Thursday, October 30, 2008

Framing the Conversation: Gallery

Well, the election is just a few days away, so I figured I might make it easier for those of you who have to vote here in California (and some of you who don't live here in the state) to read a series of posts I wrote about same-sex marriage. I entitled the posts "Framing the Conversation" as it was/is my intention to help drive up the quality of discourse, rather than lower it to name-calling & finger-pointing.

The first post was entitled Sushi & Molotov Cocktails - and it's a heartfelt plea for a reasoned view of tolerance.
That means that I can express an opinion about behaviors or beliefs that conflict with someone else's opinion... that's a disagreement, not intolerance. Intolerance would be me finding ways to silence another person before they could speak about those beliefs... or punishing them for doing so.
The second post had the unwieldy title of How to Get Yourself Fired From an Ultra-Traditional SBC Church - it deals with the nature of sexual sin, working to broaden the discussion beyond the barricades war of "gays vs. straights."
This means that we have to approach the conversation in a different way - this is NOT about "homosexuality vs heterosexuality." It is about marriage between a man & a woman vs a plethora of lesser & more destructive options - one of those being same-sex marriage.
Post #3 was entitled NPR Says It Better Than Me and was actually a short post with a link to a very well-written story on NPR's website about the fallout from the redefinition of marriage.
I know that many of you who read this blog - esp. those of you who are bothered by my stance on same-sex marriage - are sure that I've been watching too much Fox News & on re-broadcasts of Focus on the Family.

Please read the following story,
Gay Rights, Religious Liberties: A Three-Act Story, at
The fourth post in the series referenced Seinfeld with it's title, Elaine & Puddy - and was an attempt to talk about why I'm talking about this stuff.
Here's the deal... the reason I'm still writing about same-sex marriage is the same reason Dan was writing about hell. If I truly believe that any kind of sexual behavior outside of one man/one woman marriage is sinful & destructive, then if I love people, I'm going to speak up about it.

You may not like what I have to say - you may disagree violently. Heck, you may agree with me but wish I hadn't brought it up because you don't want to think about it or deal with it. But you need to understand that the motivation behind this is NOT hating homosexuals but loving people (hopefully with Christ's love) and wanting them to have the best possible shot at holiness, happiness & wholeness.
The fifth post, Kodak Moment, took us in another direction, as I tried to explain the spiritual significance to evangelicals for a traditional definition of marriage.
So, if that's the picture in the Bible, citing marriage between a man & a woman as a "great mystery" that gives us a picture of the relationship of Christ & His church... should it really be a surprise that redefining marriage is problematic to some of us?
Post #6 had a shout-out title for Dick Clark, It's Got A Good Beat & I Can Dance To It - I'll Give It An 85 - but probably doesn't make me real popular with the more conservative members of my reading audience. Here, I argued that one of the ways we are advocating for Prop 8 is, at best, problematic.
Those of us who support a Biblical view of marriage have to deal with this stuff - we must make our cases without accusing judges of usurping power... when historically, that's the role we have asked the judiciary to play in this country. We've put the courts in the position of the kids on American Bandstand - listen to a snippet & rate the record. It's not fair to accuse them of hijacking the legal system when we're the ones who gave them the headphones.

There's a profound difference between saying that the court acted unwisely or that the principles they used (sexuality as a protected class, for example) are bad law... and saying that the court acted illegally.
The seventh post was entitled My Atheist Friend Has It Right - and he does. This time around, i looked at the ridiculously skewed media coverage of the debate.
Yes, you read that right. In the Los Angeles Times newsroom, 19 percentage points constitute slim, narrow, bare majorities. Gosh, I wonder how the story would be played if the opposite results were found. I know, as Barbie says, that math is hard. But this is truly inexcusable and the Times’ cheerleading in support of same-sex marriage is anything but journalism.
The eighth post, Worms & Jail, was an answer to the question of how the church responds to laws it finds in opposition to the Bible.
When or if we are forced to disobey, we need to do so with great care & godliness. Our disobedience should focus solely on the law in question & not be rebellion against the government or an attempt to use the power of numbers to "bring the government to its knees." Civil disobedience is powerful because we stand for what is right, not because we get our way or force others to agree with us.
Post #9 was nothing more than a couple of links - but Field Trip is a perfect illustration of the fears that fuel some evangelical voters.
Californians will vote next month on whether only marriages involving one man and one woman should be recognized. Proponents of the measure have argued in television advertisements that children will be taught about same-sex marriage in public schools and that they will be taught that same-sex marriage is equivalent to traditional marriage.

And whatever you think about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it didn’t take long for them to be proven right.
In the last few hours before Election Day, I'm adding post #10 & post #11... the tenth post, Reset Button, answers a question from one of my readers about whether it matters what government does or doesn't do regarding same-sex marriage.
But what government chooses to legalize & support does make a difference. (Ding - point to me.)

If it doesn't, then why are so many people getting ready to pop a vein over whether we elect Senator Obama or Senator McCain as president tomorrow? Each one of them will make decisions & sign legislation that will make legal or illegal a variety of activities. They will implement policies that support various causes & industries... and will set the agenda not only for what we discuss about those issues but also how we discuss them.
I entitled the eleventh post Dr. Baird & Big Love, managing to invoke memories of a freshman Logic class & a HBO dramatic series at the same time.
I'll go so far as to tell you that voting for Prop. 8 simply because you're scared of the cast of HBO's Big Love moving in next door to you is a bad idea. That's on par with voting for McCain because you've heard Obama is a Muslim. (He isn't, btw.) We should never be defined by what we're against - instead, we should be defined by what we're for.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


As of this week, I've entered into an "arrangement" with the folks at Haba USA to review their games in exchange for getting access to those games. Those reviews will be appearing here on the blog, over at BoardGameGeek and possibly in other places.

It's important to note a couple of things for those who are worried that I sold out to "The Man" (or, in Haba's case, a really nifty wooden dwarf piece):
  • the Kid Games 100 was picked long before I had this arrangement in place. (There have already been 9 of their games in the countdown... and there are, I assure you, more to come!)
  • even before they sent me a very nice package filled with games, the boys & I owned 35+ games published by Haba (and I have one oldie but goodie on the way from a BGG trade)... the +, btw, is because there are 2 games sitting in the closet waiting for the boys for Christmas

As always, questions & comments are welcome - I'll do my best to answer 'em.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blame It On Stephanus

Well, maybe not. But Scot McKnight writes about one of those "unintended consequences" kind of stories when it comes to following God & reading the Bible.
In 1551 a certain Stephanus divided the New Testament up into numbered verses. We are thankful (with some groans). Thankful, because now it is much easier to refer to specific parts of the Bible. It is easier to say "John 1:14" than to say "That line in the Bible where it says 'The Word became flesh.'" Numbering verses is one thing, but when publishers provide a Bible where the only divisions are chapters & verses, as if each verse were a new paragraph, reading the Bible as a story is much more difficult. Take your favorite novel or book, photocopy a page, cut out each sentence, number each sentence, and then paste back onto a page with each number beginning at the left margin, and you'll see the problem. It's much harder to read a book that way. One has to wonder what got into the head of publishers who started doing this. It's a colossal mistake.
So I decided to try it, using Puddleglum's speech from C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair:
  1. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.
  2. Suppose we have.
  3. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.
  4. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom is the only world.
  5. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.
  6. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it.
  7. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right.
  8. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.
  9. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world.
  10. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it.
  11. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia...
Hmm... he's got a point.
Even more importantly, we need to observe what versification did to how we read the Bible. Dividing the Bible up into verses turns the Bible into morsels and leads us to read the Bible as a collection of divine morsels, sanctified morsels of truth...

It is important to know the blessings and to rely on God's promises. Please don't misunderstand my point. But the blessings & promises of God in the Bible emerge from a real life's story that also knows we live in a broken world and some days are tough. The stories of real lives in the Bible know that we are surrounded by hurting people for whom Psalm 22:1 echoes their normal day.
Intrigued? So am I. I'm in the middle of reading this book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, and would love to hear from others who've read it and/or are reading it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scattegories... Sorta

Steve Cates (ironcates on BGG & one of the Fresno Gamers) sent this to me today... I'm loath to forward e-mails, lest I encourage that behavior in others, but I figure I can answer 'em here on the blog and y'all can decide for yourselves what you want to do with it. Here's the rules:

Use the first letter of your first name to answer each of the following. They have to be real places, names, things - nothing made up. Try to use different answers if the person in front of you had the same first initial - which by the way is hard if you already have read their answers! You cannot use your own name for the boy/girl names.

  1. What is your name?: Mark
  2. A 4 letter word: monk (if you're looking for a 4 letter curse word, good luck)
  3. A vehicle: Mustang (have I ever told y'all about the 1966a Mustang my dad sold right before I got my license?)
  4. A City: Memphis
  5. A boy's name: Mercutio
  6. A girls name: Mariah (this was one of the names we had for our first child... but it turned out to be a boy!)
  7. Alcoholic drink: Mai-Tai (I don't even know what's in a Mai-Tai)
  8. An occupation: Minister (hee)
  9. Something you wear: Mousse (well, technically I wear "pomade", but that's the fancy-schmanzy name for mousse)
  10. A Celebrity: Mickey Mouse
  11. A food: Mixed Vegetables (yum... as long as you go light on the lima beans)
  12. Something found in a bathroom: Mouthwash
  13. Reason for being late: Me
  14. Something you shout: My God!
  15. An animal: Moose
  16. A body part: Mouth
  17. Word to describe yourself: Motivated (though that's a little on the ebb right now)

Monday, October 20, 2008

#40: Immer oben auf!

Immer oben auf!
  • designer: Alan Moon & Aaron Weissblum
  • publisher: Goldsieber
  • date: 2004
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.93
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 3-5
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $19.95 (FunAgain)
The first thing you notice about Immer oben auf! is how flingin'-flangin' heavy the box is... that's because the game is played with twenty-four wooden blocks. Seriously, you could kill a small child by dropping the game on them.

The game itself is a sly combination of memory & deduction. Each of the 24 blocks are stickered with animals: green blocks have ocean animals, blue blocks have flying animals & yellow blocks have land animals. (There are four different animals of each type... so, two blocks of each animal are in the game.) Players begin the game with a stack of blocks that are somewhat chosen by color. (You really don't need to understand the whole process unless you're actually playing the game.)

For your turn, you choose another player and attempt to name the animal on the top block in his stack. You have some clues, of course - the animals you can see in your own stack, the animals you've seen in other stacks, and some basic deduction based on other players guesses. If you're correct, you take the block & put it at the bottom of your own stack... then you get to guess again (but you must choose another player to "attack"). If you're wrong, the targeted player shows the block to everyone and puts it at the bottom of his stack... and your turn is over (with a capital "O").

Depending on how many players are playing, reaching a stack of 7, 8 or 9 blocks is what wins you the game.

I really like how the memory & deduction elements of the game work together - in a weird way, it reminds me a bit of Coda (which is another SIMPLE multi-player deduction game). I also like that my kids enjoy it... and that they enjoy torturing their mom with it (who doesn't like it nearly as well as the rest of the family.) The only thing the game needs is a cheat sheet with the sticker pictures for first-time players, so you can remember what animals are in the game.

Weirdest experience with this game: my three year old won on the VERY FIRST TURN of the game by making three essentially random guesses. (Yes, we played again.)

Framing the Conversation: Field Trip

From the San Francisco Chronicle... and then some news analysis from
Californians will vote next month on whether only marriages involving one man and one woman should be recognized. Proponents of the measure have argued in television advertisements that children will be taught about same-sex marriage in public schools and that they will be taught that same-sex marriage is equivalent to traditional marriage.

And whatever you think about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it didn’t take long for them to be proven right.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

#41: Höchst Verdächtig

Höchst Verdächtig
  • designer: Manfred Ludwig
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2002
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2455/6.26
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print?
  • cost: $32.99 (Amazon)
First things first... ignore the insanely cheerful lamp in the picture. Haba is not only one of the foremost publishers of kid games but they also do a bang-up job of toys, furniture & kid room decorative stuff. (The lamp is just one example - for more stuff, check out their online catalog - I would have LOVED this room as a kid.)

Now, on to the game in question - the English name is "Highly Suspect" (which made me laugh pretty hard when Chef Skinner in Pixar's Ratatouille muttered it) - and it's about catching a bad guy before any of the other detectives. It's pretty simple, actually: when your detective moves next to the crook, you nab a "bad guy" card (worth 0-3 points). When one person has 4 cards, the game is over & you total up points to see who won.

Ah, but fighting crime is never that simple, is it? Rather than moving the pieces, you move the board. It tilts & the pieces (both detectives & criminals) slide until they hit a raised portion of the city. So, on your turn, you can make the pieces slide 1, 2 or 3 times, depending on your die roll.

When playing with younger children, the Law of Unintended Consequences shows up quite a bit, as kids (and a number of adults) don't look ahead to see what will happen to all of the pieces. This isn't a bad thing, mind you - one of the key gaming (and life!) lessons we want to teach kids is the ability to look ahead to the consequences of their actions.

Kids love the sliding mechanic at the heart of this game... I think it may be the same impulse that makes little boys slide Hot Wheels down improvised ramps. They need to be 6-7 years old to understand the implications of their moves, but they can play with the game as young as 4.

Some folks have objected to the random payoff of the cards, but I think that particular scoring mechanic is there to keep the game from devolving into endless tit for tat sliding & min-maxing of points.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cowboy Meets Ninja

Halloween starts early here in Easton, thanks to the Benzler family and their yearly Halloween party (complete with haunted house, magician & humongous amounts of food.) Collin took his dress-up outfit his Aunt Liz got him and borrowed some extra stuff from his buddy, Robert Ollech, to make a great cowboy costume. The sunglasses, also from Robert, are a very cool touch.

We figured you'd like to see him without the sunglasses, though - so here's another picture of the cowboy in his natural habitat, the fenced-in front yard.

Braeden & I found him this ninja costume on sale at Target - my guess is that the real selling point was not being a ninja but getting the cool ninja props to play with. (I'm not immune to the charms of plastic sai daggers myself.)

Just as the cool cowboy needed to drop his shades & grace us with his baby blues, we made the ninja show us his secret identity. Yes, a red-haired ninja!

And then, we took a picture of them together... we are so proud of our boys!

Battle Royale: National Heroscape Day

The Battle Royale continues... here we sneak a peak at my Ashigaru soldiers (led by the new samurai general) and assisted by Guilty McCreech & Isamu the ninja. They're laying in wait for any attempt Braeden's army makes to exit my side of the board.

Today, btw, was National Heroscape Day - tourneys & other events took place across the nation, publicizing this wonderful (but not inexpensive) game.

Here's the view from Braeden's side He's got Omicron Snipers perched on the high points, the new one-eyed ogre (Braeden calls him "Krug's cousin") and the Zetacron working towards the castle entrance, an elf wizard throwing fire at my monks, and some spiders trying to take the bridge on the left flank. (You can see some of my samurai coming through the swamp on the right flank, but the elf wizard has been mowing them down.)

Finally, an overhead view from my side of the board... my Ashigaru squads are in place. I've got one monk holding down the "range" glyph while the other one & the Master try to get the vial out of the castle without being flamed. Again, you can barely see my samurai on the left flank.

I feel like I'm in better shape right now - I've killed off a lot of Braeden's guys - but the ones who are left have some decent firepower & he's got them well-positioned. If the dice don't turn on me, I'd give myself a 65% chance of winning this one.

#42: Gumball Rally

Gumball Rally
  • designer: Ted Cheatham
  • publisher: Z-Man Games
  • date: 2007
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2900/6.02
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 3-8
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $9.60 (Boards & Bits)
I need to start out this entry with a disclaimer: the designer of Gumball Rally, Ted Cheatham, is a personal friend. He was one of the founders of Gulf Games... and it's because of his friendship that I got invited to attend.

But that just explains why I was willing to try Gumball Rally... and not why I like it as much as I do. The reasons I like it are as follows:
  • it plays well with 5-8 players... there aren't a lot of games (kid games or otherwise) that fall into that category
  • it plays quickly & cleanly
  • it works really well with mixed audiences of kids & adults... or with all kids if you have an adult to "run" the game
  • there are opportunities for clever play... but no real way to target another player
This is a race game (go-carts, evidently) which uses relative position in the pack rather than a track/board to "simulate" the race environment. Players are working to be in the front of the pack when they reach the checkpoints (there are two of them) and the finish line.

The game comes with chunky cardboard "car" pieces - which is good, since you set cards on them & slide them about. In fact, that's pretty much how the game works:
  • play one of four suits of cards on your car
  • pass every car that has a lower number on their card OR has the same suit you played
At the end of the round (everyone plays in race order), a special event card is drawn. Most of them send the player with the highest card in a particular suit to the back of the pack... though some send all the players who played a particular suit to the back. Tucked into this deck is the checkpoint/finish line cards as well - when one of them is drawn, you score for 1st/2nd/3rd place... and 4th place at the finish.

Based on the points accrued for each checkpoint/finish, the player with the most points is the winner.

I know it doesn't sound like much... but the game just works like a charm with larger groups.

Friday, October 17, 2008

#43: Turbulento

  • designer: Heinz Meister
  • publisher: Selecta
  • date: 2006
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.71
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $12.50 (TimeWellSpent - btw, this is a really good deal & they only have one)
I was a little disappointed when I opened the box - there's just a bunch of wooden rounded discs, some wooden marbles & a deck of cards in a box that's double the size needed to contain all that stuff... and no board! Honestly, I thought I was getting ripped off. Then I read the rules and realized that the box was the board - and that there was a very interesting game tucked in the box with all the rest of this stuff.

It's a game of animal hide-and-seek... on your turn you flip over a card and either:
  • help the animal "hide" by hitting his rounded disc with a marble & flipping him over OR
  • find the hidden animal by turning over the right disc (if you're wrong, btw, the next player gets to try)
So, there's some dexterity involved (it takes practice to get the hang of flipping the discs) and some memory involved (which gets particularly tricky if you play multiple game one right after another). The reward for correctly performing a task is:
  • if you help an animal hide, you get your marble back
  • if you find an animal who's hiding, you get a marble from the supply
There's one disc (the Jinx) that starts the game flipped over & costs you a marble if you turn him over... though we haven't seen that come into play much in our games.

The game ends when one player runs out of marbles - and the player with the most marbles wins.

This is one of those games where the old "how do you get to Carnegie Hall?" joke comes into play - you need to practice flipping discs to get to the second (memory) part of the game - your first games will be over (for the most part) before the memory element comes into play.

The age suggestion is pretty accurate, though my 3 year old has finally figured out how to make the discs flip. When playing with 2-3 players, we give everyone more marbles so the game will go on a bit longer. (And even with that, it's a 15 minute game.)

Next Year...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

#44: Fireball Island

  • designer: Lund & Company
  • publisher: Milton Bradley
  • date: 1986
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 1540/6.34
  • age: 7+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: very OOP!
  • cost: eBay - this is a recent link for a couple of complete copies of the game ($170.00 +) as well as missing pieces. If you want a complete copy, plan to pay through the nose for it. (I guess this is probably not the best time to tell you I picked up my almost complete copy for $2.00 at a thrift store.) :-)
Well, this is gonna be the first of the Kid Games 100 to have a YouTube video embedded in it...

Why the crazy Fireball Island love? (There are a plethora of fan sites - as well as numerous variant rulesets and even one lovable nutjob who "pimped" his copy and is proudly displaying the results on BoardGameGeek.) I have some theories:
  • it's an Indiana Jones kind of game... and people love the whole "Raiders of the Lost Ark" vibe
  • the big molded plastic board, which just looks cool
  • the big molded plastic board, which was easily destroyed and therefore made the game a lot more difficult to find (and thus, in geek life, cooler)
  • people like knocking over each other's figures with marbles
  • it's actually a lot of fun to play
It is NOT, however, a perfect game. The best strategy is roll the dice really well & hope your opponents don't. It's wildly random & chaotic - the action cards can mess up the best of plans - but that's part of it's charm.

For those of you who've never had the joy of playing the game, here's a bullet point description:
  • Players are adventurers who want to liberate (aka steal) the big ol' ruby from the island
  • Players also control the fireballs (aka Hot Lava Death!) that knock other players silly
  • There are little plastic bridges as well as caves on the island
  • It's pretty much a race to grab the jewel, keep it away from the other players, and reach the boat (end of the track) with it
And there you have it. Oh, yeah, there's more to it than that, but not THAT much more.

What the game really has is truckloads of fun dumped into the box... I have yet to meet a young boy who doesn't go nutso over playing the game. And that's why it's #44 on this list.

Game Central Station: Union Pacific - For Two

Editor's Note: Dave himself taught me to play this nifty variant that he & Winton cobbled together - it's really the best possible way I know of to play UP as a two player game.

This is the third post of three about Alan Moon's wonderful train game,
Union Pacific - the first two are Union Pacific - Rules & Variants and Union Pacific - Strategery.

Union Pacific For Two

created by Winton Lemoine & David Arnott

NOTE: it is assumed that you already know the basic rules to Union Pacific.

Initial Set-Up

Before the game begins, give both players 1 (one) stock in each company; a total of 10. Each player shuffles their deck of 10 and places it face down in front of them.

With the stock cards remaining, set-up the game as normal: deal each player 3 track cards, 4 random stock cards, and 1 UP stock. Place four stock cards out for drawing and shuffle the Scoring cards into the deck as per the regular rules.

NOTE: use all four Scoring cards, as in a multiplayer game.

Drawing Track Cards

If, at the beginning of your turn, you hold 3 of the same type of track card you may replace one. Show the 3 track cards, discard 1, then draw 2. It is especially amusing to show your opponent 3 wild cards; but if you ever do this and actually discard one you'd better be sure about your lead.

Drawing Stock

When drawing stock you may draw one card from either:
  • a. the 4 face-up cards
  • b. blind from the game deck
  • c. blind from your personal deck of 10

After drawing that stock, do the following:

  • a. Whenever a face-up card is drawn, slide the other stock cards 'down' so that the new face-up card is always placed on the far right; thus the 'oldest' stock is always the one on the far left.
  • b & c. Whenever a stock is drawn blind from either the game deck or your personal deck of 10, place a marker on the oldest (leftmost) unmarked stock (just use a train from a company that isn't growing much).

If all 4 face-up stock cards already have markers when a stock is drawn blind, the oldest stock is discarded and removed from the game. A replacement stock is then placed on the far right and marked so that all 4 stock cards will still have tokens on them.

Any time a face-up stock is drawn, all markers are REMOVED, and marking starts over again from the oldest stock.

NOTE: Face-up stock cards marked with tokens do not prevent them from being drawn as normal.

Trading For U.P. Stock

UP stock can only be gotten by trading, one-for-one, at the end of a turn in which a player drew stock. The single stock to be traded is placed face down on the bottom of the main stock deck.

Scoring: Rounds 1-3

Scoring rounds 1, 2, and 3 score as normal with the following exceptions:

  • a. If a player has a 'monopoly', i.e. he is the only player with stock played in a company, he scores only the first place money; he does not collect both first and second.
  • b. UP is scored for rounds 2 and 3 as if it were a three-player game (see below).

Scoring: Round 4

The final scoring round is essentially scored like a 3-player game, with the 'dummy' or 'the house' being the third player.

For purposes of this round only, 'the house' is considered to be holding the 4 face-up stock cards, all face down stock - including the players' personal stacks - and all stock traded in for UP (which will be on the bottom of the deck already). 'The house' does not hold the cards in each player's hand, nor stock discarded from play due to 'marker removal' or from when 4-of-a-kind come face up.

It is possible during this last round - even likely - that 'the house' will be first or second or tied for first or second in some companies. In other words, it is not uncommon during this last round for some of your first places to turn into seconds, and for some of your seconds to disappear!

For this round only, it is also now possible - though unlikely - to score both first and second place in a company. In order for this to happen, one player must have stock on the table while the other player does not, AND 'the house' must not have any stock of this company either.

Using Western & Wyoming (gray) as an example: If Winton has 4 of the 6 W&W stock played in his display and Dave holds the other 2 in his hand NOT PLAYED, then Winton has four shares, Dave has none, and since 'the house' has none, as well, Winton would score both first and second-place money. Cards discarded by markers and by 4-of-a-kind can also help create this situation.

'The house' is also considered to be holding all remaining shares of UP, not just for this final round, but for rounds 2 and 3, as well. It is therefore possible during rounds 2-4 for one player to be first in UP stock and for the other to be third place or tied for second with 'the house.' As usual, most money wins!

Thoughts from the designers:

The biggest problem we found with UP for 2 was that the final scores were often lopsided. We tried and rejected several solutions including expanding the initial deck of 24 that contains the first scoring card, as well as 'deal out 8, but keep only 4' for your starting hand of stock. We tried changing the scoring for monopolies, and also including the 'dummy' player in more scoring rounds.

The other big problem we discovered was that the 4 face-up stock cards usually became stagnant. Neither player wanted to give the other the advantage of seeing a new card, and on top of that, if was often a better play - especially in a two-player game - to draw blind anyway. With only one opponent, those four face-up stocks weren't as critical.

The two fixes that accomplished the most were the Personal Deck of 10 (one of each stock) and using markers to eliminate stagnant stock.

The personal deck was a way to deal with one player being unable to get even a single share in a company that the other player had locked up (even in a company as large as Miami Southern (yellow), from experience). The locked-up player will keep growing aggressively and can outscore the other by as much as $30 in a company as small as Marquette (light blue). Not fun. With the personal deck you are not guaranteed to find a stock right away, but you will eventually find it, even if it takes 10 draws! The other player will still hold first place in that company but will probably need other first places as well to win the game.

An interesting side effect of drawing from the personal deck is that unless all 4 face-up stocks have markers, it can't trigger a scoring card. So sometimes drawing from your personal deck is a good way to slow the game down so you can catch up.

"3 of the same" track cards can also be crippling. Being able to draw 2 can increase the chances of getting a helpful card. Consequently, you may find yourself playing track cards that will intentionally leave you with 3 of a kind, just so you can take advantage of this.

Not allowing monopolies to collect both first and second place money in rounds 1-3, but including 'the house' in the final scoring, made it possible for the behind player to catch up considerably, potentially for the win. If Dave has 9 shares of El Paso & Rio Grande (green) on the table and Winton's played only two, then Dave will score only half the length of that company (rounded in his favor) for rounds 1, 2, and 3. But unless Winton picks up a few more shares (or some are removed from the game), 'the house' will be in second place and Dave will score the ENTIRE length of El Paso relative to Winton's third place score of nothing. This can be big money.

Note: for simplicity's sake, if both players are in a company, we prefer to pay only the relative amount to the first-place shareholder, i.e. we deduct the second-place money from the first-place money. But you can certainly give both players their total payouts if you'd like.

This final scoring round has also made trading for UP more strategic. This is a good thing, since in a two-player game, there really are no 'worthless' companies to trade away anymore. So now you are trying to trade strategically, attempting to give 'the house' a second place in a company so you can collect all of first.

Also note, you don't need to play all shares to the table to snatch a first or second place. Say Winton has 4 of the 10 shares available of Denver Midland (black) on the table and Dave has only 2 in front of him. If Winton also has another share in his hand, he does NOT have to play it to guarantee first for the final scoring round, as 'the house' can only have, at most, three shares. In fact, Winton hopes that 'the house' does indeed have all three shares, since he is then scoring first to Dave's third.

Now let's say Dave finds another share of Denver Midland and plays it to the table. If Winton then trades his share from his hand for UP, 'the house' has three shares again, tying Dave for second and giving Winton more money than if Dave had second all to himself. Plus, Winton got a share of UP.

The risk here, of course, is that Winton only has 4 shares now and that Dave may be able to find one to tie and negate the company - or worse, the last two to steal first place!

We hope you enjoy this variant as much as we do. We have tinkered with it for a long time - probably 35 to 40 games - before arriving at what we feel is a tense, fun two-player game that still resembles the original. It's become a two-player staple for us.

In fact, Winton even prefers it to the original.

Game Central Station: Union Pacific - Strategery

This is the second post of three about Alan Moon's wonderful train game, Union Pacific - the other two are Union Pacific - Rules & Variants and Union Pacific - For Two.

In Defense of of the Game

Muscian, poet, scholar, & friend, Stven Carlberg (he of the Missing "E") has written a number of eloquent & well-thought-out posts to r.g.b. and other online gaming communities that do a bang-up job of defending UP pretty much 'as is'. If you're one of those folks tempted to throw EVERY variant I listed in the previous post into the mix, read this first... it's a 'greatest hits' collection of Stven's thoughts on U.P.

I'm finding it amusing that certain people are complaining that the four cards face up to draw from are a problem (let's avoid that "broken" word -- I agree it should be saved for games that truly don't make sense) because the situation can arise where people's choices are so limited that nobody wants any of the cards showing....

And at the same time, certain people are complaining that the track cards should be dispensed with because they're NOT limiting people's choices enough and are therefore a waste of time.

My group has played Union Pacific at least a hundred times -- obviously we like the game quite a bit! -- and we like both of these mechanisms just the way they are.

First, the four face-up cards: Yes, the situation can arise where nobody particularly wants any of the four cards showing. In our experience, it's a rare game where this situation does NOT arise. It can occur even early in the game, but it's a standard feature of the late middle game, where you're around half to two-thirds of the way through the deck and the last Union Pacific stock gets traded for. At this point, a useless stock in your hand is going to be a useless stock in your hand for the rest of the game -- there's nothing left to trade for. So the wisdom of taking a face-up stock that only MIGHT be useful to you goes way down. And as always, you run the risk of turning up a really GOOD face-up card for somebody else, one that you could have drawn yourself as a secret. Yet the possibility of drawing a secret which is completely worthless to you also exists, compared to drawing a card from the face-up display which has at least some small but known worth.

THIS IS ONE OF THE GAME'S TOUGH DECISIONS. This is what makes you have to think. This is what makes the game interesting, and not just a matter of knowing you're routinely going to be handed a good card every turn. Those four cards are SUPPOSED to sit there while the turn passes around the table three or four times, with people drawing secrets or taking the opportunity to meld. This situation FORCES THE ACTION. This is a GOOD thing.

Now, as for the track cards. If you have never been in a situation where you wanted to build a train for a particular railroad but none of the cards in your hand would let you do it, then you just haven't played enough Union Pacific! It's true that it is quite difficult to block a railroad's growth completely -- yet in almost every single game, at least ONE railroad does become completely bottled up. Even if you can only block a railroad's growth on one particular type of track, that can prevent another player from building on it because he doesn't hold that particular track card. The track cards most certainly do put limitations on players. Obviously the situation is frustrating to some who would like to be able to block trains more easily, but that doesn't mean the mechanism isn't working -- it just means it takes a little more patience to complete the block. Another common situation is that the mere THREAT of a block, among our experienced players, will prod somebody into building a train to keep from being blocked... sometimes when he might rather have built somewhere else. So again, this mechanism FORCES THE ACTION, and again, this is a GOOD thing.

And then Stven responded to the whole "trading for U.P. stock controversy"...

There are VERY few actual "crap cards" (stock) in Union Pacific, especially during the early stages of the game before leadership has been established in most of the stocks. Often you have a handful of cards that you definitely want and are looking at four face-up cards with at LEAST one that you also definitely want. Or perhaps you have two or three shares of different stocks that would be worth second place somewhere if you could just get one more -- but you don't know WHICH of those two or three stocks you're going to have a chance to draw a matching share in, so you'd rather not discard any of them just yet. My experience has been that, right about the time you know which stocks you're out of the race on and can afford to discard, the Union Pacific stock runs out (typically a little before the third dividend card comes up), so THEN the problem becomes, you might draw a face-down card you don't need and there not be any Union Pacific left to trade for. But before that point, you're more likely to be scrambling for something you can bear to trade.

So, to put it in a nutshell, the practical effect of having to trade for it is that Union Pacific is not half so tempting a grab, and not every player WILL choose to trade for it.

Indeed this process does cause "more confusion about who has a majority in the other companies," as certain stocks are discarded out of the game, thus changing the numbers required for an absolute majority in that railroad. We regard this confusion as a good thing. Also note that, if you are the player who has discarded a particular stock, it leaves you with an extra piece of information which you may be able to use to your advantage. The other night, for example, I was in a situation where I needed to trade for one of the two last Union Pacific shares in order to preserve my second place in UP. I had two of the purple shares (9 total shares of stock in the company) already declared and two more in my hand, and one other player had one purple share declared. Obviously this was not a "crap card," but I chose to trade purple for the UP (instead of two other choices in my hand I liked even less) because that left me at least with a little bit of knowledge about where the purple stock was. This paid off later in the game when a third player declared a share of purple, and I drew one more, and I knew that my four shares would be good for first place and could go full steam ahead building up purple on the board.

Big finish now...

I do agree with the comments that Union Pacific seems to have been published in about a 90% finished state. Alan Moon's "fix," which hit the newsgroups at about the same time the first copies of the game were hitting our tables, where you can only get Union Pacific stock by trading for it, was essential in my opinion and brought us up to about 99%. The game would not be nearly so interesting if you did not have to face the decision about whether the stock you have in your hand is worth less to you than the Union Pacific stock you can trade it for. The other details, such as how to prepare the deck and what to do if there's no place left on the board where a certain type of track card can be used, constitute the other 1% in my informal estimation. (Conductor's Note: in other words, Stven likes the 2nd edition rules listed at the top of this page... with the variant deck construction rule at the end of the English rule book.)

We also know Acquire backwards and forwards and played at least 300 games of Acquire before we ever heard of Union Pacific. Acquire is a classic game and gave us the first-and-second-place payoffs mechanism without which Union Pacific and dozens of other games would never have existed. What Union Pacific adds to the equation which makes it especially interesting is the meld mechanism -- the business about owning cards but not having them count for you until you have declared them. The decision of whether you can afford to take that juicy card from the four face up without being caught by the dividend card before you get a chance to meld (and often having to make the decision for multiple turns in a row!) is another key part of what makes Union Pacific such an interesting, and for us endlessly replayable game. (Conductor's Note: What Alan did with Airlines, in my opinion, then did one better with Union Pacific, is to meld elements of Acquire & his own Get the Goods/Reibach & Co. into a wonderful whole.)

Union Pacific Strategy

You know, I worked for almost two years trying to sort out strategy thoughts & ideas... then Pat Brennan sent me this and I realized I was wasting my time. So, what you've got below is Pat's original post, with added commentary from the Conductor. In case you haven't figured out by now, I'm the guy writing in italics.

I've played the game over 20 times now, mainly because the family keeps clamouring for it and its an excellent game to introduce to non-gamers. There is luck in the game of course (and some gamers may scoff that a strategy guide for UP is a contradiction in terms) but managing that luck is the key. A lot of it is just good gaming practice, but here's how I do it.

1. Initial investment card

Play as low a card as you can, but only if you've got a good chance to get two more trains built for it (check your track cards).
  • 1a - By playing a low card, its unlikely other players will also get that card invested before the first round, giving you both first and second prize money.
  • 1b - Be confident you can build two more trains in that colour so as to get to the $6m mark ($4m for first, $2m for second). Grey is ok (spotty track seems to come up regularly), Gold is bad (white track never comes up when you need it), Brown is marginal (thick track seems to be more frequent than white, but not as good as spotty), Light blue is fine. And I don't care what the track card distribution officially is :-)
  • 1c - Middle tier is ok (white, royal blue, black) - at least it gives you a base to build on and you may get lucky
  • 1d - Top tier is begging for competition
2. Second investments

If you can get another line or 2 to yourself, excellent, otherwise invest on other people's lines to stop them getting 1st/2nd combos and get them to defend. This is preferable to trying to be first in 5 stocks - you only have so many builds (roughly 18 to 23 with 4 players) which means you can only build one or two lines to its max anyway.

3. Get your cards down early and quick

Especially in the first phase! It's preferable to tie with someone (get some money yourself, cut their money) than to hold on for another card to make a coup for first place, only to not get a chance to get them down as the scoring card comes up. It also forces them to defend while you do something else.

4. The rule of three

If you can get a collection of three cards in one stock invested early, people will ignore that stock for most of the game as its too much effort to chase - until it gets real big anyway by which time you'll have been able to pick up some for defense.

5. Diversity is good

You want to own one top tier line (green, red, yellow) with blank / clear track (the most common track card) or two middle tier lines (preferable as easier to defend) throughout the game so that you always have something to build on (rather than building on other people's tracks). It's good to diversify with the kinds of tracks you own (a good combination would be yellow (open/black track) and light blue (white/dashed track)) so that you never have a useless track card.

6. Invest on lines that are owned by the player on your left.

You'll get first play at the cards he wants as the other players leave them until your turn.

7. Never pick up cards for stock that is going nowhere.

It's better to be second in a big red line that someone else is building for you than first in a gold line of size 3 that you don't have time to build on.

8. Make every card pickup count

It's better to pick an average card from the draft than be stuck with a potentially useless card in your hand. Make each pick up count - 'the bird in the hand is worth two in the deck'. Conversely, the element of surprise should not be underestimated, particularly against card-counters. This strategy probably varies depending on one's opponents.

9. Go hard for UP

Once you have three or five cards invested, go hard for UP until you're up by 2 on your nearest competitor, usually even if it means foregoing a place in a stock line (assuming most popular variant of swap card in hand for UP in buildphase). You can always reclaim the line later, you can't reclaim UP. Once you have a lead of two, swap UP for UP to run down the stock. As UP have different backs than normal stock cards, holdings are public knowledge and you can always ask how many other players have.

Here's where I jump in and disagree... I'm one of those folks who believes that the most important thing in UP stock is "not last".

10. What if the first scoring card is late?

If the first scoring card is delayed, get all your cards, even UP, invested. How often have two scoring cards come out before you get another chance to play? Countless. And its a game breaker if you're the one invested and others haven't, so go for the chance. Conversely, if the first dividend card comes out very early, keep in mind that there won't be another one for fifteen or so draws, giving you a good opportunity to draw a big hand and weed out the useless cards to trade for UP. But don't get caught before you can declare them all!

11. Best offense is a good defense

Hold a card in your hand of a stock you're leading in for defense, letting you play other investments / builds until someone forces your hand (so to speak) to invest it to maintain first place.

12. Pay attention

Naturally watch what other people are drawing and plan accordingly.

13. Don't bother trying to get half of all the cards of any one line

Some will be discarded for UP, some will be at the bottom of the deck and won't come out. A lead of 1 or two with a card in your hand is safe enough. The only exception to this would be the very small lines (6 or 7 shares), where people appreciate their value and may be reluctant to trade them for UP stock.

14. Cut off your opponents

Hem in opponents lines if possible (usually not, but sometimes). Build your lines so they can't be hemmed in.

15. More UP advice

Coming first or second in UP is ok ... after that you'll need to hit the UP leader's stock investments to catch up ground. Hope they're on your left. If not, don't get in that position in the first place! Never, ever, be caught without one declared UP stock after the first dividend card comes up. The loss of income is inexcusable.

This time, I agreee with Pat - it's criminal to miss out on the UP cash, even if you don't get much of it.

16. Treading water

If you lead in two lines and could build either, take note of who is in second place for those lines: if it's different people, try to alternate building one, then the other on successive turns. This way you get a $2M gain, while they only get $0.5M each. Conversely, if you are behind and in second place on two important lines, and first place is owned by different people, you can effectively tread water and build on them alternately; you are giving them money but you are also giving yourself an approximately equal amount. This strategy works better the more lines you can devote to it. (But it chews up the draw deck, so don't pursue it for too long.)

17. Don't have more than 4 stock in your hand

You WILL get caught sooner than later.

18. First in UP, first in two other lines, a few selective seconds...

Ta-daa! Or not... how about: middle in UP, first in one line, lots of seconds & ties?

Game Central Station: Union Pacific - Rules & Variants

Yes, campers... yet another refugee page from my original gaming website, Game Central Station. (Which is NOT gone, btw, just frozen in time.) I did a lot of work compiling this particular page, as Union Pacific is still easily one of my top 20 games, and wanted to make sure it was published somewhere that people can find it.

This is the first post of three about Alan Moon's wonderful train game, Union Pacific - the other two are Union Pacific - Strategery and Union Pacific - For Two.

2nd Edition Rules

I know you're thinking... what's with this 2nd edition rules thing? Well, Alan likes to tweak his games... even after they're finished. (Witness the epic discussion about how to obtain cards in Elfenland... yipes!) As well, one rule was left out of the 1st edition rulebook (the one having to do with track cards). So, without further ado, here are the changes.

Variant Rule

Players may not draw a UP Stock Card. They must always draw one of the four face up Stock Cards or the top card from the deck. The only way to acquire a UP Stock Card is to trade one Stock Card in your hand for one UP Stock Card.

Additional Rule

If all train spaces of a track type are full, the Track Cards of this track type are unplayable. A player may discard an unplayable Track Card at the start of his turn and draw a replacement (the unplayable card should be removed from the game).

Rule Changes

  1. At the start of the game put 6 Stock Cards on the bottom of the deck. This means that the last Score Card cannot be one of the last six cards in the deck.
  2. Deal 5 Stock Cards to each player at the start of the game instead of 4.
It's my opinion that the variant rule and the two rule changes lead to a tighter, cleaner game. For example, in a 6 player game, there are potentially 18 less stock cards able to be played to the table than in the 1st edition game. (6 at the bottom + 14 that were traded for UP stock.) It's also MUCH easier to explain how to get UP stock when the only option is to trade for it.

What's Public? What's Private?

The long-running argument from UP's great-grandaddy, Acquire, continues on...


While Jay Tummelson, the head of Rio Grande Games, plays Union Pacific with open money, we here at Game Central Station play with the old "pile" rule.... you don't have to show us how much you have, but you do have to keep it all on the table. In fact, we play most "economic" games this way - giving players a guess at what you've got while avoiding the "I put the play money in my pocket & forgot about it" problem.

Union Pacific Shares

The artwork should be dead giveaway on this one... but just in case, Jay clarified that it is legal to ask a player how many shares of UP they are currently holding.

Stock Cards in the Draw Pile

Alan Moon (the designer) has always played that it was permissible to count the remaining cards to make 'informed' decisions about investing or building. Around here, we don't allow that at all.

One interesting variant from "Steve" (can't find more information about his real name in my notes) caught Alan's eye (and mine!). Discards are placed on the BOTTOM of the deck, which prevents people from counting in a very interesting way!

Is U.P. Stock Too Darn Valuable (or not)?

Hey, I'm in the "not" category - I think it works just fine - but there are a ton of would-be rail barons out there who disagree. What follows is a pair of the most convincing arguments in favor of the game "as is" (2nd edition rules)... then a couple of interesting ideas for dealing with the perceived problem.

wisdom from Greg Aleknevicus, editor of
The Games Journal and creator of Wooden Cubes & Cardboard.

I think people get fooled by the high values for UP stock when they should really be looking at the payout DIFFERENCES. In a 3 player game the most that anyone will gain in UP is $18. (Assuming everyone played at least 1 piece of UP stock.) While $18 is a decent amount of money almost every other company will pay out more than this over the course of the game.

In fact, I think UP might be a LOSING company because of this. Its big advantage is that you can always choose to contest its ownership whereas with other companies you're somewhat at the luck of the draw. I'll happily give up first or second in UP if it means that I can take over another company. Taking second place in a company that's only worth 6 points pays off $12 over the course of the game. (Simplistically speaking.) A bigger payoff than swapping a level in UP. ($9 per level for all 4 scoring rounds.)

I suspect that the "problem" your group has is that everyone thinks UP is valuable. Therefore everyone always fight for it and the winner ends up winning the game. What "should" happen is that one (or more) players ignore UP (with the exception of his/her single stock declaration) and takes control of one or more other railroads while you're fighting. He/she then goes on to win the game. A lot of games suffer from this so-called "group-think" syndrome. There are a couple of games that my group just doesn't play "right". Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix is one of them. We always bid far too little for the cars and I'm sure that a good player would probably clean the floor with us.

from the brilliant mind of Steve J. Chapin

I know the all-out-to-collect-UP-stock approach would fail in our games, and I still strongly suspect that it will not succeed forever in yours.

This is what I was suggesting is a result of group think. In early play (as a group), the UP seems to be extremely valuable, and so everyone goes for it.

Then the next phase will be at the other extreme, when some players decide early on to only have one or a few shares of the UP (turning in "dead" shares, where one has little or no hope of even a 2nd place in a rail), but gaining holdings in many other rails (thereby simultaneously adding to their earnings and diluting their opponents', as almost no one else should have exclusive ownership of a rail).

The third phase will be a between the two, where players balance interest in the UP with development of minor rails.

Help move your group along; play the next couple of games at the opposite extreme (buy no extra UP). See how well you do. I know that in games where I've sacrificed "dead" shares for what turned out to be meaningless UP shares, I've regretted it later, because I could've been in a position to take over first or second place in a rail.

It's rather like the joke about the guy coming in last in a race in the Olympics: "You mean I trained four years for this? I could've sat on my couch and still come in last." You can lock up a last-place share in the UP without ever trading in other stock to draw another UP share beyond your starting position. Try it and see...

and speaking for the Loyal Opposition, "docterw", with the Ventura Variant

After playing a track card and placing a train, the player chooses a share card and places it in his hand. He may chose from the four face up cards, or the topmost card in the draw pile or a UP share stack. This ends his turn.

In essence, this variation is just to limit options for drawing a share card to the three listed on page 8 of the rules. The option to collect a share of UP by discarding as listed in the "note" under "The Union Pacific railway company" on page 9 is _not_ allowed.

Under this variant, a player will add one share card to his hand, select only one share in the turn, and pay a slightly higher cost for his UP share in that the only way to collect one is by foregoing the adding or selecting of another share card in the turn.

the down-under-wonder himself, Pat Brennan, pipes up with the variant they like the best (note: Pat's not the only guy to mention this one - Mark Guttag & Jonathan Degann did as well...)

If I'm playing with UP pro's, we usually play a variant where you're not allowed to trade for a UP stock in the same turn that you build / pick up a stock card. Switching a stock card in the hand for a UP card instead takes their whole turn.

It makes UP stock very expensive, and usually means there are UP cards left over at the end of the game. How much it gets picked up depends on the number of players. With 3, the end difference between first and third is only $8m so it doesn't get picked much. With more players it gets more attractive as the difference between first and last is more pronounced.

The variant does provide a better solution for getting rid of 'useless' cards in the hand towards the end of the game, whereas in the 2nd edition rules, UP is usually gone by the time the second dividend card comes out, and definitely by the third dividend card.

Dave Blizzard suggested using this same variant, but allowing players trading for UP to still build track while NOT receiving a new stock card. I think I'd prefer that way, if I ever chose to play with this kind of variant.

and once again, Greg "I've Got An Idea" Aleknevicus with a final U.P. variant, proving once again he's one of the brighter bulbs in the building

You cannot select or trade for a share of UP until after the first scoring round.

This MAY work better than it sounds for the following reason: By the time of the first scoring round rivalry's should have started amongst the other companies. This makes the opportunity cost of selecting UP that much greater. In the few games I've played UP gets grabbed right away because everyone knows its going to be fairly valuable and they're unsure about their other holdings (relative to the other players anyway). A couple of "regular" rounds and players might realize where they are strong and have more reason to defend and control the other companies (which I feel contribute more to victory than the UP). Grabbing UP would then be relegated to what I believe its original intent was: A way of converting usless stock.

We haven't tried this last variant here at Game Central Station, but for my money, it's the one with the most merit.

Too Much Time on Their Hands

I'm devoting the next section of this overly-long post to stuff that's anything but "middle of the road". Folks, you're gonna love this stuff or hate it (honestly, I'm not a big fan of most of it), but it's educational to see just what an intriguing game design can do to the minds of a group of people with too much time on their hands... so, without further ado (whatever "ado" is), here's a smattering of very odd variants.

U.P. Stock as a One-Time Dividend (Jim Pulles)

In one game, we went a little overboard and played that UP shares were much like a one time dividend and that ALL UP shares went back into the common pool after each scoring round! This made competition in UP a little too erratic... but it was exciting after the 3rd score card came up!

Re-Doing the Payouts for U.P. Stock (Dave Arnott)

For scoring rounds 2 and 3, simply give each player $1 for each share of UP they have on the table, and for the final scoring round give players $2 for each tabled share. You could try doing $1, $2, then $3... but that might be too powerful. Or maybe not. This reduces the "power" of the UP shares, but also restores a bit of the "power" by not penalizing people who are tied, shares-wise. Not so much of an arms race as it is a bonus.

One Safe Round (Dave Arnott)

At the beginning of the game put N*3 stock cards off to the side (where N = number of players). Set the game up as usual now, not using these cards. After each scoring round, place N cards on top of the stock deck. This guarantees that after each scoring card, all players will get at least one turn before the next scoring card comes up. Actually, we mostly use this in five and six player games, as that's when you can get burned the most, but it works great in four-player games as well.

Note: this one actually looks like it would work...

One At A Time (Peter Evett)

Place initial stock cards face-up in turn order rather than simultaneously -- thus players are not stung by splitting initial stock ownership unless by choice. (Split ownership can be devastating when a quick 1st score comes up and all other players are scoring 1st & 2nd place in their company)

Three of a Kind (Dave Arnott)

If you start your turn with three of the same type of track, you MAY (but are not required to) declare "three the same," show your track cards to the other players, discard one... and then draw TWO to begin your turn. Of course, about half the time you're going to draw two more clear tracks anyway.

Dividing Equally (Rich Shipley)

With 4 and 5 (and 2) players, all players can get the same amount of UP stock. With 3 and 6 players, you could take out 2 UP shares to have be true in those games also. UP stock is not the only way to win, but this may make it seem more fair to the players.

Unlimited U.P. Stock (mentioned by a number of folks)

There is no limit on U.P. stock - make up new stock for the game and allow players to acquire as much as they like.

"I Don't Feel the Love" - Five different gamers take on the "problem" of unloved stock cards

WARD BATTY: About the unloved cards syndrome in UP, maybe a fix would be when you draw a down card off the top of the deck, you turn up the next card so there are 5 up (or 6, etc.). When players draw an up card, don't replace them with another from the deck it if there are still 4 or more exposed cards.

JONATHAN DEGANN: My fellow Left Coasters Dave Arnott and Winton Lemoine have developed (and developed!) an elaborate two player UP. [Conductor's Note: the 'finished' version is the third post in this series.] Their card drafting rule requires you to put a token on the left most card when you draw from the closed pile. Next time, put a token on the next card. If you draw a card with a token, take the token off. If all three cards have tokens, then the next time you draw from the closed pile, you discard the left most card and the token.

"XOSSFS": During phase one play as normal. In each subsequent phase pay $1000 per phase to pass over the face-up cards and draw from the face-down pack. With each phase the price is getting more expensive. I have yet to play this way but I have watched games played this way and the "lesser" railroads get played in a lot earlier and the stock spreads are much tighter so many people have a chance in a road instead of getting as many runaway owners with no chance of anyone else getting into the railroad.

MARK BIGGAR: One possibility would be to retire the four up cards and replace them when ever a payout card is drawn.

MARK EDWARDS: How about this one, borrowed from Vinci. Whenever you take a random card from the draw deck you must place a token on one of the face up cards. You must place them evenly (like building houses in Monopoly). When a player picks one of the face up cards with tokens on it he gets paid a bonus of $2 per token.

Or how about leaving it like it is? He he he.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Game Central Station: Mississippi Queen

Rulings & Variants

Let's start with the opinion of the conductor... I think this is one of the best games of 1997. It plays quickly, it's easy to teach, everyone in the game is subject to the same level of randomness (via the selection of the river tiles), and it looks GREAT laid out on a large dining room table. Go buy the new English edition from Rio Grande Games NOW!

OK, we've gotten that out of the way.

Some folks don't agree with me... or they have some problems with the game and/or need some clarifications to the rules. So, the information below is to help you (and them!) "see the light".

End Game Problems(?)

One of the most commonly mentioned problems is the end game. Evidently, some gaming groups have a great deal of trouble with "the endless push war standoff that almost always happens at the end of a game of Mississippi Queen. Last night we played a 3 handed game and ended up in a draw, cyclicly pushing the next boat to move out of the way because that was the only way to prevent that boat from winning." (comment from Robert Derrick) Mind you, we've never had a problem with it around here...

Here's a quartet of possible solutions:

  1. From the demented mind of Geoff Engelstein: "We just ignore the rule that you need to have a speed of '1' to win. Works well and captures the 'spirit' of the game (in that if you're in front with passengers going into the last tile you're in good shape). Always fun to watch the spectators flee in terror as the steamers barrel towards the docks!" I'm thinking we don't let Geoff drive we if go out to dinner...
  2. From Game Central Station: We've tended to use a variation on George's "full speed ahead" rule, allowing players to finish at a speed of 1 or 2.
  3. From Jeff Goldsmith:Disallow ships from being pushed straight backwards, that is, they cannot be pushed into the hex whence they came last time they moved. To simplify bookkeeping, perhaps you could simply disallow ships to be pushed directly astern. (He notes this idea is untested.)
  4. From Kurt Meyer & the Westbank Gamers: One can reach the final dock only if he is traveling at the exact speed. Thus, if one is two spaces away, he can reach the dock by traveling at a speed of 2. (This is has "river-tested" by the Westbank Gamers and they use it regularly.)

Determining Movement Order

One of the biggest debates involves how to determine movement order. The following process is distilled from an extended conversation on

First & foremost, turn order is determined for all players BEFORE a new round and does NOT change once the round begins. (This seems simple enough, but confused a couple of folks out there in Internet Land.)

  1. A boat on the tile ahead of boats on another tile are ALWAYS ahead. (This is not in the rules, but makes sense. In the words of Russ Williams, "This has the virtue of simplicity. In terms of "realism", one can of course construct situations where a boat on the further-ahead tile is actually farther from the finish than a boat on the farther-back tile, but we've found it difficult to actually specify an simple unambiguous way of defining who's truly ahead. So I think we'll just go with your simple solution, since it's very clear and simple, and worrying about realism is silly in a game like Mississippi Queen."
  2. For two boats on the same tile, work back from the next tile to figure out which one is ahead. (There will always be at least one tile or the finish tile, so you can always orient the direction the river "flows".)
  3. If two or more boats are even, then the one moving faster goes first.
  4. If two or more boats are even and are moving the same speed, then the one with more coal remaining goes first.
  5. If two or more boats are even and are moving the same speed and have the same amount of coal remaining (yes, this does happen), the the one on the right goes first.

Starting Order

"It still begs the question of why the numbers on the start tile are wrong. Do people really play that boat #1 goes first, even though it's not farthest to the right, or to the left? Is this just a special exception for the first turn?" says Russ Williams. In fact, Russ isn't the only person who's asked that question... he's just the one I decided to quote.

The answer is, Yes, we do play that boat #1 goes first. Why? I don't know... but it seems to work so who are we to argue?


There are a variety of other variants wandering about... here are a couple that caught our eye here at Game Central Station.


From Rich Shipley:

The pushing boat has its speed wheel reduced by one. Rich finds that this seems to make the game work a bit better.


From Wolfgang and Brigitte Ditt (thanks to Godwin Solcher):

Each player is given an additional chip (not provided) and can use it during the game as an iceberg (obstacle). The iceberg must be played during your turn. If a river section with an iceberg is removed from the board (due to all players passing it), that player receives his iceberg back, which he use again on a later turn.

If a player drives into an iceberg, because he cannot or will not use coal for an evasive maneuver, he stops in the space before the iceberg and removes the speed wheel from the ship. On the next turn, the ship can only be accelerated to " 1 " (by replacing the speed wheel).

An iceberg may not be set directly in front of a ship. There must be at least 1 space between the ship and the iceberg. As well, an iceberg may not be used to block the river completely... a route through must remain theoretically attainable. Finally, icebergs are not allowed on the first two river boards or on the last river section.

Editor's Note: This is a paraprhase of a AltaVista Babelfish translation... frankly, my German stinks. This may not be exactly what the author(s) intended, but hopefully it's close.Also, what about those icebergs on the Mississippi? As folks say down in the South, "Boy, you ain't from around here." Heck, call 'em big rocks... it's still a good variant!

Sand Bar & Log Alignment (The Black Rose)

To make a great game even better, Goldsieber published The Black Rose expansion, which adds more paddlewheelers and more river, including sand bars and log jams. There are some questions about how they work, which we're happy to answer for you right here.

When pushed into a sand bar or logs, the boat being pushed keeps it's current alignment and moves over pointed the same direction as before.

This ruling is confirmed by Jay Tummelson, head honcho of Rio Grande Games with the following strategy note: "This is the way it was intended when I wrote/edited the English rules. And, yes, it can result in a player being 'pushed' out of the race - so be careful near the sand bars."


Here's a couple of reviews of Mississippi Queen...