Sunday, September 12

Summer Board Gaming: Long Distance

I started a new job recently, which had me staying in San Francisco for two weeks. To stay connected, Cait and I tried playing some board games together online. We used because it has a wide variety of games that play asynchronously. Due to the time difference, it wouldn’t have been very practical to carve out a chunk of time to play in real time.

Asynchronous gaming has its challenges; not every game adapts well to the format. Certainly nothing where players are directly negotiating with each other, though at least that mechanic is rare in two-player games. The most fitting games are ones where:

  • One player can take an entire turn without any interaction with the other.
  • Turns are on the longer side, or at least have some interesting decisions.
  • Strategies are either obvious enough or non-existant enough (i.e.: pure tactics) that there isn’t anything to forget between play sessions.

Stone Age is our favorite of the games that Yucata has available, so we went with it first, but we gave up after trying a round or two. The game has so much back and forth each turn as you alternate placing your meeples. Since your actions over the course of the turn tend to be pretty coordinated, we couldn’t imagine playing it effectively with so much time between each move.

Thurn and Taxis was the next one we tried, and it fit the playing model perfectly. You have enough to do on each turn, you can play independently, and your current route is always there reminding you of what you were trying to get done from the last time. Unfortunately, playing asynchronously just highlighted how much Thurn and Taxis is multiplayer solitaire, a race to the end without one player affecting the other. Being non-realtime actually exacerbated this: at least face-to-face you can see your opponent take the card that you really wanted. With hours between turns, you tend to forget which cards were face up the last time you played, so you tend not to miss any that were snatched away before you could get them. We played two games of this, but didn’t think it worth starting another. There was no feeling of actually playing against the other person.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers was the best of the games we played. Though Carcassonne has low interaction (at least when we play it we don’t do too much stealing), the amount that it does have survives online, unlike with Thurn and Taxis. Though it requires many short turns to complete a game, each of those turns is nice and discrete: you look at your tile and play it. You know it won’t take you very long, and there’s nothing to keep in your head for when you next go back.

Wednesday, September 8

My Blog vs. Cait’s on Google Instant

I showed Cait Google Instant this evening, and, as befitting a blogger, her first search was a vanity one. Her blog title was picked up after just “vast pu,” which I think is fairly respectable.

Here’s my attempt:


Wait for it…

That’s right: “Did you mean: frogmaster

Wednesday, September 1

Summer Board Gaming: Newport

When Cait and I vacation together, we’ll tend to get a comfortable hotel room (hot tub if it’s available), poke around a bit in whatever town we’re in, and spend the majority of the time playing games.

Our recent trip to Newport was just such an excursion, except that we also stopped in at The Game Keeper in Pawtucket to stock up. Though it’s exceedingly hard to find (you have to know it’s in the converted mill building; there are no signs) it may be the nicest game store I’ve ever been in. While it lacked the selection of, say, Games of Berkeley, or the obvious-that-it’s-hereness of The Games People Play, it had a friendly store owner and a nice depth of titles. Games were displayed facing front on nice racks, and were well-grouped (sometimes by theme, sometimes by mechanic). We had a lot of fun browsing, and walked away with a bit of a haul.

The clear favorite was Empire Builder, which is the first in a long-running series of “crayon rails” games. In these games, you have to develop a vast railroad network starting with nothing more than a few (million) bucks, a train, a crayon, and a dream. Over the course of the game you make money by moving goods across the country to fulfill “demand” cards (such as: $39 million to sell coffee in Los Angeles). The routes, however, are entirely of your own devising: the only track on the board is that which you buy and then draw with your crayon, making lines between dots laid out in a hex pattern.

One could consider Empire Builder as a much more advanced version of Ticket to Ride. It shares the building-routes-to-satisfy cards aspect, at least, and the getting-in-each-other’s-way level of player interaction. We enjoy the challenge of optimizing your routes to best meet your demands (pick up something in the east to sell in the west, then get something in the west you can sell in the south) and the constant balance between spending your cash to build new routes versus hoarding it for the $250 million win condition.

Credit goes to The How To Play Podcast for making me aware of this game. It was host Ryan Sturm’s favorite two-player game in the “How to Choose the Right Game” episode.