Wednesday, March 30, 2022

My two cents on Knizia and rankings

 There was a recent thread on Board Game Geek that game designer Reiner Knizia no longer has a game in the top 100 games in the BGG ranked listing.

As a Knizia fan, I had a moment of sadness, followed by apathy. There’s a touch of ‘passing of an era’ but there’s also quite a bit of ‘shrug’ I’m pretty sure Doctor Knizia is still laughing all the way to the bank.

First of all (and I’m sure this is already obsolete information), there are at least 125,600 games in the BGG database. A hundred games isn’t even one percent of those games, as many people pointed out.  Heck, he’s still in the top 1%.

Second of all, the rankings on Board Game Geek not only represent a sliver of the general gaming population, I’m pretty sure it represents only a fraction of their active users. It represents a niche. And I say that knowing I see one member of that niche in the mirror every day.

All of that said, I still think the ranking are very useful. Sure, there are biases but it’s still a LOT more useful than having no kind of rating system at all. I think you just have to use the system as the start of the conversation, not the final word.

Part of the discussion in the thread discussed other ways of organizing and ranking games to ‘correct’ the system. I’m pretty sure that most of these systems have their own biases and some are probably designed to get desired results :D

So. Start of the conversation. Not the final word.

Knizia and his games aren’t going anywhere. Tons of them are still In print, getting bought and getting played. His influence is still getting felt.

I also notice that, as of me writing this, Tigris and Euphrates is back on the top one hundred. Probably entirely due to the thread above. I’m sure there will be further adjustments.

Post Script:
(Stuff that didn’t fit into the main idea of what I was writing)

There’s a concept on TVTropes  called ‘Seinfeld’ is unfunny. The idea is that so many works have copied Seinfeld that folks don’t realize how innovative it was. I saw comments about how Knizia created generic German family games which made me laugh since he helped define the modern German family game. (Along with Teuber and Kramer and Moon, among others)

Monday, March 28, 2022

Why Clocktowers is still standing

 Clocktowers holds an amusing place in my collection. I’ve had it for a pretty long time. I think I picked it up in 2005 or 2006. I’ve barely played it. And I don’t have any plans on getting rid of it.

Okay. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s a deck of cards and takes up less space then most books. (Decks of cards get a lot more leeway when in comes to purges. SOMEDAY I WILL PLAY VERRATOR FOR THE FIRST TIME)  But that’s not the only reason.

Clocktowers is the card-version of the board game Capitol which was reprinted as Skyline 3000. While I’ve never even seen Capital, I did buy and play Skyline 3000.  And I thought Skyline 3000 wasn’t bad but it wasn’t a game that I held onto. The box was bigger than a book after all :D

Seriously, though, while being  a good game is the most important part for a game to survive a purge, the game actually seeing any play is also important. Storage space is also part of the equation. 

I have to admit that I didn’t properly grok Clocktowers when I first got it, which led to less play. I thought it was more of a pure set collection game and I couldn’t understand why we were building so few towers.

Now, with years of gaming under my belt, I realize that Clocktowers is driven by scarcity. There’s not even close to enough tower parts to go around so you are fighting over scraps to build any towers at all. That’s still a form of set collection but scales are tipped more extremely. If we had understood that back when I first got the game, we’d have played a lot more Clocktowers.

Now, I know that Slyline 3000 is a deeper, richer gaming experience than Clocktowers. But I wasn’t playing Skyline 3000 and Clocktowers, at a fraction of the space, gives me a similar experience. This is the same reason I still own King of the Elves but not Elfenlands anymore.

(On the contrary wise, Ticket to Ride: New York does not replace any of the big Ticket to Ride games. Because those are games that DO see play)

In some ways, Clocktowers feels like a missed opportunity for me. If I understood what it was trying to do when I didn’t have nearly as many games, it would have seen more play. But I think it’s worth keeping on the shelf.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Landlock in the time capsule of my mind

 The Legend of Landlock is a game that I was initially fascinated by when I first started looking at designer games. We are talking about when I just had a copy of Fluxx and a couple Cheapass Hip Pocket games. Before I even had my own copy Catan or even any games in actual boxes.

Landlock attracted my attention for two reasons. First all, it had gnomes. Second, I really wanted to try out  Carcassonne and it was the closest thing I could find to it.

Wow. That sentence is amazing.

To be fair, I was still getting a handle on ordering things online (man, does that make me sound old :D) and I hadn’t been to the good game store two counties over yet. 

Still, we live in an age where bookstores and big box stores have multiple shelves of board games. There’s a lot you still have to go out of your way to find but there’s a lot more readily available and game stores are a lot more common. When I picked up Landlock, the nearest game store to me specialized in jigsaw puzzles and magic tricks. 

Of course, within a year, I would become familiar with a half dozen online sites where I could order games. And conventions were amazing treasure hunts of items I couldn’t find anywhere else. Still, game stores that actually specialize in games is quite a thing when I stop and think about it.

In the end, as adorable as Landlock is, it came up short for me. It certainly couldn’t compare to Carcassonne (not that it’s expected to) We found that the rules for tussocks and bridges felt… clunky. Easy to understand but they felt like they had been shoved into the game.

Ironically, there are now free PnP games like Autumn or Micro Rome or Micropul that I think are better tile laying games than Landlock. Remembering Landlock isn’t remembering a tile laying game for kids. It’s realizing how many resources there are now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Infinite time travels leads to infinite corruption

 Someone recommended Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. While looking for it, I found out Charles Stross wrote a book by the same name. Since I had fun with the Laundry Files and it was short, I decided to try the Stross one first.

Okay. I’m just gong to spoil the book.





The reason why I decided to just spoil away is that the ending of the book subverted my expectations of the work enough to justify reading it.

Stross’s Palimpsest is about a Time Travel Institution that is dedicated to keeping the human race going until the heat death of the universe. A hefty chunk of the book is spent with timelines that pound down the cosmic scale of their work. 

Every time, the human race wipes itself out, the time travelers reseed the Earth with primitive people pulled from earlier in time, resetting the cycle. They end up restarting the sun and moving the entire solar system.

The actual narrative part of the book is about a new recruit named Pierce. As he becomes more experienced, he learns that there’s a lot of abuse and corruption in a basically omniscient organization. However, he learned of an opposition organization that is trying to expand the human race spatially as opposed to temporally. And an alternate future version of him is charge of the opposition. 

And here’s the thing. The book seems to be ready to wrap things up with some kind of clever twist, something that will solve the problem of an all powerful organization … and that doesn’t happen. 

Instead, Pierce points out that the opposition isn’t better than the old bosses, just different. It isn’t going to solve the problems of oppression and control. At the same time, while his own choices are constrained and limited, he does have new choices to make.

What choices he makes, we don’t know for certain.

So, instead of giving me a problem with a clever solution, Stross gives me questions. And that’s why I’m going to remember his Palimpsest.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Fond memories of The End of the Triumvirate

 The End of the Triumvirate is a game that left my collection a while back because, well, it just never made it on the table. The box says two-to-three but the game is really for three. It’s in the name. And I’ve found that any gathering of gaming that’s more than two is always more than three.

While I don’t regret it leaving the collection, I have nothing but good memories of the game. It managed to deal with some complex ideas with relatively simple rules.

The game takes place at the time when the First Triumvirate of the Roman Empire fell apart. This was a political alliance between Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. As I understand it, they basically worked together in order to bypass the checks and balances of the Roman Republic. Since it was all about personal advancement, it was already falling apart when Crassus died. Caesar’s civil war with Pompey is where the phrase crossing the Rubicon comes from. So you know who won in real life.

There are three ways of winning: military, politics and competence. And, since money entirely fuels the politics, I honestly remember it more as military, economics and PR.

And what I really remember liking is that the starting positions give each player an advantage in a different area. It’s an asymmetrical war game with no special powers and everyone is using the exact same rules. It’s not unique in that but it’s good to see it done well. 

The End of the Triumvirate also shows how war is as much about politics and economics as it is about fighting. (I try to avoid talking about stuff outside of gaming and books but this is definitely being shown right now) And it does so with relatively short playing time and simple rules.

The End of the Triumvirate is terribly clever.  Glad that I got to experience it.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Further confessions of a game hoarder

 I recently stumbled upon some dusty old files containing shopping lists from more than ten years ago. Lists of games that I thought about ordering, games that I did order and games I picked up at one convention or another. 

I already knew that I was a game hoarder, perhaps (hopefully) a recovering hoarder. But looking at this jumble of lists, electronic but still reminding me of old yellow legal pads with curling pages, makes me look at games  that I can’t even remember.

It’s one thing to have bought games that end up never played, the shelf of shame that has passed into both common language and myth. Yet, I found myself looking at game after game that I couldn’t even remember buying.

Who was this person that combed through shelves at conventions and electronic catalogs, gobbling up random games like gum drops, ignoring the chance that some of them might be licorice? This person who was me seem foreign, lost in a fog.

Acquisition as a hobby in and of itself is an ancient affliction. Pyramids packed full of stuff for the afterlife must have similar roots, if dramatically more impressive results. But it seems to serve little purpose other than to use up time and money and space.

Wanting to play lots of different games? Eminently reasonable, even noble. Filling up shelves with games that I have no longer heard of? Not so reasonable. Not quite sad but not a good idea.

Ten years ago, I began heavily purging my game collection. Some games were sold and others were given away and some were delicately tucked away into Goodwill bins. (Have no worries or fear. My closet still has plenty of games) These mystery games? They have long ago vanished. Like Bigfoot, leaving no trace of their existence. 

I love being a gamer. The games change but I still love it. Being a mindless hoarder, less so. (Don’t ask about all the PnP PDFs I have filed away)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Dragonbreath books k ow kids are genre savvy

 My brother and sister-in-law introduced us to the Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon to show to our son. They are still a bit beyond his reading level but I’ve been reading him a chapter or three a night. We are on book eight and he’s still not bored.

Danny Dragonbreath is a dragon and a fifth grader in a modern suburban town. Mind you, his world is one of anthropomorphic lizards and amphibians which makes him a little less unusual but he’s still a mythological creature in a mundane setting.

Each book has him and his friends go on some kind of adventure that has some kind of supernatural element. Occasionally Danny goes out of his way to find the adventure but the adventure usually find him. 

The tone of the books nicely balanced between comedy and action-drama. Living potato salad, frog ninjas, were-hotdogs and jackalopes are all pretty silly but the situations are still dangerous. There are stakes.

While the books almost never lean on the fourth wall, the characters, particularly Danny are very genre aware. This isn’t because Danny is a mythological creature. It’s because he and his friends have watched a lot of movies and played a lot of video games.

I’m a daddy and I’ve started being a substitute teacher recently. Danny, in particular, talks like a fifth grader. He’s snarky and overly enthusiastic and a bit of an otaku, as well as basically a sweet kid. Ursula Vernon gives kids a character who they can relate to and see in themselves. (Well, okay, Danny is more reckless than most kids I’ve dealt with)

A key element to Danny and the books is that he is a liminal character. He belongs to the mundane world and the mythological world. Being mythological gives him access to some interesting resources (particularly the ability to use the bus system to go to fantastic places) but his pop culture junky tendencies from the mundane world are just as important.

Like I said, our son has really been engaged by these books. He’s familiar with genre archetypes so characters are are very relatable. 

I need to find more books like Dragonbreath.

Monday, March 14, 2022

This time I ramble about Pokémon

 I am a table top gamer. So why is this the third time I’ve written about video games in a week?

I have not been playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus but I have been watching my wife play it. And it definitely makes an impression.

While I am not an expert in disturbingly wide world of Pokémon, I have played Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Sun, Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Go. And I’ve seen two episodes of the anime. So, I have an idea of how Pokémon works.

And Arceus (I am not going to type out the whole name every time) does shake up the mold. Keep in mind, if you strip away improvements in graphics and refining elements, even I could tell that Yellow (one of the earliest games) and Sun (one of the later games) followed the same formula.
I cannot help but compare Arceus to The Legend of Zelda:Breath of the Wild. That’s because I don’t play a lot of video games and have a very small pool of references. Breath of the Wild, of course, has a vast and sprawling environment, one that you can explore with only a few limitations. 

I’m not sure Arceus is a true open world sandbox. As opposed to one giant map, it is made up of admittedlt big zones and you can’t cross from one zone to another. Still, it’s a lot more open than any Pokémon game I’m aware of. You are much more engaged with the actual  world and interacting with the environment. (I love the fact the _human_ can hide in the tall grass)

The most interesting part of the environment is, as you’d hope it would be, Pokémon. While this is the not the first time we’ve seen them as an actual part of the biome (Pokémon Snap has done that very well twice) or free roaming Pokémon, it’s still a step away from the old formula.

This is the first time in a video game that nice seen Pokémon attacking humans. (I know it’s happened in movies and cartoons) Pokémon basically have every super power in the book. Actually having them try to kill you is scary and a welcome addition to the experience.

I probably approach video games from my origins as a table top RPGer. What is the world and how can I interact with it? Can I create my own narrative on top of the one that’s been bundled into the game? 

Arceus isn’t there yet but it’s closer than any other Pokémon game I’ve seen. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Link’s Awakening is an onion. It’s got layers and might make you cry

 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild turned out household from folks who knew the series existed to fans of the franchise. And while the open sandbox of Breath of the Wild is unique in the series (so far), we decided to dabble and get the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening.

You know, the game is almost thirty years old. I’m going to spoil the big twist at some point in this blog entry. Consider yourself warned and you already know the twist anyway.

Instead of a seemingly endless world to explore, Link’s Awakening gives you a tight series of puzzle-filled dungeons. You know, the kind where you get a new ability in every dungeon and you need to use it to solve the dungeon. Zelda fans say it helped popularize this style of game play across the medium but I have no idea if that’s true. 

Video Games are kind of wide, spongy medium full of flamboyant statements. It’s hard to say what and how much anything is true. 

Zelda historians also say that Link’s Awakening was the first Zelda game that had a more detailed and nuanced plot beyond beat up bad guys and save the princess. And there is definitely some stuff going on behind swinging a sword.




You already know this. The island of Koholint (That’s in my spellcheck!? Seriously?) is a dream. Nothing is real and Link’s quest to awaken the Windfish will result in the whole place going away for good. And if that’s news to you, don’t ask me about Luke Skywalker’s dad.

Multiple sources have stated that Twin Peaks was a major influence on the game. And that doesn’t surprise me. Twin Peaks played a big role in me appreciating the works of David Lynch. (As opposed to Eraser Head which played a big role in me waking up screaming.) Awakening is surreal, funny and creepy at the same time.

There’s a lot of weird stuff on the island. You not only face conventional monsters but also encounter various Mario foes  and Kirby (who, to be fair, probably would want to devour Link and wear his soul as a skin) There is an acknowledgment to the players, if not witihin the text, that this is a video game.

The island, in addition to having more monsters than Keep on the Borderlands, is chock full of quirky NPCs. It feels like Lynch’s Wild at Heart was an influence as well Twin Peaks. 

Marin is the only NPC who is remotely fleshed out on the island. She also serves as the love interest and actually gives the story stakes. If Link wakes the Windfish so he can escape the island, she ceases to exist. 

I mean, it’s going to happen unless you turn off the game and never play it ever again. But it changes the nature of the narrative. It isn’t just beat up the big bad. It’s about ending the world to save yourself.

Link’s Awakening doesn’t actually give you a morally ambiguous choice since there isn’t actually a choice. But it does ask a morally ambiguous question.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Piranesi - now that’s incredible world building!

 A while ago, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was recommended to me. And I kept putting off reading it for months. Then, I finally picked it up and tore through it in a couple sittings.

(And, no, I haven’t read Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrel, her first book. It’s more enticing now but Piranesi is a much shorter book so it was easier for me to fit in) 

Piranesi is an ontological mystery. And in case I sound smart, I only found that term when I was doing some light research about the book. I was already familiar with the idea and you are too. It’s when the characters wake up in a strange place and the mystery is what’s going on.

Anyway, this one is a doozy. The narrator, who tells his story via journal entries, is in a building that apparently goes on forever. The vast halls are filled with classically-styled sculptures and the place has tides, rain and clouds. The narrator assumes that he has always been there but there are plenty of hints from the get-go that there is much more going on. 

The title refers to the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi. One his most famous works is Imaginary Prisons, a series  of etchings depicting vast, impossible subterranean vaults. If you think you’ve never seen them, you’re probably wrong. They are one of the touchstones of fantastic architecture.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It’s not that there are really crazy twists and turns. It’s just that the narrator’s journey is so well done that I think it’s better to go on the ride without knowing what’s going to happen.

There have been many works where the setting is as much a character as any of the more conventionally defined characters. And not necessarily as Genius Loci. The House definitely qualifies. The narrator is intriguing and the plot is fun but the setting is the champion of Piranesi. The House is endlessly fascinating.

If I wanted to spoil the book, I’d have so much more to say.

Monday, March 7, 2022

I want to explore Kirby’s forgotten land

 While I am more of a table top gamer, I married into a video gaming family. Nintendo in particular. Before my marriage, I couldn’t have picked Kirby out of a lineup of Space Invaders aliens and now I’ve played at least three different Kirby games.

(Kirby is a silent but heroic pink blob who can gain the powers of enemies who eats alive. And he is somehow adorable instead of a soul-destroying horror)

So, when the demo for Kirby and the Forgotten Land, every member of the household who isn’t a cat played through it. I had to look up to find this out but this is the first Kirby that’s a 3-D platformer, as opposed to a 2-D one.

And if you’re like me, you need someone to explain that a platformer is a game where you follow a path full of obstacles, puzzles and enemies. And a 3-D ones means the developers can make the environment more complex.

I know there is a _lot_ that the full game will have that the demo doesn’t even hint at. However, one thing that drew me in and made me want to play the full game is the environment.

In the opening cutscene, Kirby and other inhabitants of his pastoral Arcadia are pulled through a portal into a new world. And it is a very promising world. 

Kirby finds himself on the outskirts of an abandoned , overgrown city. Flowers growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. Crumbling skyscrapers with vines. We are talking on sad, quiet end of ‘After Man’, post apocalypse. Nature is reclaiming what once was civilization.

And it sure looks like a world made by and for humans, not the adorable creatures of Kirby’s normal worlds. Although I’m pretty sure they will inherit it.

I don’t know if the game will be able to live up to the promise of the setting. My Kirby experiences have had the little pink guy in playful environments. This is Kirby hanging out in a world steeped in tragedy and loss, a forgotten land… Hey, that’s where the name comes from!

I know that the game play is going to consist of jumping, and pushing and eating the souls of your enemies and wearing them as your skin but it’s happening in one evocative place. I do want to guide Kirby on his adventures but I also want to explore this world.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Wrapping up. Creative Kids R&W part four

 Okay. Last two Roll and Writes in this collection.


No grid this time. The playing area is scattered with dice faces, vegetables and rotten tomatoes. You roll six dice at a time. You then pair dice up and draw lines in between dice faces that match those dice. You’re trying to box in vegetables for points but not rotten tomatoes that will cost you points.

If you’ve played Raging Bulls, it all makes sense.

And while Raging Bulls is a stronger than Vegetable, Vegetable is still very solid. 

The game lasts nine rounds and you will be drawing three lines per round. (And yes, the lines have to be straight and not touch anything between their two points) That’s not nearly enough lines to box in everything. You also get to change a die six times during the game so there’s some dice manipulation.

In other words, you have to make real choices, the decision tree is wide for a game of this weight, and there aren’t obvious best choices. 

I don’t know how vegetable might work in the classroom. Drawing lines isn’t that hard a concept to teach. But I’m sure you’d get a wide variety of finished player sheets!

Hello Autumn

I have been struggling to succinctly describe Hello Autumn. Which is hilarious because it’s one of those game where one glance at the player sheet explains the game perfectly.

The sheet has fifteen leaves on it. Each one has a one of three different colors/symbols, along with two different scoring conditions. One will be either even or odd. The other will be a number greater than seven through nine.

Each turn, you roll four dice and put the results into a math chart. Row of four values, add each values that is next to each other to get three values. Which the chart assigns to a specific symbol/color. I’ve done a poor job explaining it but, again, the actual player sheet makes it easy to understand.

You assign each number to a leaf with a matching symbol/color. You get a point for each scoring condition, up to two points per leaf. Five round and most points wins.

I initially was annoyed that the game rewarded rolling high numbers. Then, I decided that it wasn’t a game about optimization but one about damage control. Then it clicked.

Honestly, I think Hello Autumn might be frustrating for kids in a class room. You aren’t always rewarded for making smart decisions but hurt less by making them. But I think it would work well for more dedicated gamers.


These were interesting games to wrap up my examination of the Roll and Writes from the collection. On the one hand, they don’t feel ideal for the classroom, particularly Hello Autumn. On the other hand, these are the games that I would recommend to seasoned gamers the most. They lack obvious, easy choices, which makes them more interesting.

At some point, I’ll probably look at the other games. Roll and Writes are just ones I could easily solitaire, which made them easy to check out. 

I partially got the collection because I thought they might come in handy as a substitute teacher. But I don’t think they will. I’m not going to be with any group long enough to properly teach the games. And, while there are kids who would love them, there are kids in every group that would fight having to learn them.

Still, I am glad the collection exists and that I got it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

My February Gaming

 At first, it looked the only new game I’d learn in February was Loco Momo on Board Game Arena. Which I have found amusing but if that’s all I learned, that would have been pretty ‘lazy’ of  me. 

And I’m sure I’ll have some months where gaming is a low priority but I did end up trying some other stuff and exploring other ideas. 

I have been trying to learn at least one PnP Roll and Write a month because, well, it’s print and add dice for a lot of them. It’s an easy time and material investment. Last month, I finally played Vegetable and Hello Autumn from the Creative Kids bundle. And I intend to write a proper blog about them but I will say they are the games I am most likely to suggest to older gamers from a collection aimed at classrooms.

I also tried a couple of In Hand games. Behind the Iron from the 2021 solitaire contest and Little Dingy from the 2022 9-Card contest. I haven’t decided what I think of either of them but Behind the Iron, which just has you hold the cards in a row was much easier to physically deal with. Little Dingy is a tile laying game where you hold the map in your hands. I laminated the cards so thsy were slippery but I kept dropping the cards. Cool concept, though.

Finally, I want to comment on two games I learned in January and then kept in regular rotation, Ukiyo and Waffle Hassle. Both are 18-card tile laying games that have tiny foot prints. However, Waffle Hassle, particularly in solitaire mode, is really more of a fidget activity. (Which does mean it has seen plenty of play from me lol) Ukiyo, on the other hand, crosses over into being a full game for me. A tiny, very quick game, yeah, but one with definite decisions. Ukiyo is a game that I can and will recommend to other gamers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

My February PnP

 February. I feel like life being busy has become so status quo that it seems silly to say it anymore. I actually got in more crafting than I expected.

Here’s what I made last month:

Fruit Picking

Behind the Iron (2021 Solitaire Contest)

Between the Lines (2021 9-Card Contest)

Bee Home (Creative Kids)

Space Shipped

Tetri Go (Creative Kids)

Words (Creative Kids)

Little Dingy (2022 9-Card contest)

A lot of these projects were itty bitty ones. The only one that was more than one or two pages was Space Shipped. I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to try it but it looks promising.

I made laminated copies of Tetri Go and Words not for myself but to have sturdier copies to show to a teacher to evaluate if they can use them in the classroom.

I have had a goal of making a ‘larger’ project each month for a while. I think that is getting more refined. More often than not, I’m using published files. That’s no guarantee of quality but it does have a higher chance of play testing. With time getting more and more precious, I’m getting pickier.