Tag Archives: Analog Gaming

Analog Gaming: I’m Dying For DungeonQuest

That’s the cover to DungeonQuest, a game that came out in 1985. I bought it probably around 1987 or 1988, and it’s a game I really like.

In it, you are exploring a castle with all sorts of rooms and passages. At the center is a Dragon’s lair, where you can find treasure aplenty. Problem is making it there. See, not only are you building the rooms as you go along (by drawing tiles randomly, which means often going in the wrong direction) but you’re encountering all kinds of traps and monsters in your way.

The thing about DungeonQuest is that it is a crazy lethal game. There are cards that just plain kill your guy, period. For instance, there are some amulets in the game. Some are very good. Some are bad. The only way to know what the one you found does is to put it on, and hope it’s not the one that straight up kills you immediately.

And it’s not like getting to the treasure room means victory. There’s a dragon sleeping in that room. Whenever you grab treasure from it, you check to see if it wakes up, and if it does, you’re usually dead. The longer you stay in, the better chance it has of waking up. And if another player is in there with you, it’s an even better chance.

So let’s say you got to the center, grabbed some PH4T L3WT, and the dragon is asleep. Score, right? Nope. Now you have to get OUT of the dungeon. And you might not be able to get out the same way you got in, because there are ways for the rooms to close off behind you. (In addition, there are very few ways to gain lost hit points, so the damage you’ve already taken is still going to be hurting you.)

Did I mention that you’re being timed? You’re going into this hell-hole during the day, which is the only time it’s safe enough to do so. Every turn the sun is going down, and anyone still in the dungeon at nightfall is history.

How a typical DungeonQuest game ends: everyone dead.
How a typical DungeonQuest game ends: everyone dead.

Let me put it this way: someone I was playing with went in to the dungeon, found a treasure worth a measly 30 gold pieces in the first room, and then left the dungeon. He ended up winning because everyone else died.

At this point you are probably wondering why anyone would play this thing, but let me assure you that DungeonQuest is crazy fun. Sure, it’s a bunch of stupid luck and player killing, but it is an absolute hoot to play. And it doesn’t take that long, so you can go again and again.

It’s been out of print for a while, and its original company, Games Workshop, eventually put out Warhammer and, upon discovering that gamers would happily pay tons of cash for plastic models, never bothered to make much of anything else. This left DungeonQuest and other great GW games languishing in limbo.

However, recently there’s been a run on other companies taking over old GW properties. A lot of old dorm-room favorites from the ’80s are being polished up and put out by some of the more raucous game companies looking to satisfy fans of plastic and dice instead of wood and auctions. Finally, it’s DungeonQuest’s turn.

Here’s the new cover to DungeonQuest, which is being put out by Fantasy Flight Games and making its debut at GenCon this weekend. FFG has made the rules available on their website, and I have downloaded them and pored through them. It really does seem that they’ve streamlined the game and improved it. And the new edition looks fantastic; Fantasy Flight is known for overproducing components and giving their games a really stellar look. I can’t wait.

Hold on…wait for what? I already own this game! Not only that, the copy I own hasn’t been played since 2008! Why would I buy this? Yet I have friends going to GenCon who I’ve had to force myself not to ask to pick it up for me. (At retail price, even!) I have one friend who has not yet left for GenCon that I still consider asking! This is crazy!

And another thing: this original game had an expansion: DungeonQuest Catacombs. I have the Catacombs expansion and ended up removing it from the base game because I thought it made the game less fun. This new edition integrates the Catacombs into it, so in theory that should be even less incentive to grab it.

I should just take the copy I already have on my shelf, invite some folks over, and treat myself to watching a bunch of adventurers meet their makers over and over again. This would cost me nothing, and I could do it right now. But instead I’m pining for this other edition I don’t need, which costs $60 (and, for all I know, will sell out within five minutes because they only brought twelve copies to the convention, as is so often the case.)

What I need the new DungeonQuest like.
What I need the new DungeonQuest like.

I suppose that I should consider myself lucky to have “problems” like this.

Analog Gaming: Why You’re Not Reading a Review of Cyclades

I have two regular boardgame groups, one that meets on Sundays and one that meets on Tuesdays. This past Tuesday Mike, Jim, Kyle, Chris, and I met and played Jim’s new acquisition, Cyclades. This was good because I figured hey, I can review it for Analog Gaming!


Cyclades is by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, who’ve done a number of games together, including the delightful Dice Town, which I love. Cyclades is set in the ancient Greek isles, and the goal is to establish two metropolises (metropoles?) in the isles. To do this you need to win the favor of the gods, hire mythological creatures, and spill the blood of your opponents (or at least sufficiently screw up their plans.)

Briefly, the game works like this. Some islands and some ocean spaces generate income. First you get your income, and then people try and win the favor of one of five Gods. Each God grants a special ability: Ares provides warriors and lets you move them, Poseidon provides fleets and lets you move them, Zeus gives you priests (which make offerings to the gods cheaper) and Athena gives you Philosophers, which can be collected to build metropoli. These four gods also have an associated building that gives some kind of ability, and if you get all four buildings, you can swap them for a metropolis. There’s also Apollo, the slut of the Gods, who is always available to anyone and gives cash. You win favor by, of course, an auction. If you get outbid on a God, you have to immediately move your bid to a different one. Once everyone has their own God, you do the actions in God order (which has been randomized). You can also buy one of the available mythological creatures, which provides some kind of temporary special ability.

Fights are pretty straightforward and are based partly on die rolls. (Pauses to take a sip of water while the luck-averse Eurogamers in the audience clutch their pearls and fan themselves.) You add the number of troops on each side to a die roll, and the loser discards one guy. If anyone’s left, both sides have a chance to retreat, and if anyone’s left after that, you fight again until only one side has troops remaining.

As I said, first player to have two metropolese at the end of the round wins. So there’s nothing overly complicated going on here. We set it up, picked our colors, did a rules read (which got one rule wrong, but that’s okay), and got started.

By round two I realized I hated this game.

Okay, that’s a strong word. I didn’t hate it. I’ve hated games before while playing them, such as Don Quixote. But I realized that I really didn’t care about anything that was happening on the board. None of this was grabbing me, and not only did I not see much of a way to achieve my goal in the game, I wasn’t overly interested in finding one.

Now, I could have offered up The Stick. See, in this Tuesday group, we have a tradition involving The Stick, pictured here:

The Stick

As you can see, the stick is actually a plastic bone. A few years ago Mike, Dan, TJ, and I were playing a game called Alexandros. None of use were enjoying this completely abstract snooze-a-thon, so Mike made a proposition. He reached onto a shelf and found this plastic bone and declared that if anyone wants to stop playing he can “shake the stick” (the bone) and if someone else agrees, we quit. A turn or two later, TJ was pondering his move and Dan said, “I don’t know what the hell you’re thinking hard about over there because I’m shaking that fucking stick as soon as it’s my turn.” If you’re not enjoying the game being played, you can offer the stick and — and this is important — we’ll stop playing if someone else also agrees. You can’t just shake your way out of losing a game.

I wasn’t liking Cyclades, but it didn’t seem like a stick-shaker. It was just not my thing. Everyone else seemed to be into it, so I just decided I would keep my mouth shut, go with a low-key strategy, and keep on. I’m not a big fan of moaning about a game out loud, and I didn’t want to wreck anyone else’s fun.

Eventually Chris won the game, and we all congratulated him. This is about the time, in the case of a new game, when we all give our impressions of it, and I led off saying, “Man, I really didn’t care for that one.” It turned out that neither did Mike. Or Chris. Kyle wasn’t crazy about it. Jim probably liked it the best, but I don’t think he was going to put it on any “Best of 2010″ lists.

In retrospect, it should have been pretty easy to figure out that none of us were really getting into it. The biggest indicator should have been the fact that, for an interaction-intense, combat-heavy game, nobody was fighting. There was one battle the entire game, and it was what ended the game. We did bump people around in the auction, but even that wasn’t terribly confrontational; most people just accepted their fate. Hell, at one point I got to bid on Ares for practically free (plus the start player position, because of the rule we got wrong) because nobody had grabbed him yet — and I was rebidding after being bumped.

Now, I don’t know why Cyclades didn’t click with the others. I don’t know why it didn’t click with me. I certainly like other games it’s similar to, and there’s nothing about it I could see that doesn’t work. Maybe I was just not in the right mood. Maybe my shoes were too tight. Maybe my heart was two sizes too small.

Cyclades has a good reputation. It pleased both Tom Vasel and Michael Barnes, two very different types of gamers and reviewers. Bruno Faidutti, a game designer whose work I really like, nominated it for his Game of the Year. It’s got a fairly high rating on BGG (but then again, it’s a game that came out within the past six months, which gives it like 25 extra Sexy Points there.) My pal Matt, from the Sunday group, likes it well enough (he wasn’t as enthused as those other reviewers, but he still enjoyed it.) Why did I just give up on it almost right out of the gate? I really don’t know.

I feel like I should play it again, give it another chance. Obviously with more conflict and trash talking and beer and some interested players it would be a different creature. But I don’t know. If it were brought to the table, I’d happily join in, but I don’t feel the need to give it a fair shake. Thinking about it now, while I can see it impartially as a game and understand why those people are excited about it, it still doesn’t do anything for me.

Hence, no review of Cyclades from me. I didn’t like it, but I can’t give it a negative review, since there’s nothing I can point to and say, “this bit bugged me.” Everything in it is fine. The rules were fine, the artwork is fine, the little stupid symbols they use for things instead of actual words are ignorable enough, there’s gobs of plastic if that’s your thing (it’s not mine, but that’s not a dealbreaker unless it interferes with gameplay), it’s a well-done game.

That I just don’t care about at all.

Analog Gaming: Digital Gaming

As soon as any new computer hardware or software becomes commercially available, most niche groups try to find ways to apply it to their area of interest, especially if those groups are already somewhat nerdy. This is why porn and Star Trek are always the first two third-party applications of any new tech. Boardgamers are no exception.

While boardgames are often presented (in the title of this column, for example) as an alternative to videogames, there’s no reality to this. Boardgames have always coexisted peacefully with computer games (just ask Deep Blue) ever since personal computing devices showed up on the scene. More people have probably played computerized versions of Mastermind and Othello than have played their analog counterparts. Computer versions of classic and modern games do fairly well, and recently a number of favorite Eurogames crossed over to success on the Xbox 360. The idea that folks who play with joysticks and folks who play with dice are separate camps is belied by the thousands of gamers who happy exist in both worlds.

The most recent technological doodad to excite the masses is Apple’s iPad. Despite having made its debut only a few months ago, it already has a wide array of games available for it that are treatments of or comparable to some actual cardboard-and-wood boardgames. Having recently snagged one of these gizmos for myself, I tried out a few of them for “research” because, gentle reader, you’re worth it. Here’s what I got.

Small World ($4.99) — This game was my personal pick for Game of the Year last year, and playing it on a friend’s iPad is what helped convince me to get one of my own. The interface is gorgeous, and the gameplay is handled nearly flawlessly (I’d really like a way to take back an action.) It currently only handles the races and powers from the main set (and not all of them, I believe), but there are rumors of future expansions. Right now it only plays with two human players (who are both at the same machine), but an update with AI (as well as a slight price increase) will change that.

World shown actual size.
World shown actual size.

Carcassonne ($4.99) — Gamers think of the Settlers of Catan (available on iPod but not iPad yet) as the gateway game, but I think Carcassonne, with its easily grasped rules and scalable nature may be supplanting it. Unlike Catan, “Carc” has no trading element, so AI is easier to program, goes from two to five players without any problem, and even has possibilities for solo play. This implementation underlines all of that. You can play with multiple people, in person or over the Internet, and some of them can be AI. There’s also a solitaire version that is pretty neat. The board looks fine and everything works intuitively. Some folks might feel that the game does a little too much for you (showing you all possible positions for a tile or for meeples, denoting when some spots are impossible to be filled), but that’s seldom a complaint you get to hear. This is the standard to which future boardgame translations should aspire. (Currently this is only available as an iPod game, which is still playable on iPad, but when the iPad version is released later this year purchasers will get the upgrade for free.)

Just because there's no tile that can go there doesn't mean you have to scratch up my wooden table.
Just because there's no tile that can go there doesn't mean you have to scratch up my wooden table.

Boggle ($2.99) — I’m a huge Boggle fan, and this is probably the game I’ve played the most of. It’s pretty well handled on the iPad (you even can, if you want, shake the device to “shake” the cubes) though tracing along the letters could be better (you often stop tracing when you don’t want to or include letters you don’t want). It plays either solo, with others (where each player takes a turn and then passes the iPad to the next player), or (I think), over the Internet. The main issue I have with the game is that you can’t use some words. While “tit” and “ass” are okay, “whore,” “slut,” and “orgy” are verboten, probably because they only have, I guess, sexual connotations. Yet “queer” is also prohibited which is just, well, queer.

"Thrill Bill," coming soon from Vivid Video.
"Thrill Bill," coming soon from Vivid Video.

Words With Friends ($2.99) — Here’s where I went a different way. I enjoy Scrabble (my Facebook account exists solely as a Scrabble game front-end) but went with WWF because I already had friends who were playing it. It’s a Scrabble clone done the way most Scrabble clones are done: by changing the layout of the board and some of the letter point values. Otherwise it’s the same, and seems to use the standard Scrabble word list. The changed board layout seems a little more thought out than usual (often it’s clear that the cloners gave no thought at all to how changing the layout would affect play). I’m enjoying WWF, but there are some really bizarre omissions to the game that bug me. First and foremost, it doesn’t tell you how many points a word is worth until after you play it. Sure, you can calculate it in your head, but it seems that since I am holding a computer in my hand, it might step up to the task. Second, there’s no button to rearrange your tiles. One of the ways I like looking for words on Facebook Scrabble is randomizing my tiles until a word jumps out at me. Here, the only way to change them around is to drag them individually. And finally, why not a dictionary? Since the game won’t let you bluff with a bogus word anyway, go ahead and let me check on “foozle” before wasting my time with it. Especially when, if you do play an illegal word, it doesn’t tell you what the illegal word is — annoying if you’ve created several at once. I assume the iPad Scrabble game is very similar to the Facebook one and if so, I’d recommend it over this, but hey, at least I get to play my friends.

"JOWNDY" is the state of being jownd.
"JOWNDY" is the state of being jownd.

Roll Through the Ages ($2.99) — This one is notable because it’s a game that, in its normal version, I’m not very keen on. Like many dice games, it’s kind of boring to play with multiple people because on their turn all you do is watch them roll dice. There isn’t a lot of player interaction or reason for anyone else to be there.

Consequently, I hadn’t planned on buying the app. I did anyway because I thought it might have more appeal to me as a solitaire game, since it wasn’t the game itself I had a problem with, but how well it worked as an entertaining social activity. Sure enough, for a solo game it plays just fine, and everything is implemented pretty well (though the instructions are simply embarrassing and unprofessional, with lazy typos throughout.) I haven’t played it with multiple players yet and am not in a huge rush to do so because see above. Still, it does include the “Late Bronze Age” rules fix that makes the actual game slightly more interactive and interesting. This again is an iPod release that will eventually be upgraded to iPad.

Man, that is one jowndy roll.
Man, that is one jowndy roll.

There are a few other games I haven’t tried out yet — like Reiner Knizia’s Money and Keltis: the Oracle, for example, (largely because I’m not familiar with their analog versions – as well as knockoff versions of existing boardgames, but these are the ones I’ve grabbed for now.

The question is: why pay $600 to play Boggle? Is this really an optimum way to play games? In some cases, yeah, it is, for the same reason that playing any game electronically is often worth it: because it allows you to play games with people you normally couldn’t. I have a Words With Friends game going with a pal in South Carolina, and a Carcassonne game going with a friend I don’t normally get a lot of gaming time with because of our schedules. Some games simply work better in a digital medium, where the computer can handle a lot of the routine. And if you add up the prices above, the total is less than a single Eurogame would run me. The social element is still there; I can just as easily play Carcassonne with four other people in the room with me on the iPad as I can with the regular version (moreso, in fact, since I don’t own the regular version).

And of course there’s the fact that neither I nor anyone else bought an iPad to play Roll Through the Ages. That’s just gravy. Sure, a copy of the Small World boardgame only costs about $40, but it can’t also read comics, send email, browse the web, play music, or show me movies. So I guess what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t run out and get an iPad if all you plan to do with it is play boardgames. But if you have one anyway, the boardgame options on it are pretty damn sweet.

Analog Gaming: A Guide to Boardgamer Types

Analog Gaming

Once you’ve been gaming for a while, you’ll notice that, even if you have a constantly rotating palette of opponents, you’re still pretty much always playing with the same people. Sure, some of the similarities will be obvious; if you want to do some boardgaming, make sure you know a bunch of white guys who usually have beards and aren’t too proud to still be quoting Monty Python and All Your Base. But beyond that there are some definite categories that every player falls into at least one of, if not more. Here’s a guide to those categories.
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Analog Gaming: Games for Two

Boardgaming is a social hobby, and for that reason most games are intended for several players (4 to 5 seems to be the sweet spot, usually.) However, there are plenty of fine games that are intended for only two players. If you don’t have a group of people handy, or you just want something that you and your significant other can enjoy over a bottle of wine in the evening, here are some games you might consider looking at.

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Analog Gaming: Gateway to Hell

Analog Gaming

Hobby boardgamers are geeks, and that means it’s important for them to try to get everyone around them interested in whatever they themselves are interested in. There are a special subset of games referred to as “gateway games” because of their alleged success in “converting” non-boardgamers into boardgamers. We’ve already discussed those games here.

Today I’d like to talk about the opposite of these games, games that are not at all friendly to “newbies.” After playing (probably more like “enduring”) one of these games, the target is not likely to say, “That was great! What else do you have like it?” but instead, “Dear God, you call that fun?”

Now, keep in mind that these are considered good games — great ones in many cases. They’re not bad games at all, they’re just not for someone just starting out. Nor are they “Boardgame 102″ to the gateway game’s “101.” These are, like, seminars for majors only. In that respect, if you’re just getting bitten by the boardgaming bug, these are some games you might want to aim towards eventually.

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Analog Gaming: Action and Interaction

Analog Gaming

Interaction is a concept that isn’t discussed much with regards to American games, since they seem to take it for granted. In most American games, the players interact with each other as well as the game. That is, in Monopoly, if I land on your property, I pay you money. You can upgrade that property to hurt me even more when I land on it. In Sorry!, landing on my piece sends it back to start. In Risk, your armies are directly attacking mine. These are pretty basic methods of player interaction: providing hazards, ruining plans, and direct conflict.

As you might expect, things are different in Eurogames. conflict in Eurogames tends to range from nonexistent to light, with few games getting much more confrontational than that. This is partly because of the emphasis in Europe of these being family games, but also because it’s an incidental feature that has become a defining one; Eurogame fans tend to like low-conflict games.
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Analog Gaming: The Cardboard Curtain

Hobby games are often called “Eurogames” because they are, for the most part, created, developed, produced, and sold in Europe. Even more specifically, they’re sometimes referred to as “German Games,” which makes sense when you hear the names of some of the most popular creators: Reiner Knizia (Tigris and Euphrates, plus a host of others), Klaus Teuber (The Settlers of Catan), Wolfgang Kramer (The Princes of Florence), Friedemann Friese (Power Grid), etc. This style of strategy game got its start in Europe and remains popular there; the worldwide industry convention is held in the fall in Essen, Germany.
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Analog Gaming: Relive the Exciting Days of Not Terribly Long Ago

One of the criticisms of American politics is that it’s been turned into a game, where the only concern is making the other side “lose” instead of trying to figure out what will be best for the country. What better way to examine this than to actually make a game out of American politics? And what better political event to make a game out of than the 2008 Obama/McCain election, with all its highs, lows, majesty, and mudslinging?

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Analog Gaming: Gateway Games

In the last column I had to burn down the village of American boardgaming in order to save it. With Monopoly off the table, I will now offer some alternatives for folks to try out. The criteria I have for these games were: (1) Easy to learn from the rulebooks. (2) Available for purchase. (3) No crazy complex rules or long play time. (4) Appropriate (within reason) for the entire family, from double-digit kids to Grandma. To find a store near you that sells these games, check The Game Store Database (but double-check results by calling first, as it seems to be a bit out of date.)

What you should replace Monopoly with depends on what you go to Monopoly for. With that in mind, here are some alternatives.

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