Remember the Time…

Posted on Sep 20 2012 by pomomojo in Board Games

I belong to two different gaming groups plus I play games with my children, my wife, and even solo. I also attend a couple game conventions each year where I can squeeze in several games each day. With all this gaming, and with my brain only getting older, individual plays can soon blend together into an indistinct memory of whether I liked a game or not. One solution to help keep memories of enjoyable game experiences in tact is to play games that offer the possibility of a narrative.
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Working Together

Posted on Sep 12 2012 by pomomojo in Bridge

Last Christmas I visited my grandmother and, after opening presents and eating, we decided to play her favorite game, Bridge. I had never played before so she explained the rules. The scoring was hard to follow so I let her worry about that. The basic card play was familiar from many other trick-taking games. What fascinated me, though, was the complex system of coded bids that partners used to communicate their hands to one another during the bidding phase. I found myself wishing more games included this delightful partnership element.
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Board Games 101

Posted on Sep 9 2012 by pomomojo in Board Games

It’s family game night so you pull out a few classics to teach the kids.  Spending time with the kids is great, but you are actually doing much more by introducing them to games.  Playing games offers all sorts of opportunities to educate.
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The Chess Collector

Posted on Sep 8 2012 by pomomojo in Chess

As a gamer with a collection of games that is approaching 200 items, I often think about why I spend the money and time on this hobby of mine. I also like to connect with other game collectors, if only to make myself feel better about my love of games of all sorts. While reading about another collector’s blog about his collection of chess boards, I began to think about what makes chess sets so collectible.
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Changing the Rules

Posted on Sep 6 2012 by pomomojo in Chess

Board games have had a resurgence in popularity in the last ten years despite the fact that almost every other medium of entertainment is rushing to go digital. Of course, plenty of board games are making the jump to the iPad, but actual physical games continue to sell. There are many possible reasons for this, some of which I hope to explore in the future, but one that immediately jumps to mind from my own experience is the ease with which one can create variants.
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I Know that You Know

Posted on Sep 3 2012 by pomomojo in Poker

I think my favorite part of any board game is trying to get into the mind of my opponent. What are they trying to do? What information do they have that I don’t have? What do they think I’m going to do? All these questions and more go through my head in a matter of seconds between each turn of the game. Because asking these questions can lead to a never-ending spiral of the “I know that you know that I know that you know…” variety, it’s often nice if there aren’t too many moments during a game where this sort of thought is required. Which is why I both admire and avoid Poker.
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Elegant Design

Posted on Aug 28 2012 by pomomojo in Uncategorized

In a recent blog post, a noted game designer pondered the meaning of the word “elegance,” a term often used to describe board games. I have often used this word myself when discussing games but have never tried to exactly pinpoint its meaning. Instead of trying to give a universal definition, however, I thought it might be helpful to look at a few games to see what aspects strike me as elegant or inelegant and then build from there.
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A Duel

Posted on Aug 11 2012 by pomomojo in Uncategorized

If I’m in the mood to move some checkers around a board, am I bringing out a backgammon board or a checkers board? A ridiculous question, no doubt, but one not that unlike my usual thought process as I contemplate my ever-growing game collection. With so many games I inevitably find that I need to make precision distinctions between games in order to decide the perfect game for the particular group or situation. So indulge me as I seriously contemplate whether I want to push my checkers across a board made up of squares or triangles. read more…

Bringing Down the Castle

Posted on Aug 10 2012 by pomomojo in Chess

Although I am a novice at chess I have always admired the amazing simplicity of the design. There are 6 different types of pieces on an 8×8 grid. Each piece can perform one type of movement. Two pieces cannot occupy the same space. If the King can’t escape danger then you lose. Obviously the actual rulebook would be a bit longer, but it is amazing how many thousands and thousands of hours of entertainment and scholarly thought have been produced by a tiny handful of rules.

Which is why I have always been bothered by castling. read more…

Rolling Along

Posted on Jul 11 2012 by pomomojo in Board Games

I recently read a discussion of the popular family game, The Game of Life, which criticized the way the game presented the choice of whether or not to go to college.  Oddly, going to college seemed to actually limit your career choices in the game even though the jobs would likely pay more than the ones you could get without a degree.  Of course, it would be difficult to simulate in a board game the opening of new possibilities that a college education represents.  For me, then, the more interesting aspect of this game about work and family was the decision to represent the myriad experiences and choices of an average life as a series of paths one ineluctably moves along, always at the mercy of the spinner that tells the player how many spaces to move.

This mechanism of moving along a path a certain number of spaces has come to be known as roll-and-move.  Often one rolls a die or dice and then moves the corresponding number of spaces.  In modern strategy games it is an almost hated mechanism due to the lack of choice the player has and the association with simplistic games.  Although I agree that game design has moved beyond such a simple device, the fact that so many games have utilized the idea should be a reminder to hardcore board game strategists that board games are often played merely for the social experience.  The Game of Life is not really a game at all, but a story being told about each player.  Allowing too much influence by the player on where to land would eliminate the shared drama that we watch unfold.

That being said, even the simplistic roll-and-move has potential depth and variety to it.  Players roll to move from room to room in Cluedo, but there is no proscribed path that anyone must take.

Monopoly does contain a single path that players must follow but because the board connects to itself, players continue to encounter the same obstacles and properties again and again.

Trivial Pursuit replicates the never-ending path of Monopoly but allows players to travel it in either direction, thus adding choice to a still very simple mechanism.

Backgammon, however, could be considered the pinnacle of roll-and-move as this very strategic and deep game has been designed almost entirely around it.  Instead of just moving a single piece around a board, backgammon players have several checkers and must decide which to move each turn in order to block their opponent and make the most progress.

Games employ numerous mechanisms and components, but even the simplest of these can be interesting to study.  What does the popularity of roll-and-move, especially in family games, say about our ideas about life and progress?  What does it reveal about the role of board games?  What depths and entertainment can be drawn from the simple act of rolling a die or spinning a wheel?  Even a mechanism that requires so little thought can give you a lot to think about.

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