Episode 49: Great Wall of Dice

49: Great Wall of Dice

Release Date: March 3, 2008

Running Time: 96 min.

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ep 49

Barbarians at the gates? Get rolling! We build a small but great wall in Chang Cheng and use dice to hire advisors to protect His Majesty's realm in Kingsburg.

News & Notes: GenCon Chapter 11, FFG-GW, Days of Wonder prices
New Sponsor: Gateplay.com
The List: Chang Cheng, Kingsburg
Name That Game: Win Knowbody Knows from Uncle Rez and Rage from Fundex
Backshelf Spotlight:
Saboteur, Careers
Truckloads of Goober: Mr. Gameshow
Game Sommelier: Five games with some luck for strategy purists
Mail Bag:
Ubongo extreme, curling love, and Mosquito tiles

Complete Show Notes continue after the break.

Game News & Notes

Gateplay.com - new Sponsor Link

They carry a great selection of gateway games for players of all experience levels, including some really excellent game bundle deals. Thanks to Gateplay for sponsoring the show!

GenCon files for Bankruptcy Link

A strategic move to consolidate their funds due to a lawsuit from LucasFlim.

Fantasy Flight board games for Games Workshop Link

Shortly after shuttering their own board game efforts, Games Workshop has inked a deal with Fantasy Flight giving them license to publish board and card games from their back catalog including Talisman.

Days of Wonder Raises US Prices on Most Games Link

Citing rising material and fuel costs, Days of Wonder has raised the prices On most of their games by $10.

Pizza Box Baseball Official Site | BGG Entry

Just in time for Spring Training, a great new card driven baseball game that really captures the ebb and flow of the real thing!

The List

Chang Cheng BGG | Official Site

Become one of the 4 officers of the Emperor and try to increase your reputation by building the Great Wall and trying to defend against the Mongol hordes.

Kingsburg BGG | Official Site (Spanish)

You have five years (turns) to curry favor with the King's advisors to expand your fiefdom and defend the realm.

Backshelf Spotlight

Mystery Connection Contest
Can you find a connection between these two games? We find a mystery connection each episode and challenge you, the listener, to hunt for it! Post your guesses to the Forum . Find the connection and you could win a pair of coveted custom Spiel Dice!

spiel dice

Congratulations to Ben Lott our winner for episode 48!

Saboteur Official Site | BGG Entry

You are dwarves digging for gold in the depths of a mine when suddenly, the pick-axe breaks, and the lantern goes out. The saboteur has struck again! But who is the saboteur and will he (or they!) stop you from reaching the treasure? If you succeed, gold awaits you. If you don't, then to the victor goes the spoils. Whoever has the most gold nuggets after three rounds is the winner.

Careers Official Site | BGG Entry

First on the scene in the 1950’s and out of print for the past five years, Careers is again available with its original play, look and feel. Each player chooses his own personal success formula and then embarks on an exciting variety of career paths, hoping to be the first to complete their quest for fame, fortune and happiness!”

Game Sommelier

Mr Gameshow BGG Entry

I ask you, who wouldn't want an animatronic Wink Martindale robot to play games with?

mr gameshow

Game Sommelier

The Challenge: Five games with some luck or randomness for players who prefer pure strategy (perfect information) games.

Stephen's List

Dave's Vote

Power Grid Thumbs Up
Nexus Ops Thumbs Up
Samurai Thumbs Up
Ra Thumbs Up
Duel in the Dark Thumbs Up
Yspahan Thumbs Up

Next Challenge: Five games for musicians to play during breaks at a show or recording session.

Mail Bag

Thanks to donors Curtis "The Titan" Anderson and Brian "Fire & Axe" Strange

Carlos Hernandez wanted to remind everyone about Ubongo Extreme and Ubongo: The Duel .

Thanks to Jon LaChance and Eric Michael Summerer for sharing some curling love.

Michal Walczak-Slusarczyk in Cracow, Poland generously offered to send us some Mosquitos for Hive, but John Yianni, the designer of the game, beat him to the punch!


I (Stephen) said the Ubongo Extreme pieces were traingular like tangrams and they're actually hexagonal.

I'm sure there are some other goofs in there somewhere. Let us know if (when?) you find one!


I think that that's fair comment - RA has a big dose of 'push your luck' in the gameplay, especially at the point where most players have used up their sun tiles for the round.

This is also true of the endgame in Powergrid. If the game is close - which it often is with good players - then the result will often come down to the final turning of the plants. Do I bid high on this one or take a chance that the next one will be equally juicy ?
This has been discussed ad nauseam over at BGG !

I don't sit in the 'perfect information' crowd and, as a result, love both games.

Heck, I love ALL games.

Can I come to LA too ?
We don't stop playing games when we get old...... We get old when we stop playing games

Despite the Days of Wonder price rises, games are still cheaper in the US than they are in the UK !

Battlelore cost me

I hadn't thought about the endgame in power grid like that, but I can see how the last draw can really help or hose you, especially in a tight game.

I'm not Mr. Perfect Information, though I certainly enjoy high strategy/low luck games. I know you like Go, so you certainly don't shy away from those types of games, either. There's plenty of room on the table for some chaos, too.


It also doesn't help that the US dollar is very weak right now amd since so many of these games are imports, that can't help.

Add in the rising cost of fuel and it's easy to see how prices are going up. Then again, with fuel costs, I would think you'd see an increase (albeit smaller) as well.

Plural? Are you going to be selling them? *cough*

Yes Mosquitos - plural - but they won't be for sale.

I don't know when they'll arrive, but when they do, we'll be giving them away as prizes for Name That Game or other contests on the show.

I *almost* bought the new version today before listening to the show. I have never played this game (believe it or not). It says it has the original look and feel...and I did notice that indeed Space Exploration was prominently displayed as a career! I will probably go back tomorrow and grab it.

That's great news, scooterb! Being a person whose head is always in the stars (not the clouds), I'm glad to hear space exploration is still part of the game. Definitely worth owning whether you go for the new version or the old.

Hey guys,

You mentioned Duel in the Dark as having random elements to it, mainly the bomber's path.

This is untrue. The bomber is 'programmed' by the British player, so they know where the bomber is going. Once it is started, its path cannot change.

The only time the bomber path is random is if you're playing a solo game. Then the bomber deck is shuffled.

So, I might have to give a thumbs down on this one!



Hey thanks for the correction. That's always the danger in selecting a game for the Sommelier that I haven't yet had a chance to play! From reading the rules, the bomber movement seemed like more of a random element in the game than it actually is. Good thing I had a back up game for my fifth thumb up. :)

Nexus Ops is awfully random - the mission cards in particular I think might give a perfect information gamer fits. That was the game that I was hesistant on, but perhaps it is fun enough to overcome all of that.

Having just played Pinochle this past weekend, and listening to you discuss Careers got me wondering - are there Euro style games that allow you to bid for victory conditions at the start of the game or phase? I like the mechanism of trying to identify how good you are going to do in different areas of the game.

I'll admit Nexus Ops is dicey, but I still think there are enough tactics and strategy to lure a PI gamer in. I was surprised Dave didn't give me a harder time on that one!:)

The one euro that comes immediately to mind is one I haven't played but have read up on a little: Antiquity . Here's the blurb from the BGG description:

Players choose their own victory conditions: they can focus on population growth, trade, conquest, or city building by choosing their patron saint. Each strategy requires a completely different style of play. Or you can choose Santa Maria, the most powerful saint of all, but you

Hey chaps,

Nice work, as usual. A few comments:

- That Gateplay.com add.........words fail me. 'Weird' isn't quite the term for it. 'Notte Goode', to use a Pratchettism, comes close. Seriously, just a few words along the lines of 'Come see our site where we have lots of cool stuff!' would be preferable. Or is it just me?

- I must have played 'Careers' a few times from the description you gave of it. It sounds an awful lot like the game my sister and I found in the attic, one day, many, many years ago. At the time, I always thought the 'pick your own victory condition' issue was suspect, and thus I never went for the 'all of one' or 'all of two' conditions, but usually spread out the points. Guess I was seeking too much behind it at the time (I think I must have been 9 or so).

- Mr. Gameshow: I'm so glad I didn't see that picture as I was listening to the show! I was at work, reshelving books (I'm a librarian) as I was listening to the show, and had I seen that picture I probably would have fallen of the ladder, laughing.

I'm glad Mr Gameshow didn't induce a fall, though I would have liked to have heard your explanation for the fall. "No, really, there was this robotic game show host... Really! I saw him!"

I remember playing around with the victory conditions to Careers thinking there must be some magic formula that would always guarantee a win for me. Somehow it never worked out.

As for the ad, I was fairly certain it would provoke a hot and cold response since it is so quirky, so no offense taken at all. :) Chris Handy, the man behind Gateplay, recorded the commercial himself and he thought the ad would generate a mixed group of lovers and haters. Good or bad, I'm sure he'd love some feedback (info@gateplay.com). And either despite or because of their ad, I'd still encourage you to check out their site. They've got some good deals on a great variety of titles.

The Gateplay ad is clear evidence of why cheap technology will doom us all!! It would not have been a DIY project 25 years ago :p

That's true, Evil Timmy, but on the flip-side that same technology is what allows us to do The Spiel!

It's a mixed bag. Gotta take the good with the bad sometimes. :)

Thanks for featuring one of my favorite games from childhood. Being an Olde Pharte, I played the 1965 edition of the game. I managed to piece together the occupation tracks from posts on BGG and memory. It had: College, Big Business, Farming, Space, Uranium Prospecting, Hollywood, Go to Sea, and Politics.

One summer, a couple of friends and I spent 3-4 days each week playing board and card games. Our favorites were:
- Mille Bornes - our filler game. Coup Fourre!
- Tripoley - this was hugely popular with our parents - since you guys like cribbage and poker, you might like it. According to BGG, it goes back to 1830!
- Risk - all of us were dedicated Australia conquerers at first - I branched out to the S. America/N. America/Africa/Europe strategy and was UNSTOPPABLE!!!
- Easy Money - Monopoly without the stupid colored sets, just buy a property on each side of the board and start building. Gotta love the Kit-Kat Klub!
- Careers - great for all the reasons you cite. I tried out a lot of strategies and I recall doing a simple analysis of how easy it was to get the 3 types of VPs and settled on a high cash, medium fame and happiness. I've gotta dig my copy out of storage and see if my notes (from 1967 or so) are still in it...
- Square Mile - A game on real estate development. I recommended this as a goober game - Dave, you would love the pieces. If I ever come to Gencon or Indy, I'll bring it and y'all need to play it, just to see the goober. It's also a pretty good game with some real strategic depth.

Anyway, do a reach back to the dusty backshelf in the attic from time-to-time like you did for Careers. I really enjoyed it.

Glad to know you enjoyed the old school Back Shelf selection of Careers. There are definitely more great old ones to be dusted off in coming shows, for sure.

I looked at Square Mile on BGG and wow the goober is amazing! I'm sure we'd be up for a game if our paths are fortunate enough to cross.

My sister and I played many of the ones you mentioned, too. I'd add Sorry, Mousetrap, The American Dream Game (very cheesy Monopoly-like stock market game), Phase 10, Uno (of course), and Masterpiece to the list of regulars.

Okay, I'll be the heretic. Yes, Monopoly involves moving pawns according to the roll of dice, but contrary to conventional wisdom it's not The Royal Game of Goose or Snakes and Ladders. Or even Payday for that matter, although it does probably suffer some guilt-by-association with its legions of imitators. I'm no exception here, mind you; I originally had James Ernest's "Get Out" handy to substitute in case it was requested and probably would never have played it again if the relentless criticism hadn't backfired and made me curious. I found a 1930's edition in an antique store which I think helped me get into the mindset of the time and meet the game on its own terms. I was surprised to discover a cross between a cutthroat negotiation game and a casino game (that would take some explaining, but trust me on this) that due to its reputation, its inherent viciousness and its admittedly odious modern marketing, I can sadly rarely persuade anyone to try. It has a glaring and occasionally fatal flaw in its potential to stalemate midgame with the wrong crowd or the wrong luck, but properly played, it's easily got at least as much depth as "Careers". It's essentially a game originally created by and for adults that we all pretended to play as children, often by the wrong rules or worse as a two-hander and a vintage game that we try to squeeze into a 90's strategy model. Monopoly: The Phenomenon deserves all the contempt it gets, but the original game itself maybe not so much. (It's as if only one film from the 30's had endless remakes squeezing anything else off the screens of your local multiplex. It'd probably become the shorthand for everything wrong with cinema even if the first movie hadn't been half bad.) Now, if you'd said The Game of Life...
I'm just talkin' myself out of any chance at those skeeters, aren't I? Damn.

If that's heresy, I guess Im probably a lesser heretic myself. I enjoy Monopoly under the right conditions. Yep, that's Mr. Game Sommelier speaking. It's all about the right game with the right crowd.

Monopoly suffers from being the high nail - the one that gets pounded in first. As a game, it gets credit and blame far beyond its merits or faults mostly because of the cultural phenomenon that surrounds it as you put it so nicely.

I have fond memories of playing speed games of Monopoly with my pal Allen in high school but I can also remember several other games with family and friends that ended with hard feelings. I think Monopoly tends to be a polarizing issue for this reason among gamers and non-gamers alike because the game has reached into so many homes. For non-gamers, so many people have played it and had bad experiences that it has put them off playing any other sort of board game altogether (too boring, too long, too mean, take your pick). For gamers, whether consciously or subconsciously, I think Monopoly has become one of the de facto measuring sticks by which many of us rank a game's mechanics, replayability, in no small way, the fun you have with a game.

I also think Monopoly is a touchstone that is often used to demonstrate the disconnect between gamers and non-gamers. When trying to describe The Spiel, I can't tell you how many times people ask me "so you play Monopoly and talk about it on your show?" It doesn't anger me, it just shows how Monopoly enjoys a position in the pantheon of games that far oustrips its current impact on the world of games. I'm not saying anyone can (or even should) change this. With the show we certainly hope to open people's minds to the much much wider world of games out there, but Monopoly is more often a barrier than a gate to entry into this world. For this reason, the game can certainly be a whipping boy for anyone trying to show people that games don't begin and end with it and other "kid's stuff." I'll admit I'm guilty of bashing Monopoly in this manner, but because it represents a kind of mental short hand for the negative experiences or staid and stale board game experience - the kind of experience that keeps people from playing or trying new games.

The question is, at this point can we separate the phenomenon from the game?

I agree, there are things to enjoy and like about Monopoly if taken on its own terms. And I think it's good to remind ourselves of this fact every once in a while. But the game has its day in the sun every day because, for good or ill, it can't be separated from the phenomenon. I'm not really certain it needs any Champions to rally to its cause. It stamps out a gigantic commercial footprint which allows it to dominate shelves and pull attention from other equally worthy titles, classic or new.

I've been off doing my busy things as well, but have still been listening in to you guys! I had two things to say in response to this show (although I'm sure I'll think of more eventually). The first is regarding Ubongo: Extrem. I picked it up at Essen and have played it a few times. It's definitely more of a challenge than the original (although on the podcast you referred to the shapes incorrectly, they're hexes linked together into shapes, not triangles), but it's a whole lot more fun when the possibility exists that you're not going to finish (after a while it's a given that everyone will finish every puzzle in the original). There's also an Ubongo Extrem Craxy Expansion that takes it to a whole new level, with 5 piece puzzles. My brain melts just thinking about it..... The other comment I had was about the Sommelier: I think Ra is actually a bit too much luck for the more hard core gamers, and in its place I'd put what is IMO one of the classics of the eurogame genre, El Grande. The cards that turn up each turn to allow actions are luck, and there's a lot to react to, but the meat of the action is yummy gamer stuff (and the paratroopers add great chaos that isn't actually random but is still hard to plan for). Anyway, that's it for now! -- Joe

Yeah, I caught my mistake on the shape of the Ubongo Extreme pieces in the errata. With Extreme in the title, shouldn't we have to wear helmets while playing? Or at least elbow pads?

Fair complaint about Ra, but I think there's plenty of strategy left in the game even with how the tiles come out randomly, especially if you let Mr. Perfect Information know the distribution of the tiles before the game.

That said, El Grande was my next choice. Really, I'm not making this up! I think either one has a enough randomness to give the game a really interesting dynamic without being frustrating.

I agree that Ra is a great game and that there is indeed plenty of strategy in it (and why WOULDN'T you tell someone the tile distribution?? :) ), I guess it's just that for me the luck of the draws is so frequent and game-influencing that it tends to make me feel that the game flows more by that luck than by strats in many cases, whereas for El Grande you react to the luck fewer times with more strategy. Make sense?

At any rate, it does sound like we have similar gaming tastes, which clearly means that you need to come to the Los Angeles area (because I have discovered that EVERYONE does, eventually) or I need to convince you two to get to Essen. Either one... :)

Hey Joe.

I think we're on the same page with our game tastes, for sure. Maybe not the same paragraph, but that's close enough for me!

As for a get-together, I'm still tracking plane ticket prices to Essen and we've been building up a little nest egg for the big venture. We're not there yet, but we're on our way! Dave has some family in the SoCal area and I have some scripts being read by production companies in tinsel town, so you never know, we could be swapping cubes sometime in the near future.

You guys mentioned it in the episode where Dave had to make a "Gamer Bachelor Party" I'm not sure what was said but I vividly remember what I was doing while you were talking about it...

*goes and looks*

I didn't even have to re-listen!  Because it was DAVE'S FIRST PICK! http://thespiel.net/?q=node/24

Dave isn't the only old fart forgetting things Stephen...