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There's only one Sid Sackson - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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November 15th, 2002


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04:43 am - There's only one Sid Sackson
Haven't really been inspired to new entries, really; lots of things I could write about at really any point, not much that I desperately want to write about right this instant. I'm just getting on with little things quietly, which is a slight improvement on the usual - some progress is being made.

Chris Dickson alert: the skipper of Oracle BMW Racing is 2-0 up in the quarter-final of the "double chance" fleet of the Louis Vuitton Cup, having won nine races in a row in the high-tech USA-76 yacht. Match 3 of the QF is in progress now. Unfortunately no online radio stations seem to be covering the LVC live (unless, of course, you know better... ringbark, perhaps?) and I don't feel it's worth US$24.95 of anybody's money to watch all 120 races live and in 3D. The Oracle BMW Racing site does at least have a live ticker updated every couple of minutes, which lets us know that USA-76 are leading by one boatlength right now, nearly at the half-way point, and that super-skipper Chris Dickson is set to go 3-0 up by winning his tenth race in a row. I shall keep you posted.

This weekend, Stephen Tavener and Rosie Tavener-Jones are getting married. Instead of holding a reception, they're holding a games convention called ConSummation instead. I do like the adjective "nice-mad" and it was coined with Stephen and Rosie firmly in mind. Have fun, especially if you're watching Chamber of Secrets; I shall be having fun in my own way. I shall return on Sunday evening.

Further to last Wednesday's entry, I made sure to play games designed by the recently departed game designer Sid Sackson at the Middlesbrough Gamers Club on Tuesday evening. Said Middlesbrough Gamers Club is a fairly unusual institution, catering as it does for CCG players, miniatures war gamers, role-players and board gamers. The proportions change from week to week, but I usually estimate the distribution as 40% CCGs and 20% of each of the other three. (Last time, it was probably more like 55% CCGs, 25% RPGs, 15% board games and 5% miniatures war games.) Attendance over the last six weeks or so has averaged something like 45, which is enough to make the room rather crowded and to make people need to speak at considerable volume - not so good for things like rules explanations. About a third of the attendees are young kids, mostly aged 12 or 13, about a third are grown-ups over 20 and the rest are in between. It's a noisy crowd, but largely a remarkably amiable one. The club charges two pounds a week attendance fees and profits from a canteen selling hot snacks, crisps, sweets and drinks - accordingly it has slightly more money than it knows what to do with. I made a list of 75 67 suggestions, but none have been directly implemented yet.

Sid Sackson's most famous game is almost certainly Acquire, which celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year. Not many proprietary games remain in print for forty years; not many games from forty years ago still get played today. It's a game about building hotel chains (or, in the neat-looking modern Hasbro edition, computer company businesses) but is really about share management and tile manipulation. There's a reasonably high degree of luck - getting the right tiles to make the mergers you want happen at the times you want helps a lot - but enough skill to make good play and good players identifiable. It takes about an hour to play with four quick players, but more like an hour and a half with five or six slower ones.

Second place on the Sid-o-scope would probably be Can't Stop, a dice game for three or four players which takes about 20-30 minutes to play. (You can push it to five without problems, but you must improvise another set of counters.) It's a game of probabilistic judgement and luck. To win, get your counters to the top of three numbered columns; advancing counters is done by rolling four standard dice and splitting them into two pairs. Rolling the dice once too often - that is, a roll which doesn't let you advance any of your counters - removes all your progress for this turn, so you've got to decide how far to push your luck. Knowing the odds - not exactly, but generally - helps a great deal.

Sid's most famous obscure game - obscure by board gamers' standards - is Kohle, Kies, & Knete, a deal-making game which takes about 90 minutes to play and is rather better with exactly six players than it is with fewer. Essentially, the players control cards representing businessmen or their representatives. Certain combinations of businessmen are required to make certain deals happen. When you get the right combination of businessmen, money is shared between the people whose businessmen are used. There are few restrictions on whose businessmen may be used or how the money is shared, so it turns into a freeform session of bargaining, barter, bullying, bluffing and more often than not good old-fashioned extortion. It is probably the silliest and most fun board game I know, yet has a uniquely positive atmosphere compared to the amount of minor naughtiness which goes on because it is fundamentally a positive, developmental game - people's scores only ever go up and there is forced to be a lot of co-operation along the way. I feel it might eventually turn into a mere brinkmanship contest between the very best players, but it's always a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it's out of print, very rare and the going rate for a copy is of the order of GBP 75 or so. Ouch. (The Middlesbrough Gamers Club does not own a copy - though it might be a way to solve our surfeit of cash - and so I haven't played this for months.)

Sid was known not just as a game devisor but also as an author; his most famous book is the 1969 A Gamut Of Games, often regarded as the greatest collection of sets of original game rules ever in print, with at least two of the games going on to separate publication later with subsequent high regard. We played the "Osmosis" card game at the MGC, a playing card game of memory and tactics for three with an unusual trading mechanism. The first hand felt a bit random, but we had got the hang of things by the second hand and were starting to formulate ideas as to how to play well.

Most of the best board and card games of the 1990s came out of Germany, though the last few years have seen the German domination become less and less severe as the principles which make German-style games so popular and successful have spread worldwide. The German domination is rather a historical accident; it comes about because German families do tend to play more board and card games together than the rest of the world. German sales figures of their best-selling games are somewhat higher, proportionately, than the biggest mass-market successes in the rest of the Western world, but the differential is not as wide as some may say. German families' successes and enjoyment with the games they buy inspire them to buy more and more new games in the future, whereas a British family might purchase, say, Pictionary or a local edition of Monopoly and only ever play it once.

Specialist ("hobby") games in Germany do tend to sell more than they do in the rest of the world, but even relatively large hobby hits struggle to have particularly meaningful print runs - very few reach 100,000 copies and most board games are happy enough with 10,000 or 20,000. The pinnacle of German game fandom is the "Spiel" fair at Essen each October, which attracts 150,000 visitors annually who are keen to find out about the latest developments in board and card games. Most of Sid's game designs came before the big rush period of the late '80s and early '90s, but Sid Sackson and Alex Randolph are often regarded as being among the fathers of the revolution. BoardgameGeek is regarded as the best of the board game databases and many people have uploaded a lot of good material about board games of the last twenty years or so; I can point you to a particularly good year-by-year summary of some of the best games of the '60s, '70s and each year from 1980 to 2000. (No, it's not mine!) Sid's Acquire is still listed as the best of the '60s. Thanks, Sid. You're one of the very greatest and we'll never forget you.

I don't talk as much about board and card games as I probably should, at least in the sense of how important they are to me. This is largely because my board gaming friends generally don't read this - they don't know it exists. I will get round to telling them at some point, but I want to publish some of the things I've written already in small-press print for them first before I let them know where to get the latest journal updates.

Chris Dickson wins again! A quick summary of the race is that Oracle got an excellent start to lead by 50 metres early in the first lap, lost it briefly, then pulled away towards the end of the first lap and kept stretching and stretching their lead from then on. OneWorld closed the gap from 45 seconds to 19 at the end, but couldn't make up the deficit; Chris Dickson wins again for the tenth race in a row. Go Chris Dickson - I can think of far worse namesakes to have!
Current Music: "Black Betty", Ram Jam (earlier the Russian National Anthem)

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:ringbark
Date:November 14th, 2002 10:20 pm (UTC)

Radio 5

(Link)
AFAIK, nobody is broadcasting it live here. I presume that the site wanting your money is Virtual Spectator, much hyped but little valued. Most of the places I looked pointed me to http://www.bbc.co.uk/fivelive/ which is on your side of the planet, and confuses the hell out of me. Everyone knows that there are only 4 stations: 1, which plays pop, 2, which plays versions of the latest hits by the BBC bands, 3, which plays classical, test matches in season and the Open University and 4, which broadcasts news, quiz shows, general information and the Archers. It's PM at 5pm and of course The World at One with William Hardcastle...
Ahem. There's also the World Service.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:November 17th, 2002 05:58 pm (UTC)

Re: Radio 5

(Link)
In which case, you definitely don't want to know about 6music and BBC7, the latter of which launches four weeks away yesterday. Both available online!

BBC 1! BBC 2! BBC 3! BBC 4!
BBC 5! BBC 6! BBC 7! BBC heaven!
From:philonightmare
Date:November 15th, 2002 07:29 pm (UTC)

(Link)
Chris Dickson is set to go 3-0 up by winning his tenth race in a row. I shall keep you posted.

Good luck! and Good job for the results!

I still don't fully understand why you play games so much? I mean is it a job? or is it just for fun? I DO understand that games are fun, and must be your hobby...but other than that? a job? hmm, I'm glad your productivity went up! It feels great to accomplish stuff.

~Eram
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:November 17th, 2002 06:17 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Yachtsman Chris Dickson won again after that to close the match 4-0. Eleven in a row!

I still don't fully understand why you play games so much?
Fair question. It's not that much in practice: an evening a week, plus about maybe 20 half-days and 20 full days a year. I think about games a lot more than that, though, often about things which are not games in game-like contexts.

A job? It would be nice, but I don't think it's very practical. I don't know enough about computer games and am not sufficiently interested in them to get into what is a very competitive industry. The puzzle industry is very small indeed, so inherently competitive. There isn't really a board game industry worth discussing in this country, full stop. Writing about games? Possible - my job at MSO Worldwide, one of the people responsible for the web site, was really pretty dream and the people were very nice which is why I stuck with it rather longer than it paid. Game shows? The more I learn about the practice of game shows and TV at large, the more I realise it isn't me after all. Organising games? Yes, that might be the most dream aspect of the dream job. Not sure that there is the market for it, though.

Why games? I like their self-contained nature, I like the sense of resolution, I like the mental exercise, I like the thought patterns they inspire. Furthermore, I generally tend to like, think like and enjoy the company of people who like games, as a group of people, more than the company of people who like (x) for any other (x) I've discovered yet. (Yes, that does include the case where x = Harry Potter, but I don't know the HP fandom and its inhabitants nearly as well as I know the board game fandom... yet!)

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