Monday, January 31, 2011

Boardgame Scott Moves

One of the leading and most prolific game scholars, Dr. Scott Nicholson, associate professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, recently wrapped up his popular Boardgames with Scott video blog series to move onto other endeavors: pursuing other scholarly projects related to games and contributing his academic insights to

Dr. Nicholson’s Boardgames with Scott series ran for five years and produced 70 videos during which the jovial game enthusiast honestly evaluates game contents, offers an overview of game rules, and gives his opinion on who might best enjoy the particular kind of gameplay. Each episode provides a firsthand look at games people might want to try playing. All 70 videos remain archived on the Boardgames with Scott for future reference; regrettably Dr. Nicholson won’t produce any more, but he remains involved in gaming scholarship through venues accessible to everyone online.

For an example of his more academic work with games, check out the Gaming in Libraries course Dr. Nicholson produced and offered online in June 2009. The video “classes” examine various elements of running games at libraries, both traditional “analog” games with boards and pieces, and “digital” games on computers and electronic gaming consoles. The website archives all 22 classes (plus several follow-up videos). Even for those who aren’t interested in running gaming programs at libraries, the course shines a light on aspects of gaming players don’t often consciously consider but which remain part of one’s gaming experience. Dr. Nicholson took the scholarship developed for the course and expanded on it in a book, Everyone Plays at the Library.

Dr. Nicholson now publishes new material at as “The Game Professor,” one of several series exclusive to the site. In his video introduction, Dr. Nicholson outlines his hopes to use this feature to showcase how board game design can serve as an educational tool and offer a forum to present aspects of his current scholarship regarding gaming. Thus far his contributions have consisted of two posts, “Games and Game Experiences” and “The Cult of the New and Game Design Implications,” plus links to videos featuring several of Dr. Nicholson’s academic presentations.

Dr. Nicholson’s presentations -- whether in text or video, game overview or course lecture -- bring the scholarship of game design and experience to a level everyone can understand. Many concepts bring his audience to some realization about games, a subtlety just below the surface of the conscious game experience but one that makes perfect sense. For instance, in “Games and Game Experiences,” when confronted with the question of his favorite games, he explains it’s not simply the physical game in the box that matters, but a “game experience,” in his words, “a combination of the game, the players, and the context in which the game is played.” It’s a simple concept, but one gamers don’t always consciously realize; and when players bear this in mind, they can take it into account in improving their own game experience. seems like a newer website providing news, articles, and reviews of board games; at first glance it seems to have a similar mission as, though with decidedly different approaches. At the very least it provides a venue for Dr. Nicholson to share his valuable scholarly insights into the world of board games with the general, internet public.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nostalgia for B-17

B-17 Queen of the Skies was an innovative game for its day, combining solitaire play with a basic war game that, despite relying heavily on die rolls, managed to simulate the daunting hazards Allied aircraft crews faced during World War II daylight bombing raids.

An area theater recently screened Twelve O’clock High and I managed to get the night off to watch it on the big screen. The film focuses more on the human cost of the American daylight bombing raids on Germany, with pre-mission tensions running high and ground crews waiting to see how many planes return; but toward the climax the movie includes some intense sequences for the only bomb raid depicted, a narrative collage of studio-filmed action merged with actual period aerial combat footage.

The film reminded me of the old Avalon Hill game, B-17 Queen of the Skies, and I gave in to my nostalgia to pull the slim-boxed game off the shelf and reminisce over its contents. I bought it way back when I was in high school and played it a few times. Solitaire games in general can sometimes serve as little more than exercises in game mechanics, but with compelling stories or settings can momentarily immerse a single player in the game world for an entertaining experience.

B-17 Queen of the Skies simulates daylight bombing missions over occupied Europe, with the solitaire player in command of a four-engine B-17 bomber and its crew. The game’s basic mechanic randomizes the number, location, and type of enemy aircraft assaulting the player’s B-17, modified by how deep into enemy territory the mission takes the formation and whether escort fighters help engage enemy forces on the way to shorter-range objectives. A host of charts, die rolls, and effects tables leads the player’s crew through flak and fighter attacks, all plotted on mission and campaign logs. This element of record keeping (tracking target accuracy, aircraft damage, and various gunners’ kills plus their own injuries and deaths) gives players the feeling of keeping a captain’s log book. Looking at the campaign record shows the imprecision of daylight bombing, the low number of enemy fighters downed during missions, and the high rate of crew injury and death.

My feelings for B-17 Queen of the Skies remain nostalgic, but one could see how playing the game in a classroom setting, even flying multiple bombers on missions, might demonstrate on a personal level the hazards of daylight bombing in World War II.

B-17 Queen of the Skies stands among the first board games to offer entirely solitaire play (roleplaying games and non-game “pick-a-path” adventure books having tread there only slightly earlier). Other war games often provided a rating for “solitaire suitability” or gave alternate rules for playing solo, but few catered solely to single person play. Only a handful of other solitaire wargames reached the market, most notably Victory Games’ Ambush! and West End Games’ RAF: August 1940, The Battle of Britain, both designed by John Butterfield.

Where roleplaying games rely on “programmed” adventures, sending players to different entries based on their choices and die rolls, solitaire board games rely on internal mechanics to run adversaries, obstacles, and other challenges. The concept has been ported to “cooperative” games where all the players struggle against a common adversary; one of the best, most recent examples of these remains Gamewright’s Forbidden Island.

In our modern times, of course, computers can simulate opponents in many games, giving rise to an unstoppable horde of computer games players can enjoy on their own in a trend that further endangers the survival of “analog” board and war games.

Know of an interesting solitaire or cooperative game with innovative systems to handle adversaries? Drop us a line so we can investigate and profile it.

Monday, January 10, 2011 Serves as Game Encyclopedia

Not sure if a game is right for you? Start your research at stands above other websites as an online encyclopedic community for hobby games. It relies on fellow game enthusiast members to submit reviews, links to other resources, videos, images of game components, and forum discussion posts. Though overwhelming at first to new visitors, offers a wealth of resources for those playing tabletop games.

The home page displays two of the most useful tools right at the top: the search engine and the categories. From here one can easily search for a game by title or description, or browse different kinds of games to view the most popular games (as rated by members), relevant forums, images, and video. Categories for games include abstract, customizable, children’s, family, party, strategy, thematic, and war games. The rest of the home page displays a dizzying array of information pertinent to hobby games, including the latest updates on board game news, popular game-related ebay auctions, recently added forum posts, and the latest game reviews.

At first this might all seem like information overload, but those seeking details on a potential game purchase or support for one they already own can focus on their game by title and gain a wealth of information. Pages for individual games offer names of designers, artists, and publishers, publication dates for various editions, playing time, suggested ages provided by both manufacturers and users, the basic play mechanics employed, basic description, component lists, and any awards received. Further sections show prices for the game on both the BGG Marketplace and eBay, images of the game and its components, videos reviewing or explaining the game, discussion forums dedicated to the particular title, files for rules or other enhancements, and relevant links to other sites.

How does one best use all this game information?

Prospective Purchases: Gamers can use to research prospective game purchases or seek new games best suited to their interest in themes and rules. Besides previewing a game’s basic information, one can check out reviews or forum discussions about the game, examine the components in photos, or even download and read the rules from online sources. These aren’t sanitized promotional blurbs from game publishers (though that information is available), they’re opinions and observations from those who own and play the games.

Current Game Support: Players can look up games they already own and enjoy to find alternate rules, additional scenarios, and other ideas on further enhancing their games. They might also discover other communities or websites catering specifically to their game with their own set of additional resources. Links to online rules or instructional videos can help existing players encourage new players to learn and join in their own games.

Build the Community: relies on its fan community to provide information; it’s this broad spectrum of fans that helps make the site’s resources so valuable. They provide game ratings, practical knowledge of suggested ages and number of players, images of what they’ve done with the game, and contribute videos, links, and reviews so others can better evaluate games for themselves. Joining the community and contributing to forums, reviews, and resources can help enhance the gaming experience for others. received recognition as winner of the 2010 Diana Jones Award for excellence in gaming. It’s a well-deserved award distinguishing one of the core online resources for board game enthusiasts.