Friday, December 31, 2010

Fits

We got FITS for Christmas too.  I wasn't able to interest anybody last night, so I tried it solo.  Well, solo at first, and then my 5-year-old nephew came over to help me play, which was pretty fun.

The game is basically real-world Tetris - you have pieces composed of squares which you add to a board and slide down to fill a tall, narrow playfield.  Some of the pieces are more complex than Tetris (with five squares), and you can flip them over to change their handedness, unlike Tetris.  You also can't move them sideways as you drop them, so those vain attempts to fill gaps down low on your stack don't fly here.

The game is a little more complex than regular Tetris.  There are four rounds of play.  The first round, you're just trying to build complete rows with no gaps, like in real Tetris.  For the other rounds, you have slightly different goals, usually involving covering up or leaving exposed particular spaces, but it's mostly the same.  The random order of the pieces is interesting, and with multiple players, they each start with a different piece and then have the same sequence, so you're guaranteed to have different layouts but otherwise a similar experience.

The name apparently comes from an acronym for "Fill In The Spaces," which is semi-cheesy.  The German motto is "Das l├╝ckenlose Spielvergn├╝gen," which I think translates to something like "the gap-free game pleasure."  Some things don't translate well, I guess.  The game's physical design is great, though; the pieces and cards are easy to manipulate, and the stands and card inserts are cleverly designed and work well.  Things feel a little bit flimsy, but I'd guess it will all stand up to normal use.

It would be interesting to play with other people rather than on my own, but I'm not sure how different it would be.  This isn't a game, really, in the normal sense.  It's more of a competitive puzzle, and like other competitive puzzles, it works fine on its own, too.  There's really no interaction between players at all, other than table talk, and of course the scoring at the end.

So, interesting, fun, and a little odd, but a good game, I think, and different from others you'll see.  More experience would give me a better feel for it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Agricola!

I gave my daughter Agricola for Christmas (a Homer gift if ever there was one, although she loves games too).  We've played two games now, both of them the "family" version without the occupations and minor improvements.  It was really fun, and I assume the added complexity of the occupations and minor improvements will make it even neater.

One quibble - the rules didn't seem too well laid out for somebody just learning.  The box is FULL of components, boards, etc., some of them important and always used, others from optional parts of the game, some just for convenience, and some different with no apparent reason (e.g. the backsides of the farm boards which have different art and appear to be for storage of the components).  They aren't well-described (some aren't described ever), so for somebody just opening the box, they're dauntingly complex, way more than I think they should be.  Also, it would be nice to have the family game described separately (and first) so that you could start with that and then move onto the more complex variations, rather than having to delete the more complex parts to get down to the family version.

The first time I looked through the box, I had the same sinking feeling I had with Magic Realm and Titan - that the game would be so complex it would take far to long to learn (and to explain) to get a game ever played.  But, it ends up to be clear and manageable, and it seems to offer a variety of different strategies, with the frustration that you can't quite follow them all in the time given.  The pace gets fast and furious at the end, too.  A good time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

XKCD and Tic Tac Toe

XKCD has a neat image that lays out ideal Tic Tac Toe strategy.  The image is a little complicated to read at first, but once you figure out the design of his presentation, it's pretty great, both from the game perspective, and also from a visual display of information perspective.

I've had students write ideal tic tac toe players as an exercise in my computer programming classes, and they sometimes struggle more with the strategies than with the programming parts.  This might help, although interestingly, because it's the ideal strategy, it doesn't actually include the decision trees for sub-optimal starts (i.e. where you don't pick a corner as your starting space).

Also interesting is that because Tic Tac Toe is such a symmetric game (i.e., there are only three types of spaces, center, corner, and middle-edge), the image Randall Munro created actually contains some neat visual symmetry, which, along with the fractal nature of his presentation, is cool to look at.  He's a very clever guy, and I love it when he does this kind of thing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A look at the competition

Here's another game that's made it to Hippodice for 2011.  Looks pretty polished (and very Carcassone-like).  I really like the artwork; fanciful and clear, with neat colors.  No idea how it plays.

Looks like a very professional prototype, with a box, even.  Neat.  I may be outclassed there if the game is as polished as its presentation.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New BGDF Showdown

A weird topic this month from the game design showdown at BGDF.  They want something that relates to the holidays, plus something that relates to internet spam, plus a dexterity component.

I can't think this will produce any games with any lasting appeal, but I'll try.  Hmm.  Maybe throwing green and red darts at meat substitute and then blogging about it?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

TGC game creators aim for big time

I just got done taking part in Matt Worden's game designer chat on TheGameCrafter.com's new chat tool.  Interesting, although I was already pretty familiar with Matt's experience.  I didn't know he'd been so heavily involved in BGDF in earlier days, and it was interesting to learn that his most successful game, Jump Gate, was a Game Design Showdown entry there.

Some other designers on there are trying to figure out how to grow their audience.  One, Eddie from Nightstalker Games, has just released a couple of games and is starting up a blog, too - similar to my strategy (such as it is).  Another, CW Karstens, has tried to work the reviewer circuit, with some success - a mention in TheSpiel.net's podcast (they discuss his game, Field Hospital, at the 62 minute mark).

But it's still tough garnering publicity.  Matt described sending games out to reviewers, kind of in the dark, but that's led to his Games 100 success.  Maybe there's something there - the boardgame media seems small and fragmented, but maybe that's a viable strategy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dominant Species

Dominant Species is here - looks like it might compete thematically with my game Galapagos (which may have to be renamed given that there's a new game with that name out now), although the mechanics don't sound the same.  I'm not sure if similar themes mean we've both hit on a neat idea that will be really popular, or whether my creativity and marketability just got diluted by other similar games out there.  Hard to say - I'll have to see what this game is like.