Saturday, August 29, 2009

#900: Headed Towards 1K

It's the 900th blog post (give or take a couple)... and this is my own picture from Sempervirens Campground at Big Basin Redwoods State Park (near Santa Cruz, CA).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MIA #11: Fleet Fins (Flotte Flosse)

Fleet Fins (Flotte Flosse)
  • designer: Reiner Knizia
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2003
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.15
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $21.60 (
Disclosure moment: I played this one just over three years ago at Gulf Games... and wasn't particularly impressed. Then last year FunAgain had it on sale and I picked up a copy for Collin... and I was forced to revise my opinion.

The game itself is a standard speed/recognition game (along the lines of Barnyard Critters) with a quirky little adaption - since the players are hunting fish, they use fishing net to "catch" the fish. However, you don't want to catch fish with teeth - they bite, you know - so it's not only a matter of finding the right fish but also of making sure he's a friendly little fellow. There's also a fisherman for you to net (his is the only card that appears multiple times in the deck).

So, one player flips the card (usually the adult playing), everyone hunts for the fish, someone slaps it with their net & claims the card (if he's friendly) or loses a card (if his teeth are showing). Play to the end of the deck.

You can see why I was underwhelmed the first time out. But then I got to play it with my just-turned-4-year-old & the genius of the game became clear. This is a game that he can do well at... and at the same time engages his imagination with the very cute cartoon-y fish pictures. We've had to train him not to shout out when he saw that the fish we were looking for has teeth - he was so busy getting it right that he didn't realize he was helping the rest of us as well.

The age recommendation is spot on, btw. His older brother (8) is still willing to play this one, which gives it a reasonably long lifespan for a kid game.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

MIA #12: Pirates Blast (der schwarze Pirat: Das Duell)

Pirates Blast (der schwarze Pirat: Das Duell)
  • designer: Guido Hoffman
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2007
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.68
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $19.79 (

In a world where sequels are par for the course (did we really need 6 "Rocky" films?) and pirates are hip (did we really need 3 "Pirates of the Caribbean" films?), it wasn't a big surprise that Haba would crank out a sequel to the award-winning game, The Black Pirate. What is surprising is how much fun they managed to pack into the smaller/more portable game... and how it doesn't feel like a cheap knock-off of the original.

This time around, there's only two islands... that come equipped with two small wooden cannons that fire (wait for it!) wooden cubes. (Somewhere in there is a really great joke about Ameritrash violence & Eurogame wooden cubes, but I just haven't been able to tease it out.) There are also two pirate ships & 5 treasure tokens in each of two colors. In case you haven't been paying attention, this sequel is just for - wait for it - two players.

The islands are set across the table from each other... and then one of the players rolls the die & "puffs" his boat forward that many squeezes of the puffing device. When he finishes that move, the other player gets to "fire" his cannon by shooting a cube out of it, again with the puffer. If he manages to hit the ship, it's his turn to move his ship. If he misses, the first player continues rolling the dice and "sailing."

When a ship reaches the opposite harbor, they pick up one of the treasure tokens - 3 of which have chests on them & 2 of which are simply sand. The first player to get 3 treasure chests wins the game.

There's some art/skill to using the puffers... while you'd think that the tiny cloth sail would be the best place to aim, it turns out that it's more effective to puff at the hull of the boat. Tipping over a ship ends your turn, so you want to keep the boat moving without blowing it willy-nilly all over the playing surface.

That skill level means that Haba's "age 5+" designation is right on. But please note the plus sign... I've played almost as many games of this with 40+ year old folks as I have 5 year olds.

Kid Games 100: MIA Games (Recent But Really Good)

This is an edited repost... because I've had the opportunity to play a couple of new(er) games that MUST be included in the list! The new games are in bold... and their appearance will cause Mausen to drop to unlucky #13.

There are a number of well-known/well-liked kid games that didn't find their way onto my Kid Games 100. Over a series of posts, I'll try to explain the logic of why I didn't include them - or, in some cases, actively excluded them. This fifth & final post are the games that might well have made their way into the Kid Games 100... IF I'd played them before I made the list in May of 2008.

MIA Games: "Recent But Really Good"

Over the next few weeks, I'll be giving these the same kind & loving treatment I gave the Kid Games 100: individual blog posts & their very own Geeklist. I'll even rank them, because that's the kind of guy I am.

So, I guess this really isn't "the fifth & final post" like I said above. Oh, well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tom, Melody & Holly

Tom Vasel is well-known in boardgaming circles for his reviews & his podcasts... and in the last year or so, he's done a good bit of video podcasting about boardgames.

He also has a tradition of listing/giving mini-reviews of his top 100 games... and this year, he's invited his oldest daughter to give her top 100 as well. As a big fan of "kid games" (no surprise to the regular readers of my blog), I'm really looking forward to this. (I'm also looking forward to more appearances by younger sister, Holly - who is really livening up the proceedings!)

I'm embedding the intro video here... if you want to see more, you can head over to The Dice Tower YouTube page.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

15 TV Series

A Facebook meme, imported here "puz" (Collin's word for "because" - I will admit it's easier to type) I need blog content & it's connected to my FB account.

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen TV series you've seen all/most of the episodes of that will always stick with you. Series you have bought/would buy on DVD if money was no object. First fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.
  • Sports Night
  • Boomtown
  • Lost
  • Heroes
  • 24
  • Veronica Mars
  • Dollhouse
  • Firefly
  • The West Wing
  • The Amazing Race
  • Mission: Impossible (the first 2 incarnations)
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Chuck
  • The Closer
  • Survivor

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MIA #13: Mausen

  • designer: Detlef Wendt
  • publisher: Abacus
  • date: 2004
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 3513/5.98
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 3-6
  • print status: in print
  • cost: approx. $8.41 (
I am not a well individual. As I start to write this post, all that's running through my brain is that Mausen rhymes with "Housin'" - which means I'm singing a Mike-E song to myself... and not a particularly good Mike-E song. (Most of you don't even know who Mike-E is... oh well. If you're interested, avoid "G-Rap Crew" and find "Good News For the Bad Timez".)

Ah, but I'm supposed to be writing about games that were MIA from the Kid Games 100... and so let's begin.

The game in question is basically a Raj/Beat the Buzzard variant. After the game is "seeded" with some initial animals, players choose one of their 16 cards simultaneously and flip them over. The highest elephant claims all the dog cards in play, the highest dog claims all the cat cards in play, the highest cat claims all the mice cards in play & the highest mouse claims all the elephant cards in play. Any unclaimed cards stay around for the next turn... and, as in Beat the Buzzard, ties go to the next highest untied player.

Animals are worth as many points as their value (players start with 4 of each animal ranked 1-4) and the winner of the game is the person with the most points.

It's kind of think-y with 3-4 players, though not so much to keep my 4 year old from playing with an adult present. It's chaotic & lots of fun with 5-6.

I put it on the list for one simple reason: it takes a pretty standard game mechanic and uses theme to complicate it in a good way.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rapture Ready: A Review

This review of Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture originally appeared on my Goodreads page. His webpage for the book,, will give you a pretty good picture of the content & attitude.

Daniel Radosh is NOT an evangelical - in fact, he's a Humanistic Jew (his own description) - which for the purposes of this book is a very good thing. One of the pieces of advice you're often given when getting ready to sell your house is to have someone who's never been there come to walk through & look for all the things that need fixing or repainting. There's a reason - you've lived there for so long that you've become used to the imperfections, blemishes & outright broken stuff. Mr. Radosh's book that does just that for Christian pop culture (primarily evangelical pop culture).

I was impressed with the breadth of his knowledge, his willingness to have his pre-conceived notions corrected (or confirmed), and his sense of humor. (Honestly, we evangelicals are a pretty funny bunch sometimes... and occasionally even on purpose.) Particularly interesting is his interview with Frank Peretti & Ted Dekker.

He deals with Jesus junk, CCM, passion plays, Bibleman, Hell Houses, the sad state of Christian fiction, niche marketing for Bibles, "Left Behind" (and not kindly, which I wholeheartedly approve!), abortion politics, Christian comedians (including lots of time w/Dan Rupple), creation science museums, abstinence education & Christian sex therapy... even Christian wrestling. He admits that his coverage isn't exhaustive, but it's still pretty darn good.

His confrontation at Cornerstone with the volunteer at the Rock for Life booth should be required reading for every pro-life person... and I'm one of those people. Daniel Radosh does an amazing job of pointing out one of our biggest blind spots - the very accusation we make (that pro-choice folks treat babies/people as objects) is all too often the way we treat those who do things we think are wrong - we objectify them as "the enemy".

There's really only one clunker chapter in the book - his "fake interview" with Stephen Baldwin reads more like "I'm ticked at this guy for standing me up" than "I've found a humorous way to deal with the fact that Mr. Baldwin is kind of a knucklehead."

Some warnings for those who've lived inside the Christian bubble: the language here can be pretty raw - both from Mr. Radosh & from the folks he's interviewing. There are going to be theological & political things that you disagree with espoused both by the author & by some of the folks he talks to. If you don't like the way your faith is expressed being challenged, this book will make you downright uncomfortable.

But, I think you'll be making a mistake if you don't take this book seriously. We need to see ourselves through the eyes of the secular culture - not so we can change our theology or our faith in God, but so we can stop doing things that keep people from hearing the truth of Jesus Christ because our cultural expressions are shouting too loudly.

Some quotes that stuck out to me:
"If you are trying to communicate to people, it makes sense that you want to find a common currency, a bridge which you can communicate across." He glanced around. "Now, having said that, you can do it with style or you can do it tackily. But that's true of any endeavor, not just the Christian retailing world."

I nodded. "That's true, but I have to say that from what I've seen, it kind of looks like tacky is winning."

Butcher sighed ruefully. "When you are born again, God gives you a new heart & a new opportunity. He doesn't necessarily give you new taste."
Cameron Williams is one of "Left Behind"'s two main heroes. His friends call him Buck, "because they said he was always bucking tradition & authority." The other hero is Rayford Steele, an airline pilot. That's right, Buck Williams & Rayford Steele. There's also Steve Plank, Bruce Barnes & Dirk Burton. Apparently, having a porn star name is enough to keep you from getting raptured.
As I discovered when I asked Christians about it, the secular world's continued fascination with LEFT BEHIND is seen as a sign of how out of touch we are with evangelical culture. Imagine thinking that THE REAL WORLD still defined American TV.
R.T. asked if he could pray for me, which didn't surprise me. And then he prayed that my book would help Christians see some hard truths about themselves, even if it hurt. Which I hadn't expected at all.
Escape from the hard work of thinking about everything was, in fact, one of the main reasons I listened to music. Not only is it all right for Christian kids to want that same avenue of retreat, but more non-Christian kids would do well to develop the kind of critical listening skills that Christians bring to secular music. It is to the great credit of evangelical teens that they aren't as thoughtless as the rest of us about such things.
As Christians make their mark on the mainstream, the rest of us will feel their influence. If our response is hostile, it will only... feed the growth of the most mean-spirited strain of Christian pop culture, and mainstream culture will be warped accordingly. But if we are welcoming, we help nurture a form of Christian culture that can in turn enrich our own.

Monday, August 10, 2009


You guys are saying nice things about me! Thank you! (Wow - didn't even know that this was out there... am I behind the cyber-times or what?)

Game Central Station: Big City

I described this now-classic Eurogame as "SimCity 3-D" in the header to the original webpage. I went on to say that Big City is "surprisingly strategic with 2-3 players... enjoyable chaos with 4-5 players." (I'm not sure I'd agree with that now - I really prefer to play it with 2-3.)

In other news, Valley Games has made a lot of noise about
reprinting Big City - the timetable (according to them) is to release it in the last quarter of this year. They have not been the most reliable company about nailing release dates, so don't hold your breath. (I will say that I really like the new box art.)

First Things First

Going Last - The Only REAL Problem

In order to fix one of the few real problems with Big City, Greg Schloesser and the Westbank Gamers created a variant for the start that is very effective. The player who was last in placing one of the initial neighborhoods is allowed to draw one extra card BEFORE he placed his neighborhood and then plays first.

Aaron Fuegi (the keeper of the Internet Games 100) independently came up with the idea of reversing the normal play order for the placing of the initial neighborhoods starting with the player going last.

Conductor's Note: I've since come to believe that this isn't important in 2-3 player games... and that I'm not a big enough fan of the game with 4-5 players to worry about it. Still, I post it here for those of you really like a lack of control in your games.

Rules Clarifications

Small Village

According to Jay Tummelson (the owner of Rio Grande Games ), "The rules specifically say that if all players pass in turn (having nothing they can or want to do) the game ends. Of course, this is how all games of Big City (or "Small Village") will end. It is true that there is no mention of this as a special case, but since it follows the normal rules for game end, I see no need for a special rule." So, although we've never seen it happen here, it's possible.

Public Information?

Not to be mistaken for the ongoing debate about public vs. private information in Acquire... but still important. According to Jay Tummelson, you can count the number of cards left in a neighborhood draw pile. As well, you have to reveal the neighborhood cards you have in your hand if asked.

How Many Players?

Frank Branham (Moo of Gaming Dumpster fame), Doug Adams (Billabong Gamer extrodinaire) and Jay Tummelson (the Grand Poobah of Rio Grande Games) all feel strongly that Big City turns hopelessly chaotic with 5 players. Doug suggests using the trading variant to alleviate this... an alternative we've tried at Game Central Station with great success. Jay, who edited the English version, wishes he had limited it to 3-4 players. (We here at Game Central respectfully disagree, as we find it an enjoyable 2 player game as well.) You make your own decision.


Recommended Variants

We here at Game Central Station have been using the "single streetcar line" variant listed in the rules. No branches are allowed. According to Jay Tummelson, that is the standard rule in the German version - one he changed for the English version.

As well, we use the trading variant outlined in the rules. It's seldom used, but does give players another option if they're looking for particular parcels of land.

Finally, we use the alternate start variant the Westbank Gamers created, giving the person who goes last an extra card and the opportunity to go first.

An Interesting Two Player Variant

Ronald Hoekstra had an odd first experience with Big City - he was taught the game wrong. "We played that you could build as much as you could in one turn (instead of just one build). It actually played very well (with two players)." Here at Game Central Station we haven't tried this yet, but it seems like it might work.

Bigger City

This variant is the brainchild of Richard Irving.

  • Use two sets.
  • Shuffle both card sets together (All 1 cards from both sets are shuffled together.) Each card can be used to build on either square of the matching number.
  • On set up, I don't know if both sets of boards 1-5 should be used or just one. I am thinking a better game might be created by starting with just one set of boards and expanding from there under normal rules. (This might encourage more exchanging of card or an early placement of a city hall.)
  • Use both city halls (think of the second one as a police precinct.) Maybe some rule to prevent them form being placed together might be useful.
  • Streetcars either allow using all of the them. The other idea I had is allowing having two separate "lines" : A red line and silver line (use Siedler roads for the red line.) The first one of each line is placed according to regular rules. Both lines can be expanded on the same turn--one car each. The lines may cross or junction, but never are placed in parallel along the same street.

I think Bigger City would work better for 5 players and go up to 6 players tops. More players would still be too chaotic. But the game would be bit more strategic as each card may get more uses.

Additional Buildings

The ones listed here are the daydreams of the ever-creative Richard Irving. We'd love to make this a repository of variants here at Game Central Station, so if you have any other ideas, please send them on.

  • Stadium: 2x2 lot square. Requires city hall. 20 pts. + 10 pts. if in city center. x2 if placed on streetcar line. (It certainly will be hard to play.)
  • School: 2 lots. Requires city hall. 3 pts. per each (orthogonally) adjacent lot that contains residences (up to 6--maximum 18 pts.) Also adds +1 to each residence built later.

The Games Journal ran a wonderful variant article adding a number of new building ideas for Big City. Give it a whirl!

Strategy Hints

  1. Don't run out of cards as you near the end-game. This is especially true in a 2 player. If you run out of cards early, your opponents can play their remaining cards as they wish, very often for double+ points. It's important to account for the possibility of decimating your hand early, which tends to require calculation whne placing larger buildings in the last stages. (Andy Danglish)
  2. You can protect your properties from the dreaded factories by looking at the board, figuring out the legal positions for factories, and placing buildings that make it impossible to legally place a factory over your properties. Drawing large numbers of plots on neighborhoods that have not yet been played is a real power-grab, and the factories are a counter to this. (Robert Rossney)
  3. Watch for the formation of a shopping center plot... when there are two spaces together with streetcar access and a special building (or the space available to build that building), do what it takes to break up those two spaces (extend the streetcar line between them, build a park over one or both of them, build a factory over them or over enough adjacent property to render the area unfit to meet the building conditions. )
  4. Be careful about laying down parks. Laying down a park early in the game for your benefit allows other players to circulate cards from their hands (due to discards). As well, parks next to large areas of property that you don't own simply gives free points to other players.
  5. It is possible to prevent the building of a church by passing if your only playable card would allow you to build on the last available square (except for the one with the double digit for the church). You have to watch for this - and occasionally sacrifice points not to give your opponent that 15 point "church" boost. (Ulrich Bauer)

And after I went to all the trouble of preparing that list, here comes RayT of the Silicon Valley Boardgamers with own (possibly better) list of strategy tips.

  1. Be sure to understand all the requirements and legal placements of buildings. This also means to understand all the illegal placements of buildings such as parks and factories, so that if one of your cards become illegal, you can exchange it for a new one.
  2. Recognize at any point in the game, what each of your cards potential is in scoring. Potential can include parks and doublers/triplers not yet there. This sounds obvious, but a lot of people don't even realize what they can put down or put down the wrong thing!
  3. Notice the stockpiles of buildings. A lot of them run out, especially streetcars. This can greatly affect what building you build, especially if 2 or more types have only one building left!
  4. Notice when the cards run out! I just recently figured this out. You may want to put down cards, just to grab the last couple and give you that slight edge in buildings.
  5. Parks and factories -- I don't quite understand yet the true nature of these cards. They aren't just simple "screw your opponent" cards that you can play at any time without thinking or when you're bored. First, you don't want to play them too early because you could possibly screw yourself if you draw that card. Second, you don't want to play them too late when they become illegal. Third, you want to target your greatest opponent, not just a big, open area. Finally, if you hold onto these cards, they clog up your hand and reduce your options on cards. I'm even thinking they may be good cards to exchange for new ones...

Parks, Factories & City Hall

The Great Park & Factory Debate

For those of you who've grown tired of the "Settlers is too random" debate, here's a new one. It seems there are some VERY split opinions on the power level of the park & factory cards. No less a gaming guru than the fabled Mike Siggins implied in his G3 review that they were too dominant... a feeling that is shared by a number of people.

Both Mark Biggar & Chris Dorrell have ruminated about a possible fix for the supposed power imbalance that involves requiring the play of one of the deeds being covered in order to play the park or factory. Richard Heli wisely responds, "If that were the rule, I don't think I would ever use up an entire action and cards to play them. I would just stick the park or factor card back in the deck for someone else to waste time with."

Steve Pedlow's solution is a bit more radical - remove the parks & factories altogether. (Granted, this may be a viable option with playing with folks who don't like any kind of 'hosage' in their gaming.)

However, there are a bunch of us out here who think this part of the game works just fine as is. In the words of Ted Cheatham, "I think this is really part of the character of the game. To avoid problems with parks & factories, capture some know what stack they are in." (For those of you who don't: Lincoln Park - 2 spaces - is in the #2 neighborhood, Central Park - 3 spaces - is in the #4 neighborhood, Stanford Corporation - 3 spaces in an L shape - is in the #6 neighborhood, and Rockwell Industries - 4 spaces in a square - is in the #8 neighborhood.) For my money, Lincoln Park & Stanford Corporation are the more valuable deeds, as they (a) smaller and easier to play, which makes them (b) more difficult to defend against. I often find myself stuck with Central Park or Rockwell Industries in my hand at the end of the game.

A good last word on the whole subject comes from Robert Rossney: "I think these cards are very powerful, but their power and presence in the game is not, or should not be, a surprise to the player, and you can plan accordingly. The factories in particular cannot be played just anywhere: they're big, and they have to be placed adjacent to the outskirts of town. If you're grabbing cards for a neighborhood that has a big open space on the outskirts of town and the factories haven't been played yet, well, where the heck do you think they're going to get played?"

Why Build And/Or Fight City Hall?

It's worth zero (zilch, nada, nothing)... by itself. It drives some people crazy. (Really. Just read on dejanews.) But, once again, we here at Game Central Station don't buy the hype.

Al Newman, a talented game designer in his own right, weighed in on the subject: "From a design viewpoint, there is a tremendous problem. You can't have City Hall placed too early, so you have to penalize the player who places it by not allowing him to use it until everyone else has had a go. Meanwhile, you cannot reward the player who places it, because it will then be placed too early. It is a mechanism (IMO) that is designed expressly to allow the game to develop to the right point before placement."

Al's point taken, there is an underground movement (mainly consisting of Aaron Fuegi) that gives 3 points for building the City Hall, as they believe that any advantages gained by placing the City Hall are outweighed by the opportunities lost (the opportunity to place the first streetcar, for example.)

Greg "Bayou Boy" Schloesser responds: "I can see the problem ... but let me tell you what I did in my game at the Gathering. I exclusively picked cards from the 3 stack for the first several turns and waited until everyone else had built their plots in that neighborhood. Then, I selected the right spot and built the City Hall without fear of another player being able to build next to it in such a way that would force me to be unable to build what I wanted on my plots. It worked ... and I won the game in a landslide. Timing is the key to City Hall placement." We here at Game Central agree with Greg... timing is everything. We leave the City Hall rules as is.


Hop the streetcar and head for these other stops in the Big City...

  • BoardgameGeek entry for Big City
  • Funagain Games with reviews from John McCallion (Games Magazine) and Alan How (Counter Magazine)

Game Central Station: Klunker

Here's yet another post taken from my old Game Central Station website. The post was last updated in 2004 & originally written in 1999.

Fun With Language

Why is it named "Klunker"?

OK, let's get the name out of the way first... here in the States, I'd use this word (spelled with a "C") to refer to the bright orange Chevy Nova my roommate drove during college. In Germany, it refers to baubles... jewelry. Go figure.

What in the heck is a "Schaufenster"?

Next, the fact that the cards in the otherwise English edition from Rio Grande say "Schaufenster" on them. (Translated from the German: "shop window.") According to Jay Tummelson, head honcho of Rio Grande Games and an all-around nice guy, this was a printer's error that caused this particular problem.

Don't let either of these language issues (or the weird art choices) chase you away from this wonderful game, though - they're both easy to ignore!

Rules Clarification

Finally, one of the examples in the rule book makes the game slightly more difficult. All jewelry purchased is placed in the safe simultaneously, so that if you had, say, three Tongue Studs and bought three more, you only scored 3 for the set of four because the additional 2 counted as a new set. Ouch. Actually, Kevin Maroney observed that the game plays BETTER this way... I concur. (Thanks to Mik & Kevin for pointing this out.)

Now that we've got all of that out of the way, on with some strategy discussion for this tricky little card game.


Due to it's fluid nature, it's hard to give a "set" strategy for Klunker. What works one game may bomb miserably the next time out. The following points act as weather vanes, giving you direction depending on how the game is going.

What to Put in Your Store Window
  • You have to be cautious about slapping complete junk into your store window, especially if you pick up a late buying turn number. Your only option may be to stuff the junk in your own window into your safe.
  • Try putting two of one item in your store window. This increases the likelihood of someone else buying them AND decreases the pain if you have to buy them from yourself.
  • It's a bad idea to "poison the well" by putting in an extra item of another type to devalue another player's purchase of your store window. If you end up buying late in the round, you could wind up with your own pile of junk. (On the other hand, if you plan to grab an early number, this isn't such a bad idea after all.
  • Even the best laid plans of mice & men can go TOTALLY wrong. Often, a careful play of an enticing card(s) is rendered moot as your oppponent has the necessary cards in his hand. But one of the virtues of Klunker is that you are never completely stuck. As in real life you just have to sweeten the deal a bit. If no one wants your card and you don't want it yourself - give them the cards that they want!
What's So Great About Being Nice To Other People?

Why give other people the cards they need to complete their sets? I mean, this is business, right - eat or be eaten? Maybe not...

Greg Aleknevicus put this so succintly that I'm just going to quote him... sit at the feet of the Master Klunker and learn... :-)

I think Klunker is a very good game but one that is a little subtle to play "properly". As I see it the key to the game is the choice of items you place in your shop window. This also seems to be the part of the game that most people play poorly. More often than not players will fill their windows with crap, or more accurately, have an item or two of interest to someone but then spoil it by throwing in something useless. I think it is a FAR better strategy to fill your window with a collection that another player REALLY wants. This has several benefits:

It makes it far more likely that you'll sell your items. For some reason people seem to "devalue" this $1. Its worth just as much as the dollar you get from selling a $1 set but for some psychological reason my group doesn't seem to see it this way. (Actually its even more valuable as its coming from another player rather than the bank.)

Assuming your window items are purchased before your purchase phase (a likely occurrence if you're offering up some beauties) you won't be forced to buy someone else's crap. Instead you can end the round by purchasing nothing.

Poor placement of items in your windows usually leads to a situation where no one really wants anyone else's items and the game devolves into the situation most describe: Whoever gets luckiest with the card draws wins the game.

What to Buy? What to Buy?

Again, Greg, O High Priest of Klunker, speaks:

Another aspect of the game I think people play incorrectly is the purchase of someone else's window. I don't know if its just my group or not but on several occasions I've seen players purchase someone else's items all so that they could cash in for $1! Why? All you're doing is giving the seller $1 with no profit for yourself! If you're not going to make at least $2 by purchasing items DON'T DO IT (given the choice anyway).

How Fast Are You Moving?

Don't cycle through your cards too quickly. It's worth the same to you if you cash in once for $4 as it is to cash in 4 times for $1 each. On top of that, if you're selling each turn for $1 and either not buying or taking your own window, you making $1 profit per turn.

Another tactic often ignored is holding onto garbage cards in order to protect the value of your sets. Sure, you'll get new cards if you throw stuff down... but the sets you end up making will be seriously devalued.

Idiots Aren't Allowed to Collect Necklaces

Kevin Maroney vents a little steam... and gives a good strategy hint as well.

It also plays better if idiotic players aren't allowed to collect Lion Necklaces. The last time I played, I got badly screwed when someone started collecting Necklaces when it was impossible for him to get four of them. (Four had already been cashed out and I had three of them in play; the other player then dropped two of them into his safe instead of selling either of them to me. Cost me three dollars for the lions directly and possibly as many as four more in depreciated sets over the course of the game. It cost him at least the $1 he'd have made off of selling them plus several dollars in depreciation. We both came in far behind the other players as a result.)

If Kevin ever visits Fresno and joins us for a night of gaming, we'll be happy to institute a "No Idiots" rule for him. Until then, Kevin, I'll guess you'll just have to suffer.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Migration: The Joys of Stryofoam

This post was originally written in August of 2001... it's been revised slightly to appear here on the blog.

When I was young - well, younger - the business my dad owned shipped medical research products around the U.S. This required Styrofoam containers by the truckload (to keep products cool).

Styrofoam, among it's many other wonderful properties, makes the most satisfying "crack" when you break it. Heck, it sounds like something large just splintered under high pressure. You can't imagine how therapeutic it is to "work out" your anger by beating big sticks of Styrofoam against trash cans and brick-o-block walls and hearing a cacophony of shattering noise.

The best part? No one gets hurt when you break Styrofoam - including you! You don't have to pay to fix what you've broken, either (remind me to tell y'all sometime about putting my fist through the drywall at our first home in Nashville.)

Here's the problem - the vast majority of us work out our anger on non-Styrofoam items: dishes, papers, drywall (sigh), people... yep, people. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that most of our anger management involves trying to break & splinter other people.

Now, it's not usually a physical thing... but our words can shatter against another human being as effectively as those Styrofoam boxes. And the damage we do with our verbal beatings can leave lasting scars on the emotional landscape.

So, what do we do? Heck, what do I do? What do you do? How do we follow the teaching of the Bible and "in our anger, do not sin"? (In other words, when we're angry, don't hurt ourselves or others.)

Here's my first step - I have to start with God. Every time I'm tempted to put my fist through a stretch of drywall or blow off an lazy service employee or gesture angrily at an idiot driver, I've got to go to God. I've got to say, "Here's the reality of my anger... help me." I've got to focus on the character of God: loving, kind, truthful... rather than on the thing that made me ticked off.

It's not that I end up "OK" with the situation or person - "God magically took all my anger away and now I'm smiling like the Joker just hit me with laughing gas!" It's that I can say - "I can look beyond this situation/person and attempt to follow Christ's example... even as I fully acknowledge the anger & frustration I feel."

Easy? No. It'd be simpler to whack away at a trashcan with pieces of Styrofoam... but it would be a whole lot less likely to help us become more like Jesus.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Game Central Station: Gamers I Have Known

It's been a while... but here's yet another post taken from my old Game Central Station website. The post was last updated in 2004 & originally written in 1999... since then I've learned that Nick Danger does have a real name (and is a very nice guy).

Nick Danger (I'm guessing this is not his real name) started the ball rolling on the usenet group. The majority of what follows is from his fertile and brilliant mind. Other folks who contributed their two cents worth are: Glenn Kuntz, David Hecht, Jim Cowling, "Dweeb" (also an assumed name), Jeff ? (who was that masked man?), Mike Schneider, Torben Mogensen (which is probably his real name!), Justin Green, Andrew Davidson, Dean Washburn, Richard Irving, Rick Pikul, and Robert Rossney.

The newest addition is a wonderful expedition into the land of fidgeting gamers, c/o the nigglybits group on yahoo.groups... specifically, Nick Danger, Glenn Kuntz, Greg Schloesser, and... well, someone else who's name I didn't catch.

The Architect:

A player who forms his pieces (on or off the board) into geometric formations or stacks them up into a building (which tempts other players into sliding or throwing their own pieces at it).

The Avenger:

The first time someone crosses this player it becomes his personal vendetta to exact revenge, regardless of the consequences. Winning no longer even becomes a secondary consideration for this chap. Every turn, every play, becomes a mere avenue to "get back" at the offending player. If the opportunity should arise that the Avenger can actually lay waste to his most hated enemy it will usually be accompanied by shouts of joys, and usually even an animated victory dance around the table. The Avenger often become the target of attack just for the simple pleasure of ticking him off.

The Brain:

A.K.A. Mr. Know-It-All. The dude has the perfect plan for any game and he'll let you know it. Phrases often spewed by the Brain include: "Oh, bad move!", "This is the way to victory", "Now watch me!". Of course, the reason the Brain does not win every game remains a complete mystery to him because his play is always superior to everyone else.

The Collector:

The opposite of the Leech, he'll buy anything that tickles his fancy. The game will be brought home, the counters punched, and arranged on the board. The rules will be read while watching TV. The game will then take its place in the closet with the several hundred other unplayed games...

At this point, David Hecht reacted as if in pain!

Oh horrors no! The *true* Collector would *never* punch out a game or otherwise disturb his ability to advertise it on eBay later as "Mint Condition." What you are describing is The Tinkerer. He has bought several hundred games, has scrutinized them, read the rules, set up the pieces, but never, never, actually *played* it against any opposition.

The Dabbler:

I've seen two people like this one over the years, both female, which is perhaps coincidental. The dabbler loves to play games, but primarily as a social tool. They might move to a specific location on the board simply "because it looks nice with my color". They often have NO clue as to what will bring them victory, and really don't care. They just want to move the bits around, and visit. Dabblers are a nightmare to plan against. There is no sound strategy for pure chaos. One of these dabblers is still gaming with our group occasionally. She recently was stomping our butts in a game of Filthy Rich. Five players, she had two luxuries, no one else had more than one. Her turn arrived, she had over fifty dollars, enough to clinch the win with her third luxury. But she waited one more turn, because she had to build the "Clown, Comics, and Combustible" business.....because the sign was so cute.

The Face In the Crowd:

This gentleman sits there unobtrusively throughout most of the game, then suddenly appears out of seemingly nowhere to stomp some butt and win the game (all very affably, of course).

The Feng Shui Expert:

This gamer, who shall remain nameless (my wife), must always have the gameboard facing a particular way in orientation to herself or she can't play. If I try to set up the game differently I get the "It goes against my feng shui" line tossed at me. She even has to have that little stupid starting tile in Carcassonne laid just so.

Now in the grand scale of things it's irrelevant and being it's the woman I love I simply acquiesce to her wishes as I'm just happy she likes to play games. But, that doesn't change the fact that I find it strange, odd, and slightly obsessive.

What the heck do you do if you ever try to play with two of these types and they both want the same position? Would it be like mixing matter and antimatter?

The Frustrated Game Designer:

This guy will think up a dozen variant rules for a game even after playing it only once. He's perenially frustrated that he can't get any others to play his "improved" game.

The Game Slut:

He'll play anything, and will, if he can, play every game played in one room, all at the same time. While waiting for his turn at Settlers he'll make his move in Ido, while negotiating with the Austrians in Diplomacy. If someone at the next table pulls a copy of Samurai from his rucksack, he'll ask to be green.

The General:

In sharp contrast to the Loser is the General. He plays to win. Pure and simple. His intensity is matched only by his lust for gold. Should someone happen to be talking when it was his turn to play he will sharply be chastised with a "Hey! You playing or talking!!" The General doesn't understand the main reason to play is for fun. It's a war to him, and war is hell. The other players are just obstacles in his path to glory.

The Grognard:

He'll readily play a game, and whether or not he wins, will complain that the rules either were historicaly inaccurate, or would work better a different way. Give him time, and he'll come up with a game, using the same pieces, and a wholly new ruleset, and he may be the only one who understands them. Regardless, that ruleset will be played once, and then revised again, and again, and again.

The Historian:

This player has a photographic memory, remembers every game you've played in the last five years down to each exact discard, and will "remind" you of the old games when something remotely similar happens in the current game. It's not to show off his memory or justify an act of revenge, he only does it because he thinks people will actually be interested in the detailed reminiscences...and sometimes he's right!

The Idiot:

This fool never, ever, seems to grasp any games instructions. He'll constantly be asking you to repeat over and over a rule clarification. Even into the 2nd and 3rd playing of the game he'll still be asking for help in what to do. Of course, this does allow the other players to have fun at his expense ridiculing him. Luckily, the Idiot tends to be a good sport and will continue to play and sometimes even joins in the fun and mocks himself.

The Kingmaker:

When he realizes that he has little chance of winning himself, he picks one other player that he will support to win, no matter the consequences to his own position. Once the decision is made, nothing will move the Kingmaker from his chosen path.

The Klutz:

This is the guy who always bumps the table during Settlers and sends the hexes sliding around the table, or the helpless little camels scurrying for cover in a game of Durch die Wuste. It seems he just can't help himself from at least during the night sending players scampering trying to remember where all the pieces of some game were set up. This is the same guy that is outlawed from ever playing and drinking at the same time.

The Leech:

He doesn't actually *own* any games, but is perfectly willing to play what others have. He'll borrow entire miniatures armies for an afternoon, and will even recommend to their owner what figures to buy next. When given the opportunity to pick up a Cheap*** game, he'll go out for lunch instead.

The Loser:

We all pity the loser. He's usually a pleasant fellow, fun to have around, and a loyal friend. Unfortunately, he just can't seem to ever win a game. Whether it's bad luck, a mistaken move, or pure bad karma, he just can't seem to win. At anything. Usually though, the loser is a hearty breed and just because he never wins it doesn't seem to inhibit his enthusiasm for gaming.

The Marathon Man:

This guy refuses to quit until he's won. He'll "One more time" the gaming group to hell and back. He's just not happy until he's won a game of whatever you happen to be playing. "C'mon guys, it's still early" you'll often hear him say. Games have been known to be "thrown" in favor of the Marathon Man simply to allow another game to be played before sunrise.

The Mouthpiece:

This player will discuss the various points of a given move (either his or another player's) with any of the other players, especially when it is his turn. This usually occurs when there has been an agreed time limit to a game and he is really playing to a specific point in the game where he will win rather than let the game go to the normal conclusion, where he would probably lose. If challenged on the fact that he is currently winning, he will counter with the fact that another player is in a much better strategic position.

Mr Death-Wish:

He's a compulsive loser who gets very nervous if it looks like he might actually win the game. He can't cope with the stress of trying to win in the face of determined opposition and so will deliberately blow the game by doing something bizarre.

(Conductor's Note: We have an odd sub-species of Mr. Death-Wish around these parts... The Anti-Genius. An otherwise brilliant young man with a near photographic memory inexplicably plays most board & card games like he's just had a frontal lobotomy without benefit of anesethetic. Our theory - his reputation for being so smart might be damaged by a loss, so erratic and/or stupid play "on purpose" keeps his reputation clear. No, I'm not sure I understand it myself.)

The Quitter:

The minute this guy feels a win is out of reach he becomes totally disinterested in finishing out the game. Getting him to take his turn for the rest of the game is like trying to get Bill Clinton to admit he lies. He's even been known at times to simply walk away from the game and refuse to participate anymore. This is also the guy that immediately hates any game he can't win at.

The Snob:

A player who considers any game with a rulebook of less than 40 pages to be "a kiddy game". His motto is "If it didn't take 1/2 a day to punch out the chits, it's not worth 1/2 an hour of my time."

The Spectator:

This piece of work never actually plays a game. Just watches and comments on everything going on. He lives life from the sideline, never really having that desire to say "Send me in coach, I'm ready to play." Luckily the Spectator also happens to be the perfect person to send out for pizza!

The Thinker:

This guy can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes to decide what to do with his second bean card in Bohnanza. You'd think his life was hanging on his every move for all the thought he puts into it. Clothes have gone out, and then come back into style before he moves sometimes. Should you happen to say something like "Do I have time to put on a new roof before you move?" to him he gets all flustered and complains you're "rushing him".

The Whiner:

Howls of pain greet every die roll, whimpers of regret every play of a card. This guy complains bitterly about every setback that everyone decides it's more pleasant to simply let him win. Often, this is The Whiner's main strategy.

The Rules Lawyer:

This particular species of gamer required a section of his own... Richard Irving, Robert Rossney, and Rick Pickul all took a crack at dissecting this peculiar breed.

RICHARD IRVING narrows it down to three major types.

1. The ones who try to find any inconsistency or problem with the rules. These are the people who send in questions to the game designer/company: They ask questions like "Do you include cards already played or drawn in this turn into the shuffle of the cards to refill the deck?" "Rules for cohesion say that remove pawns BEFORE the turn, what if you don't know until the end of your turn that you'll be out of cohesion.", "Can you brake your chariot to avoid a ram attack even if there is someone behind you?" Stuff like that.

They may be annoying in their attention to detail, but they aren't fundamentally trying to cheat you or gain an advantage. They want to make sure the rules have no room for misinterpretation. These are the law professors or Supreme Court justices of rules lawyers. They make good playtesters for games.

2. This is the type who conveniently only mentions the rule problem when it helps them. They won't accept resolution of the problem by die roll, asking the Tournament GM (if any), consulting errata, etc. They may even demand to play their way even if shown to be completely wrong in their interpretation. They might storm from the table if they don't get their way. They are looking for any edge they can get. These are Johnny Cochrans of rules lawyers.

3. The third type particularly try to match rules with reality. Most common among wargamers, they are a lot like the first group but are more likely to argue that a rule is "unrealistic" or "breaks the simulation" and would propose playing by an alternate, "more realistic" rule.

These are the specialists of rules lawyers--the ones you bring in because they know about forensic testing or the psychology of the criminal mind. They may be good playtesters or not--they would have a tendency to add more detail into a game that may may not be wanted.

Of course, the rules lawyer might slip between these 3 classes (There may be even more classes that I haven't thought of.) They may even change their stripes as the situation demands it--especially type 2. They hide under a strict rule interpretation or a reality based one if it helps their game.

ROBERT ROSSNEY adds a personal note.

My favorite version of the Rules Lawyer is my friend Cy. Cy (who can periodically be seen performing his magic on takes a perverse delight in testing rules to destruction. Tell Cy that the person with the most tokens goes first each turn, and the first thing he'll want to know is how ties are broken. A rules phrase like "you can perform an unlimited number of such actions each turn" makes his pupils dilate.

Cy loves CCGs because they offer so many opportunities for abuse. He doesn't play Legend of the Five Rings to win, exactly; he plays it to get eight-card combos in play. His decks are these amazing Rube Goldberg contraptions that pump out enormous strength bonuses or vast armies of 1/1 ashigaru tokens by exploiting various side effects that, while maybe not intended, are not explicitly prohibited.

I can see that some people might find this really annoying. I find it marvelous to watch, right up to the moment that I get my butt handed to me. And if I were designing a game, I'd really want Cy flexing its seams to find the ones that will break.

Finally, RICK PIKUL sets out his three classifications.

The sleaze:

Hunts for obscure rules/rule interactions, then tells you about them when he springs them on you in the middle of a game.

The literalist:

The rules must be followed exactly, more a problem in RPGs.

The expert:

The guy who can rattle off the rules whenever needed, and can often figure out what is intended in badly written rules and what happens in the once in a thousand games weird occurrence. Often useful to have around, scary when he then tells you that it was the first time he saw the game and skimmed the rules.

Sub-Species of Fidgeters

Recent observations from the jungles of gaming.

Matt the Stacker:

Matt is a builder at heart. Put some bits in front of him and he'll immediately begin constructing some monument, housing project, or complex observation platform. Matt has been known, while playing Manhattan, to borrow other players stock building bits to fashion an elevated water tower capped off with his bottle of Diet Coke.

(Conductor's Note: Matt is close kin to Sarah the Pig Wrangler, who was transfixed by the plethora of pigs in Pig Pile. The extra pigs had meetings, formed conga lines, and generally engaged in other piggish behaviors... all the while causing Sarah to forget that we were actually playing a card game.)

Donna the Dentist:

Donna will inevitably get a snack morsel stuck in the cavernous gaps between her teeth and then use a card, chip, or in the case of the stubborn crumb a pewter Darth Maul to dislodge the culprit.

Shuffler Schmitty:

Schmitty likes to keep his cards fresh and will continuously rotate his stock like a good shopkeeper should. Back to front, front to back, flip-flip-flip, always keeping those cards in motion. When he finally plays one of these the edges look similar to the frayed edges on the multitude of car flags people are sporting these days.

Tina the Tapper:

Tina taps. Tina taps often. Tina taps uncontrollably. You'd like tap Tina one time with a 2x4 across the head. Tina will grab the nearest bit by her and begin tapping it on the table top. You're never quite sure if it's just a nervous habit, or maybe she's secretly trying to contact her dead Uncle Milton via morse code.

Absent Al:

Al can't sit still. In fact, Al just plain can't sit. Whether it's a personality trait or a result of the 3 pots of coffee a day he consumes no one knows for sure, but the one thing you can count on is when it's Al's turn he will not be in his chair. The thing that brings Al close to death is the question that follows his return to the table each and every time - "So, what did I miss?"

Vincent the Vibrator:

Vince's idea of a funny thing to do is to bang on the table to slowly cause pieces to slide around on the board. Vince grew up playing Tudor football. Vince thinks his antics are hilarious. Vince is alone in this assumption.

Tossin' Tom:

Tom tosses. Tom tosses everything. He tosses more stuff into the air than Circus jugglers. His favorite thing to toss into the air and attempt to catch is dice. If a game has a bunch of dice, they will be flying non-stop throughout the game. Sadly, Tom doesn't catch very well, so by mid-game you are scrounging the floors attempting to alleviate the sudden dice shortage. Worse is the occasional wayward die which crashes across the board with more vengeance and destruction than the Germans crossing the French border. Beware, however, if dice are not available, as Tom will toss just about anything. Take extreme care to scrounge the floors for game pieces once the game concludes.

Larry the Leg-Jiggler:

Just as bad are the leg jigglers. Kind of a cross between Tina and Vincent. They think no one notices since it's going on under the table... until the table starts to vibrate, or the dog comes out from under, not quite comfortable with what may come next.

Bonnie the Babbler:

Bonnie likes to talk. Talk talk talk talk talk. Doesn't really matter what it is she's talking about and it doesn't really matter if what she is saying has anything to ddo with the game in question as she could surely place a temple tile there, and then her King will reign supreme over the entire world, woohoo, but it might cause her some problems later on but hey what the heck she'll do it anyway and so on and so on and so on... Luckily she only tends to do this when she's staying up past her bedtime. Amongst adults, I don't think I'd tolerate this for very long.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Kid Games 100: MIA Games (Just Missed The Cut)

There are a number of well-known/well-liked kid games that didn't find their way onto my Kid Games 100. Over a series of posts, I'll try to explain the logic of why I didn't include them - or, in some cases, actively excluded them. I used the top 100 games categorized on the Geek as the jumping off point for the fourth post in this series:

MIA Games: "Just Missed the Cut"

These are all games that I enjoy... but with the arbitrary "top 100" designation ended up not quite making the list. In a couple of cases, I hadn't had the opportunity to play with children before the list was made.

  • Animal Upon Animal - The combination of cute wooden animals & a very kid-friendly set of rules makes this stacking/dexterity game a real winner. Probably #101 on the Kid Games 100. (There are two new games in this series: The Duel for 2 players & a card game that involves stacking cards on a gator who looks like a refugee from the ballet in "Fantasia." I want to try both of them!)
  • Bounce-It-In - Supplanted on the Kid Games 100 by Hop Hop Hurray, this is still a very good game. We've esp. taken a liking to the "Bounce 21" rules, which is a weird cross of dexterity game & Blackjack.
  • Burg-Ritter (Castle Knights) - This is one of those wonderful games that you realize that could ONLY have come from Haba (or maybe Zoch) - it's a cooperative dexterity game involving big wooden pieces & a ponytail holder w/4 strings tied to it.
  • Battleground: Crossbows & Catapults - I've played with these over the years... and we just got a bunch of them this Christmas, thanks to Toys'R'Us putting them on clearance. (We're still looking for a Tower set, btw.) It's a lot of plastic shooting fun... though I think I still like Attacktix better, probably because it doesn't require so much set-up/tear-down time. (Again, I think the better game ended up on the Kid Games 100.)
  • Go Away Monster - This is BARELY a game... but for younger kids (3-5 years), it's one they will play over & over & over again. I wish it was more difficult to tell the good things & monsters apart in the bag - but the opportunity to throw a monster tile into the box & yell "Go away, Monster!" at the top of your lungs is an awfully strong selling point.
  • Hisss - Thick cardboard cards w/colorful snake art... the chance to build & claim snakes... learning color matching for the young ones... it's over quickly enough not to irritate the heck out of parents & older siblings...
  • Lord of the Rings (Kids) - My view of this one has softened over time... the first time I played it (with adults), I was underwhelmed. The theme is a bit off (why are the hobbits racing each other to Mt. Doom?) and it's basically a roll'n'move/spin'n'fight. But then I played it with kids and discovered that they have a great time facing off against the bad guys. And multiple plays helped me see the benefits of some careful odds calculations... not to mention the very nice bits. It's not going to set the world on fire, but it's still a popular game at my house.
  • Magic Dance (Hexentanz) - I just haven't played this enough to include it... I think it's a wonderful design (like I said elsewhere, it's got an abundant level of chaos due to 24 identical pieces & memory). I think it might crash with the wrong crowd - esp. gamers (it's an AP death trap waiting to happen) but it's a lot of fun with kids.
  • Monza - While I appreciate this fine little dice racing game for what it is (a great introduction to proper sequencing for young gamers), I don't think I like it as much as some other folks.
  • Piraten-Pitt (Pete the Pirate) - The same goes for the Kinderspiel winner, a bit-o-licious memory game with a good bit of potential hosage. It works very well with the intended age group (4-7 years) but doesn't have much staying power beyond that.
  • Pounce - I've been playing this game (or variations of it) since I was a kid. It's more of a pastime (though the Haba version adds some nice rules variations to turn it into a bit more of a game) and an excuse to slam stuff down really hard on the table. Warning: put a tablecloth on any table you don't want scratched; spectators should stand clear to avoid have a mouse imprint on their face.
  • Schloss Schlotterstein (Shiverstone Castle) - Once again, Haba makes a game with components so gorgeous it'll almost blind you: the box turns into the game with the addition of two dividing thick cardboard dividers & four wooden feet and the magnetic arm slides beneath the box while the cloth ghost (and a variety of other wooden debris) float around in the box. The only reason it didn't make the Kid Games 100 is that the dexterity required to play well is beyond most kids under the age of 7. (It is, however, great fun for younger kids to use for imaginative play.)
  • Zitternix - One more Haba entry... and this pick-up-sticks variant misses the Kid Games 100 because I haven't played it with kids. (With adults, it's LOTS of fun.)

The Great Growth Barriers Giveaway

Look, I'm not trying to win the "shill of the week" award... but in exchange for your contact info (which will, I warn you, net you a lot of email from Church Leader Insights), you can download one of their growth barrier seminars for free.

Here's his basic idea (which may better explain why I'm recommending these resources):
Wrong Question: How do I get my Church to Grow?

The wrong question in breaking growth barriers is “How do I get my church to grow?” Starting with this question can lead you not only to wrong conclusions but also to dangerous conclusions. Its easy to reach wrong conclusions about church growth when you think that growth is completely dependent on what you do or don’t do. At the same time, asking this question can be dangerous if it leads to extreme examples of trying to grow at any cost. So what’s the right question to ask?

Right Question: What is keeping my Church from Growing?

The right question when it comes to breaking growth barriers is, “What is keeping my church from growing?” Healthy organisms grow. As pastors we must constantly be on the search for the real issue behind a lack of growth. In my study of growing churches, I have identified the nine most common growth barriers but there are indeed many more. Your job is to identify the barriers and work to remove them.
Today is the last day to get the free deal, so head on over.

Here's the link: The Great Growth Barriers Giveaway

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Forever Young

I'm 45 years old... I actually know that "Forever Young" is more than just a Rod Stewart ballad - there's a song by Alphaville by that title, as well as a classic Bob Dylan tune with that name. (And by knowing all that stuff, I've proven once again that my twenties are definitely in the rearview mirror.)

So, when James Emery White wrote a blog post at his website, Serious Times, about the aging of the church, it resonated with me like a clanging bell... or the reaction I have every time I hear the opening notes of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name." (Which, btw, is a 22 year old song now.)
The natural flow of the church is to skew old. Left to itself, that is what it will do. It will age. You take your hand off of that wheel, and that is what will happen. This is not the only natural flow of the church. Left to itself, the church will also turn inward and become outdated.
And he's right - as anyone in church life can tell you.

Thankfully, he does more than just point out the problem:

So what did we do? There are three headlines that are disarmingly simple in maintaining influence and impact with the next generation:

  1. To attract young adults, you have to hire young adults.
  2. To attract young adults, you have to platform young adults.
  3. To attract young adults, you have to acknowledge young adults.

There's a lot more detail than this in the post... it's well worth your time to read it!

Bottom line? Sometimes bridging a cultural divide is as simple as who you hire, who you platform, and who you acknowledge.

Yes, a person who is fifty should come and find points of connection and community at your church.

But that’s not the problem. We’re reaching the fifty-somethings. It’s the twenty-somethings that we’re missing.
In case you missed it at the top of my post, here's the link: "Forever Young."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Migration: Dead Pets & Suitcases

In New York City, there are eight million cats and eleven million dogs. New York City is basically just concrete and steel, so when you have a pet in New York City and it dies, you can't just go out in the back yard and bury it. The city authorities decided that for $50 they would dispose of your deceased pet for you.

One lady was enterprising. She thought, I can render a service to people in the city and save them money. She placed an ad in the newspaper that said, "When your pet dies, I will come and take care of the carcass for you for $25." This lady would go to the local Salvation Army and buy an old suitcase for two dollars. Then when someone would call about his or her pet, she would go to the home and put the deceased pet in the suitcase.

She would then take a ride on the subway, where there are thieves. She would set the suitcase down, and she would act like she wasn't watching. A thief would come by and steal her suitcase. She'd look up and say, "Wait. Stop. Thief." The people who stole those suitcases got a real surprise when they got home.

(urban legend told by Scott Wenig)

Here's the deal: too darn many of us are subway thieves. We are willing to do just about anything to grab happiness for ourselves - sleep around, drink or snort or pop something, lie, cheat, steal, gossip, hedge, fake it, shade the truth, fold, cave in, forget on purpose to do what's right - and not lose much sleep about it. Unfortunately, we're spending a chunk of time and moral energy on $2 suitcases filled with dead cats.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Kid Games 100: MIA Games (Just Not Up To Snuff)

There are a number of well-known/well-liked kid games that didn't find their way onto my Kid Games 100. Over a series of posts, I'll try to explain the logic of why I didn't include them - or, in some cases, actively excluded them. I used the top 100 games categorized on the Geek as the jumping off point for the third post in this series:

MIA Games: "Just Not Up To Snuff"

No need to divide these games up by category - ok, you convinced me: games that I dislike, games that are vastly overrated, & games I like but for some reason don't work well with their actual target audience. (There's a bonus category for "Games That Aren't Very Good But Have a Really Cool Mechanic That Kids Love.")

Games That I Dislike

  • Cap'tn Clever - Despite the name, it isn't clever. It's broken. And I'm not using the gamer word "broken" in the sense of "I don't like the game & therefore I'll call it a 'dirty word.'" I'm using it in the sense of "This game can lock up where no one wants to make a move & really only works if one or more of the players is an idiot or underage."
  • Ghost Chase - It's just a really "meh" kind of deduction game - yeah, it works, but I've never felt the need to play it again. Ever.
  • Nimbali - I've complained about this one before... this was my "just because Knizia designed it doesn't mean it's better than Candyland" discovery. BTW, this is the only Haba game I actively dislike - and, showing what great taste they have, it's OOP and the pieces are being used for other BETTER games.
  • Rat-A-Tat-Cat - I have Biberbande, which has cooler beaver-related art, but not any better game play.
  • Switch - Because nothing is more than playing a completely abstract game of stacking cards. Oh, yes, I know - we'll make it "better" by making it real-time. Blech.
Games That Are Overrated
  • A-Mazing Labyrinth - I'm fully aware that this was a SdJ nominee many moons ago. I know that it spawned a lot of follow-up games. But neither of those things mean that a really innovative game mechanic (the sliding tile pathways) makes up for a game that bogs down in analysis paralysis with adults & is random and irritating with children.
  • Geistertreppe - Again, cool bits (the ghost that magnetically picks up the pieces) don't make up for a simply average memory game that's very similar to Hexentanz but without the delightful chaos.
  • Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus - Reiner managed to sell this game twice: once in Europe as Feuerschlucker (the version I own without cute plastic animals) and once in America (with plastic animals). With or without, it's NOT a good game. It's luck of the draw dressed up in a pretty package... and the few moments of "I can count cards & figure out what's best" really don't counteract the vagaries of the draw pile. In fact, they just accentuate how little control you really have.
Games That Don't Work Well With Actual Live Kids
  • Big Top/Barnyard Critters - I first played this as "Solche Strolche" (which is the German name for Barnyard Critters)... and I loved it. It was a quick recognition game that I basically described as "Set for kids." (I stand by that description, btw.) But it's been a complete bust with almost every group I've played it with... which makes no sense to me. I like to think of it as my "kid gaming radar blindspot."
Games That Aren't Very Good But Have a Really Cool Mechanic That Kids Love
  • The Magnificent Race - One of my ongoing Don Quixote-ish quests is to "fix" this game - the marble spinner is a very cool component/mechanism set in the middle of a pretty mediocre game. (And the theme is great, too - it's just that the roll'n'move board game is yawn-worthy.)

Migration: What Now?

This post was originally written in March of 2000... it's been revised slightly to appear here on the blog. It's my vision of what church should look like.

For a long time, when hurting, at-risk kids and parents came to me for help, I wanted to know - the "judge" in me wanted to know - "Did she jump or was she pushed?" Things like that matter to the judge. But after awhile, broken and battered myself, compassion posed a new question. "Does it matter? She's broken. What now?"

Jim Hancock, Raising Adults: Getting Kids Ready for the Real World
That's our question... not doing a postmortem on the lives of the broken people around us and among us... but asking "What now?" and knowing that the love & hope & grace of Jesus Christ is the answer.

And, if it's really the answer, and we're *really* Christians (or, to sort of translate, "people who follow Jesus' example"), THEN we are the vehicles for the love & hope & grace that people so desperately need.

Maybe you're one of them... maybe you have been longing for someone to realize how broken and screwed-up you are really are... someone who can offer hope. Well, we who follow Jesus Christ LONG to do that... but we're pretty screwed-up sometimes ourselves. Let us know your hurts and your needs... take a chance and see God work through the community He built, His church. Really.

Cuz if you're "one of them" (the messed-up people)... you're one of us. All of us have "fallen short of the glory of God" (which is the Bible way of saying that the good & right life that we were created for remains far out of reach because of our abysmal way of living our lives.) So, you're in good company. We're not going to laugh at you, or call you names, or find ways to marginalize you at social gatherings. Jesus liked to hang out with messed-up people and show them truth and hope... so do we.

When we don't, when we fall back into wearing masks of "everything is ok" and putting you off with less-than-authentic lines we're mouthing like a badly dubbed movie... call us on it. Tell us where we've gone wrong. Our dream and desire is to act as a channel for Christ's love... so if something is clogging up the delivery spout, show us and we'll clean it out together.