Friday, January 21, 2011

Doug Asked a Great Question

On his wonderful (and long-running) podcast, Doug Garrett asked a great question as a part of a contest: "What are the three best new-to-you games from 2010?"

Well, here's my answer.

THE TOP THREE

Tannhauser: Revised Rulebook

When I played the original U.S. release of Tannhauser back in early 2008, I enjoyed the alternate history theme & the Pathfinding board mechanism that makes checking LOS easy... but the rules were kind of a mess, with some real problem areas that begged for serious development. So, even though I knew this was "my kind of game", I was scared away by "good luck, you'll need to house rule ad infinitum to fix this" nature of Tannhauser circa 2008.

So, earlier this year when Fantasy Flight finally announced that they had revised the rules so completely that they were publishing a new rulebook, I sat up & took notice. One math trade later, I had a copy of the game in my hands to go with the aforementioned rules... and Fantasy Flight had a serious customer on their hands. (It's no surprise that the guy who owns every expansion set for Heroscape & Memoir '44 would do the same with Tannhauser.)

Here's what I like about the game: it combines a compelling thematic world (an alternate history universe where the First World War never ended & the armies utilize alien technology harvested from the Roswell crash and occult items harvested a la Raiders of the Lost Ark), a simple combat & line of sight system that makes game play fast-moving, and a wide variety of characters & weapon packs that make each game a different experience. It plays well as a 2 player game... or with multiple players (up to 10) with each person controlling a single character. And it doesn't hurt that it has pre-painted minis - that stuff is like catnip for me.

This is Hellboy (theme) meets Halo (game play)... and it works like a charm.

A Brief History of the World

Much like Tannhauser, I first played the Ragnor Brothers' History of the World in the mid-90s. The experience was a disaster - six new players coupled with the overly wargamer-tinged rules of the original Avalon Hill publication of the game meant it took us nearly four hours to complete two of the seven epochs... and then we abandoned the game.

It was nearly six years later when I received an early prize table pick at a gaming convention and thanks evidently to a whiff of the massive amounts of plastic figures in the box decided to pick up the Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition as my first pick. The game was substantially better than I had remembered - esp. with the revisions that had been made to streamline the design. It became one of those "once a year" games (because of the length... 4-6 hours) though I wanted to play more often.

Fast forward to late 2009 as the Ragnor Brothers announced that they had - nearly 20 years after the first edition was published - once again made some major revisions to their signature game. The early press was positive enough for me to plunk down some hard-earned cash on it - seeing as how I hadn't played my beloved H/AH copy of HOTW in nearly 3 years.

I didn't waste a penny... though I miss the 7 different plastic minis (one type for each epoch) and the shiny capitol/city markers, everything else I love about the game system is still there - and less. It's shorter, leaner & tighter (our six player game this year took 3 1/2 hours with 2 new players)... and there's actually more room in the game for tactical & strategic decision-making while reducing the number of armies on the board. The refining of the empire deck (giving more thematically specific powers to some of the empires) and the costing of the event deck (many events now come with some kind of VP cost to activate) make for an even better game.

I managed to play it 4 times in 2010... and expect to get at least that many plays in 2011.

Gelini Nightlife

A common theme on my list of "best new to me games in 2010" is "games that have been retooled" and Gelini Nightlife is no exception. Tutankhamen was a very early Knizia design (1993) and my one play left me with a headache & a vow never to play again - the BGG description humorously understates that it is "an exercise in numbers that plays quickly, probably 30 minutes tops, and is suitable for youngsters yet susceptible to analysis."

So when Joe Huber poked me via email following Essen 2009 and told me to pick up a copy of Gelini Nightlife, it's a good thing he didn't mention the resemblance to Tutankhamen. But Dr. K. made a really brilliant change to the game that made it one of my favorite games from last year.

He added a die.

Yep, a die. Randomness. In this case, it replaces the tendency towards AP with a need to properly assess probabilities and then go for it. The press-your-luck element in the game (do I use this roll or let the next guy in line take it?) ups the tension and tendency towards lighthearted mid-game banter.

It doesn't hurt that you're collecting gummi bears (Gelini is a German brand) rather than the standard Euro theme of ancient Egyptian symbols. Even better - the gummi bears are headed for a variety of clubs to go dancing... so your objective is to fill your dance floor first. (Note: this is a simplified scoring system compared to the original game.)

There are some "advanced" variant tokens which add some twists to the game - but it works just fine without them. I've played with kids as young as 5 and adult gamers - it's been a success in every setting.

JUST MISSED THE TOP THREE

Yes, I know it's supposed to be three. So sue me.

Fresco

Possibly the best marriage of theme & game mechanisms since Thebes... a worker placement game that doesn't make me want to run screaming from the room. I also like the way the included expansions can vary the complexity without damaging the purity of the base game.

I'm looking forward to the new expansion box - though it's pretty spend-y.

Dungeon Lords

Almost as good as Fresco at mating theme & game mechanisms... and using worker placement in some very creative ways. The game is much more enjoyable if you (a) have a background in fantasy roleplaying and (b) get to read the very, very funny rulebook.

Burger Joint

Joe Huber (he who recommended Gelini Nightlife) also managed to publish a splendid two-player game of restaurant building that uses wooden cubes as a resource in some tricky ways. Burger Joint plays in 30 minutes and keeps showing us new ways to pursue a win.

BTW, I played an earlier prototype of this game some years back - I like the released version MUCH better.

Catacombs

Take the dungeon crawling of Descent: Journeys in the Dark and add the flicking of Carabande... then subtract 3+ hours & voila! you have Catacombs. It's a one hour romp through the catacombs with combat resolved via wooden discs.

I can NOT wait for the expansion.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Would We Hear Dr. King Today?

From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":
“...there are two types of law: just and unjust...A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out harmony with the moral law...Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.”
And with that quote, James Emery White
poses an important question - would Dr. King be heard today based upon the worldview that underlies his argument?

And there lies the irony; as a culture, we celebrate a man’s Christian convictions that were used to change our culture in the past, while simultaneously rejecting those values as a part of shaping our culture for the future.

Still turning this one over in my mind...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter Eight)

This chapter was esp. challenging to apply to our small church situation... "Making Room at the Top."
  • Like most leaders, I love the idea of servant leadership & putting others first, as long as no one actually cuts in front of me or starts treating me like I'm a servant.
  • Empowerment without a platform is like responsibility without authority. It's frustrating for everyone involved.
  • Titles are powerful platforms that cost nothing to give away except a willingness to share some of your own organizational prestige & power with others.
  • Weddings, funerals, baptisms, preaching, & up-front leadership at special events provide significant platforming opportunities.
  • When tenure is the primary deteminer of who sits where on the leadership bus, a church is headed for trouble.
  • If your leadership team chooses to shut them out, please don't complain when they fly down the street & plant a church that sucks away all the kids, young families, and energetic folks who used to join you for Sunday services.

#83: Jungle Speed

Jungle Speed
  • designer: Thomas Vuarchex & Pierrick Yakovenko
  • publisher: Asmodee
  • date: 1997
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 444/6.80
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: #27
  • age: 7+
  • # of players: 3-8
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $13.50 (Game Surplus)
Here's what I wrote back in 2005... which still holds true.

In America, "Land of Litigation", no one in their right mind would make a speed game with a HARD plastic stick that can be batted around the room by over-zealous players. Evidently, Germans aren't nearly as worried about "legal entanglements."

Hence, the Arribabaton... thing of beauty & fear. It's the centerpiece of Arriba, a cross between Set (the pattern recognition game, not the ancient Egyptian game) and Spoons. For a game with 80 cards & a stick, there's certainly a lot of injuries. We've had to "time out" the game more than once to bandage players... and I'm not the only person wearing glasses who has stopped the baton with my face. Still, there's nothing quite like snatching the stick cleanly away... or watching 3 people wrestle for control of it. (When we play on the floor, we play that the stick is "in play" no matter what... even if it leaves the circle. Much fun!)

I'm no longer unbeatable at this (there's a dude in our Bible study group who has cat-like reflexes who gives me a run for my money) but it doesn't change how much I enjoy playing it with 4-8 players. (It will, btw, work with 9 or 10 if you're willing to get REAL close to each other in a circle on the floor.)

Arriba is better known in the U.S. as Jungle Speed - and for those who love the game, Asmodee has finally published the expansion (more cards, more craziness!) stateside.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter Seven)

Now that we've taken care of the pastor, it's time to move on to "Clarifying Board & Staff Roles."
  • One of the best ways to cut off disharmony & dysfunction at the pass is to clarify board roles & staff roles before someone joins the team - and to make sure that everyone knows that changes in these roles will be unavoidable & necessary as the church grows.
  • When a board takes on the role of setting direction & boundaries, it has to release micromanagement & preference management.
  • I've found that "You don't listen" often means "You didn't do what I suggested."
  • Three key functions of a board: wise counsel, brakes & a crisis team in waiting.
  • Specialists who can't become trainers or who aren't willing to become trainers will eventually put a ceiling on the growth of your church or bust your budget.
  • Staff members must... transition from focusing primarily on their own ministry area to asking, "What's best for the church as a whole?"
  • Fiefdoms & silos might make for strong programming but the price is a sick church.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter Six)

Two things run through my head when I read the title of this chapter, "Clarifying the Pastor's Role"
  1. Mmmm... butter.
  2. Well, duh, they're the pastor.

Larry has a bit more to say than that:

  • Pastors who don't lead, can't lead, or aren't allowed to lead seldom see their church break through growth barriers.
  • More often it indicates that they see the pastor as an outsider. And no one who cares a lick about their church is going to hand it over to an outsider.
  • Until everyone is convinced that the pastor is as committed to the church's long-term health as they are, they'll tend to resist strong leadership, especially when it threatens to take them in a new direction.
  • Even if the founding pastor or a new pastor believes that God has called him to have a long-term commitment, that doesn't mean much if nobody believes it. And many won't, for good reason. Their past experiences tell them not to.
  • The pastor can't be a Jekyll-&-Hyde leader, someone who abdicates leadership and then jumps in to micromanage. That guarantees confusion, frustration, and often some rather creative forms of passive aggression.
  • I always present first drafts, not final proposals. By this, I don't mean that I offer half-baked ideas or suggestions off the top of my head. My first drafts are carefully thought out and persuasively presented. But I don't confuse them with God's final revealed will. That's something the board, staff, and I will determine together.
  • I've found that strong & gifted leaders often confuse leadership with infallibility.
  • If I hadn't previously submitted to their decisions that I didn't agree with, there's no way they would have listened to me when I played the "God told me" card. It would have been seen as just another creative ploy to get my own way.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Five & Dime 2010: This Time It's Personal

Here's my own personal Five & Dime list (the games I've played 5+ and 10+ times in 2010). I decided to break it into three categories. (Games with an asterisk [*] were on my Five & Dime list last year.)

Face-to-Face (not predominately with kids)

DIMES
  • Race for the Galaxy 229
  • Heroscape 29 (23 of those using the D&D sets)
  • Memoir '44 25
  • Skip-bo 13 *
  • Catacombs 12
  • Keltis: Der Weg der Steine 11
  • Marrakech 10
  • Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age 10 *
NICKELS
  • Gemblo Woodman 9
  • Bounce-It-In 8 *
  • Burger Joint 8
  • Castle Panic 8
  • Small World 8 *
  • Diamant 7 * (exact same number of times I played it last year!)
  • Smarty Party 7
  • Tsuro 7
  • Alea Iacta Est 6
  • The Downfall of Pompeii 6
  • Dungeonquest 6 *
  • Fast Food Franchise 6
  • The Adventurers 5
  • Fightball 5
  • Qwirkle 5
  • Tobago 5
Online (games played versus online players through yucata.de, mastermoves.eu & brettspielwelt.de)

DIMES
  • StreetSoccer 21
NICKELS
  • Yspahan 6
Kids (played primarily with kids)

DIMES
  • Gelini Nightlife 17
  • Forbidden Island 13
NICKELS
  • Hop Hop Hurray 9 *
  • Magic Labyrinth 9
  • Walter Wick Can You See What I See? 9 *
  • Click Clack 8
  • Enuk the Eskimo 7
  • Feed the Kitty 7
  • Fluch der Mumie 7
  • Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus 7
  • Duck, Duck, Bruce 6 *
  • Mummy's Treasure 6
  • Sorry! - Pok√©mon 6 *
  • Animal Upon Animal 5 *
  • Gulo Gulo 5
  • Zitternix 5
  • Zoff im Huhnerhoff 5 *

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter Five)

Nothing say "rewritten leadership talk" like the title "Six Things Every Leadership Team Needs To Know"... but when the quality level is this high, who cares?
  1. Ignore your weaknesses.
  2. Surveys are a waste of time.
  3. Seek permission, not buy-in.
  4. Let squeaky wheels squeak.
  5. Let dying programs die.
  6. Plan in pencil.

And now, the pithy quotes:

  • Unless a weakness is potentially fatal, it's usually a waste of time & energy to worry too much about it.
  • Surveys (esp. anonymous surveys) seldom give us the accurate information we think we're getting.
  • Most people will grant the pastor, board, or staff permission to try something new as long as they don't have to make personal changes or express agreement with the idea.
  • If an idea or program is really new & innovative, there will never be enough evidence to "prove" that it will work. After all, it's never been done before.
  • Permission not only gets things up & running much faster; it also makes it much easier to close up shop when a great idea proves to be a dumb idea.
  • Most squeaky wheels keep right on squeaking, for one simple reason: they don't squeak for a lack of oil; they squeak because it's their nature to squeak.
  • Church harmony is inversely related to the amount of time spent oiling squeaky wheels.
  • Without a commitment & willingness to cease funding & staffing the programs that no longer work, we'll never have enough money & energy to create the future.
  • I do find that we constantly have to remind everyone up front that our budget is a planning tool, not a straitjacket, that it's an estimate, not the law of the Medes & the Persians.
  • "Every time a sailor does something stupid & drowns, we make a new regulation." A far better response would be to simply have a funeral for a dumb sailor & to wait until three or four sailors die the same way before rewriting the manual.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter Four)

The chapter entitled "What Game Are We Playing?" is subtitled "how growth changes everything."
  • Since I tacked a Bible verse onto everything, any changes I made seemed like a change in my theology & values - and they were resisted as such.
  • I knew that despite all the "sin words" that both sides had thrown around ("arrogant," "self-willed," "unaccountable," "not a team player," "boundary queen," and "inflexible," to name a few), the real issue was not sin so much as deep hurt & discomfort that came with our changing organizational dynamics.
  • [Note from Mark: I can not recommend Larry's explication of team dynamics/growth using the sports team metaphor highly enough... nor can I condense it down to a few pithy quotes. I won't even try.]
  • The need to change the game, as well as the rules of the game, tends to sneak up on leaders & leadership teams because growth exponentially increases complexity. We might think we've only added a couple of new programs or staff members, but in reality, we've multiplied organizational complexity...

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Vault of Walt: Stokowski

I'm putting this extended quote here to:
  • show you some of the nifty stuff in this book full of essays on "lost" stories about Walt Disney & the Disney films and parks...
  • give my friend, Jonathan, a bit of a birthday present (thought it is inexcusable that I crossed Stravinsky & Stokowski in my memory)
This comes from Jim Korkis' book, The Vault of Walt (available at fine booksellers everywhere!)...

When Leopold Stokowski was recording the music for Walt Disney's Fantasia with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the complex recording system set up in the basement of the Academy of Music (also known as the American Academy of Music & is the oldest opera house in the United States still used for its original purpose) was declared a fire hazard & work was ordered stopped.

On the advice of friends, Stokowski called Joe Sharfain, then city solicitor for Philadelphia and an ardent music fan. Sharfian quickly withdrew the stop order & recording proceeded. Later, Stokowski expressed his gratitude and asked, "Now, what can I do for you?" Sharfain said jokingly that one of his greatest wishes was to be rich enough to engage Stokowski & the orchestra for a single performance at which he would be the sole audience. (The price at that time would have been at least $100,000.) [Note from Mark: run through an inflation calculator, we're talking $1,441,000+.]

Stokowski asked, "When did you have in mind?" Sharfain answered, "Oh, that's a long time away." Stokowski countered, "How about tomorrow at two o'clock?" The incredulous Sharfain appeared at the side door of the Academy of Music the next afternoon, to be escorted by a deputy of the maestro into the hall, empty except for the orchestra & conductor. The maestro turned to make sure Sharfain was there, raised his arms and conducted for four hours - all the music of Fantasia - just for Joe Sharfain.
Now, Jonathan, if you can just figure out how to make friends with a well-connected conductor... Happy Birthday!