Posts tagged ‘board games’

Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games Offers an Interview

We have been a little slow to edit and post our interviews. We have a few of them in the pipeline. We got a chance to speak with Jay Tummelson, the owner of Rio Grande Games. His game publishing company is responsible for most of the great European Family Strategy Games that make their way over to the US. Rio Grande Games is a consistant winner of the Spiel Des Jahres award (German Game of the Year).

Some of his stand-out games include:

  • Carcassonne
  • Puerto Rico
  • Dominion
  • Stone Age
  • Race For The Galaxy
  • Power Grid
  • Lost Cities
  • Thurn & Taxis
  • Zooloretto
  • Galaxy Trucker

That list goes on and on. If you want to learn a few strategy tips and see what makes Jay and Rio Grande tick, give this set of interviews a listen.

In this one, he speaks to us about the popularity of Dominion and how Dominion: Intrigue works with it.

In this portion of the interview, he talks about his take on what Rio Grande Games and Strategy Games are all about and why his company enjoys making them. He also talks about his philosophy on why allowing people to demo his games is important to him.

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November 2, 2009 at 4:10 am 1 comment

Working With World-Class Customer Service

What’s more valuable to you? Price or service? Would you pay a few more bucks for the same product if you knew it was backed by quality service?

We had an experience recently that spotlighted the benefits of working with a high-quality company that believes in customer service and in the end, doing what was right for the customer.

Here is what happened.

In late June, we had a customer pick up our Arkham Horror bundle – almost $200 in games. This is not a small order. They get the package and showed their game group – the game group says “not interested – don’t like the theme”.  So, this customer calls me up and tells me this story. He starts asking me about a series of other games he wants to get and that he is going to trade or sell off the Arkham bundle. I told him to send it back to us and we would provide him the 125% money back guarantee.  The experience of gaming is what we sell, and I wanted him to have a positive gaming experience. The games had not even been opened, so I assumed I could just restock them into inventory. They are popular enough that I was not concerned.

So, he ships them back to us – but he shipped them to Amazon because some of the products in the bundle were originally shipped to him from there, while the rest was shipped from a supplier – rather than shipping them back to our posted address.

I was unaware this had occured, until it had already happened and Amazon had received the package. Mind you, we had already sent him replacement games. So, we were out the Arkham bundle, the replacement games, AND the multiple shipping costs – this was to the tune of about $400 now.

Amazon was confused and considered it a “problem package” and tossed it to the side – possibly never to be seen again.

I went back and forth with Support to see what we could do. No dice. Just the runaround.

We finally got a supervisor involved. Immediately they waved the Terms of Service at me and said it was shipped incorrectly and they were not responsible for any of the package – even though some of the games in the package originally shipped from them. They also claimed it was impossible to find the box – but the box had my name on it and my business name on it. We even had tracking numbers to work from. The fact was that if Amazon did the “right thing” rather than what the Terms of Service said, they were certainly not going to take a ding on the bottom line. But, it vastly affected MY bottom line.

Essentially I told the supervisor that his company needed to step up and do the right thing – refund the cost of the lost products, find the box and put those games back into my inventory so they could be  resold, or ship the box to me and let me ship them back to Amazon correctly so they can go into inventory. Blah blah blah and it seemed like they might be destined to let this just go away – even though we were only talking about $146.00, as compared to some of their larger customers.

Last week (now September), I got an e-mail from them saying they were going to credit my account for the games. Then, this week, I see $146 credited to my account at Amazon.

NICE JOB AMAZON! TWO THUMBS UP FOR TAKING CARE OF YOUR CUSTOMER (no matter what the Terms of Service says). They treated me correctly!

I point this out becasue it is important which retailers you choose to buy from and unfortunately you don’t always know the good ones until you have a problem. That is whenthey shine or it fall on their face – when you actually care.

This is why we work with Amazon. They are the best at being an alternate sales channel and at fullfilment of customer’s orders. Are they the easiest to work with? No, there is a lot of labor that goes into shipping the games up to them. But, when we needed them, they were there.

Best Dang Games could be like the other companies. We could just put a picture of a box up on the site and sell it. You receive the package and everyone’s happy. But that’s not what we do. We sell the experience of the gaming hobby and introduce  you to the community. When we actually interact with you, as a customer, we do our best to remember you – especially if you are a returning customer.

We typically offer more information about the games you are buying, we offer you videos that show you how the game works, we provide player aids and links to the online rules, if they are available. We offer this blog you are reading and we offer news and updates via Twitter. 

We do this because you are buying more than a box. You are buying an advocate and a partner that wants to see you enjoy EVERY game you get from us. That’s why we don’t have the massive catalog of games other stores promote. We carry the BEST games. We have played most of the games we promote on our site.   We have turned away games from the site because we did not believe they qualified as a “best dang game”. This helps you sift through the mass of games that are available and allows you to focus your purchasing dollars on the good stuff. You don’t have to TRY something and if you don’t like it, trade it off. Technically, you don’t even have to do a ton of time-consuming research to compare this game to that game. We’ve done that for you. Our catalog is a “best of breed” catalog.

We have actually had people say “What’s wrong? You can’t compete on price, so you throw out the “quality service” tag line!”. I am sorry, but I think these people have missed the boat. Sure, WalMart may have the best prices, but when it comes to service, Costco has them beat – and people pay a membership to shop there.

The fact is this: Every online board game retailer is selling the same boxes. They are not all selling the same experience. What experience do you want?

Best Dang Games beleives we are giving you the best service and shopping experience available in the hobby gaming market and we hope you agree that service and caring about you, our customers, is more important to you than $1.00 or $3.00 on a game.

If you have had any experiences with us or other retailers that spotlight what we are saying (positive or negative) share them with everyone here as a comment on this article. We would love to see if we are off base on this or if more companies need to care about their customers first.

September 18, 2009 at 3:09 am 2 comments

Luck in Board Games: How Much Should There Be?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

–Seneca

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

–Thomas Jefferson

Most board games contain a combination of skill and luck, and this is no accident. Without some element of skill, some ability for players to influence the outcome of the game, there would be no need for players at all. The children’s game, Candyland, works exactly the same regardless of who is playing, because the players are irrelevant: They have absolutely no volition or ability to affect the game.

Without some luck, however, many games would lose a lot of their replayability. Even a small element of randomness can change a game from something where there is a single best strategy all the time, into a dynamic game where players must constantly adapt their strategies to the random circumstances of each particular play session.

Naturally, each person has their own sweet spot for combinations of luck and skill in a game. Some gamers dislike luck and randomness because they feel it dilutes the pure match of minds that a luckless strategy game offers. Other gamers don’t like thinking about infinite complex strategies, and enjoy games that offer something random and fun every time. Personally, I tend to feel that the longer a game is, the less randomness I want it to have.

There’s no right answer. The real question to ask is, how much luck do *you* want? Here are some games that span the full luck axis:

No Luck

Generally speaking, abstract strategy games have no luck. This makes them ideal for people who hate the idea of random chance affecting their game, and like to play the same game many times in order to master it. Chess is obviously the best example of this, and has players who have played literally thousands of games.

However, in any multi-player game, such as a four-player game of Blokus, there can be a sense of randomness based on what pieces your opponents place. There’s no real luck involved, since everything is pure strategic choice, but the seeming randomness can keep the game feeling new each time.

Slight Luck

Most eurogames have a slight degree of luck and randomness. Ideally, this should be an amount sufficient to force players to adapt their strategies to each instance of the game, but not so much luck that an obviously inferior strategy can result in victory. A great example of this is Puerto Rico, where the single random element is the stock of available plantations. This is only a tiny part of the game, but players must consider it carefully when planning their strategies.

Medium Luck

Medium luck games often seem to be high luck games, until you realize that the luck always seems to favor the same players. Re-read the quotes at the top of the article – they apply especially to medium-luck games. Kingsburg and BattleLore may both have you rolling dice every turn, but it’s the strategic use of these dice, and positioning before rolling these dice, that often carries the day. Yes, a long series of bad rolls can lose the game for even the best player, but more often than not, a superior strategy will lead to victory. In a medium-luck game, smart play often means setting yourself up so that most rolls would still benefit you.

High Luck

Generally speaking, high luck games tend to be fairly quick. Consequently, they make good fillers when people are too mentally tired to play a low-luck game that requires lots of strategic thinking. Fluxx is a good example of a high luck game, where the random draw of a new goal card can swiftly change which player is likely to win, regardless of strategic play up to that point.

Entirely Luck

No games worth playing are entirely luck. A few kids’ games like Life and Candyland fall in this category, but give your kids some credit and try a game that gives them some volition. They’ll learn more, and probably enjoy it more too.

July 21, 2009 at 2:10 am 1 comment

Factors of Gaming

Author: J. Alexander (tankexmortis@gmail.com)

Recently I’ve become aware of a sinister subculture of individuals, each one intelligent, tactically-minded, and bent on global domination.

Okay, I’m a liar. They’re not sinister, for one; and they’re not so much after global domination as global acknowledgement. I’m sure they’d take domination if they could get it, though.

I’m speaking of people who, in this modern age of cell phones, internets, and video games so advanced they have entire economies of their own, still play board games. Yes, board games are still being developed, and they’ve been advancing just the same as any other form of entertainment. These boardgamers laugh at such tripe as Monopoly or Risk; those games are ancient in their eyes. Our eyes, I should say, because I’ve fallen into the world of boardgaming as well, and fallen hard.

It started innocently, with a few luck based card games. Soon, I was standing around the local comic shop, browsing their selection of small-print games. I picked one up. Then, another. I discovered the gigantic online community. I discovered the local game groups, and started attending their meetings. I expanded my collection with the help of online stores like Best Dang Games. Then, I expanded it some more. Then, more. I set up my own game group so I could introduce my friends to the games I found myself accumulating. To put it mildly, I was hooked.

So what is it that’s so appealing about board games in a digital age? It’s hard to pin down. There’s the fantasy factor – the same thing that makes Dungeons and Dragons still sell after all these years is part of what makes dungeon-crawling games, like Descent fun. Raiding dungeons for loot and fighting terrifying monsters is escapism at its finest.

There’s also the brain factor. A lot of these games are intellectually stimulating in the extreme. Ask one of the hundreds of people who have dedicated their lives to mastering the ancient Japanese game of Go – there’s a unique joy to exercising and stretching one’s brain in new and exciting ways. Board games offer that in spades.

There’s the social factor. Board games are intrinsically social – sure, you could play against yourself, but you’d always rather have a real opponent. Someone to judge yourself against, someone to congratulate you when you do well, someone to tease you when you do poorly, and someone for you to do the same. For many people, this is the most important factor.

So what is it for me? It’s a mixture of these factors, as I suspect it is for everyone. While everyone enjoys different games for different reasons, we all play, and we all have fun. And that’s the most important factor.

July 21, 2009 at 1:55 am Leave a comment

What Genre Gamer Are You?

You may like action movies, or romances, or documentaries, or comedies, but very few people would say that they don’t enjoy movies at all. Games are the same way; some people enjoy big Ameri-war games with lots of dice rolling like Risk, while others may prefer a party game like Apples to Apples, but most people will enjoy at least one or two genres of game, and often more.

So the question is: What do you like?

I Like Strategy!

Many players come to a board game looking to exercise their minds. If you want to out-plan, out-think, and outwit your opponents with a superior strategy, you’re not alone. While children’s board games tend to have a lot of luck, many of the world’s most popular adult board games minimize randomness and focus on strategic planning and decision-making. If you like strategy, you might be a(n):

Abstract Gamer

Perhaps the purest form of strategic board game, abstract games tend to have little or no theme. They also tend to have little or no luck, which means that they end up as a pure contest of mental powers between you and your opponents. Generally speaking, there are pieces, a board, and you move them around following the rules until you win. Classic games like Chess fall into this category, but newcomers may be hard-pressed to enjoy a game of Chess against someone who has played hundreds of times. There are many newer abstract strategy games such as Blokus which can accommodate 2-4 players, and allow for players to explore the game together.

Euro-Gamer

More complex and themed strategic board games have become more popular in the past few decades, with a huge influx in Euro-style games spawned by the success of Settlers of Catan. Although Settlers itself uses dice, most Euro-style games do not. They tend to have a very small amount of randomness, but like Settlers, offer a wide variety of choices every turn, often with a final goal of accumulating victory points in various ways. Most Euro-games also have multiple mechanics in play at once, such as resource management, worker placement, bidding, tech trees, or role selection. The combination of innovative rules often leads to a wide array of possible strategies and multiple paths to victory, allowing each player to follow her own approach and still have a decent shot at winning. The two top-ranked board games in the world on BoardGameGeek currently both fall into this category: Agricola and Puerto Rico. Both are shining examples of what make this genre great.

I Like Fighting!

Fighting in real life may not be so fun, but in the realm of fantasy, many people find it entertaining. For the same reason that action movies always have combat and young boys often pretend to be in a heroic fight, many players come to their games looking to have their characters go out and win some battles. If this describes you, you might be a(n):

War Gamer

War games are just what they sound like: Two or more players commanding opposing armies attempting to defeat each other, generally by killing enemy soldiers. If this sounds violent, remember that Chess could be described the same way. War games tend to feature a large map, large numbers of army units that move around on this map, and you roll dice to determine successful attacks. A few of the hardcore “war games” are incredibly detailed affairs, with lots of miniatures, 3-D terrain, and measuring lines of sight. But many war games (also known as “Ameri-games”) are much more accessible. Most people are familiar with Risk or Axis and Allies, but newer war games like BattleLore offer a deeper strategy.

Adventure Gamer

Adventure games often play like a fantasy epic. If you don’t mind spending a few hours on a single game, adventure games let you become the hero of your own little story. You’ll likely be exploring a large map, upgrading your character, acquiring items, completing quests, and participating in a grand adventure. Arkham Horror , World of Warcraft, or Descent are popular examples of the genre, with many rules and pieces, but many die-hard fans as well.

I Like Hanging Out!

Not everyone wants to spend a whole evening playing board games. You might view them as a fun way to kill time before the movie, or just an excuse to spend time with your friends. And that’s a fine use for board games! You might be a:

Light Gamer

Light games are great when you want a game to fill the time before your evening’s next big event. Light games should have simple rules, and be playable in less than a half-hour. Some old games like Yahtzee would qualify as a light game. But light games don’t have to mean no strategy; there are plenty of highly-strategic light games that are still simple and fast, such as Lost Cities. If you like light games, look for the estimated play-time.

Party Gamer

Who wins? Who cares! In party games, the point of the game is just to enjoy hanging out with your friends. Charades is probably the most classic party game, and requires no special equipment. If you’re looking for more entertaining games to get your guests laughing without overly heavy competition, you may want party games like Apples to Apples.

May 24, 2009 at 2:40 am Leave a comment

Board Game Expansions – A Breath of Fresh Air

Author – Piper Kilpatrick

I have had several of my friends ask me why they should spend money on expansions that are produced for various board and card games. They suggest that if games required expansions then they weren’t that good to begin with. They also complain that expansions are just excuses for the publishers of the game to charge us more money for the same game.

I take the time to suggest to these people that they are incorrect on both accounts.

Remove Strategic Advantages

Firstly, there have been games when played so many times by so many people have exposed certain types of strategy or certain rules that allow for a specific advantage that is not obvious to the casual player who has only played a few times, but is exposed by high level players that have played many times. Expansions solve this issue cheaply by addressing an issue with the games design while at the same time providing a new way of approaching the game in general. Thus both the casual player and the advanced player are both given a benefit. The casual gamer simply has a new way to play while the advanced player is provided an entirely new system to learn.

Breathe New Life Into A Favorite

This is not the reason expansions are produced for the vast majority of games however. Most games are given an expansion as they grow in popularity. Games that have been around for a while and have become favorites with many players and can begin to feel stale. Players generally play most of the time with the same people, so the game frequently begins to feel the same each time it is played. An expansion provides the players a way to breathe fresh life into the game for a small financial demand rather than requiring the players to purchase a totally new game for a new gaming experience.

New Experience – Similar Rules

An expansion also allows the players to gain a new gaming experience without having to take the time to learn a totally new set of rules. Expansions by and large are simply tweaks to the base rule set of the game, thus allowing for players to spend more time playing and less time reading.

Lastly, most expansions are not developed at the initial production of the basic game. Usually collectable games are the only ones where expansions are developed at the same time the base game is.

Expansions are meant to provide gamers with a new gaming experience for an established game. This allows the gamer a cheap way to breathe new life into a game that might be gathering some dust.

For example, my wife and I have played Carcassonne for three years now. The game continues to bring great excitement every time we play it not only because the game is well designed and is the type of game that provides a different experience each time it’s played, but because many expansions have been produced for the game that allow us to change the way the game feels very quickly with very minimal financial requirement. Several expansions retail for just a few dollars, but when added to the game, it changes our strategy completely. If either of us fails to adapt to the new requirements the expansion places on the game then that person is guaranteed a loss. Each expansion only required three to five minutes of rule learning, but added months to the games enjoyment because we were able to bring a game back to the table that had begun to feel the same each time we played because we each have a style of play that comes out when we play.

Cheap and Inexpensive Entertainment is GOOD!

Expansions provide gamers a cheap way to breathe new life into games that are just collecting dust, and in this time of economic upheaval a cheap way to bring joy to your home is always a good thing!

What is your favorite core and expansion set? Let everyone know, so they invest wisely!

Here’s some of the bigger expandable games: Carcassonne, Catan, Zombies!!!, Munchkin, Killer Bunnies, and others….

April 16, 2009 at 2:34 am Leave a comment

Orlando-based D&D Co-Creator Dies at 61

Originally printed on Twincities.com

Dave Arneson — who in 1974 co-created Dungeons & Dragons, the best-known and best-selling role-playing game of all time — molded fantasy in such a way that many lament him as the “unsung hero” of the gaming industry.

After a falling-out with late DD co-creator Gary Gygax and the company that published their work, Arneson went on to other careers: co-founding two other companies, moving to teaching — and finally, after being diagnosed with cancer, returning to St. Paul, where he died Tuesday at the age of 61.

The creative process began in the early 1970s on a ping-pong table in the basement of his parents’ Highland Park home. There, a core group of 10 or so high-school and college-age kids developed their own mental playground, taking board games and first altering the rules, then creating their own.

Arneson was the first to introduce the group to a fantasy setting, telling his friends to imagine that he had disappeared on a flight from Norway to the United States, returning from a family visit. The friends play-acted a scenario where they flew out to search for him. They found a cave in Iceland, entered — and on the other side was the land where Dungeons & Dragons was born.

The group was promptly attacked by a group of trolls.

“We quickly decided that we should retire those (real life-based) characters and start new ones because the game was awful deadly,” said Ross Maker, of St. Paul, one of the gamers in the group.

Another member of the group, Dave Wesely, of St. Paul, remembers returning from the military to find his old friends fiddling with dice in a basement.

“I’m an Army lieutenant and leader of men, and not a college student and I’m trying to take myself seriously. Here they’re playing with elves and dwarves and such … I’m thinking I’m never going to tell anybody I was in this game.”

Arneson’s daughter, Malia Weinhagen, remembered venturing down to the basement on many occasions, drawn by the pretty dice.

“Any house I ever lived in with him always had a basement devoted to gaming. I thought everyone grew up with dragons and fairies. It was quite a shock in elementary school when I found out I was not the norm,” she said.

That first campaign, known as Blackmoor, was one of Dungeons & Dragons’ first fantasy settings. There would be dozens more — and dozens of games like it.

While Gygax is often seen as DD’s rules guru, focusing on such things as tables and dice, Arneson is often credited with creating the “role playing” elements of the game.

“Dice and maps and figures and complicated rule books are a crutch. The game doesn’t need them — but the market does,” Arneson said in 1992.

In an era when dozens of gaming companies were starting and failing, the two teamed up under the auspices of Lake Geneva, Wis.-based Tactical Studies Rules Inc., and after a rocky start, started a product in 1974 that would soon become world-renowned.

“We had no advertising or anything like that,” Arneson said in 1992. “We sold 500 sets in three months, invested the earnings to make 1,000 more, sold them, invested the earnings to make 5,000 more. And so on.”

But a few years later, Arneson was ousted from the company, which had taken on additional investors.

It was a painful time, many note, for Arneson — who sued the company over royalties. They settled out of court.

Gygax and Arneson’s split remains a topic of heated debate in gaming circles.

“We never reconciled,” Arneson told the Pioneer Press when Gygax died last year. “We were polite, but things never came together that way.”

“We had fun,” he added. “A lot of fun.”

In 1978, Arneson joined three partners to establish 4D Interactive Systems, a St. Paul company originally created to design games.

But when the company turned largely to programming — first for games, and then, to make additional money, for medical devices — Arneson left for more creative endeavors. He started his own fantasy company, Adventure Games, fueled by funds from the lawsuit.

The company folded a few years later, and Arneson moved around, finally settling on teaching in the late 1990s. He ended up at Full Sail University in a suburb of Orlando, Fla., teaching a class on game design. In June, diagnosed with cancer, he returned to St. Paul.

April 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

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