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Games and Puzzles Media Round-Up

December 10th, 2009

It’s been great recently to see quite so much about games and puzzles in the media. There have been plenty of articles in the papers about boardgames (here, here and here, for example), and in particular it’s been encouraging to read articles in the mainstream media suggesting that there is life beyond Monopoly and Cluedo.

BBC Four is currently in the middle of its Game On Season, featuring documentaries on board games, outdoor play and crosswords, amongst others.

Last week BBC Four showed its eagerly anticipated documentary on Kit Williams, creator of treasure hunt classic Masquerade, which you can watch on iPlayer.

Also still available on iPlayer is James May’s recent BBC2 series Toy Stories, which each week took a classic toy brand from my generation’s childhood - Airfix, Plasticine, Meccano and Scalextric - and turned it into a giant engineering project.  Later this month, the BBC will broadcast the final episodes, on Lego (20th December) and Hornby (Christmas Day).

Add to this the current vogue for games manufacturers to team up with Hollywood for upcoming film versions of Risk, Battleship, Monopoly et al., and it’s clear that something is up.  I can think of three reasons for the renewed interest.  Firstly, although it’s unlikely that the traditional industry is ever going to claw back the lead that the video game industry has established over it, there does seem to be a renewed appetite amongst the public for games that have a more sociable element to them.  Secondly, it’s well-known that recessionary times lead to more time spent at home, for both economic and psychological reasons.  And thirdly - and I don’t know if this is oversimplification or not - but there seems to be a strong nostalgic element to this, most clearly seen in the Game On season and in James May’s series, and nostalgia is a state of mind to which even TV commissioning editors and Hollywood producers are susceptible.

Hardest Puzzles #3: Physical Puzzles

November 26th, 2009

The hardest part of putting Army Of Zero together was building the puzzles.  There are a number of interactions between the various puzzle elements, and indeed between the puzzles and the game, which meant that different parts of the card designs had to link together without disrupting other relationships.  At times it felt like I was compiling a five-dimensional crossword (that’s not a clue, by the way).

All in all, it took about five months to decide exactly how it was all going to fit together, and to build the prototypes and test them.

I am a total lightweight.

Just go and read about the effort put in by Jason Smith at Puzzle Forge to build his own Petaminx. Designed by Andrew Cormier, the Petaminx is like a Rubik’s Cube in the same way that the Space Shuttle is like a Sopwith Camel.

Hello, This Is Interesting: LEGO Games

November 20th, 2009

So, yes. We’ve been playing Lego Minotaurus this week. Minotaurus is part of a range of games, which includes Ramses Pyramid, Lunar Command and Creationary, as well as a few smaller, lower cost games. Creationary seems a bit different from the rest, in that it’s basically Pictionary-with-LEGO. and I think that this game, along with the other games that LEGO has released this year, is potentially very significant for the perception of board games amongst the wider public.

Award-winning Eurogame designer Reiner Knizia has been involved to some extent with the design of the games. Even though it’s not clear how much he’s actually contributed to the games’ design, or whether it’s more of a PR thing, it’s an interesting development that LEGO clearly think it’s beneficial to have a name designer on board.

These aren’t the first games that Lego has published. A few years ago, my youngest and I played game after game after game of LEGO Racers, in which you built a racetrack out of interlocking cardboard pieces, then raced your LEGO cars around the track. Movement was determined by a spinner, and you could pick up various power-ups as you progressed around the track.

Good fun, but it didn’t really need to be LEGO. What’s different, and very interesting, about this new batch of games is that they are much closer to the brand values of LEGO, in particular its appeal to creativity and interchange.

Briefly, here’s how Minotaurus works. It’s a game for two to four players, and each has to navigate three pieces from one corner of the board to the centre. The board is a LEGO base with a simple labyrinth, constructed out of more LEGO pieces. The design of the initial labyrinth is set out in the rules (but more about that in a moment).

There’s a piece called the Minotaurus, which starts in the middle, and can be moved around by the players. If the Minotaurus catches a player’s piece, that piece has to return to the corner where it started.

The dice - also made of LEGO - has the numbers three to six on it, plus a grey face and a black face. Throw a number, and you get to move one of your pieces. Throw a grey face, and instead of moving you get to reconfigure a wall, either to block an opponent or to clear your own route to the centre. Throw black and you get to move the Minotaurus piece eight spaces, hopefully to catch or at least block an opponent.

So it’s really straightforward, and kids should have no difficulty picking it up. What’s interesting from a gamer’s perspective is that the rules actively encourage mucking about with the game. There are suggested tweaks, including changing the labyrinth layout, making the Minotaurus faster, or allowing players to jump walls if they throw a certain number, but implicitly the rules say: MAKE UP ANY RULES YOU LIKE. GO NUTS!

And this is what should make the LEGO games interesting to the specialist game community. It’s not that the game mechanics are particularly innovative, it’s that the game actively encourages variants and modifications, and because it’s LEGO, there’s no shortage of extra bits and pieces that can be filched from the toybox to make new pieces for the game.

From there, it’s only a short leap for kids to start using LEGO to make up their own games. What a wonderful opportunity for children - and their parents - to realise that they don’t need to be confined to the published rules. This approach to gaming is, of course, already recognised in the hardcore gamers’ world, but when a toy company with the reach of LEGO gets behind it, things could really get interesting.

On the Battlefield of the Soul, We’ve All Lost

November 6th, 2009

The newspapers carry the sad news today that Hasbro has acquired the film rights to world-domination boardgame Risk.  Furthermore, it’s not just Risk: films are already in development based on Monopoly, Cluedo (known as Clue in North America) and, if you can believe it, Battleship.  Ridley “Blade Runner” Scott is being touted as a possible director of the Monopoly film, and has been quoted as saying that a Monopoly Movie would be “hysterically amusing”.

He may be right, but perhaps not in the way he intended.  Here are Stephen Colbert and Jeff Golblum “auditioning” for the Battleship movie:

The problem is that there’s no narrative in most of these games, the exception probably being Clue/Cluedo.  Clue/Cluedo has at least the potential to work as a narrative, but only because its format is based on a narrative genre: the 1930’s country house murder.  OK, that’s a literary genre first, but also exists as a film genre.  In fact, Clue/Cluedo has already been made into a movie once , directed by Jonathan Lynn of “Yes Minister” fame and starring Tim Curry.  It’s played for laughs and it’s actually rather good.

But what can we expect from a movie based on Risk, for goodness sake? This? Probably not…

There’s no dramatic story arc in a boardgame.  Videogames ought to be easier to adapt, but Hollywood has had years of failing to deliver a decent film based on a videogame.  Boardgames are much harder to turn into a satisfying narrative - unless you don’t even try, and instead make a genre movie and just slap the name of the boadgame on top of it.  In the case of Risk, you can imagine an epic war film, maybe, with a load of enormous CGI battle scenes, Lord Of The Rings style, but there’s no artistic reason at all for an epic war film to be a Risk spin-off.  Exactly the same holds true for Battleship.  Expect a generic hunt-and-destroy submarine movie (though it would be great if they made a really good sub movie, of which there have been none for literally decades), but again, why not just make a really good submarine movie?

Well, there’s one obvious reason, of course.  The movie will sell a few more tickets based on brand recognition from people who play (or used to play) whatever game it’s based on, and Hasbro will sell an enormous number of extra copies of Risk and Battleship.  And you can’t blame game companies or film companies for trying to make money, because that’s what they’re for, but it’s hard to feel totally comfortable sitting in the cinema when it all looks so blatantly cynical.

The Monopoly film is going to raise a feeling of slight unease outside the US, because all the properties have different names in different territories.  Fair enough if they stick to the American names, which they surely will - it’s an American film, and Monopoly is an American game, after all.  But here in the UK we all know what Old Kent Road and Mayfair represent, and most people won’t know the difference between Boardwalk (which actually sounds a bit cheap and vulgar, doesn’t it?) and Mediterranean Avenue (which sounds kind of upmarket).

Having said all that, if there’s anyone from Sony or Paramount reading this who’s interested in the film rights for Army Of Zero - call us!  (We suggest Kenneth Branagh for Lord Icclestone).

Six Months And Counting

October 29th, 2009

So there’s six months left until the closing date for the Army Of Zero prize competition -  30th April 2010.  Plenty of time yet to solve the riddle and send it into us for a chance to win £1000.

So far - as far as we know - no-one’s cracked the whole thing, but we are in touch with a number of enthusiasts, some via email, some on the web, and it’s very rewarding to see how you’re getting on.

The components that are proving to be the most awkward to people seem to be the three lower shields.  In addition, I haven’t heard from anyone who’s figured out the overall objective.  The various sub-puzzles are coming together quite nicely, but figuring out where it all leads to seems to be evading people so far.  If you can deduce that, it might just let you approach the remaining items from a different angle.

Do please remember when you submit your entry to include the competition entry card, which you’ll find in the box.

Army Of Zero Variants

October 22nd, 2009

So you might have noticed via a Twitter announcement earlier in the week, or via the link on this site’s home page, that we posted some alternative rule variants for Army Of Zero this week.  You can read them here.

These are rule variants for the basic game.  We’re still (yes, still!) working on a co-operative Army Of Zero game, using the existing cards but pitting players against a common foe, but it’s been hard to get the thing working as well as we wanted, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that.  But have a look at the new, optional rules for the existing game, and see if you like them.

You can pick and choose which ones you want to incorporate into your games, but I confess that my favourite is the one we’ve called the “Champion” variant.  In this version, you don’t have to pre-order your characters and play through them in that order - you can choose any character from your hand to go into battle. We’ve found that if you play the game this way, it’s much more natural to develop favourite characters, and as a player you become rather more involved in your characters’ struggles.  You feel it more when they lose, but you also enjoy it more when they are victorious.  We like this variant so much that we used it almost exclusively at Game ‘09 in Manchester last weekend.

At Game ‘09, we also used the “Skirmish” variant, where each player receives five cards instead of the more usual ten.  We opted for this to make the games shorter, so we could get through more rounds with the show visitors who wanted a game, and it worked pretty well.  We didn’t use the “Carnage” variant, which replaces the game’s six-sided dice with eight-sided ones, because the standard game only comes with the six-sided dice.  We just wanted to present the game using whatever was in the box.

Game ‘09 is Almost Here

October 15th, 2009

This coming Saturday and Sunday (17th and 18th October) you can come and meet us at Game ‘09 in Manchester!

Along with a whole host of board games, card games, RPGs and computer games, Point Zero Games will be there playing lots of Army Of Zero, and we’ll have copies of our Manchester treasure hunts on sale too.

Also, come and have a look at the great word game LeCardo, which we’re proud to be demonstrating as well.

You can get tickets on the door, or book them online at the Game ‘09 web site. Tickets cost £10 per adults (over 15s), £7 for over 10s and under 10s are free. Each entry ticket includes a £3 voucher to use at the show.

Hardest Puzzles #2: Jigsaws

October 8th, 2009

More about very difficult puzzles, following on from last week’s post…

As far as jigsaw puzzles are concerned, you might remember that about his time last year, jigsaw manufacturer Ravensburger was getting a lot of publicity for its Jungle Scenes puzzle, which had just been completed by a British man in about 3 months.  It had 18,200 pieces, and apparently it is known as “The Everest” amongst jigsaw fans.

But hey! there’s a larger one called “Life”, which has the Guinness Book Of Records entry for the world’s largest commercial jigsaw puzzle, with a massive 24,000 pieces.

Of course it’s not all about the number of pieces.  Some experts say that the hardest jigsaw ever is a version of Jackson Pollock’s painting “Convergence“, by Springbok, which dates back to the 1960’s.  Only 340 pieces, but the image makes it a challenge that few people have the patience to successfully complete.

And you can also get jigsaws where the picture is a single solid colour.  Here’s an online version that you can try, but to me, these don’t really count because they’re just wilfully difficult, and being able to build up a picture is a fundamental part of a jigsaw.

Hardest Puzzles #1: Logic Puzzles

October 1st, 2009

If you’re finding yourself getting stuck on the Army Of Zero puzzles, here’s a bit of light relief, in the guise of a series of blog posts about the hardest, most fiendish puzzles in the world! After these, you’re going to be glad to come back to Army Of Zero…

This week I’m going to point you towards the hardest logic puzzle ever, according to philosopher George Boolos. I’ll add more posts at future dates about other kinds of puzzles.

OK, here we go, hold on tight to something.  This is what is reputed to be the hardest logic puzzle:

Three gods A, B, and C are called, in some order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are ‘da’ and ‘ja’, in some order. You do not know which word means which.

So it’s similar to what’s known as the knight/knave puzzle, in which you’re asked to imagine yourself on an island where some of the population always lie and the rest always tell the truth, you don’t know which is which, and you have to find a reliable way of getting the truth out of someone.  Only in this version, it’s way, way harder because (a) you might be talking to someone who lies or tells the truth at random, and (b) you don’t know whether their answer means “yes” or “no”.

My brain is melting out of my ears.  If you want to read more - and see the solution - go and have a look on Wikipedia.

What ARE You Like?

September 25th, 2009

Over on the Army Of Zero pages, we have a little questionnaire where visitors can answer a few simple questions, and if they do that we’ll tell them which Army Of Zero character they are most like.

We’ve been running this questionnaire for about 9 months now - gosh, where does the time go? - and we thought it’d be interesting to look at the results, to find out who you’re all most like and also to get a picture of the type of visitors we’re getting.

So we counted up all the responses and we found out that the Army Of Zero character that you all most resemble is…

Thegn Rithalik!

Rithalik had a pretty good lead on his nearest rivals, but the next four were all very close to each other.

2
General Jihgeb
3
Thegn Uxcopple
4
Commander Johos

Other results that you might find interesting:

  • 76% of you are male.
  • 62% of you prefer reading to sport.
  • 43% of you think of yourselves as leaders, 57% as followers.
  • 63% of you prefer the night to the day.
  • 18% of you are left-handed.
  • 42% of you consider yourselves cheeky, rather than polite!
  • 62% of you would rather eat fruit than vegetables.
  • 54% of you are family types; the rest prefer to spend time with friends.
  • 64% of you are thoughtful, the other 36% are impulsive.

© 2014 Point Zero Games Ltd.