September 18, 2012


I'm red - the turkey in the middle between a slice of green and tan bread!
It's easy in a war game, especially in a three-player session, to feel like the turkey in a turkey sandwich.  My boys seem to have a knack of setting up a game to put the old man in the middle!  Fighting a two-front war is nigh impossible - in a game or in life!

Our recent session of Warlords of Europe serves as another fine example.  Cory started in Spain, while Brendon took the Latin Empire at the other far end.  That left me in between them, to the north, in Denmark.  Cory first spread out east into France, while I marched south on Germany, and Brendon moved into Hungary just to his north.  I guess I could have built up and stayed put until the two boys met each other in Germany.  But the problem with using that strategy in Warlords is that this title rewards you when you have territory - a not at all uncommon feature in conquest gaming.  So if I had temporarily turtled, the two boys would have just been all the more richer and powerful by the time swords crossed.  Plus we play our war games more like General Custer, rather than General McClellan.  And Brendon got out to a fast start.

Another rewarding aspect in Warlords are bonuses for controlling all of the fiefs (individual territories) in an entire kingdom (a larger political region comprised of 6-7 fiefs).  Unfortunately, I was reduced to attacking piecemeal into France and Hungary just to keep Cory and Brendon from earning those bonuses.  I was holding my own against Cory, but large clashes with Brendon slowly ate away at my defenses.  Pretty soon, I could not prevent him from taking all of Hungary and the fight against his treasury became more lopsided than the one on the field.  Despite all of that, I actually did have one chance at victory - a card allowed me to slip some soldiers through an enemy fief and attack a castle on the other side, which I did successfully.  However, since Cory was last in turn order (randomly assigned), he was able to recapture it.

In the end, in this situation, it boils down to choosing your fights, because you cannot commit to all of them.  After all, I think it was Napoleon who said, "He who tries to defend everything, defends nothing."

September 13, 2012

Gaming with Kids: The Runaway

War, conquest, and strategy games often suffer from a characteristic that puts off many gamers:  the runaway leader.  This is basically similar to the concept "the rich get richer."  As you expand and conquer, you get more money, men, and resources with which you further expand and conquer, thus receiving even more money, men, and resources, etc.  Conversely, if you fall behind, you receive less which makes it very difficult to stop, and/or catch-up to, the leader.  Risk is the ultimate, poster child for this often negative side-effect.  The more territories you own, the more armies you receive, thus the greater ability you have to steamroll opponents.  Meanwhile, falling behind early can translate into a death sentence as you receive too few armies to both conquer new lands (gain more troops) and adequately defend your empire (keep what little you already have).  Now, obviously, there are ways to deal with the runaway leader, else Risk would not have survived in popularity for 55 years.

I suppose one could argue that the runaway leader concept thematically portrays the real life cycles of historical civilizations and empires.  Empires garnered numbers and resources through their conquests of lands - indeed that, and its resultant power, was generally their motivation to expand in the first place.  And as they grew, they gained more strength for further expansion.  That was one of the benefits of large empires.  However, what war games rarely thematically abstract are the problems with large growth: waste, corruption, regional discontent and revolts, cumbersome administration, and over-extension of resources.

Adult gamers can lose interest in a game when it becomes obvious that they have very little chance of winning because the leader is so far ahead.  Children can downright lose heart and become completely demotivated to continue playing.  So, what to do?  The most obvious solution is the alliance.  Those currently not in the lead will ally against the clear leader.  It is certainly an effective strategy and often leads to another fun aspect of war gaming - diplomacy and all of its inherent psychological and brinkmanship glory.  However, not all gamers like the concept of alliances, in principle, instead seeing it as a cheap "gang up on the leader" gambit, whereby sheer numbers overtakes sophisticated savvy.  Another means of combating the runaway leader is to "turtle," a tactic whereby you take all your meager resources and pile them up in one place to create such a formidable fortress that the leader cannot complete the victory, but yet you are not able to win yourself.  This just delays the end, sometimes inevitably, and isn't any fun.

The always under-rated
Samurai Swords.
I still enjoy games with the runaway leader characteristic, but we also own some titles which have built-in mechanics to deal with or mitigate this sometimes sour issue.  Magnifico and Dust are interesting games in that they limit the number of times you may conquer territories each turn.  Other titles like Attack! and Warlords of Europe employ card play which can give significant bonuses to those falling behind.  A favorite mechanic to ease the pain and suffering of the runaway leader is a set victory condition, namely to shorten the game.  Axis & Allies 1942 (city points) and Risk 2210 (ten rounds) employ this kind of component.  And some games offer opportunities to make really, meaningful, one-time strikes against a leader that go a long way into evening the odds.  For example, in Samurai Swords, your three armies are almost more important than the number of territories you own.  Knock-out one or two of the leader's armies between you and the other "losers," and soon you're back on equal footing - or better!  Conquest of the Empire is similar in its use of generals.

Now most of the above titles possess one or more of those elements to check a runaway leader.  However, not to be misleading, a player can still runaway with a victory despite those built-in mechanics, so there is no guarantee to anything.  Nonetheless, these design points can ease game play, teach kids how to roll and react to less than ideal circumstances, and can always be counted on to add interesting dynamics.

September 10, 2012


Well, I'm just into my second week as an official contributor to the gaming blog iSlayTheDragon.  I'm quite stoked with the opportunity and experience.  Founder Futurewolfie and stalwart partner FarmerLenny have a much more streamlined and professional-looking web presence than my own here a Kinderspiel.  Of course, that is to be expected as our two blogs' underlying purposes are quite different, too.

I've followed iSlayTheDragon for the past year - as long as I've been blogging - and when they recently solicited help in expanding their web site, I thought long an hard.  Okay, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic.  But I was certainly interested for a number of reasons.  First, I've been blogging for a year now (as I said), and had been debating whether to continue with it or try to approach it differently.  Second, two of the foster kids that I gamed with and who helped contribute to the blog left our house to return home - changing the dynamics of my gaming/blogging lifestyle.  And also mostly, the kids did not "get into" blogging like I thought they might.  When we first started a year ago, they were excited to take pictures, offer opinions, and even do some brief write-ups.  The novelty has appeared to wear off, however.  They still want to play the games, but they're not so interested in post-game, hobby expository.

Despite my two-month posting silence, I'm still keen to blog, though.  Even if not as much, or in a different manner.  So beginning last week, Kinderspiel will morph into a bit more casual tone with shorter pieces and lighter commentary.  Perhaps some minor thoughts on the hobby or session recaps - if I can remember those pics!  Maybe some exploration in RPGs, especially what with our planned Mouse Guard sessions (I'm close to finishing up the print and produce material).  Meanwhile, I will add my game reviews and deeper thoughts over at iSlayTheDragon from here on forward.  I hope to add a unique perspective there with an eye toward the family gaming experience, especially towards kids.