May 25, 2012
At about the same time I was rereading Getting Things Done, I was reading Reality is Broken for the first time. The full title of Jane McGonigal’s book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
Make us better? Does that mean that games can encourage us to get things done? Yes it does: for example, McGonigal and her husband compete in the game Chore Wars, each an adventurer seeking to outdo the other in tasks such as “conjuring the clothes” (doing the laundry).
That raises the question: can Allen’s GTD system be “gamified”? This question has been asked and addressed before (for example, by this fellow WordPress blogger).
Next question: has someone already developed a GTD game? The nearest thing I and Google could find was Epic Win, an ioS app that provides a role-playing interface to the familiar to-do list. Here’s the avatar for my character, which has recently leveled up (but only to 2).
To address first the question that led me to Epic Win: it’s not a close fit with GTD. For example, EW expects actions/quests to be assigned a date, whereas Allen specifically recommends against the daily to-do list. It would be more GTD-ish for quests to have locations on the EW map, just as GTD actions can be assigned contexts.
That said, it would be unfair to judge EW as an implementation of GTD, since it doesn’t claim to be one. So how is it as a to-do list flavored with quests and other role-playing spices?
I’d say that the (RPG) spices are done better than the to-do nutrition. I don’t find the interface to be intuitive. Part of this is due to organization by date, rather than by context, priority, or some other criterion my choice. But there are other things I stumble against.
There is integration with Google Calendar. But as far as I can see, there is no integration with Google Tasks. More seriously, EW made some strange (with respect to time of day) changes to my calendar.
Epic Win feels like a work in progress. To be fair, there is progress, in the form of updates to the app. But, at $2.99, it feels expensive for an iPhone app. Maybe we’re spoiled in terms of app prices, and maybe I’m judging EW as I’m using it, on the iPad, rather than on its native iPhone.
So I’m still looking for an iPad app to gamify GTD. Any suggestions? Or any reactions to my remarks on Epic Win?
November 23, 2011
I’ve played a bunch of games on the iPad since getting an iPad 2 earlier this year. Though I’ve enjoyed Angry Birds and other made-for-mobile games, my favorites are actually boardgames implemented on the iPad.
I used to play a lot of boardgames before the kids came along. My favorite was, and still is, Through the Desert. In TtD each player establishes and extends camel trains, and earns points for visiting oases and waterholes, for marking off areas of the desert, and for having longer camel trains than other players. TtD presents interesting decisions, while being defined by fairly simple rules.
The designer of TtD , Reiner Knizia, is particularly good at simple rules framing interesting decisions. When I got far enough into boardgames to have a favorite designer (a little more than a decade ago), Knizia quickly took that spot, and has retained it ever since.
TtD is one of what is sometimes called Knizia’s tile-laying trilogy, which also includes Samurai and Tigris & Euphrates. In each of these two other excellent boardgames, play involves placing cardboard tiles on a board representing a map. TtD could have been implemented using tiles, but I’m glad to say that it includes little pastel-colored plastic camels.
Each of the games in the trilogy now has an iPad implementation. I want to get on with discussing these apps, so I’ll refer you to BoardGameGeek for further detail of the games themselves. There is a lot of information and opinion on these (and may other) games at BGG.
So, for each game, I’ll link to the main page for the boardgame and to a recent review of the iPad implementation; I’ll also provide the current price and a link in case you want to purchase. Here are those links for TtD (main, review, $2.99), Samurai (main, review, $4.99), and T&E (main, review, $5.99).
The most important point about the iPad implementations of the tile-laying trilogy is that each of the three iPad apps is well worth buying. Other similarities also deserve mention. Each app allows between two and four players, and each game scales well within this range. (The TtD boardgame takes five players, but I don’t think it takes five well, so I don’t regard the four-player limit as a problem with the app.) Each app allows play against other people, by either passing the iPad, or playing online.
Each app has an AI component to provide one or more opponents. Most of my plays have been against two AI opponents. I’d describe the AI for each app as respectable, but not strong.
Each app has a tutorial, so you don’t need to have played the boardgame to use the app. Indeed, the app may well be a good means of learning or trying out the boardgame. Talking of trying out, none of the apps has a free version for you to try before you buy.
Enough, for now, of the similarities between the apps; it’s time for the differences, and especially the differences that might steer you toward a particular one of the three apps. Through the Desert is the cheapest app, and the simplest game to learn. As I noted above, it’s my favorite boardgame. On the other hand, it may not be the strongest app of the three. When I first bought the game, back in April, it would sometimes crash during a game, and forget the game state. The current version brought “iPad 2 stability fixes,” which are working for me (as well as faster AI).
Samurai has the best user interface of the three apps. I don’t think I have a better-looking app on my iPad. More important, I find playing the app smooth and intuitive. The screenshot shows a game in progress: I’m red, it’s my turn, and I am choosing from the five tiles displayed at the bottom of the screen. If I had make a straightforward recommendation for just one of these three apps, it would be Samurai.
Tigris & Euphrates is widely regarded as Knizia’s masterpiece. It is probably the deepest of the trilogy. It certainly has the most complex rules. For this reason, I’d hesitate to recommend the app as a means of learning T&E.
So, based on my play, on the iPad, against the apps’ AI, I recommend these three iPad apps, and of course have made more specific recommendations above. I haven’t played any of the games on an iPhone, or online; so if you’re particularly interested in those features, you might want to check out the reviews (see above links) and discussion of the games at BGG and elsewhere.
Please feel free to leave a comment here if you have used the features I haven’t, or have anything else to add about these apps, or about boardgames as apps.
December 21, 2009
Maddie is my 6yo (less one week) daughter, and Patience is the card game Americans call Solitaire. Looking through my collection of board and card games, she found a pack (deck?) of regular playing cards and asked to learn “this game.” As I explained, there are hundreds of games that can be played with a pack of cards.
I had to choose just one, for the moment. I decided on Patience. Maddie caught on fairly fast, although she currently lacks the patience required to really enjoy Patience.
More her speed is Star Wars: Episode 1 – Clash of the Lightsabers. It’s a card game, but the cards in question are specific to the game: it’s not played with a regular pack of cards. It’s a pretty good game for a movie tie-in. I’m relieved to say that it’s way better than the movie with which it ties in.
Clash is a card game simulating a lightsaber fight. The theme is pasted on, but pasted on pretty well with images from the movie on some of the cards, and figures for the two fighters. Most of the cards represent attacks of differing strengths. They are played during a series of duels. Some of the more interesting decisions concern when to concede a particular duel in order to preserve quantity and quality of cards for future duels.
Maddie’s good guy defeated my villan, although I think it’s fair to say that our discussions of the game as we played helped her more than they helped me. She asked to play again the next day, and again won; I’m sticking to my story about helping her.
She did get the strategy of conceding the current duel in order to be stronger later. So perhaps she has more patience, or at least ability to defer gratification, than it seemed when we were playing Patience.
I’m glad I hung on to Clash. It’s similar to Battle Line (that’s another link to BoardGameGeek, and here’s another link to Amazon), one of my favorite card games. While I hope that Maddie and I will play Battle Line in a few years, Clash is better for her now: it has simpler rules, and well as a theme she likes.
September 29, 2009
Blokus has one of my favorite qualities in a game: the rules are simple, the decisions less so. I played it yesterday for the first time in years, with my almost-six daughter, her similarly-aged friend, and my three-year-old son.
Well, Max, didn’t make all his own decisions. When his turn came round, he chose one of the pieces in his color, and I chose where on the board to place it. Yesterday was a landmark in his game-playing development in that he seemed to understand and respect the concept of waiting for one’s turn.
So what do you do on your turn? You place one of your pieces on the board so that it touches one of your previously-played pieces at one or more corners. It may not touch another of your pieces along an edge. It may touch another player’s piece. You start the game by placing one of your pieces in an empty corner of the square board.
The game ends for you when you cannot legally place any of your pieces. The game ends altogether when no player can play. The aim is to get all your pieces onto the board. Failing that, you do well to be left with only a few small pieces unplayed.
The photos show a four-player game going from first moves to what I’d consider the end of the opening (or the start of the middle game, as the players meet in the middle of the board) to game end. They show how colorful and attractive the board becomes as the game develops. The visual appeal, along with the simple rules, makes this a good kid/family game.
If, after reading the above, you’re interested in buying Blokus or games like it, you have several broad options. One is to buy it from an online game store. I think I bought my copy from Funagain, where Blokus is currently on sale for $20.
I’m glad to say that Blokus and games like it are more widely played and sold than they were when I was doing a lot of game-buying. New online game stores, such as GameSurplus, have sprung up.
I should apologize for my parochial bias in linking only to USA-based sites. But instead I’ll become yet more parochial in linking to a few stores near Roslindale (and hence near Maddie’s friend Hannah). Eureka! is a good puzzle and game store in Brookline. Near Eureka in Coolidge Corner is the toy store Magic Beans, and nearer to us, in Jamaica Plain, is the toy store Boing! I think I’ve seen Blokus in each of them, although I’m more sure about Beans than about Boing.
Then, to return to online retail, there’s always Amazon. The selection of games there is a lot better than I’d have expected (and found) a few years ago. Amazon even has a video promoting Blokus.
Blokus is an example of a game that’s been successful, and has been part of the wider increase in interest in board games. That wider change is worth a post of its own, and will probably get one soon. But right now, I’ll remain specific to Blokus, and remark that there’s a series of Blokus games.
There’s the smaller version, called Blokus Travel or Blokus Duo depending on the edition. (It’s currently available at Eureka! and at the online retailers mentioned above.) There’s Blokus Trigon, and… but you can go to the official Blokus website and find out more.
In closing, Blokus is excellent as a family game, or as a light filler for groups who usually lean toward heavier games. The basic game strikes me as best with its maximum number of 4 players, but I’ve heard positive reports of it for fewer.
February 8, 2009
Unity Games is many things:
- An organization of and for players of designer games in Eastern Massachusetts and beyond.
- A collection of gaming groups in that area. For example, I used to host gaming at my apartment in Boston’s South End every Wednesday evening.
- An series of open (i.e. no invitation required) gaming events.
- A discussion forum, implemented as a Yahoo Group.
- Another website, unitygames.org.
I think that most UGers would agree with each entry on the above list, although some might add other items, and many would change the order. The first list entry is a rather general definition, and includes a couple of terms that could themselves use clarification. Let’s start with the designer games that UGers play.
[A] broad class of games that generally have simple rules, short to medium playing times, high levels of player interaction, and attractive physical components. The games emphasise strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.
That definition is from the the Wikipedia article on German-style games The article itself explains the German connection, and presents several alternative terms for the genre. The term designer games is appropriate because the game boxes usually feature the names of the designers.
The other term that might raise questions is organization, which might seem rather heavyweight to describe a collection of people who play games. But, as of today, the Yahoo group has 799 members, and yesterday saw more than 300 people at the 15th open event: that requires organization.
UG, like any organization, has both formal and informal aspects. The formal aspects are things like schedules and policies. For example, Unity Games XV… [was] held Saturday February 7, 2009… at the Woburn Hilton and had a pageful of policies.
Informal, or cultural, aspects of UG include an emphasis on teaching games to others. When I first went to meetings of a UG group (even before UG as such existed) I was impressed by how willing the members were to teach games, and how good their explanations were.
UG has grown considerably since its founding in 2000. Compare UG XV’s attendance of over 300 with UG I’s attendance of under 50 (which was a little higher than expected).
Organizations are subject to growing pains. Good cultural stuff in particularly likely to suffer, for a couple of reasons. First, there are simply more people, and new people. Second, growth often brings the need (real or perceived) to introduce more formal stuff.
UG has done a remarkably good job of hanging on to its culture. For example, teaching games remains important. This may be partly because it is a particularly viral virtue. If someone teaches you a game, does so well, and appears to enjoy doing so, you may be encouraged to teach others. It’s also because this informal aspect now has a formal counterpart, in the form of a teaching area at UG events. Volunteers sign up to teach particular games at particular times.
Another way in which UG is able to grow is that the gaming groups are autonomous. Anyone can start a group, and announce sessions on the UG Yahoo group. Of course, they don’t have to, and some groups are invite-only.
As UG approaches its 10th anniversary next year, it continues to grown without losing its strengths. Since that seems like a good topic sentence for a closing paragraph, I won’t tack on more paragraphs in further support.
January 2, 2009
Having kids changes everything, including the games one plays. I used to play a lot of board and card games, but the time available for that hobby decreased sharply just over five years ago, when Maddie arrived. I have of course played many games with Maddie, and with her younger brother Max, but those games have been along the lines of Peek-a-Boo or Candyland (the former being the more interesting of those two games).
I’m glad to say that Maddie is now five, and able to play some games for which I actually want to be awake. We’ve played a lot of Rat-a-tat Cat since it arrived as a present for Maddie. The same goes for Labyrinth.
It’ll be a while before we’re playing my favorite game together, but it’s a good start.
May 28, 2008
Games With a Purpose (GWAP) is a web site at which you can play games. What’s the purpose? “When you play a game at Gwap… you’re training computers to solve problems for humans all over the world.”
There are currently five games at the site. They tend to be coordination games. For example, the ESP game show you and another player the same image, and asks each of you to tag it with words. When you’ve agreed on a tag, you get points and move on to the next image.
For more on GWAP, you can see posts by Sarah Perez and by Nicholas Carr, and a 3-page paper (pdf) by GWAPmeister Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University. Then there’s a wider-ranging piece about the relationship between games and work by games consultant Margaret Robertson, just posted on the BBC site.
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes about games and their purpose.
- We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. Variations on this are credited to many different people. I’m inclined to give the credit to Anon, one of my favorite writers.
- When playing a game the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning. Reiner Knizia, my favorite game designer.
Looking at the second of these, it occurs to me that all five current GWAP are cooperative, rather than competitive. Hmm…