I normally open these Notebooks with a little personal view on the market. Not only would these insights be subjective and based on insufficient data; they would also be wrong. Helpfully, I can’t really do that anymore because with hundreds of games appearing annually (allowing that a percentage of total output will be 8+ or lower, abstracts, marketing plays, or ‘very unique’ card games about pets), I don’t see how anyone keeps up. Anyone. But I am still enjoying the hobby and I continue to be surprised at the overall high standard of games. Why? Because when one thinks that Joe Schmoggs in Alabama plays Catan (or doesn’t), comes up with his own idea, tests it, funds it, produces it (amazing!), distributes it to my table and still it gets a Siggins 6. Is game design easier than we all thought?
The best explanation for my continuing enjoyment is that everyone I game with is operating as a filter for me. They are skimming off the me-toos, the obvious disasters and the stillborn. They also pay extraordinary sums to put these games on radar, for which I am eternally grateful. The result is that I see a couple of hundred titles p.a. of which perhaps 5% I never want to see again. Might be 7.5%. Others scrape a 6 and won’t be troubling the credit card. That is pretty good I think. Waaaay better than when I bought everything that came out. Okay, I will miss a few good games. I may even have to identify and pursue a game myself (Agents of SMERSH was well worth the effort). But I feel I probably play all the key releases. That is all we can hope for.
In the same way that I do not camp, I do not Kickstart. In a strange way I find it best to stay away from the whole sordid mess. Good luck to all involved, but I do not want to read constant updates on some unknown designer having a pee in Latvia, ‘independents’ shilling games at breakfast time, or worst of all reading a review, getting excited, and then finding you can’t actually buy it (it has either long gone, or it is due in 2021). The downside to this draconian policy? I would seriously liked to have bought Mythic Battles: Pantheon and the bits from Rising Sun. Any plastic allergies out there?
But overall, with those filtered games added? I seriously think there might be a form of demand bubble here. Too many keen particpants and products, at mad prices, chasing too little money and time.
The week after Christmas is when I do the Sumos – my personal games of the year. Then I stop doing anything for three months, apart from play games, and here I am. Without a doubt my favourite game of last year was Colonial Twilight (GMT), a two player wargame with dubious subject matter. But I also loved Codenames: Duet, Gentes, This War of Mine, and Days of Ire. And that list in itself betrays my hobby mix. I will play almost anything once, though if it is going to take eight hours then I will need to have a think. I tend to avoid abstracts but that does not explain why I am five games in to Photosynthesis and still enjoying it. As we know, five plays strongly indicates Modern Classic status.
In a way, I wish all games were like this one. It is fast, it is clever and pretty original, it looks good and has je ne sais quoi. It is also a positional abstract, and it is not great fun, but we can’t have everything. The key appeal is that you finish a game and immediately want to try again using a different approach. And in Photosynthesis that can be very different. Central position, edge builds, rapid tree turnover, few trees, many trees, deferred gratification… I just keep working the angles. It helped that I won the first two games – this never happens. It has gone down very well here and people ask to play it. That is unusual. I am kind of done now, but will not veto it yet. Praise indeed!
A number of us played The Mind (Wolfgang Warsch) at White Rock Games. It is fair to say that it divided the group straight down the middle and generated strong views on both sides. I was on a positive jigger, still am, but can see that just another couple of games will consign it to eBay purgatory.
If we boil it right down, it is a management training style game where you are tasked with devising a non-verbal communication system. Yes, I know. Normally, I would run a mile. But the delivery method, and the quite amazing groupthink nuances that come from a percentile deck of cards, kept me fascinated. It is also great fun and I have not laughed so much in a while.
The pitch and feel is of a filler party game, not an MBA course ice breaker. It would be hard to play it skillfully, but there is some skill in reading the game and the players. All you have to do, without speaking, is to play a series of cards – from all the players’ hands – in ascending number order. If you complete a level, it gets harder. You play until people are pleading to leave or 20 minutes, whichever seems advisable.
Beyond that I will say nothing. The entire schtick of the game is that you discover the game as a group, and in fact build it as you want it. To explain further would spoil that enjoyment. All I will say is that it is quick, very clever and a real treat first time out. Now I know the trick… well, we shall see. Give it a go, you know, like Marmite.
Oh, Mr Engelstein
I admit it, I do tend to attach myself to designers. For decades I was going steady with Phil Eklund. Now, he has run off with a biology thesaurus and we no longer speak. He says I didn’t understand him. I agreed. On the rebound, I have tried flings with Wallace, Feld, Matthews, even Wehrle in a mad one night stand, but all have ended in flames. I cannot abide inconsistency.
So I am back on the market. My eye is firmly on Ian Brody, especially if he gets a Napoleonic Quartermaster General out the door; recent plays of QG, QG 1914 and Victory or Death have elevated these games above 10 and, seriously, they are all time favourites.
But… Geoff Engelstein is a real possibility.
Why? Ludology, Fog of War, Pit Crew (in a small way) and now The Expanse. Space Cadets… not so much. All show signs of promise if not actual 100% delivery. But the reason for the man crush is GameTek, his recent book that gathers the columns from Ludology. This is a superb read for anyone interested in the mechanics of games and deeper and wider issues such as Game Theory, Chaos and Group Psychology. I am a dunce at maths and science, but I understood most of it. The only downsides are that Sumo didn’t make the recommended reading list (!) and that some of the chapters end before they get going. Highly recommended.