2013 in Review

From a board game perspective, for me this year has been one of disciplined spending and less disciplined blogging. In the whole year, I’ve spent over £10 on only a single game – Samarkand: Routes to Riches (a 2010 train game in disguise, designed by David V.H. Peters and Harry Wu). Additionally, however, in the year to date, I’ve only made 15 posts on this site prior to this one.

In part, the two are connected: I feel diminished need for novelty in the games I’m playing, and have less immediately communicable novel thoughts to put here. There’s a lot of pleasure in learning something new from a game on the fiftieth time playing it: that thing, however, tends to be pretty nebulous – after all, it resisted pinpointing in the first 49 plays. When that game is one which tends to be dismissed as trivial by most regular board game players – Ticket to Ride, for instance – any post about such a nuance is not likely to find the audience which would appreciate it. Getting that kind of nebulous thing into words is a lot of work, and the incentive isn’t there.

Returning to my buying habits, I have purchased a few expansions during the course of the year: indeed, most times I’ve felt inclined to reward myself with something new, I’ve bought an expansion rather than an entirely new game. Among these have been the first and third volumes of the Ticket to Ride map collection series (Asia and Africa respectively), a couple of the Cosmic Encounter expansionsand the Wisdom and Warfare expansion for Sid Meier’s CivilizationThe Board Game. Don’t expect reviews soon for any of these: I’m playing each frequently with two, but I know I won’t be able to convince my board game club to play any one of these enough for me to feel qualified to pronounce judgement.

I don’t feel any hunger to nominate a game of the year, for broadly similar reasons. Maybe Zooloretto: The Dice Game. But in my affections it’s nowhere close to Kakerlakenpoker Royal (my favourite from last year). I don’t feel this has been a stellar year.

In terms of my personal most rewarding gaming experiences, I particularly enjoyed taking Hanabi on a visit to my parents – they ended up asking to play each day of my week long stay. After I left, my mother even ordered a copy to give her friends for Christmas (and presumably play with them). Based, in part, on this experience, I’m excited to introduce my parents to Ticket to Ride via the team play variant the Asia expansion introduces. I think it’ll suit their quiz game derived proclivity towards playing as a partnership.

I’ve also stumbled into designing a card game, and that’s brought a fair few kicks so far with the private, unexpected moments of enlightenment it has provoked. At the moment, it only exists as a couple of hundred index cards with scribbles on them: however, preliminary playtests with the game in this form have me thinking there is something there worth building upon. The game is a trading game set in the world of today, and features very liberal trading and deal making (sneaking out of the room to forge a deal in secret is encouraged: eavesdropping on such trades is also highly endorsed). The game also features, I think, a couple of neat twists on action selection which should promote both the formation of contingent alliances and suspicion of the partners in those alliances.

The game, codenamed Trust, is something I’ll be posting about here in the coming year. Hopefully, however, someone else will also produce something to excite me and get me raving here. Few games may have really excited me this year, but I’ve not lost my hunger to seek excitement in games.

The New Year Hit Parade

Hello, hello! It’s New Year, which means I feel inclined to suspend a self-imposed rule against passing off lists as worthwhile material. After all, the first full calendar year of Painted Wooden Cubes has just finished, which means juicy stats to ogle.

The most read pieces on the site were all broader articles, rather than game reviews. Though I’ve rarely been first off the mark in considering new games, so the news is no great surprise, it’s nevertheless pretty pleasing: to read an article about the mentality of the collector, or one about the need (or otherwise) for egality in game design seems to demand a richer interest in understanding games than reading a review does.

I’m still pleased if you enjoy my reviews, of course. You get what I mean, I hope.

In no small part thanks to the attentions of Reddit (Hello!) and Tom Vasel ( Hello!), the following were my most read articles this year:

Most read articles:

1. On Collections and Identity

2. Agricola, and Assessing the Value of Moves Untaken

3. Balance Issues

Meanwhile, these were my most read reviews. Big name games, big spikes on the hit counter. I promise I’ll not be taking any lesson this implies to heart: a lot of the games I love are popular, but I’ll shout about any game I care for, whether it be widely celebrated or not.

Most read reviews:

1. Arabian Knights: A Review of Sid Meier’s Civilization, and its Expansion, Fame and Fortune

2. Cubist Landscapes: A Review of Agricola

3. Inspiration and Calculation: A Review of Innovation

I’m not giving away exactly how many/few views these reviews and other articles each had. Readership of Painted Wooden Cubes continues to grow, but I’m neither sufficiently skilled, nor dedicated, as a self-promoter to have made this blog into a phenomenon, however proud I am of what I’ve written here. One thing that is cool, however, is that the site had views from 73 countries in 2012. Hello Mauritius! Hello Grenada! I’d love a hundred countries in 2013. Tell your local friends about the site if you want, but if you have friends in far flung lands then make an extra effort to reach out to them. Thanks!

A One Year Progress Report, One Month Early

I suppose December 12th will be the first anniversary of Painted Wooden Cubes. I registered the site in November of 2011, but the first post went up on the 12th of December. Since then I’ve added a short novel’s worth of words to the site, split across 28 articles, and eighteen reviews.

More than anything, the site was probably born of the snaky thought that playing games, while valuable, wasn’t directly productive. I tend not to be satisfied with myself at the end of a day unless I’ve created something, however inconsiderable it may be. The site lets my previously aimless rumination on games have some kind of product. It’s better to be exploring the games I have than reading endless reviews of games I do not own.

It can be said I’ve let Painted Wooden Cubes run its first year without a strong guiding concern through which it might build an identity. By turns I’ve given attention to understanding what capabilities board games possess, and what capabilities they lack; the place of board games in wider culture; and to the year’s most ubiquitous of topics – the nature of board game criticism. Nevertheless, there has been a healthy growth in the number of people reading the site, particularly in the past couple of months. I am delighted, of course. Thank you for giving the site your time and attention.

What I’ve come to understand is that it is better to let the site bounce between different ideas, as it does. Any blog must, to some extent, be a reflection of its author: any author writing in a stacatto format demonstrates hodge-podge concerns. I worry about the blog sounding self-important, but showing something of myself is that way to pull these strands together.

Life beyond games seeps in too. Why review the first year of the site a month early? Because Painted Wooden Cubes has to fit around my normal life. My occupation is in academic research. At present I’m looking at evolutionism in the novels of D.H. Lawrence. Right now writing is the largest part of that process, which takes away some of the mental reserves I can draw upon in writing material for this site. These idle thoughts about the blog itself are easier to channel than any of the myriad ideas about games I still hope to pin down as the blog continues.

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of this blog is that it has, directly or indirectly, brought to my attention a lot of insightful commentary about games of which I had previously been unaware. Links to some favourites are here. I’m heartened by how many other people view games in a similar way to me: reading some of the great articles written in the past year has been something that has kept the wider hobby, beyond the playing of games in itself, fulfilling to engage in for me.

Drawing on outside inspiration, from Martin Griffiths’ New to You A Year Ago geeklists on Board Game Geek, one plan I have to enrich the site is a monthly look back at reviews written a year ago. I want to explore how and why my perspective on the games in question might have changed, if it has. Where my past opinion has changed, I want to delve into that, rather than hide from it. The first article will thus look back at Tobago, Jaipur and Onirim.

Thanks again for making this a rewarding eleven months. May the next eleven be even better.

The Sixty Day Report

Painted Wooden Cubes has made it through sixty days. Since it’s a board games blog, and not a US president, that rule about not reviewing its performance until a hundred days have passed thankfully doesn’t apply. What have we learnt?

The Past and Present:

In terms of attracting readers, I’m pleased with how things have gone so far. I’m no web-analysis expert, but there are a number of promising signs. Most weeks have surpassed the previous in the number of views recorded. What seems to be a healthy proportion of people visiting the site through a link to a single post then click through to see the home page. So people who read something here are, in many cases, interested in reading more. And a fair number of views come without referrers, suggesting people who have visited before are coming back. If you’re one of those, thanks for that. I’m not aiming to trick people into boosting page views artificially. I want people who visit the site to find it valuable in some sense.

To that end, what’s  more important than any measurable statistic is that I’ve written a number of pieces I’m proud to have produced (and only one I can say I dislike with hindsight – I won’t specify which). I’ve had the honour of a number of designers reading my reviews of their games. And I’ve had a fair number of messages of support from readers – which are a buzz to receive, of course.

Today, I registered paintedwoodencubes.com. While domain registrations don’t cost the earth, I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t be alone in feeling the site had value. I’m confident now that I’m not on my own in that view.

The Future:

For sure, these are still early days. I’m not going to propose any dramatic changes to what has been broadly successful so far. In addition, I don’t want to make unrealistic promises regarding the amount of extra time I can give to the site. Just be assured I’m self-disciplined about keeping the site going at the pace it’s moving now.

Through writing here, I’m keen to develop my own knowledge and understanding. I’m reading more and more material which I feel can be usefully applied to board games (a certain amount of psychological theory in particular, which I haven’t personally seen employed in connection with board games). So hopefully what I write can become more refined – sharper, more insightful – as time goes on.

One thing I am interested in exploring at this stage is the involvement of guest writers in the site. Those who get what Painted Wooden Cubes is doing, in terms of a more expressive, less formulaic criticism of board and card games. Whether the person in question is an established figure in the world of board games, or not is unimportant to me. Just as long as his or her writing suits the site.

Do contact me if you have something you feel would fit here. I want Painted Wooden Cubes to be a place for conversation on board and card games – what they can, and should, be and do. That’s where I see it’s richer future.