Best board games of the holiday season

We always go on a bit of a board game binge over the holidays. We played some holdovers from past years — Settlers of Catan, Seven Wonders. I got an awesome bamboo catanboard for Catan, that was a great gift. And we got the Cities and Leaders expansions which added additional layers to this game. 7 wonders is a typical resource accumulate, barter, and build game, with a ton of strategic options.

triassicAnd then we tried a bunch of new games, the ones that passed the bar:

  • Triassic Terror. The great thing about this game is that we all finished within a couple points of each other, and the outcome was in doubt throughout the game. I have a lot of admiration for a game design that keeps everyone engaged and excited, the designer clearly thought hard about scoring mechanisms. Makes me think a lot about how to design games — if I were designing a game, I’d ignore the genre and backstory and visuals to start, and just get the mechanics and scoring system down, with a goal towards keeping everyone in the game. Only after I had nailed that would I start to overlay the story and visuals. I’ve bought a lot of games that had a great look or great theme, but fell apart completely as a game.
  • The Phantom Society. A very different game of ghosts and ghost hunters. Super simple game setup and game play so you can bring in people who don’t love the complexity of games like Seven Wonders, but you can seriously overbrain this game.
  • Renaissance Man. This game was good but not great. A lot of richness at the beginning of the game, but towards the end the paths all kind of peter out and the game gets a little constrained. But we played it several times and didn’t give up on.

We had some failures too but I won’t dwell on those…hope your holidays were good!

Board games this holiday season — 7 Wonders, K2, Kingdom Builder

We always get some board games over the holiday season and have some gamefests. Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Survive have been winners in past years. This year we tried 3:


* “Seven Wonders”: This was the real winner of the holiday season. It seemed crazy complex at first, but the game play is swift, there are many ways to win, and everyone is in the game until the last turn. Excellent game. And there are a bunch of expansion backs for it I see. This might be my new metric for judging games — if it has expansion packs, then it has probably found a good audience.
* “K2”: This one seemed promising, and it is not a complete disaster, but there are some problems in the end game that left us all feeling a little deflated. The bottlenecks at the top of the mountain really stymie play at the end.
* “Kingdom Builder”: Good reviews on Amazon and on some game sites, but this one is a dog. As one player described it, “This game is what I could come up with in 10 minutes”. We may have to go into the game design business.

I don’t really get Gamification

I love games, online or board. We always have a gamefest at family get-togethers — this year’s mania was “Survive: Escape from Atlantis”: And if you tracked my minutes of computer use during the week, I’m pretty sure the “game of the moment”: would be in the top 5-10. Games are what sucked me into software and computers long ago, I still love them.

So I get games and gaming, they are a durable source of entertainment. We’ve played games for all of human history and we will continue to do so. Betting on games seems like a sound investment strategy tho we’ve never found an investment that worked for us (man I wish we’d had money in PopCap).

However, games have their place, and I don’t want to play games all day long. If you look at the rest of the top 10 sites or services that I engage with, none of them have gamification features. No badges, or levels, or reward systems, or points, or whatever. I use sites because they are great tools (WordPress, Evernote, Twitter, Amazon, etc) or because they have great content (various sports, tech, econ, news sites) or they are in some other way very effective at helping me run my life or get my job done. All these sites invest a lot in user engagement I am sure — tracking my use, trying out alternatives and watching my response, moving UI elements around to encourage engagement, etc etc. But they don’t push explicit game features at me as part of the site (the sports sites obviously offer fantasy game experiences as an optional part of their site).

“Gamification”: seems to take engagement management a step too far, where gamification means putting explicit badges/levels/etc on an otherwise non-game site, to encourage engagement. First, real engagement comes from deep utility — great content or a great tool that really saves people time. No amount of gamification window dressing will overcome shortfalls in utility or content over time.

Second, gamification seems to miss the point of what makes games engaging. Great games have great stories, great characters, great head-to-head combat, are beautiful to look at, respond naturally to your input, etc. Level systems and awards are a part of the experience but only a minor part. Yes I get some gratification from leveling up in COD or other games, but if the game sucked, the level rewards wouldn’t keep me there.

Investing in user engagement makes total sense, and there are a ton of techniques to use, and some of them may start to resemble some elements of games — for instance “Keas” is using team-building and team competition to encourage engagement in health programs, and this seems to work (we have an investment in Keas) — social is an excellent motivator in many arenas. But gamification as it is generally defined doesn’t really make sense to me. Active management of user engagement, sure, that makes sense. Building great games, that makes total sense. Applying minor elements of gaming to non-game properties, ehh, it just feels manipulative.

I do wonder if applying the deeper elements of games — story, characters — to non-game properties would be a smart thing to try. Obviously requires a lot more creativity and skill, but stories are very very powerful.

No time to blog, so here’s a link roundup

* “Cutting the Cord on Cable”: Wish I could get there but live HD sports still keeps me stuck to cable/satellite provider. I’ve tried the streaming options and they are weak — poor selection of games/sources (I need ESPN/ABC channels + BTN + Fox Sports channels + upcoming Pac12 network), lots of stutter, not HD content. I will probably be one of the last cable subscribers in the country.
* “Men with deep voices lack sperm”: I was a tenor in choir.
* “Do programming puzzles in interviews work?”: I don’t think I’ve ever asked these kinds of questions, or at least not in 20 years.
* “Gamification sucks”: Respect your users.
* “The Verge”: and “The Wirecutter”: — good tech sites.
* “If you are busy, you are doing something wrong”:
* “10 new-ish programming languages”: WOuld like to learn more about Chapel, haXe, X10, OPA.
* “DSLRs are a dying breed”: Not another “camera phones are going to win” article, but a smarter take on the mirrorless trend.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis is our board game of the season

We always pick up a new board game at the holidays, in the past Settlers of Cataan and Ticket to Ride have been huge winners. This year it is “Survive”: which is a great game — super easy to learn, quick to play, and a great level of conflict. It has the Settlers attribute of a new board layout each game which keeps it fresh. If you like board games, recommended. If you were raised in the USA and think board games == Monopoly (barf), give one of these a try.

COD 1st day sales exceed $400M

“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sets first day sales record”: What stunning numbers. I don’t think “Skyrim”: will do the same but a huge week for online entertainment. There is clearly huge demand for great entertainment content, pretty much insatiable demand. And why not, these games give hours and hours of entertainment, the per-hour price is super low.

It’s not too early to start thinking about Father’s Day

I don’t need or want any of this stuff actually but am drawn to all of it…

* “Car map light”: Ok who looks at maps anymore, but this is nicely designed!
* “Multimeter Clock”: Love the reuse of old tech here. Wish I had the skill/vision to create things like this.
* “Carol Kipling Plates”: Love the platter but $2800 is steep…
* “14 wheel skateboard”: so I can suck at skateboarding 3.5 times as much.
* “Tourbillon vase”: — awesome organic-looking glass.
* “Urban Balance Wave Hammock”: — can this possibly be stable? But cool.
* “Designer Scrabble”: I love board games and I love nicely crafted items. I have a great cribbage board, would love to buy great boards for other games — Catan, TIcket to Ride, etc.
* “LaserPegs”: Lasers make everything better, including construction blocks.
* “Freesia Book Stands”: — these look awesome, seems like a great item to have.
* “Chemically Accurate Crayons”: OK these are just labels you stick on crayons you buy, so kind of dorky, but I love the idea. “Could you please pass me the Yttrium Oxide crayon”?

Christmas Board Games

We always buy some board games for the Christmas period and play them in the evening. Started the practice years ago with Settlers of Catan which remains the gold standard.  This year we tried:

  • Hanging Gardens, The | BoardGameGeek. OK it seems like this could be a fun game and we started to enjoy it, but the game exploded into a major argument about the rules. The rulebook is not the strongest.
  • Tzaar — fun and quick, but only two player. It is part of some series of games called Project GIPF that interrelate in some fashion, need to learn more about
  • Wasabi! — some liked, some did not. The winner liked, shockingly. I thought it was fun tho I pissed everyone off by playing the Wasabi! card late in the which really put the brakes on the action.  Late in the game, gameplay really slows down as the board gets cluttered which is a problem.

Settlers is still the best but these were all entertaining

Rogue for iPhone: nerdgasm

CrunchGear » Archive » Rogue for iPhone: nerdgasm. Installed.

Late 1982, I am killing myself chasing two degrees at CMU. In the mornings I was at the business school, classmates all wearing power suits and reading the WSJ and the Financial Times during breaks. Afternoons spent in the EE department with classic geeks.

After midnight in some lab deep in the bowels of the EE department, debugging some realtime ASM code for speech processing, and this lank-haired guy next to me asks “Hey, do you know how to kill a 12th-level necromancer?”

That was my intro to Rogue.

All over the place — Distilleries of Scotland, DC, Bullets, Games, Doghouses, Golf, Currency, and more