Grokking Games: D&D Alignment and Abraham Maslow

While our Advanced Dungeons & Dragons session was fun and entertaining for all that played it, one facet of the experience that was unique to me was that I had the jarring sense of my adult erudition and points of view being overlaid upon game knowledge and memories that I had formed two to three decades previously. Or perhaps it was vice versa, with AD&D data being superimposed like a ghost over the more recently taken snapshots that form my current identity? In any event, it is an interesting mental phenomenon, as I can now play a kind of matching game with my current secular and humanist knowledge and my past RPG knowledge about things that might not be as obvious to people my age that never stopped playing RPGs. (Aging tabletop gamers are actually a pretty large and growing group of people, which I will discuss at length in a later post, “The Aging Tabletop,” but suffice it to say that it’s heartening to know that there are many ancient gamers like myself.)

The most obvious comparison that came out of our first game session occurred when one of the characters, Kastasia Duncke the Paladin, arrived by carriage in the city with only a few coins to her name. I was reminded of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” and realized that in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons universe, alignment—known to Maslow as Self-Actualization—was not only the crown of the character, at the top of the character sheet, it was also fundamental, or the entire basis of the character’s behavior.

To Maslow, while Self-Actualization is the topmost and most satisfying motivator, it is a very weak drive compared to the more fundamental Biological and Physiological needs (air, food, drink, sex, sleep, shelter, warmth), Safety needs (law, order, freedom from fear), and even Love and Belongingness (friendship, affection, and love).

Image source:


So, according to Maslow, this Paladin should first find lawful employment to satisfy Physiological and Safety needs, and then find an adventuring party to satisfy Belongingness, and then, finally, see how they could best serve their deity.

In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the only motivator is alignment. This makes the hierarchy look like this:


This means that the Paladin will reject Belongingness with a group that includes an Evil character, as well as long association with Neturals, if you’re following the rules. It also means that regardless of how little money, food, or shelter (Physiological and Biological) the character has, they should do as their religion dictates.

In our adventure, the adventuring group was formed first (Belongingness), but partially due to one player character’s argument that they should pursue a reward to answer their current money problems (Biological/Physiological, Safety).

Later, the Paladin decided she should lie to a rival adventuring party about the group’s intent. The opposing group demanded that the player characters admit that they were pursuing the reward, and the paladin, speaking for the group, would not do this. One player said it was against her alignment, but I concurred with the Paladin’s player that this was appropriate as she had a greater responsibility to protect the flesh and blood people that she was with than to protect an abstraction like being honest to a fault. Admitting that they were in compeitition for the same reward could have provoked a battle. (A battle was provoked anyway, but through no fault of her own.) Sins may be equal in the eyes of the undying gods, but not to the point of view of mortals that can’t put their life on the line due to unwillingness to tell a white lie.

Once a more Maslowian Lawful Good character gains a few levels and enters the political sphere, they may even become Machiavellian Lawful Good.  I’ve always preferred these Machiavellian Lawful Good characters—such as Chakaal in Groo the Wanderer or Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones—to the goody-goody ones, myself. Just as the small sin of a lie is preferrable to the large sin of putting one’s camerades-at-arms in danger due to pride, so also can righting one wrong be the nail that drives an entire war.  By example, here’s my favorite Chakaal scene of all time, from Groo: Friends and Foes #12:

Source: Groo: Friends and Foes #12.

This is Lawful Good in a realistic fantasy setting, to me.  It’s determination to change things for the better, like Khaleesi burning the Khals.  Chakaal’s not just going to rescue a good man, she’s going to use this opportunity to conquer a wicked people and change them for the better.

In your own RPG groups, do you require Stupid Lawful Good, or do you permit Machiavellian Lawful Good role playing? Also, should a character’s alignment determine 100% of a character’s actions, or are you in favor of a more narrative approach? Leave your comments below.

Stuck in a Rut with your Lawful Good Character? Here’s a New Model…

Start Here to Learn About Daenerys Targaryen aka Khaleesi

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Splendor, Small World, and Ticket to Ride 25% Off on Apple, Android, and Steam

To celebrate their new Ticket to Ride update, enhanced with new maps for the Ticket to Ride Europe, Days of Wonder has slashed the prices on some of their perennial favorites on iPhone, iPad, Android, and Steam. Additionally, some of the in-app map purchases in Ticket to Ride are on sale as well, with the best deal being that if you buy the Europe board, you get their new map update, Europa 1912 Destinations, for free.

Whether you’re big fans of the tabletop versions of these games, or just looking for something other than throwing birds at pigs, you’ll find these are some of the most entertaining apps on the App store.  Days of Wonder not only creates some of the most easily playable and understandable board games, they also have great app developers, and these games are worth paying for at full price.

Buy Splendor for Android on Amazon

Buy Ticket to Ride App on Amazon

Buy Small World 2 App on Amazon

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The Big Game Night: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition, Settlers of Catan, and 7 Wonders

Yesterday was a scorcher, but overbearing heat and risk of sunburn will not stop gamers from fearlessly stepping forward into a night of board games played in central air and with a box of Yuenglings at hand. Also, our friends and hosts made Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boy Sandwiches with Apple Slaw, from a superb recipe on the excellent One Green Planet website. The grilled potatoes, corn on the cob, and watermelon were all tasty and good as well.

I feel that I should warn you that this was a big game night with more players than usual and three big games, and hence this post is bigger than usual. If you don’t have the stamina for big right now, I recommend bookmarking this post and returning to it later. In the interest of defining my terms for this and later posts, I should distinguish between big games and long games. When a game is big, we are talking about its content, and when a game is long, we are talking about its duration in time. The latter only requires a watch to measure, while the former is much more subjective. A game can be big without being long, and vice versa. 7 Wonders, for instance, crams in a ton of content in its 30-45 minute duration. Dungeons & Dragons packs in so much content that it, and RPGs like it, are certainly the biggest games of all. And this is definitely the biggest post on my blog.

Originally, there were supposed to be six of us this evening, with my friend’s sister and brother in law coming, so I packed 7 Wonders, my 5-6 player Settlers of Catan expansion to add on to their Settlers of Catan, and, something I have been preparing for about a year, a homebrew Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventure. Which means that I packed a vinyl Chessex Reversible Megamat, Vis a Vis wet erase markers, a tin of a hundred dice, and a box of miniatures I had bought off of eBay about 10 years ago the last time I had waxed powerfully nostalgic about playing RPGs, as well as my 1st edition Dungeon Masters’ Guide and Players’ Handbook.

Any version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons can be played with any number of people, which makes it a great game to have on hand when you don’t know how many people are coming. As to board games, your choice is limited once you hit six players or more. While I have a love/hate relationship with Settlers of Catan, one nice thing about it is that, with the right expansions, six people can play it. 7 Wonders can support up to seven players with a very important caveat: most board game players are used to be able to get up from the table when it isn’t their turn, to get a drink, a smoke, a snack, or a potty break. 7 Wonders isn’t like this at all. Contrary to the normal board game rules of order, everyone plays their turns at the same time. Everyone plays a card, and then everyone plays another card, and so on, until the game is finished 18 plays later. Even after explaining this more than once, don’t be surprised if people leave the table and come back in five minutes and say, “is it my turn yet?”, genuinely surprised that the game stopped during their absence.

It would turn out that the brother in law was not coming after all, which left us a group of five. This filled me with some regrets, as while we have a paucity of six player games in our gaming group, we have quite a few great five player games. Just speaking of my own game collection, I have Broom Service, Puerto Rico, Small World, and Ticket to Ride, and I would have preferred to play any of those before Setlers of Catan, as I already had a Catan fix the week before. There were no regrets over my other two selections, however, as there’s always time for 7 Wonders, and I hadn’t made any time for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in over a decade.

Just how did we enter into our gaming group’s First Great Dungeons and Dragons Adventure? Our friends have never played tabletop RPGs before, but they have watched a lot of the YouTube show Tabletop, and expressed an interest in playing the RPG Dragon Age after watching that episode sometime last year. Also, we like co op games like Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Island, and Pandemic, and good co op games, like RPGs, can also create that simulated sense of imperiled camaraderie; good RPGs, on the other hand, can be co op, but that all depends on whether the players want to play nice with each other. In RPGs, co op gaming can turn into killer competition when evil characters are being used. This brings us to one of our new favorite games, Betrayal at House on the Hill, which can best be described in the words that I’ve just used for RPGs. In Betrayal at House on the Hill, the players select characters that enter a haunted house as friends, but when The Haunt is revealed, one of them turns Evil and with magic or monster allies tries to murder the others. The game mechanics also do a good job of simulating the RPG experience with multiple random decks taking the place of a gamemaster.

A few days after we discussed the Dragon Age episode of Tabletop, I was cleaning our basement and found half of my RPGs. I took them upstairs, and shelved them with the other half, which were gathering dust on my shelf. While flipping through my 1st edition Players’ Handbook and Dungeon Masters’ Guide, I realized I still loved this game. The section of my brain devoted to 1st edition AD&D sneezed out a few layers of dust, and I recalled every facet of the rules (even esoterica like the “Weapons vs. Armor” rules).

Befor I knew it, that evening I had written the first few pages of a homebrew first edition AD&D module called The Dark Tower of Zyval. At first, I treated it like a hobby, with no intentions of ever using it. This attitude of free play was probably instrumental in my taking a little bit of time with development of the accompanying world, Estion. I decided to question everything about the generic fantasy world, and in so doing, decided that Estion was in a trinary star system, with three suns: Azru, Caegil, and Shaiakan. Estion also had two moons at one point in its history, but one of them, Jondur, was destroyed in ancient days, which created a ring around Estion. I want to write more about the planet Estion’s history, but I can’t release any spoilers to my gaming group. Suffice to say that the current state of this fantasy world’s solar system is tied to deities and ancient wars.

I’d been working on this adventure on and off again for about a year, and realized that it might be ready to introduce to our group. (When they admitted that they liked that awful Dungeons and Dragons movie, that seemed to cinch things.  Kidding.  Not kidding.)  As I edited my adventure this past week with the objective of playing it for real players, I set myself a few restrictions and challenges.

First, I decided that any time we played, we would limit the game to two hours. I didn’t want it to take more time than the other games that we played, and also, I wanted to limit the amount of unused time as much as possible. With a deadline in place, it would ensure that both the gamemaster and the players would work as fast as possible to meet objectives, which would hopefully sustain an entertaining and exciting pace. Those of you reading that have played RPGs for any length of time know that you have played too many sessions that were six hours when they had no reason to be based on the too few fictional events of the adventure. I wasn’t going to have that, as my gaming palette is a lot broader now than it was when I was a teenager, and I enjoy games like Broom Service, Puerto Rico, and Castles of Mad King Ludwig just as much as Dungeons and Dragons.

Second, I didn’t want to be bogged down by too many rules, so I decided not to upgrade to any of the other Dungeons & Dragons editions. The first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has just the right balance for board gamers; in fact, each person’s character has such abstracted powers and abilities that they greatly resemble a board game piece. My thoughts were that if the “Game” aspect was as simplified as possible, leaving it in the form of a miniatures board game as it was in AD&D 1st edition, it would allow us to focus more on the story, or the “Role Playing” part. Now that I think about it, it may have been the tendency of RPGs in the 90s to move away from abstraction toward needless detail (in the rules, mind you, not the role-playing, where the detail is of course desired) that drove me away from these games in the first place.

As I was developing the game for play, I decided to create pre-generated characters. Creating characters is fun for RPG enthusiasts, but I was creating an adventure for people that, with one exception, had not played before. They didn’t know the races, classes, alignments, spells, and equipment lists, and rather than have them muddle through it and possibly not be satisfied with the results, I created five pre-generated characters for my players to pick from. This also gave it a point of similarity to a game that we have all played before, Betrayal at House on the Hill, in which everyone picks from a selection of pre-generated characters. Not only would it make the unfamiliar familiar, it would also only take a few minutes of the two hours that I had apportioned.

We began our game night with the first chapter of my AD&D adventure. As our fifth player had not arrived, my three players at hand picked three of the five characters I had pre-generated: Kastasia Duncke, a Human Paladin; Sakaala Valyarus, a Human Cleric; and Paten Raseno, a Human Ranger. The Magic-User Izapraxius Denholm, and Reikketta Thyrndoch, a Dwarven Fighter, went unclaimed.

The adventure begins in Cambir, the northwest tip of the conservative, bigoted, and restrictive nation Ostrand, which was created as a trading outpost to deal with the nations, cultures, and religions that Ostranders despise. Cambir has swelled into a large city, and as it retains more tolerance than the rest of Ostrand, and is the only city in Ostrand where freedom of religion is allowed, it continues to attract immigrants.

Kastasia and Sakaala arrive in Cambir’s Waterside Borough by carriage, having been sent by their respective religions to create and maintain shrines. They arrive on a market day, and disembark into a crowd of people that is buying and selling goods. Uniformed men go up and down the main street to post a notice, which is read aloud by the town crier that accompanied them. What do town criers do? They are the fantasy world equivalent of Craigslist, and this one started to read a laundry list of the Governor’s odd jobs which included kitchen work and bridge labor. More interesting to the adventurers that have rolled into town dead broke, a 600 gold piece reward is offered for the return of a wagon and accompanying caravan that disappeared as they traveled from the Governor’s northern estate to the city.

When the crier finishes his reading, the gathered people go about their day. Paten, a resident of Cambir, overhears the two new arrivals–both armored and armed—talking about their religious differences, and he decides to cast his lot in with them. He joins in the conversation and steers it toward talking about what they could do with the reward. The three get more details about the missing caravan from the town crier and walk north to find it.

In game time, it took about four hours for the adventurers to walk there, but in real time the above paragraphs only took about 25 minutes of our allotted two hours.

Sakaala, Kastasia, and Paten arrive at the Governor’s northern estate without seeing any sign of the caravan. The estate’s butler has only a little information that will help with their search: the goods that the Governor wants back are actually actors, minstrels, and dancers that were being conveyed to the Governor’s mansion for his personal entertainment. He has nothing else to tell them, but allows the adventurers to share dinner with the staff. At this point, the group is wondering how to proceed, and I decide that in the interest of helping my players that are new to the game, and to keep things moving, I’ll give Paten’s player a prompt to use his Ranger’s tracking ability to find the caravan’s departing tracks.

And so after their meal, Paten searches the grounds for the caravan’s tracks, and finds the beginning of their trail. The caravan’s tracks follow a scenic dirt path along the coast rather than the road.

In the real world, our fifth player arrives and drops into the game. She selects Reikketta Thyrndoch, the Dwarven Fighter, from the two that are remaining. For expediency’s sake, as we have about an hour left of the time allotted, I decide that Reikketta had taken a job guarding the caravan that they were following. The job was very boring, and she had taken to drinking too much on the journey, which led to her falling off the wagon—yes, literally—and, stone asleep, she lay there until the other adventurers found her. They wake her up to discover that she had been guarding the caravan that they were tracking, which lets them know that they are indeed on the right track.

The tracks ultimately lead to a farmhouse overlooking the sea, where five barbaric-looking ships are anchored. Believing that they see a wagon parked next to a barn on the farm grounds, they move toward the barn. Paten decides to follow on an outlying arc of his own, so that they can keep some of their fighting strength out of sight, and so that he can hopefully have a wider angle on any upcoming combats.

In their walk up to the barn, Sakaala, Kastasia, and Reikketta stumble across another group of adventurers that were going after the reward. As this situation went nuclear quickly, introductions were never exchanged, but I’ll tell you, the reader, that they were Dunward Huncorr, dwarf fighter/thief; Verela Cevine, elf fighter/magic-user/thief; Mandal Navoom, human cleric; and, Hubrek Banwood, human ranger.

Both groups were immediately suspicious of the other, and as heated words were exchanged, Paten, from his point of concealment, grew anxious and fired an arrow. His intent was to knock the dwarf’s sword from his hand. I explained to the player that as a 1st level adventurer, a “hero shot” like that would be difficult for him now, although he had the natural attributes to learn to do something like that later. So he said he wanted to shoot an arrow at the ground at the dwarf’s feet, in order to let them know that he was there and make them nervous. My response was that, sure, the ground should be easy to hit, but due to some possible accidental targets in the area of the shot, you have to roll a 2 or better on d20. He rolled a 1.

I rolled a random arrow attack without any modifiers on one of the group at random, and it turned out that the arrow deflected off of Verela’s armor. The dwarf yelled “Attack!” and battle lines were drawn. Hubrek, however, moved away from the others.

In my notes for this adventure, I account for a few different possibilities. Three of this group are evil, but the players are heading towards a vastly superior force (five ships, remember), so they would have been in favor of an alliance. However, knowing that new RPG players are often bloodthirsty due to wanting to test their characters’ abilities, I fully expected this battle. The first time I played Dungeons and Dragons, my older brother was excited to be Dungeon Master, until his younger brother and friends ruined the concept of Keep on the Borderlands by killing the shopkeepers.

From his vantage point, Paten sees that there’s some other figures moving towards the battling adventurers. He shoots some arrows and moves toward the group.

In the three-sided combat that follows, the PC (Player Character) adventuring party defeats Mandal and Dunward, of the NPC (Non Player Character) adventuring party, just as five lizard men beset them. One of the evil adventurers, Verela, flees the battle field with two of the lizard men pursuing her. Of the remaining three lizard men, two of them are defeated and the other one flees.

I’m a firm believer in smart monsters in RPGs. Any lizard men that are smart enough to have weapons, armor, and five ships will be smart enough to save their own skin and come back in force. This is the kind of thing that, unlike pointing out a skill on a character’s sheet, I’m not obliged to point out to a new player, as it falls in the realm of common sense and strategy, not knowledge of rules.

The players head immediately to the barn, which the player characters discover has been turned into an abattoir of sorts in which the livestock, the caravan people, and the farmers have been waiting their turn to be consumed by the lizard men.

At this point, the two hour timer went off on my cell phone. This was a perfect stopping point, as not only did it occur after their first combat, but it also makes a lot of dramatic sense to let the next chapter begin with the lizard men’s siege of the farmhouse. Ruh-roh. But even if everyone dies in a bloodbath or gets sold into slavery to mind flayers, at least everyone in our group now knows the game that Munchkin directly parodies.

My takeaway from this return to D&D is the obvious: look how much content you can pack into two hours of an RPG compared to other tabletop games. As I wrote above, RPG games are very big in terms of content even when they are the same length as other tabletop games, and there’s no need to go long with such a big game when you can leave your players wanting more and still fit in Power Grid and Broom Service.

Speaking of which, next up was Settlers of Catan with the 5-6 player expansion. For those of you who haven’t played with the expansion, it is easy to sum up: it makes the game board bigger with extra tiles, adds additional development cards, resource cards, and harbors, and it adds two more sets of colored tokens for additional players: brown and green. It also adds a new rule: the “special building phase.” In ordinary Catan, every person’s turn consists of rolling for resources, trading, and building. The 5-6 player expansion adds an additional fourth phase to everyone’s turn—the special building phase. In the special building phase, the rest of the players in a clockwise manner get ONLY to build roads, settlements, and cities, or buy development cards. There is no playing development cards or, more importantly, trading during the special building phase. This means that while on your normal turn you could pay two ore, two wheat, and four lumber for a city (the lumber taking the place of an ore due to standard maritime trading rules), in the special building phase you need three ore and two wheat exactly because trading is not allowed then.

Our group agrees that the logic behind the special building phase is that in a five to six player game without a special building phase, the robber would often kill players’ production, as instead of getting to buy things every three or four production rolls, you would have to wait until the fifth and sixth roll, by which time your hand may be stuffed with cards.  The special building phase allows you to use the cards you’re taking in before your turn so that you’re not a sitting duck for the robber.

This was one of those Catan games in which the “Tyranny of Numeracy” was a killing influence on the game, as half of the die rolls were 7s, 9s, and 3s. With so many 7s being rolled, the resources coming into the game were limited, and the game stretched out much longer than we had anticipated. My wife turned out to have the most lasting Catan-stamina, winning with a “build to win” strategy, and having four cities and the longest road card at the end of the game. She was not expecting to win this one, as one of the other players had been reading my blog and dominated the first half of the game with my “wool/ore/wheat” strategy. One thing I had not anticipated is how much easier this strategy is in 5-6 player Catan, as you don’t even have to wait until your turn to buy development cards, and with additional production rolls from the additional player(s), it becomes easier to afford them.  If more 6s and 8s were rolled, the “wool/ore/wheat” player would have won easily.

After this, 7 Wonders. We wanted to use the more advanced side of the wonder cards today, but by this point everyone was exhausted from overeating that wonderful food and an over-long game of Catan with unbalanced numbers, and we used the easier three-stage Wonders. In this game I noticed a potential for the red military cards that I had not seen before, but only in a four player game in which you make an alliance with the player across the table. Because if both of those players agree to buy tons of red cards, this creates a 24 point gap between them and their neighbors, as the two players that were saving military earn 18 points and their neighbors earn -6 points. When buyers of military cards are more staggered around the table, the scoring of them is more asymmetric and unreliable. So, in revising my statement on 7 Wonders strategy in “Grokking Games: 7 Wonders and Strategic Ambiguity,” it appears that our gaming group has discovered that red military cards can be of use when two players across the table in a four player game make an alliance to defeat their neighbors.

Overall, it was an excellent game night.  In addition to the high-content adventure of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, there was a challenging game of Settlers of Catan, and a new cooperative military strategy was unveiled for 4 player 7 Wonders games.  The actual food we ate was scrumptious but the games, as you can see, gave me a lot of food for thought, including a working definition of the terms big and long as they apply to tabletop games, in which we see that depth of content doesn’t necessarily correlate to investment of time.

Aisde from 7 Wonders, what are the biggest quick games that you play?  That is, a game with epic content that is done in under an hour.  Leave your answers in the comments.

Buy Catan 5-6 Player Extension on Amazon

Buy 7 Wonders on Amazon

Here’s a Friendly Link to First Edition AD&D Products on Amazon

Chessex Role Playing Play Mat: Megamat Double-Sided Reversible Mat for RPGs and Miniature Figure Games 48″ x 34.5″

Only use Wet Erase on a Megamat. But not the red one!

Buy Yer Pound-O-Dice Here!

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Grokking Games: The Socialization of Board Games

You may or may not be surprised that tabletop games have been tied to courtship rituals, as we can see from this quote from Richard Burton’s translation of the Kama Sutra:

When a boy has thus begun to woo the girl he loves, he should spend his time with her and amuse her with various games and diversions fitted for their age and acquaintanceship, such as…playing with dice, playing with cards…the game of six pebbles, and such other games as may be prevalent in the country, and agreeable to the disposition of the girl.

Burton was a 19th century man translating a book over a thousand years older than him. From our perspective in the 21st century, this verse seems to have even less relevance, as entertainment technology has advanced and the usual go-to in courtship rituals these days is probably dinner and a movie.  Still, board games have a long history as a facet of social life.

Chess can be a very business like game, with opponents facing off in timed matches not unlike speed dating, but it has a long history of being an essential part of a gentleman’s education.  Fifteen hundred years ago, Persian princes and nobles learned chess as part of their complement of canonical knowledge.  Over the millennium-plus since then, chess has become an area of common knowledge, perhaps only a little less well known than common skills such as how to swim, and this popularization of the tabletop game has led to chess clubs and, less common but nonetheless in existence, chess bars.

Today, while there are board game social clubs and meet-up groups in which games are played in a business-like and brusque way with little interaction—adopting the video game model for the tabletop—board games can also be social occasions.  Board games can pair with a lot of things, like staged entertainment, food, and drink.  In our group,  we think big—sometimes epic— with the accompanying dinner, and one time game night was also Game of Thrones night.  Many of you probably have your own game night stories, because the first and most important thing that board games pair with is people.

What appears to be taking off now in the U.S. are “board game parlors,” in which it is just as important to have board game boxes lining the wall as liquor bottles.  Here in Pittsburgh, we have Victory Pointe, and earlier this week, The Rook opened in Cincinnati.

The Rook, a visionary space in which board games have conquered a social venue. Not so nerdy anymore. Source:

The connection to food and drink is easy to see.  Like bar fare, board games are also a “movable feast”that you can easily set up and play in any social space.  The good ones also require some table manners, i.e. interaction with the other players.  And board games may not be as excellent a social lubricant as alcohol, but they do provide an occasion for four or more people to sit down at a table and be friendly with each other.

What’s the next step in the socialization of board games?


You’re a Medieval Craftsman in Mayfair Games’ Oh My Goods!

Mayfair Games has announced that it will be releasing Oh My Goods! to North American gamers.

Here’s how Mayfair Games describes Oh My Goods!:

Step into the shoes of a medieval craftsman with Oh My Goods! You have a lot of decisions to make, like whether to work sloppy or aim for the highest quality of manufacturing. Strive to be most efficient, most profitable business owner in your village!

Oh My Goods is designed by Alexander Pfister for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, and retails for $15. Games take approximately 30 minutes.

The game already has a following from its releases in other countries, and due to it being authored by the mind behind Broom Service, Alexander Pfister.  In 2015, the game was a nominee for the “Best Card Game” category of’s Golden Geek Awards.

If you can’t wait for the Mayfair Games release, you can buy what looks to be a Lookout Games edition on Amazon:

Buy Oh My Goods! on Amazon

Buy Broom Service on Amazon

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Do Not Pass Go: Waiting for More Tabletop Cthulhu in Portal Games’ Tides of Madness

(Do Not Pass Go is a column in which I preview the exciting upcoming games that I’m waiting to play.  The title comes from the most famous example of game waiting: hanging out in Monopoly jail.)

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.  H.P. Lovecraft.

While I don’t enjoy soft horror, like zombie tales, I’ve always had a fascination for H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories, and the idea of a supernatural cosmos as vast and sublime as the physical universe that we live in.  True aliens, Lovecraft teaches us, would be unlikely to be friendly, anthropomorphic or pointy-eared versions of ourselves, and would be so unlike us as to inspire madness, all the parallel evolution implied in Star Trek and Star Wars be damned.

Perhaps because much of Lovecraft is in the public domain, game designers often seize upon the fictional mythology.  The most recent entry into the Cthulhu tabletop gaming milieu is Portal Games’ Tides of Madness, which is being called a sequel to last year’s fantasy themed Tides of Time, but is thematically very different.

Here’s the game description, from Portal Games’ website:

You take on the role of investigators trying to discover ancient knowledge —secrets beyond the grasp of time … beyond the grasp of the human mind. You will contact mysterious cults, explore hidden locations, encounter horrific creatures, and learn unspeakable words. T he horror of this knowledge may prove too much to bear for their weak minds, and some of you may be lost forever to madness!

In a preview of the game rules available in a PDF folder on the Portal website, the following Cthulhu characters are mentioned:  Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Dagon, Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, Hastur, and Shub-Niggurath.  Ancient tabletop gamers like myself that had access to the original first edition of the AD&D Deities and Demi-Gods should recall those names as in a fog, as well as those that played gibbering mad investigators in Chaosium Games’ Call of Cthulhu.  (Hey, look:  Chaosium has a free quick start PDF of their Call of Cthulhu RPG.  You’re welcome.)

The good news for those of you that already have enough long games in your gaming group is that Tides of Madness is advertised as being a 20 minute game.

While Tides of Madness will be released at Gen Con this August, and is not available for pre-order on the Amazon website yet, the non-Cthulhu influenced prequel Tides of Time is available.

Buy Tides of Time on Amazon

Here’s a much abbreviated gallery of the many, many Cthulhu games available and still in print.

Play Old School Cthulhu With Chaosium’s 7th Edition RPG

Buy Cthulhu Fluxx on Amazon

Buy Cthulhu Dice on Amazon

Buy Munchkin Cthulhu on Amazon

Buy Do You Worship Cthulhu Card Game on Amazon
Here’s a link to the whole Cthulhu gaming catalog.

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Bezier Games Teases New “One Night”

In today’s May newsletter e-mailed to fans of Bezier Games, the game publisher revealed that a new One Night game was coming to join its other popular One Night game collections, One Night Ultimate Werewolf (2014), One Night Ultimate Daybreak (2015), and One Night Ultimate Vampire (2015).

Here is what Bezier had to say about the upcoming release:

New One Night game coming soon!

While it’s still too early to tell you any details, here’s a few tidbits to hold you over:

• “One Night” will be in the title

• Games have the ability to break a long-standing One Night rule

• It will be compatible with other One Night games

• One of the new roles is a farm animal

Keep watching Bezier Games, Inc. on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and here for more details as they slowly leak their way out…

Not much was revealed of the content, but fans of the games can guess that they will have a supernatural theme.

Buy One Night Ultimate Werewolf on Amazon

Buy One Night Ultimate Daybreak on Amazon

Buy One Night Ultimate Vampire on Amazon

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Castles of Mad King Ludwig Hits iPhone, iPad, and Android

Castles of Mad King Ludwig, one of my favorite games, has just joined the growing digital board game collection that’s available on the iOS and Android App Stores.

Nominated for 6 Golden Geek Awards, and winner of the Meeples’ Choice Award and the Mensa Select Award, Castles of Mad King Ludwig has always been a game that appealed to intelligent and discriminating board gamers, and now it appeals to board gamers that are budgeting money or time.  Not only is the App version a fraction of the cost of the boxed version, it can also be played on not just tablets, but phones, so that busy people can find some time to play vs. AI on their break at work.

Those that like to play digital board games with real people, whether via Bluetooth or online, will be disappointed, as the app version of Castles of Mad King Ludwig currently only supports “pass and play.”  However, players can post their castles on Facebook or Twitter through the app, rather than the long way around of taking a screenshot and inserting it into a post, as most board game apps currently require you to do.

That digital board games are a big deal in App Stores can be read by just how fast the digital version of Castles of Mad King Ludwig is climbing the charts:  as of this writing it is already number 283 on the list of paid apps in the Amazon App Store (as well as number 2 on the list of paid board game apps on Amazon, which is more attributable to the game’s great word of mouth among board gamers).  I can attest that is is really hard to resist buying a game digitally that you already have great fun playing on game night.

Buy Castles of Mad King Ludwig on the Amazon Android App Store

If you’re on iPhone like me, download here:

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Catan Blues: The Production Trap

Yesterday, I mentioned what I call the “build to win” strategy, which i consider the most common strategy among Settlers of Catan players, no matter how long their attachment to the game. Many probably don’t even consider this method of playing Catan as a strategy, but instead just consider it as the way that you play the game: you build roads to build resource-producing settlements, and upgrade settlements to make cities that produce twice as many resources.

“Build to win” players rarely buy development cards, as an investment into development cards, to the intuitive or “build to win” player, is seen as a non-productive buy. Development cards only rarely produce resources (4 out of 25 cards), unlike the more solid investment potential of settlements and cities, that do produce resources when the correct dice are rolled. Often, when four people are playing in Catan in this classic way, development cards are only bought in order to short one’s hand so as to avoid being a target for the robber, or at a late stage in the game after a deadlock caused by extensive road building and the cumulative reduction of available building spots through strategic, defensive, settlement placing and the “rule of one.” I have seen entire games played with only one or two development card purchases, as “build to win” players can’t get past their intuitive risk-assessment of buying development cards. The trap in this thinking goes like this: “I have an ore, a wheat, and a wool which I could use to buy a development card, but would it not be better to attempt trading the ore or the wool towards producing either a new settlement or a city upgrade that will increase the amount of resources coming to me?”

This “build to win” strategy is logical during the turn in question, but not when thinking of subsequent dice rolls by other players that might trigger the robber, which makes working towards an excess of production too early in the game counter-productive.  Production excess attracts the robber’s halving blade, and if this investment into excess production trips the robber two or three times during a game, the twelve to twenty (or more) resources that were lost in these encounters with the robber are empty production. Would it not have been better to invest this empty production in procuring development cards, in order to get the largest army card, victory points, and manipulation of the robber to inhibit others’ production?

In fifteen to eighteen point scenarios, a certain amount of “build to win” strategy is required, but in a ten point basic scenario such as that in original Settlers of Catan or Star Trek Catan, in which you only have to move from two points to ten, victory is so easily graspable by an aggressive player that the “build to win” strategy is a strategy that will often lead you away from victory, or rather, towards it at a more glacial pace than the player that is following what I call the wheat/ore/wool strategy, which I have described in brief in the post “Grokking Games: Understanding the Strategic Ambiguity of 7 Wonders.”

If you can’t part with the “build to win” strategy, there are some Catan expansions that make it easier for you to win due to the high victory points required for a win.  The best Catan variation for “build to win” players is Cities and Knights, a 13 point game without the option of buying development cards, and it also allows players to invest in city walls, which protect you against the robber.  While it’s the best single expansion, even better would be some 18-20 point megalithic Catan composed of one or more of these expansions.

If You Like to “Build to Win” This is the Catan for You

“Build to Win” Players Will Also Like This Catan Expansion

Or This One:

Or, you can play them all together.

Buy Settlers of Catan on Amazon

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Game Night: Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Secrets, Star Trek Catan, and Superfight

This week we started a little earlier in the afternoon, and while we began with our gaming group being concerned with watching Game of Thrones and kids’ curfews just like the week before, all such concerns were forgotten as the night went on. We hadn’t had a long game night in a few weeks, and the storm of hail and rain with occasional thunderclaps no doubt helped to create a perfect gaming atmosphere that no one was in a rush to end. There was also a deluge of tacos, ciders, coffee, black bean chips, salsa, and blueberry pie to be enjoyed.

First we played the Secrets expansion to Castles of Mad King Ludwig. We have been itching to play this one for a while, but as Castles is already a two to three hour game for us, it has been pushed back several times to make room for other games. Also, it isn’t just a long game; it has a long set-up process that takes at least five to ten minutes, and as it was our first time playing Secrets, it took more like fifteen to integrate the new game components with the old. Now, I love Castles of Mad King Ludwig—it is definitely in my top ten games, and probably in my top five—but I hate setting it up. No doubt there are probably some arts and crafts oriented gamers with box organizers on Etsy (I haven’t looked) but right now, the copy in our group has twenty-plus plastic bags in it, the contents of which each needed to be sorted with care to work in Secrets.  You don’t just combine both sets; you have to remove parts of original Castles to make room for Secrets.  That said, the long set-up is worth it, as Castles is a unique game that I consider one of my “Diceless Heavens,” and Secrets adds a ton of content to the game that encourages players to strategize differently.

The basic rules of Castles of Mad King Ludwig are unchanged. Each turn, one player is the Master Builder. That player chooses what the price tags will be on seven different rooms: 1000, 2000, 4000, 6000, 8000, 10000, and 15000. Play than proceeds to the Master Builder’s left, and that person chooses one of the rooms to buy (or they can take 5000 coins if they are out of money). Each player pays the Master Builder for the rooms, until it is the Master Builder’s turn to purchase, and he pays the bank for the room he wants. Then it is the next player’s turn to be Master Builder.

So unlike most games, in which every player pays the bank for their purchases, Castles changes it up and keeps a lot of the money in the group by having three of the four players every turn pay the Master Builder. This makes Castles a fascinating economic strategy game, with lots of thinking, but no calculus, required. You learn as the game goes on that you only get to make money when you’re the Master Builder, so when it’s your turn to be the Master Builder, you have to put the really desirable rooms with a fairly affordable price tag, because it’s better to get paid on 6000 or 8000 than 1000 or 2000. Sometimes players will go for the cheap rooms just to save money, as each player has to make their money last until they are Master Builder. In order to get other players to spend more, you have to resist putting the rooms that they want on the high prices, because that will backfire. Just as in real life, players will wait for a price to drop before making a buy. Players also have the option to take 5000 for the bank if they feel that you’re pricing them out, and if all the other players choose to do this on your turn, you won’t make ANY money.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is already a really fun game with an entertaining theme, satisfying strategic elements, and good box art, before the intriguing aspects of Secrets are added to the mix. The first thing that Secrets adds to the game is Barbicans and Moats, each of which comes with a castle wall with which to enclose your structure. The starting tile in Secrets is the Barbican, which is a castle wall with a gatehouse that you build upon just like the Foyers in original Castles. Each turn, in addition to being able to buy one of seven available rooms, a hallway, or a stairway, you can also buy one of the moat pieces to begin to enclose your castle. Your starting Barbican plus three Moats equals a four-sided enclosed castle.  I decided to go for the moats, knowing from experience that the new features in game expansions often are the key to victory in those expansions, and pursuing this path did get me a lot of points, but one less point than the winning player, who only bought one of these moats and chose not to complete her castle wall.  From this game, it would appear that the disadvantage of being hemmed in by a castle wall outweighs the cumulative point advantage to placing the moats.

The second new addition is the Swans, which are little precious objects that can be exchanged for coins or points. There are five different colors, and each complete set of five can be exchanged for 15,000 coin during the game or 15 points at the end of the game. A set of four is worth 10,000 or 10; three are worth 6,000 or 6; two are worth 3000, or 3; and one is worth 1000 or 1. If you end the game with seven swans, a set of five and a set of two, they are cumulative, or 18 victory points. Swans come with certain available room tiles, as the room tiles from the Secrets expansion are marked with one or two swans that you place on the room when it is drawn from its deck. Knowing that Castles often ends within a five or ten point spread between the winner and second place, both the winning player and the second player (me) did not exchange any of the swans for coins during the game. Similarly, my recommendation to people playing Secrets for the first time is to save your swans and pay attention to which rooms have which color of swans, as those points can add up fast.

The third new addition is Secret Corridors, which, when placed, double the connection bonuses between rooms. Our group found these kind of hard to place, as the rules governing their placement are pretty strict: they have to be placed between two entrances, but they can’t connect two rooms that are already connected. Playing Secrets a few more times may be conducive to our group learning how to place our rooms with more of a gap between them to accommodate the secret corridors, but in this first time playing Secrets, they did not affect the outcome very much.

Overall, the Moats turned out to be enriching, but confining; while each room I placed earned an extra three points for having an enclosed castle, the small area with which I had to work severely limited my choices of rooms. Also, it didn’t seem that the other players noticed, but other players on their Master Builder phase could put expensive price tags on all the small rooms, and cheap price tags on all the big rooms that they know you won’t be able to fit in your castle, hence pricing out the players that pursued the Moats.

Again, Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Secrets are great fun, and we all love it, but it isn’t an appreciation without reservations.  My main criticism is that at times Castles and the Secrets expansion are overwhelmingly fun, an oxymoron derived from the fact of the long set-up and break-down of the game, as well as the already long decision making involved in adding rooms in Castles that is compounded by the confining walls of Secrets.

You may recall from my post on theme that I mentioned that we only played Star Trek Catan once before, and perhaps this influenced our decision to play Star Trek Catan for our second game of the evening. Also, as we have been consciously avoiding Catan to play other games, it may have been our unconscious minds seizing on an opportunity to let Catan creep into game night. Just as drunks don’t know how they ended up in their garage, we had no plans to play any form of Catan that night, and suddenly there it was on the table.

Make no mistake: Star Trek Catan is about 92% Settlers of Catan in Trekkie cosplay. There are a few differences, which I’ll mention later, but if you know Klaus Teuber’s 1995 classic game, it will take you about five minutes to learn the 2012 Star Trek rendition, and any strategy that works in the former works in the latter as well.  Everything is simply changed via substitution, so that wood becomes dilithium crystals, brick becomes tritanium, wheat becomes oxygen, ore becomes water, wool becomes food, knight cards become Starfleet Intervenes, settlements become outposts, roads become starships, and cities become starbases.

I previously mentioned the wheat/ore/wool domination strategy in 10 point basic Settlers of Catan, and I decided to use it here in Star Trek Catan (where it is an oxygen/water/food strategy) as the only other time I had played it I went for a more basic “build to win” strategy. By “build to win” I mean playing Settlers of Catan the way that it is represented in the rules, that is the winner should be best represented on the board by a predominance of their color, having eked out an empire of settlements, cities, and roads. I prefer this classic Settlers of Catan playing style, as it is more satisfying to have a sense of development on the board. But, as you can see from these photos of our game board, the winning player’s development was mostly off the board. When you look at these photos, intuition would tell you that red should be the winning player, but it was blue (me), who had that tiny empire on the right, that was the winner.


But you can see that my off-board development was pretty intense.


Also, my small Cardassian empire is all Starbases.  (No, you don’t actually get to play Cardassians; but I may have been imagining that while playing.)

There are some differences between Settlers of Catan and Star Trek Catan, the main being that you have six settlements (called outposts) instead of five, but that they do not get returned to your supply when you upgrade them to cities (called starbases). The starbase instead is fitted on top of the outpost on the game board. This means that it is a little harder to get the 10 points to win in Star Trek Catan than in Settlers of Catan. In order to get to 10 points in Star Trek Catan you either have to use all your Starbases (8 points), plus the two remaining Outposts that can’t be converted to Starbases (2 points), or you have to be aggressive going after the Longest Road, Largest Army, and the victory points buried in the development card deck. In original Settlers of Catan, after upgrading your settlements into cities, your settlements return to your hand for new scoring opportunities, and as this does not happen in Star Trek Catan, the latter encourages old-fashioned Catan players not to use the classic “build to win” strategy in order to get their winning total, and to learn some new tricks instead.

Another difference are the Starfleet Officers that each player can claim at difference points of the game. I discovered that Dr McCoy was a great facilitator to my ore/wheat/wool (water/oxygen/food) strategy, as Dr. McCoy can substitute any card he wants when buying a development card. As he can do this twice before he has to be exchanged with another Starfleet Officer, this was a great help in acquiring the Largest Starfleet and all those extra Starfleet Intervenes cards (that I wanted to be victory points for an earlier win). I was switching between McCoy, Spock, and Sarek in this game, as they seemed to have the most useful enhancements for my chosen strategy. Spock lets you claim a resource of your choice when the dice do not allow you to produce, and Sarek lets you upgrade a outpost to a starbase for two water and one oxygen instead of three and two.


Lastly, we played Superfight for the first time, which was the perfect game to round off the evening, as it is a non-strategic party game. Players play character cards and ability cards in order to make a powerful or amusing combination that are judged by a referee. I can say unequivocally that this is a perfect game for your next party, because we had a ball with it even though we played it completely wrong. We were pretty excited to play this one, and skipped some important rules in our haste, but my impression based on the hilarious card combinations that we played and the rules I found online is that it will be even more fun if played in the correct way. My main criticism of referee based games is that they are plagued by bias, or even worse, The Sanjaya Effect, if players want to be particularly obnoxious.

It was a satisfying game night, with the bedrock of Catan modified by the novelty of its Star Trek theme, a hilarious party game played wrong to the merriment of all, and our first time playing an epic expansion to Castles of Mad King Ludwig.  Of all these games, my greatest recommendation goes to Castles of Mad King Ludwig, which despite the long set up, is one of the best games on the market right now.

Buy Castles of Mad King Ludwig on Amazon

Buy Secrets Expansion on Amazon

Buy Star Trek Catan on Amazon

Buy Two Map Expansion for Star Trek Catan

Buy Superfight on Amazon

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