Gaming by Skype: Distance no barrier!

26 11 2012

How do you get your boardgaming fix when you have no-one around to game with?
There’s plenty of boardgames available on and offline via mobile and Pc/Mac/consoles so you could do that, I guess. There’s also Play by Email/Post options if you don’t mind slow gaming. Or you could always crack open Agricola or Snowdonia and have a solo game?

However, for those who want to get that real-life gaming night experience but with people in different locations, you may want to consider a Skype games night.

Basic requirements
We’ve taken part in multiple successful Skype games evenings now as we have gaming friends who live over 150 miles away. Put simply, both parties need access to a Skype account (free at and a device with a webcam so your friends/family can see you/the game. The better the webcam and Internet speed, the better your experience will be (far easier to game with clear, non-blocky images).
Also, trust is key so you want people who are honest!

Game selection
Of course, you’ve probably already worked out that not all games lend themselves to a good experience via Skype. For instance, forget games with card drafting: no matter how hard you try you WON’T pass those 7 Wonder cards through the screen!
Party games such as Scattegories and Taboo work well, but this doesn’t mean you’re limited to this genre. For example, we’ve had a successful game of Hamburgum!

Hamburgum? How?
This was a little trickier to organise but we had a successful 4 player game of this a while back (this was 2 people my end and 2 people the other). Both households had a copy of the game set up exactly the same. This would be in a similar way as a play-by-mail game of scrabble/chess.
Each player announces their move and the opposing players make the same move but on their board. For full transparency, resources/cards, etc, are also dished out to ‘dummy’ players representing people in the other house. This allows for error checking to take place so that the game doesn’t suffer at the hands of a forgotten/wrong manoeuvre!

Other games we’ve played
We always tend to start these evenings with a game of Perudo/Liar’s Dice. This game is very easy to play via this medium and can play in a matter of minutes.

Taboo is another game that works well. Again, another party game, but a lot of fun over Skype. The way we do it is to pair up with remote partners rather than stay in our natural household pairs. This way, one of us can check the banned words aren’t being used.

. Ok, so this is a bit of a cheat, but still kind of works. We each sign into an online Tichu game (we use and pair into two teams accordingly. This enables face-to-face play, but card management is managed via the software. This game wouldn’t work on Skype any other way.
Continuing on the Party game theme, Scattergories is also a winner and simple to set up. In the same vein, Balderdash and Pass the Bomb have also been played, albeit with slight rules modifications to take into account the medium used.


In Summary
We are still looking for more ideas of non-party games to play via Skype. We feel we have a nice mix of party and non-party in Hamburgum/Tichu, but of course would like to keep it board rather than software-based gaming. So, please feel free to post suggestions or let me know what has or what you think would work well over Skype.

our iPad Skype setup


Missing (not) in Action

24 11 2012

Just a quick note to apologise for lack of action this last week or two. Having caught the ‘lurgy’ I’ve been away from gaming and most other activities not involving rest and beds, but will get back in the swing of things forthwith!

Am looking forward to a Skype gaming session with our Peterborough friends tomorrow evening so will post details following. This will be to show that geographic distance shouldn’t be a barrier to getting your game on!

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar – Revolutionary?

11 11 2012

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4 players
Duration: 90 minutes


As with the recent SdJ Kennerspiel winner, Village, designers and publishers appear to be putting more thought in how to keep the worker placement mechanism fresh at a time when I’m reading more posts/articles on people becoming bored of this mechanic.

Whereas Village sees meeples dying off; one of Essen’s most eagerly awaited Euros, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, has them taking a ride on cogs which form the main focus of an otherwise already busy board.

In essence, each of the smaller cogs represent a different location, and each location allows the workers different benefits. These benefits come into play when a worker is removed – rather than added to the board. So, taking a worker from Palenque may result in corn (currency) or wood.
Removing a worker from Chichen Itza on the other hand, allows you to donate a crystal skull which pleases the Gods and allows you to ascend their temple as well as gain instant VIPs. There are three other of the small cogs each offering a variety of options such as building monuments and buildings, or progressing up a technology track which brings added benefits to chosen actions, for example.

There are three types of resource; gold, wood and stone. Corn is multi-functional (currency/food).

There are costs associated with each action (in most cases). When placing a worker the further around the cog you are, the more expensive it is to do so. Also, you need to remember that placing multiple workers in a turn will cost more: Not only do you pay for the spaces you lay at, you pay an increasing additional cost. This is 0 for 1 worker, 1 for two, 3 for three, 6 for four, 10 for five and 15 for six workers. There is a starting player space which costs 0 to place at, but of course, only one person can occupy that at a time.


So, on a turn, you simply have two main choices: are you placing or removing workers? As placing workers generally has a corn cost attached, you may find you become short of cash from time to time. At this time of crisis, you can make a beg for corn prior to your turn. This will bring your corn tally up to 3, but will anger the Gods! The price you pay is a demotion in a temple of your choice (temples bring resources and VIPs at various points in the game). In Palenque, you can also anger the Gods if you find corn is not available yet so burn forests to get to it. Again, the same penalty befalls you! Woe be to anyone angering those deities!

The Gears
What about the gears then? Well, they aren’t just a gimmick – they are an integral part of the game. After each player has a turn, the day ends and a new one begins. The wheels of time turn, quite literally. One ‘click’ of the larger central cog sees the dawning of a new day.

Each worker already on a cog thus find themselves one more spot further than they were. This is usually to a more lucrative space and at no additional cost. Be warned though: spend too long on a cog and a worker may get bumped off and will have wasted many days’ worth of work! Timing is therefore very important. Jump off too early and only minimal rewards are gained. Leave it too long and others are progressing in the meantime and you run the risk of falling off; however, the rewards can be large.

With this, a new round starts. If no-one took the 0 start player action space then the current player begins the new round. However, if any player did use that action, then they begin the round (unless they already held the token – in this instance it passes to the next player). They also take any accumulated corn which builds up on days where no-one took that action. Finally, they have the chance to speed up time and progress two days instead of one, provided they haven’t done so already.

Feeding Days
Each quarter-turn of the cog results in a feeding day. You must pay 2 corn for each worker in play (initially 3 but max of 6). There are buildings which can help, but if you can’t feed a worker it’s three VIPs down the track for each.

There are benefits on feeding day too though. At 1/4 and 3/4 stages you receive resources printed on various steps up each temple in which you’ve progressed. At the halfway and end of game, instead you receive VIPs based on where you’re placed in each temple, with a bonus for those highest up the top.

I won’t go into the benefits of each of the buildings or monuments here. But, like the cards in Stone Age, some bring instant VIPs, resources or upgrades; whereas others are for end-game benefits such as most brown buildings built. Also, one half-turn of the wheel is considered Age 1, and the second half is Age 2. Any buildings left from the first age get replaced with new buildings in the second age.

Game end
The game ends at the end of one full revolution of the central cog (ie after 4 food days). Temple scoring occurs as described before. Any leftover resources are converted to corn and 4 corn equate to one VIP. Crystal skulls can also be converted at 3 VIPs each. Finally, monument points are calculated and the winner determined.


Game Play

I took part in a four player game at the Pasteboard and Plastic convention in Saltdean, UK, on Saturday 10th November. With none of us having played before, the rules took some going through before we were ready to begin.

We each took our 4 starting tiles and then the resources printed upon the two we liked the most. Some of us had a lot of corn whereas others had other benefits like starting technologies. Being the first game we weren’t sure what to go for really!

The game itself flowed very nicely. There was the usual conundrum of which of the many options to do for the best. Do you put all workers out? Some? Do you take them all back? Some? Do you go for resources for building, or for technology to help in the long-game?
Then, at the heart of it all, we have this cog which means that workers placed can gain better rewards, but what to do in the meantime? After all, you have to take something off or put something on, so they can’t just all ride along to greater things!

There appeared to be a bit of scope for AP, but it was more other distractions such as a prize raffle, rules lookup, loo breaks and essential coffee refills which slowed things down! I don’t suggest that 90 minutes is unachievable at all, but the game did last longer for our first turn. However, for me, it was all great fun and I am already looking forward to my next game.

With many options, random buildings/monuments/starting tiles, along with the fun factor, there is great scope for replayability. For me, the novelty of the dying characters in Village wore off pretty quick and I traded the game, whereas at the moment, I can see this being a game which stays firmly in the collection for a good few years, if not ever!

Points of note

1) Our Czech Games Edition pre-ordered Essen version came with a sticker on the front advising that a slight adjustment needs to be made to the board. In the haste of unwrapping and putting it together, the excitement meant we applied stickers to the cogs. This meant we couldn’t make the adjustments to the cog holes as the website referred to suggested. We are finding our cogs stick a little at times, but do think they will ease up over time, so are not overly worried.
2) 2/3 player games. These see the non-played workers placed on the board as ‘blockers’ – although I have yet to play a two-player, I’m sure this will work well. I will post back to let you all know!


leider / malheureusement / desafortunadamente

8 11 2012

This post is a brief Unfortunate-fortunate-unfortunate sandwich.

1) Unfortunately, due to late work, etc, we couldn’t make our regular Thursday boardgame evening with the Saltdean/Seaford group ūüė¶

2) Fortunately, my wife suggested a game of something to keep us going! We decided on Ted Alspach’s Suburbia. Yippee!

3) Unfortunately, she won by a massive score! I think I know where I went wrong but will post details of the session soon.

Ps: it feels like a great game and fits 2 players very well! But, like I say, more soon!


The Climbers: Mount Everest or Mariana Trench?

6 11 2012

The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5 players
Duration: 45 minutes

The Climbers

Die Aufsteiger aka The Climbers – Box

Die Aufsteiger, or The Climbers, is an abstract game by Holger Lanz which sees you trying to make your meeple reach the highest point, or if equal in height, then to have made it there first.This is a three-dimensional game made entirely of wooden pieces. Yes, even your meeples are wooden! The box contains a large variety of blocks of different sizes, as well as large and small ladders for each player. Each block has six faces, each coloured differently to match player colour (with one side left grey to represent a wildcard colour). Opposite faces will always be consistent (e.g. Blue on the other side of light-blue).

You begin the game by finding the two large grey pieces and align them vertically on the table. The remaining¬†blocks are placed randomly around these¬†structures until no parts of the two towers¬†are visible. When I say randomly, there are – of course – building rules to adhere to. For example, no gaps underneath blocks.¬†It is at this point that player order is randomly selected and meeples/ladders distributed. Oh dear, you didn’t get your favourite colour? Never mind, it may be to your benefit! You see, those random blocks you’ve all just laid out form the basis of the ‘mountain’ upon which your little meeples will begin their adventure skywards.

The Climbers box contents

The Climbers box contents

Put simply, they are only allowed to step upon matching coloured faces¬†of face-up blocks, or the grey wildcard faces). There is no rule as to how high a meeple can move up – or down – in a player’s turn, but you can’t climb an adjacent block if your meeple is shorter than it.

Hmm – there are only a select quantity of the blocks which your meeple can climb onto as the others are two large. So what do you do? Well, firstly, on your turn you can move a block (as long as the previous player didn’t move it directly before you). This allows placement or removal of a block to help you on your way. Or indeed, you might already have a path upwards, in which case, you might decide to move a block to hinder an opponent, such as to make a potentially reachable area – unreachable. You may just wish to rotate a block instead so that the upwards colour is prefential. All would be legal as long as you stick to the (few) building rules (not all mentioned here).

You also have the option to use your ladders, for those hard-to-reach locations. As long as your ladder starts on a legal colour for your meeple, and ends on similar, then you can climb higher than usual. Be careful though, as these are one-time use only! You have one short and one long ladder.

There is one other nasty trick up the sleeve Рthe blocking stones! Again, these are one-time  use only and each player has one. By placing one of these instead of moving a block as step one of your turn, you prevent a player from using/moving that block for the duration of that round (until it is your turn once again).

Game in progress

A game of The Climbers in progress. Blue is looking good!

Playing the game
So, how does it play? We’ve played this once as a 2 player and a couple of times as a 4. There is no real difference in rules at all. Each game has been entertaining and has gone down well with the players concerned. As the initial tower is built randomly and then colours chosen, no player can complain of bias or accused of stacking the sides up in their favour.

In the same way as 3D Blokus needs it, we felt like the games we played¬†could have benefited from the use of a ‘lazy Susan’ in order for players to be able to see around the entirety of the structure. As it was, players find themselves manoeuvering around the table and peeking over the top to see what the optimal move is. That’s not to say the producers should supply one, it would just have been good if we had one to hand!

In the most recent game, two players were quite clearly in front and the result seemed clearcut. However, I still had my ladders and blocking stone and was able to use these to good effect to claim the victory! Equally, in another game, I started slowly and paid dearly for it. So it seems like there could be multiple ways back into (or out of) the game.

With all the different options to move/place blocks, there is plenty of scope for some slow turns. However,¬†this didn’t seem to matter or¬†occur with¬†us too much and the game flowed very well.

All in all it is a fun gaming experience. There’s enough there to give the thinkers of the group enough to get along with, but also enough for the doers to get stuck into too. I don’t think it’ll be the sort of game you’ll play repeatedly of an evening, as one play seems ‘enough’, but we can see this one making it to the table when we fancy something a little different

The Climbers Demonstration

The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger being demonstrated

Tokaido: A walk on the gentle side

3 11 2012

Age: 8+
Players: 2-5 players
Duration: 45 minutes

The man behind boardgaming hits such as 7 Wonders and Ghost Stories, Antoine Bauza, revealed a much more genteel game at Essen 2012: Tokaido.
This game was high on the ‘want’ list for many Essen-goers and I’m sure the gloriously beautiful artwork by French artist Na√Įade played a keen part in this.

The game sees 2-5 players embarking on the ancient journey to Edo and are trying to make this as pleasurable a journey as can be. They do this by virtue of making various ‘stops’ along the way. This can be to sample hot springs, to make donations at local temples, to sample the wonderful panoramic views, eat tasty meals at the many inns, buy souvenirs or simply have encounters which bring a variety of benefits. These benefits bring either VIPs, coins and/or can contribute to bonus VIPs at game end.

Beautiful board/art/pieces

One of the game’s strengths is the turn order mechanism. There is no ‘follow clockwise around the table’ to be found. Quite simply, the player who is furthest back on the path to Edo is the player whose turn is next. This brings us to the next mechanic of how far along the road a player may move. Again, in a twist, a player can move as far along the road they want (at least until the next inn).

Rushing ahead has a variety of benefits, such as enabling players to have the best pick of the options available on that section of the road, and can guarantee a spot rather than get blocked out. Reaching the inn first also gives access to the widest choice of meals. However, the player who jumps ahead will miss out on many of the other delights to be had. Also, the mechanics mentioned previously will result in the players further behind being able to mop up everything that was left behind. If these players are quite far back then it will be quite a wait until that player gets another turn. So there’s a balance to be had. Does slow and steady win the race, or does he who snooze, lose?

Each player also has a choice of two characters at the start of the game who offer a special ability to that player only, such as discounted meals or souvenirs.

Game artist Na√Įade illustrating copies of the box at Essen Spiel 2012

Player interaction isn’t high in this game. Other than blocking spaces you can see your opponents may want, or reaching spaces before they do in order to claim bonuses, there are no attacking options to harm other players. However, the game doesn’t set itself out to be that type of game. It is all about the journey.

For gamers who are after ‘meat’ they will find this game doesn’t have it. Everything is light, gentle and you won’t find yourself spending ages deliberating your next move. The game’s age range and playing time recommendations back this up (8+ and 45minutes respectively).

We have played this 4 times now: once as a 2-player, twice as a 4-player and once as a 5-player. In the 2-player game you play with an Alhambra-esque ‘Dirk’-type 3rd player who is controlled by the player farthest along the road. We didn’t find this worked badly at all.
In each of the games, one of the concerns has been that there wasn’t much of an urge to forge ahead and skip places, so most players felt that choosing the next space (or 2) ahead of them was the only viable option to take. Which in fact, felt like it amounted to a lack of choice. Many found the bonus values in each area (3pts) were not significant enough to encourage them to skip ahead to complete panoramas, etc. Out of the many players, one said that they never wanted to play again, but in contrast, there were others who were very much looking forward to doing so.

All that being said, there is no doubt to the appeal of the game. In Essen, the game had many many pre-orders and sold out during the show. We found that there was always a large gathering at the FunForge stand, and indeed, back at the hotel after the show, we had plenty of people show an interest when we were playing.

For me, it is a game I will definitely keep as I had fun playing it and I think it shows off the hobby in a good light. I believe it will be one of the gateway games I will turn to to help introduce new people to the world of non-mainstream games.

If ever the world runs out of Enigma songs, joss sticks or herbal oils, there’s always Tokaido to turn to for some gentle relaxation!

Game in play

3 11 2012

Interesting read from a game designer who attended Essen Spiel 2012.

The Opinionated Gamers

‚ÄěMost of the public doesn‚Äôt know the other side of Essen,‚Äú reflected Michael as he, Bernd and I compared our own conversations with those we‚Äôd had with other fair attendees.¬† Bernd was managing his Irongames booth again, content to sell remaining stock of his previous releases along with some new expansions for those games.¬† Michael was collecting games from publishers for the library at his Spielwiese gaming cafe.¬† And I was rolling¬† my carry-on suitcase full of prototypes through the crowds from one appointment with publishers to the other.

There really are two sides to the fair, and it is difficult to experience each one equally.  Last year was my first time here, and I chose to see it from the perspective of an attendee.  I had a great time bumping into well-known game designers, meeting many gaming jounalists and bloggers for the first time, and seeing friends from other…

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