Turn that card and shake that dice. A review of the on-line board gaming platform “Board Game Arena.”

Board Game Arena (BGA) is a website where you can immerse yourselves in board games, from the most ancient classics e.g. Sent, Backgammon,  Checkers, Chess, to very new colourful, creative, endlessly inventive examples of multi-player tabletop game-play e.g. the fantasy world of ‘Seasons’ and ‘Lords of Xidit.’  There are currently 75 different games on offer at BGA.

Games are represented as they would appear if you were sitting around a table, with counters, pieces and boards all lovingly copied for the screen.  One of the biggest blessings is that you don’t have to worry about making a mistake against the rules, or worrying about anyone else doing this, the programme acts as the most reliable impartial referee and enforcer, simply not allowing you with patient messages like “you cannot move your pieces backwards” or “you cannot sweep board and pieces off the table and storm out of the room in a hissy fit.”

Games are categorised under different headings e.g. long, short, abstract, core, casual.  You can choose games you want to be recognised as keen to play by the rest of the BGA community, and they will then ‘suggest’ you to join a table for that game, or you can choose to join a table yourself.

You can play in real time, or turn based.  With the latter you agree the time limit and can play at your own pace.  It’s important, if you join a table, to commit to the game, as quitting half way through is seen as very bad form and you are given a little icon against your name that shows you have done this along with a % of times that it has happened.   The ultimate sanction (short of having your account frozen for e.g. abusive behaviour) is a red thumbs down vote from other players, which can make other players reluctant to play you.  A Green thumbs up approval rating is also invited from other players at the end of each game and is a recognition for good sportsmanship as well as good ability.  You can collect various trophies and badges for number of games played and games won as well as thumbs up to encourage you along.

The site seems reliable and with any site of this nature you will get lags and occasional problems but these are not a major nuisance.   It’s worth it to stop and wonder at the little flags next to players user names denoting their nationality.  How cool it is that you can play these games and chat with a genuinely worldwide community.  And its the community that really makes this site.  It is encouraging, friendly, and surprisingly trolls and temper tantrums seems minimal.  It is refreshing.  There are other similar sites where a mistake from a player or naive game-play will bring out comments like “WTF” and “What is this guy doing?” (I speak from experience) but I have never seen this here.

Going back to the range of games.  As I said you have old classics that bear up very well against other on-line examples of them such as Backgammon and Chess.  You can discover lesser known ancient games like “Senet,” “Kalah” and “Gomoku.”

Gomoku on BGA

“Connect 5” with Gomoku on BGA

Senet on BGA

Ancient Egyptians hardly needed consoles and tablets when they had this…Senet on BGA

Classic card games are also represented such as “Hearts” and “Machiavelli.”  The newest games are a whole world to discover if like me you are new to the world of newer board games.  There are sub genres like ‘worker placement,’ that has gems like “Stone Age,” where you have to distribute your workers and think about distribution of resources strategically to take the lead.

Keeping the pre-historic home fires burning with 'Stone Age' on BGA

Keeping the pre-historic home fires burning with ‘Stone Age’ on BGA

Then there are “programme” games where you determine a coded route in advance to gain resources and achieve objectives, and have to second guess that of your opponents, as well as determine what the best strategic route is.  “Lords of Xidit” is an example of this.

Looks more complicated than it is...honest.  'Lords of Xidit' on BGA

Looks more complicated than it is…honest.
‘Lords of Xidit’ on BGA

There are others, modern suited card trick taking games like “Haggis,” trading and trading card games like “Jaipur.”  There are fantasy, historical, exploration, science fiction, adventure and other themed board games.

With a lot of the newer games there are links to sites and videos explaining the rules and reviewing the games.  Look out for a series called “The Dice Tower” which dies just this.  You can also watch sample games and games in progress.

Taking tricks in 'Haggis' on BGA

Taking tricks in ‘Haggis’ on BGA

There is no charge, and no in game purchases.  You are encouraged to make a contribution, which I did, I was so taken with site I wanted to support it.

The site is a breath and fresh air and a treasury of very rich game-play.  Best of all it is deepingly and winningly fun.  It took me a while to realise that one of the main abbreviated encouragements players give to each other like “gg” (good game) if “hf!” (have fun).  So gg, hf, and see you there!

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The Gods don’t play dice; a review of the ancient Egyptian board game ‘Senet.’

Senet is an ancient Egyptian board game (@ 3’500 BC) that is a chase game similar to backgammon. Each player has 5 pawns which travel around a 3 by 10 board in an S shaped path. Indeed the Gods don’t play dice.  Here you move by the throw of 4 sticks (black on one side and white on the other).  If any of your sticks land light side up you move that number of sticks (between 1-4).  If you throw 4 dark you can move 4 and then get another go. depending on how they land.  As in backgammon, the objective is to bear all of one’s pawns off first. But unlike that game, there are safe and trap spaces on the board (in the version below denoted by different Egyptoin symbols).  Also, players may block each others’ progress if they form a row or ‘wall’ of their pieces.  If you go to Google images for Senet you will find that Senet sets are usually constructed from various woods and are often quite beautiful. Senet is one of the oldest of man’s games but unfortunately it fell out of use for a few thousand years and no ancient rules set has been discovered (possibly another tragic loss resulting from the Library of Alexandria burning to the ground). As a result modern minds have made several educated guesses as to the rules.  And it is one of these that I found, on the Google Chrome Web Store.

First thing to take on board with this version, it’s lovely to look at and recreates the feel of one of the aforementioned beautiful wooden boards.  It sings to you an Egyptian refrain and you have the option of playing an AI offline or going on-line for another human opponent.  There’s a ranking system to measure your progress as you hopefully start ratcheting up the frequency of your victories.  Second thing to mention is that it is incredibly satisfying to find such an ancient game whose game-play blows most modern turn based games out of the water .Although as mentioned the game-play is a modern ‘best guess’ reconstruction, even so, it’s brilliant.  Like many classics such as Backgammon it is an outrageous mix of skill and fortune (or chance) that will leave you thinking victory is assured one moment, only to find it all going hrribly wrong as you don’t get the throw you need, and your faulty strategy makes itself known.  Because victory in Senet comes from strategic planning to ensure that as far as is possible you will not get boxed in a corner.  In the last game I played I had got 4 of my pieces off the board and simply needed to throw 1 light stick to get on the square ‘House of life’ (I think) which would enable me to proceed further.  But I could not find that throw, and the opponents pieces flew past like cars in a F1 race.  Worse, I did throw a 1 at one point but then threw a 1 again which landed me in the “Sea of re-birth” which put me back to the half-way point.  Then I resigned.  But the most notable point was that until it all went horribly wrong, I was comfortably ahead and assured victory was in the bag.  But my strategic error was not leaving myself with sufficient choices or pieces in play.

Other versions of Senet are also available on the IOS platform but are AI versions only, which to me takes more than half the fun away (I’ll always rather play people).  If anyone knows of any other good versions on IOS or anywhere else on-line I may have missed please let me know in the

In the thick of the race.  Could go either way.

In the thick of the race. Could go either way.

comments to this post.

To sum up Senet hooks you quick and reels you in.  A great pleasure to find and play this gem.

On the playing of games

The Fireside Table is a blog whose main wish is to evoke a fireside table at the most romanticised vision of a pub that you can imagine.  Where there is fine ale and wine and excellent conversation.  Now the conversation will be on books the company have read, or plays or films they have seen.  These, if you will bear with me with this rather strained analogy, compromise the reviews of this blog.  Sometimes games will be played.  Classic pub games like Cribbage, or even more cerebral fare when the company still retain some thinking sobriety, such as backgammon or chess.  This will often get the company talking as to games they have played.  And so, this blog will now include reviews of games.

A good game, a really good game, engages us as much as the best novel or best of any kind of work can.  We are brought out of ourselves, on two important levels, to think, as with a strategic problem say, and to have fun.  With one player plus games we engage with our opponents too on a deeper and more fun level than small talk allows.

Our current social media / technological boom allows greater access to a broad range of social gaming than ever before.  One thing I’ve enjoyed recently is working my way through board and card games with which I’m wholly unfamiliar, learning the rules, key strategies, and taking on other people.  And lets not forget that little extra kick that computer gaming now encourages, the earning of achievement badges!  There’s usually a rusk of sound and colour, a little firework display, and then a message along the lives of “Congratulations!  You’ve won your first game of ____.”  usually accompanied by the earning of an in-game currency to give a further reward buzz.  They are usually ‘gold’ or ‘diamonds’ (lumps of coal probably wouldn’t have the same effect).

One thing you lean from classic games, you see why they have endured, or why they still pack a gratifying punch.  Witness the Egyptian board game of “Senet.”  It’s a race game like Backgammon, a direct ancestor of this game, but has a strategic depth and richness that is beguiled by very accessible game-play.  In other words, easy to play, very hard to master.  It has just the right mix of skill and chance (see also Backgammon).  It is perfect for our Fireside Table, and I’m going to do a review for a version I’ve discovered below.

In the meantime, if you have rediscovered any classic board or card games through internet play or by any other names means, please share below.

See you at the table.