Welcome back to dinner with Andreas Odendahl, butter known as Ode. Halfway through the interview now, we are talking about mechanisms and styles of games we like and dislike. Plus, a brand new title – Chess.
DTD: I’ve always been fascinated with, and there’s not very many of them, but there’s games where delay is the mechanism. The longer you wait for your action to occur, the more powerful it is. It’s the T’zolkin mechanism, but also some obscure ones, like the Wizkids game with giants. Assault of the Giants, which almost nobody played.
Ode: I have to admit…
DTD: It had a mechanism where you would lay down cards to do your actions, much like… And one of your cards is pull back all your cards. But each time you lay down a card to do a new action, it becomes more powerful. So, if you’ve already laid 5 cards down, when you lay down a 6th, that’s 6 times more powerful. But you are more limited as to what actions you have, because there are only the cards you have left in your hand, and at some point, you pull all your cards back. And then you are starting again from a 1x mechanism, then a 2 and a 3.
Ode: Oh, that’s good.
DTD: So, it’s that delay mechanism on how powerful an action is. I’ve always found that very fascinating, and I’ve been surprised it isn’t in more games out there.
Ode: Oh, it is. It is in many games actually, but this is actually the Puerto Rico mechanism of balancing the actions. Because all the actions that got not taken in one round, they get one coin on them. And in later rounds, you get not only the action, but you also get the coins.
DTD: That’s common, but the idea that the longer you wait to do your action, the more powerful it is.
This is a classic board game technique where the player need to select between immediate low rewards and delayed high rewards. In other words, delayed gratification. In psychology, this is known as the marshmallow test, based on a 1972 experiment out of Stanford. Children were given one marshmallow, then told if they waited, and refrained from eating the marshmallow, in 15 minutes they would get two. In some controversial follow-up studies lasting decades, there was suggestion that the ability to wait was correlated to more “success” later in life.
Ode: Yeah, but it’s the same thing because the longer you wait, performing this action, the more money will be on it.
DTD: Like the dock in Le Havre.
Ode: And then it…and it’s actually the same with Agricola, where you have the action spaces where you stack all the wood, and stack all the stones. And the longer it’s not taken, the more powerful it gets. This is a very cool mechanism. I like it very much. And it’s actually the same effect, but what you just described sounds very cool, very cool. It’s also in Concordia with the with the resource thingies when you pick up.
The dock in Le Havre, and similarly certain buildings in Lords of Waterdeep use a push-your-luck aspect of this delayed gratification. All players are waiting, while the rewards gets larger and larger. At some point, someone breaks first. An interesting twist on this happens in Rococo, where the first player to purchase from the market has the highest cost, and the cost decreases as each person buys.
DTD: When you finally pick up in Concordia, you get coins or points for how many were in your stack, yeah.
Ode: Yeah, this is something I really enjoy, that at some point you need to take this action because it became too powerful.
DTD: And see, in T’zolkin and this Giants game, it feels like the planning is trying to wait as long as you can to do a very cool action. Whereas in Agricola and Puerto Rico, it feels like it’s a mechanism to convince people to do the weaker actions. It’s making the actions that are not picked more and more attractive. I mean, in Le Havre, who wants to just spend their whole turn to pick up stuff off the dock. You’ve got buildings, and worker placement. Why would I just want to pick up a pile for my whole turn? It’s because you make it more and more and more attractive. So, it’s making the weaker actions become more powerful, so you almost have to.
Ode: Yeah, true.
DTD: It’s a subtle difference, but that’s how I saw them.
Ode: Yeah, but I agree with you. Yes, true. Yeah, but that’s actually something that I really enjoy, and we tried a similar approach with Solarius Mission. With the wheel and the dice. So, the dice that are weaker, they will be on the wheel for a way longer time. And suddenly the bonus you will get by picking the not so powerful dice is too big, so you take those weak actions, just because of the bonus.
DTD: Yeah, it’s even in No Thanks, in Geschenkt [the German title]. The longer you wait, it just gets more and more tempting.
Ode: Yeah. That’s a very good game.
DTD: It’s a great balancing mechanism. Make the actions equally tempting. It sounds like you play mostly the heavier, euro games. Is that true?
Ode: Oh yes, to a certain point. I also like very small games, but most of the time I only play them with my wife when we enjoy a lazy evening in the garden, in the summer, or something like this. So, after work, but not my work but her work, because she has a day job that is 8 hours from 9 to 5. So, when she comes from work, we normally play smaller dice games or…yeah, something that works in the garden, even if it’s a little bit windy, so most of the time, no card games. But dice works all the time or tile laying games. Like Nova Luna was…
DTD: Nova Luna is delightful.
Ode: It is something we played this summer very heavily.
DTD: Yeah, I was really impressed when I picked up Nova Luna. That was a very fun one. But now, under pandemic, it seems like every day is a lazy day out in the garden. I’m retired at this point, so I lose track of time. My wife likes playing games, and my son, because of the pandemic is living here too. So, we have 3 players a lot of the time.
Ode: Oh, that’s very cool.
DTD: I’ll tell you one of the lighter ones I picked up that I was impressed with was the Lorenzo il Magnifico… Smaller game. Masters of the Renaissance, I think it’s called. It has a very long title. It’s “Lorenzo il Magnifico, the Card Game: Masters of the Renaissance”.
Ode: Yeah, I know what game you mean. I liked Lorenzo il Magnifico very much, one of my favorite games back then.
DTD: Yes, me too.
Ode: But this smaller game couldn’t convince me too much, because it has too much hand management. That’s something I do not like in games so much, when you always have to do too much. So, in every turn in this game, you have to either give resources away, take resources, or exchange resources. It’s always something with putting resources from here over there, or the other way around. So this is something…
DTD: It’s a resource management game, and the big mechanism in that game, was the fact that you were very limited on what you could hold from turn to turn. So it was very fiddly; lots in, lots out.
I do like the puzzle in this game of trying to hold limited resources in your storage. You are only allowed 3 of one type of resource, 2 of a second type, then one other resource. But Ode is right – if you cannot fit everything in storage, other players earn bonuses.
Ode: Yeah, this is normally something that has…many games have this, but it’s in those bigger games, it’s not the only thing you do. And I was under the impression, that in Masters of the Renaissance, it’s basically the only thing you do, is fiddle around with the resource tokens.
DTD: In order to try to get to the point where you can buy something with them.
Ode: Yeah, but still, you would then give them away again. So, it’s always exchanging resources. So, this was something that bugs me, but the game itself was very good. Maybe I would like this game more if it wouldn’t have so much components that need to…so, for instance, if I have only a scale, or a track, where I can put little markers over here, like this. That would do the trick for me. I don’t know, because I don’t like managing too much on the table.
DTD: And I like the physicality. I like being able to pick up piles of things. [laughs]
Ode: Yeah, everyone is different, and that’s a good thing.
DTD: Yeah, so which games have you been playing? Which new ones have really impressed you? I know Underwater Cities, and I agree completely. That is an amazing game, and my only complaint with Underwater Cities was that the components were not that great. But the expansion just fixed everything. With the expansion, it’s near perfect.
Underwater Cities is such a good game. Vladimir – call me. Let’s get sushi.
Ode: Yes, I agree, and we bought a resource pack of sorts.
DTD: Oh, I know it. I bought the same one, I think.
Ode: And I’m not so keen about plastic normally, but in this case it was worth the investment. Since we got that we played it maybe 80 times, so it was a really good decision to get those. I think it was from a 3D printer or something like this. So yeah, it’s very good. It’s also the only game I have, that I have bought an insert for.
DTD: Oh. I think I just shoved everything in the box. I probably should have a more elegant way to handle it.
I tend to bag all the components, throw away the insert, and shove everything willy-nilly in the box. I know, I am a troglodyte.
Ode: Normally, I would prefer the zip lock bags, but in this case, I made an exception. Really, this is a special game. Yeah, what did we play lately? So, this game Barrage from Cranio creations. When I bought it…so, you have to understand that normally I only play games with my wife, and when I leave the house to go and go to meetings or gaming nights, I’m always play testing. So real games, real published games, normally I only play with my wife. So, because this is what we love to do all the time. And I’m not going to too many gaming events, so when I go leave the room, leave the house, I need to play test. So, we only played Barrage with the two of us, and it was really bad. It’s not…no good, but recently I had the chance to play it with three players, and I had very low expectations, but this was one of the best games I’ve played.
DTD: Really? That’s interesting.
I am generally very impressed by Cranio Creations games. And Simone Luciani, co-designer of Barrage, has had a string of hits with T’zolkin, Marco Polo, and the abovementioned Lorenzo il Magnifico.
Simone – call me. We will get dim sum.
Ode: Really, I really loved it. It’s so brilliant how the game changes, from two players to three players. It’s a completely different game. Everything works now.
DTD: It’s a shame, a lot of times, it seems like the two-player version isn’t very well thought out, or a lot of these games, you can tell that they really work with three or four, and tend not to do so well with low player counts. It’s really, it’s really a shame.
Ode: Well, it’s just that it’s a very interactive game. It’s because of…you need to benefit from the other players’ actions, and when you use your water to produce power, then I can be the next one to use the same water.
DTD: Yeah, they changed a lot in that.
Ode: But I played Barrage with three players and I really loved it, because the interaction in this game is really good. And also, this is interaction that is not too frustrating, because you are already used the water. So, you got your benefit, and then I’m there, and I’m taking the water you just used, and I’m using it again. So, this is not frustrating for you because you already had your benefits.
DTD: It’s almost like a “follow action” in some of the other games.
Many games have a “follow action”, where one player can use some sort of resource to also execute an action done by an opponent.
Ode: Yeah, right. And this really can only shine with more players, because when it’s just two players, this is…you have to…with this kind of interaction, you have, you need a third player, to be the one who’s not benefiting. So then this becomes a game. But with only two players, it doesn’t matter.
DTD: Yeah, when you have a game, that the next player can do this, it just bounces back and forth, which is unpleasant.
Ode: Yeah, right.
DTD: Even a dummy player, to take benefits or not take benefits, would be interesting.
Ode: Yeah, with these kinds of dynamics, you need a third player to have a good game.
DTD: We recently played the Dilluvia Project. It’s a, it was a small print run, a little bit older game. It had a reprint where they changed a lot of errors, and…but it’s a heavy euro and it was, it was really fun. It had some interesting collection mechanics.
2015’s Dilluvia Project from designer Alexandre Garcia is a medium to heavy euro worker placement game. Players build tetris shaped pieces on a flying island!
Alexandre – call me. Let’s get gelato.
Ode: Dilluvia Project?
Ode: Oh yeah, yes, I know from Spielworxx.
DTD: It was Spielworxx! Did they do the second version, or the first version? Because I know it switched.
Ode: The first version. Yes.
DTD: I don’t recall.
Ode: Dilluvia Project, yes, I love this game very much.
DTD: Oh, it was so fun. It’s…I’m late to the party, but I played it a couple weeks ago, and was really impressed with it. The way that you would collect tiles and benefits, the way that you would build onto the city. There was really interesting decisions in there.
Ode: Yeah, I had the idea of the special workers in Cooper Island, is actually from Dilluvia Project.
DTD: Really? OK.
Ode: Because you have one special worker in Dilluvia Project, and when you place it on an action, you can do a bonus action.
DTD: Yes, these got benefits, and they were all…it was a little fiddly in that all of them had different benefits, if you used the bigger worker.
Ode: Yeah. And—oh, and in the new addition, it’s a bigger worker, and in the old edition it’s, the worker has a different color.
Ode: So, if you have yellow as your player color, then the special worker would be brown, for instance.
DTD: And the colors were difficult anyway in the original edition. There were some very similar colors in that in that print run.
Dilluvia Project was first published by Spielworxx and Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG) as an English/German edition in 2015, then the second English edition was done in 2019 by TMG, with minor, but important corrections.
Ode: So, when I play tested Dilluvia Project a couple of times with Uli [Blennemann] back then, and when it finally got out, I was, I was trying it with my wife. And then I had the idea of, because I already had the special worker in in Cooper Island, but they had only the effect that you could do the same action in the same round twice.
Ulrich Blennemann is the heart, soul, and founder of Spielworxx Games.
Ode: And after playing Dilluvia Project, where every special worker has a small benefit, depending on the action you put him in.
DTD: Then you made the square action spaces?
Ode: So, I designed a similar system for Cooper Island, when you would place the first special worker, you get a bonus. And that was the idea from that game.
DTD: That one, that’s really fun, because those, they’re not just a little added bonus in Cooper Island. They’re a totally different action, that is just not selectable. They’re very powerful actions. But there’s such a price on getting those square workers. You lose so much, and had worked so hard to get them. It’s a very difficult decision, to decide whether to get just a whole bunch of round workers, or to go for the square.
Ode: Yeah, I was always worried about the dynamics in this, because at some point, I was thinking that having two special workers was mandatory for the game. So, you couldn’t win without having both of them and scoring up to six in points, by completely completing the royal orders. And then my wife played a whole game with four actions, and she, with her last action I guess, she took a special worker, and using the royal order card to score another eight points, and then she completely crushed me. And to this day, I think this is the highest score she ever had in the game. And then I said, “OK, seems like both ways are working.”
DTD: I’ve played a lot of times where nobody took a special worker. And I’ve, I’ve only played once, I think where somebody took both special workers.
Ode: I think this is something, maybe a short oversight, because I think if you take, with your first 2 milestones, if you pick both special workers, this this will be, you will not have anything to do with the victory in this game.
DTD: It is such a cost on them. Yeah.
Ode: Yes, it’s a pricey end. You have not enough actions. You can do it if you combine it with cratelets. Because the cratelets, they give you additional actions. But if you only have two workers, even if it’s special workers, this game will be too hard. And you will have much downtime.
DTD: And that’s that first round effect, too. If you can’t quite get that extra worker in the first round, you have a very short, very light, first round.
Ode: Yes, and you need the extra actions. You better combine it with either boats, so you have a huge income, or you combine it with the cratelets, so you have other actions. But only two special workers. You have the bonuses with every action, yes, but you always have them in one action, so you have the main action, you have the bonus action, and you need to perform the cratelet actions, at the same turn. And this is something very hard to do in this game. And I think…
DTD: Well, you can’t do everything. You just can’t.
Ode: Yeah, but this will not score you too many points. And the record from my wife is 48 points.
Ode: You will not, you will not go over 30, maybe 35, with two workers. But even if it’s special workers.
DTD: I don’t know what our record is in points. I always tell people before we play, that it is a relatively low scoring game, because I play with people who are used to hundreds of points in a game.
Ode: Yeah, this is something I learned with Cooper Island, because my personal player socialization was with the Catan Card game.
DTD: Oh, I remember, yeah, I played that.
Ode: And you win this game with 12 points, and in the in the basic version you win with 10 points.
DTD: Right, 10.
And keep in mind you even start the game with 2 victory points.
Ode: So, I think I really like these low scoring games because even one point feels so incredibly valuable. And sometimes I really dislike these games, where you have 4 to 5, four to seven, points per action. You know, like I really love Russian Railroads, but the points you get in this game, this is ridiculous. You get over 400 points in the game! I really love it to the bone, but the scoring mechanism is really weird to me. And I always left this, where you have a low scoring game. And I think you can even score better in Cooper Island then you can score in Solarius Mission. In Solarius Mission, 40 is a very high score, and 45 is something that you rarely do. And you can even score 50 points in Cooper Island.
DTD: I have never…I think, I just looked – the best we’ve ever done in Cooper Island was 40. That’s the best score we’ve gotten.
Ode: Yeah, but to be honest I don’t score 40 points in Cooper Island. I’m happy if I score 30 to 35. I’m not that bright. I need really clever people to play test the game for me, so I can analyze what they did. Because they are so good, and I’m just an average player.
DTD: [laughs] I feel good hearing that. And I’ve asked a lot of designers, “Are you good at your game?” And there’s a few that, you know, I believe are truly good at their game, and can absolutely destroy anybody. But most designers are good to medium at their own games.
Ode: If I want to, I can be, but it will take 4 hours to play the game, because I need to take my time to take careful steps. But for instance, my wife, she’s incredibly good and she will…If we both know the game on the same level, then she will always win because she’s just incredibly good. And she will always find loopholes in the rules for me, and it’s just brilliant that I have her, really play testing my games and finding all the gaps in the design. I have a few friends who are really, really good and strong at playing games like this, and this is something I need because I wouldn’t be able to do this by myself.
DTD: My wife is much smarter than me with playing games as well, so that’s why I need to keep picking new games over and over. Give myself, you know, some sort of advantage.
Ode: Right, yeah, the first few games I play with my big stomach and my big belly, and I have the better, the better…well, for the first few games I can, I can maybe win, but after, yeah…but we don’t tell them that they are so good. You can never tell her.
DTD: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, that’s true, that’s true. Yeah, I remember growing up my father was very into Chess. And he’s very good. I have never been good at Chess, so I had many years growing up, where I don’t think I won a single game of Chess. That’s kind of inspired me to go out and play different games all the time. [laughs].
Chess [Schach] is a relatively recent abstract 2-player board game. The components leave a little to be desired, using a drab black-and-white color palate, little to no theme, as well as dated iconography. It is essentially worker placement, with each worker having varied powers and abilities. The game starts as a straightforward battle/skirmish game, but the endgame is a little fiddly; players must try to attack their opponent’s lead piece without actually succeeding, leading to a series of memorized victory conditions. Perhaps an expansion can breathe new life into this dud.
Ode: [laughs] You better. I had something similar. I had a friend while I’m studying, and we would meet on a regular basis to play Chess, and he was so incredibly good. And he wiped the floor with my ass all the time. So, at some point I would say “No, I don’t want to play anymore…”
DTD: Actually, when I lived in Germany, the family that I lived with were Chess people. My dad was right on the edge of international Chess, and knew all the people. He did a lot of computer work with Chess, and he worked out all the endgames for Chess, and things like that. So when I would… when I would stay in Hamburg… Even now, if I go and stay in Hamburg, the family I stay with is a documentary film producer, who does a lot of the software on Chess. He created the company ChessBase and does all that stuff. So, I hear about is Chess a lot. [laughs]
Ode: There are still people going to Essen, to the biggest board game fair in the world…
DTD: To play Chess?!?
Ode: …and play Chess or Go all the time. And there’s so many games, and they go there to play Chess. That something I cannot fathom.
A fathom is 6 feet, or 1.8 meters. Germany uses the metric system.
DTD: Well, my father has told me point blank that there is no game other than Chess. Period.
Ode: Yeah. This is, this is something, this sort of really pure Chess player…this is, either you play Chess and then it’s the only game you play, or not. Or you play something different.
DTD: Terrible, terrible, terrible. I have a funny Chess story. My father wrote a computer program to play Chess and they were doing a documentary in Germany about computer Chess, and Chess in general. And so, he had a robotic arm, and this is in the 1980’s, that would go over the Chess board, pick up a piece, move it, and put it down again. And the board could sense when you move the pieces around. This, it was early. But the designers for the film came in, and decided that it didn’t look pretty enough, so they put a nice mat underneath it, and some velvet around it, and made it look really pretty. But what it did, is it took this beautiful marble board, and raised it about this high [a few inches], higher than what the robot arm thought it was. So, the very first move, the robot arm moved over the board, plunged into the board and broke the marble, grabbed a pile of marble dust, moved it and dropped it somewhere else on the board. Completely destroyed it on the 1st move.
Dad wrote the software for Belle, which won the World Computer Chess championship in 1980.
Ode: [laughs] So, this becomes a new figure. So, how does the marble dust move?
DTD: You just kind of, you blow it around. You get many, many pieces that are very, very weak. They have to gang up on the other pieces.
Next time Ode and I discuss designs with different types of player interaction, growing goodies in the garden and the needs of dogs and goats. Plus, recent games that piqued our interests. Stay tuned, the interview is two thirds – it could turn into a no holds barred cage at the climax. You never know. You will just have to check out part 5.