So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

King of Fillers: A King of Tokyo Review

We normally don’t play many fillers in our gaming group.  For the most part, we know each other well enough that we spend time catching up before we start playing.  I have been trying to curtail that, since we have plenty of time while gaming to catch up, and we are trying to limit the session to four hours.  A couple of weeks ago we had a couple of people running late, so a filler was in order.  King of Tokyo was what made it to the table, since it met the player count and wasn’t too long.  Did we like it?  Well, we finished with it too…

Promotional Image
King of Tokyo is meant to be a light game where each player takes on the role of a giant monster attacking Tokyo.  There is light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek humor which is evident from the moment players start selecting their monsters from the pool consisting of Meka-Dragon, Cyber Bunny and Alienoid.  During the course of the game, each monster will gain special powers, helping them defeat the other monsters (by doing damage) or lay waste to Tokyo (by gaining victory points).  Players win by either gaining 20 victory points or by eliminating all other monsters.

Here’s the thumbnail version of the rules.  On their turn, each player picks up a handful of dice and rolls them Yahtzee-style.  Each die has six sides with the same faces: the numbers 1, 2 and 3 as well as a claw, a heart and a lightning bolt.  The dice are rolled up to three times, with the player selecting which dice to keep and which to re-roll each time.   Rolling three numbers of a kind awards that many victory points.  In other words, rolling three 1’s gives 1 victory point; rolling three 2’s gives 2 victory points.  Rolling a claw is an attack, rolling a heart heals, and rolling a lightning bolt awards the player with an energy cube.  Energy cubes are the currency of the game, and are used to buy cards that give the special abilities mentioned before.  Players outside of Tokyo damage the one player inside the city (two in a five or six player game), and vice versa.  I won’t go into details on how one gets to Tokyo.  Suffice it to say that being in the city is a higher risk / higher reward position, and there are ways to force people into Tokyo.

I won with Alienoid in the first game, but he let me down
in the second! (Image by Raiko Puust)
This is a GREAT game!  In the first game, I won by being the last monster standing.  I had the chance to move into Tokyo on a turn late in the game.  On my next turn, I played an “Air Strike” card which dealt everyone – including me – three points of damage.  I then rolled four claws, doing damage to everyone outside the city and eliminating them all!  Since it was a six player game, it was just between myself and the other player inside Tokyo.  A couple of turns later there was a showdown and I barely won.

The second game lasted a little longer, and resulted in a victory point win for one of the other members of the group.  On one hand, this was a little less climactic, since only two people were eliminated (including me).  On the other hand, a longer game allowed more special powers to be put in play, and there’s some drama and humor to be gained that way, so it was just as fun!  Cards with titles such as, “We’re Only Making It STRONGER!”, this game begs to be played in your best B-grade creature feature voice.  In fact, part of the fun (at least for me) is going over the top with this.

The cards add special powers to the monsters, not to mention some corny humor!  (Image by Raiko Puust)
  At a half hour play time, this game has that in-between playing time that is a little long for a filler, and a little short for a full experience.  It’s kind of like getting loaded baked potatoes for an appetizer; should I stop here or order more food?  I am also not sure how well this will do with kids.  The theme is perfect for them, and they will easily be taught the rules.  However, being forced into Tokyo and then having everyone whomp on you just might be a little traumatic for some younger children.  I’ll still call it a good kids’ game, because I believe a typical 8 – 10 year old will be past that point.

The only other issue with this game might be finding a copy!  You will either have to go online or find a local gaming store to purchase it.  Do yourself a favor and find a way to get it!  When I recommended this on my 2012 Gift Buying Guide, I hadn't played it.  I based the recommendation on the games reputation, and it has more than lived up to it!  This is a great game that will be fun for many gatherings.  It will play well in both casual groups and in family groups across generations.  I plan to make it available at all of our game group sessions for quite a while, since it was a big hit with nearly everyone. 

King of Tokyo
                Ages:                    8 and up
                Time:                     30 minutes
                Players:                 2-6 (but I think it really needs at least three)

It’s Your Move

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Goals for 2013

Image by Columbia Pictures
I am not a big one for New Year's resolutions.  They seem to be strong assertions that often are just abandoned.  I personally believe that leaves a lot of people feeling bad about themselves.  I do believe in goals, however.  I have one for this year, and its a big one.  Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man size big.  It will probably be my goal for several years.  And it's about gaming.

As of today, 28 January 2013. my family's current game collection stands at a little more than 250 games.  (Say, 10% more-ish, but who's counting?)  The past two years have seen a lot of game acquisition.  In 2011, the number of games grew, well, significantly.  The total number didn't grow as much in 2012, largely because I traded away games I knew would never get played for new titles.  Looking at the situation, and specifically looking at the shelves filling up, I realized that this year has to be about something different.  So I've slowed down.  (Okay, I guess getting three games since New Years Day fails to be a shining example of restraint, but I'm a work in progress.)  I realized that I have games that I have had for years and never played.

So this year, or rather starting this year, I am going to play through the unplayed games in my collection.  Not all of them will get played; I really don't feel the need to play games aimed at preschoolers.  However, that still leaves a stack of games to be played, and I am determined to get through them.  In order to do that, I am going to focus on not getting new games.

King of Tokyo is rapidly becoming a favorite - and could
probably use a Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man!
What does this mean for you, the reader?  Does that mean that I will run out of games to write about?  The answer to that is "no", not for a while.  You see, that leaves me with about 50 games to try.  My gaming group meets 11 times a year (not in December), so I have a solid four years of games to review.  Of course, as I discover the dogs I will get rid of them, either by trading or selling, and  acquire new games.  And so it goes. 

Of course, this won't go smoothly.  In February, we are playing economic games, prompted by a request for Acquire.  I will try to squeeze in a new game, but since Acquire is on of my all-time favorites...  I can't say I will give up all of my favorites for four years while I get through the unplayed titles.  In fact, since I hope to discover some new favorites, this might just get harder and harder to do.  We'll have to wait and see.

It's Your Move!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Lessons

Yesterday, I got in the car and started listening to one of my favorite gaming podcasts, On Board Games.   In this particular episode, the hosts, Donald Dennis and Erik Dewey, were talking about teaching games with their guest, Giles Pritchard.  It was a pretty amazing coincidence to me, since I had an interesting teaching challenge this weekend at our gaming group.  Back in April 2011, I wrote about not being prepared to teach 7 Wonders, and I actually put it away rather than ruin the initial play experience for my gaming group.  I was teaching a new game at our monthly meeting on Sunday and once again wasn’t prepared, but in a way that caught me completely off guard.  Playing the game is one thing; scoring is another.

[As a complete aside, I really have to endorse not only the On Board Games podcast, but also Giles’ blog, Castle by Moonlight.  These are great resources for those interested in gaming at any level.]

We started off playing a couple of filler games until everyone arrived.  Afterwards I announced that I was teaching China (a fantastic game I will review soon).  I have never played the game, but I often end up teaching games that I have never played before.  It’s unavoidable, since I don’t get to other groups or conventions to play games with experienced players.  The game play is straightforward in China, literally taking only a few sentences to explain.  Normally, explaining the game play is the hard part; it can be very difficult to explain the various phases and options the player has on their turn.  Let’s use Monopoly as an example.  If you are playing strictly according to the rules, the player rolls the dice and moves their token.  From that point, they either: a) pay the owner of the property; b) buy the property; or c) do nothing.  Option a) is dictated if the property is owned.  If the player chooses option c), the property is put on auction, and there is a set of rules for that.  Of course, all of this goes out the window if the player lands on Chance, Free Parking or one of the other places on the board that have their own set of rules, too.

The scoring for Monopoly, however, is simple; there isn’t any scoring.  The winning player is the last person standing when everyone else has been eliminated.  Many games, and nearly all of the games our gaming group has played, have relatively straightforward scoring systems.  A few others are an exception, like Carcassonne, having a relative scoring element as one part of the whole score.  In Carcassonne, scoring farms is relative to how many completed cities touch that farm.  In China, nearly all of the scoring is relative.  That’s the difficulty in explaining the rules.  That’s what I wasn’t prepared for.  How much you score in a given province in China is relative to how many pieces other players put in the province.  That tension between gaining points and possibly giving away points forms the strategy.

I probably should have seen this coming.  I have trouble teaching Carcassonne precisely because of the farm scoring.  Instead, I fumbled around with an explanation of scoring on Sunday.  Fortunately, the other players were willing to play anyway, and after a first “learning game” we played a game with everyone understanding all of the rules: both game play and scoring.  It’s not that the scoring is hard to understand; it’s just hard to put into words.

In teaching the game I learned a lesson.  In the past, I would teach a game by first introducing the game’s theme or story, giving the game objective in story terms, giving the game objective in terms of the rules, and then explain what a player did on his or her turn.  Along the way, I would explain the various game components.  Explaining the scoring was simple enough that it just worked out in explaining everything else.  In China, that’s just not going to happen.  Explaining the scoring will need its own focus, and will probably need to include examples as I teach.  I will need to work a little more on my teaching technique.

It's Your Move!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Case for Complexity

Complex games often require a little more thought or a few more plays to wrap your head around.  Nonetheless, there are complex games that can be a great experience for casual or family play.  Blogger Keith Medlin was kind enough to contribute his thoughts on complex games.

Two popular threads in the wargames forum on BoardGameGeek right now are about wargames than can be played in less than 1 hour. Generally, though certainly not always, shorter games can mean less complexity. The other thread is looking to put a page limit on the rules for a wargame. Again, fewer pages doesn't guarantee less complexity, but it often facilitates it.

So, before I begin...what is complexity?

* Is Chess complex?
* Is Dominion complex?
* What about Mage Knight Board Game

Complexity is difficult to capture in a single defintion unfortunately when it comes to boardgames because of it's non-boardgame meaning:

1. The state or quality of being intricate or complicated.
2. A factor involved in a complicated process or situation.

By these definitions Chess most certainly is complex. Not because it is intricate, but because of the factors involved in the process and situations that the game presents. Mage Knight is complex for the opposite reason. The rules are intricate, but the problem-solving doesn't offer the same level of complication or situational evaluation.

Dominion, on the other hand, is not. The process for the game is relatively simplistic, though more than 4 players and the strategy ratchets up a bit. The puzzles aren't difficult to resolve for it either.

So, does complexity mean success or that a game is "good?" Absolutely not. Rather than extol the virtues of complex games on individual terms, it's important here to talk about the processes that go into playing distinctly complex games versus less complex ones. There is a strong case for complexity because it helps support problem solving, deduction, and cognitive reasoning.

First, let me say that I love non-complex games. Lost Cities is a great way to spend time with a loved one or friend. Ticket to Ride brings families together and gives an great introductory train game for kids of all ages who are into trains. There's nothing inherently wrong with easy to play, learn, and solve games. They provide incredible fun and allow players to enjoy the social aspects in the forefront of the in-game experience. It's lovely.

Complexity, however, is something designers and gamers shouldn't shy away from in any way! Complexity offers a new set of challenges, depth, and (as the definition says) intricacy. It's often in these nooks & crannies that we find some powerful cognitive abilities. Stroking those through practice is a great way to give yourself the mental workout you deserve! Keep that spongy thing between ears in tip top shape.

In fact, gaming decreases your chances for long term cognitive impairment according to the peer reviewed Neurology magazine ( Fernand Gobet, Alexander J. De Voogt, & Jean Retschitzki identified two types of complexity in board games in their 2004 book, Moves In Mind: The Psychology Of Board Games.

Mutational Complexity - This relates to how a player evaluates the given board state and the effects that moves will have on the changes that are made. This is particularly evident when there are many moving pieces or multiple sources and levels of information necessary to calculate with each move.

When I think about this, I think about the armor rules in Advanced Squad Leader. Not only am I determining the motion state of the vehicle, but also the facing of the turret, the vehicle's covered arc, the weight of the vehicle and what terrain on which I can move, the speed I can move, the effects of the potentially dozen units that are observing that move and what armament they have which can be brought to bear on me as well as the goal for my move. Each move I make with that tank can totally reshape the board state. This is true if successful or if I turn into a burning wreck because now I have smoke, fire, and defensive cover potentially.

Computational Complexity - This has to do with the relative game state with relation to it's end, how many "moves" must be considered in a branching state, and what their effects may have on the overall progress toward the goal.

Chess is handy here. When evaluating moves in chess you're thinking ahead not 1 or 2 steps, but rather 4 or 5 for an average level player. You need to consider HOW the pieces will move in order to achieve your given strategy. This is particularly true in the opening where both players are computing the probabilities involved in a variety of openings and responses that will shape the mid-game.

So what do we benefit from these skills?

Simply put, these are skills that can be applied across domains. Working through problems in your career can be aided by considering how the different components of game cognition are applied in your complex career. While not everyone is trying to solve the world's problems, there are definitely stressful situations and complexity that arise at all workplace environments. Whether it's the lunch rush at McDonald's or trying to negotiate a contract with a vendor, understanding how you can approach the situation using strategies you may have honed in a game of Go is handy!

Should you run out and try to tackle The Campaign for North Africa? Absolutely not! I am suggesting...strongly...that you consider adding more complex games into your rotation if you're not already doing so because of the scientific benefits for your mind.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

Our normal New Year's Eve, which normally sees a few games played, really didn't happen this year.  Instead, the year passed with great conversation.  I hope you got in a few more games than we did.

Over the holidays, our family received two games.  My son received 7 Wonders, which I already have.  While he is only 15, he is starting to collect the games he plans to take to college.  He actually has a pretty good collection started, and will take quite a few great games with him.

I received The Castles of Burgundy, which is a little more complex than the majority of my games.  We may play that in the gaming group in March, but probably not sooner than that.  It supposedly excels as just a two-player game, so that I may get to play it sooner.

Hope everyone has a great year.

It's Your Move!