Shame on a designer! For a thin theme?

There is one point that I never hear mentioned when discussing how a designer "pasted on" a theme to a mechanic. That being, that it can be the case that a publisher will express interest in a game, but published with a different theme. This can be for reasons varying from already having that theme in their portfolio to a feeling that another theme would match better with the mechanics. Now, in the case of a designer reworking the theme upon publisher's demand, of course the theme runs the risk of feeling detatched from the original mechanics and intentions. Did the designer create a thinly themed game? Hard to tell, because we never saw the game as it was originally intended. He or she simply made the economic decision to give in to a publisher's demands and take an offer. While the game itself in it's final form may appear as an odd mix of theme and play, the designer him- or herself may have had less control over this factor than accusations suggest.

Why do I bring this up? Perhaps because I wish to hear fewer accusations against a designer who has less control than conversations suggest. Rather, I'd detatch critisism from the designer a bit and focus it more on that particular publication. Yes, the game may not feel well themed. But let's end it there. After all, there are a few cooks in these kitchens and the chef preparing the plate may not be the one we really think.

- Mike

LudoNJ Game Day - Maharaja, Reef Encounter, Taj Mahal and Amun-Re

Yesterday I had my game day at the LudoNJ group. I got there late at 5:30, but played till midnight, so got 5 games in which I was happy about. Really had a good time. Bryan from my normal game group came for his first visit, which was great! We played Maharaja (for the first time), Reef Encounter, Taj Mahal, For Sale (first time) and Amun-Re (first time as well).

Maharaja seems like a good game, though Bryan and I played a 2 player while we waited for the main group to finish up their game. The 2 player version of this is ok, though I wouldn't say great. The game was tense and some interesting tactical moves became apparent, like clearing one's house away to "block" a road. Despite the tense game though, something felt missing to us. The sense is that it will play much better with more people.

Reef Encounter continues to amaze me. So much to think about that the brain goes on overdrive. We play fast, though and tend not to over analyze things too much. This was my first time playing as a 2 player and found it to work really well. So happy to have another 2 player game to choose from. Proud to say that I own the original production on this limited edition game. There's been quite a bit of discussion about the look of this game compared to the new publication and I've often been tempted to respond to these posts. But, for now, I need to formulate my thoughts on this as what it comes down to often enough is "I like the look of this" and "I like the look of that." That is, personal tastes. I will admit, I didn't like the look of the original the first time I saw it. It grew on me rather quickly though and now I'm fond of it. As for the new publication, I can honestly say that it is off. It isn't that great and I can say that through years of professional experience. Articulating why is difficult, however, particularly in an environment where personal tastes seem to dominate the discussion. I'll need write more on this at a later time.

We went on to play a 3 player game of Taj. Oh wow, do I love this game! This was my fourth play now and every bit as fun as my first. Our particular session was also notable as Bryan came back from way back...and I mean way back. Half way through the game, while we were well onto the second side of the track, Bryan had but 1 point. I had built up an incredible array of goods which seemed very promising at this point mid game. And then, something happened. Bryan had taken some time to build up a massive hand. The mere thought of facing him straight on with all those cards sent us both bowing out earlier than we should have when contested and his score shot up. I was running out of steam from the first half of the game and my card count was low. Even after passing for a turn or two my sad hand paled in comparison to Bryan's. In the end, he secured a victory edging past me by a few points. Very tense!

Amun-Re was a delight to play as well. Just the sort of game I like with a little bidding, some purchasing and building up an income base. The game lasted a little longer than I would have liked at 1.5 hours, but this was with 5 relatively new players. I expect it will play faster over time with fewer people. I have heard it said that this is a very beautiful game. I think the cover is pretty nice, but something is lacking with the board. It's not bad to me, but it lacks magic or great appeal. Perhaps it is a matter of scale of the pieces as they all sit low on the board. Perhaps it is the overall blandness. Blandness, by the way, can be a virtue in board design as it allows pieces to pop off. But in this case, the pieces are generally equally bland – in particular the pyramids. Again, I'll leave more analysis for a future writing, but I do find myself less enthusiastic about the visual appeal than others.

I look forward to my next session at LudoNJ and will definately work to get there early!

- Mike

Game Night - Pirate's Cove

We had our friday game night. Bryan, Rachel and Tim Steen all came for a rare 5 player night. It was good to see Rachel as she has missed the last few get togethers. Tim did a great job teaching Pirate's Cove to the rest of us. After which we played Bonanza and Power Grid (4 player as Rachel had left). Fun night, lots of laughs.

Pirate's Cove was about what I expected from Days of Wonder. That is, fair games with a high production level with respect to boards and bits (tho I dislike almost all their covers, more on this on another post). The game struck me as a bit too complicated for what it was, which is a light family game. Not that it was a very complex game, it just seemed like the rules kept coming, more than I'd expect. Fortunately, Tim's a good 'splainer so all went smoothly. I think the thing that really holds this game together is the theme – it's hard to not have fun on some level with a pirate theme. By far, the most interesting part of the game takes place in the first phase of each turn. That is, determining which island to go to. Here players make simultaneous decision and reveal. Though the first turn is pretty much a guess, a player can deduce some player's moves on subsequent turns. It's very satisfying seeing that other players do what you thought they might. Ship battles are dice fests, but a little fun too. Pirate's Cove is a fair, light game and I was certainly glad to learn and play it as I've been curious about it for some time now. Game play aside, the board is very nice. Rich colors, easy to understand graphics and a smattering of illustration everywhere lives up to the DoW quality of production.

As for the Days of Wonder family of games, I'm finding more and more, that I'm really not their audience. Between, the Ticket to Ride Series, Mystery of the Abbey and now this, the games always leave me a little empty. Not that a game has to be heavy for me, it's just that they don't seem to click. Something always seems off with the gameplay. I'm now more likely to get the games, purely for the production values as this is an interest to me. I own Memior '44, so I need to play this one – perhaps this will click.

– Mike

Long games or shorter, one hour sessions

I've heard it said that if one is having a good time playing a longer game (say a 3 hour game) what's the difference than playing 3 one hour games? Fun is fun, right. Well... I'm not so sure about that – at least for me. I think what is going on has to do with the game flow. Generally, most games have three parts: opening, buildup and conclusion. The opening generally defines one's strategy or sets the board up for the main development of the game and is the "dreaming of what can be" part of the game. The buildup is the long tactical area to where the majority of the games lies or the brinkmanship part of the game. Finally, the third part, conclusion, is the final resolve, which often with the Eurogames can be a nail biting affair. For me, I especially like dreaming of what may be and trying things out. I also get a good adrenaline rush at times in the end when the games are close, so this part of the game is also a big appeal. Pound for pound of "fun", I'd rather have more of these two events than one long drawn out brinkmanship part of a game ... most of the time.

- Mike

Introduction and Modern Art

As a quick introduction, my name is Mike Doyle and I'm a graphic designer, artist and boardgame enthusiast. I live in northern NJ and work in NYC as a design director for a brand consulting agency where I design corporate identities and packaging graphics for a variety of clients.

On my spare time, I've developed a few graphic "refreshes" for some games as personal projects and have taken on some work for publishers. You can see an overview of these and other projects that I've done on my game portfolio. For Puerto Rico, I've developed two directions – one which is a dressed up version of the existing format and other more novel approach using a single board. This single board option plots all the buildings on a large map in such a way that buildings which influence like roles are positioned together along one axis (horizontal) and the purchase price another the other (vertical) axis. Players then play their colored building pieces on this single board. In this way, players can compare each other's buildings directly. All this is housed on a handpainted map in late medieval style of a port city. This can be viewed on here. You can also find a set for Age of Mythology: the Boardgame here. In this rendition, the wealth of mythological imagery is brought to life in a rich museum piece setting. Plastic acrylic boards embedded with magnets capture the tiles also made from acrylic. Also of interest, gameKultur. I'm afraid I was way too ambitious with this project and have not had the time to refresh it as I would have liked. Hopefully a couple times a year, I can release new issues.

Currently, I'm working on a new edition of Modern Art for a certain publisher. I've never been a fan of the graphics from the previous publications – actually thought them very poor. From the easily nicked black borders on the cards to the color fields around the paintings that interfere with the look of the art, the overall look seems to have little respect for art or contemporary pieces. One puzzling aspect for those who know art, is the choice of art pieces. The context of the game is that of tracking emerging artists. The designer, however, simply raided the textbooks for "modern art" with choices that represent art from the 1910's to the 70's. This hardly feels like I'm bidding on artists that are up and coming. So many other small details, like the paintings' names or media (e.g. watercolor on paper) could add to the feel of one experiencing art. Another little irritating element are the cryptic icons. I'm not sure why designers immediately gravitate to icons, but many a time it seems that it would be much more intuitive to simply write the word or use a letter. For instance a "1" for once around or "2" for double. In these cases, it is easy to grasp the relationship between the abbreviation and the core message. I hope that this new publication can translate the experience of viewing contemporary art and better showcase the pieces for a heightened experience.

For the most part, I hope to write here about thoughts concerning the production of games, their artwork and overall looks of games.

- Mike