liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
[personal profile] liv
[livejournal.com profile] ghoti wanted to hear about a game you like.

I haven't been gaming as much as I'd like in the past couple of years; even now [personal profile] jack and I have a fairly decent games collection we haven't had a whole lot of time to play. Also when I started trying to fit regular exercise into my life, something had to give and it ended up being attending the local gaming group. And the person (other than Jack) I used to game with most often, [personal profile] mathcathy, moved away from the area, so all in all I'm a bit short on gaming lately. I have managed to make it to [livejournal.com profile] alextfish and [livejournal.com profile] woodpijn's gaming night a couple of times, including their managing to teach me Pandemic before I had to play it in public at Worldcon. But generally I haven't been discovering a lot of new games recently.

When I do have time and people available, I'm defaulting to playing bridge, because there's very little to match it in terms of scope for improving skills within a fairly simple, self-contained game and one that's already known to most people who want to play. So I haven't come across any new game I like as much as I like Dominion and Agricola. Dominion ranks very highly as a fairly quick game that's mostly tactical, where you're making decisions about each play, it's almost pure skill with minimal luck, but they're fairly simple decisions and you don't have to think very hard, and with two players who know what they're doing the whole game takes only a little over half an hour. Whereas Agricola is very much my favourite seriously strategic German-style game, I know that lots of serious gamers are over it by now, and it's fashionable to mock it because the flavour is kind of absurdly boring, it's simulating being a subsistence level farmer(!) But I love how thinky it is and how each game is different, even though it has the downside of needing a whole evening and fellow-players who are interested in concentrating for that long.

[personal profile] jack's Dad taught me to play crib over the summer, and I'm enjoying that a lot. It plays nicely as a casual / social game that doesn't take very long, and it's quite exciting. I think the balance between luck and skill isn't perfect, though, it's probably more of a gambling game than a tactical game.

I've also been playing a lot on Yucata, and I'm using it as a way to discover new games I might consider buying. At the moment I'm really liking Targi and Speicherstadt.

Targi is a nice little two-player game, it's one of the few I've seen that have the German games semi-abstract strategy with flavour, which is actively designed for two players. The way it does this is that claiming actions in the placement phase restricts which actions the opponent can play. And it's generally nicely balanced, partly with a slight kludge where hoarding resources is straight-up banned, but mostly you have just barely enough resources such that if you make a tactical mistake there's no margin, you are just screwed. But only on that particular turn, the anti-hoarding rules make it very unlikely for one player to be absolutely miles ahead so that the trailing player doesn't have a chance. I've found that just about every game I've played is close. What puts me off buying it for myself is that I think it has somewhat limited replayability; there's kind of only one strategy really.

And Speicherstadt is a fairly classic auction / trading game. The thing I like about it is that it has a really cool auction mechanic, namely that you stack your meeples on the cards you want to buy. The lowest, ie first placed, meeple in the stack has the first opportunity to buy the card, but the cost is then the total number of meeples in the stack. So there's quite a big question of timing for when you use an action to place your bid in the auction phase. And of course since making a bid requires a single-use meeple you're very strictly limited in how many bids you can make in each round. I like the base game a lot, I feel like the expansions kind of add complexity without really making the strategy more interesting, things like introducing rather arbitrary asymmetries between the different types of goods available.

Anyway, let me tell you about an actual game that I like: backgammon. I read about people playing in Jane Austen novels when I was a teenager, and then tried to figure out the rules from a children's encyclopaedia. (This wasn't actually pre-internet, but it was before we had internet access at home or the knowledge of how to use the internet to find out the rules of a game.) And knowing the rules but not the strategy it ends up being basically a bit like ludo, more interesting that ludo itself because you actually make decisions about how to use your dice rolls, it's not pure chance, but not a whole lot more.

Then I spent time in Israel, and Israelis were impressed to find an English person who knew the game, they call it sheshbesh, a corruption of shesh v'chamesh, six and five, considered to be the best starting roll. The Israeli version doesn't have the rule that you can only have five men on a single spike, which makes 6+5 a whole lot more useful than it would be in the English game. I mean, you don't get more English than picking up a game from Jane Austen, but apparently in the 20th century it's surprising for English kids to do that. And in Israel, sheshbesh is a seriously cut-throat game, Israelis taught me how to play strategically and prioritize screwing over your opponent over just racing, but at the same time the etiquette is to play fast, you don't spend hours thinking over each move, so you have to get the strategy down to a fairly reflex level.

Plus how to use the doubling die; I hadn't bothered with it because I assumed it was only useful if you wanted to bet money on the outcome of games, but actually it adds a whole new layer of strategy. With the doubling die, and playing several games in a row and keeping score to balance out the effects of pure chance, it becomes an almost pure skill game, in spite of being dice-based. You are basically calculating probabilities to work out the exact moment when you're close to twice as likely to win as not, with your opponent of course doing the same, and picking the right moment to double or fold makes the whole thing far more interesting.

And the skill I picked up over two summers in Israel turned out to be very useful when I went to university, because there weren't that many people who had played backgammon at all before coming up which meant that anyone with competitive experience at all was in demand. I joined the backgammon club and improved my game further by playing against seriously bright people whose instincts for strategy and probability soon far outstripped my more extensive experience. But I did end up playing in the Varsity competition once, fairly low down in the hierarchy but theoretically among the top few dozen players at Oxford, which means I technically have a quarter-Blue for backgammon, though I never formally claimed it since quarter-Blues are kind of useless for anything other than bragging rights. (For people who aren't used to Oxbridge eccentricities, a Blue means you have represented the university at a traditional sport and gives you quite a lot of ceremonial rights and I think some financial benefit, a half-Blue means you have represented the university at a lesser sport, and a quarter-Blue means you have represented the university at something random like backgammon.)

[December Days masterpost]

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 04:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] woodpijn.livejournal.com
Yay Agricola. I and many other GamesEvening regulars really like it and are not "over it".

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] woodpijn.livejournal.com
Yes (we have it nearly every Monday, just not the 22nd). Are you on the mailing list?
Yay, we'd love to see you, and hopefully play Agricola with you :)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 04:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Ooh, cool. The only ones of those games I have played are Backgammon and Bridge, both of which I'd like to play more. I have mostly played backgammon online at itsyourturn.com, I should do that some more.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 04:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Oh, and Pandemic, which ! played at WorldCon for the first time and we bought our own copy on returning, it's a great family game.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 05:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Yes, exactly. It's never going to be my favourite game, but I'm always eager for more games that Judith and Benedict both like.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
I don't mind at all! But asking you for something that long and detailed would have felt greedy :)

Thanks for the rec, I'll check it out. I would need a bit of handholding for backgammon as it's a while since I've played - but if that doesn't bother you, I'd love ot play with you. And definitely more bridge as between us we have 5 bridge players and someone needs to vaguely mind the children, which adds up to me.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-19 11:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Signed up for Yucata, usual username.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-21 02:36 am (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
Yucata> I totally don't have time for this at the moment, what with the masters an' all, but in a year's time when I ask you what was that website you were taling about, it will be this one.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 10:09 pm (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
I'd like to learn how to play backgammon. My ex-housemate Keith used to play it a fair bit, but I never got around to learning how to play it, just being amused at his cutthroat banter with his sister.

(also I wrote an Iron Man fanfic once entirely about people playing backgammon and everything I knew about the game came off wikipedia)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-18 10:31 pm (UTC)
lovingboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovingboth
Oh, Backgammon is almost perfect as a game. The addition of the cube makes it even better - quicker, because a double will cause the game to end then.

There is no rule prohibiting having more than five men on a point here, and anyone who thinks there is probably sticks fines etc on the Free Parking space for the next to land there when playing Monopoly. You can find cheap sets that have it as a rule, but they usually get other things wrong too.

Given that 6+5 isn't the best starting roll - just a good one - I'm tempted to start playing Israelis for money :)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-19 03:46 pm (UTC)
cxcvi: Red cubes, sitting on a reflective surface, with a white background (Default)
From: [personal profile] cxcvi
There is no rule prohibiting having more than five men on a point here

This seems to be a popularly held misconception. Came here to say this as well.

Given that 6+5 isn't the best starting roll - just a good one - I'm tempted to start playing Israelis for money

I'd love to hear what Liv does with an opening roll of 64 or 51...

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-19 06:16 pm (UTC)
vatine: Generated with some CL code and a hand-designed blackletter font (Default)
From: [personal profile] vatine
Backgammon sets are not uncommon as loaner games in pubs in Stockholm (well, it wasn't, when I still lived there and occasionally played with friends). We usually played to 20 points, using the doubling dice and I normally tried to carefully balance "keep safe", "race to the end" and "screw over my opponent". I can't say I recall how frequently I won, but I do recall that it really REALLy helps if your opponent is plied with rounds while playing...

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-19 10:07 pm (UTC)
khalinche: (Default)
From: [personal profile] khalinche
I really enjoy playing backgammon and would love to play it with you.

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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