May 31, 2006

May '06 Roundup for CriticalGamers.com

Roundup2.jpg
We hope you dodged the miserable rainstorms that drenched the Northeast for half of May.. but then again, that stretch of gray was a perfect opportunity to dust off the ole dining room table and enjoy same gaming before the summer officially hits. Not that summer '06 will slow us down. We had some great reviews in May, and we hope to continue the trend through June. Tomorrow we'll kick-off the new month with a review of "Interact toGo", and later we'll roll-up our sleeves for a critical look at the board games "Carcassonne: The Tower", "Ticket to Ride: Märklin", and "Wildwords". We'll also post our initial impressions of the Battlestar Galactica CCG, to ensure that this collectible card game lives up to its namesake.

Wow, June looks like it's going to be a busy month of gaming. Heh, not that we're complaining.

Board Games

Collectible Card Games

Gaming Culture

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May 30, 2006

Carcassonne in Carcassonne

CarcassonneSquared1.jpgTwo of us (and our better halves) just got back from a fantastic trip to France. We planned our trip over the course of a few months, and for a good-while we toyed over exactly where to go in Frogland. When we heard good things about the Southwestern region we started to take a closer look, and holy crap! Smack dab in the middle of Southwestern France lies a 'little' town called Carcassonne. Call us ignorant Americans, but we didn't know there there's a real town (still) with the game's namesake.

The place is gorgeous. The town's original inner and outer walls are still very much intact, and the 53 towers guarding the city were restored to their full height about a hundred years ago. We walked the mile-long route around the exterior three times in our two-day stay, and the jaunt remained a fascinating tour of medieval architecture each and every time.

The inside of the city is comprised entirely of old stone buildings, too, but it's scarred by the wall to wall tourist shops, and semi-good restaurants that have taken-up residence within -- which isn't quite the blast of the past that the facade is. Also, we've heard that tourist season hits the place hard, but thankfully early-May is a great time to visit if you want to dodge the sunscreened-nose masses.

Of course we simply had to break into the Infinite by playing Carcassonne in Carcassonne. We found an empty outdoor bar (again, off season == no tourists ) and setup shop for a few hours, enjoying a few rounds of one of the best games of all time while sipping some of the local drinks (the guys drank Leffe). It sounds dorky, but damn it was fun. On one side of us sat the actual old wall of Carcassonne's exterior defenses, while the city's Cathedral loomed over us on the other. You can't beat that for scenery.

CarcassonneSquared2.jpgHere are two unsolicited travel recommendations in case you ever end up in Carcassonne:

1: Only travel to Carcassonne in the off-season. The gorgeous cityscape wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if it was flooded with swarms of stumbling tourists.

2: We highly recommend L'Echappee Bell Chambres d'Hotes as the B&B of choice. Great rates, good rooms, and one of the most delicious breakfasts we had on our romp through France. The Croissant is the ultimate gauge of a French breakfast, and this B&B doesn't disappoint.

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May 26, 2006

Warhammer Online E3 Interview at Gamespot

WarhammerOnlineOrk.5.26.06.jpgGamespot.com has an absolutely fantastic interview with Warhammer Online Design Manager Paul Barnett. Paul eats Warhammer-Os for breakfast, sweats Warhammer design ideas out his eye sockets, and we're pretty sure he swallowed a vial of No-Doze before the interview, too. Just follow this link and click on "Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning 2006 Stage Show Demonstration" from May 11th, and you'll see what we're talking about.

Now, as a whole we're a bit burnt-out of all the Massively Online Role Playing Game madness, but the ideas in Warhammer sound fan-flipping tastic. Imagine a Goblin pet class where your 'pet' eats you, and you control it from the inside - pulling ligaments and intestines to steer the giant, romping, living siege machine as it smashes through trees and buildings. Awesome.

We'll let the video fill you in the other details, including the Player vs Player gameplay that includes city sieges where you can "blow the living hell out of everything". Sounds Warhammerish. Sounds fantastic.

Paul also has a series of Video Blog entries that he makes in the office with his cellphone camera. These aren't nearly as entertaining as the E3 interview, but if that video interests you then check-out his blog for some more cool tidbits.

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May 26, 2006

Get the Latest Each Week from BlogPire Productions

Criticalgamers Blogad-1We know you have a busy life and a busy schedule, and that's why everyone here at BlogPire Productions wants to make it easier for you to get the latest news from any of our sites and not just the one you visit everyday. We've provided below a list of all our sites and a short description along with a link for you to use if you'd like to receive news from any of those sites each Monday morning. It's really easy - just click the link - sign up and you'll get the list of headlines sent to you via email.

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May 25, 2006

Settlers of Catan Expansion Ships in Games Quarterly Magazine

SettlersOfCatan.5.25.06.JPGWe just got word from Games Quarterly Magazine that issue #10 (August) will include a new Settlers of Catan expansion: "The Great River of Catan".

The Great River of Catan™ is a must for every player. It’s die cut with three new hexagonal board pieces exactly matching the game, ten new counters & special rules. Courtesy of designers Klaus and Guido Teuber and the great folks at Mayfair Games.

Gold! No word can inspire in quite the same way. Eager prospectors rush to the banks of the great river, pans in hand, hoping for a glimpse of the storied yellow powder! The gold rush in on in Catan. Can you profit from it? Find out with The Great River variant for The Settlers of Catan. A unique tile introduces the river to the island. Those who build along it’s banks stand to profit from the gold craze sweeping the land. But will it be enough to push you to victory?

A year's subscription to Games Quarterly Magazine is just under 16 bucks. That seems like a pretty good deal, too, considering that pays for a semi-official Settler's expansion, AND you'll get a four issues of game news, free games, and expansions. GQM also has hinted that an expansion will ship with November's issue for a nameless (surprise) Rio Grande Game... We're crossing our fingers for Carcassonne.

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Battlestar Galactica CCG - Building Military and Political Decks

BattlestarGalactica.3.21.06a.jpgThe official Battlestar Galactica Collectable Card Game website hosts two more feature articles about deck construction for the upcoming BS:G CCG release. Winning the Political Way is a very detailed description of a deck built to win the Influence game by hitting the triumphant 20-Influence high water mark. The deck also makes use of the "Manipulate" mechanic to stymie an opponent's military capacity in combat (remember that the victim of combat loses Influence points, and you're Colonial flotsam when your influence reaches zero).

When the game ships (which is like, nowish) there will be only one other major way to defeat your opponent - through military force, and that's where Building a Military Deck picks up where 'the Political Way left-off. Here, author Brook Willeford designs a deck around Security cards (read military cards) including famous personnel like show favorites Adama, Apollo, Starbuck and lesser characters like Helo, Gopher, and Joey Joe-Joe Shabado Sr (who cleans up C-Deck on third shift).

It's a shame that Willeford didn't hyperlink the card names to their online card database, because the articles fire a barrage of card names at the reader without any details about what each card actually does. Still - even without the juicy details these articles serve as great examples of deck construction, and more importantly how BS:G will play in a game session.

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May 24, 2006

FunagainGames Spring Sale

FreeGames.3.8.06.jpgFunagainGames is clearing inventory to make way for the slew of 2007 releases coming down the pipe. If you're sitting on 30 bucks, and you'd rather take a shotgun blast of lesser commercialized titles then blow it on a A-list game, then today is your lucky day.

There are two catches to this sale, though: 1) Funagain doesn't need to clear most of the top-shelf inventory. That stuff clears itself through standard sales, so most of these titles are B-sides. 2) You'll need to get at least $25 dollars of merchandise into your cart before you're eligible for the cheaper prices on the sale items.

There are currently some good titles for sale (for the time being ), but not everything in their sale stock comes up roses. Beware the bad deal even when it's a game for the cheap!

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May 23, 2006

Han Solo and Greedo Bookends (Preorder)

HanSoloBookeneds.5.22.06.JPG These puppies look pretty sweet. Han Solo sits lounging, staring-down the barrel of a blaster, calmly picking paint in an attempt at misdirection. Across the table from Han sits a constipated Greedo, cocky yet nervous, sweating, wearing tired pants from 1972.

The ends ship this October, 2006, MSRPed at 125 bucks. USA Comics has the set available for preorder for 99 dollars , that's... 20% off! Sounds like a good deal to us.

Here's the Company Line: Looking at the exterior of the Mos Eisley Cantina, few would suspect the bizarre and dangerous array of aliens seeking shade, business and refreshment within. These collectible bookends let you get to decide who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo.

Designed in 7" scale - Measures: 6" x 10"

Considering the unedited original-FX trilogy will be released on DVD this September (before the bookends), there will be no question. Solo shot first.

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May 19, 2006

Review: Ultra Pro Deckbox

DeckBox.jpgA few of us got tired of lugging our Magic Decks around in ziplock bags. Sure, they're waterproof and they combat freezer-burn, but they're not conducive to collecting and they're certainly not at all stylish. Enter the Ultra Pro Deck Box - a nice, handheld, stackable, and anal retentive-friendly way to store and lug-around your favorite decks of cards. Deck Boxes come in all sorts of shades and sizes, and are available in most hobby stores. We got ours from the Ultra Pro website.

Some Deck Boxes come slathered with fantasy art designs, which we're not a huge fan of. Check that, our girlfriends and wives aren't huge fans of. And since these things hang around the apartment, it's best not push any buttons with the anti-fantasy females who know where the knives are. Thankfully Ultra Pro has the entirely low key and un pimped gunmetal gray, shiny blue, and clear plastic cases for our more 'distinguished' and spineless tastes.

For two bucks you can pick up the bottom shelf 'solid series'. These are the ones we have, and for two bucks they get the job done. The lid seals with a velcro strip, and a 60-card constructed deck with sideboard fit quite nicely within. The non transparent varieties come with a writable white stripe on the top of the box so you don't have to sort through each box looking for the right deck.

All nicey nice and all, but these things won't win any awards for craftsmanship though. The $2.05 variety are "Made of durable poly material" which is Mr Wizard talk for one very thick piece of plastic sheeting folded-in and over itself. It's not a very rigid body; certain panels bulge as the soft plastic stretches to reach the manufactured seams. These things came off an assembly plant, and it shows.

For $2.05 price tag, it's certainly a step-up from a zip lock bag, but not much of one.

2 stars out of 5 Our Rating System

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The Best of the Blogpire

Cheapfunwines-3Another week and another Best of the Blogpire. It's been a pretty amazing week of new wines, new coffee, and new appararel here at the Blogpire. Check out the latest GPS reviews at GPSLodge.com and you should also swing by ShavingStuff.com for some Zia for men reviews. And if you're looking for some new exciting Spring wines - visit CheapFunWines.com.

SingleServeCoffee.com
Baronet Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Pods
Nespresso Essenza C100 Espresso Maker

KitchenContraptions.com
Italian Kitchen Range
Mini Kitchen Measure

ShavingStuff.com
Review of Zia for Men, part 2
ShavingStuff Pop Quiz!

TVSnob.com
Deal of the Day: RCA 200 watt 5.1 Channel Home Theater System with 5 DVD Changer
Go for a Job Interview and Maybe You'll be a Star

ShirtSnob.com
New Tees From Threadless
Flora Tank by Ella Moss

GPSLodge.com
Geocaching Season is Here - Tips for the hunt
GPS Review: Garmin iQUE 3000

TheCookingNews.com
Coffee News: Folgers Offers Stomach-Friendly Coffee
Recipe News: Asparagus recipes

LiquorSnob.com
Rofo Headgear: Foam Dome 2.0?
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

ReallyNatural.com
Lazy Man's Side Dish: Alexia's Yukon Gold Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Sea Salt
A truly organic eating experience

CriticalGamers.com
Hold'em Drink Holder - Keep Your Table Liquid-Free
Review: G8 Game Timer

CheapFunWines.com
Next Wine Tasting
Bouvet Brut Signature (Sparkling Wine)

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May 17, 2006

Vassal - Play Board Games Online

Vassal.3.28.06.gifAbsolutely nothing can replace the social experience a group of friends has when huddled around a table playing a board game. Jokes are cracked, drinks are spiked, egos are pumped, and then torn down all in the name of having a good time. But let's be honest - sometimes coordinating a night for gaming just isn't possible. Friends have a knack for moving away, squirting out babies, etc. Free time disintegrates as our lives march on.

Enter the "Vassal" framework for playing board games on the computer, remotely, over the Internet, for free.

Axis&Allies.4.15.06.jpg

VASSAL is an engine for building and playing Internet-capable versions of turn-based, human-vs-human games. Players move and manipulate game pieces via the mouse while typing accompanying text. Moves can be recorded into a log file and stepped through one at a time for email play. During live Internet play, all moves and text are automatically broadcast to other players in real time. Combining a live VASSAL session with a third-party Internet voice-chat tool (such as NetMeeting or TeamSpeak) allows you to play with people around the world at very close to face-to-face pace.

Vassal has a lot of things going for it, including a near picture-perfect virtualization of board game titles and an active community that's glad to answer any of your download and setup questions (setup can be a bit confusing at first). There's also an active mod community who are constantly at work porting new game titles to Vassal's already strong library (over 100 titles!).

Definitely give Vassal a once-over if you grew up playing Axis and Allies, Squad Leader, etc, and yearn for those glory days of old.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

May 15, 2006

Hold'em Drink Holder - Keep Your Table Liquid-Free

Holdem.4.15.06.jpgDrinking and gaming goes together like drinking and drinking. It just wouldn't be the same without the drinking. So anything that facilitates the libation process is a-okay with us.. especially if it removes the potential hazards of a frothy brew sweeping across the Sudetenland like a Bavarian tidal wave. If this hasn't happened to you yet, then it just means the potential is mounting for something even more sinister and catastrophic. Yes, Fate will soon close her scissors around that string she's been eyeing, and a tall brewski will tumble earthward onto Army Group B. You've been warned.

Think of the children!

Hold'em
clips to your table, safely relegating drinks below the turbulent tabletop surface. Plus, it's adjustable which means it can hold just about any drink container. How could this not be a good thing?

Hold'em is available online from the official website for 15 bucks a pop, or cheaper if you buy a complete set in bulk.

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May 12, 2006

Review: G8 Game Timer

Not On Your LifeSometimes a particular game gets out of control and the session takes hours upon hours to complete -- far more time than your willing to spend. Some other drabber games become exciting when you place a limit on the time spent deliberating between moves, and some party games have a mandatory timer as part of the rules, but every one's got those old-fangled analog watches.

These are all great reasons to own a game timer.

Unfortunately, the G8 Game Timer is NOT the game timer for you. There are so many things that we dislike about this thing.

First off -- every press of the G8 button shrieks the most awful ear-piercing bLRUPP! This...thing could easily be used to chase Bats out of your house, or maybe submerged under the ocean's surface to communicate with dolphins (if they don't attack on you sight, first).

Setting up the device's timer modes always requires nine setup steps. Nine! Check this out (lifted from the directions):

  • Mode1 Select the number of players. *BLURP! BLee-blurp!*
  • Mode 2 Set a maximum time for each player to complete all their turns (Required) *blurp ble-ble-ble-blurp!*
  • Mode 3 Customize the time set in Mode 2 for each player if a handicap is desired *bLERT!*
  • Mode 4 Set the maximum time allowed for each player to complete a turn *blERT! bloop bloop BLERT!*
  • Mode 5 Customize turn times set in Mode 4 for each player. 0 defaults to Mode 3 time. *Bleep! breaks out abacus. shift-shift... carry the Mode 3.. and..! Blurp bleet!*
  • Mode 6 If desired, set a time in which all players must complete the entire game *Bloopt!*
  • Mode 7 Press PAUSE to seelct a light and / or sound warning that activates briefly each second during the warning period (upt to 9 seconds) at the end of turn or a game. L = Light on; S = Sound On. In Mode 0, press PAUSE then '+' to set volume. *Whaa? takes a nap*
  • Mode 8 Press '+' to select a memory A or B & [clock button] to save your settings or a game in progress. Press 'PAUSE' to see each player's stored time. Press 'Ying-Yang' (no joke) key to transfer the selected memory date to game memory to start the game *Hucks G8 Game Timer Across the Room

I guess we'll never know what Mode 9 does.

This timer is only for Rainman and friends. We have computer programmers in our group who are fairly level-headed and smart people, but they loathe this thing.

Bottom line: Only buy the G8 Game Timer as a birthday present for that gamer-friend of yours who you've secretly hated all these years.

1 star out of 5 Our Rating System

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Get the Latest Each Week from BlogPire Productions

Shavingstuff 150 Macnn-1We know you have a busy life and a busy schedule, and that's why everyone here at BlogPire Productions wants to make it easier for you to get the latest news from any of our sites and not just the one you visit everyday. We've provided below a list of all our sites and a short description along with a link for you to use if you'd like to receive news from any of those sites each Monday morning. It's really easy - just click the link - sign up and you'll get the list of headlines sent to you via email. Thanks again for reading us and check out some of the other great news from BlogPire Productions.

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May 10, 2006

D&D Sourcebook Review on Slashdot

DnD.5.6.06.jpgThe boys over at Slashdot games have done a great rundown the D&D and GURPS source books released during the last six months. They have a great opinionated synopses for each title, so you should give it a ready before you buy any of these following titles:

  • Spell Compendium
  • Races of the Dragon
  • Magic of Eberron
  • Heroes of Horror
  • GURPS For Dummies
  • GURPS Space
  • A Player's Guide to Ptolus

We're a bit surprised that they slammed the Sell Compendium so hard. It's actually pretty good deal considering you get all the spells from all the books, without having to buy the whole library. But to each their own.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

May 8, 2006

"Havoc: The 100 Years War" Expansion Ships

Havoc.4.18.06.jpgA few weeks ago we posted our hands-on of Havoc: The Hundred Years war. Overall we were impressed with the title. It's pretty solid and we'll certainly play it numerous times again for a full-on review.

Now, we were just on Funagaingames.com wasiting-away a Sunday afternoon checking-out what's new, and we stumpled upon news that the Havoc Expansion just shipped! Oh my! Where did that come from?

The Company Line: his is the first expansion for Havoc: the Hundred Years War. It includes a new type of character card, which is shuffled into the regular card deck and changes the game in interesting ways when one of them is drawn. For example, the John of Gaunt card, when drawn, joins the game as a player and starts a battle called The Chevauchées (a group of plundering raids.)

This expansion includes the premium cards that were given out at the game's release in Essen Germany in 2005, and at the first BoardameGeek Conference in Dallas, Texas. In addition to these, a new card not seen before has been added, as well as two extra Dogs of War which can be added to the game or used as blanks for players that want to try out character ideas of their own. The poly bag that comes with the expansion can also be used to store the tokens that come with the original game.

Sounds tasty. We'll make sure to devote some time to the expansion when we review Havoc next month. Until then, you can checkout the expansion yourself -- it's sold exclusively at FunagainGames.com (as is the original).

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May 5, 2006

A Pair of "Storm of Swords" Preview Articles at Fantasy Flight

AGameOfThrones.3.16.06.jpgFantasy Flight is once again hard at work publishing details about their "Storm of Swords" expansion to the succesful "A Game of Thrones" strategy game.

Each article focuses on one of two Houses and how their House and leaders cards will effect game dynamics in the expansion. House Greyjoy's article details their mastery of the the quick raid, while House Martell loves the bring the full-on smackdown.

We have to be honest with you - if you're not already a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire novels from George R.R. Martin, and if you're not a fan of the A Game of Thrones games, then these articles don't have nearly enough substance to gather your interest. However, those true fans get a nice glimpse of the cool stuff coming down the pipe this June.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

The Best of the Blogpire

Gps Lodge Findwhatyoulove-1Another week and of course another best of the Blogpire. We're very excited to have all of our web sites on new faster hosting along with shiny monthly roundups on many of our sites to catch you up.


Single Serve Coffee
Review: Timothy's Rainforest Espresso Coffee Pods for Senseo, Home Cafe, & Other Single Serve Coffee Makers
April 2006 Monthly Roundup for SingleServeCoffee.com

Just The Chips
Palm Poker
Professional Poker: The Essential Guide to Playing for a Living

Kitchen Contraptions
Easy-Lock Corn Tongs
Monthly Roundup for Kitchen Contraptions

Shaving Stuff
PubicShaving.com Has Moved to PubicShavingAdvice.com
Review of Billy Jealousy's Fuzzy Logic

TV Snob
Amazon DVD Releases Coming May 02, 2006
April 2006 Monthly Roundup for TVSnob

Shirt Snob
Busted Tees has new T-shirts
Sale at Threadless

GPS Lodge
GPS Lodge: Monthly Round Up for April 2006
Amazon.com Promotion: 5% off GPS units

The Cooking News
Recipe News: Taste of Home Recipes
Recipe News: McDonald's "Big Mac" and "Big Mac" sauce

Liquor Snob
Flaming Jell-O Shots, Anyone?
Liquor Snob Monthly Roundup: April 2006

Really Natural
Minute Maid All Natural Lemonade
Steaz Organic Green Tea Soda: Root Beer

Critcal Gamers
April '06 Roundup for CriticalGamers.com
Battles of the Third Age Expansion - Tactical Gameplay Preview

Cheap Fun Wines
2002 Fife Redhead Red
Who Overrates Sauvignon Blanc??

Blogpire Productions Permalink social bookmarking

May 4, 2006

Our Review Policy

Zoomed-in white looks gray.We have this crazy notion that most review sites skew their scores towards the positive. Essentially one or two stars out of five are almost unheard of.. and that's not fair. If 2.5 is average, smack in between 'great' and 'crap-awful', then how come just about everything in the world is a 3+? Not to get depressing - but last time we check ed the outside world it wasn't black and white but pretty grey.

So please don't shower us with hatemails when you see a low score for something you love. We'll just reply with a fruit basket containing a simple note with the link to this page saying "We told how it is." If you disagree with our points about what was good, what was bad, and why, well then.. that's different.

Without further adieu, our 5 star 'system':

  • 0 Stars : Fill your gas tank and grab a coffee (to go), because the only satisfaction you'll get from owning this product will occur the moment you abandon it on the side of a distant freeway.

  • 1 Star : The potential of this product is obvious, but it falls short in almost every way. It'll end-up on the bottom of your game stack, sitting dusty and neglected.

  • 2 Stars : This product has a few good things going on, but the bad elements overshadow them. Only for people who are enthusiastic over the subject matter.

  • 3 Stars : A very strong product for the intended audience. A product that 'works' out of the box.

  • 4 Stars : This product is so good that it will interest almost everyone, even folks who normally wouldn't' give 'similar products' their extra umbrella in a rainstorm.

  • 5 Stars: : Lie, loot, cheat, .. sell some blood if you have to, just get this product. We'll still be playing it when we're 80.

The word "product" should be replaced with "game" in almost every case, but we do sometimes review gaming peripherals, so we thought we'd be product-generic to be on the safe side.

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May 1, 2006

Q&A Session with Wildwords Creator Peter Roizen

The Wildwords Board.  It's busy!Back in March we previewed "Wildwords", a standalone board game which turns Scrabble's gameplay on its head. The title's main focus is the addition of wild tiles and wildcard board spaces which give a strong creative boost to the somewhat formulaic side of Scrabble. We saw some great things in Wildwords so we invited designer Peter Roizen to a 'virtual sitdown' of 10 questions about his game.

What better way to learn about a title than from the designer's mouth? Exactly.

Critical Gamers: You seem to be a man of crafty words. Would you summarize how Wildwords improves upon Scrabble's gameplay in 10 words or less?

Peter Roizen: WildWords adds more words, choices, strategy, gamesmanship, tension, and fun.


Critical Gamers: The game's asterisk tiles have an obvious impact on a player's ability to play unique words, but the wildcards also introduce a bluff word-challenge gameplay mechanic with point penalty and rewards. Could you briefly describe the system, and how the system improves upon the gameplay?

Peter Roizen: With a wild tile capable of representing a letter or a sequence of letters, it can be difficult to spot whether your opponent has played a legitimate word or not. Players don't divulge their words unless they are challenged. And a false challenge is penalized, so players don't challenge haphazardly. You have to consider not just the play, but the current score, the value of the play, and the opportunities in opens for your own next play.

My brother once played "QUA*IST" which I challenged. I thought he was pulling my leg with "QUASIPHYSICIST" or a similar construction. It was a brilliant play--"QUARTERFINALIST." Not every play will be that obscure, but you are forced to deal with some uncertainty and anxiety in every game. It creates the sort of tension you find in poker. The asterisks are like cards in the hole. And, you don't have to show them if you are not called.

If you discuss a game after it is over, you will often find the thinking or words behind various plays was not what you thought. For example, a stronger player may find a word for a weaker player's bluff and thus not launch a challenge which would have been successful.


Those aren't swear words, they're wildcards.Critical Gamers: Where did your idea for Wildwords come from? (Was it a gradual evolution from years of Scrabble play, or did you sit down to the design Wildwords from scratch?)

Peter Roizen: I come from a competitive extended family that hosts a family championship every year. Scrabble was the natural choice for the game to play. Anyone can learn it quickly.

One year, some of the participants prepared for the championship by memorizing the odd short words in the Official Scrabble Dictionary. I am not into memorizing lists and do not see it as a useful brain excercise. Needless to say, the memorizers had an overwhelming advantage against the non-memorizers and finished highest in the rankings.

I finished poorly for the first time and felt the Scrabble gameplay that year was no measure of a real vocabulary or clever strategy. The games even seemed somewhat dull. I set out to change the game to eliminate the usefulness of memorization and add excitement.


Critical Gamers: Does Wildwords level the playing field between Scrabble's Experts and its casual players?

Peter Roizen: Most definitely. I went to a Scrabble club some months ago and played two top Scrabble players in WildWords. These guys would have killed me in Scrabble, but I won both games by over 200 points. Mind you, playing WildWords well takes a decent vocabulary and game experience.

Scrabble skills can sometimes be a handicap. A Scrabble player with a J will be looking to place it effectively in conjunction with bonus squares as a part of a short word. Maybe "JO" which is in the OSD. A WildWords player will also be considering placing it upside down on a Turn-To-Wild square, so as to make a seven tile bonus play of a word no "J" in it. As for a play with a "J" in it, I have played "JUXTAPOSITIONAL" and "JURISPRUDENCE" once each. Scrabble players are not used to thinking about those sorts of words.


Critical Gamers: What's the optimal number of players for a match?

Peter Roizen: As in Scrabble, there are defensive and offensive considerations. You cannot take complete responsibility for the outcome if the competition is not one on one. Serious, competitive WildWords, like Scrabble, would have to played with just two players at a time.

That doesn't eliminate the fun of playing with three or four players. With four players, you could play two teams of two to have a sound competitive format that isn't subject to one person intentionally or unintentionally throwing the game to another player.


KH*N!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Critical Gamers: We noticed that you removed a few of the more numerous letters from Scrabble in order to make room for the wildcard tiles. How did you determine the right balance for the new letter distribution?

Peter Roizen: The distribution of tiles in WildWords is actually based on the frequency of the letters used in words acccording to the Oxford English Dictionary. I believe the distribution in Scrabble was based on the distribution of letters in a typesetters kit. Because of the wild tiles and Turn-To-Wild squares, the distribution is a less important factor than it is in Scrabble. You can actually play WildWords quite reasonably in a number of Roman languages.


Critical Gamers: Does it insult you when we repeatedly compare Wildwords to Scrabble?

Peter Roizen: No more than GM would feel insulted by taking the idea of four wheels and a motor from Ford. I borrowed the basic Scrabble format and scoring system which I think is great. I changed the tiles, the board, and the rules to open up gameplay to your full vocabulary, and other skills and pleasures.


Critical Gamers: Do you have any other games in the works?

Peter Roizen: None. I never set out to invent a game or enter the game business. If I had, my game probably would have felt contrived, even crummy. I invented the game for my own purposes. Friends and family that played it on prototypes simply felt it was too good to keep to ourselves, so I published it.


Critical Gamers: Where can someone get their hands on a copy of Wildwords?

Peter Roizen: It's almost impossible to find in a store. I don't have a major distributor. The best source is my web site. There are some good discounts for two or three copies that still leave me with enough to produce more games. I think it makes a good gift.


Critical Gamers: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

Peter Roizen: I have probably played WildWords over 500 times at this point. The game has turned out to be much better than I could have anticipated. There is always something to think about. There is something to learn every time you play it. My dream is to one day watch two brilliant players duke it out for a world title. Even as a spectator, trying to guess the words or what might be a bluff is amusing.


Critical Gamers: Thank you Peter for taking the time to sit down with us.

"Wildwords" is available for purchase at the game's official website. There is also a downloadable version for those who want to play on a computermatrix over the etherweb with their friends.

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April '06 Roundup for CriticalGamers.com

Roundup2.jpgIf we were to sum up April in one word, it would be "CCGs". Sure, there was great information about the board game expansions A Storm of Swords (a game of thrones) and the Battles of the Third Age (war of the ring expansion), but the beef of the new-product news came from the CCGs. Magic the Gathering released information about the final Ravnica set "Dissension", and the Battlestar Galactica CCG website continued churning-out feature articles for the game's May tour.

Speaking of May releases, Critical Gamers is set to have quite the month. Tomorrow we'll have a special treat - an interview with Wildwords' creator Peter Roizen about his board game that kicks Scrabble up to eleven. May should also host some major releases including Warrior Nights, Battles of the Third Age, the Battlestar Galatica Collectible Card Game May Demo Tour, and of course the release of Ravnica: Dissension.

Hold on to your butts!


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