Posts tagged ‘strategy 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.


November 2, 2009 at 4:10 am 1 comment

Luck in Board Games: How Much Should There Be?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”


“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 (

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.


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

Twilight Imperium Board Game – A Newbie’s Guide To Ruling The Galaxy

Author – Jeff Woods

Twilight Imperium (3rd Edition) is a board game of galactic conquest and strategy for 3-6 players. With the expansion, up to 8 can play, and rules variants are available for 2 players. It’s published by Fantasy Flight Games.

I have not owned Twilight Imperium very long, and have not played that many games yet. But, it is a game I truly enjoy, and you may as well. It’s not my intention here to go into a lot of detail about every part and every rule. I thought I would write down my thoughts, and why I already love the game, to help you decide if it’s the game for you.

What is Twilight Imperium (TI) all about, you may ask? TI is a massive strategy board game that takes place mostly in outer space. The ‘game board’ is actually a map of the galaxy made of hexes, and is different every time. Players play one of several galactic races trying to take over leadership of the galaxy. You do this through conquest, politics and even economics.

Twilight Imperium Is HUGE!

TI is a huge game, and not just in scope. If you’re considering getting it, make sure you have plenty of table space for the map, all the different cards, and areas for each player to keep track of his stuff. My 4-by-5 foot table is barely big enough for a 4-player game. This is not a light, “hey, let’s play something,” game, but an event that you need to plan for and set aside plenty of time. All the games I’ve played have taken at least four hours. If you’re playing with any optional rules (yes, there are plenty, and lots of markers/chits for those, too) plan for longer.

When you first open the box, be prepared to be overwhelmed. The amount of pieces and parts is staggering. You get map hexes, cards, plastic ships, markers for this and that, and a nicely put-together rulebook. But don’t worry about what to do first; the rulebook itself tells you what piece is what and how to organize things. The production quality of the parts is wonderful. The map hexes and various markers are made from high quality material, and are sure to last a lot of games. One note of warning here, though: the box itself has no dividers. Invest in some baggies, tackle boxes or a combination of both to keep everything organized.

Basic Play

Twilight Imperium is played in rounds, each broken into three phases:

  • The Strategy Phase
  • The Action Phase
  • The Status Phase

The Strategy Phase

During the Strategy Phase, players pick a strategy card that gives them some type of bonus for that round. You may be able to get a free technology upgrade, or resolve a political situation and change the rules of the game, among others.

The Action Phase

During the Action Phase, you move you ships, engage in combat, and play to the bonuses of your particular Strategy Card you picked.

The Status Phase

The Status Phase is mainly a book-keeping phase in which you check your score, repair ships, and ‘reset’ the board for action in the next round. While you’re taking your turn, other players are planning their next moves, trying to sabotage you, and bartering for political gain.

Everything Has A Cost

This is a game where everything you do has a cost. You have a limited number of Command Counters, which allow you to move your fleets, and take advantage of certain strategies. You have, or may not have, Trade Goods (the game’s currency) you can spend to either help build ships, research technology, or buy votes in the political arena. Planets you’ve taken over provide you with resources and influence, which you use to expand your fleets or vote in politics, respectively.

How Do You Win?

You win a game of TI, and leadership of the Galaxy, by achieving objectives, which are random and different every game. An objective could be a simple as controlling 10 planets, to more difficult, like controlling Mecatol Rex (the Capitol planet that’s always in the center of the galaxy) with a number of ships and ground forces.

Why Do I Like Twilight Imperium?

I really like this game because for me it has it all. I love science fiction, so to me the theme is golden. You have large scale space battles, planetary invasions, politics and lots of player interaction. Although it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely that a player is eliminated from the game. The map is random, as are the main objectives for winning, which makes every game different. Each Race that can be played has a different bonus, and adds a bit of role-playing. There is plenty of player interaction, with very little downtime between turns. Even though it can take a long time to play, there’s enough going on to keep most people interested.

Of course, what appeals to some can turn others off. As I said before, it’s a massive game that takes a long time to play. There are a lot of rules, and a lot of steps to accomplishing any goal in the game. If you don’t have the table space, or aren’t into a LOT of bits, this isn’t the game for you.

A Little Advice

Check out the rules (They are 44 pages long), then the FAQ section on Fantasy Flight Games’ website for rules clarifications. Then head over to and peruse through some of the excellent articles there. This is an expensive game, both in money and time. If you’re interested and trying to find buddies that you can play with, let your friends know it’s a little like Risk, but with politics and economics. Although combat and galactic war are big parts of the game, they’re the means to an end, and not the end itself. Although unlikely, it’s possible to win without firing a shot.

And for your first game, set a time to stop, and allow lots of mulligans as you interpret the rules.

Twilight Imperium is a great game for me. I can’t play it as much as I’d like because of the investment in time, but when I do, it’s an event that’s remembered.

You can also check out more information about Twilight Imperium here.

April 15, 2009 at 11:56 pm Leave a comment

Rio Grande Games Strategy Board Game Video Posted

We have another video for you. This time, Gary introduces you to the wonderful world of European board games, brought to us by Rio Grande Games.

Some games highlighted in this video include Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Thurn & Taxis, and Power Grid.

Other games published by Rio Grande, that are not discussed in this video include:

  • Race for the Galaxy
  • Dominion
  • Stone Age
  • A Castle for All Seasons

February 19, 2009 at 9:33 pm Leave a comment

Hey! That’s My Fish: A Cutthroat Little Game With Cute Penguins!

Despite its appearance as a kind of children’s game of penguins catching fish, “Hey! That’s My Fish” (2003), by Alvydas Jakeliunas and Günter Cornett, is at heart really an abstract game filled with tough strategic decisions and tense game-play. It has the feeling of Go, because of its emphasis on claiming territory, yet its simplicity makes it appealing to a much wider audience. This is a game that is accessible for the whole family, yet also rewards smart play.


The rules for the game are surprisingly simple. First, players place all the hexagon fish tiles (of which there are 60 in the game) in alternating rows of 7 and 8 tiles. The tiles depict one, two, or three fish that the penguins can catch and eat. Whoever collects the most fish with his or her penguins wins the game. To collect fish, the players may move their penguins in straight lines to other ice floes. They pick up the tile they started from, adding it to their collection of points to be scored at the end. And that’s really about it as far as the rules are concerned.


Now that you’re generally familiar with the rules, you might ask, is that all? Will I like it? The answer is that if you’re looking for a fun filler that plays fast and suits a wide range of ages then you will probably like “Hey! That’s My Fish”. However, there are a few things you should know before you buy.

  1. This game is really quite cutthroat. Beginning players often simply go after the three-fish tiles, and neglect to stake out larger chunks of ice. As a result they often find themselves blocked in with little left to do but watch other players scoop up the rest of the fish tiles. Be aware that some children may find it a bit painful to see their penguins marooned. On the other hand, my oldest two (four and five year old) find it delightful to cut people off and they certainly can see the humour when it happens to them – so whether you find the game too cutthroat is mostly a matter of sensibility.
  2. Set-up is a bit fiddly. Since the game doesn’t take very long it can be a bit of a pain having to arrange all the tiles on the table, especially since it’s necessary to leave a bit of space around the edges of the tiles so that they can easily be picked up. However, if everyone helps out this is done in no time flat.
  3. There is a small difference between the regular version and the Deluxe version. Aside from having slightly larger tiles (with fish on both sides), the Deluxe version also contains 16 painted resin penguins which look nicer and flashier than the old wooden ones.
  4. This game is more light-hearted than other abstract games. As a result, in a multi-player game even the best strategy will not always help. This is particularly true when your children gang up on you! I speak from experience…
  5. If you find the game a bit dry as it is, there is an official variant that you might like to try. It’s called “Pushing Penguins!” and it runs like this (quoted from the Phalanx website): “The movement options of penguins are expanded by this rule: Situation: One of your own penguins is next to a penguin of another player. If there is a hole in the ice in a straight line directly behind the opposing penguin (the ice floe already has been removed), or that penguin is at the outside border of the gaming surface, your own penguin may ‘push the opposing one into the water’ and move onto his now empty ice floe. The ice floe occupied by your own penguin at the start of your movement is not removed and stays on the table. The opposing penguin is out of the game and placed back into the box.” I really like this variant. It is immensely entertaining.

So, in conclusion, I highly recommend “Hey! That’s My Fish” as a quick filler that fits a wide range of ages and audiences, contains plenty of player interaction, and is nicely themed. And if you like the whole idea of claiming territory, you might also try Through the Desert, which substitutes plastic camels for penguins, but is a slight step up in complexity.

Happy gaming!

February 10, 2009 at 3:07 am Leave a comment

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