinterpretation.

Hunters & Gatherers is very popular with our family group. We have liked it from the beginning. However, we enjoy it even more when we apply some suggested rules modifications posted on BGG. We play with the aurochs (according to Wikipedia, aurochs is both singular and plural) tiles and with the proposed changes that allow aurochs to “chase away” a tiger when the aurochs is played, plus the scoring bonus that makes deer in the same valley more valuable when an aurochs tile is played there. These changes have increased the challenge of H&G for us and made it even more fun.

I can recall a number of Forum and GeekList discussions on BGG about game play modifications. Some people (I would consider them to be game purists) believe a game should only be played according to the written rules. Others feel that if some modification of rules or other parts of a game makes it more fun, more challenging, more interesting, or more playable, they have no problem doing so (I would consider them to be game tinkerers). My family and I fall into the latter category. We always (attempt to and intend to) play a game by the printed rules. If it works well, we stick to it. If it doesn’t work well for us, we will consider changing something and experimenting with modifications. If it still doesn’t work well for us, or if we can’t come up with a good change, we will shelve (and probably dispose of) the game. Well, I didn’t get rid of The Last Card game, but kept it simply because I thought it might have a future with us, somehow (fortunately).

One game which we believe was much improved by two home modifications is Trumpet. When we first played Trumpet in 2001, it became an instant hit with us. After playing it almost every weekend for a couple of months (sometimes two or three games in the same day), we decided that (although we really liked it) there were two things about the game that did bother us a bit. We did not like the fact that a person who first reached the Change Trump space just two spaces back from the finish line could usually win the game, since that person could change trumps, take two tricks, and win. We decided to eliminate that unbalancing opportunity. We actually drew an “X” through that space on the board; it is still a usable space on the board, but landing on it does not allow the person to change trumps. We believe this better balances the game, allowing players farther back a better chance to catch up before the game ends. The other change we made was regarding the initial placement of trump designators on the board in the early stage of the game. The rules require that, until all six designators are on the six trump spaces, each succeeding Change Trump space landing causes the player to put on the next higher trump indicator space a color that is not already in play. This forces the person who places the final designator to have no choice; it is frequently not to his advantage to change the trumps in that case. After all six designators are on the board, the player who can make a trump change can exchange any two of the designators. We believed that a player who manages to land on a Change Trump space at any time during the game should always be allowed to name the top trump, so we modified the rules to allow players in the beginning stage of the game to move an already-played trump designator up to the highest available trump indicator space and place a new color on the vacated space. This allows the same opportunity for changing and designating trumps throughout the game. These two changes made the game virtually perfect for us, and we played that game to death. In fact, we wore out several decks of cards, and I acquired at least four additional copies of the game, just to have new decks on hand (expensive, since it was out of print by then). Although we don’t play the game too often these days, it is still one of our favorite trick-taking card games.

Another form of game modification which we have sometimes used is to give younger players a “positive handicap” that makes it easier for them to compete with adults. I did this as far back as the 1970’s, when our kids were young, in games such as Battleship, and we did it this weekend to make Scattergories more fun for our young granddaughter. We have not done this often, but sometimes it has seemed important to make the game playing-field more level, when adults play certain games with children.

In the case of Carcassonne, our “interpretation” of the rules was absolutely wrong, but it may have resulted in a game that we will enjoy more than if we play by the true rules. In The Last Card, the rules, I believe, can be legitimately interpreted in more than one way; finding which way makes a better game is the goal. For Trumpet, for creating handicaps for children, and for Hunters & Gatherers, the rules/board modifications we made have been deliberate, to make the game more balanced, interesting, challenging, or fun.

When we purchase a game, especially a relatively-expensive game, we want to enjoy it. If the rules are not as clear as they should be, or if a modification of a rule or something on the board makes it more fun for us, we will “re-interpret” or change the rule or make a board change without hesitation. If we unintentionally misread a rule, we will certainly correct our play when we learn of our mistake, although we may later decide to ignore the true rule, if we prefer playing with our misinterpretation. We only tinker with a game deliberately if we find the change makes it more fun for us to play.

Certainly, if I were competing in a game tournament or playing with strangers at a game convention, or joining a new gaming group, I would want to know and understand the true rules and play by them. For family gaming fun on weekends, that is not so important. Sometimes, tinkering with a game makes it better.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Games Played February 11, 2006

One key to happiness – GAMES

This was another fun day of family gaming. Our son Mason was out of town for a ski hut trip, so the games won’t count in our annual statistics. Our grandson Joel knew Uncle Mason would not be here, so he asked to play Boomtown, Ticket to Ride, and For Sale. Ticket to Ride is limited to five players, so Joel only gets to play when someone is not here; we have all six played For Sale in the past, and it plays equally well with five; and I’m thinking Boomtown might be playable by six, but haven’t seriously looked into what would have to be modified (e.g., number of cards in the deck). Our granddaughter Natalia joined us for a three-team game of Sequence, and then Joel read some of his book, while the other five of us played Scattergories.

Joel (2nd grade) had not played Boomtown, but had watched the five adults play twice, and he already knew how to play. Yes, he definitely knew how, because he won by a large margin: Joel – 81, Dan – 71, Sue – 67, Katrina – 60, and me (last) – 52. One saloon card came up about mid-game, and allowed Katrina some gold, but the other came up very late. Dan chose it, and Joel eliminated it on the next round with dynamite. Joel did not end up with a Mayor, but had collected so much gold on production rolls (he had a 7 card with a New Vein card on it, so on a 7 roll, he collected 9 gold, three times). Katrina grabbed the Governor early, which really paid off for her. Joel selected both Holdup cards, but collected zero gold on one and four on the other. Katrina held the Telegraph until the final round and helped herself a lot. I played both the Card Shark and the Stagecoach Robbery, but they weren’t enough to help me catch up. I also had the Mustang card, but did not use it wisely. Should have held it longer. This is a neat game that I believe we will play frequently.

This was Joel’s second time to play Ticket to Ride, and, as usual, he came out well – second place, just two ahead of Katrina. Sue won big, and I trailed far behind. I had the Seattle – New York ticket and almost finished it, but Sue ended the game while I needed one card to complete the last link. That negative score really set me back, especially since I had only two other tickets, both short north-south runs. It’s a fun game that we all enjoy.

Katrina won both games of For Sale; we’ve only played four times. It plays so quickly that we want to play two games each time. The scores of the first game were: Katrina – 67, Sue – 53, me – 48, Joel – 43, and Dan 41; second game: Katrina – 54, me – 53, Sue and Dan – 51, and Joel 43. It is so easy to play and very light. At the same time, there are the decisions about when to bid and how much, or when to take the low value property and save the money. The two different types of auction mechanics in the same game make it interesting. We probably will play it several times during the year.

Natalia had not played Scattergories before, but wanted to learn it, so we introduced her to it. After playing one game of three rounds, we decided to play another, with a different set of categories. I suggested that Natalia (4th grade) be allowed to write answers with either of two letters, the letter rolled on the die and either the letter of the alphabet before or after that letter, so she had more opportunity to think of something to fit the categories. That handicapping helped her and allowed her to enjoy the game more. It’s a little difficult to play that game with a mix of adults and children, but the handicap helped.

The Sequence game involved three teams: Dan and Joel, Natalia and Katrina, and Sue and me. It was a fairly close game, with Joel playing a Two-Eyed Jack to win the game for his team. There is no game that he does not do well at!

The four adults also played a couple of hands of The Last Card. This is a little-known card game (as of last week, there were only two people who claimed owning this game on BGG). The other owner of the game had written an excellent review of it on BGG, which got my attention. Our family had not really enjoyed the game, and I rated it very low. However, after reading the review, we found that we had interpreted a rule differently than the reviewer, so we decided to give his interpretation a try. We think it works better than our interpretation, so we will give it a try with Mason and see whether the game makes it back to our table some more. If we do indeed like it better, I will update my rating of it.

No new games made it out this weekend, because we almost never open a new one when one of the adults is absent – don’t want to give one person a big disadvantage, since we count wins and finishes. I was hoping we might go with Tongiaki again, with five of us, but the group decided to go with the lighter Scattergories and Sequence, especially to get Natalia more involved. I’m still looking forward to our remaining unplayed games – Cartagena, Station Master, Alhambra, Hacienda, and Australia.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Missed the Boat

Today, I feel like a guy who had an idea for inventing something, but didn’t get busy and work on it, and when he began to get serious about it, he found someone else had just patented it.

Well, my situation is not quite so important as an invention. I had been thinking about how games come to an end, not the victory conditions, but what causes a game to stop. Of course, I’ve been too busy to really work on the idea. So, this evening, I logged onto BGG, just to see what was new, and there, right in front of me was a new GeekList posted on that exact topic. There’s something there about “missing a boat,” I think.

I believe I will still pursue the topic someday. I notice that most of the examples and discussion posted as of this time relate to newer, popular games. I would like to delve into the finer nuances of how games end, and deal with games throughout history. I think it will be interesting to note the development of more complex game endings through the ages, consistent with the development of a more complex world. Perhaps this will be my primary thesis.

The GeekList will be a good source of data for me. Given the fact that the list exists on BGG, I will not publish my findings on BGG, but probably will post it here, whenever I get around to researching and writing it. Now that I’ve posted this thought, I probably will miss the boat again, and someone will post a great article somewhere else. Oh, well, I will try to identify some unique additions to whatever may exist at the time.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Games Played on February 4, 2006

One key to happiness – GAMES

Today was a great family games day. We played Bohnanza (6 players), Carcassonne (6 players), Settlers of Catan (6 players), Through the Desert (5 players), and Tongiaki (6 players).

Our grandson Joel won Bohnanza, with me 2nd, our daughter Katrina and son-in-law Dan tied for 3rd, Sue was 5th, and our son Mason was 6th. Joel is simply amazing at trading cards to his best advantage. Once, early in the game, when he made a decision about harvesting vs. trading, I said, “Why would you do that?” Then, I said that I shouldn’t ask, and that was correct. Obviously, he knows what he is doing; he beat me by one gold. Our Bohnanza games play very quickly, with lots of trading going on at every player’s turn (if the player has anything at all to trade). We have begun donating cards more, to clear unwanted cards from our hands, as well as trading multiple cards for singles, to better arrange our hands and fields. We are doing much better at hand management in this game. We never buy the third field, because we do not believe it pays for itself before the end of a six-player game. We go through the deck only twice. So --- we’ve played Bohnanza twice in 2006, with our 10-year-old granddaughter Natalia winning in the seven-player game, and 8-year-old Joel winning the six-player game. That is so neat!

Joel also won Carcassonne (with expansions The River, Traders and Builders, and Inns and Cathedrals). In fact, his score was over 160, and he finished 29 points ahead of Mason, who was 2nd place. I finished 3rd, because of a lot of points for my farmers, including the use of my pig. Katrina finished 4th, with Sue 5th, and Dan 6th. Joel has become an excellent Carcassonne player, sometimes sharing a city, rather than stealing it (if the person is not ahead of him or near him in score), and other times stealing a large city. What really won the game for him today was his acquisition of the trade goods – he had the majority of both barrels and wheat, and tied for the most ribbons (cloth). That may be the first time any of us managed to do that. This was only the second time Joel has won Carcassonne, playing with six players, and both victories have come in 2006, and winning the first game by an even larger margin. In fact, he’s the only one of us who has won this game so far this calendar year!

Mason won Settlers, his first game win in 2006. It’s unusual for him not to have won more games than one in the past month. It was a close game, with Mason winning with 10, Katrina and Sue tied for 2nd with 9, me in 4th with 8, Dan with 7, and Joel with 6. Joel has beaten us all at this game twice, in 2005, and I expect he will do so again. In the meantime, Mason and Dan are the usual winners, with Mason having 14 victories and Dan having 16 victories since we began playing in 2004, with the rest of us not even in that ballpark. This was our second game of Settlers in 2006, with Sue winning the first one. Sue had the Longest Road and two VP cards in today’s game, while I had the Largest Army. Mason won without either of those two-point cards and with no VP cards – strictly with settlements and cities, which was surprising to us. As usual, there were some interesting dice trends. The game was almost over before a 9 was rolled, while 11 came up about 6 times, and 3, 4, 5, and 10 were as common as 6 and 8. Twelve was rolled twice, and 2 was rolled once, which is about what would be expected. Also surprising in this game was having only a small number of rolls of 7. The robber was moved as many times or more by Soldier cards as by dice rolls.

This was our second game of Through the Desert. The first game, played last weekend, was won by Katrina, with Mason in 2nd place. Today, Sue won with 62 points, Katrina was 2nd with 60 points, I was 3rd with 58 points, Dan was 4th with 53 points, and Mason was 5th with 47 points. Mason forgot to try for longest caravan in a color, which I am sure he will not forget in the future. Although Dan and I have played this game online, we finished 3rd and 4th in both of the two games we’ve played at the table. Sue moved up from 5th place in last week’s game to 1st this week. We all really enjoy it, and it plays quickly with 5 players. The board gets pretty crowded by the time the game ends. We had only one waterhole unclaimed. I had my rider camel of one color surrounded, with only one open space where I could have played a second camel in that caravan, at the end of the game. I expect to see us playing this game fairly often.

The new game this weekend was Tongiaki. I had read the rules twice before we played, so I could explain the game. Katrina said she was getting sleepy while I was reading and demonstrating the rules, and she wasn’t very enthusiastic during the game play, but when the scores were totaled, she and Joel had tied for 1st place, with 21 points. I finished 3rd with 19, Mason was 4th with 17, Sue was 5th with 16, and Dan was 6th with 12. Even if you take the time near the end of the game (which we did not do) to add up the points it appears people will have, it is difficult to estimate who will be the winner. The last play of the game can determine the winner and change all the relative finishes. We had no idea that Katrina and Joel would finish in 1st place. As it turned out, we created no Royal Islands, but Katrina was the only person with boats on three of the islands at the end of the game. Joel finished well by having boats on lots of high-value islands. What is really amazing to me is that Joel had never seen this game until I explained the rules at the table. He asked a few questions during the game, as did virtually all of us, and he managed to tie for the win – good grief, he’s only 8 years old! What will he be doing in four or five years at these games?! It isn’t just beginner’s luck, either. He analyzes the options and usually selects what appears to be the best move. He just has a knack for learning and playing games. The game was longer than might normally be expected, with the last two tiles left to draw from being one island and one ocean, when the final ocean tile was drawn to end the game. That is as long as a game can go, having one tile left un-played. I think we all enjoyed this game, and I expect we will play it several times this year. It will be interesting to see how our game play changes, after we get a better feel for it. To facilitate keeping track of how many islands and ocean tiles were in play and for scoring at the end, I downloaded an excellent player aid from BoardGameGeek in advance. I also modified it to better suit our needs, which worked well. I will post the modified file on BGG soon.

The results for the day: Joel – 3 wins (including one tie); Sue – 1 win; Mason – 1 win; Katrina – 1 win (in a tie). Dan and I have not yet won a game in 2006. So far, in 2006, Sue has won 5 games, Katrina – 4 games, Joel – 4 games, Natalia – 1 game (the only one she’s played with us), Mason – 1 game, Dan – 0 games, and me – 0 games. Not an auspicious beginning for Dan and me.

Since January 1, 2001, the results are: Mason – 176 wins, Dan – 144, Katrina – 136, me – 125, Sue – 118, Joel – 15 (he has only been playing with us adults and counting wins during the past year and has played only a small number of games with us, but has a high percentage of wins of those games he has played), Natalia – 3 (she has played very few games with the rest of us, but has done very well at the few she played).

Next weekend, Mason will be on a hut trip in the Rocky Mountains, near Crested Butte, Colorado, including cross-country skiing and spending a night in a mountain hut with friends (this seems to be becoming an annual event for them). So, we will not be counting game victories next Saturday, but the rest of us will have a good time playing games together, anyway.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Friday, February 03, 2006

Gaming with People Unmet

One key to happiness – GAMES

Playing games with people you have never met in person can be an interesting pastime, and the gaming has a different feel to it than that of face-to-face games.

Shortly after I bought my first wargame (Afrika Korps), I subscribed to the Avalon Hill magazine “The General.” I then made the startling discovery that it was possible to play AK by mail and to locate opponents in the magazine. I was living in Virginia at the time and found a listing for another fellow living in Virginia who wanted to play AK by mail. I wrote to him, and over the next several months, we played a game of AK by mail. The process worked beautifully, and we were evenly-matched, both being new to the game. It was an eye-opening experience.

A year or so after my first PBM game, I purchased Diplomacy and found a thriving community of people across the country playing that game through the Postal Service. Playing Diplomacy by mail with six other people required a gamemaster and cost a small fee. I believe the first such game I played took over a year to complete. I was a co-winner of that game, because the other winner and I agreed to call it a draw after we eliminated the last of our opponents. The second time I played Diplomacy by mail did not require much of my time, as I was the first player eliminated.

Within this past year, I discovered online gaming. My first exposure was to BSW. I found that site to be intimidating and not worth the effort. In spite of an excellent online written guide and some helpful people who answered questions for me in real time, I just never enjoyed being there. I think it’s simply too big and complex for my tastes.

More recently, I was introduced to four other online sites – youplayit, spielbyweb, ludagora, and boiteajeux. Although the language barrier (for me) of ludagora and boiteajeux was an initial impediment, I learned to use Babel Fish to interpret enough words to allow me to navigate it and to play Through the Desert at the first and Torres and DVONN at the second. I have played Amun-Re at spielbyweb and Cartagena at youplayit. All of these sites provide excellent implementation of the games I’ve played. In December 2005, I purchased both Through the Desert and Cartagena, based, to a great extent, on my online experiences. The only reason I haven’t purchased the other games I’ve played online is that I do not believe my family gaming group would be interested in playing them. I will definitely continue to play these games online (well, perhaps not DVONN, as I’m not much interested in theme-less abstract games).

My most recent foray into gaming with an “unmet” opponent is a currently-ongoing PBEM (play by email) game of Afrika Korps, using Cyberboard software.

Playing games with people I have never met in person has been an interesting experience. I still have never met in person anyone I played against by mail, email, or online.

In face-to-face gaming, I pick up visual and oral clues about my opponent(s) which may either aid or hamper my play, depending on the astuteness of my observations or the degree to which I am misled or distracted by that input. Playing by mail, email, or online focuses my attention on the game board positions, the mechanics, and what I can infer from my opponent’s plays.

Face-to-face play is more social, involving more activity extraneous to the actual game play. Personalities play a strong role in whether the game experience is enjoyable or is a disaster. The environment also is a significant factor – the room temperature, lighting, relative comfort of seats and tables, distractions (family members, observers and kibitzers, pets), availability and quality of food and drink, the pressure of time deadlines, and the presence or absence of music or noise in the background are some factors that influence the enjoyment of face-to-face gaming.

Non-personal (not face-to-face) gaming removes most, if not all, of the above factors of gaming. There may be written or typed comments accompanying the moves, but that has a relatively minor effect on the play of the game. All of the environmental factors are strictly controlled to suit myself. This would seem to make it a more “pure” gaming experience, but the missing elements of the face-to-face experience also remove much of the “fun” side of gaming.

I am very much enjoying both types of gaming. I love the weekly face-to-face family gaming experiences I am fortunate enough to have available. I also appreciate having the opportunity to play games online or by email that I would not otherwise get to play. I would not want to give up either gaming method.

As neat side effects of my online gaming, I am enjoying an ongoing email correspondence (like an old-fashioned pen-pal arrangement) with the “unmet” person who introduced me to this contemporary gaming experience, and I am playing games with people living in other countries, an interesting experience which I am sure I would never have been allowed to enjoy, outside of online gaming.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Gaming with Co-workers

One key to happiness – GAMES

When I graduated from college and joined the throng of the employed, my first job was in a large civilian government office on a huge military base in Oklahoma. Entirely by accident and good fortune, my immediate supervisor (who was the office manager) loved to play games. The game selection was thin – a variation of Pitch with a deck of cards or a Pitch-like game played with dominoes.

Like most of the people in the office, I brought my lunch each day. At noon on my first day of work, I was surprised to see a group of seven or eight people sitting around two large gray metal government desks that were pushed together. Six of the people, including my boss, had various lunch items in front of them or on their laps, while one or two people sat in chairs behind them, also eating lunch. When I saw cards being dealt, I pulled up a chair behind the group and took out my lunch.

I quickly realized the six main players were playing Pitch, but it was a variation I had never seen. There were two teams of three players each, seated in alternate chairs in the circle. The deck of cards included two Jokers, marked High and Low. That, of course, is common in many variations of Pitch; what was unusual was the way the cards were dealt. The dealer gave each player six cards face-down and then three cards face-up. Each player had a nine-card hand, with three of them exposed, and all the deck was dealt. It was a 10-point variation, with one point for each of these cards in the trump suit: High (always the Ace), Low (almost always the Deuce), Jack, Off-Jack (same color, different suit), High Joker, Low Joker, and the Ten; the Three was worth 3 points and was caught by any other trump except the Deuce. When the bidding began, each player could see the six cards in his hand and three in front of each player, for a total of 24 cards, almost half the deck.

Bidding was almost as structured as Bridge, but on a much simpler level. If a player could see in his hand and his partners’ face-up cards, the Ace, King, and Deuce of one suit, his bid was 8. An Ace, King, Queen was worth 9, and an Ace, King, Queen, Deuce was a 10 bid. If someone bid 7, they had some cards worth points, but couldn’t see cards worth an 8 bid.

Everyone knew the bidding scheme, but sometimes it took a good look (and maybe a little luck) to figure out which suit they were planning to bid. A game was 21 points, which normally took a minimum of three hands to complete. However, anyone could bid “Shoot the Moon” (or “Shoot It”). This bid was the same as a 10 bid, but was worth an entire game, win or lose. Each player was allowed only one bid, which had to be higher than previous bids, with the dealer bidding last. A subsequent “Shoot the Moon” bid would overbid a previous “Shoot the Moon” bid. When bidding was finished, and the high bidder named the trump suit, each player put his face-up cards in his hand and reduced his hand to six cards for the game, with the high bidder playing the first card.

I’ve never seen a trick-taking card game played so quickly. If a player hesitated for more than 2 or 3 seconds to decide what to play, someone would say, “Come on, we’re waiting.” All of this was done between mouthfuls of sandwiches, chips, pickles, cookies, soup, crackers, and swigs of coffee, tea, water, and soda. It was like a high school cafeteria environment. Probably 55 minutes of the lunch hour involved dealing and playing cards and eating. The other 5 minutes covered setting up everything and putting it away.

As the lunch hour drew to a close, more and more “Shoot the Moon” bids were heard, sometimes in desperation, trying to catch up in the “games won” column for the day. If “Shoot the Moon” was the final bid, and a player on the opposite team had either the trump Ace or Deuce (which was an automatic point for the team that played it), that person would casually toss it face-up into the middle of the table (ala Mel Gibson in the final poker game in the movie Maverick) before the high bidder could even lead to the first trick, thus defeating the bid and winning the game. This might occur several times, so the count of games completed could easily reach 20 or more each lunch hour.

Now, I had played different variations of Pitch for about a dozen years, but I had never seen anything like this game. Generally, the two teams had the same teammates every day. The seventh person I had seen observing the game was the “first alternate.” If any of the regular players was absent, the alternate sat in for that person. My boss noticed me watching the game on my first day and asked whether I played Pitch. When I answered affirmatively, I was designated the “second alternate.” Within about a month, after I had substituted in several lunch sessions, I was moved up to first alternate because I played faster than the other alternate, and speed was highly prized.

Before my first year was finished, our office was pulled from the base and moved downtown to form the core of a new government agency. A couple of the Pitch group members remained on the base, so the other alternate and I became “primary” members in the new office.

Soon after the office move, our same boss began introducing a Shoot the Moon game played with dominoes. The play was similar to Pitch, with the dominoes’ numbers being the suits. We played either Pitch with cards or Shoot the Moon with dominoes during most lunch hours for the next year and a half. As employees left and new ones were hired, we acquired new game group members. It was still going strong when I changed jobs and moved out of state.

I had no co-worker gaming experiences for the next four-and-a-half years. After I was selected as manager of an office in still another state, I soon discovered that one of my top employees enjoyed playing chess. We often played “speed chess” during the lunch hour, and when we happened to take a business trip together, I took along my travel chess set. I was very happy to have it in my carry-on during the trip that found us stranded in the Chicago O’Hare Airport, due to a blizzard in our home town of Omaha. We played a lot of chess during that day and night!

By the late 1970’s, I had discovered and purchased several Avalon Hill wargames, but with the exception of one play-by-mail game of Afrika Korps, I had only played them solitaire. When I moved to a new job in Colorado, I was pleasantly surprised to find four other guys in the same office who took an immediate interest in Diplomacy and Wooden Ships & Iron Men. For about a year, four or five of us would get together one night a week for a game of WS&IM, with an occasional game of Diplomacy. Once, when we had a couple of other guys visiting our office for a few days, we managed to have a full seven-player game of Diplomacy at my house one evening. Eventually, four of us began playing Diplomacy during lunch each day, continuing a game on successive days, until completed. Then, I moved to a new job in another agency.

Gamers somehow seem to gravitate to each other. I soon met a fellow who worked in the same building, who loved to play Cribbage. I had never played it before, but we were soon playing Cribbage almost every day during lunch in the cafeteria. He and I also bought our first home computers at this time – Commodore 64 – and began visiting at each other’s homes regularly to play text adventure games, such as the Zork series, and the famous Atari dexterity games. When our interest in those games eventually faded, that was the end of my gaming with co-workers.

It was an interesting experience, playing games with people whom I also worked with or for, or whom I supervised. I think there is a fine line to be carefully observed in that endeavor. If the individual personalities are not highly compatible, or if there is a perceived and undesirable “pressure” to participate (between supervisor and subordinate), the situation can cause friction in the workplace. It is also quite possible for co-workers who do not participate to believe that the gaming relationship gives inappropriate advantages to the employees who play games with the boss. Supervisors and subordinates who play games together should be aware of the potential workplace problems that could arise. Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, I never experienced any of those problems.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Gaming with a Grandson

One key to happiness – GAMES

My Oxford American Dictionary defines gaming as “to gamble for money stakes.” Well, now, this definition needs some updating. The term, as used by the game geeks I know, generally has little or nothing to do with money stakes (except considering the cost of the game). Our “gaming” around here is strictly playing boardgames and card games for fun.

Warning to Readers: Grandpa Bragging Time Ahead --- My grandson, Joel, last month became 8 years old. He is a bright, polite, popular, friendly, handsome, talented boy who has a particular knack for mathematics and games. He is definitely on the geek trail. At about age two, he was playing
Chutes and Ladders with us. He soon moved up to My First Board Games and Uno, among other games. Then came a breakthrough – our family discovered Euro-games (due to clicking on a link to BoardGameGeek).

We soon were playing
Pick Picknic, Vampire, and Frank’s Zoo. By this time, Joel was three, and then four years old. That’s when we realized for the first time that he was progressing well ahead of his age in the area of mathematics (or at least simple arithmetic). During a game of Vampire, he casually mentioned that he had four more points than I did. My wife and I stared at him and at each other for a moment, quite surprised at this statement. From that time on, we quizzed him during games about our relative scores, requiring him to add and subtract digits in his head. His arithmetic skill grew by leaps and bounds, as did his ability in gaming. No, we can’t really take credit for “creating” his skills, but we subtly (or not so subtly) pushed him a bit to expand his abilities. We are firmly convinced that his desire to play games and figure out scores helped him considerably to reach the point where he is today. His second-grade teacher told his parents the other day that she loves being forced to come up with ways to challenge Joel in math at school. She said she was one of two teachers at a recent area meeting who could confidently say they had a student working well above his grade level in math.

Joel’s sister (Natalia, now age 10, who beat us all at 7-player
Bohnanza last Saturday) became an excellent reader at an early age. Joel developed his math skills early, but we wondered whether he would concentrate on that, rather than on learning to read. We should have had no concern about that. Joel watched his dad and me play Magic: The Gathering for a while, often sitting on his dad’s lap and asking questions. He soon wanted to play the game, but that required reading and understanding the text on all but the most simple cards. In short order, he was doing just that, primarily so he could play that game. His reading skill has progressed to the point that he is now becoming our “rules lawyer.” He discovered this week that we had not been playing Bohnanza correctly (or at least not according to the rulebook variants) when we played with three players or with seven players. We had played the regular five-player rules in both cases. Ah, yes, a true geek!

He and his dad became very interested in
HeroScape when it first came out, purchasing three master sets and all the expansions that have been released. Joel studied all the data cards for the figures, and essentially memorized them. Last summer, Toys R Us stores ran a promotional competition in HeroScape, and Joel and his dad signed up at the local store. Joel, playing against teenagers, won the competition and acquired several figures free. He even caused a bit of a stir by making a move which was questioned by his opponent. Joel practically quoted the rule that allowed his movement, and a check of the rulebook confirmed his accuracy. Definitely a rules lawyer.

Soon after we began playing
Carcassonne, we acquired Hunters & Gatherers. Very quickly, Joel was playing that game (and beating us), and it became one of his favorite games. He now enjoys Carcassonne with us, too.

After watching the five adults in our family group playing
Settlers of Catan for several months, he (at age 7) asked whether he could play a game of it with us. We all sort of hemmed and hawed, but finally agreed. I don’t believe he won the first time out, but it wasn’t long before he did beat us all at Settlers. He observes our play of a new game carefully, asks questions, and then proceeds to beat the socks off us. About a week ago, he asked whether he could try Ticket to Ride with us, and (as usual) he did very well at it, completing all his tickets in both games he’s played.

Last week, he and his sister spent a weekday night at our house, while their parents were out of town. Joel asked whether I would play a game with him (I virtually NEVER turn him down on that request), so I offered to teach him
Cartagena (a game I acquired last month, but hadn’t introduced to the family, although my son-in-law Dan and I had played it online). We played one game with our hands face-up, so Joel could learn it. In the second game, when he won by getting all six of his pirates into the escape boat, I had only one of mine in the boat. Hey, now, I’m not exactly a slouch at this game, I thought – why, I’ve even managed to beat sodaklady once at Cartagena online! Okay, we play two more games the next day; he wins one 6-3, and I win one 6-4. This kid is a natural game-player. You have to understand, and believe me when I say, that I do not “throw” games for Joel, to let him win. He is so sharp and so competitive that he pushes us all at whatever we play.

This past Saturday, our family gathered at our house, as usual, for food and games. As we got out a few games to play, I included
Around the World in 80 Days, a game I am fond of these days, but had only played twice. I noticed it accommodates up to six players, so I suggested Joel might want to join us. He had watched us play last time, so he knew the general idea of it. We explained the rules for him, refreshing our own memories, and played the game. Although Joel finished last, he made no mistakes and fully comprehended the game. I expect he will soon be winning it.

Over the past few years, Joel has beaten us (all as a group or in smaller groups or one-on-one) in the following games (these are the ones I can think of, at least): Pick Picknic, Vampire, Frank’s Zoo,
Zirkus Flohcati, Fill or Bust, Trumpet, Bohnanza, Royal Turf, Hunters & Gatherers, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Cartagena, HeroScape, and Magic: The Gathering. I believe that is quite an accomplishment for an 8-year-old.

I have come to the conclusion that I own no game that Joel would not be able to learn and to compete well in, given a chance. After playing Cartagena last week, I told Joel that he is an excellent game-player. He responded with, “So are you, Grandpa, and you teach me these games.” Can you possibly imagine how proud of him I am and how pleased I am to think about the gaming fun we have ahead of us? ------ Okay, grandpa bragging is now concluded.

Hope this hasn’t been too boring for you. Whether it was or wasn’t, I’ll just say that I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my good fortune with you, and I wish for you as many happy gaming hours as I’ve had over the past half-century and longer.

Until another time (perhaps), this is one grandpa who is a mile high on gaming.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; aka gamesgrandpa

{Originally posted on Gone Gaming on January 27, 2006}