Friday, 30 November 2007

The Fun Murderers

Sometimes, the stars just line up.

Today, the erstwhile Ken B. posted that image of CUBICOLA which of course pretty much sums up the arbeit macht frei ethos of the Eurogame design paradigm. Then I read this post over on where Yehuda Berlinger offers his eloquent yet completely preposterous thoughts that games, somehow, aren't "supposed" to be fun, that the medium itself does not specifically require fun although every definition in the entire world in every language indicates that games are an amusement device. I've already ranted about this in the CUBICOLA post but it dovetails nicely into the sad events that transpired last night at my usual gaming get-together. But first, let's frame the story.

There's been this new guy coming around recently...I'll call him F. F is a middle-aged guy, probably has some kind of IT job but I don't know. He's the kind of guy who wears white Reeboks and would likely make fashion guru Tim Gunn throw up in his mouth. Probably lives alone and does well enough without a man or woman in his life. Definitely a longtime gamer, a veteran of who knows how many wars and auctions. Now, I usually have a strict policy that I'll never play games with somebody I don't know except under very specific circumstances- running a retail store with in-store gaming teaches you a lot of hard lessons that way. But a couple of weeks ago, I let F in on a game of STARCRAFT which included my best gaming buddies Duke, Billy Motion, and the elusive Robert Martin. What I didn't know at the time was that F was a Fun Murderer.

F spent the whole game, which he had played once before, informing us all of what our best moves were and how we should proceed with our turn. When I placed an order on top of a giant pile of Billy and Robert's orders, he notified me with impeccable elan that I was making a stupid and suboptimal move. I politely replied that I was simply fucking with Billy and Robert simultaneously and therefore I considered myself to be the winner of the game prior to any actual decision. We're talking a nearly constant steam of condescending rules lawyering, folks. To top it off, F happens to have one of those voices that is somehow louder than everything else at all times. Kind of like a Motorhead song.

So the next week, it was time for STARCRAFT again. I'm setting it up to play with a family that I've been gaming with for a couple of years that folks affectionately call the Rock n' Roll family for a number of reasons that don't matter here. Billy was promised seat #6 in this game. So I'm setting it up and F immediately inculcates himself into our game. So I very politely tell him that Billy is slated for the very seat he has taken command of and I even told him that if we play a second game I'd let him in on it. I lied.

So now we have a context for how F, one of the Fun Murderers out there who will stop at nothing until all fun is exterminated from gaming, and I ended our brief relationship last night over a game of WAR ON TERROR. When I arrived, the Rock n' Roll family was already there (and had brought REVOLUTION, a game that I really like but never get to play) and I pulled out my new copy of the now-domestically-available WAR ON TERROR, one of the silliest, stupidest, nastiest, and just plain fun games of recent years. I knew they'd dig it because they like big map, kill-em-all sorts of games with lots of negotiation. Me too. It really needs six, so when F came running up to once again insinuate himself at our table I didn't resist even though I knew I should have.

It actually went pretty well for the first 3/4 of the game despite F's repeat performance as a bar-approved rules lawyer. It was his first game, but he was no shrinking violet about telling everyone else how to play the game or what their best moves were. I told him at least five times that you can't make a terrorist attack with a "War" card yet he continually told everyone that they could. I refused to defer to his innate understanding of the rules which he had never read. F turned terrorist at that 3/4 point and then declared that the game was pretty much over- which is, in a game of outrageous fortune like WAR ON TERROR, very far from the truth.

Things came to a head when F decided to throw a fit directed at the youngest member of the Rock n' Roll family. He's a great kid, very smart and a pretty damn good gamer but he's very loud, outspoken, and he's well, a kid. So The Kid asks a rules question and F, in a very unfriendly and uncomfortably loud tone responds "Maybe if you'd pay attention to the game you'd know what you were doing. You're sitting there yelling the whole time it's no wonder you don't know what's going on."

Now, let me point a few things out here. One, this is a middle-aged man yelling at a child. Two, this is a middle-aged man yelling at a child while he's sitting next to the child's father, brothers, and a friend. Three, this is a middle-aged man yelling at a child while he's sitting next to the child's father, brothers, and friend while playing a board game that has no other purpose in life than to entertain us, make us laugh, and give us a fun social experience. And to top it off, this guy is louder than the voice of god and he's calling this kid out for yelling?

So the garrulous, goofy tone of the game was suddenly replaced by awkwardness, weirdness, and silent, Chuck Norris-level silent rage. The father, hoping to maintain an air of dignity, said nothing but his smile spoke volumes of wickedness and imagined cruelties. F just kept on, narrating every turn and completely oblivious to his gross social malfeasance. The kid played a card to steal something from F and we were, once again, treated to a monologue about how it was a suboptimal move and so forth and I said "You know, he probably did it because he thought pissing you off would be fun, which is the point of this game in the first place." We passed around a secret message and all agreed to turn terrorist just to end the game, which was no longer fun despite any number of nukes.

I know it's a long story, but it's leading up to something larger. I start packing the game up, and F gets up and grabs the rulebook. He thumbs through it and then says- in reference to a rules question that happened like an hour prior and that was already corrected- "Look here it, it says blah blah blah blah blah." At that, I was beyond the breaking point- which I have never, in all my years of gaming been at because I never take games that seriously and if I'm not having a good time then I know I just need to pack it up and do something else. I snapped at him, saying "I'm sick of your rules lawyering and aside from that you're not going to sit here and yell at my friends. We come here to have fun and enjoy ourselves and you've completely ruined that with your attitude so you're not ever going to play another game with me again." He was shocked. I kind of was too, because I've never had to just put the boot down like that.

He sheepishly started helping to pack up the game and I just said "No. I don't want your help, just fucking leave now."

In retrospect, it was kind of harsh and I do actually feel kind of bad about it. But the problem is that our styles of play simply didn't match up, and it took a volatile situation to get past the politeness and "hey, we're all gamers here" folderol to get to that truth.

And the truth is, that some people just murder all the fun out of gaming. It doesn't matter if you're playing the best game ever published or something like WAR ON TERROR that's specifically designed to be a fun, light affair if you've got one of these Fun Murderers on board then the game is in trouble. I've played the most dirt-dry Eurogames with fun loving people and had a great time even if the game sucked. And I've played really awesome games with fun hating people and had the worst gaming experiences of my life.

So who are these Fun Murderers? They're people like Yehuda Berlinger, who argues that games aren't meant to be fun for whatever pompous and psuedo-intellectual reason he argues (I'd love to see him follow up the article with "Fish Aren't Meant to Swim" using that same tenuous connection to a Woody Allen quote about Ingmar Bergman). They're the people who want to tell us that playing EL GRANDE is somehow a fundamentally different activity than playing CANDYLAND. They're the people that tell us games and toys are mutually exclusive. They're the rules lawyers like F who turn even the loosest, simplest rules into a nightmare of logic and overinterpretation. They're the designers who have thrown out fun in favor of "elegance" and "efficiency". They're the people who play ARKHAM HORROR but don't read the adventure cards out loud. They're the people who got into gaming to satisfy some other unfulfilled need, dream, ambition, or missing quality in their lives. They're the folks who have changed the definition of games to include things like "systems", "mathematics", "balance", and "mechanics". They're the ones who think playing games about elves and robots is below playing a game about farmers and builders. They're the gamers who think that playing TICKET TO RIDE somehow demonstrates a degree of intellectual superiority to the "Sheeples" having a great time playing MONOPOLY. They're the ones who take this hobby way too seriously and make every type of gaming look like the refuge for awkward, anal, socially inept, borderline Asperger Syndrome suffers that are into it for something other than amusement.

I guess it comes down to taking this hobby too seriously. And you know, I think that I've realized that the ultimate reason why hobby gaming will neither ever be mainstream nor grow beyond certain parameters is that there are, for whatever reasons, a high population of Fun Murderers involved in it at any given time that take everything way too seriously. The world, outside of Yehuda Berlinger and the Fun Murderers, play games to have fun. When outsiders to the hobby see people taking games of any description seriously, they automatically want to have nothing to do with it because it really demonstrates a lack of perspective as to how games fit into our larger lives and a disconnection from, well, reality. And I can't blame them. It's just like how when I see football fans taking things so seriously, I immediately don't want to be in the same room with them. I love BATTLESTAR GALACTICA but when somebody starts talking to me about minute fan crap I immediately want to put the DVDs up on Ebay.

I know what the chief counterargument here is- that people's idea of what "fun" is varies from person to person and I completely agree. If your idea of "fun" is playing a game like CAYLUS and figuring out how to squeeze the most points out, then that's fantastic and I completely stand by your enjoyment of the game even though I despise it and can't find a lick of fun in it beyond making fun of it ad infinitum. But if you're playing CAYLUS for any other reason than to entertain yourself then you are a Fun Murderer and should be subject to the death penalty where applicable. Even if by "fun" you mean digging around in the ASL rulebook or playing one of those accounting exercises packaged as 18xx games, there is simply no other justifiable or valid reason to play games.

The punchline to all this is that the next table over was playing a nice, quiet game of AGRICOLA. And having fun.

The Weekly AT Snapshot, 11/30/07--Now with 100% More Games About Dull Professions!

"Cubicula where you have to work in a cubicle making white cubes (paper) into grey cubes (reports) then give them to impress your boss for VP's! This 8 hours (not including playing overtime) allows you to experience the life of an office worker! Optimize your grey cube delivery for the best score! "

Today's image and write-up come to us courtesy of Geert Heijnen, aka LilRed. Thanks!


If you've got a great image that just screams Ameritrash, email us the image or a URL. It can be an image you created or an image you found on the web. We don't care!

If it meets our strict quality standards, we'll publish it in The Weekly AT Snapshot, instantly making you an undeniable global celebrity.

We'll even pimp your website if you send us the URL for that. Send all submissions to with the word "Snapshot" in the subject line.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Hey, I brought you a Christmas present. Step out of the car please.

Nothing captures the spirit of the holiday season quite like a cattlegun to the front of the skull. Except maybe those ubiquitous gift guides where some jackass tries to tell you what you ought to get your ungrateful relatives who likely already have a special box in the basement where they store all those "stupid foreign board games" you foist on them at every gifting opportunity.

So cue up that haunting, funereal Charlie Brown christmas dirge that sounds like an acapella Cocteau Twins remix...I whipped up a little holiday gift guide myself to ease your shopping obligations.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

300: The Board Game

It was over quickly, and I enjoyed it ... sort of.

A gamer friend once told me, " Being an out of the closet Ameritrash fan means never having to answer the question 'What were you thinking when you bought that game?'" I'm going to answer the question anyway. It has Spartans. Other than that, my expectations were not particularly high. Reading between the lines of the description, I figured that it was a tactical game with a high luck factor, that could be played by two players in under an hour. In other words, about 45 minutes of chucking dice and quoting the movie in deep theatrical voices. Not much to ask. 300: The Board Game simultaneously exceeded expectations and disappointed.

Andrew Parks has done an exceptional job of creating a world in which players can immerse themselves. There are many well thought out touches that bring this game to life. I have a minor quibble with the legibility of the counters, due primarily to the use of movie stills, rather than icons to indicate unit type. However, this choice is understandable and excusable. The one thing that really prevents 300: The Board Game from being a really great, trashy, beat the crap out of your opponent game, is the use of an outmoded, arithmetic heavy battle resolution system. With a sleeker battle resolution system, such as the ones employed for Memoir '44, Nexus Ops or Monster Mash I, 300: The Board Game could have been that elusive, fast, light, exciting, 30 minute, two player game that would have saved me from another round of dull Euro fillers.

Out of the box, the game looks tasty. I almost ripped the board upon removing it. The board fills the box right to the very edge. Probing with my fingers, I found the fold and pulled. The board lurched. Much to my surprise, I had only grasped half the board's six panels. The other half swung free. I quickly lay the board down to prevent ripping it. The board was huge. Size does matter. I love the epic proportions, and the sense of place the map conveys.

The board is larger than it needed to be for a two player, column battle. Essentially, only the 6 Coastal Plain and the 6 Hot Gates spaces are necessary for game play. The rest of the board is there for thematic impact and convenience. The board is well thought out, providing everything needed to play, plus a nice clear space in the middle for rolling dice. There is a glory point track around the outer edge for keeping score. Two player aids, the Round Order and Battle Chart are printed on the upper corner. Player aids on the board are always a plus. The Persian and Spartan Camp spaces hold reinforcement tokens, so no need to worry about piles of tokens in front of players getting knocked off the table. The game lasts for 6 rounds. However, rather than having a generic turn marker, Ephialtes, the hunchback, moves one space along the goat path at the end of each round. This nice thematic touch not only keeps players in the world of the game, but also makes it easy to remember to move the marker (remember, we are the people who forget to move cars, so remembering to move a turn counter is a challenge). The only thing that I don't like about the board is the "300" written across the middle. It's like "Who the hell tagged the cliffs?" [insert lame Vandals joke here]

There are two decks of battle cards. One for the Persians, and one for the Spartans. The cards are printed on the thinest card stock ever. I think I have received greeting cards printed on thicker paper. I guess they blew the budget on the board. The cards are battle or movement modifiers. They are pretty typical - add to your attack, add to your defense, cancel the effect of your opponent's card, cancel wounds, immediately kill off some of your opponents units, etc. Most have some criteria that must be met to be used, such as a specific unit or leader must be in the battle. Each card also has a still from the movie and a quote. The rules actually state that you must read the quote aloud when playing the card, although it does not stipulate that you must read it in a deep theatrical voice. So points for providing us with the quotes, and points for pictures of hot Spartans.

The Spartans and Persians units are cardboard counters. They are about the size of a quarter and are round, and thick, and glossy. They aren't minis, but they do feel good in your hand, and there's a certain tactile satisfaction when sliding them around on the board. The Persians also get two war beast counters which are about the size of a half dollar. This sizing is, like the board, well thought out. For stacking and attack limits, each war beast is equal to three regular units. The larger size token takes up about as much room on a space as three regular sized counters. This makes it easy to not screw up the stacking limit. Another nice touch is that Xerxes, the God King of the Persians, is worth 20 points to the Spartans if killed. Dilios, the storyteller, will subtract 10 points from the Spartans score if killed (he's the only Spartan with a glory point number). This provides incentive to the respective players to have these two characters survive the battle.

Each counter has a still from the movie, as well as unit type, an attack number, and a defense number printed on them. The Persian units also have a glory point number. One side has the starting stats, with a blue boarder for the Spartan units and a yellow border on the Persian units. The flip side has the wounded stats, and is bordered in red for both the Persians and the Spartans. Here is where the design stumbles a bit. If you are sitting on one side of this huge board, looking out over your army at about a 45 degree angle, you know what you see? Yellow or Blue ringed counters with a big blur in the middle, reflecting light off their glossy pictures. You have to stand up, and bend over, with your face perpendicular to, and no more than a foot above the counters, just to distinguish one unit from another. Once a bunch of units are wounded, you can't even tell which counters are yours. Don't even think about playing this game with someone over 40. They'll be hanging four inches above the board, whipping their glasses on and off and swearing. You'll be like, "Get your fat head out of my way, I can't see my dudes." After a couple of beers, forget about it. You'll both be leaning over, and smacking your heads together, and there will be real blood on the board. Okay, that's an exaggeration. We didn't bleed, but it hurt like hell. After that, we used glass blobs to mark our units so we could tell what was what with out injuring ourselves. Fortunately, there aren't that many different unit types, The Persians have Infantry, Cavalry, Immortals and four leaders. The Spartans just have Spartans and five leaders.

Finally there are 6 "Battle Dice," which are just standard six sided dice. These dice are used as follows. You determine which of your dudes are involved in the battle, and add up their attack numbers, being careful not to whack heads with your opponent who is doing the same thing. Then you look up your attack number on the Battle Chart printed on the board, to determine how many dice you roll. Then you and your opponent simultaneously roll your dice and add up your totals. That's your damage number. The Persians have to kill off dudes until the defense numbers of the dead dudes add up to the damage number that the Spartans rolled. Then you add up all the glory points on the dead Persian dudes, and the Spartans score that many points. The dead Persian dudes get reincarnated as reinforcements and are put into the Persian camp. The Spartans then kill off dudes until the defense number of the dead Spartan dudes add up to the damage number that the Persians rolled. The Spartan dead dudes are just dead, and get tossed out of the game. Additionally, if the total of your defense and the total of the damage doesn't work out all nicey nice, you flip a guy to his wounded side. So for example, if you had three units with a defense of 10, 4, 2, and your opponent rolled an 11, you could kill off your 10, and flip your 2, or you could kill off your 4 and your 2 and flip your 10. Got that? Actually it is not difficult, it is just tedious.

So here's how the game works. The Spartans have to earn 100 glory points before goat boy makes it to the Persian camp (i.e. earn 100 points in six turns). The Spartans earn points by killing Persian dudes, and by taking ground. The Persians win if they prevent the Spartans from earning 100 points (i.e. if the Persians don't die too much) or by fighting their way through the Hot Gates and taking the Spartan camp (i.e. moving onto a row's last space, which is adjacent to the Spartan camp). There are 6 rounds. Each round you draw battle cards, march, battle, and finally move the hunchback along the goat path.

During the March phase, you move in your reinforcements. Each Persian unit can move one space forward. Each Spartan unit can move either one space forward, or one space sideways. There really isn't a lot of movement choices, and most of the time the choices are a no brainer. You just keep pushing your dudes forward. I like that this mirrors the movie and gives you a sense of men constantly surging forward. It is particularly evocative when playing the Persians. You get a real sense of the frustration of having so many men, but not being able to push them through to the front line.

The real game play is in the battle cards. We have been playing with the "gamer" variants, which gives you a starting hand of 5 cards, and allows you to pick two cards at the beginning of each round. Additionally, you can use a card to add one point to your attack number, rather than use it for it's specific purpose. This allows you to burn your useless cards, such as those that require a specific hero to be in a battle, when that hero has already been killed off. Typically at the beginning of each battle you have a hand of about four or five cards, so you have some choices.

During the Battle phase you chuck dice and kill dudes.

So here is how the game plays. The initial set up is dictated, so there is no over thinking how to place your guys. You don't even have to decide what guys to move into battle. You begin face to face, and immediately start hacking at each other.

The Persians: [throwing down a Battle card] I would gladly kill my own men for victory! I add two to all my attack numbers and subtract 1 from all defense numbers.

The Spartans: [throwing down a Battle card] Here we stand! Plus one to all units defense.

The players grab the dice and face off, but wait. Stop. First we must do some arithmetic.

Spartans: Okay, I'm 8 plus 6 is 14 plus 4 is 18. Look it up on the chart, I get three dice.

Persians: I'm 3 times 2, so that's only one die.

Spartans: Don't forget your card.

Persians: Oh yeah, Okay, I get 2 dice.

The dice are thrown. And it is time to do a little more addition to determine your damage number. Then some subtraction to figure out which units get killed off. Don't forget your card modifiers. Then some more addition to calculate Glory Points. In total, seven little addition/subtraction exercises are required to resolve each battle and track points. Gee wasn't that an exciting battle.

And that was only the first row. Now reapeat the above to resolve the second row.

Move the hunchback along the goat path. Pick some cards. Push your tokens forward. A couple of movie quotes, and it's time for three minutes of grammar school arithmetic again.

This is Sparta! This is not grammar school. Battle resolution should be immediate, visual and visceral. Arithmetic is not exciting. Counting things is not exciting. Bookkeeping is not exciting. When I have to pause to add/subtract seven different strings of small numbers to resolve one battle, the game just loses momentum. I am pulled out of the world created by the game. The forth wall is breached. My suspension of disbelief is broken. I get flashbacks of my cubicle at the office.

The amount of work required: depth of game ratio is just off. For me, getting that balance right is the heart of a great game. Unfortunately 300: The Board Game was so close to being an amazing, trashy filler, and then just blew the balance.

On the other hand, the man likes 300: The Board Game. He says if I let him play the Spartans, he'll play in costume, so I expect we will be playing again, just not at Game Club.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Interview with an Artist: Mike Doyle

There are a lot of things that go into making a memorable board game, and we here at F:AT spend a lot of time talking about things like Theme and Mechanics, but the look and feel of a game can often contribute greatly to the overall experience of playing a game. With certain games, the artwork almost makes the game. I don't much care for Carcassonne, but I must admit that the little cartoon-like cities were part of what attracted me to the game when i bought it, and are what get people like my wife and in-laws to play it.

So I went out to try and get some perspective on what it is like to develop the artwork that goes into the games we all love to play. I was able to get Mike Doyle, to respond to my emails and what follows is a conversation I have with him overs severa
l days.

Malloc: Lets get started by going over a bit of your personal history. How
did you get interested in art and graphic design?

Mike Doyle: Well, I’ve been interested in art as long as I can remember. Certainly around 4 or 5 I was drawing like crazy. My parents tell me even then I was hoping to be
an artist when I grew up. In second grade I remember there was a poster sale at school. Most of the kids bought fun posters. I got a bunch of old master Dutch still life posters. That's where my heads always been. Eventually, my parents paid for oil painting lessons when I was around 16 or so and I got into that pretty seriously for time.

Malloc: How about Board Games, were they something you played as a kid or was your introduction to them later?

Mike Doyle: The same goes for boardgaming. I can’t remember not loving games. Growing up, I
played as much as my sister and neighborhood friend would tolerate. I loved all the typical stuff, including Masterpiece –for obvious reasons. In junior high and high school my youth pastor got a group of us into Risk, Acquire and
Diplomacy. He also loved wargames and had things like Panzer Leader, Blitzkrieg and other AH titles which I played a few times. So, I began visiting the shops (this was in the early ‘80s
) and picked up a couple of random titles like Arab Isreali Wars, Conquistador, Civilization, War and Peace and such. By the time I got in college though, I had dropped the games and found computer and Nintendo titles. I didn’t pick up boardgames again until years later (perhaps around 2000). A few years earlier in ‘95, I remember visiting the Complete Strategist
(a nice boardgame store in NYC) after moving in the area for a job. This was the first time in a decade that I had gone to a boardgame store. I bought a few titles including Republic o
f Rome, but didn’t have anyone to play with. There were probably Euros there as well, but I must have passed them up in favor of
my old familiar brand Avalon Hill. I had always loved the orderly way their games sat in the shelves. My wife and her family liked games so around 2000 we got into that through a R&R game called Sold!. I began looking for more like it and found Settlers and then followed the usual addictive path to the state I’m
currently in.

Malloc: What about education, did you study art in school, and had you planned on making a living with you artistic abilities from the beginning?

Mike Doyle: In terms of my professional career, I graduated from Pasadena Art Center
College of Design majoring in Graphic Design and Packaging. From there, I went straight to the branding agency in NYC where I have been for 14 or so years. I’m a design director here and have a staff of talented designers that work on
branding and packaging initiatives of all types and sizes. Some are large and mass oriented like recreating the packaging for Pepsi cans/bottles worldwide earlier this year or the identity for the power company of NYC (Con Edison). Other projects are smaller and more upscale like a full identity and packaging program of a high end cigar for Davidoff called Zino Platinum. Currently, we are creating a new identity, wayfinding and full program for Fontainebleau
hotel in Miami, which will be an upscale affair. All are fun in their own ways and require focus toward getting a proper aesthetic and read to the right people in order create appeal and drive sales.

Malloc: It is often said that artists, be they visual, musical or literary, view their medium differently than those who do not practice that profession, when playing games does the artwork affect you in anyway? Will a bad art design ruin an otherwise good game f
or you? Name some examples of games where exceptional artwork has helped the game. what about games that you think the artwork gets in the way of things.

Mike Doyle: On one hand, I am pretty critical of boards as I can see what could be done to improve. On the other hand, I’m pretty forgiving as I understand what it takes to get it done –which is a lot. Critiquing what is done is much easier than creating it in the first place. I don’t know if art has ruined the experience ever. For excellent design, I look for things of beauty that inspire and awe as
I look at it. If I can play the game fine with it, then that works for me. Recently, Pillars of the Earth and Taluva have drawn me in because of the artwork – especially Taluva.

The old Medici is one of the poorest examples of graphic design that I can think of as it really gets in the
way of playing and it doesn’t look good at all – a double whammy. We still have lot’s of fun playing it, but the design causes quite a bit of stumbling and confusion.

Malloc: I believe the first work I noticed of yours was your PR redo (thanks BTW I made a copy and that was my first attempt at making boards and counters, something I do now a fair bit) what inspired you to start redesigning games and updating artwork? did this lead into professional design, or were you doi
ng that anyway? Also any chance of you finishing that redo of Dune?

Mike Doyle: I think it was a natural thing for me. I love to design and I love gaming. I love information design as well. Charts and graphs are quite fun for me to do – the “Tufte way”. Games are part information, part experiential or atmospheric and part branding. I’m very drawn to this combination. I think the goal from the beginning has been to work for publishers though I continue to create my own pieces as well. Dune is one of my most requested “could you finish this please?” pieces. Perhaps I will as it was great fun to do and I like the look
of the leader tiles. Though I would do something a little different with the
board, I think.

Malloc: When designing for a game, is there a technique you use when getting started, or is each project a new process? What would you say are elements that you include as a Mike Doyle fingerprint? What other game artists are your favorites and what do you tend to like about each of them?

Mike Doyle: I don’t know if there is a technique. Each situation is unique. However, the more games I design, the more challenging it gets as I want to do something different than before. I usually start by visually researching an era or event and styles of illustrations that I can mimic. Also, knowing the weight of the game and how strong the theme matches the actions can help. Many times it starts with an idea. For Caylus, I wanted to have the principle goal of the game – building a castle – to be in the center of the game with the hustle and bustle
of activity around it. For Tigris and Euphrates I had wanted to replace the map (which was just for atmosphere) with something that felt as if the game might have been played thousands of years before.

In terms of a fingerprint, I think the thing that I look to is to make the game
different and stand out in some way. Whether it be the cover or the board, I look for opportunities to separate the game and give it an iconic presence. Just as gamers are put off by games that play “samey”, so too a samey look can bore or communicate, “just another one of these”. Additionally, for covers I much prefer them if they look like they are for an adult –they need a level of sophistication. I don’t see this being done at all in the industry and is a big
opportunity to upscale the market and redefine the game. Just as game designers have redefined what a game is, so too should the package communicate that this is something different. Geeky preconceptions need dispelling.

I also am fascinated with game boards that look like games. For instance, with El Ca
pitan, no effort was made to make the board look like land masses, water and buildings. Instead, I went with areas that look mini wood playing boards sitting on crumpled cloth. Another approach could have been made like Pillars of the Earth or Cuba, where you have a "realistic" portrayal of the situation. Nothing wrong with that approach, but my inclination is to do something a little different here and have things sitting on things which feels like a
physical game somehow.

I very much like a rich look to my games as well. Very often (particularly with Euros) theme is but ambiance. That’s not a bad thing –it just is. Medieval this, reniassance that. It’s all fine because it feels good. So too, a board should contribute to that rich atmosphere that we take in when playing. After all, you are more likely to spend time staring at a board than that pretty picture that has been hanging in your house for years. Eye candy and beautiful bits are a big part of the experience. Games should tickle our brains and caress our eyes.

Michael Menzel is my favorite artist. Pillars of the Earth, Thurn and Taxis, Cuba, Jambo and Thief of Bagdad are a few of his. He’s very talented. I always enjoy his boards as they have that richness that I look for. They play just fine and provide me with something that can transform the experience from a collection of rulesets into something I can gaze at and even take pride in as I share my hobby with others.

Malloc: On your blog,, you focus on the role of game art in invoking the theme in eurogames. You mention how in these game you think more about mechanics then the actual theme of the game. Please talk about how this provides a certain level of freedom for the artist to evoke the mood for a particular game.

Mike Doyle: I strongly believe that theme in Eurogames is, for the most part, simp
ly ambience. It makes us feel good when playing. This as opposed to a nonthemed abstract which has little ambience aside from the bits or a Ameri- or Wargame where ambience is woven tighter into the play itself. Sometimes it is clear a Euro has been crafted from the get-go to act out a certain event. Tempest and T&E are two such games for me, though the Euro dictate of simple rules smoothes out thematic immersion. Most of the time though theme is pure flavor. This is not to diminish these games at all as the flavor is a huge part of the experience and Euros are trying to accomplish something else with their play. Given that most Euros are not trying to recreate events but use them as flavor, it is not imperative that the artist recreate the event with such specificity.

For example, in Caylus Premium Edition, I chose to make the tiles little images that appear as if from an illuminated manuscript (all relating to each
respective building). A few remarked that it makes no sense to put a worker on a chicken! The thing is, when playing the original Caylus, I don’t feel a castle being built or workers moving to a farm or to a tailor and I don't feel the activity of picking up goods needed to build the castle. What I feel is a lot of tense play working to get –pleeeese lord let me get –that one more pink cube or whatever it may be. I also feel "medievalness." Picturing a building on a tile will do absolutely nothing to immerse me into the meaning behind that action. The play and mechanics are simply too abstract for that. My brain understands it, but my heart does not feel it when playing. Additionally, after awhile all those buildings start looking alike and bore. However, by expanding on the medieval language of illuminated manuscripts, I can provide a lovely atmosphere that is unique and iconic –it is the mood, not the individual specificity of the activities themselves.

In the same way, I find many Euro covers get caught up in this manner by getting overly involved in actions implied by little wooden cubes and a couple tiles.
When playing, do I really get the feeling of the hustle and bustle of a port with merchants and ships unloading and loading in Hansa? Is this supposed to fill the gap between the theme and those disks or the ship with the highly programmed movement? In the end, it can be a little let down that the game is not the picture at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game. But it is not trying to deliver an account or recreation of shipping in this era –just a general mood of it as ambience (much like lighting and background music might do in a restaurant). What I want from the cover is something that promotes the mood that I can expect from the game or theme and hopefully something that satisfies me as a “sophisticated” adult (read: it does not look geeky but has a bit of style to it). Unfortunately, the general dictate is to recreate the event
and implied actions with less than sophisticated imagery. Consequently, the packaging is a bit embarrassing.

Malloc: When designing for games with more integrated themes, Ameritrash or Wargames for example, what do you think the role of the art design is? How are the challenges in designing these types of games different than the challenges present when designing euros.

Mike Doyle: I think, in the end, it is the same role or "has the same functions". I believe the function of art in all boardgames is four fold:

1. Information design - clarity and comprehension

2. Aesthetic needs - attraction and ambience

3. Thematic needs - enhancing the story

4. Branding - the creation of a unique look for a branded property (not "samey" looking)

All these functions need to have the right balance according to the game. Ameri- and (particularly) war games, generally have more information that a player needs to access. So the balance can shift to more charts or the clear display of complicated information. Even so, charts can look beautiful with proper typesetting. In terms of dealing with theme, in games that provide richer, deeper play, it can be more appropriate to have thematic detailing be more direct and literal than more abstract games (like Euros).

What I look for in a final product is a game that catches the eye, looks really fun to play and plays well. Many who post on various forums get overly fixated and hung up on informational detailing, pronouncing "art getting in the way of play" when a detail does not reach their impression of the highest level of readability. Sometimes this can be true but most of the time such individuals are really missing the point. Games (and Euros in particular) are mood based. Yes, a scripty font might be harder to read in some cases. But does it detract much in the play or add more by virtue of mood? In some cases, the add to mood is too costly an informational sacrifice (like
Indonesia and Medici). In others, yes a board may not read quite as well, but it works just fine and adds greatly to the mood. The hallmark of good design here is recognizing the value of the contributions and merit of all elements and to what extent to the various functions (not just informational) they add.

Malloc: I personally like the work you are doing with QWG's Masterprint series box redesigns, the overall feel reminds me a lot of the 3M bookshelf games, what was your inspiration in making these, what were you trying to accomplish by changing the box art, and why were they limited to this and not a total redesign?

Mike Doyle: Thanks very much! For QWG's
Masterprint series we set out to create a strong branded look that could have great appeal. Old books seemed a nice idea that is warm and inviting and allows gamers to accessorize their house with games. I really hate the fact that boardgame boxes are such that they need to be relegated to the closet. I would much rather have a set of games that look so good, they can be displayed with pride on the coffee table or fireplace mantle. Game boxes should be beautiful enough to displace the coffee table books and
reach places of status in gamers' homes.

We live in a world now where it is relatively easy to access foreign titles. They'll be more expensive with the shipping, but they're often easily gotten. Additionally, with Euro titles, language independent components are more common then they used to be. For those titles whose rules are available online, it almost becomes a matter of style. Publishers can style their products/boxes to attract outside of their market on the basis of this. If your market has a style you like, that's great. If something looks really nice outside your market for a title that you really care about, there is an alternative. In the case of QWG's MP series, the print run is very small with them, so each one is a bit rare which can be a draw as well.

These have been compared to the 3M series a few times. I don't think we ever thought of it this way, though I was raised on the old AH titles which always impressed me from a set point of view.

As for why not restyle the entire game, that is only a cost issue. The cost of art and design would factor in. Also, for language independent boards and cards, costs can be reduced significantly to have all the publishers run them
simultaneously in one print run. For the limited Dutch market, it would not make any sense to redo an entire game, I'm afraid.

Malloc: What about new games like Supernova and Container, was it easier to work o
n these project since there were no preconceptions as to the look and feel? Is this more or less rewarding as a professional than working on a title that may be more constraining like Hannibal or Titan?

Mike Doyle: Here I’ll speak generally on new verses rereleased games. For new games, the information design and ordering of the elements on the board, cards, etc are brand new. So everything needs to be thought out from scratch. For the information design on games already released, one only needs to look at what is working or not or could be improved on from what exists. So this is much easier as some of this research has already been conducted. Additionally, for the rereleases, I look for opportunities to make the board look better than before so that it c
an generate a lot of appeal and be considered a worthy upgrade for some. The constraints are that a certain level of continuity needs to be maintained so that one used to the old, can adjust to the new. For example on Titan, certain icons were maintained as well as the basic geometry of the board.

In the end, the reward is overcoming the challenges to create something fun and gorgeous to look at. While the challenges are different for a new game than an old one, both types are very interesting to do. If pressed to pick one or the other, I think I would rather recreate a game than from scratch. As said, much of the information research has been conducted so it is all a matter of improvement from there.

Malloc: How did you get involved with Valley Games? They are releasing some very ambitious (some may say slightly suicidal) titles. Describe, if you can, your involvement, (i.e. what specifically is your work) and how that whole process evolved from ideas to finished product. What was it like working on the re-release of a grail game such as Hannibal, knowing that the final product would be forever compared and scrutinized in comparison to the original.

Mike Doyle: Rik of VG had contacted me after seeing my blog. Actually sort of funny. I ha
d posted a Die Macher cover on the blog. Now, I'll be the first one to admit, I was wrong to do this knowing that the game was about to come out and I have felt bad about this ever since. I debated whether to post it or not, but was
very keen on the idea of this cover so I did. The next morning I got an email from Rik to call him. "Oh crap," I thought. "This guy's pissed and is going to sue me, threaten me or something." We talked and it turns out he liked it and wanted to talk about future work. That's the kind of nice people the guys are at Valley. They are always very concerned about their final product and take the creation very seriously.

As far as their releases go, I think it's pretty smart to release these titles. These rereleases have a mystique and legend about them. They are regarded highly and impossibly expensive on ebay. Also, I know for myself, that the more I play Euros, the more I am drawn to certain kinds of old style games which are heavy and rich with theme. So, it could be their popularity could rise as other Eurogamers' tastes shift.

For Hannibal, I worked on only certain parts of the game as needed. These were the box design (Kurt Miller did the art), the charts on the board (not the map itself), the battle cards, card backs and rules. The cover was the first one for Valley since I've been with them, so we established here a look and feel for their brand. This was the "letterbox" format with name and designer's signature on the box. The logo position was established after this game but it basically is in the same spot on the box. One of the challenges with their box was its proportions. The box is a rectangle that is approaching square. As such, it lacks a proportion that is dramatic. Narrowing the image area allows for a sweeping, more dramatic presentation and helps to establish a strong signature for them. I'm very pleased with the way the brand is shaping out as a family.

I'm not too interested in the comparisons that are made with high profile games such as this. Mostly, I'm looking for the challenges that come up and working toward making the productions "must haves" for many who wish to upgrade. Also, compared to other productions, my involvement with Hannibal was pretty minimal as mentioned above. I recently saw the real thing and it turned out nice, so I was pleased by this.

Malloc: What about the process for Titan? While I personally like the work you have done on the board and the legion markers, I know there has been some poor, reaction to the CG unit art. (not your work i know) Are these types of reactions inevitable when dealing with somethin
g as popular as a game like Titan? Are there pressures like cost, delivery time tables etc that have an effect on final artwork decisions? How do you as an Artist, try and minimize the affect of these inevitable facts of product development on your personal contributions?

Mike Doyle: For the counters, I did lay out the artwork that was done of the monster onto tile designs as I had mentioned on my blog, so certainly some of the criticisms are for me. :)) As for reactions of people, while some points were made, I am thoroughly disappointed by the conduct of most posters. This goes far beyond Titan nonsense and more to the tenor and tone of the Geek in general. Though to say it a Geek thing is unfair as I think this is simply an internet thing and you get this in any boardgame or other hobby forum. Perfectly nice peop
le can turn into the opposite when on the keyboard – a click away from posting semi-anonymously. Certainly emotions do run higher with games that individuals are passionate about (like Titan) and have a long term relationship with. This causes discussions that tends to be less informative and more emotional and personal in nature. My personal believe is that posting in the forums is as much to do with ego and the impression of knowing more than the other guy than anything else. Consequently, discussions get fixated on unimportant details detached either from reality or out of proportion to the merits of all the good that surrounds products/projects in question. Little bits and parcels of knowledge are used for and blown into full fledge critiques of game and art. Additionally, criticisms also tend to run higher on higher profile subjects (whether game, designer, artist or concept – like game ratings). Oh well. I think it is better not to get involved with Geek, BGN or other forums as it just contributes to the atmosphere. Even if I add rational contributions based on professional experience, it will get inevitably get buried in the rubbish and give fuel to it.

I love games, love to laugh and love the company of others enjoying similarly. For me, games are a celebration of life and positive in nature. These hobby games we play are complicated expressions of this – both in terms of design and in terms of production. An incredible amount of thought, passion and talent goes into these productions. I know in the case of what I do, I bring to bear a lot of professional experience (as a director of large hard core design projects) and personal passion to create works of goodness. The forums, whether Geek, BGN or otherwise seems to attract individuals who distort the goodness of what has been created with their own narrow – typically black and white – visions of right and wrong. It is certainly not in the spirit of why I game and dampens the spirit and energy I bring to my work. Again, for me, it's better just not to be involved in it altogether.

As for production, yes, there are lots of decisions made according to cost which is handled by the publisher. I have certainly requested things and the publisher generally has always looked into costs and even upgraded to those suggestions.All the publishers I’ve worked with have been great that way. At the same time – as we
all have heard over and over – there is not that much money to be made. Lots of capital is needed to produce a game. Anything that is not the usual - like a custom bit - will add to costs, so all this must be monitored closely by the publisher. Want a card that bleeds off the sides? That will cost you quite a bit, as a for instance. This being said, the publishers are gamers too. They want to see their product look like they would want a game in their collection to be. Since there is not that much money in it, there is that emotional component as a driver – which is huge. They're driven by this pride to see a high quality product that they, personally, can be proud of. In the end, all these faceless companies are really just a couple guys each, generally really nice, working really hard to create something they will really love.

Unfortunately making games is very complicated. There are lots of different parts and pieces that need to come together. This complicated manufacturing process can lead to crazy unpredictable things that happen along the way. Communications with the printer can be problematic at times too. Given that a huge percentage of games are printed at the same time for the same show (Essen), at times, printers can be less than responsive with getting back to publishers/artists due to their overload. This can cause last minute changes that can effect the final production and can be one of the most frustrating things in the process, actually. In one case, we wanted a special bit, but the printer never got back to us on costs or if they could make it properly. Months went by with no communication despite countless emails. Everything was due to print – rules, box, everything. What do you do? Do you simply pull the bit –forget it, we’ll use stock – to insure the image is correct in the rules and on the box? Maybe, but the stock piece doesn't happen to fit on the space on the board so the board will have to completely be redesigned at the last minute. Or perhaps we should not picture this custom bit in the rules and use
some abstract icon in the event it changes? Or perhaps will they come through? (In the end, they came through.) Here is the thing that bugs me with the forums and conversations in it. Individuals make comments based on what would appear to be logical assumptions. The real world and operations is completely illogical at times. Things happen based on the craziest circumstances. In this case, needless communication breakdown. Logically, things might seem to an outsider as if a publisher or artist does not know what they are doing. In reality, stuff just
comes up. On the positive side, though, looking at the general quality of games, it is good to see the high level that is being achieved compared to what I grew up with in the 80's. Given inflation, I think there is good value in all these productions and is something for the industry to take pride in. These games are truly exciting products growing ever more sophisticated and masterful in design and execution. I'm very positive for the future of gaming!

Malloc: Mike, I would like to thank you for your time and for providing us with some vision into a side of game development that many gamers know very little about.

Mike Doyle: Thanks for your interest!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Flywheel and the Doom Loop

All this business about Agricola has completely passed me by of late. I’ve never been one to hang around the BGG forums, so the first I heard of this “controversy” was right here on F:AT. However, the responses it generate did interest me, since they kicked up the dust again over what a lot of people see as kneejerk anti-Eurogaming sentiment on this site.

It’s true to say that we do seem to spend a considerable amount of column inches telling everyone what we don’t like, and what we don’t like usually seems to be Eurogames. I, for one, have already admitted that I sometimes do this far more than I should do, and of late I’ve tried to ease off a bit. Whether I personally have succeeded is not for me to judge but regardless of my contribution I wouldn’t say that the bulk of content in this site is anti-anything, or even overly negative. I think the perception comes because we have some contributors here who are extremely good at being vitriolic, so much so that when they hit the target people tend to remember it. That’s not a bad thing – it’s just being perceptive and writing well and often it’s all meant to be taken with a pinch of humour in any case.

Now I can’t speak for everyone who contributes to the site, but I suspect I’d be right if I said that when we’re being negative, what we’re standing against is poor games. That’s how I feel – indeed it’s what I opened my account here with. It’s true that most of what we feel are poor games happen to be Eurogames, but they’re not the only targets; they’re just the ones that get most attention because numbers of other gamers seem to think that they’re great. So naturally, when we see them being hyped we feel the need to respond with what we see as a big old fashioned dose of realism. Truth be told I’m pretty sick of all this game-labelling anyway. Whilst I must confess that I do like the fact that my favourite games now have a label after having been outcast into the wilderness for so many years, good game design has now become so much a matter of just borrowing across genres that most major new releases are, in some sense, unclassifiable crossover games in any case.

But surely what you see as a “good game” is just personal taste isn’t it? To some extent this is obviously true. But there are certain features of current game design that I see as being profoundly negative. In essence, these can be summed up as being bad for re-playability – I value a game that I can play over and over again and keep enjoying. It matters little that I don’t have the time to play my favourite games as often as I’d like, the fact is that others gamers might have the time and they deserve to be presented with games that can keep on going and going and going. I can remember the amazement I once raised in a BGG thread because I queried some guy saying that he thought getting twenty plays out of a game was exceptional value for money – to me a game should probably go twice that before burn-out starts to set in. The fact that people will accept games that run for less plays is a shame, and detrimental to the hobby. It might be that some gamers prefer a situation where they like to have a game challenge them for 5-10 plays before they start craving something new, but I find it hard to see that that could possibly be a majority viewpoint or a desirable state of affairs. Wouldn’t most of us prefer it if we could play games with good re-playability all the time?

I see two major reasons why the bulk of the games that I see as being guilty of this phenomenon are Eurogames. Firstly, the fans of these games seem to like games which are non-random and which require maths-like skills in order to play well. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but as I’ve commented before, it does tend to lead to game designs which have limited decision trees. This leads to a situation where there are “best” plays for most given situations in the game. These might not be obvious, and they might take time to tease out, but once they’re out in the open the game is usually pretty much dead. Where’s the fun or challenge in making decisions from a script or a flowchart? The second reason is that Eurogamers seem to want multiplayer games which run on the same principles as two player classics such as Chess and Go. These ancient games often work well precisely because they’re two-player and making multiplayer versions is extremely difficult. So when someone finds a novel way of doing it, it becomes a template for a slew of other copycat games which, for obvious reasons, usually have nothing like the replay value of the game they derive inspiration from.

What’s so frustrating about this is that good designers have shown time and time again that you don’t need to fall into these traps to design a good game that appeals to Eurogamers. There are a large number of Eurogames that I’m happy to say don’t fall into my “poor game” trap whether I actually like the games or not, and it’s no surprise to me at all that they’re amongst the most highly lauded games in Euro circles. Puerto Rico, Age of Steam, Settlers of Catan, Tigris and Euphrates – I could go on. It’s also worth noting that there are a number of AT games that also fall into my “poor game” trap, for different reasons – usually over-reliance on random mechanics, or vastly excessive chrome – although it has to be said that most modern AT designers have recognised these dangers and work hard to guard against them. So this really isn’t about one genre being “better” than another. It’s more about trying to inject some sort of sensible assessment into the hype when a new game comes out. So how did we end up in this situation where gamers are willing to accept shallow games and are happy just to keep on buying, playing and discarding new stuff before moving on to the next “big” thing?

When I started my current job, I was given a book to read – Good to Great. I had no prior interest in reading books about business theory but I must say this one seemed to contain a lot of sound advice, based on solid research and empirical evidence. One of the concepts in the book is the “Doom Loop” – the spiral of decline that companies go into when they launch new initiative after new initiative and end up being able to focus on nothing at all. I have a nasty feeling that the modern boardgaming world has got into a Doom Loop of its own, and it’s about time we recognised it and put a stop to it.

I don’t go to conventions. They tend to have more than their fair share of weird, creepy people and whilst I like meeting new gamers I’m of the old school of thought that prefers regular opponents for games. That way you can build up some sort of history together which enriches your gaming experience, you can get to know each others’ play styles and hell, you can actually have enough of a relationship to chat about something other than the game as you play. While not everyone might see things that way, the fact is that playing lots of games against strangers isn’t the key reason most people go to conventions. They go because they get the chance to try, and sometimes buy the latest games before anyone else does.

This, combined with the internet, creates a situation where games get an awful lot of pre-release hype based off the back of a lot of people who’ve played the game just once. In the day and age of mobile internet this hype can build with astonishing rapidity so that a game played on the first day of a convention can build momentum and sell like hot cakes on the last day. But we all know that one play just isn’t enough to really get to grips with a game – a game would have to be a real stinker to not even be worth trying a second time and oftentimes the very best, deepest games require multiple plays before they really start to shine. So we get a situation where instant-satisfaction, low re-playability games often sell by the bucket load while better games with greater longevity sit in the shadows. BGG isn’t to blame for this – if it didn’t happen there then it’d happen somewhere else. The blame lies fairly and squarely with the people who are willing to hype a game after just one play. I won’t usually buy a game that hasn’t been out for at least six months, I wouldn’t usually give a game a nine or a ten over on the ‘geek until I’d played it 3-4 times, and I absolutely won’t review a game I haven’t played more than five times unless it strikes me as being obviously dreadful.

Game designers and publishers know very well this is how it works. However much we might idolise our favourite designers and however much we might evangelise about a game because of how we feel about it, the fact is that these people are in business, and in business all that really counts is profit. In a thin-margin industry like gaming I doubt it takes long for the harsh realities of economics to strip away whatever idealism a new designer or publisher might have. So they jump on the bandwagon and start trying to churn out games which have that instant-hit value which will ensure good sales. And as long as gamers keep creating and falling for their own hype, designers and publishers can keep being lazy and churning out crap. This is the gaming equivalent of the Doom Loop and it’s what we need to escape from.

So it’s down to you. In good to great, the positive equivalent to the Doom Loop is called the Flywheel – something it takes effort to start but which builds momentum until it becomes unstoppable. If you want out of this circle, stop hyping games; stop buying on hype and demand games that have the depth to last fifty plays or more – it’ll take effort to start with but it’s effort you need to put in. Because after all, to borrow a truly excruciating advertising slogan, you’re worth it!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

FFG to Do Television Ads

Just read this on, a sometimes interesting industry site, and thought I'd share:

November 21, 2007

Fantasy Flight Games has announced that it is running a TV ad campaign in select markets for the Kingdom Hearts TCG. The campaign will run four weeks, from November 19th to December 16th, in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Baltimore, Seattle, and Atlanta. It will air on Cartoon Network, Toon Disney, Sci Fi Channel (including the Battlestar Galactica movie), and Spike TV.

Retailers can also obtain copies of the ad to run with their store information at their own expense or using FFG co-op funds.

Of course, this is for a CCG with a pretty big license and there's always been TV adverts for CCGs...and we've even seen those awesome HEROSCAPE ads that features kids playing and enjoying the game with youthful gusto. If FFG is looking at doing this kind of advertising for its CCG lines, then what do you guys think the outcome would be if they put a couple of STARCRAFT or even TI3 ads up on the Sci Fi channel, G4, Cartoon Network, Spike, etc.? Conversely, what would the outcome be if Hanno put up ads for AGRICOLA on the Farming Channel, Manure TV, or in a German scheisse film?

I also think it's cool that they're supporting the FLGS by allowing them to add their branding/information- that's really cool, and provides a great opportunity to bring folks into the stores.

I think it's pretty cool news.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Moving on, Ti3 newbies game

A while back when I put out the call for F:AT Invitational players, some folks expressed interest in playing in a beginners game.

I have setup a 4 player game, Thadd has a spot reserved that leaves open 3 more spots.
please post a reply to this if you want to play. If I get enough folks interested inplaying i will run more than one game. Also those interested in learning and not playing will be invited to follow along in the forum for the game.

So if your not too busy playing that new porno plotted euro game and want to learn how to play a real game then post away.

In order to be invited you need to PM me an email address on BGG.


Extending the Olive Branch of Friendship

Poor old Hanno. All he wanted to do was bring the joys and wonders of the farming life to the gaming crowd. Yet due to some lousy pranksters (not us, we swear!) his game went from 61 to the shocking position of 161, a ranking only fit for those inelegant Ameritrash games.

It really disappoints me that there were people who actually impeded Angricola’s right, nay it’s duty, to hit the top 10 5 minutes after it came out. I mean how are people to know that they simply must purchase a copy without it being up there? Besides, if it doesn’t hit the top 10 right now, when is it going to get there – in three months when everyone has moved onto the next Eurofad and Agricola is marked down for sale on Tanga en masse? I doubt it.

Unfortunately we here at F:AT, being the uncouth sheep we are, got in on the act too, and several of us caused much unfair stress too poor old Hanno, who gives so much to the Board Game crowd and asks for so little (we are lucky he doesn’t move his voluntary services to helping the children of Africa or something.)

I have however recently been reflecting upon the time when Aldie extended the hand of friendship to Barnes after they had their falling out, and felt inspired. So I too say let us all stand up and extend the olive branch of friendship to Hanno the magnificent, for it was not a prank that was perpetrated on him my friends, but truly a crime.

In order to express our deepest sorrow and shame, and in an attempt to rebuild those bridges we so unceremoniously burned by not rating Agricola a 10, we would like to invite Hanno to personally come down for dinner and sup with us in the trash cave.

Here is the main course.

And yes, you may bring your mother along.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

In Agricola, you're a farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse and little else

Wow that sound like the plot line for a Porno Flick, certainly not an interesting game.

It looks as if the ladies over at BGG got they panties all balled up over this game getting some obviously bogus (i.e. done as a joke) ratings over the weekend. I have to ask What the fuck is wrong with people when something as asinine as this can cause this much controversy.

I have never played the game, I probably never will. Why? well because the theme looks not only bolted on but about as enticing as a root canal. Not to mention it looks as if it is yet another euro that will offer players either:

A) 10 useless option and one good one per turn that they will have to sort through in a competition to compete with the other players as to who can figure out the optimal path the fastest.

B) 10 relatively equal options that will drive all the players blindly to an endgame where scores will all be about the same and someone will win based either on some inherited advantage.

So anyway, I am sure all th eurosnoots will love every bit of this game and more power too them. But unless someone tells me I can send my brucellosis infected cattle to my neighbors farm, light his fields a flame or "work" his wife while he is "working" the fields, the snoots can keep this one to themselves.


I really do not believe in rating games I have not played, or even giving a needlessly low rating to a game (for example I do not like Caylus and I think i gave it a 5) but some of the actions by this games publishers were IMHO too harsh. So it gets a 1 until I play the thing (may be a while) out of protest.


Friday, 16 November 2007

The Weekly AT Snapshot, 11/16/07: Viewer Discretion is Advised

Chappy hits us with another beauty...however, in the interests of a safe and decent society, I need to warn you that the following article has been rated

Small children, grandmothers, and that guy who bitched about "Magic Girl" being a highly rated BGG pic are all advised to leave the room immediately.

Now...on with the show! Apparently, we've found Michael Barnes first photographic review of the latest FFG offering.

Thanks, Chappy--still the only "cool" Euro gamer on the planet. Never change, baby.


If you've got a great image that just screams Ameritrash, email us the image or a URL. It can be an image you created or an image you found on the web. We don't care!

If it meets our strict quality standards, we'll publish it in The Weekly AT Snapshot, instantly making you an undeniable global celebrity.

We'll even pimp your website if you send us the URL for that. Send all submissions to with the word "Snapshot" in the subject line.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

No Video Card Required

So do board games go obsolete? For all the "90 minute CIV" squawkings, the "FANTASY GAME X is better than TALISMAN" folderol, and this whole idea that games get replaced by newer, jumped-up versions I don't think they do. And this week's Cracked LCD column is about these thoughts. Plus you'll be treated to a special guest appearance by The One True Leatherface.

Completely unrelated- LAST NIGHT ON EARTH is a bona fide smash. It's in the top 10 list of every major hobby distributor and it's one of the top 3 best selling board games right now- and that with fairly limited distribution. That puts it in company with SETTLERS, CARCASSONNE, and TICKET TO RIDE.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Ultimate Interview - Quest for the Dragonlords' Robert Johannessen

If you know me, you probably figured this was coming eventually. Yeah, that's right. It's the Dragonlords, baby. Forget that Starcraft foolishness that Barnes has been hyping as the greatest game of 2007. He'll move on to Laser Squad or some crap like that when it comes out next week. We're talking about the ultimate board game EVER CREATED here. So without further ado, here is the man himself - Robert Johannessen (AKA DLord Slayer).

robartin: I'm speaking with Robert Johannessen, designer of the Quest for the Dragonlords board game. Thanks for speaking with me Robert.

DLord Slayer:
: Thanks for the opportunity - I enjoy it.

robartin: Let's begin with a brief description of your game for those that are not familiar with it.

DLord Slayer:: It is a fantasy game of adventure and world conquest. What I tried to create was a game that fast and exciting to play. I also felt that it is important to have much eye candy, many playing pieces and colourful artwork to create a rich atmosphere when playing.

robartin: You definitely delivered in that department. I remember the first time I ever saw Quest for the Dragonlords on the shelf.

DLord Slayer:: What made you buy it?

robartin: The dark artwork and that crazy foil embossed box really made the game stand out next to the games about selling mushrooms and auctioning powder puffs. Your game has a "renegade" look to it and that's what sold it for me.

DLord Slayer:: I wanted to give the impression that you have found an old relic where you have to blow the dust off to get to the treasure inside. On the flip side though - it may have been a mistake. I received much critism for it from retailers though. They felt that the symbol was an evil pentagram. Some retailers actually put the game on the shelf backwards to hide the evil facade. So we printed the second edition with a more appropriate cover to reflect the contents of the game.

robartin: That's actually an interesting point because although I love the first edition box it does have a sort of malevolent look to it. While the game inside is about as family friendly as Lord of the Rings.

DLord Slayer:: The symbol actually represents the blessed cursed ignored concept found in the questing.

robartin: Let's take a step back for a moment - although a lot of people are quite familiar with your game, you are a bit of a "mystery designer". Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you into game design.

DLord Slayer:: This could take awhile. I have loved playing games my whole life. I used to enjoy the Avalon Hill games - Panzerblitz, Luftwaffe and a Napoleonic campaign game. I also enjoyed Risk and Axis and Allies. These are what inspired me to create Quest for the DragonLords. However, the one point I disliked about these games what the steam roller effect - whoever had the largest army won. I wanted to make a game where this was not the case - a game where there are no walls to hide behind. A bit more about myself... I am actually a tool and die designer. My buddies and I actually made the molds for the plastic figurines. We had never made anything like that and the first edition shows just how inexperienced we were. We tried a new process for the Crystal of Power expansion and the second edition.

robartin: I have to admit, one of the more humorous reviews of your game talks about how the first edition miniatures look like they had been chewed by a dog.

DLord Slayer:: Hehe. It was our first attempt. Some people actually asked me if we did that on purpose to add to the flavour of the game.

robartin: On that subject, your game is self-published yet unlike most self-published games, the material in your game is amazingly deluxe. You included all of these miniatures, full color cards, gold pieces, and even a CD-ROM. How did you manage such an extravagant first production?

DLord Slayer:: Thanks a lot! We really wanted the first edition to be special. It really was a labour of love. The idea of actually making money printing games never really entered the picture until it was time to pay for the production. Hehe.

robartin: American style (what we have lovingly dubbed "Ameritrash") games really hadn't come into their own when your game was initially released. This was during the height of respect for the "Euro" style game. Your game took a lot of heat on certain websites for being too "luck based" or "unbalanced". How do you react to that?

DLord Slayer:: Firstly I want to say - that I am honoured to be apart of the Ameritrash club!!! As far as unbalanced or luck based...quite frankly it pissed me off! But as always we responded to the criticism and made some significant changes for the second edition. I must point out that this game was designed for the whole family. I wanted to make a game where a kid could beat his old man. About this heat...I feel that Dragonlords were attacked by another game company who were in the process of manufacturing another fantasy based game!

robartin: Wow, a board game conspiracy... Do you feel that they were successful in their efforts?

DLord Slayer:: It definitely had an effect. I watched the whole thing happen in slow motion. The reviews that first appeared were all positive. QftD was a whole new idea. Nobody had manufactured a fantasy game with plastic miniatures before us. Then some negativity began to appear from people in southern Europe. Then that was it...we were tagged with imbalance and too much luck factor issues...

robartin: I think what you've really got is a bunch of armchair pundits that get a much bigger ear than they deserve because of the internet. Your game was released at a time when Euro game sensibilities were what all games were judged against. This was a time before Ameritrash games really had the voice and respect on the internet that they enjoy today.

DLord Slayer:: You got that right! It is actually hilarious to meet some of these reviewers at the shows...They walk around like they were gods. They actually look down at small game manufacturers.

robartin: The whole Euro vs. Ameritrash meltdown that occurred on had a lot to do with this gaming cult of personality.

DLord Slayer:: What do you think of the gaming cult?

robartin: While in a sense it's just a game for those of us wasting time on the internet I think it's important to realize that this armchair punditry really does have an effect, especially on smaller publishers.

DLord Slayer:: It really does...It really is a much smaller community than people realize. News travels fast. Once you have been marked, it is difficult to overcome.

robartin: I think your Second Edition game has been generally very well received. I personally feel that the ideas you were pioneering with the First Edition really gelled in the Second Edition. Can you talk a bit about the Norwegian influence that made its way into the second edition?

DLord Slayer:: Thanks Robert! Sure...I am a Viking at heart. Lord of the Rings was based on Norwegian folklore. We wanted to go back to the beginning and look closer at what inspired the greatest book of fiction ever written. We re-created a story that was believed to be true by the Vikings about Ragnarok and the apocalypse. We then added dragons to the mix. When I started to research the Viking folklore, it was very amazing how close our story behind the first edition was to legends found in Viking mythology.

robartin: Recently you announced that you will be producing an online version of Quest for the Dragonlords. Can you tell us about that?

DLord Slayer:: Sure. Let me first say that it will not be a 30 million dollar production. What we want to create is place where fans of the board game can meet and play the game. The video game format will allow us to pursue concepts that you simply can not do with a board game such as random events. Imagine a ship on it way to conquer another player that gets attacked by a sea serpent. Now that would be cool. Since we do not have a 30 million dollar budget, we hope to make a simple game that is cool to play.

robartin: Well your fans on certainly looking forward to it. We'll be looking for your online game. Any other products in the pipeline you can tell us about?

DLord Slayer:: We are working on few other projects, such as another expansion game for Quest for the DragonLords called the King's Wrath. We are also looking at manufacturing plastic units for the advanced game system. I also want to release the pewter miniatures as well. These were not well received but the DragonLord miniatures made in pewter are very cool. But we have to see how well the on-line game is received.

robartin: Great, well it's been great speaking with you Robert. Thanks for taking the time.

DLord Slayer:: Thanks for asking. It was my pleasure.

Frank La Terra's Agent Was Unavailable for Comment

Reader Mike Miller sent this one in to us (and made us wonder what sort of websites he has been frequenting, exactly):

Muscle-Man Vs. Skeleton Man: A Love Story

"Two readings of Muscle-Man vs. Skeleton Man: A Love Story. . . the musical will be presented in November at Chelsea Studios.

"Directed by Richard J. Hinds, the readings will be held Nov. 5 at 6 PM and Nov. 6 at noon at the West 26th Street venue. The cast will include Brian Charles Rooney as the Sorceress, Adam Pellegrine as Prince Hector/Muscle-Man, Ginamaria Trello as Skeleton Man, Jalynn Yvonne Steele as Shaniqua, Richard Binder as Man With 4 Arms, Steven C. Rich as King Crusty/Harry and Sarah Bolt as Queen Butt/Evil Annie with Briana Carlson-Goodman, Andrea Dore, Kelley Faulkner and Dustienne Miller as the Greek Chorus.

"Muscle-Man was penned by Richard J. Hinds and Ginamaria Trello. The musical, according to press notes, is described as such: "Evil lurks in the mythical land of Queerternia, a peaceful territory full of glitter and dreams. Skeleton Man is on a rampage, terrorizing citizens. No one can stop him… until Sorceress grants Prince Hector special powers, transforming him from a puny weakling, into a heroic, powerful Muscle-Man. As Skeleton Man and Muscle-Man battle to rule Queerternia, they realize there is a thin line between love and hate. Can two sworn enemies find happiness in the sculpted arms of one another? Is peace possible for Queerternia?"

"The creative team for the musical, which is billed as "a hilarious and thrilling satire of the fantastic worlds of our youth," also includes Albin Konopka (music supervisor), Rachel Coffman (musical director) and Walter Shepherd (stage manager)."

Frank's been telling us all along. We just didn't listen.

Friday, 9 November 2007

The Weekly AT Snapshot--November 9th, 2007



Today's image was submitted by "The Monkey Man" himself, Mike Chapel. Thanks, Chappy!


If you've got a great image that just screams Ameritrash, email us the image or a URL. It can be an image you created or an image you found on the web. We don't care!

If it meets our strict quality standards, we'll publish it in The Weekly AT Snapshot, instantly making you an undeniable global celebrity.

We'll even pimp your website if you send us the URL for that. Send all submissions to with the word "Snapshot" in the subject line.