Don Greenwood I note a divergence of opinion on Backpacks & Blisters. I found this quite clever and miles beyond anything I could have devised on the subject. But it got a big yawn from our group. I would attribute this to the subject but Team Doily has some pretty esoteric tastes. If you can get off on worms and potato farming, backpacking should not be too large a cross to bear. It may be one of those interests like golf that you itch by actually doing it - rather than living vicariously by playing a boardgame.

Mike Oakes Backpacks & Blisters: Firstly I must confess to NOT being a walker, although I did go to Keswick with school trips in 1962 and 1963 (ah the nostalgia....The Beatles singing "From me to You"....slipping on some ice on Helvellyn.......Apple pie beds......simple pleasures by today's standards..) Anyway, back to 1994 and I've played this twice now in 2 different groups and comments were mixed. To take advantage of the bonus points on offer for having the card in your hand for the location you have just visited requires a detail knowledge of the Lake District...fine for keen walkers but my group just couldn't be bothered as they had enough to think about in working out their route. If the game had included a separate map with each location identified by a simple grid system then this could have aided this exercise but that may not have been the intention of the Ragnars. With hindsight the chances of building this into your plan are pretty remote in my opinion as you may well use the card to achieve other short term objectives.

Both games we played took about 2 hours to complete but that may have been due to the time taken to explain the game and the constant searching for locations. The finishing positions were quite close and that may have saved the game for another play session....2 players had given up hope of getting back to Keswick by 6 p.m. and this somewhat clouded their opinion of the game....the rest of us pointed out that they should have managed their time better. I'm not sure how this game will appeal to the hobby in general but I'm hoping to play it with my groups at least 2 more times just to try out other strategies.

Peter Sarrett The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game is visually dynamite - terrific components and an enormous, quality game board. The horse figures add a quality to the game that plain pawns would lack. This game also lives up to its name. There's nothing quite so painful as watching a player on whose horse you have a lot of money riding end his horse's move on a hedge. "Wouldn't you rather move out a lane instead? I mean, not that I bet on your horse or anything, I'm just saying. If I were you, I'd move out a lane. Are you sure you don't want to move out a lane?" Heh. Sure, the game's outcome is heavily dependent on the roll of the dice. But who cares? The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game is fun. Whenever that big red box gets pulled off the shelf, we know we're in for a jocular evening.

Mike Ruffhead You mentioned Cathedral in the last issue, which prompted a visit to Just Games for a look, and it was love at first sight. This a brilliant little game; pricey, but worth every penny. Fifteen minute play time, nice chunky wooden bits, and rules you explain to a non-gamer in 30 seconds flat. Black (well, dark brown actually) has a clear advantage in playing first, but the game is so quick that you can always swap colours and play again. Indeed, so far, I have not met anybody who did not want another go after their first game, and it got into my 10x play list within a couple of weeks. There does not seem to be an optimum opening move; not that I have spotted yet, anyway, but playing the Cathedral centrally seems to promote closer, low-scoring games . What do others think?

Mike Oakes Pony Express: I bought this game by Alan Moon after enjoying Airlines and was quite disappointed in it. I was awaiting comments on the game from other subscribers as to their views but to date I have not seen any. Does anyone have any comments? Is anyone playing it ? I found the effort of placing the chips and determining ownership a lengthy process before getting to the race stage . Then the race itself took a considerable time to run and at the end of our first game, which took about 90 minutes, the general comment was "Is that all there is to it ?". I made some modifications which involved running 3 races in all, with ownership being retained after the first race. This also included revised odds and betting principles which I felt added some further play value for the time invested in the first phase. You may recall I sent these modifications to you some time ago. All in all not very good value at £30.

MS: You will be pleased to know that Alan has given me the authority to publish the original tracks and rules for Pony Express. If they fit in this time (looking a bit unlikely, I'll admit) I'll run them, but I think I could eventually offer a Rules Bank special on the rules and the diagrams from which you can make up the proper courses. These amendments will help no end as the game as published apparently has some major variations.

Peter Sarrett I highly recommend Atlas Games storytelling card game, Once Upon a Time (reviewed in the current issue of The Game Report). Once Upon a Time challenges players to tell a fairy tale style story using their hand of cards as plot elements. Some cards let players interrupt each other to steal control of the tale. Each player also has a secret unique ending towards which they're trying to steer the story. If someone uses all his cards and brings the story to his desired ending, he wins the game. The system in Once Upon a Time is far more elegant and playable than that of Dark Cults, the decade-old storytelling horror game from Dark House. With slight modifications, Once Upon a Time would make a great educational tool to help stimulate childrens' imaginations and creativity. And with adults, it can be as serious or silly as you wish. Great fun.

Christopher Dearlove A proposal for Sumo: strategy/tactics hints. I'm sure you and your readers have various comments which would shed light on certain games. For example, limited experiments with Time Agent revealed (to someone else) that a strategy for getting deep into the past is by a 'leapfrog' method with several agents. For another, one group I played 1830 with were unaware of what was a standard opening in another group: playing NYC place start tile facing D20 and Fl8, next play straight track in Fl8 and buy 2 train, next play double small city tile in Gl7 with sharp turn towards New York and (provided at least three other 2 trains have been bought - almost certain if B&O floated) buy up to two '2' trains and one '3' train, then upgrade NY to green and put token in the South. In the long run this guarantees the NYC both ends of New York and excellent prospects. I don't claim this is best, or even will not be known to most of your readers, but it is an example to illustrate my suggestion (and may be new to someone else). Possibly such a section would produce more feedback for you.

MS: Well I for one didn't know the play, but then personally I rarely play any game that well (or often) to need standard openings and as I said last time, I much prefer to experiment each time I play with new strategies or completely off the wall plays. Nevertheless, I find this one quite clever (but worryingly, not too obvious). I have nothing against gamers who devise and use Perfect Plans, but find them ultimately self- defeating. However, I have read the odd decent strategy article which I'd be pleased to run and I don't know what the interest in a hint page might be - please let me know if you have a crying need for them.

Chris Dollin Sometime last year, while gazing into the window of Just Games, we (self, spouse, and 6-year-old lad) saw a game called 'Outrage'. Nice board, nice pieces, can't remember the price but it can't have been extreme. The object is to steal (some of) the Crown Jewels. The board is a stylised and squared map of the Tower of London; I can't speak for its accuracy. The outer ring (cream) takes you to the towers, where you collect (Tower) cards representing useful equipment - passes, keys, dynamite, ropes, etc. Once you've been accredited, you can move in the middle (grey) area. You have to avoid the Yeoman Warders and most moves require you to take a (Raven) card. These can send you to parties, move the Warders, put you in prison, and so forth. When you feel confident that you've enough equipment, you can try and steal one of the Crown Jewels; the better your nefarious kit-bag, the lower the die-rolls needed to nick the treasure. Once you've got it, you have to get past the rack, make your way to the river, and escape. To pay the ferryman, you must have picked up your coin from one of the Towers. Movement is by rolling two dice. A nice touch is that a roll of 7 can be 'split' between yourself and another player (so long as they aren't in the innermost region nicking the jewels). This gives you a chance to be nasty. Another way of venting your anti-social tendencies is to try and rob another player; somewhat unrealistically, you can do this from anywhere on the board. Not a bad little game. Any other Sumo-ites mentioned it?

MS: No, but Mark Green said it wasn't too bad. It sounds a lot like Colditz actually. By the way, were we alone in playing the 'Spit on the SS' rule in this fine game? To remove a blocking guard, you got a mate to gob on his jackboots. Both of them were quickly off to The Cooler leaving you free to make a dash for the Staff Car. A big game in my life, Colditz. It's a long story but I failed my Physics O Level partly through playing it instead of swotting...

Peter Sarrett Santa Fe was probably the greatest delight of the whole batch. Sure, it's blatantly appropriated from Wildlife Adventure. But Wildlife Adventure is out of print, and Santa Fe throws enough differences into the mix to make it stand well on its own. Santa Fe's greatest strength is that it plays well with any number of players from 2-5, a trait which makes it a very rare game indeed. As an added bonus, the game plays very differently depending on the number of players, so that strategies which work with two players will fail dismally in a game with four. I'm not sure why so many 2x cards are used- enough so that all players can have one and some can have more than one. There doesn't appear to be any advantage to holding two of them at once, unless doing so would prevent an opponent from having any. Accomplishing the latter is virtually impossible, though... so why use so many in the game? We haven't tried this yet, but it might be much more interesting to use only as many 2x cards as there are players, so that if one player grabs two of them another player can't get any. This would make the play of 2x cards much more interesting. The Engineer card also needs some serious reworking. Alan told me that the advanced rules weren't very well tested, and it shows. Our group prefers using the advanced rule forcing payment to cross mountains and rivers (and doubling the price of branches), but the Engineer card is a joke. There is no reason not to buy one at the start of the game, and everyone has always done so in our games. Games are rarely decided by as little as the four points it costs to buy the Engineer, so waiting to acquire him later in the game only serves to reduce your choice of cities. The net result is that our games ignore the cost for crossing rivers. This isn't entirely satisfactory. Has anyone else come up with a way to make the Engineer card really work?

Dan Glimne The 'Gamer's Notebook' department is a favourite section of Sumo, I like bits'n'snips'n various pieces re gaming. Also, the interview with Reiner Knizia, a very nice gentleman whom I've had the pleasure of meeting on numerous occasions and a very creative inventor too, was excellent. More interviews, please, with Sid Sackson, Alex Randolph (who like me is a keen poker player), Roland Siegers (an underrated designer in my book), Robert Abbott, David Parlett (of Hare & Tortoise fame), Klaus Teuber, Michael Gray of MB USA, Wolfgang Kramer, and a number of others, and that's just for starters.

Alfonzo Smith Time Agent: The game board has almost no colour at the beginning of the game. That reminds me of any scifi movie of the early sixties where everything in the room is hospital white. I was disappointed there is little wheeling and dealing in a six player game that can last five hours. Not bad but the game isn't nearly enough fun.

Stephan Valkyser Time Agent was disappointing! What seemed to be an interesting multi-player game with different starting positions and victory conditions and a lot of player interaction proved to be a rather dull game. There is no way taking the lead too early works as the other players will stop you very soon. So all players stay within the pack, slowly building up a base for the game ending coup de grace. this means positioning your squads and agents on important events without actually turning them yet! Also put some agents in different positions where they will be able to cut the main origin of the time travel. Then save money from turn to turn until you have enough to pull off the 'sudden death' in one instant. so that the other players don't have time to react. It all boils down to the constant requirement to watch all players very closely. If you overlook the slightest threat the game could be over in a moment. Not action/reaction but constant monitoring dominates the game. Not very interesting!

Randy Cox I think the games you tend to cover are the typical style of games my circle of friends tends to play. We always consider a gaming weekend a success if we delve into several new offerings - even if they are all dogs. We tried Extinction (which we agree isn't one we'll soon be replaying), Santa Fe (I like it a lot, though there is a boring but guaranteed way to win), Elfenroads (I just don't see what you guys see in this horrendously long monster...yeah, it's pretty and an OK system, but it drags on forever), and Elfengold (panned by everyone in the room except for me, because I like random, chaotic, illogical games).

One game we began playing last year was Fast Food Franchise. I don't understand why you say it's so long. We have played one game that ran three hours. Since then, we've played countless times and each game runs anywhere from 60 to 90 mins. I guess our gamers are something akin to mirror images of your circle - we drag on in the Elfenroads bidding and you all must drag on during, what?, the dividends calculation when passing START in FFF?

In fact, our group is firmly in the camp of TimJim games. With myself as the lone exception, the White Wind games are not at all appreciated in our little group. However, the entire line of TimJim Games have been well received. Our opinions: Outpost is the best of the lot (Civilisation without Movement, Battle, or Trading - all the slow parts removed - now if they'd us ge rid of that damnable bidding system); Fast Food Franchise is a close second, much preferred by the 'fluffier' gamers around here; Suzerain is ok and interesting every now and then; and Mystic Wars is not very well liked by our masses. As for Time Agent, we haven't played enough to form an opinion, but our main concern was one you had. Why didn't they just use real history and avoid all that alternate Sci-Fi time-line?

By the way... just to put in a minority opinion, our group (I, in particular) get more enjoyment out of Fishy than any of the other White Wind games. Last comes Elfenroads. Please clue us in. Are we missing something?

MS: Randy! Chill out! A week's tuition at Don Greenwood's Different Strokes 101 course for you. You are missing nothing, the fact that your group prefers TimJim to White Wind is exactly what I was getting at in the Outpost and Suzerain comments. They will appeal to different styles of gamer and both are equally valid forms of enjoyment. TimJim design (intentionally or otherwise) for the ordered, Civilization type gamer (see your notes above - Civilization with these elements removed sounds like hell on earth to me) while Alan also designs for his audience. Personally, you would have to strap me in to play Outpost again but that doesn't mean it isn't a good game for some. And I enjoyed your magazine...

Carl Schnurr Most Bizarre Game Category: Last time we played Airlines a most unusual thing happened. We made it through half the deck without a points scoring (Wertung) card. And 3/4's of the deck. And so on, and so on.... We couldn't believe it. In the end, we got down to four cards left before we saw the first scoring card. Truly bizarre. Needless to say, it wreaked havoc with strategies and we had to convince the new player that 'really, this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen'. Anyone want to figure out the odds on this one? And yes,the deck was carefully shuffled beforehand.

Peter Sarrett Airlines may be a dressed-up reworking of Acquire (another great game), but for some reason it really appeals to me. Perhaps it's the groovy board or the colourful pieces... I dunno. It seems like every time we play the first scoring round happens very early one, always good for some frustrated groans. Sabotage doesn't seem to be effective very often, although it can be crucial at the right time. I think what elevates Airlines above 'Acquire with planes' for me is the Can't Stop element of when to lay down your stock cards. That constant inner struggle to resist the 'just one more turn' impulse keeps the game interesting for me. Perhaps the biggest problem with the game is that 2 or 3 airlines - ITA, HIT, and GAP - wind up being much more valuable than others. In most games I've played, these airlines become very large. They're so big, it's virtually impossible to stop their expansion. There are only so many shares of each to go around, and if you never get the chance to contest for ownership, you're at a major disadvantage. With the smaller airlines, fewer shares are required to vie for control so it's easier to jump. But the payoff for these is lower. Regardless, I really enjoy Airlines. And if I want to play the stock game without dealing with airline expansion, now I can just bring out Freight Train - essentially Acquire/Airlines without expansion on a board. I enjoy Alan Moon's games, and I like Freight Train, but frankly I was a little disappointed in its relative lack of originality. The core of Freight Train is recycled from Airlines (trying to possess the most cards of a certain type, randomly determined scoring interval) - I'd like to see something fresh from Alan.

Alfonzo Smith Freight Train: At last a railroad game where the object isn't to get goods from point A to point B. A fine way to kill an hour.

Stephan Valkyser Freight Train is a good effort but not as innovative and good as the two games of the previous year. Not a necessary addition for my collection as you can't buy everything.

Dave Farquhar My second topic concerns Alan Moon's Freight Train, which I recently played four player. Having originally denied seeing any relationship between this and Airlines, I can now understand why people are making the connection. It does, however, have a significantly different feel to it. Rather than giving me a sense of desperation to acquire trucks (shares in Airlines), it feels to me more of a puzzle, with lots of choices.I enjoyed Freight Train, finding it pleasant rather than exciting. It looks nice in play, and feels reasonably like shunting (I suppose). I think though that I would have to play it as the main game of the evening, when I am in the mood for something leisurely. There is a lot of down time, particularly if using the 'first player train'. This involves the first player in each round effectively missing a turn in the next, and I am not sure its use is necessary in this particular game.

David Macfarlane Freight Train cleverly uses cards to give impression more of a board game. This proved to be my most expensive purchase at Spiel and I have no regrets. Proving very popular and seems to appeal over quite a wide spectrum of gamers. Interesting that Mayfair's Express should have come out at much the same time. [MS: I thought Express was a couple of years old?]

Gareth Lodge Freight Train I felt was inferior to Express which is the nearest game to it in style, because of the lower volume of player interaction. Yes it was good fun and required some thought, but not being able to steal any of my opponents' trucks was a definite minus for me.

Dan Glimne If anyone still wants our espionage version of 'Adel Verpflichtet', I have a few hundred left and will sell them at just six pounds + postage. Last chance at what just may eventually be a collector's item!

Stephan Valkyser I have been playing a lot of Statis Pro Basketball (the new 93 edition) and it is in my opinion the best sports replay game on basketball ever done and one of the best replay games of all types. I had been already hooked on the old version (100+ games) but the new edition has everything the 'boxscore stats fan' could dream of: a working stamina rule (this one was missing in the old game), assists (also missing), a realistic number of fouls (too few in the old game), a very good simulation of the 24 second shot clock, Illegal Defense warnings, desperation shots at the buzzer and more and more. Had it not been for this season that the 'Hanging on the rim' penalty has been introduced, I am sure the boys from the Hill could have included that too.

I am already at 70+ games with the new edition and I have only one complaint: The assists average per game in those 70+ games turns out to be about 16, which is definitely too low (25 in the NBA). I wonder why this has not been spotted during playtest? If Don Greenwood will be reading this, maybe he could make a statement?

The 'bestest' (as Kelly Bundy would say) thing by far is the inclusion of great championship teams of the past. Whereas other companies (I do point at Strat-O-Matic here) give you a game with just five mediocre teams from a season about three years ago, AH not only provide the gamer with all regular players from all teams (this already being the standard with all games in the Statis Pro Family), but they give you another 27 great teams for the same price. Splendid! I could not resist to make up a 'All Time Greats' Tournament with the '67 Sixers, the '72 Lakers, the '83 Sixers, the '85 Lakers, the '86 Celtics and the '93 Bulls (which got already clobbered by Bird and Co). Congratulations to Don Greenwood and his staff for this fine product.

MS: All of which goes to show how a game can get two very different reactions...

Stephan Valkyser Mine - could be a sleeper. But also it cold prove to be too calculable.

Peter Sarrett I enjoyed Koalition but it wasn't a hit with the rest of my regular group. It plays fairly well, although there's rarely much decision-making required to form a Koalition, but the scoring system is just far too arcane. Razzia didn't impress me. It's a far more random version of Adel Verpflichtet without any of the strategy that make the latter such fun. Banana Republic was a surprise. It seems so straightforward but is far from simple. We didn't expect to be giving such long and serious thought to each play. The strategies here are far more subtle than meets the eye, resulting in a big thumbs up.

Stephan Valkyser Rheingold is a Risk derivative. No more and no less.

Trevor Deadman-Spall As someone close to the professional games designers and marketeers, I hope you'll forgive the cynical sounding tone of my next remark. Are limited games editions really limited or is this a marketing ploy? Elfenroads is an example, out for over a year, recognised as brilliant and yet still available! How come? I thought this was a limited edition game and my box has 1200 on the lid (or is the 1 a 7?). Now, either there are fewer than 1200 owners of the game or there have been subsequent editions or there are foreign limited editions too (but my rules are in German as well). If there are fewer than 1200 owners the games market is bleaker than I thought (and certainly puts things into context). Otherwise, scandal time and so totally unnecessary. It is highly unlikely that boardgames are going to be of great reward to a collector as an investment so why bother creating artificial hype? Boomtown was launched in a similar way and I refused to pay over the odds just for its so-called collectability.

MS: Trevor! Chill out! Okay, a number of points here. No problem on the cynicism, and I would sincerely hope I'm not that close that I couldn't discuss this (and the designers would chat about it as well, I'm sure). Are they truly limited? Well, it's hard to say for definite but I'm 99.99% percent sure Whitewind print 1200 and have equal faith in Livingstone Games (as the two companies you mention specifically). Others such as Rostherne, Lambourne and the Ragnars are also limited as the sales simply aren't going to be much higher than the 200, 300 or 500 they print - but then again, as with most gamekits, they can (and often do) reprint if it is a runaway success. Is it a marketing ploy? It can be, and Whitewind and Livingstone make much of it. Then again, you don't have to fall for it or pay up the money. Given that you now believe that there are 1,000 games for sale, you know exactly where you stand and you also know that if you don't buy one (and it isn't picked up by a major) and it is successful, then you will be hunting for a copy in a couple of years time. In Elfenroad's case, a relatively big success, Alan informs me that he has less than 20 copies left now and these are available only as part of the five game set. The element to consider here is that Alan knows the mentality of the collector and, now, in a position to milk it, will do so, and good luck to him. The other factor is market size. Whatever the claims of limited edition sellers, the truth is that 200-1,500 games are all that can reasonably be sold to this market. The market is not 'bleak' in that respect as these volumes are typical for 'gamer's games' and have been that way since the German invasion occurred. Mass market titles may sell hundreds of thousands, and of course we buy them as well, Avalon Hill and the middle players sell thousands, but the Die Machers, 18xx, Vernissages and Lieber Bairisch Sterbens of this world sell in the hundreds over a longish period of time. Bear in mind that this is worldwide sales - the British market in total could be as low as 50 games (or even lower I suppose in the case of expensive or bad games) and even a top seller like Modern Art has so far shifted, I estimate, 2-300 here (shout if I'm way off beam, shopowners). This in turn links to Paul Lamford's decision to restrict coverage. We are undoubtedly a minority hobby within a minority hobby, but that doesn't make it a bad one.

Alfonzo Smith Some news from the States. Mayfair Games is scheduled to release four railroading games this summer: Australian Rails, Iron Dragon, Empire Builder set in a fantasy world, 1856 and 1870. [MS: Mr Tresham readies his legions of lawyers...] Milton Bradley's Daytona 500 sees the light of day again as The Brickyard (working title), Expect a SimCity card game on the shelf next year. Negotiations about a board game based On Sid Meier's Civilization are ongoing. They will import Modern Art from Germany and hope to import Drunter and Druber and Quo Vadis.

MS: In one of my fevered moments I came up with the wheeze of reverse engineering SimCity (and other programs) and doing a board game conversion. It takes but seconds of thought to realise how daft this is - the lack of population modelling alone would kill it off almost completely. It is ironic that SimCity is one of the best examples of what computers do best - the fact that it is successful as a computer game does not immediately translate it to a manual format (and owners of PacMan: The Boardgame will be pleased to testify). I would imagine that any card game could only be a pale shadow of the computer versions, and my hopes are not raised by past Mayfair efforts, but I await the games with interest to see how they are tackled. If they can pull it off, I'm there. And anyway, if they are card games I'll at least try them.

Milton Bradley had an American Civil War game in the works for their Gamemaster series but a spokesman for Xeno Games says This Hallowed Ground was not it. Only MB's 13 Dead End Drive looked even remotely interesting to game playing adults. Here's an oxymoron: Express Monopoly. It's a card game based on the board game that takes ten minutes to play. Big Boggle is back under the name Boggle Master. Set Enterprises takes the symbols from their original Set game to make a rummy variant called Triology. Steve Jackson Games has revised their third edition of GURPS. Illuminati is going out of print only to be revised to the collectors' card game format. Tim Jim Games wonders if the world is ready for 18xx in space. Those words were used to describe 2038 now in the playtest stage of development.

Merfyn Lewis Sloth/Le Paresseux. I have played this game probably twenty times in various Youth Clubs and it goes down exceptionally well every time. It is though in the family games market and is rather simplistic in game play ie throw the dice and move the plodder. The difference is though that you throw the dice and move your opponent's piece. This makes for a really nasty game where you are moving your opponent closer and closer to the finish line while hoping to be the last to finish yourself - which, being a game about sloths, is how you win the game. Each player gets two sleep counters at the start of the game and one can be placed on your counter at any time. In doing so, this prevents your sloth being moved forward - the only problem is that if the dice shows green sloth then the player can take off a sleep token. As you only get the two, you have to be economical with their use. There are certain red spaces on the board which are chance spaces and if a piece lands there, the player must draw a card. Sometimes it's to your advantage, sometimes not. eg you have to give an opponent one of your tokens. It is overall a game with a very simple mechanic, yet has good player interaction. It does not have great deal to offer the hardened gamer but is a nice family game with probably the largest dice I have ever seen in any game..

Alfonzo Smith Sindbad: Played once but I had a good time. Easy to learn and play and the game took about an hour. This is the game Games Workshop's Talisman should have been like.

Stephan Valkyser As I told you in Essen, Die Hanse is very nice looking but there is really no game in the box.

Dan Glimne I got 'Die Hanse' from Laurin, and liked it better than you did, judging from your mini-review, but then I've always been a sucker for period graphics.

MS: No time for them myself. Okay, so I'm lying. Nevertheless, you can't have a game that is just graphics - there are many games that have looked great but don't play at all well: 3W's Holy Roman Empire, Robin Hood, Ringgeister, anything by Perlhuhn. I'm hoping that Konradin doesn't suffer from this syndrome.

Mike Schloth The hands down BIG HIT with my and Mr. Moon's (and yours too if you want) friends in Baltimore MD is Was Sticht?. They can't get enough of it. Unfortunately, I have to settle for enough of it as I've never had four people together to play it since I played it last with you, Regina (Insert Fond Memory Here), and Kirsten in Essen. And don't ruin my story with the fact that you can play it 3-handed. Don't you know that it is rude to point out to a person that their complaints are baseless?

Don Greenwood The current top dog in our group appears to be Was Sticht. I enjoy it also, but then I love most good card games. The problem with Was Sticht - if it has one - is that it is too good. Like Extrablatt there are so many variables to consider to play it well that the average Joe is just overwhelmed. Rather than try to teach the intricacies to my wife, I'd rather just play Hearts and have done with it. Only the very best card players relish the kind of challenge it presents. But a definite 10+ nonetheless for the real gamer.

Alfonzo Smith Road Kill: This is the game for those who find Milles Bornes too genteel. It's just your average card game where a player often finds oneself in a quandary over which of the good cards in one's hand should be discarded because of lack of room. The game's saving grace is the last place race always has a chance for a dramatic come from behind victory.

Don Greenwood I'm curious what you think of the crossover potential of a wargame like WE THE PEOPLE. Frankly, I think this is a dynamite design with great potential for 'fluffy' gamers if they'd give it a chance and not be scared off by the fact that it is one of those horrid 'wargames'. I found the simplicity and short playing time very appealing and there is a great game in there too. With better component design, this could have been one of my all time favourite games.

MS: Well, as you've seen from notebook, I agree.

Carl Schnurr Carrom: Last issue you mentioned problems getting your Carrom board slick enough so the pieces really glide. Around here the serious players sprinkle potato starch liberally over the board before playing. It works like a charm and should be available from any whole-earthy-granola type store.

Steve Kingsbury Why should it be that we would have to think about whether we tell our friends and acquaintances that we play games? Presumably it is because we have an idea that non-gamers think we are odd or strange. A question: has anyone ever put their gaming interest on a CV? [MS: Yes, since day one.] The furthest I ever went was to declare an interest in Eastern Games such as Go and Mah-jong. This was clearly an attempt on my part to appear interesting rather than a gamer. [MS: Slightly value- laden sentence there, Steve!] Interestingly, a previous letter from a Sumo reader noted how he sometimes tries to raise his gaming intellectual status by saying "Well they are pretty complicated you know and most of them come from Germany". Having said this myself on occasions I set to wondering whether there really was something odd about gaming that Joe Public recognises. The one unavoidable fact is that any visitor to a major con would think gamers on the whole a strange lot. I reckon that a significant proportion of any con is remarkably like the negative stereotype of "train spotters".

MS: Now you've done it. They'll be writing in with their Bic pens, roundy collared shirts and sellotaped NH specs.... Okay, so I would agree with you here and although I have got in deep water in the past for saying it, there are a large number of people at cons who are indisputably members of wallydom. However, it is very easy to denigrate others when I for one am not completely in the clear (I speak as a man to whom the phrase 'Best T Shirt' is meaningful) and, I would say, the problem is gradually improving. It used to be the case, especially at figure gaming shows, that if you didn't know where the hall was you could just follow the stream of anoraks, backpacks and suppurating acne. Nowadays, the elephant trunk baseball caps, the Bumfluff Boys and, yes, even Kagoules, are very much a thing of the past. This is partly because even wallies evolved through the fashion diversity of the 80's (they have clothing camouflage now, and flares are back of course, but feed them a line on American Football stats and you'll know one for sure) and partly because Trutex shirts just cannot be found in the larger sizes required for beer guts. But seriously, gamers (as with any mainly male conventions) have their share of characters with whom you certainly wouldn't want to have a meal or drink, but there are compensating benefits and you can easily spend a pleasant weekend chatting to intelligent, broadly normal, people with shared interests (while gleefully pointing out the nerds). Right, I'm off to get a PO Box number.

Although I imagine there is also a fair number of such people playing chess this doesn't seem to attract the same image. In the media, odd yes, Nigel Short being a Star journalist's dream but not "infantile" or "childish". Furthermore bridge, a game many gamers play, doesn't attract these type of weirdo images at all. As a child psychiatrist I have often wondered about the nature of gaming and my ideas are that there are three relevant aspects. One, that there really is something odd about gaming which is in someway childish. In the past I have noticed my disappointment when gaming sessions have been cancelled seems of a different nature that missing a train for example. (Perhaps not for train spotters!) I also wonder why we endlessly search for the next game, maybe this will be the ideal trading, race etc. So many are not, you think we would learn. But the search goes on. This is the area that my non-gaming friends I think pick up most... not another one Steve! I have a question: what will it feel like when we find that ideal game? [MS: Five hundred games in, I hope it's bloody good is all I can say] I have a hunch that we hope for a timeless space, where we are fully occupied, without a care in the world. Somekind on idyllic childhood Sunday afternoon? The second idea is that I think many adults are afraid of play and the childhood it reminds them of. Perhaps those times of vulnerability when they couldn't control their worlds need to be forgotten. (Sorry about the psychobabble). And finally gaming is fun; it appeals to those who love puzzles etc. In fact my experience is that most people can be converted to games if you get them to play a really good game no matter how complex.

Marcus Watney I am amazed that you feel shy about admitting your hobby to strangers. My experience, as a board wargamer, is that we are seen not as childish but as cerebral, bordering on the nerdish. Back at MidCon 1 in 1976, when Nicky Palmer and I ran a free-form Middle East Peacegame for a couple of dozen players (the forerunner of my current Gulf Crisis megagame), I was interviewed on local radio. One question revealed succinctly the general public's preconceptions of our hobby: "Don't you have to be an egg-head to play?" When I am asked about my hobby, I immediately disassociate myself from the toy-soldier brigade and explain that what I play is more serious, a modern version of chess. This seems to get the right response: bafflement perhaps, but at least it is a respectful bafflement. Once, my father's girlfriend had the courage to express her own doubts about my activities by asking if I had any remorse when I removed a unit representing thousands of men who I had just caused to be killed. I replied by asking rhetorically whether taking a bishop in chess amounts to an attack on the Church! It was a good analogy which left her thoughtful. As for Denis Arnold's problem (a wife ashamed of her husband's hobby), I would have thought the answer was obvious: divorce. I would not have married a woman who had any doubts about my hobby preference. On the contrary: I remember being particularly touched when the woman who would become my wife used up a boring hour as a spectator by sketching a portrait of me entitled "Intense concentration over a game of Diplomacy." That's my sort of woman!

MS: Truly Marcus, you are the Voice of Reason. Was it the film Diner in which the fiancee had to pass a test on the chap's football team? Seemed a bit harsh, to say the least, as does divorce...

Ultimately the problem resides in certain players' lack of self- confidence. If you adopt a defensive, apologetic attitude to your hobby, others will pick that up and judge you by your own yardstick. If Arnold Schwarzenegger likes to spend his spare time knitting daisy-chains, who's going to argue? Likewise, if you promote your hobby with self-assurance, it will in turn be accepted as a perfectly respectable adult hobby. It goes further than that. Friends of mine who are politely uninterested in the military side of the hobby, in times of crisis are the first to ask me the penetrating questions. During the Falklands, the Gulf Crisis and now Bosnia, I find my opinions and my hobby suddenly valued! As the Romans didn't quite say, 'If you desire peace, learn from wargames.'

MS: Marcus Chutney, News at Ten, Bonkersville.

Mike Schloth Thanks for the game rules. Rheingold is a different game when you've got the right rules. I like it. However, there have been complaints about the endgame. As all players have perfect knowledge of the current scores, if you find yourself out of the running (as you can be if you lose a big stack), then the game becomes very uninteresting to you. It is very tough to come back especially as you have no control as to where your reinforcements appear. The only (?) solution seems to be to plot with the other underdogs to camp outside of at least two of the remaining unconquered castles with as large an army as possible. With any luck, this will force the winners to deplete their castle defences to attack. Then, with any remaining luck, the losers will select the winners' zero shield castles to attack.

Carl Schnurr Family Business Variant: Saw this on the Internet and while I haven't tried it, it sounds like great fun. Sorry I can't remember who posted it so I can't give credit where it's due. Basically, you mix Pit with Family Business. Start each game by mixing all of the gangster cards, and dealing them out randomly, then playing a round of trading a la Pit until someone gets all of one gangster type. Then you stop and everyone keeps only the gangsters they have the most of unless there are ties in which case you break them somehow (arm wrestling? rubber band wars?). Then you deal out a normal family business card hand to everyone and play normally.

Mike Schloth I've enclosed the rules to HOAX. This is the American game on which Sein Oder Nicht Sein (To Be Or Not To Be) is based. I've given the German version's rules a once over with my trusty translation software and they appear to be virtually the same as the American rules. The German rules just have more detailed examples of play as far as I can see. Some things to remember in S.O.N.S are: 1). On any given turn, only one Turn Action may be taken and that by the player whose turn it is. 2). On any given turn, after the Turn Action has been taken many "At Any time" may be triggered. In fact, the player who started it all with his Turn Action may come back with an "At Anytime" action of another character. Example: I declare myself a THIEF and steal 2 Grain tokens from Alan. Alan says he is KING and that my action is illegal. Tony says that he is the JUDGE and that I owe 2 Wine tokens as a fine. Bob says that he is VICAR and that he will pardon me for a fee of 1 Gold. If I accept the JUDGE's judgement, I'll pay Tony 2 Wine tokens. Tony will keep one and give the other to KING Alan. If I accept the VICAR's pardon, I'll pay Bob one Gold token. However, I could also claim to be the WIZARD and declare myself immune to the JUDGE's fine and the VICAR's fee. In this last case, I would be able to keep what I stole from Alan (I would in any case), but no one else would get anything. 3). If more than one player responds to a Turn Action with the same character declaration, then the player who declared the Turn Action gets to choose which player to accept as the declared character. Example: If in the previous example not only Tony but Dave and John also claimed to be JUDGES, and if I decided to pay a fine, then after Tony, Dave, and John declare their fines I would have to accept one of them as JUDGE and pay that player the fine they declared.

Peter Duckworth Tutanchamun is technically a brilliant game. The lack of much social interaction means it isn't right for all occasions but in the right situation it is fascinating. And the joy is that the game alters considerably according to the number of players. With three players it is a very fine game indeed. So few games play well with three, certainly most play better with four, but this game is probably at its most strategically interesting with three.

Trevor Deadman-Spall Tutanchamun - Yep! Lightweight, pricey but hidden depths. I probably played with too co-operative a group of people who weren't that fussy about scoring points ie if two people started collecting something, the rest didn't bother with those. There seemed to be plenty to go round. There isn't! I failed to finish. Do people play it that coins are used immediately to poach a piece and then discarded or can they be saved until a key moment. Personally, I feel the pharaoh tie- break concept (can this only be used once?) and the big-finish joker element are weak. Could you use the joker to represent a piece not yet collected in a set and so declare that set complete (and the remaining piece irrelevant) or can it represent a completely unique (ie non-existent) artifact set of one and so get you that last vital point? Am I missing something here? A fairly unique game in that setting-up almost takes longer than playing.

Mike Schloth Sticheln (Needle) is great. Mr. Moon and I both like it and we can't wait to play it with six. Three has been our maximum so far. I now understand what you meant when you said that it is backwards from just about every other card game that you have played. And yet it 1) Seems To Work and 2) Is Fun. Clever how all colours but the colour led in a trick are trump. Have you reviewed this already? I'd be interested in any playing tips.

Alfonzo Smith Vernissage: Peculiar game system. I have won two of the four games I have played but I suspect that turn order has a great deal to do with my success and not any grand strategy on my part. I enjoyed myself, though.

Stephan Valkyser Vernissage. I am still not sure how to rate this one. An interesting mix of well-known mechanisms, but in my opinion it looks a bit inflated. Not a pure, classic design like Adel Verpflichtet. Feels like a game out of Teuber's 'game-design-construction' set.

MS: I thought the systems were quite original - where has the dipping into piles for art been used?

Mike Schloth What future historians are sure to call The Great Vernissage Snit seems to have ended with all sides finally agreeing to play the damn game one way. That way is: If upon the laying of a Fate Chit there follows irreconcilable differences, then it is the current player (the layer of the Fate Chit) alone against all players who disagree with the laying of said Fate Chit. The Anti-Chit player(s) then place before each one of themselves any number of the Power Cards (Suitcases) they may own. The Pro-Chit player then places before his or herself any number of the Power Cards he or she may own. Each Anti-Chit player then rolls two dice and adds the number of Power Cards he or she has played to the dice total. When they are done, the Pro-Chit player does the same. If any of the Anti-Chit players' totals are greater than the Pro-chit player's total, then the Pro-Chit player loses. This means that the Fate Chit is removed and the Pro-Chit player removes his or her Agent from the Artist in question. If all of the Anti-Chit players' totals are less than the Pro-Chit player's total, then all of the Anti-Chit players lose and the Fate Chit remains and each of the Anti-Chit players must remove their Agent from the Artist in question. Concerning the Dealt-3-Paintings-At-The-Start-Of-The-Game rule, I must humbly disagree with Mr. Webley. I profess no great knowledge of the German language, but doesn't the rule in question state that if a player should happen to be dealt 3 paintings then he or she MAY turn them in for new cards? The assumption is that to start with 3 paintings is to have an unfair advantage. I agree that it is an advantage but I don't believe it is an unfair one. After all, you are stuck with the paintings you own until the end of the game. You can't unload them when their value is high and they are just as likely (arguably more likely) to be worth little or nothing or less-than-nothing by the game's end. Speaking of no great knowledge of the German language... did you know that when JFK made his speech to the beleaguered Berliners he was actually saying that he was a jelly doughnut? It seems that "ein Berliner" (sic?) is some kind of pastry. I suppose it would be something like me standing before a crowd in Copenhagen and saying "I am a Danish". Do you think that his language coach was an American who played German games?

John Webley The most embarrassing moment on reading Sumo was the revelation that I had completely mistranslated the En Garde rules. On looking back I can see how it happened, the rules talk of two cards of the same values and I translated it as the same value. Since I had found this section confusing myself, I put in an example which made things worse. After all the comments I have made about other people's translations too! I have spoken with Joe Nikisch about this, I don't know what he intends to do but I hope it doesn't cause too many problems. I just hope that the person who says that it has improved the game is right, but the whole thing is acutely embarrassing nonetheless.

MS: Apologies accepted John, we all make mistakes. The story, then, is as follows. The game reviewed by me in Sumo 13 does not actually exist in the mind of Reiner Knizia but it does in the English rule book. Both John (above) and Reiner have confirmed that the game officially works on the basis of playing the same number of cards of the same value as those played to parry. However, Reiner indicated that our interpretation 'could be interesting', so I leave you to experiment.

Mike Schloth En Garde is wonderful. One of the best quick two player games I know. You'll forgive me if I say that your review was too...numerical? I know you praised it, but you took so long to explain the card counting ins-and-outs that I came away from your review thinking "Hey--he likes it, but too much arithmetic". When actually (in my opinion) the number of cards - 25 - is so small and the different types - 5 - are so few that the "card counting" is almost as automatic as knowing the number of fingers on both hands. In short, En Garde Is Short, Is Fun, and It Works.

Alan Moon En Garde is terrific, just like you said. It really has a nice feel to it - you keep backing the other guy up until he has to stand and fight. You parry and riposte. Wonderful. Hope Knizia slows down a bit. I've moved him up to the top of the Hit List. I'll bet Klaus Teuber, now bumped down to No 2, is breathing a sigh of relief.

John Webley My main reason for writing though is that there was a small games fair in Braunschweig over the weekend. David Watts came over and ran a Dampfross tournament which went well and a lot of the new games from Nuremburg were there. The pick of the bunch that I saw were Knock Out, Intrige and possibly Neue Spiele von Altem Rom. Knock Out is the second game from TM, and is a game about boxing. Players are managers who each control two boxers, they then challenge other boxers and fight short fights using a selection of the cards in their hand, all players have the same cards and choose four of them which evens things up a bit. The core of the game though is the betting on the fights wherein the managers of the two fighters have some information since they know which cards they have chosen, but nonetheless other players can take them on and maybe win from them. The graphics are excellent, and it looks great fun if a bit light. One slight in-joke is that Karl Hering from Vernissage reappears as a boxer.

Intrige is a negotiation game. Players attempt to place their counters into other players houses, each of which has five slots paying out 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 50,000 and 100,000 to the occupants per turn. In order to persuade the owner of the house to accommodate them they must pay them and/or strike deals using promises or threats about future counter deals. There are a few twists, each player has ten tiles, five pairs each with it's own symbol. Since each symbol may only be represented once per house there is the possibility of getting other people's high earners thrown out of their slots, but only through a successful negotiation with the owner. It plays like a stripped down form of Quo Vadis and given five good negotiators could work out very well.

MS: News that Nuremburg had produced no less than fifteen potentially good new games was a little disturbing to the financial departments of the conscience, but great news for gamers. Oddly, since Manhattan, Knockout, Heller und Pfennig and others are still to appear over here and because we are awaiting the rules for Old Rome, the biggest buzz has been for Intrige and Die Schlacht der Dinosaurier by our own Steve Baker, a game about warring dinosaurs (with lava balls, apparently). More on all these games next time - I have played neither as I simply haven't got round to them yet. Those that have are much impressed by both games (as long as you don't suffer from the rules glitch in Intrige).

Another new game this year is "Am Ufern vom Nil", On the Banks of the Nile, this year's game from Abacus. I have done the translation for this, properly I hope, and it plays quite well. You have to grow fruits in fields and then market them, a task which is complicated by the fact that they get flooded by the Nile at irregular intervals, or on the other hand may get dried out into desert. It has several interesting mechanisms, which seem to slot together well, but some of the players at the games meet felt it was a bit dry and lacking in interaction. My sort of game but perhaps not to everyone's taste.

Peter Duckworth I recently picked up a copy of Boom Town cheap in a sale. I remember much slagging off at the time and so had low expectations. Result: pleasantly surprised. At the end it becomes a bit dull but early on it provides a few laughs and allows for some strategy.

MS: While even I am now doubting whether I slagged it off or not, we too have played it again recently and yes, well, it's still not too bad. We had a good laugh with it, it is good for trainee gamers and streets ahead of Automania.

David Macfarlane Athos grows (wasn't terribly keen either to start with) and seems better balanced on further play. Bit like Vernissage in that it needed a couple of plays to suss out possibilities. Spiel der Turme (if you can get by the starting glitch) is pretty intriguing with two players - two neutral colours can be moved by either player. Stichelen - have you played this yet? Finessing, Black Maria/Hearts-like dumping on opponents, but you ultimately need to take tricks, with high fun factor.

Garry Lloyd I am a little bit undecided on the World Cup game. Admittedly, it looks very good - the components are clear and bright although the cells on the board are just that little bit too small to display all the cards for each team. However, for me, the balance between skill and luck was just a little bit too far towards the latter. Perhaps that is because when I have played, my teams have tended to get stuffed by other players before my long term strategic plans have allowed me to put god cards on my teams, or that I don't have the mental capacity to predict where my teams will finish. I find that I've laid good cards in the later rounds on somebody else's outfit, while my rabble amazingly get lumbered with 0s and 1s. Having said that, the game is great fun and I'm sure I shall play it again and again.

Ulrich Blennemann I have played World Cup a lot and like it very much. It is already 10+. I prefer the World Cup over the Olympics because in the former event you do not necessarily have to plan that much in advance, having a break after the first round.

Dave Farquhar World Cup - has probably brought the most excitement of any of my lunch-time games at work. I did the group draw the previous evening, and handed it the next day to all the players, after they had secretly drawn their teams. Ten people took part, and the tournament took exactly an hour. This was just as well, as a call to return to work as Brazil were about to play Germany in the final would have caused uproar. Brazil won incidentally. Opinions were divided on the game, as with ten players, and limited time available, there were few opportunities for deep tactical play. Everyone found it exciting though. The highlight of the tournament for me, occurred in the opening rounds. The Italian manager decided to play a subtle game, and ignore Italy in his opening play. By the time it was his turn again Italy's games had been completed, with no goals scored! Switzerland (me) then topped the group, with USA second.

David Coutts World Cup - a great game covering my favourite sporting event. Simple yet subtle, a fun game that can be taken seriously too. Did I mention that I've won both games? Wales, then the USSR, in the 1958 final.

Peter Duckworth Subbuteo figures these days are so light and "tinny". They fall over too frequently, don't swerve so easily, and those new pitches catch the new players in the arm. Most unrealistic! Good to see the Corner Kickers are now reduced to a reasonable size, no longer the giants of the football field. But where are the Ball Boys these days ? The Astroturf is one positive improvement. Unlike the goals which seem to collapse at every availably opportunity. And the Big Balls ? Where are the enormous Balls, the ones the size of the players? They allowed rusty play to be turned into an art form, something almost magical !

MS: I raised the vital 'light and tinny' issue with Mike Clifford, aged gamer and owner of some really old teams (he has got Accrington Stanley when they were in the league) who disagreed with and disproved the theory. I think I must have been imagining it, but I know what you mean - is it the weight? I await further evidence and wish I'd never sold my Celtic team of early 70s vintage who were superbly balanced. However, the old teams are better in another way as they don't suffer from those loose metal rings in the base.

Garry Lloyd I've only played Rette Sich Wer Kann once, but have enjoyed it very much. It is very difficult to see who is doing well or badly because when a boat is about to sink you can find the passengers are completely different from that occupying the boat when it first springs the leak.

Gareth Lodge Rette: Perhaps we haven't given this a fair chance as it was played with only three but I much preferred FlussPiraten. The latter has more depth to it (although I am at a loss how anyone could describe it as too complex) and it has just as much humour. But it is obvious to me that RSWK would improve with more players. I was surprised at the adverse comments on FlussPiraten - what do people dislike about it?

Dave Farquhar Every Man for Himself - this has received the strongest opinions of any of my Essen games, ranging from 'I really like it' to 'I really hate it'. At least its not boring. (I like it)

Mike Oakes Rette: I bought this on the recommendation in Games Corner and I echo the comments made in your review....an excellent game indeed and great components. My game was 'launched' over the Christmas period( I bought it for myself and then told my wife what she was giving me as a present) and consisted of a 4-player game with members of the family. Once we realised the havoc you could cause by voting other players out of a boat and the brilliant twist at the end of each round of swimming to another boat the laughs came non-stop. We played it 4 times in 2 days and then I took it to some other friends on New Year's Day, where it again received a glowing reception. Most definitely a hit with us.

Rob Mulholland I read your review of Rette - a good review but after having played it three times over a period of weeks I have become quite bored with it. A nice game but I don't think it's a classic. And £25 is too much to pay for it.

Mike Ruffhead Rette: Really, really, excellent. Personally, I only enjoy the Jefferies Sacrifice when played by Paul on someone else!

Alfonzo Smith Rette: Haven't played it but the description minds me of Survive, an excellent overlooked gem by Parker Brothers c.1982. Forty hexagons, representing a sinking island, are placed in the centre of the game board, the ocean. In turn, the players place their pawns on the island. One pawn per hexagon is the limit. Several boats and sea creatures are placed in the ocean. The object, for the players, is to get their pawns from the island to any of the safe islands at the four corners of the board. At the beginning of each turn a player draws one of the centre hexagons to create a random event. This also represents the sinking of the island. In turn, the players must frantically plot to save their pawns within the limited number of game turns. Creatures appear to destroy boats and kill pawns at inopportune times. Eventually, an explosion is revealed beneath a hex and any pawn not on a safe island is lost. The game is great family fun and fertile ground for gruesome variants.

Trevor Deadman-Spall Rette: A bit controversial this, and some might think it destroys the whole ethos of the game, but we disallow the diplomacy/negotiation bit. I think this harks back to hardline gamer versus bit-of-fun gamer. Any game requiring alliances/back-stabbing needs players of equal temperament and willpower. Otherwise, it becomes a 'game' of bullying and revenge. My personal feelings are against any player who, in any game, says "watch out for ...if I were you" or "...what did you do that for?" when it is someone else's turn. I have great respect for anyone I play games with and consider they are all capable of good and bad tactical decisions and therein lies the fun. Okay, so one could argue that this isn't the game for me. Wrong! I thoroughly enjoy it as do my partners in crime. I just think it saves a lot of time, especially when everyone goes ahead and does what they want anyway (and everyone knows that). The game is a fun idea, quick enough to have a couple of goes and nobody seems to care who wins. Two points: What does it matter who places what colour boat where? Our experience suggests the game is something of a fait accompli once the high-scoring boat lands. One player always wins by miles.

MS: And therein lies your problem. Without the negotiation phase, the game probably isn't balanced or changeable enough to pull back the leaders (I can't even imagine that it would that much fun, but it's your time). The whole point of it is that if you do land the big boat and lead 'by miles', you have done well, but will be a clear target for the rest of the game. The skill is talking others round to achieve a win from behind, or even from in front (and I've seen it done). The other point is that everyone doesn't do what they've said - are you not playing the hat rule either? I wouldn't dream of spoiling your enjoyment but this sounds as if you've gone too far with tweaking this game. Removing the logs in Elfenroads is possibly restrained enough, but going to this extent could wreck the game as designed. John Webley Re colour blindness, at regional heats for the German Board Games championships, (we were doing fine until the last game which was a disaster) one of our team played Bazaar against a colour blind gentleman. Well at least he claimed to be colour blind, and the stones that he took rarely if ever coincided with the swaps that he had announced. Not a happy experience for anyone.

Trevor Deadman-Spall Colour blindness was a great snippet of information and just the sort of thing I was hoping for from Sumo. I was blissfully unaware of red/green problems but consider dark blue and dark green to be the main culprits. Can we come up with the best colour combinations for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 player games?

Garry Lloyd Jolly Roger is a great little game that I'm sure would appeal to most card players. As with World Cup, there is a large slice of luck involved in the drawing of treasure but that can fairly and squarely be put down to the greed of the player. Although the main part of the game is basically a whist variant, there are enough knobs and whistles to make it stand out as a good game in its own right.

Andy Daglish Lords of the Sierra Madre: I was dealt Sherriff Slaughter (that was deemed appropriate). Remember buy universities, then newspapers [and save string.] It seemed odd that the Arizona Rangers couldn't don disguises and become banditos americanos for a useful period, but I guess this belongs to an earlier time I suppose. Could this game become a cult among non-gamers like the Ian Beck (RIP) 're-enactment cum 1/32nd scale' posse?

MS: Possibly, but I guess Burritos & Bandidos (see Notebook) would be more suited to that school of gaming.

Rob Mulholland Suzerain was another game I bought and was similarly disappointed. The beginning and middle game is good but the end game often allows the game to drag on too long - as you say, too well balanced. A shame because otherwise I enjoyed it. The same could be said of Shanghai Trader (Panther) - good beginning and middle but spoilt by a bad end game. Shame, because both are potentially really very good.

Pete Calcraft I found some recent(ish) comments on PBM in Sumo by yourself and Martin Burroughs quite interesting. I wonder if I am the only PBM person among your readers? I certainly agree there are a lot of turkeys in PBM, and there are boardgame designers and lots of people in the zine scene who really could move in and "ice them" is you put it. If any of them want to do so, then they might care to come and talk to me. They might find my help worth a percentage. You maybe aren't aware that of the hundred or so PBM 'companies' in the country all but half a dozen are no more than zine-sized operations with zine-sized ambitions. These GMs are as amateur as the GMs in zinedom. The background and tradition are different, but the motivation is the same. Most PBM games are copies of other PBM games, produced solely for the purpose of having a game to run. They're produced by people with no game design experience or understanding, and often with no useful programming experience. Very few involve new ideas or methods, and very few companies actually seem to have more than a single strand of designs. If these GMs fitted into the zine scene then all would be better for everybody, but they don't.

You might find it harder to produce a successful PBM game than you'd expect. You might design a very good game, although the mechanisms that work well in PBM are often different to those that work in a boardgame, but PBM games don't sell on quality. The idea that players will recognise and appreciate a good game is not sensible. Soccer fans, for instance, would rather play a crap soccer game than a brilliant game of anything else. As a result the world is full of crap soccer games, there being lots of soccer fans who want to play them. Boardgames and computer games probably sell more on quality than PBM games, even though there's almost no-one (other than Sumo readers and convention goers) that has any means of recognising quality before making their purchase. PBM differs only in that quality means you get to keep a player and continue collecting his turnfees. You still need some other way to sell the game in the first place, and there's nowhere to get reliable reviews to a reasonable number of people.

Flagship is not really relevant to a successful PBM operation, and you won't find the professional companies taking any notice of it. You'll probably not be able to tell from it which are the professional companies and which are the amateurs, because Flagship refuses to distinguish between them. There's a certain amount of tension as a result. As a newsletter for GMs it is fairly useful, but as a source of publicity or site for advertising it is almost worthless. It's fine for amateur GMs, who only need a trickle of new players, but a successful PBM game sells to thousands and magazines with circulations probably measured in hundreds don't make much of a contribution. Flagship also still maintains a zinedom-derived distaste for sports games, although in terms of sales these appear to dominate the market. That Flagship isn't really in touch with reality in PBM is hardly surprising, since the people that run it have no experience of professional PBM themselves. No-one wanting to understand more about PBM will learn anything from reading Flagship. It's the flagship of the PBM hobby, not the PBM industry. One of the reasons for the poor quality of reviews in Flagship is the editorial policy of insisting that reviewers must not be fans of the game. Flagship won't accept reviews from people who have been playing a game on their own accounts. The intention is presumably to be objective, but the result is to be superficial and often inaccurate.

There are a lot of PBM games with formats similar to Austerlitz. I may be doing Austerlitz a poor service, and it may be something better, but the usual format is pretty much:- An army consists of a bunch of assorted guys/things of different sorts, who all tramp around together until they bump into another army. Battles are usually more like a car crash than a battle, with no structure or tactics. One side gets written off and the other doesn't. There's usually not even any opportunity to gain advantage by manouvering: sneaking up behind someone while they're asleep usually doesn't convey any advantage. In the meantime, the economic rules either allow for economic expansion or they don't. If they do then economies grow exponentially and the player who sits around doing nothing else for ages wins as soon as his economy is bigger than all the rest. If they don't then both sides feed troops into the battles until someone has a long enough run of winning battles to take possession of the economic power of his opponent.

The Middle Earth game seems to me to be pretty much the same sort of game. I've looked at this game more closely, and it's basically a power game without much flavour of Middle Earth except that the names have been changed and the alliance structure is fixed in advance. That the free people lack free will seems to me to be missing the point. There are Diplomacy variants with more flavour of Tolkien.

The costs of PBM are not as high has you seem to think. Only the nuttiest of PBMers will be spending more than a fraction of the amount that most board game or computer game players are spending. Comparison with zinedom usually involves looking at the relative costs of single games, ignoring that in zinedom you'll need to play half a dozen games to get the same level of activity as one decent game in PBM. At the bottom end of the PBM range (the cheap games) the cost is relatively high, although the service is very much better. At the top end (where PBM really comes into its own) the real cost is much lower. The better PBM games are entire games in themselves, every turn.

Martin Burroughs comments "the vast majority of gaming is still in zines". This is almost certainly wrong. I'm in the unusual situation of having been closely involved with the zine scene in the past and the play by mail scene today. The number of people playing in my games alone is greater than there were in the whole of zinedom in the days when zinedom was all that there was. I can't believe I account for more than ten percent of the total, at most (probably a lot less). There must be somewhere between twenty and a hundred thousand people involved in play by mail games.

For me, it seems a pity that zinedom is not more innovative. I've always felt that the majority of editors and GMs are too conservative, churning out the same material as everyone else. I thought so when I was one, and not much has changed since. Only a handful of people have tried to take the idea beyond the existing tradition (yourself, Alan Parr, Pete Birks) even though the technology and costs have changed dramatically in the last few years. I'd have hoped the amateur scene would be a hotbed of innovation and originality. [MS: Hear, hear.] Amateur GMs have sod all to lose by experimenting, after all, and it would be much easier for an imaginative amateur GM or designer to build a successful link with a professional PBM company than any other sort of games company I can imagine.

Nicky Palmer I think your attack on PBM games (specifically Austerlitz) for being unhistorical is accurate but a little irrelevant, like criticizing chess because it doesn't give players much exercise. The reason professionally run PBMs very rarely attempt to simulate history is that the PBMs are almost forced to be multi-player games (if there were just two players the cost of GMing would be disproportionate) and very few historical games were multi-sided affairs. A possible approach tried in some games is to sort players into teams but this can lead to serious problems if one side suffers from dropouts.

In short, PBM isn't a good medium for historical simulation; its strengths lie elsewhere. The main attraction for me is the sheer depth of the best professionally run games: with all the admin and handling of limited intelligence dealt with by the GM and individual reports by each player, you can get a gaming experience several orders of magnitude more challenging than most board games (and I'm writing as a lifetime boardgame fan). The ahistorical limitation is partly coped with by providing historical period simulation at the tactical level, so you find yourself dealing with the Napoleonic tactical questions even though the game doesn't reflect any particular historical situation: Agema's games are particularly good at this. However, most PBMs have fantasy or SF background to allow more design freedom and the construction of convincing multi-player scenarios.

Tim Trant I expect that the number of non-European Sumo subscribers with computer network access is quite high: I would never have heard of European board games if I didn't read the rec.games.board newsgroup. I subscribed after seeing your advertisement in The Canadian Wargamers Journal, but it was all the positive reports that I'd seen in the newsgroup that convinced me to make that effort. Anyway, I end up with a skewed view of the European boardgame world, as I get some reports almost instantly when someone from your side of the Atlantic posts to the newsgroup, but I wait for Sumo to arrive several months later to get the more detailed reviews and comments. Since the only way I can get most games is by mail order from England (with the consequent horrific postage charges) or by driving the 1000 km down to Boston (well, really I make the drive down to visit my sister, and squeeze in a visit to Games People Play during the trip), I really depend on others' opinions. I should mention that someone (possibly Mayfair?) apparently did test the waters here recently by importing a number of Flying Turtle games. I bought Sinbad for a "normal" retail price about a year ago, but then last fall Sinbad, Shark, Murphy, and Restaurant were briefly available for somewhat less than half price (i.e. Can$20-$25) each. The obvious conclusion is that the games just didn't sell, and unfortunately I don't expect anyone will want to try bringing in such exotic fare again.

But coming back to computers again, it would be nice (for me) to be able to just e-mail a letter like this to you. I don't think I'd want Sumo to publish electronically [Ken: Ouch!], but it'd be great to have the rules bank accessible on a public machine. My computer game playing has dropped to almost nothing (aside from Formula One Grand Prix), but I'm using the computer more to make playing aids for boardgames. The Formule De sheet, for instance, took me about three hours to put together while I learned how to use my desktop publishing program. What I'd like now is one of those cheap Canon colour inkjet printers: it's become quite easy for anyone to turn out professional-looking game components. Just before Christmas the first "public domain" boardgame appeared on the Internet: the files for the map, rules, and counters are freely available, and anyone with (access to) a PostScript printer can produce their own copy of the game. I haven't tried making it myself, but I'm including a copy of the announcement on the disk.

MS: Which unfortunately got zapped (along with your article) by those nice customs men with the big X Ray guns. Could you let me have another copy, or possibly get hold of the game for me? Thanks.

David Ward I am assuming that Ken Tidwell is a Stateside Sumo reader. Oh no not another 'multimedia delivery system'! Its all very well you Yanks coming up with all these marvellous technological goodies to tempt us with, but you must realise that we Brits are never going to be able to afford them. You see we are constantly being ripped off left, right, and centre, for both hardware and software. It is always the case that the price we see your dealers advertise in dollars, we pay in pounds. And CDs are a good example. We all know that it costs less than one pound sterling to actually make a disc, so why do we end up paying twelve to fifteen pounds retail? Why is computer equipment cheaper in the U.S., and Germany? Why are British built cars cheaper to buy in Belgium than in Britain? Why, why, why why, why?

MS: Dave! Chill Out! I think you should be writing to Watchdog, not Sumo. The answer is of course that the prices are what the market will stand. When quizzed the offending companies always come out with excuses like small market size, speclialist imports, no economies of scale, VAT, duties and shipping. But at the end of the day they charge what they can get away with and we grumpily pay the asking price (but we do pay it). I agree with you, and it seems that most of my hobbies are based or rooted in the States, so I pay £1=$1 for suspension forks, games, magazines, Gant shirts, business software, baseball books, the SI Swimsuit Issue and so on.

Ed Caylor I turned in some 100 hours of MOO, Master of Orion. That is one of the best games of the year, and held my attention for many long sessions. It was the only thing I could find to take me away from Warlords II or the recreation of the 1967 American League baseball race on Pursue the Pennant. Mike Schloth has been trying to get me to fire up QQP's The Merchant Prince, but I played out Origin's Privateer and it's Righteous Fire add- on instead. They were almost as good as MOO in their own way, and my favourite space sim ever.

Don Greenwood I note your reluctance to get involved with modems, but I predict the evil computer age will hook you also. I was equally reluctant but have been converted. Playing by EMail has restored my flagging interest in play by mail and opened up all kinds of new doors for finding interesting and new opponents with the same interest. The Computer age more than any other single factor is responsible for the downfall of boardgames. Folks too busy or timid to find opponents have lost themselves in computer games which provide the opposition at their convenience, EMail can restore the availability of the human opponent whose interests and motivation matches your own. And there's no computer with that kind of AI yet.

MS: I suspect you will be right on this and it is starting to look as if you might also be right on the computer effect - I like the word timid, never seen that before, but it is a factor. While I am hooked on all other aspects of computers, especially the graphical side, there has just never been the same spark on comms. I also have a 'no pbm' policy as I simply don't have the time or the commitment. But as you say, this will probably change at least in part during the coming months and years.

Mark Bassett Most of the Internet 'rec.games.board' traffic is taken up with rules queries and requests for opponents, with the odd review every so often, but occasionally one finds a gem. I've enclosed a copy of 'Legowars', a set of miniatures rules for the little Lego spacemen. A companion set of rules for the Lego pirates has proved harder to track down ('Wooden Ships & Plastic Men').

MS: These look pretty interesting actually and I'll be reading them over the Summer. Does anyone have access to the pirate set? I'd like to get hold of these.

Mark Whittaker I agree with your evaluation of EA Hockey. It is surpassed, however, by EA's NHLPA '93 Hockey. EA produce some very impressive sports games for the Megadrive which are virtually impossible to reproduce on any computer, mainly due to the controls.

Mark Pilling I bought a Megadrive purely to play EA Hockey - I love it. It's not as though I hadn't had a computer before (I grew up with a Speccy and progressed to a 486) but once I saw Hockey I was hooked. One weekend two friends and I played EA Hockey all weekend. Sounds obsessive - well, it's the only time I have been so single minded about any hobby. It's spilled over into me watching the winter Olympics hockey final, rather than football on TV.

MS: Yes, it is rather good isn't it? It is about the only game until (FIFA Football comes out) that could spur me into attaching a game port and two Gravis Gamepads to my PC! So much for business only - I'll end up with a business & graphics machine and a games dedicated job at this rate... yeah, some chance.

Have you tried Kingmaker for the PC? It is quite a good translation of the boardgame but has a few probleMS: solo only, turns can take too long with more opponents. It is a good game to while away the hours but I don't think you could call it a real challenge.

MS: Yes, I recently tried it in connection with a column I did for Games & Puzzles on converted board games. I thought it recreated the game well enough but then as I have never been that enamoured by the board game, I found it exactly as you did - well converted, nice graphics, good heraldry, okay for the odd play but largely unimpressive. The battles are pretty hopeless. I think its main role will be as an introductory game for weaning prospective wargamers.

Rob Mulholland In answer to your comments on Lace & Steel, yes there will be situations in a card based combat/fencing when you will be unable to parry, however the Desperate Defence ability caters for this and there are also cards that allow you to dodge or run away or even counterattack when parrying cannot be achieved. However in reality there will always be occasions when a swordsman cannot parry (he is unbalanced, his sword is in the wrong area etc). With this in mind I still think that Lace & Steel offers a good system.

Steve Kingsbury How about a regular section on variants rules? My three offerings are 1. ACQUIRE: Three transactions are allowed each turn rather than three buys i.e. 1 buy and 2 sales or 2 buy and 1 sale etc. This creates a fluid, very tense game.2. EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF: To add extra spice and boat choice play with (1) an extra point per man if landed in a boat of their own colour (2) an extra point if landed in the bow position. This also means that leaks if not displacing a man fill from the back of the boat. This adds a tactical choice to where you play your own boat in the first place. 3. ZANKAPFEL: In the battle phase allow not just one but as many cards as the player likes. Furthermore although a card laid (face down) on the table must stay further cards and/or dice can be bought. This adding process can continue until both players wish to add no more - then the battle.

MS: I'm keen to publish variants of a good standard, that have been playtested and considered (rather than conceived in the bath, written down and forgotten about) and which 'work' for you. Just send them in. If there are too many for the magazine, I'll just add them to the Rules Bank in variant bundles. What the hell am I doing! I have no free time now....

Don Greenwood I understand your views on AVALONCON. Fair enough. It is not for everyone. Certainly, a person such as yourself who manages to find time to sample a little bit of everything is better off at an Essen or an Origins where the exhibitors can keep your interest. AVALONCON's appeal is very different and probably caters to the minority view. The serious types are playing games on their 50+ or 100+ lists and looking for glory. Those who like to sample a little bit of everything for the first time also make their appearance but seem to enjoy the 'club' aspect of the con where comraderie in shared interests seems higher than at the more commercial conventions. However, it appears to be a unique approach and one that greatly pleases those who like the competitive angle and the 'big game club' aspect with focus on one brand of boardgames.

Carl Schnurr Doilies vs. Fluffy Gamers: Here's yet another term for you.... In my gaming group we differentiate between "serious" and "silly" games. Serious games being Republic of Rome, Civilization, 1830, etc. and Silly games being most of the games reviewed in Sumo (note that there's no negative connotation here - silly in this case means fun and finishable in an evening). Usually when we are planning a game session, someone will say, "How about some silly games on Tuesday night?" The proper response is "How silly"? "Really silly" means games like Nuclear War, Family Business, Chill: Blackmorn Manor, Pit, etc. "Moderately silly" means games like Daytona 500, Formula De, or Wildlife Adventure. "Not-so-Silly" means games that are still short, but require a bit more brain power like Modern Art, Acquire, Shark, Quo Vadis, etc. Lately I've been having lots of silly game parties with people playing games ranging from Blockhead to Formula De to Modern Art. It's pretty fun introducing these games to people who think that games are either cards, kids stuff, or Pictionary.

Brian Hughes We played Acquire last night. This has always been in my Top 10 and I have always held it to be flawless. Until now, we have always played with three or four players with excellent results. With five however we found that one player did not get in either of the two early take overs and without any cash in the middle game had a miserable experience with no prospect of recovery. Were we unlucky or has anyone else noticed this phenomenon?

MS: Can't say I've ever played with more than four, or perhaps once with Pete Doubleday and three other experts who wiped the floor with me anyway. Any views?

Charles Vasey Magic: I have to say it, you're all bleedin' barmy...

MS: I insert this comment as it was short and probably summed it all up. The eight pages of further comment have been read, digested and filed! Thanks for the input, but I have decided to take the game no further in Sumo for reasons explained earlier.

Carol Benney Special Thanks for printing the letters on two player games. Any chance of printing Gareth's two player rules for Sherlock Holmes? [Gareth?] Two player games we have enjoyed are Kingmaker, Wizard's Quest, Consulting Detective, Mystic Wood, Car Wars, Hare & Tortoise and Acquire.

Mark Bassett One two player game I have been playing a lot is Mancala. The particular version we have been playing is Kalah, which has proved very entertaining so far. At first the entertainment was at a pretty basic level but after we learned to avoid the worst blunders we began to appreciate the game's tactical niceties and eventually some of its strategy too. Other two player games: Marrakesh (fun, but not deep), Cul de Sac (Brilliant - why is this out of print?), Acquire and Cartel/Dallas (both have acceptable 2 player variants), Dune (but the two sides have to be chosen from Atreides, Harkonnen & the Fremen), Sorceror's Cave/Mystic Wood.

MS: Mark goes on to say that he can't recommend a source and it is not a game I have seen around for ages, but it might be worth trying Just Games or Village Games to see what they have in wood, and for those who can find it, there is one of the Mancala games in Klutz Press's Classic Board Games.

Erwin Broens I might as well take the opportunity to inform you about what's happening in Holland. Last October we've got our own 18xx-variant: 1839. This game is designed by Rob van Wijngaaen and Paul Stouthard. They've only made 30 copies Of the game: a supporter's edition of 15 games, and 15 copies to be handed out to game companies. The game isn't available any more (that is, until a game-company releases a commercial edition).

MS: Well that's good news then! Any more games we can't buy Erwin? While presumably valid for their purposes, I can't see that this is the best way of promoting a game kit - you don't get it noticed in the market or respected for a start. Unless the games involve a lot of hand production, running fifty or a hundred and selling them could make a decent return - and one can't believe there is anything but a healthy market for 18xx games. The pitch to the big companies is perhaps a natural route (are there really 15 companies that might do it?) but I like the Ragnar/HotW approach better.

Erwin... Chaos Arena is another new game from Holland. It's made by a group of artists who call themselves Chaos In Motion. According to them Arena is a form of art. [MS: Uhoh.] Arena is, I quote, a strategic game of skill, luck and judgement in which players take on the roles Of magic users in an all out duel to the death. To win you must simply kill the enemy magic-user. If you don't mind the fantasy setting and the Games Workshopish lingo, it's worth a look. The game costs about 50 guilders. Only 200 copies have been made.

Trevor Deadman-Spall Lords of Creation sounded excellent (and good value too) but the combat system of multiple die throws sounded horrendous. Am I alone in thinking that die rolls and combat modifiers are tedious and interrupt the flow of a game, especially in a multi-player multi-counter scenario. Acceptable and inevitable in some games (Britannia and HotW) perhaps it just struck me more with this game because the rest of it seemed so inventive and seems to deserve better than a coarse slugging match in the middle.

MS: Die rolling raises some controversy. Some designers and gamers seem to like lots of dice, others loathe it. Me, I'd prefer few dice rolls if possible, get occasionally peeved with Minos/Nizza style poker dice that go on for ages yet I can handle (and even enjoy) Risk, HotW and Lords of Creation combat rolls - they seem to fit the games and Risk would hardly be the same without them. Modifiers - dislike 'em personally. About three is all I want to consider these days and I'd much prefer they were built into the system.

Merfyn Lewis Lords of Creation: really good game. Both phases of the game are excellent as it is really good seeing the world develop. The combat is also very simply worked out and yet remarkably effective. All in all, probably one of the best war games I've played since HotW. My congratulations to Warfrog.

Trevor Deadman-Spall Silly suggestion but how about occasional sharing of useful addresses for games components such as pawns, dice, little plastic bags, play money etc. I'm sure we all realise that game design is not the fast track to wealth but that doesn't mean we couldn't have fun putting ideas into action. Naturally, one source of bits is sales and charity shops etc. The most interesting possibility lies in finding a source of surplus or unwanted game boards or perhaps different ideas for boards (eg London Underground map plus some lateral thinking!).

MS: Not silly at all and something I will be putting together for next issue. I have spent a lot of time recently looking into game component costs, particularly card, cards and die cutting. Report and addresses next time I hope. On the subject of the Tube, Gareth Simon has recently loaned me a game on the Fertile Crescent based on just that map. More news when it is published by the Society of Ancients.

Stuart Dagger The Knizia interview was very well done. Anyone who thinks that this sort of thing is easy for either party should look back to the GI Wolfgang Kramer interview:

Interviewer: 'I think your games are wonderful'
Interviewee: 'Thank you very much'
Interviewer: 'Errr...'

Steve Kingsbury I liked the interview and especially the section on game kit design. The awards could be really interesting and even spurred me on to think about the half and three-quarter formed game designs I have been musing about for yonks. I was surprised how many there were: the Tour de France (multi-stage team and fatigue management), a multi-national car building game (old fashioned empire building and competing in markets), a supermarket shopping game (route planning and competing for the scarce items before a re-stock; like Tescos on a Saturday afternoon!), and intrigue in the Tory cabinet (gaining the most influence over the current Tory leader). All of these have been play tested once or twice with optimistic early feed-back but then clearly needed a lot of work to improve and tighten the game play as well as shorten the game length. It is at this stage they have all bogged down mostly because it would take some serious time to get much further.

MS: I know what you mean here, and I have printed this as typical of five or six people's comments. All bemoaned the fact that they had reached the 80% or even 90% complete stage but were finding it hard going to finish. All I can say it is a long slog but is worth pushing through - the feeling of accomplishment is enormous when it finally gets there. I also think, depending on the game, the last 10% can take 50% of the time! Once you have polished the rules for the sixtieth time, amended the play balance, tweaked the rules after playtesting, done the production and sent it off to the printers you still have the finances, cheque banking, advertising, selling, demonstrations, PR and so on. But it is still worth it. PS Steve, I can't read Word 6.0 and your spell checker reckons on Mullet for Multi....

Steve Kingsbury I can't remember where I read this, it might have been an interview with Derek Carver in the old Games International, but I remember an idea that a good game should have one, central, new and innovative mechanism. [MS: Derek is clearly a man who doesn't always practice what he preaches...] Without this a game that rearranges old systems, unless it is really well put together, will feel flat. Perhaps it is the measure of this core mechanism that determines the perceived quality of most games. [MS: As I've said before, I would consider this a major appeal of the European games and one that keeps me coming back for more.] However I do think the mechanisms we like evolve and change over time. Long ago moving around a track and buying things like properties seemed exciting. Now my three favourite games have simple mechanics, some hidden information, simultaneous play and little down time (and nice bits!): Modern Art, Every Man for Himself and Zankapfel. In contrast: Die Hanse - what a terrible central mechanism. In idea it sounds interesting but in play, awful. How did this pass play testing? Having just player Tal der Konige over the weekend that would have to go into my current top four. Beautiful pieces, great mechanism about bidding for the blocks and a very nice range of offensive and defensive choices. Plays quickly with a lot of frustrated laughter. As you can see I loved it even though I came a terrible fourth.

Tim Trant I'm enclosing a separate write-up about the rules modifications Carl Schnurr and I have come up with for Formule De. We think they do much to improve the game (obviously), and I'm passing them on to you for inclusion in Sumo and/or the rules bank as you see fit. Carl and I have never met (the "From:" line on his messages says that he's at Duke University, but I'm not even sure where that is), but we've been corresponding electronically for several months, and our rules changes were developed by comparing notes after completely separate play sessions.

I've done a fair bit of thinking about racing games recently, particularly in relation to Formule De and Speed Circuit. It seems that in games in which you have to "drive" over the circuit, the game becomes a series of hops from one corner to the next. The big problem in Speed Circuit is that usually only one car can "finish" a corner at one time without paying large wear penalties, thus the cars become separated from one another by an entire turn's movement, and making up a turn's worth of movement is nearly impossible. This doesn't relate well to a real race, in which there is no such granularity. Formule De is slightly better in this respect, as many cars can fit in a corner and meet their turn requirement at once, but there will still be a game turn's separation between the front runners and those cars which are still dealing with the circuit's previous corner. In fact, a well-simulated passing event would consist of a long period of slowly catching up to the car ahead, and then a sudden often risky jump past the slower car. Maybe a circuit could be divided into spaces on the basis of time rather than distance, with a separate fine-scale grid to show the "fractional" positioning. I'm stumped as to how to add corner speed limitations and similar driving factors to such a system, though.

Martin Wallace Thoughts on Formula 1. I've included the remains of a design I put together last year but which came to nothing. I think a realistic F1 game is a) impossible and b) pointless. So much of F1 seems to be about having the best machine that the driver has almost become redundant. A realistic F1 game would deal with the development of the racing car, which is where the race is really won or lost. My design tries to simulate this in a rather naive way. I playtested one game for some friends on F1 which worked well and produced a pretty accurate result, which meant that only one or two drivers had a hope of winning, the rest were merely spectators.

I've gone off Formule De since having a bad run of die rolling. It's very pretty but really only a step up from Snakes and Ladders. I'm not really an expert on race games but having tried to design a space race game am aware that the genre creates some difficulties. In a race you are simply trying to get from A to B as quickly as possible. As a designer you have to build in reason for decision making, other wise the game becomes one of luck. This means you get into game theory, with different payoffs for various actions. If certain strategies become too apparent then the game will once again devolve to one of luck. This is as far as my thoughts go for the moment.

Alfonzo Smith Tyranno Ex: Having played both editions of this game, the system left me unmoved. Avalon Hill's version is particularly atrocious in quality. The player screens are flimsy and the cover art suggests a game about collecting boulders.

Trevor Deadman-Spall Tyranno Ex - takes a while to realise the effects of your moves (and also to recognise when you're wasting effort changing the environment when it's only going to be changed again almost instantly). Therefore, I would say potential purchasers need to be warned: a) Tricky concepts to explain to casual gameplayers. The same group of people need to play it twice to understand it. b) This game takes time to play (as stated in Steve Kingsbury's review heading). However, it can be adjusted to simply play a set number of turns as scoring is continuous. c) It could be considered fiddly regarding strength changes and excessive dice throwing. d) As suggested in Sumo, play with the environment pieces face-up (there's enough to think about even when you can see what's going on).

Mike Oakes Finally some general comments which have bugged me recently. What is the latest penchant for inventing games for 2-5 players? Is this to reflect the "perfect German family"? My 2 groups consist of 6 and 7 players respectively and therefore games like Adel only get an outing when someone is absent. For the same reason I have not bought Modern Art, Santa Fe, Freight Train etc as they just would not get played sufficiently to warrant the cost. Are my groups unusual or is it a question of economics or game length? Comments please.

MS: Mike, you may be forgetting that these games are, oddly enough, designed for the hundreds of thousands of German families rather than the hundred (?) or so British game groups...

Gary Jackson It has been very interesting returning to New Zealand after a 3 year stint in the UK. Whilst Auckland with a population of under one million is never going to have the same sort of attractions that London can offer, it nevertheless does OK. The waterfront in particular has been developed much more since we have been away and it is now full of cafes, restaurants, small shops, bars etc. Having the Round the World yachts in port lead to the most unbelievable party atmosphere down there. On the gaming front things have livened up with the opening of Pendragon last year, the second specialist game retailer in Auckland. Whilst both shops concentrate on the role-playing and figure end of the market, they do stock a good selection of board games (yay!). The board games are predominantly from the US, with some UK (GDW in particular) games. Avalon Hill is very well represented. Prices for the US games are less than or similar to those found in the UK - interesting given the much smaller market here. No German games to be seen (perhaps just as well for my cheque book?). Haven't had much time for game playing - to busy doing mundane things like getting a job, moving into our house, etc. In the few sessions played have mainly concentrated on Elfenroads & HotW. Have struck an interesting problem that maybe you or your readers could help out on. Twice now we have had eight people to game, and a real dearth of eight player games. Of our selection, only Railway Rivals and Mystic War (TimJim) have really fit the part. The majority of our multiplayer games go up to six players. Are there any other good eight player games out there people could recommend? Or should we split into two games of 4?

MS: Two players cracked, eight players next. I had the same problem recently and was reduced to Outburst and Career Poker.

David Ward History of the World is a great game. Should be completed by six expert players within fours hours maximum. Silverton has too much luck involved I'm afraid. It also seems to favour players starting in the Salt Lake City area. As for the expansion kit, this is way overpriced and of a lower quality than the originals. Which weren't that good either.

Don Greenwood As for the fellow who found HotW too simple, tell him there is a variant in an upcoming General that addresses that - my first thought to 'fix' HotW was a bidding system for Empire assignment to inject more skill into the game. Fortunately I came to the conclusion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it and left well enough alone. Playability is HotW's claim to fame and anything that detracts from that lessens its audience. Nevertheless, I'm not surprised to see the first article on the game posing a bidding system similar to the one I had envisioned for it last year.

MS: I can't recall where I read it now, but someone recently suggested simply stopping after the sixth epoch and removing the Stincas! It makes the game shorter and removes all the complaints in one go. Not sure if the suggestion was serious, however.

Peter Sarrett Within days of returning to the US, Avalon Hill released their version of History of the World. think I like AH's method of handling event cards (dividing them into related groups and drawing one from each group at the start of the game, playing them in the epoch of my choice later on) better than Gibson's version (grouping events by epochs with players drawing one at random each epoch). Oh well, you can't win them all.

Peter Duckworth Modern Art I find attracts equal enthusiasm although there does appear to be a mathematical barrier to some players in calculating what a sensible bid is. But get a few vaguely numerate bods around the table and the game takes off. The question of a non-buying strategy being a winning formula is irrelevant since if all players decide this then prices fall since no one believes a high price is worth paying. Hence when this happens selling generates less income and buying allows greater gains to be made. True Market Forces !

Keith Hunt Modern Art: I bought the game on the strength of the favourable comments made in the letters in Sumo 14. (Ordered it one lunchtime by phone from Leisure Games and it arrived the following day - absolutely superb service!) [MS: The usual fee please, Tony]. After the initial disappointment on opening up the box to find just a pack of cards, some cardboard money and a tiny playing board, we got down to the first game. No one was particularly impressed. However the second and subsequent plays proved this wrong. The game is now a firm favourite and will no doubt see plenty of action over the coming months. In our games, players who adopt a passive strategy (i.e. selling only} rarely finish up winning but as they never risk losing anything they rarely come in last either. The skill of the auctioneer pays an important role - a persuasive sales pitch can reap great rewards. Overall, a flexible and a slightly aggressive strategy seems to work best, when coupled with good card counting. On the negative side, I have two gripes about this game. Firstly there isn't enough money! The second complaint also refers to the money - it keeps falling apart. The German reputation for quality components is looking a bit fragile on this one from where I stand.

Dave Farquhar I thought it might be worth mentioning in Sumo that one version of Modern Art rules contained an error when playing the = card. It should read: 'If two players combine to put forward a pair of = cards, only the second player receives the money, if any' (or words to that effect).

Peter Sarrett Modern Art is an equally nasty game, one which requires more thinking and strategy than betting the horses. When you buy art, you usually pay more to the seller than you'll receive as profit. So although you're improving your position in the game, you're improving the seller's standing even more. This means you've got to be particularly crafty to succeed as a speculator in Modern Art, where selling the right piece of art at the right time can be far more profitable than buying. I've yet to see a seller really do well in a "Name Your Price" auction, by far the weakest auctioneering method. My current strategy is to try to get into my hand a pair of works by the same artist, one with an = and one with an open auction. Then I try to increase the value of this artist by having him place in the early rounds, So that by the time the fourth round Comes along I can auction off both pieces at the same time for big profit. In general, saving your = cards for the last two rounds seems like a wise approach, depending on how the artists place.

David Ward I was introduced to Modern Art by a couple of expert players. After being bamboozled by the rule explanations they gave me, we proceeded to play the game. We were two thirds the way through the first game before the penny dropped as to what was going on, and how I was supposed to be playing. From then on I made a good showing, and subsequently won the next two games. Beginners luck? They wouldn't let me play after that.

A similar thing also happened when Dane Maslen came to the GLC Club with three games he had bought at Essen. You know I cannot remember the names of them. Anyway the first one we played was based on trucks in a railway marshalling yard. I think it is by Alan Moon. Dane had already played it several times with his clique, and we were now to experience it. I won both games.This seemed to puzzle the other players. I explained that any game based on Rummy, and especially one that exposes each players hand, was a doddle - to use the local vernacular - to an experienced card player.

The second game was based on the Three Musketeers and involved four players laying cards that were sufficient in total to defeat the Cardinal's guard. If they were defeated then the player who laid the best card won a jewel. If the Cardinal's men won, then there was a chance that one of the Musketeers would 'go to jail'. At the end of the game the winning player is found by totalling the cards played in battle, with a multiplier if a jewel was gained with that card. This is a very much simplified explanation of the game. Two games were played. I won both. Teeth were being grinded. Well it was a game very similar to Cribbage you know!

The last game was very silly, the other players reckoning that as it was not card based they had more of a chance of winning. This German game involves moving your sloth around track according to a die roll and event cards. Some of these cards may be retained for later use, or must be played immediately. They are of the move three spaces forward/backward variety. The quality of the board and pieces were excellent. And the whole thing was being jobbed out for the equivalent of a couple of quid at Essen. To win you had to come last. You guessed it, I won that one too. Let's change the subject.

Peter Duckworth I love love love love Elfenroads. A bit of background: whilst I could quite happily spend 24 hours of a day playing 1829, Civilisation and the ever so wonderful Junta I find that I share this desire with not one of my friends and relatives. But thanks to direction from your oracle I have kindled a games following of the over-in-an-hour type game among my previously Trivial Pursuit Only mates and matesses. Whilst they still consider me something of a fanatic, they have become rather attached to a number of the games. Perhaps surprisingly, given a few letters in your letter column expressing Elfenroads as a Gamers Game and the fact that a game lasts over 2 hours, this has been an unmitigated success. Oh they love it. Me too. I have to say that I do go along with one of your communicants in removing the dead trees on the road though. They can be too powerful, particularly in Round 7 or 8 when they effectively destroy your game with no further chance of recovery. Maybe I shall try a version with them being pulled out at that stage of the game. Only this & Railway Rivals have broken the 2 hours barrier without declining interest levels. Hell of a game.

Mike Oakes Before getting onto gaming topics I'd better just update you with some personal news. I was recently summoned for an interview at Wessex Water in Bath as a contract Systems Analyst/Programmer.

The interview was conducted by two guys and had progressed well to the final concluding questions when one said "Well ,that's all I've got to say... how about you David?" and turned towards his colleague.

"What's coming now ?" I thought, with a little apprehension.

"Yes, I've got one more question.... Do you know Mike Siggins?"

You can imagine the surprise that this question caused me and I enquired how he knew of you and it turned out that he is the brother-in-law of Dave Farquhar so a half-hour chat on board games ensued. Apparently when he saw my name on my CV he recognised it from earlier Sumos and thought there couldn't be two Mike Oakes's from Chippenham, which just goes to show the power that your magazine possesses! Suffice to say that I secured a contract.

MS: Networking? Who needs it? Just subscribe to Sumo.

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