Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Beginning in the Middle

Good stories rarely begin at the beginning. Though biographies ("He was born in 1837...") and histories ("In the beginning, God created...") may be exceptions, the most engaging narratives draw us into the middle of the action after many events have already come to pass. It's no wonder that George Lucas began his now-famous space opera with Episode IV, and even that first film opened in the middle of a dramatic starship battle.

Game designers often forget this lesson from the storytellers of other disciplines. In an age when the board game market is saturated with "engine building" mechanisms, many suffer from designers who wish to start their game play from the very beginning. While I can see the appeal of building something out of nothing during the course of the game, the result is often a very long, tedious prelude that drains the game of excitement long before things start getting interesting.


In my newest Postcard From Berlin on the Opinionated Gamers website, I reflect on the things that connect us to our memories, including the board games we play.

Monday, July 25, 2011


It is a stark contrast between the European metropolis and the Midwestern small town; between the urban life I now live and the rural roots I left behind, buried deep in the black Iowa soil. But I found myself returning home, flying alone, my seat locked in an upright position as I gazed out onto the square fields below, a view that could easily have been a game board.

I was on my way to the town where my father had grown up, a small town that once seemed so perfect it was proof that Andy Griffith’s Mayberry was not so mythic after all. Keystone sprang up along the railroad in the late 1800s, before the invention of the automobile. Like most small towns in the U.S., it thrived well into the second half of the 20th century, before the decline of the family farm and before the arrival of the interstate bypasses, strip malls and suburban shopping centers that effectively destroyed Main Streets across the country.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tobacco Promotion + Peace Activisms = Board Game Culture?

There are many theories as to how Germany's board game market became so much more dynamic than in any other country.  Certainly, the Spiel des Jahres, the German Game of the Year award, plays a major role in keeping good designs in the eyes of the mass market here, as well as pushing publishers to seek out original and engaging designs.  But there may be other factors I was previously unaware of, according to Titus Chalk's recent article, "Serious Fun", in the online German Times.

In the article, Klaus Teuber, creator of board game catalyst The Settlers of Catan, points to the tobacco company Krone, which began some of the first gaming clubs in Germany: “The idea was to offer something else you could do with your free time," says Teuber, and Chalk adds, "Presumably while you puffed a packet of the brand’s finest tobacco products."


When most people hear about my enjoyment of a hobby they think is best reserved for young children, they often shake their heads with a smile and call me a “child at heart.”

I’m sure the same thing happens regularly for Tim Walsh, but the 20-year veteran of the toy and game industry doesn’t shy away from that label. Born on Christmas Day, 1964 – the ultimate toy-giving holiday – he has proudly worn the badge “kid at heart” well into adulthood.

Friday, July 8, 2011


As with my favorite German board games, I always have much more that I would like to do in Berlin than is possible with my allotted actions and resources. Because of the capitol’s divided history, there were duplicates of everything in the east and west, and even now the city has scores of museums, no fewer than three opera houses, numerous concert halls, and plenty of alternative venues showing the cabarets and political satires for which it is famous.  And though it’s changing, Berlin is still probably the most inexpensive capitol in the western world to experience all of these cultural events. If only I could find the time. I finally stopped buying Tip, one of the city’s best biweekly cultural magazines, which listed absolutely everything that was going on in Berlin each day, because it was simply too depressing to constantly read about all the things I was missing.

Tip has since tried to narrow the choices for its increasingly busy readership, however, by running a series called “The 14 best things to do in the next two weeks.” One of its recommendations was an unassuming board gaming café in the heart of East Berlin’s new alternative scene.

 On sunny days, customers can take the games outside.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Indonesian Finger Game

I try to bring compact games wherever I go, in case there is an opportunity during the day to play.  If I am any good at keeping "margin time" in my schedule, then those opportunities present themselves regularly.  Sometimes, though, I find myself stuck in a line somewhere (at the post office, in an airport, etc.) without the table top or components to play a game.  That's where the Indonesian Finger Game has become one of my most-played games in my...err... collection. writer Valerie Putman introduced me to this component-less, two-player abstract in her column several years ago. Not only do I play it whenever I have a few minutes and there are no boardgames in eyeshot, but I've also incorporated the game into my Annual After Essen Parties, holding a tournament each year.  Following are the rules:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Five years ago, Michael agreed to help me bring a little bit of SPIEL back from Essen and celebrate in his Spielwiese cafe all the great new games that are released there each year--many of them from Berlin designers.

I’ve just finished the After Essen Party page to show some of the fun from the past four years.  As you can see, it has been a great mix of games and guests from around the world.

And SPIEL 2011 is just around the corner, which means that it’s time to start advertising the 5th Annual After Essen Party!  As always, it’s open to the public, athough space is limited and it is best to come early.  Visiting designers are welcome to show their newly released games as well (please, however, no prototypes).  Feel free to contact me or Michael at the Spielwiese in advance (especially if you are a game designer or publisher).  The party is on the Tuesday after SPIEL, beginning at 7 p.m.  Hope to see you at SPIEL and at the party in Berlin afterwards!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


The Spiel des Jahres, the prestigious German game of the year award, has just been announced, and it occurred to me that I had a hand in bringing Qwirkle to the attention of the eventual German publisher.

It was summer of 2007, and I was signing my first contracts for game designs, while writing for about my experiences as an American gamer and designer living in Germany.  I was also a bit frustrated that I could never seem to make it to the Essen game convention—the largest in the world—because of scheduling conflicts every year.  I finally decided to do something about it in a positive way instead of simply lamenting or complaining about it, like something I once heard about lemons and lemonade.