The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - December, 2003

Dave Howell: I opened this message to address a comment in Steve Kurzban's article Budgeted Action Points, but I thought I'd first see if anybody else had commented on the article.

Um, who knows? I find Letters are arranged by month, but there is no date mark of any kind on the article itself. Maybe letters are linked at the bottom of the articles, and there just aren't any yet for this one?

I stab "March 2001," and find one letter which addresses "Andrew's article regarding theme vs. mechanics." Hmm. I wonder what the name of the article was? Here's one, oops, no, it's by Larry Levy. I don't think it's "Simulation and Mechanics," either.

Reading through the whole list, I don't see anything that would fit that description.

Aha. I finally found a letter that has a link back to the original article...nope, the original article does not include links to commentary letters.

So I guess there simply isn't any way to find out if there are any comments to this article other than clicking every single month. Hmm.

GGA - There are really several related problems you address here. The first is the lack of a link from a letter to the article it references. I would regard this as a pretty necessary feature and one that I normally include. As you point out, this isn't the case for every single letter though so I apologize for the omission. I have added the link for the March, 2001 letter. If people notice any others please let me know.

The second problem is the lack of a link from an article to a responding letter. This I am somewhat conflicted about although I am inclined to not add such a feature. The first reason is pragmatic—it's more work than I think it would be worth. There have been a few cases where a response was very detailed but in these situations we published them as separate articles. The second reason is more philosophical. The Games Journal is not really designed as a message center and I think it would be awkward to try and make it act like one.

Finally, there is the issue of not being able to identify the month that an article was published. There is a way to find this information (a search on the articles name should list the month as one of the results) but this was a somewhat awkward solution (and it does not always work). Truth be told I never really put much effort into addressing this as it did not seem that purposeful to me. My thinking was that most of our articles are not "time-sensitive". Jonathan Degann's Game Theory articles will be as relevant in 10 years as they are today. Still, it was easily the most requested feature so I have started to add the month of publication to each article. I've already updated many of them but it will take me some time to work through all the back articles...

Anyway, as I was saying...

"Over the past year a new game mechanic, "budgeted action points," was pioneered by the collaboration of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling in their game Tikal"

I find this statement quite misleading. "Budgeted Action Points" are hardly new, nor are they particularly German. In particular, Richard Garfield's third trading card game, Netrunner, used budgeted action points far more comprehensively than the recent crop of board games.

In this two-player asymmetric game, one person's the "corporation" and the other's the "runner." The Runner has four actions they must use on their turn. Each point can be used for one of the following purposes

  1. Draw a card
  2. Take a money token, known as a "Bit".
  3. Play a card
  4. Use one of the card functions from a card placed in front of them that requires an action.
  5. Make a "run," that is, attempt to breach the corporations' defenses.

The fact that it takes an action point to do anything, especially drawing your hand back up, is very agonizing, far more so than in Tikal, for instance.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Kurzban's dismissive comment about the 'old "roll, move, pick a Chance card" school of contemporary American game design' does not reflect a lack of awareness of the "break new ground and create radical new games" school of contemporary American game design as evidenced by such games as Garfield's Magic: The Gathering, Filthy Rich and Twich or James Ernest's Falling and Diceland?

Jason Lowe: Regarding horror-themed games, I'd have to strongly recommend Fury of Dracula. I find it to be a very entertaining game, sort of a Scotland Yard with an "I'd rather kill you than escape" attitude from Mr. X. The fear from the hunters when encountering Dracula at night is palpable.

Michael Green: Your comments on Halloween games were interesting. I think the problem with most Halloween games is the stronger the theme, the worse the game mechanics are. More time is spent developing the theme than the actual game. Even though I wouldn't pull most of these games out during the majority of the year, they can be a blast during the Halloween season when you are most likely to be in the mood for them.

Our Halloween game selection looked like this this year Ghosts!, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mystery Rummy #1 - 3, The Great Brain Robbery, Parts Unknown, Renfield, Lord of the Fries, Zombies, (Knizia's) Vampire, VampirConnection, Pain Doctors, Dr. Jykell & Mr. Hyde (Twilight re-themeing), Dia de los Muertos, Halloween Party, In Teufels Kuche, Creepy Freaks, FrischFleisch, Hexxenrennen, Gregory Horror Show, Kupferkessel Co., Elixir, Nodwick the Card Game, Die Nacht der Vampir, aMAZEing Labyrinth, Vampire Hunter, Camp Wagai, and House of Horrors. Next year we'll be adding When Darkness Comes..., Dracula (new Kosmos/RGG release), Ruhe in Frieden, and Finstere Flure to the table.

Of these games, my Halloween favorites are:

(Knizia's) Vampire - the theme is very light, but it is one of the few games here that gets played outside of Halloween.

Parts Unknown - strong Halloween theme and a very good game. The box suggests up to 10 players, but do not play with more than 5.

Dr. Jykell & Mr. Hyde - an unusual trick-taking game where you can ask other players to play a card for you. (Same game as Twilight which would also fir into the Halloween theme.)

In Teufels Kuche - hard to find and only a so-so game, but the components (devils wearing chef hats & a pot belly stove for determining the outcome of combat) make this worth tracking down for Halloween gaming.

Although I haven't tried them yet, When Darkness Comes... and Finstere Flure also look like they may be decent Halloween games.

Elizabeth Marshall: re your request for Halloween-themed games, I'd like to suggest the Halloween/scary-themed games offered by Cheapass Games or designed by James Ernest:

Parts Unknown (sadly out of print)

Renfield (still available!)

(The following are) available either from back-issues in the publications listed, or in one of our two Chief Herman game packs. Think of them as games for which you get to make your own beautiful, high-quality pieces.

Graveyard Shift (published in Games Unplugged in 2000)

Colossus (published in Dragon magazine in May 2000)

Dead & Breakfast (published in Dragon magazine in October 2000)

... and of course, we have several zombie games for excellent decaying-bodies-type fun, which I consider to be season-less.

Jon Power: Amazing article by Ron Hale-Evans. Incredible level of research. One tiny omission. Black Box is currently in print by Franjos in Germany.

Malcolm: I wanted to respond to your review of Mystery of the Abbey by saying I completely agree with everything you said about the game. I have mixed feelings about it too. So far I have only played it with the same two friends every time (ie three players). My hunch is that this helps in deduction making - compared to having more players. However, it's still frustrating when you have to hand over those cards. (I make sure I try to give up cards I've already answered some questions about, of course).

Another great point you made was about the whole "revelations" business. We (having playing it four or five times) have never had a single revelation made - probably because making them is a time waster and also puts the other players on the track of the murderer (assuming one's deductions are correct) . We didn't plan things this way - but naming the culprit has always been the "whole ballgame" for us.

Another thing that we've never done is trespass into another monk's cell - as the distance between the bedrooms and the Courtyard (where most of our action takes place) seems a bit too short.

Has anybody tried to write an alternative instructions sheet yet - one that seeks to rectify the problems? I've seen a few good piece-meal ideas at the Games of Wonder website. However, perhaps you could let me know if a systematic new version of the rules (for real gamers) has emerged.

GGA - I haven't heard of any rules "fixes" and, to be honest, I don't think the game needs any. If I want a more analytic deduction game there are plenty to choose from. However, if I absolutely had to make changes, I would try eliminating all aspects of the game in which suspect cards are passed amongst the players. I make no claims as to how this will affect the game in the long term however. 

Michael Dare: Just wanted to point out that Wolfgang Kramer's What Makes a Game Good could be easily retitled "What Would Make Reality Good." It's all advice that makes sense in the real world, and could easily be adopted as a political philosophy. Imagine if reality came with an instruction booklet. It would be pretty nice if these were some of the rules...

Equal opportunity

At the start of the game, every player should have an equal chance of winning. In particular, the first player should have neither an advantage nor a disadvantage over the rest of the field.


A game should be rich in surprises. Repetition in sequence, progress, and events should be strictly avoided.

Winning chances

A similar rule applies to the end of a game. Every player must have at least a theoretical possibility of winning until the very end. This possibility might be infinitesimal, but it must be present.

No "kingmaker effect"

A game loses its appeal if, at any stage, a player who no longer has any hope of winning can somehow determine the winner. This problem arises primarily in strategy games.

No early elimination

All players should be involved in the game until it's almost over. No one should be eliminated until the very end.

Pretty cool philosophy there, Mr. Kramer. If you were running for president of the United States, I'd vote for you.

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