Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"I always thought that board games were things that adults didn't play."
May 10, 2012 3:51 AM   Subscribe

The Politics of Competitive Board Gaming Amongst Friends is a short documentary by Jay Cheel whose subject is summed up by its title. You can see other short films by Cheel at his website. The main protagonist of the doc, Gerry Eng, a.k.a. Reed Farrington, has been the subject of many Cheel films, such as Cooking with Gerry, Cooking with Gerry #2, Poutine, A Very Gerry X-Mas and Reed's House.
posted by Kattullus (84 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Cooking with Gerry" is funny. But he should have cooked the rice the day before, and then left it in the fridge overnight.
posted by carter at 4:23 AM on May 10, 2012


I only watched the board game one. That was good!

I am convinced that these guys also play D&D together.
posted by oddman at 4:54 AM on May 10, 2012


Can't watch right now--do they address the way in which Catan destroys households?
posted by Beardman at 5:13 AM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Reed's House is a Hoarders episode with a lot more mockery and derisive snorts.
posted by fleacircus at 5:22 AM on May 10, 2012


The board game was good but I'm confused about the level of fiction. Does he tape everything and edit it down? Or are they completely actors? Or are they really friends recreating the situation?

Ah, after following some of the links from the film to the site to the blog, it's a re-enactment. But that must mean those guys (or at least Matt and Gerry) are pretty good actors. Their facial expressions are perfect. Then again "Gerry has consistently blown up at every single game since this one" so maybe he just took some shots of real blow-ups (and reactions to same) and used them as re-enactments.
posted by DU at 5:40 AM on May 10, 2012


I once knew a couple that had written a letter to Parker Brothers (?) asking them to stop making RISK as it destroyed relationships. And that game does.
posted by efalk at 5:53 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to be careful playing Cataan. I'm just good enough that I can come close to winning, but don't have the practice to be really good. I find myself getting competitive and, well, kind of pissy about losing.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:00 AM on May 10, 2012


i just saw the episode featuring Reed's house. Oh, wow.
posted by oddman at 6:06 AM on May 10, 2012


If you find playing Risk and Catan problematic, stay the hell away from Diplomacy. Someone might die.
posted by zamboni at 6:09 AM on May 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I once knew a couple that had written a letter to Parker Brothers (?) asking them to stop making RISK as it destroyed relationships. And that game does.

To someone who plays Diplomacy, handwringing about Risk seems very much like reading those Victorian jeremiads against railroads where writers warn that anyone travelling at the ungodly speed of 35 miles per hour will have his lungs sucked out through his esophagus by the unimaginable forces involved.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:10 AM on May 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


My husband and I do not married board game even though we both enjoy them, because one of us plays for fun and one of us plays to win. (And it's not just the winner being over-intense; the funner gets aggravated with the winner taking 20 minutes to decide on the best move IN A CHILDREN'S GAME and making it take so long it gets boring, which makes the winner mad that we're not playing slooooowly and strategically. Anyway, it ends with everybody shouting.)

You can really only game with people who share your gaming faith -- are you a Catholic gamer, who's enjoys pageantry and the beauty of the (miniature) created world and wants to have some fun during the game since the end of the game is eternal and unchangeable, or a Protestant gamer, who's here to work, and prefers a stripped-down game, since beauty in the created world, and fun itself, are just a distraction from eternal things like WINNING?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:12 AM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Reed's House is hilarious1...but who is Reed? That guy is Gerry.

1Wait. I just got to the formerly maggoty chocolate bars. This guy has an illness.
posted by DU at 6:27 AM on May 10, 2012


D'oh, I just re-read the post. Gerry = Reed. For some reason.
posted by DU at 6:27 AM on May 10, 2012


As mentioned yesterday, here are the three things you need to know about Diplomacy (revised):

a) it requires seven players;
b) it will take seven hours to play;
c) it will destroy any belief you may have that humans are fundamentally good.
posted by Shepherd at 6:36 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


How on Earth do you form a gaming group that just plays Catan? Catan is like a gateway drug into real board gaming. Like, how is it that after a couple of weeks you don't get into the harder stuff?
posted by IAmUnaware at 6:36 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Pretty easily. Three friends and I played easily 150-200 games of Catan - and only Catan - over the course of a year. It's not like I didn't know about BoardGameGeek, but we were students so we didn't have a lot of cash, plus we were so fast at playing we could get a game over in 45 minutes, meaning we could do two games before heading to the pub!
posted by adrianhon at 6:42 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


zamboni: "If you find playing Risk and Catan problematic, stay the hell away from Diplomacy. Someone might die."

No, seriously. If someone asks you to play Diplomacy, they are probably breaking up with you.
posted by schmod at 6:46 AM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


How on Earth do you form a gaming group that just plays Catan?

Pre-BoardGameGeek, my friends and I played just Settlers, Puerto Rico, and Illuminati for about a year. We had a leaderboard, which was a big part of what kept us going. Buying a $50 board game just based on box art and mildly enthusiastic description on the back seemed like too much of a risk for me.

Eyebrows, your Protestant/Catholic analogy is excellent! I can see both sides. I'm tickled when it seems like my "guys" seem to be emulating a real situation, but I love winning, especially against other people that love winning and hate losing.
posted by ignignokt at 6:54 AM on May 10, 2012


On the other hand, there's Acquire. That game's the shit.
posted by schmod at 6:59 AM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Normally, I am the ultra-competitive, sore loser in my relationship and my husband is placid no matter if he's winning or losing.

But Catan just pisses him off. I thought he was going to tip the table last time we played, when it was clear literally 5 minutes in that I was going to win. I wouldn't let him quit early because honestly, he picked the shittiest starting cities, and he needs to learn.
posted by muddgirl at 7:04 AM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Don't miss Jay Cheel's short of Gerry Eng/Reed Farrington auditioning for the role of John Titor.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:10 AM on May 10, 2012


There are also some games out there where it's the players playing against the board. I've found those handy when there are younger/less confrontational players at the table.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:14 AM on May 10, 2012


I really need to not be a complete introvert a gaming group.
posted by jeather at 7:16 AM on May 10, 2012


I wouldn't let him quit early because honestly, he picked the shittiest starting cities, and he needs to learn.

Catan gets a lot more interesting, and a lot more grudgy, once everybody has internalized the optimal starting placement strategies.
posted by gauche at 7:17 AM on May 10, 2012


If you find playing Risk and Catan problematic, stay the hell away from Diplomacy. Someone might die.

Piffle. In my family we've had year-long cross-generational vendettas over Scrabble.
posted by elizardbits at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like playing board games with nice people, but watching that made me miss playing board games or poker with friends that were blatantly antagonistic. Mmm, mild confrontation flavor!
posted by ignignokt at 7:25 AM on May 10, 2012


There are also some games out there where it's the players playing against the board. I've found those handy when there are younger/less confrontational players at the table.

We thought this too...and then discovered that as bad as it is to play against overagressive confrontational people, it is a thousand times more annoying to have those same overagressive confrontational people telling you what to do with your turn and getting increasingly hysterical when everyone is not on board with their vision for how the players should beat the game. Many of the "cooperative" games we've played have devolved into two intense people bickering over the board while everyone else has drifted into the kitchen to drink wine and laugh at them.
posted by apparently at 7:33 AM on May 10, 2012


We thought this too...and then discovered that as bad as it is to play against overagressive confrontational people, it is a thousand times more annoying to have those same overagressive confrontational people telling you what to do with your turn and getting increasingly hysterical when everyone is not on board with their vision for how the players should beat the game. Many of the "cooperative" games we've played have devolved into two intense people bickering over the board while everyone else has drifted into the kitchen to drink wine and laugh at them.

Play Space Alert. It is THE co-operative boardgame, with the added bonus that it's so frantic that no-one can possible "quarterback" the game (tell everyone else what to do) because there's not enough time and too much is going on. A single game is over in 20 minutes, so you can play a whole bunch in a row.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:47 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cooperative games have a serious problem in that they very frequently devolve into just the most outspoken player versus the game while everybody else just sits back and watches. Either your group has to go into the game with just the right mindset or you have to establish some fairly strict rules about table talk in order for those games to remain fun for anybody but the outspoken guy.
posted by IAmUnaware at 7:49 AM on May 10, 2012


I've heard that before about Space Alert, but I've never gotten the chance to try it. I'll have to see if I can pick up a copy.
posted by IAmUnaware at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2012


But Catan just pisses him off. I thought he was going to tip the table last time we played, when it was clear literally 5 minutes in that I was going to win.

I have played Catan twenty or thirty times now, and in every game it was clear five minutes in who was going to win. This why Catan pisses me off. I think it is just fine as an introduction to Euro-style games, but as an ongoing game of choice, it is like holding a tic-tac-toe tournament every weekend.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:58 AM on May 10, 2012


I have played Catan twenty or thirty times now, and in every game it was clear five minutes in who was going to win.

Starting placement is important, but there are a lot of paths to victory. I feel like people tend to focus on scoring by expanding on the board. A certain amount of that is fundamental to getting regular resources, but I've found that people neglect victory by development cards and end up frustrating themselves because they aren't getting the resources they want to support the expansionist strategy that they want to pursue.

Also, if you're playing with 4 players, or 6 with the expansion, starting placement becomes a lot more important -- and probably unbalances the game -- than if you're playing with 3 or 5.
posted by gauche at 8:07 AM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


or you have to establish some fairly strict rules about table talk in order for those games to remain fun for anybody but the outspoken guy.

Or you need the other players not to be doormats. I've played perfectly successfully with lots of various levels of outspoken players, not all of whom agree on what the best plan is at any given time. (Sometimes it's obvious, but often it isn't.) If you're playing with a bully or someone who pouts when another strategy is chosen, that's a problem, but the point of a cooperative game is to have people saying what their ideas are so they can actually cooperate, and you need people who will fight for their ideas to do that successfully.
posted by jeather at 8:30 AM on May 10, 2012


Yeah, our #1 rule in cooperative games is, "It's your move." Otherwise the most aggressive player might as well solo the game.
posted by muddgirl at 8:37 AM on May 10, 2012


This is so great, and what a great project this filmmaker has in Gerry.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:46 AM on May 10, 2012


There are also some games out there where it's the players playing against the board.

In my experience, the prime example of this is the out-of-print Avalon Hill game Republic of Rome. While the players are playing against each other, the game is simultaneously trying to take you all down. Each player is a faction in the Roman senate, guiding the policy of the republic (prosecuting wars, appointing governors, raising and lowering taxes, sponsoring gladiatorial games to keep the populace amused). Players have to cooperate to keep the republic afloat but are also competing, lest someone become too powerful and take charge as Emperor (and win the game for himself). While you are deciding on how to expand the republic, sometimes your personal situation plays into it (if my family became rich -- and still makes its money -- from shipbuilding, I am probably going to be trying to convince my fellow senators of how crucial it is to defeat the Carthaginians through building a powerful fleet). When wars go unprosecuted and provinces fall to the barbarians, the unrest level of the populace goes up. Every turn, whoever is the current Big Cheese makes a State of the Republic address to the crowds, which can reduce the unrest or make it worse. At least once I have seen a SOTR address go so badly the enraged crowd swarmed the senate chambers and killed half the senators, sending many of the rest fleeing into exile.

There are intricate strategies: if another player has won a war and come home covered in glory, you may try to get the senate to honour him by making him governor of some far-flung province, which will get him out of Rome and weaken his faction by that much. You might find that the best general to lead the legions into war has already won several wars and has so much popularity and influence that letting him win another would be dangerous -- can't have too many legions loyal to one man -- so the senate winds up sending someone less competent to fight the war. You can propose motions that benefit your enemies but once it is your turn to vote, veto the motion so you can see where everyone's loyalty lies. And if all else fails, there is always the traditional assassination attempts.

There is some randomness to it: the First Punic War is in the offing at the start of the game and it is fairly easy to win, but gets harder once Hannibal and/or Hamilcar appears in the deck and rises to power in Carthage, so often the more hawkish players and the merely pragmatic ones have common cause. I recall playing once where we had a fairly peaceful first few turns and I found myself in the role of Cassandra, prophesying imminent destruction (correctly) and having no one believe me.

The combination of competition and cooperation required and the way that decisions affecting all get shaped by the self-interest of a powerful few make it the best political game I know.

The thing is twenty years gone, but at any given point there seem to be a half-dozen copies on eBay for $50 or so. Totally worth it, if you have four or five competitive friends who can spare a Saturday afternoon.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:50 AM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Cosmic Encounter, the game everyone can win together!
posted by scalefree at 9:23 AM on May 10, 2012


Cosmic Encounter, the game everyone can win together!

Maybe it is some inherent cynicism in my part, but I have always taken more enjoyment from games that everyone can lose together.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:47 AM on May 10, 2012


Starting placement is important, but there are a lot of paths to victory. I feel like people tend to focus on scoring by expanding on the board. A certain amount of that is fundamental to getting regular resources, but I've found that people neglect victory by development cards and end up frustrating themselves because they aren't getting the resources they want to support the expansionist strategy that they want to pursue.

This is part of why I think Catan is a lesser game than the others in its cohort. Honestly? Winning by development cards is boring and unglamorous. It has none of the evil secret plan appeal that the less obvious strategies in games like Power Grid do.
posted by invitapriore at 10:06 AM on May 10, 2012


Maybe it is some inherent cynicism in my part, but I have always taken more enjoyment from games that everyone can lose together.

What other games are there besides Pandemic where that's possible?
posted by invitapriore at 10:07 AM on May 10, 2012


Arkham Horror!
posted by muddgirl at 10:08 AM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


What other games are there besides Pandemic where that's possible?

Since you asked, off the top of my head...

Lord of the Rings

Yggdrasil

Arkham Horror

Elder Sign (same designers, different rules, much lighter gameplay)

Battlestar Galactica (sometimes there is a traitor, when there isn't, it's everyone vs. the board)

Shadows Over Camelot (ditto)

Red November

A Touch of Evil
posted by Shepherd at 10:18 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Battlestar Galactica (sometimes there is a traitor, when there isn't, it's everyone vs. the board)

No -- it is a fine game, but there is always at least one traitor. Sometimes there are two. You may be misremembering because sometimes the traitor(s) do not find out they are toasters until halfway through the game. Thus, sometimes everyone is on the same side for part of the game.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:31 AM on May 10, 2012


Cranium Hoopla is also a collaborative game, but it does focus on individual players' talents and skills, which can be a little stressful.
posted by Xoder at 10:45 AM on May 10, 2012


You may be misremembering because sometimes the traitor(s) do not find out they are toasters until halfway through the game.

It's been at least two years since I've played, so I defer to your knowledge – I was under the impression that it was possible for nobody to draw a Cylon card (improbable, but possible). Now that you've jogged my memory, I think there might be an in/out "Sympathizer" card that might have confused me.
posted by Shepherd at 10:50 AM on May 10, 2012


What other games are there besides Pandemic where that's possible?

The designers of Sentinels of the Multiverse aimed for the players to lose a significant percentage of the time. (Disclaimer: the designers are friends of mine and the company is a client).
posted by jedicus at 11:07 AM on May 10, 2012


It's been at least two years since I've played, so I defer to your knowledge – I was under the impression that it was possible for nobody to draw a Cylon card (improbable, but possible). Now that you've jogged my memory, I think there might be an in/out "Sympathizer" card that might have confused me.

Yeah, it is many things, but "simple" is not one of them. The first time I played, there were three of us and we had to learn from reading the rules (that is, rather than having an experienced player to ask questions of). After a few dead ends and odd that-can't-be-right moments, we eventually sussed it out. As one of the players remarked, "Good thing we are all experienced boardgamers, fans of the show, and have fifty-three years of schooling among us, or we might never have figured this out."

And now that I think about it, there would be situations in which your improbable situation is totally correct: if no-one draws a Cylon card until the halfway point, but then the humans botch it so badly that they are wiped out before even reaching the halfway point...
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2012


Risk. Let me tell you about Risk...

I would play it in 7th grade against my friend Bert, afterschool at my house. This was the old set, with the pointy caltrop-shaped pieces.

Neither of us was a tactician, but Bert had an edge - the dice always seemed to go his way.

I was assaulting Kamchatka or something with a three-to-one advantage in armies. And lost - roll, after roll, after roll, until my weakened forces had to retreat. Completely fed up I lobbed a Risk piece at Bert's head. POINK!

He looked up in surprise, and my second lob landed on his nose. His response was to pitch an entire box of pieces at me, whereupon I flipped the board at him. It was raining Risk pieces for ten minutes before we collapsed, laughing.

I was still stepping on hidden Risk pieces in the carpet years later. That game leaves bruises.
posted by bitmage at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What other games are there besides Pandemic where that's possible?
posted by invitapriore at 10:07 AM on May 10 [+] [!]


Arkham Horror!
posted by muddgirl at 10:08 AM on May 10 [+] [!]


Oh man, that game... I've played something like a dozen times now, but the last game session with my friends was almost a breaking point. The first run was... brutal. Ugly. Shub-Nigguroth pinned us down and used our mouths as toilets. It was straight *dispiriting*. Then the second game went SO shockingly smoothly, it was almost like the old ones came back to the doorstoop all sheepish with flowers, going "I'm sorry baby, you know I didn't mean it, you just know how I get sometimes..."

Once you get used to the flow of it, it's a pretty fun game, and the expansions can add some pretty fun mechanics as well. Our one major house rule is 'Starting: draw three investigators and pick one. Unless you draw Mandy, then you play Mandy.'
posted by FatherDagon at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2012


We thought this too...and then discovered that as bad as it is to play against overagressive confrontational people, it is a thousand times more annoying to have those same overagressive confrontational people telling you what to do with your turn and getting increasingly hysterical when everyone is not on board with their vision for how the players should beat the game.

You can also try lower-interactivity games. Dominion, for example, was specifically designed to minimize politics to avoid the problem of the overbearing asshole. For example, when you do an attack in Dominion it targets all the other players, not just one person you pick, so it is more about building up your own thing than picking a player and screwing them over. There still is politics and interaction but it's more subtle.

Race for the Galaxy is similar, as are Puerto Rico and Agricola and Stone Age and other worker placement/role selection games, though they can be a little more cutthroat because you have more power to deny a specific other player a thing they really really need. (Though avoiding getting in such a vulnerable situation becomes a good thing.) Also political players there will be trying to sell you hard on a certain move that benefits them more than some other move you could do. So in a way it is more political and less of a target-another-player-to-fuck kind of game.

Of course, deciding what game to play in the first place becomes part of the politics.
posted by fleacircus at 12:32 PM on May 10, 2012


Or you could play something like Bang! or Munchkin where it's all screw-you but there's enough luck to keep it interesting and at least it's overt.
posted by fleacircus at 12:35 PM on May 10, 2012


They're pretty serious about their Catan, that's the 15th Anniversary Limited Edition set they're using.
posted by Hogshead at 12:46 PM on May 10, 2012


My game-playing friends and I cycle through the games that could be classified as "relationship killers." Once we realize we're getting a little too invested and cut-throat, we shelve it for a few months and move on to a new (or old) game. We've had to do this Catan (and it's various extensions & spin-offs -- the "Settlers of America: Trails to Rails," btw, has alternatiely fascinated us with it's seemingly complex structure, and bored us because once we figured out how it worked, it seemed so simple. I mean, you get a piece a gold if you don't happen to get a resource card on the dice roll. It's odd sensation to go from what was essentially, for us, a "market game" [the wheeling-and-dealing in trading resource cards seems to be the highlight for us] to a "just buy your way out of trouble" game. "God bless America" has become the defacto catch-phrase when we get our pity piece of gold).

In fact, I think it's been over a year since we've played any Catan. We're currently going through a Carcassone phase, although now that I've recently discovered there's an expansion pack to Pandemic (with petrie dishes! and bio-terrorists!), we may put that aside and relive the glory days of staring at each other in crestfallen angst because, once again, we were maybe two turns shy of saving the world. Pandemic was, for us, one of the more addicting games we've played, because you just didn't want to end the night with a disease ridden world.

Thankfully, though, despite some pretty hefty competitive players, we're all mostly there for the chatty social aspect, so we don't hold grudges too long.

On the other hand, there's Acquire. That game's the shit.

Yes. Oh yes.

After we first discovered this game (the old-school "book style" version from a friend-of-a-friend's basement), we played it every single week for almost two years. I'm not exactly sure how we did that, really, without killing any relationships.

We did, however, pre-empt relationships with this game. It was a bit of a litmus test -- if you play with this game for us and don't appreciate the Complete And Utter Sancity of the Board Meeting (yes, we called our game night the "Board Meeting." Because we are dorks), then you will not be invited back. If, however, you are able to understand the utter ruthless, back-stabbing, psychological warfare needed to survive this game, then you are welcome with open arms. And really, it seemed like a lot of people we introduced to the game either loved it or hated it. Very rarely was there any middle-ground. Some people hated it because you needed too much strategy; some people hated it because you couldn't count on strategy. (Which is why it is so awesome.)

However, Acquire is a game where we are more inclined to... ah... cheat, than in our other games. While bizarre market-trades happen in Catan, I will fully relish those (literal) under-the-table deals to yank the majority from another player. In our defense, she is the type of player who always seems to win. Always. Plus, she's the super competetive type. Her husband and I, while also fairly competetive, are more there for the social aspects -- although generally we seem to somehow antagonize each other so much that eventually I made a rule that I could not sit in a seat that followed his turn because his tiles would invariably screw up what little strategy I had. But the "enemy of our enemy" and all that -- so if we see that his wife is clearly, clearly going to blow us out of the water, we will make silent stock-exchange deals to ensure that she somehow [puts on innocent face] does not end up the majority holder, yet again, of Imperial that has, like, 40 tiles on the board.

While she is aware of our penchant for rule-bending, she still has never been fully informed of our (literal) under-handed deviousness. We consider it just adding a touch of back-room, double-dealing reality to our "high adventure in the world of high finance."

And now I'm suddenly craving a Board Meeting.
posted by paisley sheep at 3:37 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Alao, my standard strategy (once I realize I am not geting the cards/tiles I need or I've made risky decisions that have backfired) is to basically do all I can to take you down with me. I will purposefully place roads/buildings/tiles or take the last bit of stock even though it won't benefit me cost wise just to be annoying and make it harder for you to win.

OH MY GOD I AM MATT.
posted by paisley sheep at 3:50 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


OH MY GOD I FORGOT TO CHECK FOR IPHONE-TINY-KEYBOARD-TYPOS BEFORE HITTING POST.
posted by paisley sheep at 4:11 PM on May 10, 2012


Warning: it's a board game thread and that's a topic I'm currently obsessive about, so this comment is going to be long....

Can't watch right now--do they address the way in which Catan destroys households?

Catan isn't that bad. Our personal "favorite" game that we can't play anymore because people get mad is Carcassonne. It's one of the few games on BoardGameGeek that supports four or more players, but everyone votes is best played with two. Played aggressively, there is so much you can do that game to shut your opponent the hell down, so much that, with us at least, the game ends up being about unspoken agreements about what is proper to do to mess up your opponent and what isn't, and when's the best time to violate them.

Pretty easily. Three friends and I played easily 150-200 games of Catan - and only Catan - over the course of a year. It's not like I didn't know about BoardGameGeek, but we were students so we didn't have a lot of cash, plus we were so fast at playing we could get a game over in 45 minutes, meaning we could do two games before heading to the pub!

If even one of you has an iPad then you can get several excellent board game adaptions for very little:
Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Catan, Dominion (also for iPhone, but needs one system per player), Pente, Small World (two players only though), Forbidden Island, Tigris and Euphrates, Puerto Rico, Caylus, Chicago Express (under the name Wabash Cannonball), Scotland Yard (under the name Detective Chase). And the word is they're working on Rivals for Catan/Catan: The Card Game, and motherfucking Agricola. iOS Risk makes that game actually playable, and there are several versions of Boggle, which is an idiosyncratic favorite of mine. And then there's Scrabble and Scrabble-likes, of course. iOS is THE platform for computer board gaming.

But Catan just pisses him off. I thought he was going to tip the table last time we played, when it was clear literally 5 minutes in that I was going to win. I wouldn't let him quit early because honestly, he picked the shittiest starting cities, and he needs to learn.

It is true -- your starting position matters a huge amount in Catan, we've have several games in which the winner was determined before the first turn was taken. In the name of helping groups get better at Catan so you can have more even games, here's some tips (some restated from my board game article for Gamasutra):
When placing cities, these elements must be kept in mind, deciding which of them are of greater importance is something you could have debates about:
1. Count the dots. This is the most basic strategy. The number of dots on the hexes adjacent to your city is directly proportional to the average card income from those hexes. The highest possible dots on a city, although it's rare, is 13; placing a city there is rarely a bad move.
2. Targeting rare resources. This is more advanced. All resources are needed at some time or another. It is often the case that one resource will have only one producing hex with a decent number of dots. By getting a city on that, you can set yourself up for advantageous trades with other players. This has the side effect that, if someone targets that hex for the robber, he indirectly harms all the players. If you're locked out from an essential hex, you can get around it partly, if you have a lot of dots, by targeting harbors.
3. Get a good spread of numbers. Having a lot of dots is not always as good as having a variety of numbers coming in. In Catan the dice are capricious, and sometimes common numbers come up rarely. You can guard against this by "claiming" as many numbers as possible... with emphasis on those with more dots, of course.
4. Targeting expansion resources. In the early game, wood and brick are the most important resources, enough so that picking a spot that gives you both wood and brick when placing your second city can be worth a dot or two of tradeoff, just so you can build a road on your first turn and set yourself up to build a new settlement.
5. But, if there's a spot that gets you lots of grain and ore dots, take it. I had a game once where I managed to claim two spots that were overflowing with grain and ore. I went last, and by the time the turn got around to me I already had enough resources to get a city, and my next turn I got my other starting settlement upgraded. With that income, I was able to do lots of trading for other resources for expansion, and I won before turn 10. It was a grossly atypical game, but lots of fun... for me, at least.

There are also some games out there where it's the players playing against the board. I've found those handy when there are younger/less confrontational players at the table.

Seek out Forbidden Island. It's from the guy who designed Pandemic, and it's a very similar game, but it's over with in 30 minutes. It's a good challenge.

I have played Catan twenty or thirty times now, and in every game it was clear five minutes in who was going to win. This why Catan pisses me off.

Show your friends my starting placement tips above, and you should start to get closer games. Also, a tipping point in Catan is when the players realize that other players who are behind are a resource they can exploit; you can trade with them and be in less danger of giving an opponent a leg-up they might use to get an insurmountable lead, so you can afford to trade less advantageously with them.

Cosmic Encounter, the game everyone can win together!

Not too often though. I'm not aware of Cosmic Encounter encouraging shared wins much more than other games.

This is part of why I think Catan is a lesser game than the others in its cohort. Honestly? Winning by development cards is boring and unglamorous. It has none of the evil secret plan appeal that the less obvious strategies in games like Power Grid do.

Development cards are a perfectly valid way to win at Catan, I don't see what's "unglamourous" about them. In fact, chasing them always makes for a risky game, since there's so much randomness involved. There are 5 VPs in the deck, but only 25 cards in all, so generally each card has a one-fifth change of being a victory point. But the real danger with Development cards is that, if you go after them instead of building, you lag behind in card income, which can quickly become fatal.

What other games are there besides Pandemic where that's possible?

See Forbidden Island. It's very much Pandemic Lite.
posted by JHarris at 5:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


While bizarre market-trades happen in Catan, I will fully relish those (literal) under-the-table deals to yank the majority from another player. In our defense, she is the type of player who always seems to win.

I feel I have to remind you that Acquire is not intended to be a game that is played that way -- trading between players is completely against the rules. You are not playing Acquire; you are playing a house-ruled variant. There are games where I feel the right house rules can improve play, but Acquire is not one of them.

As for dealing with your shark opponent, by cheating against her you are doing both her and yourselves a disservice -- she, because her skills are not resulting in her winning when they rightfully should, and you, because by playing in this way you are giving yourselves a crutch and not improving. Why are you playing board games if not to honestly approach the game fairly? If it's to win at any cost, then I submit that you might be playing for the wrong reasons.

Instead, why not look around BoardGameGeek and learn some effective Acquire strategies, then share them with your opponents?
posted by JHarris at 6:00 PM on May 10, 2012


Lie, Cheat & Steal: the game where cheating isn't just mandatory, it's even in the name.
posted by scalefree at 6:37 PM on May 10, 2012


I feel I have to remind you that Acquire is not intended to be a game that is played that way -- trading between players is completely against the rules. You are not playing Acquire; you are playing a house-ruled variant. There are games where I feel the right house rules can improve play, but Acquire is not one of them.

As for dealing with your shark opponent, by cheating against her you are doing both her and yourselves a disservice -- she, because her skills are not resulting in her winning when they rightfully should, and you, because by playing in this way you are giving yourselves a crutch and not improving. Why are you playing board games if not to honestly approach the game fairly? If it's to win at any cost, then I submit that you might be playing for the wrong reasons.

Instead, why not look around BoardGameGeek and learn some effective Acquire strategies, then share them with your opponents?


Noted, and agreed regarding "house rules." When we play Acquire with others who are not the standard three-or-four of us who have been playing this game in the marathon manner to which we were once accustomed (again, we played this weekly for at least a year, possibly longer -- we were, you could say, mildly obsessed), we abide by the rules and are totally fine with that. We have, by no means, made a house rule about trading or selling stock to another player. In fact, we're pretty adamant about following. Which makes it sound like I'm contradicting myself, but it's to let you know we knew we were cheating (yep, that's what we were doing) by exchanging a couple of my Luxors for his one Imperial that would make my card count tie with hers.

I apologize that I made it sound like we cheat all the time -- we don't. We're aware of strategy, and we use it to our advantage. For example, I know the general tactics my "shark opponent" uses, and I find that the easiest way to win against her (because she typically invests highly in one expensive hotel) is to make sure I've quietly (and legally!) got at least secondary in everything on the board. By letting the others duke it out for maybe one or two majorities -- but having secondary in everything -- is often a surprising win (at least to your opponents who generally are more focused on majority stock share, and find it amusing you've bought up a "little bit of everything" and are quickly cashless -- yet somehow rake in the dough at the end). Oh, and I'm not about to share this tactic with my opponents because I like quietly winning. Although by now we're all fairly aware of each other's tactics, so it's more just a matter of seeing if you've got the better tiles to make sure your strategy trumps the others (and is why we often will play random tiles -- or refuse to play that critical tile -- just because we know, for tonight, our standard strategy will not work, but we could mess up someone else. Yes, I'm not the only annoying one in our group, apparently).

So, I am fully aware that Acquire is not intended to be played the way I originally described above, but I typically play with friends who, after we've been playing something for awhile, come up with "house rules" to make it more interesting (not all are so devious). For example, we've made it a house rule in Catan that if someone rolls a 7, the extraneous cards don't go back to the bank -- instead, they go to the person that rolled the 7. This also ups the strategy because it isn't merely giving up cards you could have used, but that will never be used again -- it's possibly giving an advantage to your opponent. It also makes the robber that much more dreaded if you've suddenly got a handful of cards and your turn is three rolls away.

However, I'm not sure what you mean by "playing for the wrong reasons." Yes, there are rules to a game, which by and large we do follow. But board games are a standard social get-together reason for us. We play as a way to interact and chat and try new and interesting food, and, well, just be together. Sure; we're all competitive, and in the moment we like to try and win, but there's been countless times we've paused a game to do [some random thing that's distracted us] and never come back to finish.

Winning is fun, sure, and there's nothing like the thrill in discovering that, holy crap, you're about to win Catan without using a single bonus-point card.

But for us, this "playing with rules" can often make for fun shared stories and friendly group-bonding situations. Like the moment a couple traded out of turn during Catan only to discover they had traded each other for the same resource. Or when my beloved "shark" friend purposefully left out a rule when I was first learning Carcassonne because she wanted to make sure she got a certain farmer spot that by rights should have been at least an option for me, only to have me beat her in the end anyway.

So while I totally understand where you're coming from, and I agree that it's always best to learn the correct way to play the game -- for my personal group of friends, we see playing games as game-play in-and-of-itself. Which sometimes includes under-handed shenanigans.
posted by paisley sheep at 7:31 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Playing for the wrong reasons" is, putting winning above: the joy of playing, the working on and trying out of strategy, the attempt to play as well as possible given the constraints of the game. Since you aren't actually playing Acquire when you cheat, what have you won at?

Playing with house rules, if they are known and agreed to by all players, is okay provided you've all played enough to understand their consequences. (Which excludes nearly all Monopoly players who play with Free Parking jackpots.) Indeed they can liven up old games, and helps players to understand the game's workings better.

I'm sorry if I came across as condemning in my comment. All I can do is offer my own experience -- if I was in the position of yer shark friend and I found out that the other players were conspiring against me outside the rules, I would have to think hard about whether I wanted to play with them again in the future. But your circle may have different expectations, and approach games like Acquire less seriously than we do (which is somewhat seriously), so please take that into account when you read my comments. Indeed, judging from your friend's attitude when teaching you Carcassonne, it's possible that I should be lecturing her, heh. Yeah that's me, JHarris. Metafilter member. Board game scold.
posted by JHarris at 9:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Development cards are a perfectly valid way to win at Catan, I don't see what's "unglamourous" about them. In fact, chasing them always makes for a risky game, since there's so much randomness involved.

Well, I think what we're getting at here are the two different levels on which a game mechanic operates. There's the technical level, on which I agree with you that development cards present an interesting challenge, but there's also the level of emotional resonances, where something about the mechanic allows you to get emotionally invested in it on the basis of something other than how it works or whether it will help you win. I grant that that second level is an entirely subjective one, but I just don't get that sense from the cards -- unlike the straightforward strategy of building cities and towns and roads, where you get the sense of "fuck yeah look at my sprawling industrial empire," I've never found much to latch on to in the card situation.
posted by invitapriore at 10:48 AM on May 11, 2012


Development cards can give you a sense of "Fuck yeah, look at my army! My empire may be small but it's well-defended! 2 VP!"
posted by muddgirl at 10:52 AM on May 11, 2012


I grant that that second level is an entirely subjective one, but I just don't get that sense from the cards -- unlike the straightforward strategy of building cities and towns and roads, where you get the sense of "fuck yeah look at my sprawling industrial empire," I've never found much to latch on to in the card situation.

I suspect that the development cards were ultimately added as a play-balancing thing rather than an integral part of the actual game mechanic. Whenever I've seen the game explained, development cards get like two sentences: "you can also buy these development cards which do different things. There's a list of all of them in the rules that you might want to look at at some point so you know what they do."

Now, whether this makes victory-by-cards a pointless way to win on a technicality, or a sneaky and subversive way to snatch victory from the hands of a player with superior play on the board, is totally something about which YMMV.
posted by gauche at 11:04 AM on May 11, 2012


It should be noted that you can't get more than seven points from cards alone (5 VPs + Largest Army). That, coupled with great luck and your first two settlements, is 9 points, and that requires 24 resources to purchase. The point is, you can't win entirely through development cards. And people who complain that someone won mainly through cards are likely those who lost to it -- that is, those whose grapes are sour.

The core gameplay of Settlers of Catan, I'd argue, is not building but resource collection, and trading. The race for development cards is just another front in the war fueled by that that mechanic, and a necessary one, considering how it's possible to get locked down in building.
posted by JHarris at 11:49 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Development cards can give you a sense of "Fuck yeah, look at my army! My empire may be small but it's well-defended! 2 VP!"

Yeah, and I think that's where our subjective responses come in -- I find that to be more of a stretch with the cards as compared to the buildings, other people might find the cards more evocative, though in light of all of these excellent defenses of the mechanic I do feel bound to retract my claim that Settlers of Catan is a lesser game. I got that confused with my liking it less.
posted by invitapriore at 12:18 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


...though I suspect that gauche might be on to something with regards to their origins.
posted by invitapriore at 12:20 PM on May 11, 2012


I do agree that development cards were an afterthought, probably to balance resource-usage between the different options in the early game. I really like the Event Card deck added in later expansions and I think something similar could have been added in development cards. I do think Catan is a fundamentally unbalanced game, for how simple it is, although the Event Cards do help.
posted by muddgirl at 1:49 PM on May 11, 2012


Now saying a game is unbalanced is different than one that favors one strategy over another. (And I don't think it's been established that chasing development cards is some kind of super strategy, far from it in fact you'll lose much more often than you win that way.) If it is unbalanced, who is it unbalanced in favor of?
posted by JHarris at 3:14 PM on May 11, 2012


It's not unbalanced towards some 'super-strategy'. It's unbalanced in the spectrum from pure luck to any strategy. In the last game I played, I didn't win because I had the undeniably best starting position - I won because I had the starting position that weathered that particular set of dice rolls (that day we rolled way more >7's than <7's, and my starting cities didn't have more dots, they just happened to have higher numbers). The reason that Event Cards help that is because resource 'rolls' pre-distributed, rather than randomized.

In my experience, pure luck games can be fun. Pure strategy games are fun for those who are experienced. Games with a good balance of both are very fun. But games somewhere between pure-luck and balanced can be really annoying, because your strategy seems to fail for no discernable reason.
posted by muddgirl at 3:22 PM on May 11, 2012


I don't mean discernable, I mean 'affectable'.
posted by muddgirl at 3:23 PM on May 11, 2012


There are two things that can be done concerning Settlers of Catan's vulnerability to die rolls:

1. If you aren't willing to change the game itself, then as I suggested in my starting location thingy up above, you can target a range of numbers instead of whatever gives the most dots, so you get some card income over a wider range of die rolls. After all, 6s and 8s have 10 dots total, but the other numbers added together have twenty. Consciously going after a range of numbers better ensures you get some cards coming in regardless of what is rolled.

2. Some Catan players use other methods for determining which hexes produce instead of dice. One option is to use cards. You could make a deck of such cards yourself with two ordinary decks of playing cards with matching backs. Understand Jacks as 11 and Queens as 12. Then, construct a deck containing: 1 2 (suits don't matter), 2 3s, 3 4s, 4 5s, 5 6s, 6 7s, 5 8s, 4 9s, 3 10s, 2 Jacks and 1 Queen. (The only reason you need two decks of playing cards to make this is because there are more than four 6s, 7s and 8s. You could substitute other unused cards for these, like Kings of Aces, if it's not too much for everyone to remember.)

Then, at the start of the game shuffle these cards, and instead of rolling have players draw a card. This guarantees no numbers will get shut out while preserving the uncertainty of which hexes produce when. When the deck is depleted shuffle the discards and make a new deck.

Or, you could deal the cards out to the players and give them a small deck of them. A 3-player game, every player will get 12 cards. In a 4-player game, they will each have 9. At the start of a player's turn, they must choose one of their cards to play and discard. This gives players some agency over what resources get produced, but still forces players to use all their cards and so ensures that all the numbers still come up. An interesting thing about this variant is that it gives players much more agency over choosing when to attack with the robber.
posted by JHarris at 4:07 PM on May 11, 2012


Ah, I think the "event cards" muddgirl refers to basically duplicate the playing cards used in the variant I described.
posted by JHarris at 4:15 PM on May 11, 2012


But games somewhere between pure-luck and balanced can be really annoying, because your strategy seems to fail for no [affectable] reason.

I agree with what you're saying, thought I think some people are too quick to blame the game for having too much luck when it's more that they didn't anticipate or account for the risk. They might agree with you too but I think they'd have the wrong reasons.

Either way, Catan allows you to trade which is a huge evening out factor. The group I played with was heavy into trading, and from what I saw, a player's skill in trades could more than cover for luck.
posted by fleacircus at 5:08 PM on May 11, 2012


You can only trade if you have something useful to trade, so it can't entirely make up for the dice. But yes, trading can make up for deficiencies in one or more card types. Unlike Monopoly however, the fate of the game isn't usually tied into individual trades unless they're made when a player already has 8 or 9 points, at which time trading with that player tends to break down (or it does, if the other players know what's good for them).
posted by JHarris at 6:03 PM on May 11, 2012


Sorry, I thought everyone knew about the wonders of Catan: Event Cards. I think you can still find them alone but they've been packaged with later expansions.

Even trading resources is hobbled by a couple factors - the lack of diversity in strategies (everyone needs the same resources at different points in the game), and the robber disincentivizing storing cards for later use.

Don't get me wrong - I do enjoy this game, but I can completely understand why it's frustrating and why "Just play super-optimally and hope the dice go your way" is an unsatisfying response. Might as well play craps, no?
posted by muddgirl at 8:53 PM on May 11, 2012


If you had nothing, you could still trade futures! But yeah, sometimes you have nothing, though less often if you're a good player. Even if you use cards instead of dice, the ordering can still leave you screwed, though.

What makes me ultimately not like Catan is being behind with no way to win and the resulting kingmaking, which happens in lots and lots of games.

"Just play super-optimally and hope the dice go your way" is an unsatisfying response.

Even in a deterministic game, the choices of the other player amount to luck, risk. Will they recognize your strategy? Will they call your bluff? Will they see the big move? You can't control everything. Though I would agree that Catan takes too long for the amount of luck there is for most players.
posted by fleacircus at 9:51 PM on May 11, 2012


Even in a deterministic game, the choices of the other player amount to luck, risk.

Not necessarily. They have aims and strategies, the same as you. These can be countered, and indeed taken advantage of, with insight and intuition. Experienced Puerto Rico players will know what I'm talking about. It doesn't matter as much as Catan, but it's a game about trading, so it still plays a role.

There is a world of difference between Settlers of Catan and craps. There is at least one starting placement strategy that can counter bad dice luck, and building settlements is a during-game response to them.

I'm not going to claim that Settlers of Catan is a perfect game, but I think it's a little better than people here are presenting it.
posted by JHarris at 1:55 AM on May 12, 2012


If you had nothing, you could still trade futures!

Oh, hells no. You have not seen rules-lawyering until you have played a game of Catan with futures trading.
posted by gauche at 10:02 AM on May 12, 2012


But games somewhere between pure-luck and balanced can be really annoying, because your strategy seems to fail for no discernable reason.

If you don't go in with the wrong expectations, these can be the greatest games in the world. The game, then, is in large part about managing your luck. Poker is like this, and no-limit Texas hold 'em is a contender be the best game in the world.
posted by ignignokt at 3:39 PM on May 12, 2012


Damn partially done edit! "is a contender for best game in the world", I mean.
posted by ignignokt at 3:39 PM on May 12, 2012


Futures trading in Settlers of Catan is against the rules. You can only trade actual resource cards, and you must always trade at least one per trading instance.

I guess you could include it as a house rule, but good luck with that.
posted by JHarris at 3:56 PM on May 12, 2012


ignignokt: The game, then, is in large part about managing your luck.

The way I like to think about is that it's about managing probability. I tend to really like probability management games (though I also like chess-like games where there's no randomness involved). My favorite such game is Airships, by Andreas Seyfarth (who also designed Puerto Rico, San Juan and Thurn und Taxis). Essentially the whole thing is about how you go about maximizing probability, which I enjoy thinking about. It's not a game for everyone, but each individual game is quite short, so I recommend trying it out one of these days.
posted by Kattullus at 4:53 PM on May 12, 2012


Futures trading in Settlers of Catan is against the rules.

Yeah, we did it as an evolution of a house rule in which you could give people a resource for other reasons than pure trade (like, not building a road there); it was a short skip to "I'll give you the next two bricks I get if you give me a grain now". It got ugly with us because you can only trade with the person whose turn it is. Ultimately these kind of house rules are just a can of worms and bad feelings.
posted by gauche at 8:25 PM on May 12, 2012


The way I like to think about is that it's about managing probability.

Yup, that's the most accurate way to say it. Some people find "managing your luck" easier to relate to, as they're already used to managing resources.
posted by ignignokt at 9:24 PM on May 12, 2012


« Older Everett Lilly, founding member and mandolin player...  |  Walt Disney's Taxi Driver.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments