Boardgaming Retreat

Hans, Jan and Urban learning Istanbul.

Hans, Jan and Urban learning Istanbul.

This past weekend saw my sixth annual boardgaming retreat: 43 hours in good company at our usual small Nyköping hotel, all meals included. My buddy Oscar organises everything. There were a bit more than 20 of us this year after a few late cancellations, mainly guys in our 30s and 40s. After Sunday lunch I left early and drove to Norrköping where I gave a talk about my recent excavations to 50 keen members the Friends of the Town Museum association, just like after the 2010 retreat.

I played thirteen sessions of nine different games in Nyköping. To give you an idea of how popular each individual game is, I’ve included its current BGG rank. For instance, Splendor’s 71 means that right now there are only 70 board games that the largely US-based users of Boardgamegeek.com rate more highly than that game.

  • Splendor (2014). Ranked 71. Short abstract numbers and colours game that makes for a fine filler when you’re waiting for someone to come off another game or for a meal to be ready.
  • Istanbul (2014). Ranked 102. Shortish worker placement and resource management game set in Istanbul’s bazaar. I brought this one and it proved quite a hit.
  • Boggle (1972). Ranked 1686. Word game with random letters on a grid. My buddy Jan brought the game and completely crushed everyone who had the misfortune to play against him.
  • Legendary Encounters: Alien (2014). Ranked 62. Combines cooperative play against hostile game mechanics with deck-building, all clad in terms and imagery from the scifi film franchise.
  • A Study In Emerald 1st ed. (2013). Ranked 397. Lovecraftian horror meets spy fiction and detective fiction in Victorian Europe in another hit game by the revered Martin Wallace, based on a 2003 story by Neil Gaiman. Combines deck building with various other mechanics in a nice salad. The best new game I learned at the retreat.
  • Elysium (2015). Ranked 290. Card game about the Greek pantheon. I bought this for the retreat to contribute something new, and two of the three guys I played it with agreed with me that it’s pretty great.
  • The Resistance: Avalon (2012). Ranked 33. A Werewolf variant in an Arthurian setting, where half of the players are baddies and know it, while the other half are goodies and don’t know who’s bad. Us baddies won, to some extent because I managed to convince everyone that I was a baddie and then complained loudly every time someone suggested that another baddie could be sent on a quest. They didn’t trust me enough to take my advice and so a lot of baddies got to go on quests that they could sabotage.
  • Codenames (2015). Ranked 54. This simple word association game is all the rage right now, and I don’t quite get the appeal.
  • Cyclades (2009). Ranked 110. We played with the 2014 Titans expansion that completely transforms the game. I was on a team with my buddy Jonas who knows the game well, so I mainly just did what he suggested. I did pick up that the game has a pretty neat auction, initiative and action space engine at its heart, and I’d be happy to play the basic version one day. I’m generally not fond of expansions.

I’ve blogged before about the retreats in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. In 2013 I was recovering from pneumonia and teaching my first term in Umeå, which may be why I never wrote that one up here.

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Most-played Boardgames of 2014

pic293787_mdHere are the ten boardgames I played the most during 2014.

  • Sechs nimmt / Category 5 (1994, gets swift intense buy-in even from non-gamers) *
  • Innovation (2010)
  • Magic: the Gathering (1993) *
  • Plato 3000 (2012) *
  • Keltis (2008, travel version, very handy)
  • Glass Road (2013) *
  • Archaeology: the Card Game (2007) *
  • For Sale (1997)
  • Qwirkle (2006) *
  • Samurai (1998) *

These are mostly short games that you can play repeatedly in one evening. Only Glass Road, Qwirkle and Samurai are a bit longer. Another long game that I played a lot was Elfenland. All are highly recommended! Except Archaeology, a game of which I got tired fairly quickly – unlike its scientific namesake.

I played 62 different boardgames in 2014, less than the year before because I concentrated on ones I’ve got that hadn’t seen much play. Looking back since mid-2008, the number is 216, and 19 were new to me this year. Dear Reader, what was your biggest boardgaming hit in 2014?

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my list for 2013. Asterisks above mark 2014 arrivals on the top list.

Boardgaming Retreat

I spent last weekend at the annual boardgaming retreat organised by my friend Oscar. This was my fifth retreat, and I enjoyed it greatly. Oscar negotiates a good off-season all-inclusive deal for 25 of us at a small rural hotel, and then we spend two days gaming and sharing meals. People bring huge numbers of boardgames, many quite new and exciting. The gender ratio is always heavily skewed towards the male side. Most participants are in their 30s or 40s.

This year I played uncommonly long games, all of which where good, all of which were new to me, and at all of which I got roundly beaten. But then, I got beaten at Glass Road too, a game I brought myself and taught to the other players. These guys are good.

  • Antike (2005). A fun contribution to the civilisation-building tradition started by the 1980 Civilization boardgame. Took four of us 3:00 hours to play.
  • Caverna (2013). An update and improvement on the wildly successful 2007 Agricola. Here, instead of Early Modern German farmers, you play dwarven miners and farmers in a fantasy world. Worker placement and cube pushery. Took four of us 4:00 to play.
  • Glass Road (2013). Who builds the best glass & brick kiln operation in Early Modern Bavaria? A shorter game on the principle of “let’s all play solitaire while keeping an eye on what cards and tiles the others are using”. Took four of us 1:30 to play.
  • Liar’s Dice (1987). A classic short game of bluffing and simple probability. We played it during breakfast.
  • Nations (2013). A Swedish international hit contribution to the Civilisation tradition, but without the map. Took four of us 3:45 to play.
  • Rokoko (2013). Equip the court of Louis XV with the finest dresses, the best sculpture, the best musicians and the best fireworks. Set collection and rudimentary deck building. Took five of us 3:20 to play.
  • Spyrium (2013). The most original, least familiar and thus must interesting game I played. Jules Vernian industrial theme pasted onto a strange take on the worker placement and cube pushing mechanics. Took five of us 2:40 to play.

I’ve blogged before about these events: in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

LARPing Enters the Archaeological Record

Here’s a neat case of self-perpetuating archaeology. Medieval history spawned sword & sorcery literature. This literature spawned tabletop fantasy role-playing games and Medieval re-enactment groups. These games and groups spawned live action role playing. And now the larpers have created a market for faux-Medieval coinage, which they are buying at game stores, using at larps and dropping here and there. Metal detectorists are starting to find coins like the one in the picture and submitting them to intrigued museum curators.

Can anybody tell me the name of the company that makes/made these toy coins?

spelmynt baksida

Most-played Boardgames of 2013

keltisHere are the ten boardgames I played more than twice during 2013.

These are mostly short games that you can play repeatedly in one evening. Only Galaxy Trucker, Tikal and maybe Kingdom Builder are longer. All are highly recommended! Except Fluxx, which is just weird. I played it under duress at the Blåhammaren mountain hiker’s resort.

I played 74 different boardgames in 2013, same number as last year. Looking back since mid-2008, the number is 197, and so 26 were new to me this year. Dear Reader, what was your biggest boardgaming hit in 2013?

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my list for 2012. Asterisks above mark 2013 arrivals on the top list.

RPG Rules Sell Better Than Adventure Modules

Role-playing games of the Dungeons & Dragons variety come in the form of books that are functionally analogous to computer software. You get your operating system (core rule book) and then you can buy update packages (rule expansions), programming libraries (campaign settings) and application programs (adventure modules) for it. In this analogy, the computer that runs the software is you and your gaming buddies.

A difference between RPGs and computer software is that once you have a secure installed base for your operating system — that is, with RPGs, once you’ve sold enough core rule books — you can actually make more money selling new versions of the operating system itself than by developing application programs for it. Not every owner of the core rules will buy every adventure module. But every one of them will, while invested in the game, buy a new version of the core rules. I’m not sure why this is so. I suspect that it has to do with a tendency for RPG fans to spend more time reading the rules than actually playing the game. And also perhaps with a sense among them that playing with an old rule set is sort of cheating: like acting in modern life as if 19th century law were still in force. A new rule book damns the previous one to history. Anyway, this means that no successful RPG will ever stay backward-compatible for very long.

My favourite RPG back in the day was Drakar och Demoner, which started out as a fairly straight translation of the 1980 American game Basic Role-Playing and its Magic World campaign setting. Its core rules went through the following swift sequence of version changes before I quit upgrading (at age 15, when I also lost my virginity — hmmm).

  • 1982. 1st edition, “Blue Box”.
  • 1984. 2nd edition, “Black Box”, a rewrite that left the rules clearer but functionally largely unchanged.
  • 1985. DoD Expert, a rule expansion that could not stand alone but which replaced large chunks of the 2nd ed. rules and added much mechanics.
  • 1987. DoD Gigant, a further rule expansion useful only to those who owned 2nd ed. and Expert.

The game then went on without me through five further versions of the core rules until 2006.

Looking at DoD Gigant I find that it must have been based on a misunderstanding of the basic economics of the RPG business. It’s not a sure-selling replacement for the core rules. It’s not a collection of useful expansion systems in or near the core of the system, like Expert. It’s a motley salad of rules and essays for abstruse situations that a gaming group hardly ever wanders into, or if they do, need not really be regulated by game mechanics. Much of the space is taken up by a simple strategic-scale war game. I never found a use for any of the contents.

My favourite example of how DoD Gigant scraped the barrel for things to regulate is on pp. 76-77 in the orange book, where we are given rules for how long it takes to force your way through walls of various building materials and using various tools. It has an immortal headline set in the same font as others in the book, with a half-page DoD trademark stripey table detailing some example maths, and it has stayed with me through the years. Indeed, the headline was what popped up into my head and caused me to write this blog entry. Here it is:

Drevgan hackar sig igenom en tegelvägg i Olofins borg.

“Drevgan hacks his way through a brick wall in Olofin’s fortress.”

I don’t much enjoy reading game rules, and as a game master I never used them all that much. But a few years ago I ran a short adventure for two friends and my son and his buddy. All I needed for that was my copy of the 1984 2nd ed. DoD rule book.

Gaming at LinCon

Junior and I went for two days to LinCon, the annual gaming convention in Linköping (est. 1984). There was a fine crowd of geeks, all ages and with a good gender balance, many in steampunk finery. I said to Junior, “Look at them closely, son. These are your people.”

Here’s what I played. All good games!

  • El Grande (1995). Power struggle in 15th century Spain. This is the only 1990s game currently on Boardgame Geek’s top-20, and so I wasn’t surprised to find that it was the best game I played. Highly recommended!
  • Hacienda (2005). There was a room dedicated to the games of Wolfgang Kramer, so after El Grande we played this one of his. It’s a geometrical and abstract thing with a thin veneer of theme having to do with stock breeding in Argentina. Not bad, not great.
  • Endeavor (2009). The Age of Discovery: find your way to other continents and establish footholds there. Another not bad, not great abstract game with insufficient theme for my taste.
  • Power Grid (2004). Build power plants, extend your grid and sell electricity to the Germans! I’ve been playing this for years and enjoy its combination of auctions, supply-and-demand economics and on-map strategy. But don’t rush ahead: the game is designed to punish the leader throughout.
  • Death Angel (2010). Been playing this collaborative game a lot in recent years and it’s always a hit with teen boys. Get into your power armour and prepare to clean out an evil alien infestation in the claustrophobic corridors of a derelict space ship. As usually happens, we all got eaten by the nasties.
  • Repello (2010). Abstract game with simple rules that produce unexpected emergent outcomes.
  • Pickomino / Heckmeck (2005). Yahtzee stripped down to its core mechanic: roll lots of dice, select a few and re-roll. A classic filler game. Its original name means “A ruckus in the frying-worm corner”, the unforgiving mathematical nature of the game having been wrapped in a kid-friendly theme involving, you guessed it, chickens enjoying an earthworm barbecue.

I reported from LinCon 2010 as well.

History of the Swedish Boardgame Market

Karl Olausson has just submitted his Bachelor’s thesis in history: a study of the post-WW2 Swedish boardgame market. The material he’s used is largely interviews with people in our country’s boardgame business. Karl has kindly given me permission to put the work on-line (in Swedish). Here’s the abstract:

This essay is about the history of the Swedish board game-industry from the 1970’s to today. The essay focuses on the companies in the business and how they change during this period and about the causes of this change. This essay aims both at accurately describing the development of the industry as well as asking the question of what influence factors from outside of the industry have upon the change during this period of time. The material used in this essay is mainly extracts from interviews with people who have been working in the industry during the period, as well as literature on the subject and product-catalogues from certain years in the time-frame.

From this material I have outlined the basic history of the industry. From a nearly monopolized industry in the 1970’s to the global market of today with a wide spectrum of different companies competing for the attention of consumers. I have looked at the different kind of games that enter the shelves in the stores and what trends have come, like the party and trivia games, and what have gone, like the electronic board games and the DVD-board games.

I have also applied a theory of society affecting the board gaming industry and looked at if this is true of other factors than just the theme of games. I found that the theme of games is more affected by outside factors than the mechanics are. I also found that while the industry is competing with the quickly growing industry of digital games, board games still sell almost as much today as they did forty years ago. When it comes to the business part of the industry, the globalization and the new ways to fund and distribute products have affected the consumers more than the companies in the Swedish industry. The big Swedish companies still work mainly for a Swedish market and mostly in the same working methods as earlier.

Most-played Boardgames of 2012

Here are the ten boardgames I played the most over a year with about one gaming session a week.

These are mostly short games that you can play repeatedly in one evening. The longer games that we played more than twice were Last Night on Earth and Yggdrasil. I played 74 different boardgames in 2012. Looking back since mid-2008, the number is 171.

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my list for 2011. Asterisks above mark 2012 arrivals on the list.