Thoughts From The Gameroom

The ramblings of a Euro-gamer from South Dakota

Archive for May, 2007

Will Satire Become Reality?

Posted by sodaklady on May 6, 2007

About a year ago (July 2006), I wrote a satiric article for Gone Gaming showing how the X-Play team of Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb would review a board game–The Settlers of Catan, to be precise.   Now that Catan is out on the X-Box Live Arcade, it could actually happen.  Is it prescience or just an example of truth is stranger than fiction?

Personally, I think this is a silly, if not totally stupid, choice of games to put on a video game console.  The majority of hard-core video gamers want to slash and shoot in first-person shooters or build up their characters in an rpg; I just can’t see them sitting down for a slow-paced, thinking-required type of game.  Time will tell, I guess, and in the end, maybe we board game geeks will be pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, it gives me an excuse to republish the original article. 🙂

X-Play Reviews a Board Game

 (For those who don’t know about X-Play on G4 TV, they review video games and most likely do not spend their money on card board unless it temporarily encloses something electronic.)

 –Announcer’s voice:  And now, 2 people who think macaroni and cheese is finger food, here’s Adam Sizzler and Morgan Wedd.

 A:  Hello and welcome to X-Play.  Today we’re doing something a little different.  The powers that be…

 M:  That’s the high muckety-mucks who pay us and have threatened to trade us to a local morning show in South Dakota if we don’t do this review…

 A:  Yeah, them.  They’ve  asked us to review a board game. Now for you youngsters with calluses on your thumbs, and eyes that fear the light of day, a board game is an ancient form of entertainment where people gather around a table full of cardboard, paper, and wood, metal or plastic in direct competition with each other to reconfigure these items in some way which results in earning points or money.  My guess is that you should have at least one these board game things around in case the electricity goes out and you forgot to buy extra batteries for your handheld game.

 M:  Right, batteries.  I knew there was something I was supposed to buy before I go home tonight.

 A:  The game we’re reviewing is Settlers of Catan and since it’s a multi-player game, we tied a couple of interns to chairs and sat down to try it out.  When you open the box you find some wooden pieces that look like sticks and houses, a deck of cards,  a pair of dice and a bunch of cardboard hexagons in several colors which represent different types of land that produce different commodities.  There’s also a rule book which you have to READ!  That’s right, there’s no in-game tutorial to show you how it works.

 M:  That’s when it’s nice to have interns to force to do your work while you go out to lunch in a nice restaurant.

 A:  You’d think with all our technology, they could include a DVD showing how to play the game so people aren’t forced to wade through pages of rules.  Anyway, when we came back from lunch, the interns had set up the game and figured out how to play.

 The idea of the game is that you’re a poor but hard-working settler trying to expand your colony by gathering the necessary commodities to build settlements and roads or to upgrade your settlements to cities with electricity for TVs, computers and game consoles.  You can also buy cards with special abilities.

 So on your turn you roll the dice, collect commodities if you’ve got more luck that a bad guy in a Clint Eastwood movie, and then you can trade your commodities with other players, the native inhabitants (who are shrewd negotiators) or take it to a port to trade overseas.  Finally, you can build if you’ve managed to accumulate the necessary goods.

 M:   You don’t get to shoot anything or blow anything up, which I think is a big drawback.  I thought it would be more fun if you could bomb someone’s road when you roll a 7!

 A:  That would be fun, Morgan, but a roll of 7 sends the Robber to steal commodities like a Robin Hood who has a disturbing attraction to sheep.  Turns keep going around the table until someone gets 10 points.  Points are earned for each settlement and city, the longest road and the most knights (which are cards you can buy).  It wasn’t too bad, actually, if you like just sitting around using your brain and talking to people.  Morgan, did you know interns have names?!

 M:  Someone told me that once but I didn’t believe them.

 A:  To sum up, I wouldn’t mind having this around for when my parents come to visit but for myself, I’d rather play Ratchet and Clank Go On Vacation.  I give it 3 sheered sheep out of 5.

 Does anyone know where I can buy a portable generator?

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It’s Always Something–Mahjong

Posted by sodaklady on May 4, 2007

My interest in Mahjong was renewed when someone posted that they had found an online retailer with copies of Mhing.  “Hmm,” I thought, “I have a Mahjong set and tiles are so much cooler to play with than cards.”  But, of course, at the time there was no one around to play with.

 But have no fear; a few years ago, before I discovered BGG, I bought a pc version called Hong Kong Mahjong which I played a couple of times and enjoyed, so I opened that up and played 3 games against the AIs.  I also dug out the el cheapo set and left it on the kitchen table in hopes that someone would be interested in playing.

 The rules that came with the set (I think they’re the Japanese rules) are not the same ones that the computer game plays, the scoring is complicated and includes points for “type of waiting” (Waiting for two-ended sequence, Waiting for Middle Sequence, Waiting for a pair, etc.).  When my family and I played it many years ago, we didn’t take to it very well and didn’t play very many times before putting it away on the shelf.  The Hong Kong rules (or Chinese) are much more straight-forward and I thought I could persuade someone to play.  Now I needed rules for 2 or 3 players.

 I, of course, checked BGG for 2-player rules and found some where the only change is that you cannot pick up a discarded tile for a chow (sequence of 3).  Just two players, drawing and discarding.  This doesn’t feel quite the same to me because I like the tension that comes from hoping the chow tile I need isn’t discarded by one of the two opponents that I can’t steal from.  (A 3- or 4- of a kind can be picked up from anyone’s discard pile.)

 I came up with my own idea, which is to draw and discard a tile for each of the two “invisible” players.  They have no hand, just the discarded tiles.

 I like this idea for 3 reasons:

  1.   It retains the tension and frustration provided by 4 discard piles.
  2.   It can place some of the Flowers and Seasons in the hands of the “invisible”   players which I think keeps more of the feel a of 4-player game.
  3.   It cycles through the tiles faster and keeps the game from being too long.

 My daughter, surprisingly, saw the Mahjong set on the table and asked if I’d show her how to play.  She remembered the tiles from when she was very little but had never gotten to play.  After teaching her the rules, we tried a couple hands of my variant before she had to go and I think it played very well and felt more like Mahjong instead of just a 2-handed rummy.

 A couple of days later, I managed to play a couple of hands 3-handed with Cori and Richard using the same method of drawing and discarding for the invisible 4th player.  Again, the loss of a real player didn’t change the feel of the game play and Cori agreed that it’s nice to be able to cycle through the tiles faster, especially towards the end of the hand when you’re waiting for the winning tile.

 I know Mahjong isn’t something most gamers would play; it doesn’t require deep thought or give you lots of choices but for people who like card games, it’s superior to vanilla Rummy.  In Rummy, it doesn’t matter what type of sets you make and you have the option of playing on another player’s melded sets, which Mahjong doesn’t allow.  In Mahjong, the more difficult or unique your finished hand is, the higher your score and the more other players pay you.  This gives you options when you first assess your hand: should I go for the easy sequence sets, the harder 3-of-a-kind sets or try for a special hand such as all one suit.

 Mahjong is a more sociable game rather than a gamer’s game and might be just what you need when non-gamers come to visit.  Besides, it’s got clicking, clacking tiles!

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