Esteemed game designer Richard Garfield made an appearance on the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, but for those who want to geek out and dive deeper into his gaming past, present, and future, today we present the full interview. If you want to be the one who addresses Richard by his first D&D character's name at the next Gen Con, this show is for you!
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Dec. 4, 2018.
David Gardner: I've said for years that investing is a great game. It rewards foresight, you score victory points for patience, and the best thing about it is that everyone can win. And, winning is a lot different from winning at chess or fantasy football. Winning the game of investing gives you financial freedom, gives you agency and autonomy, makes your life and the lives of those connected to you more awesome. It's maybe like the best game.
Business is a great game, too. We've talked about that on this podcast. But this week on Rule Breaker Investing, we're going to talk about a different sort of game: table top board games! You know, game games! My 2018 holiday games list with gift suggestions is afoot. Not only that, the real highlight is, we're going to be joined by one of the great living game designers of our time, one of my gaming world heroes, Richard Garfield, the designer of so many games, but probably most prominently Magic: The Gathering circa 1993, which almost overnight spawned an industry of collectable card games that has resulted in a multi-billion dollar business today. Richard is an innovator, and that's the focus of my interview. That and my 2018 holiday games list, right now, only on Rule Breaker Investing.
Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing! This is being taped on Tuesday, December 4th. Happy December! Welcome to December! It hasn't started, so happily for the stock market as I record this week's episode, the market dropped about another 3% today. It hasn't been a kind autumn and now early winter at all. It has been rather bleak. I hope that won't continue into midwinter, but we'll see.
A couple of quick thoughts about the market before we get to the real star of today's show. The first thought I have you is my oft-repeated line: stocks always go down faster than they go up, but they always go up more than they go down. So, yes, it seems as if we've had a number of multi-percentage-point daily drops in the stock market over these last few months. I don't remember nearly that many multi-percentage-point gain days. Maybe it's just a short memory. But I don't think the market works that way. I think people tend to sell fast and get out. They get out of dodge. It feels good, probably, when you sell and then the market goes down, and you think you're rewarded for having done that. The problem is that a lot of people never buy back in when they sell out of the market.
But you and I are Rule Breakers, and we're investing in the companies themselves. We're not going to play the market rises and drops. We know that the market rises more than it falls. But we know that when stocks do drop, it usually happens pretty quickly and feels a little scary. But for those of us who are obeying Rule Breaker Investing principle No. 3, that is to invest for at least three years, you and I aren't playing a game of guessing where the market's headed. We're investing in great companies for at least three years, if not three decades. Some of my best stock picks I continue to hold, in some cases, multiple decades later. That's the real way to win the game of investing -- not to worry in the short-term or jump in and jump out of the market. That's thought No. 1 about the market for you.
Thought No. 2. I've spoken about this in the past on this podcast. I tend to spend a lot more time following the market when it's going up. It's more fun to quote our stocks when they're going higher. The good news is, more often than not, that's how the stock market works, so it's fun to follow. This may sound immature of me, and indeed, perhaps it is, but I tend to follow the market less when it's dropping. It's not that interesting. It's a little bit depressing. I know it's not going to last very long, but it's kind of like taking a spoonful of medicine and watching that medicine go down along with the market. We need vaccines from time to time. It's kind of like getting jabbed in the arm. It's not that fun, so I don't spend much time there.
It is, therefore perhaps both ironic, but also appropriate, that I'm spending this week talking about a subject much nearer and dearer to my heart than most others, and that's games. I mentioned at the top, a little later in the show, I'll be introducing my 2018 holiday games list. But I think it's a wonderful thing to think about the fun of playing a game with friends and family around a tabletop, whether you did it last Thanksgiving, just a few weeks ago here in the U.S., which we call Thanksgaming in my family; or indeed, in the weeks to come around the holidays. I hope I'm going to have some good ideas for you, both games you could buy or give away as a gift, or just play yourself. And I bet, if you're a real gamer, you probably already know a few of these.
There we go, some thoughts about the market and some thoughts about games. Let's now stick with the latter. Every year, I make a games to watch, games to buy list friends, privately. This time, I figured, hey, I might as well share it right here on this podcast. So, in addition to what I send off to my friends, I'm sending it to you through this week's Rule Breaker Investing podcast. That's coming later in the episode.
But as I thought about games, I couldn't not think about game designers, since they're really the artists whose creativity creates joy for millions of us. Indeed, millions of people worldwide play card and board games. I'll certainly throw video games in, too. I love video games as much as I love card and board games. We're going to be focused on the latter this time. But it's the designers that I really want to celebrate. We all celebrate authors of books, and we all celebrate painters and sculptors. But for whatever reason, for much of recorded history, as games were invented, we didn't really notice or pay much attention to who was designing the games. A lot of us grew up playing games like Monopoly. If I asked you who made Monopoly, it's going to be hard for you to answer that. Why? Because most of the copies of Monopoly that have been sold didn't actually have, as an author's name is on the front of the book, didn't actually have the name of the designer of Monopoly.
And I have to admit that I don't really know, off the top of my head, the designer of the game of Monopoly, as much as I do love games. So, here I am on Wikipedia, and I see that the original designer was a woman, Elizabeth Meiji. She created a game called The Landlord's Game in 1903. It was sort of an economic game for her. Then, later, Hasbro and Parker Brothers took some ideas from Charles Darrow, and Hasbro and Parker Brothers, today Hasbro, have been publishing Monopoly ever since.
But, a wonderful awakening occurred about 20 or 25 years ago in the games industry. That is, we began to put the names of the designers right on the front of the box. If you're a hardcore gamer like I am, and I know some of you are, you know that almost every game published today, you see the game designer's name on the front of the box. And indeed, just like you can follow a great novelist and know, "I read that one from him, so let's read the next one," it's also true of game designers. The same great game designers, you can see the thread of their thinking go through multiple game designs, just as you see the thread of a novelist's style go through all his or her books. So, we can follow the great game designers, and that's what we're going to do this week.
Yep, we're going to follow the innovation and thinking and story of Richard Garfield. Now, Richard grew up in Eugene, Oregon as a teenager. He is, as you'll find out, a descendant of President James Garfield, which I really like because, longtime Rule Breaker Investing listeners will know that I had Candice Millard, the author, on this show, and talked about Destiny of the Republic, which is an amazing story of James Garfield's life, and, sadly, his untimely death. One of the few presidents who has been assassinated. He had a very brief presidency. He was a civil war hero. He was a renaissance man. And, indeed, it's wonderful to think that my guest today is the great-great-grandson of President James Garfield.
Richard went to the University of Pennsylvania as a math student. He walked away with a PhD eventually in combinatorial math. But all the way through, he was playing games and designing games, his first one at the age of 13. He hit it really big when his game Magic: The Gathering debuted in 1993.
In this interview, I'll be talking with Richard, some about his backstory, and some about Magic. If you don't know what that is, it's a collectible card game. To explain it briefly, the real innovation here was that you could buy your own deck of cards. It had unique cards that were in a mix that was yours. You could buy other decks of cards and add some of those cards and try to make the best deck that you could. Then, you could play head-to-head against me. The game of Magic: The Gathering would gather together and play my deck against yours. The infinite variety of different cards and combinations has been going on for now 25 years. The Motley Fool is 25 years old. Well, guess what? Magic: The Gathering is also 25 years old. That's certainly part of my focus in this interview with Richard.
Now, I want to mention, we're not going to air the whole interview in this podcast because I've got my games list to come. We're going to offer an abridged version. We're going to give you the start of my conversation with Richard Garfield. I hope that entices you to check back this weekend, when we will run the full interview with Richard Garfield on Rule Breaker Investing.
Well, without further ado, let's get started.
Richard Garfield is one of the world's best and best-known game designers. For his first big game, Magic: The Gathering, he was granted the patent on trading card games, which is now a multibillion dollar industry worldwide. Since that time, Richard has produced many award-winning trading card games and board games, including Netrunner, Robo Rally, What Were You Thinking, Filthy Rich, and most recently Keyforge. In the realm of computer gaming, he's been a game designer and consultant for Electronic Arts and Microsoft. I'm going to want to ask him about Artifact, which is coming out on Steam this fall. Anyway, Richard, it's great to have you as a Rule Breaker joining me on Rule Breaker Investing.
Richard Garfield: Thank you! It's good to be here!
Gardner: Almost all of us grew up playing games of some kind, be it chess or Pictionary or Cribbage. Richard, what kinds of games did you most appreciate as a kid?
Garfield: I played a lot of different games growing up. I didn't really become a gamer until I discovered Dungeons and Dragons at about 13. That basically blew up my brain. I felt like it was so orthogonal to everything I knew about games, that this world games must be much bigger than I realized. And I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about all the different games out there.
Gardner: As a fellow D&D guy myself, and I first bought my original box set at Sullivan's Toys in Washington, D.C. I'm just a few years younger than you are, Richard, but I was the guy teaching D&D to all my friends. What was it about Dungeons and Dragons that was such a hook for you, and presumably for me, too?
Garfield: Well, the open-ended nature of Dungeons and Dragons really spoke to me, and the fact that there was no winner. It was about a story that you were creating, which related to the game in this way, which no other game experience I had did. I felt like within that type of game, you could have anything. I mean, you literally could, since you can play games within Dungeons and Dragons, so it contains all the other games. But it broke fundamental rules about what I saw in games -- like, for instance, that they're finite and that they have a winner. Those are two big ones.
Gardner: Before we move to some more of your adult years, maybe a little bit more about your childhood, anything you'd like to tell us. I'm curious, maybe, if there was a lesson or two that you learned back then that still sticks with you today.
Garfield: Because of my limited budget, I really had to make use of those games. I didn't have the luxury of getting them and saying, "Oh, I don't like this." So, I really picked up this skill of learning to see what makes these games fun. That's carried me throughout my entire game career. I really enjoy finding games which take a while to appreciate.
Games have a really peculiar cultural relevance in that, historically, I think they're very important to cultures, but they're very poorly documented. Back in the 1700s, they played lots of games, but you can't find a lot of written rules or anything like that. You can hear talk, you'll see a lot of references of people playing games all night, but you don't know exactly what they were doing. You get the sense that there was a lot more going on. It's because games were important, but yet not documented well.
Gardner: I'm really glad you're mentioning that. I did not know that. My assumption has always been that the gaming golden age that we're living in isn't really a renaissance because there wasn't anything to be reborn. I look back over history, we all know that Go is the fantastic thousands-of-years-old game, I think, from China. We all imagine that chess showed up somewhere, I don't know, the year 1200. When I went to Iceland, I saw a game board from the Vikings. It was a game I didn't recognize. And I was like, "Oh, they were gaming back then." But most of us in America, we think that Monopoly was invented somewhere in the 1930s, and that was the first American game, and it took four more years before Parcheesi came out, or something like that. It really hasn't felt like it was until maybe the last 30 years that now thousands of games are coming out every year.
Garfield: Yeah. There's two senses, I think, in which it's a gaming Renaissance, a really special time in games. The first is, there is this sense that games are more of a pastime now than they were. I think -- I have no evidence for this, but I think -- that's true for my childhood, but it's not necessarily true for my grandparents' childhood. In talking to my elders, they played a lot, they had poker parties and bridge parties, and they played Mahjong. There were lots of organized game events which they did. When I was growing up, that just wasn't as much a thing. Again, I'm not sure about this, I don't have any documented evidence, but I think television might have had something to do with it. The entertainment attitude changed. That's my impression.
The second thing is that historically, people played much fewer games. I think it's a really new thing that you consider yourself a game player, rather than, "I play bridge," or, "I play poker." I'll learn a new game this weekend. I think that happened in the past, but much less than it happens today.
Gardner: And if that is true, and it sounds like it is, that's the world I want to live in. I'm glad we're living right now. And you're partly making that world happen for us by constantly innovating. Before we move to your games, Richard, Wikipedia is true often. I hope it's true in this case. Are you in fact the great-great-grandson of President James Garfield?
Garfield: I am. That is true.
Gardner: Wow! So, when you talked about your elders earlier, we know at least one of them. But then, Wikipedia also says that your grand uncle invented the paperclip. Is that also true?
Garfield: That is true, I think. I'm not sure how much of that is family lore. He had a lot of patents. He definitely invented something which clipped paper. I don't know whether it's the paperclip or some form of the paperclip. He also had the milk carton, the one that you open up the top, and it pops out and becomes a spout. I believe that was him.
Gardner: Wow, that's a big one!
Garfield: He made a lot of valves and things like that.
Gardner: Well, it sounds like you come from a family of genius. As I mentioned earlier, it's the innovations that I've seen in your games that jump out to me. As somebody who looks for innovation in American business and world business, always looking for who's innovating, because that's so often the value creators, where we want to own those stocks and own them for a long period of time, innovation usually doesn't happen by accident. There are the occasional eureka moments that we hear about in history, but, Richard, I'm pretty sure that the way that you've innovated, let's start with Magic, if you will. Or, you could start with Robo Rally, if you'd like. I'd love to hear the story of how you invent a game, the creative process that leads to something like Magic: The Gathering.
Garfield: A lot of my design is intuitive. With Magic, for example, Magic is exceptional in that I did actually have a eureka moment with Magic. That was this a-ha, where I realized not all players had to have the same cards. And that was a really exciting moment for me, when I thought about the possibilities of people basically designing their half of the game. I love to tweak games and play with the rules and see what happens. In some ways, I feel like this was sharing what I liked about that with people, because they could construct their gameplay experience. It was very democratic, because they got half of it, got to lay down half the rules.
But a lot of the details of the design I came upon intuitively. It was only later that I was able to trace the roots to other games I was working on and other games I had played. My process involves, actually, a lot of play of different games. This passion for learning games outside my comfort zone, I really think, ties into that.
Gardner: I read a book once called The Medici Effect. I'm pretty sure you know about this book. It's by Frans Johansson. It's about -- let's go back to medieval Florence, early Renaissance. You have people who are artists and people who are traders, and they're all congregating in this place. They're from the far east and the west and they're bouncing new ideas and possibilities off of each other. And that's such a rich, fertile ground for innovation. Johansson then spends a chapter of his book telling the story of you, and you inventing Magic: The Gathering. Could you remind us of that a-ha moment? What was that eureka moment, when all of a sudden, you realized, "Hey, the deck of cards that I'm playing with could be different from the deck of cards being played by my opponent?"
Garfield: Well, specifically, I remember I was hiking at Multnomah Falls when this hit me. It came out of the blue. Later, I actually did trace its roots, possibly, to some other places. My friends were playing Strat-O-Matic baseball, for example. Strat-O-Matic baseball involves players drafting baseball players, which are on cards, and then playing out seasons. I really liked the idea of that game, but I wasn't that interested in baseball, so I never participated, I just watched. Then, I'd seen all these really interesting trading cards at the game stores, and felt like they were beautiful, but they were kind of pointless. So, there were a bunch of things bubbling in the back of my head that I think might have influenced this.
Gardner: This is incredible, Richard, because a lot of my youth was spent playing hours and hours of Strat-O-Matic baseball and Dungeons and Dragons. There are many differences between you and me, but one of them is that you bring more math understanding. This is why you've ended up being the amazing game designer that you are, and most of us are just playing your games. Could you describe a little bit of your life in mathematics? I'm pretty sure you got an advanced degree at University of Pennsylvania. You're mixing math into some of this creativity. I'd love to tease a little bit of that out of you.
Garfield: I did, I got a PhD in combinatorics at the University of Pennsylvania. The relationship between math and games is kind of subtle. People have asked me whether it's important to understand math to be a game designer. I think it's helpful, but usually, the level you need is what you can pick up on the street playing poker or something. It's useful in the same way that anything is useful. You can make a game around it. You might think of a writer. Is history useful to a writer? Well, yeah, of course. Is economics useful to a writer? Yeah, they can write about that, too. It's the same thing for games. It's a good source for inspiration.
Math in particular, I think why I was going into math is because I loved games so much, and so much of the underlying interest I have in games is the systems underneath. That is mathematical. Combinatorics is actually one of the most relevant areas for the math of games.
Gardner: I'd love just a little bit more on that. When I was first reading about Magic: The Gathering 20 some years ago, I read that you were an expert, a specialist in combinatorics. I'm an English major myself, so I don't have any background in it, other than I think something like, if I'm attacking with a creature that has three attack, and you're blocking with a creature that has either two block, or maybe a different one that has one block but some sort of a special ability, you're choosing between the two or the one. You're making a decision about the numbers of it. And the numbers are often small. Could you give me the two-sentence explanation of what combinatorics is?
Garfield: Sure. Combinatorics is the math of counting things. There are three major areas for combinatorics: graph theory, which is the study of things like networks; enumeration, which is very much counting things, it's often counting the number of different types of poker hands you can get, for instance, is a combinatorial question. That's an enumeration question within combinatorics. Then, the third area, which is also very relevant, is algorithms. The study of the mathematical side of algorithms is combinatorics, as well.
Gardner: I want to ask you about your two newest games, and just maybe get a little from you on each of them. One of them is a card game, and I'm getting it two-day shipped by Amazon finally, or maybe CoolStuffInc, whatever it is, I finally get my copy of Keyforge. I'm looking forward to playing that later this week. I want to ask you about Keyforge. Then, earlier, I also mentioned Artifact, which is a game that's coming out as a digital card game, maybe a Magic-like experience, but updated for 2018.
Let's start first with Keyforge. Richard, what jumps out to me with that new design of yours is that you're doing it once again. There he goes again, this time, the innovation is that every deck that anybody buys of Keyforge is unique. It has its own card back, it has its own unique procedurally generated name, and apparently, it's going to work well enough that you could play that deck against anybody else who has their own Keyforge deck, but every single one of maybe millions of decks of cards of Keyforge is unique?
Garfield: That is correct. Yeah, I'm really excited by this concept, and very excited to see it actually out there and people playing it. It's been something that's been rattling around my head for about 10 years. It's only in the last few years that I have felt like printing technology is such that it could actually be made. Certainly, 10, it may have even been 15 years ago when I first thought about it, the idea of printing unique decks for everybody to order was not feasible. But now, it can be done, and each deck is $10, which is marvelous.
Gardner: Alright, and then Artifact. Artifact, I've read a little bit about it. I saw a very popular Hearthstone e-sports streamer say he's retiring from Hearthstone because the best game he knows of now is Artifact. Richard, I'm pretty sure you're behind this one. It debuts on Steam this month. What is Artifact?
Garfield: Artifact is a trading card game designed for online play. Ever since I made Magic, I was interested in making an online version of a trading card game. Magic worked very well for paper, but it wasn't designed for online, and it's really hard to make a good online game which is true to the paper play. So, I've been wanting to make a game which uses all the power that you have when you play with the computer, but is a trading card game. And it seemed like most trading card games were going down this path which led to a very constrained design, where they were taking into account limited screen space, because screen space is more limited than what you have on the table, for example. What I wanted to do was get something where you could get the crazy, unbounded feeling that you have with Magic while playing on the computer. It felt like you really should be able to do that. So, that's what I was aiming for. And hopefully, that's what we got.
Gardner: That sounds very exciting. I haven't had a chance to try any demos yet. When does it come out?
Garfield: It comes out this month. I forget exactly when. I think the beta starts this week. But the beta is very short.
Gardner: Right. I would be remiss, since this is a Motley Fool podcast, and it's Rule Breaker Investing, Richard, if I didn't ask, have you ever bought an individual stock? Do you want to say anything about Richard Garfield's approach to investing?
Garfield: I've done enough investing to know that that's not where I want to spend my time.
Gardner: [laughs] That's a great line on its own. When people come up to me and ask what stock they should buy, I often say, especially when they're entrepreneurs, which, among other things, you are, I say, "Make sure you're investing in yourself, because that's probably where your greatest return lies." The stock market is secondary or derivative for many of us, and especially the entrepreneurs, I know that you're putting your money right where you should be.
Last question for you, Richard. Are you a reader? If so, what are you reading right now? I always like to hear what we're exposing our minds to.
Garfield: I'm reading two books right now. I'm reading Infinite Jest, which has been on my inbox for years, so I'm very happy going to be reading that. I'm also reading Steven Pinker's new book, Enlightenment Now. I'm a big Steven Pinker fan.
Gardner: I love that book, too, so I'm delighted to know that. Richard, you've been so generous with your time. It's been a pleasure to get to know you for the first time via the podcast. I often love to think about the future. That's, after all, what we try to do when we pick a stock. I know you think a lot about the future, and you're pretty good at inventing the gaming future. I'm just curious, Richard, whether you have any prediction that comes to mind that you'd like to make about games or yourself or the world at large.
Garfield: I predict that the effect of this gaming Renaissance we talked about will be more profound than it at first appears. I've always felt that games were the most underutilized tool in education by a long shot. I meant that not just as educational games, but just the education involved in playing almost any game. So, I think this broad-spread interest in playing games and learning new games will actually have really big ramifications for our society.
Gardner: That is spectacular. That truly brings a chill to my spine as a fellow gamer. In an earlier meeting today at The Fool, I was just talking about how we need to add more life into games and more games into life. I vote for that. It sounds like you're probably an optimist, as I am. Anybody who's a Pinker fan probably is. That feels really good, what you just described for us.
I'm going to make a prediction. I'm going to predict that Keyforge and Artifact will be both big successes for you here starting at the end of 2018, but continuing, I bet, for many years. I'm pretty sure I'll be playing both. Richard, at this point, for me, at the age of 52, for half a lifetime of gaming pleasure that you have generated for me, my family and friends, and for millions of people around the world, thank you very much for joining us on Rule Breaker Investing!
Garfield: Thanks! It was a lot of fun!
Gardner: What a gentleman! What a bright and innovative thinker and actor, somebody who dreams it and builds it. That's really what I love about my favorite game designers. They have these visions in their head of some new thing, some new way to have fun on a tabletop with friends and family, and then, darn it, the best ones go out and actually build it, get it published. In years past on this podcast, I featured some of my favorite game designers.
I'll just mention, if you enjoyed the first part of my interview with Richard, back on June 22nd of 2016, google it and find it, my interview with Rob Daviau. Rob is the one who dreamed up legacy games, the idea that, if you play a game of Risk, which you may well have played before, imagine if, when you played that game, at the end of it, whoever won, whoever lost, and what happened, that affected the next game of Risk that you played together. And you added some cards and some new components as you played a series of games. So, each game that you play of Risk is one example, because Rob started with Risk Legacy. There's a legacy to your gaming that you do with that group. You play 12 or so games of Risk, and you end up with your own unique copy of Risk. People are writing on the board, naming continents after themselves, adding special weapons, tearing up cards. That's the legacy game format. I had Rob on.
Then, I had Jamey Stegmaier on November 2nd of 2016 talking about how to win on Kickstarter. What a big thing Kickstarter has been for board games, and what a brilliant designer and businessman Jamey Stegmaier is, and, by the way, gentleman as well.
Again, Richard Garfield coming up this weekend in full form, my full conversation with Richard.
Alright, you still with me? You still listening? Awesome! Let's talk games. I'm going to introduce four game titles as prominent suggestions for your holidays. Each of these is a game that's really appropriate for a family. That means it's not too complex, it's not too long, and most of these don't really cost too much, so I find them very appropriate to share with a broad general audience, which is what we have here at Rule Breaker Investing. And, at the end, I'll include some harder-core geeky game titles that I'll suggest for my dyed-in-the-wool gamers.
But before we start, I want to say two things. First, I want to talk about how to follow games and find out about more games. Second, I want to talk about how to buy games. Then, we'll go to the games list.
First, how to stalk games. There's one magnet site that, in my experience, the whole world's board gamers visit. It's called boardgamegeek.com. I've visited The Motley Fool website just about every day since we started The Fool 25 years ago. And most of those days, I've also visited boardgamegeek.com, because I love following the world of games. On the left side of that site, there's a list of the hottest games that people are talking about on that site today, this hour, this week. It's always a way to see what new games might be coming out. I'm always looking at that list. But on the other hand, every single game, in my experience, that has ever been invented has its own page on BoardGameGeek. And on that site, people are asking rules questions, they're taking pictures of the components to show them off to new players, people are doing videos to teach the rules of the game, and, of course, there are very active forums where people have lots of questions back and forth, or opine or put up reviews of games. It's really such a rich and vital site. If you love board games, or you think you might one day want to love board games, I totally suggest boardgamegeek.com.
Now, as for how to buy the games, the games I'll be talking about today, and really so many games these days, can just be bought at Amazon. But beyond Amazon, since it's such a large general retailer, there are specialist boutique websites that sell these games. Now, of course, I never want to skip if you have a good local game store. I'm a big fan of keeping those local game stores in business. Just like, if you have a great bookstore that you love, I hope you're frequenting that store. Your friendly local game store, I would hope, would have all of the titles I'll be talking about today. Absent that, Amazon's a good answer. And then, a few other boutique sites I'll mention: coolstuffinc.com and miniaturemarket.com are both good boutique sites.
And, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention eBay. Some of these games start to sell out around Christmas, just like some other things start to sell out around Christmas. And then you'll find, usually, that you can get that last copy if you're desperate enough for it on eBay, where you're probably paying up quite a bit for it. But if you can afford it, and/ or you want one of these games badly enough, or any game in the future, you could always check eBay.
Before I go to my games list, the last thing I want to say about buying games and finding these games is that plan B for me is always to go back to boardgamegeek.com, search the site for the game you're looking for, and go on to the forums and just ask, "Hey, who's selling this game now?" Or, "Hey, I'm trying to find this game." Again, if you ever can't find a game in stock, or you see it at what looks like a crazy price because somebody is overcharging for it on eBay, definitely go to boardgamegeek.com, go to that game's page, and start asking questions right there. Very helpful community of gamers.
Now, the sites I've just mentioned for you are particularly appropriate for U.S. listeners. I know we have a lot of listeners in Canada, Europe, Jeddah, Australia. You're all over the place. I'll hope that in your own country, you're able to find a good online games retailer. Many of you will already have those. In some cases, you already know them. You could always google. Amazon might be your friend. It is in many countries around the world. As I mentioned, going to BoardGameGeek and just asking, "Hey, I'm from Pakistan, what's the most efficient way for me to buy such-and-such game?" People will give you that help. If you find yourself scratching your head as to how you would acquire some of the games I'll be sharing with you shortly, I realize it's different in every country, so your mileage may vary. Do your best out there.
Alright, with all that said, let's get into my four favorite family game choices for 2018. Most of these did come out in 2018. One or two may have come out in 2017. Let's take them alphabetically.
The first game I want to share with you is a game called Decrypto. This is a word game. In fact, for each of these games, I'm going to say the type of the game, how many it plays, roughly how much it costs, then a few words about what's going on with the game. Decrypto is best for four or six. It's a team word game where you're generally going to want to have an even number of players. It plays six players particularly well. It retails for around $20.
In the game of Decrypto, players are competing in two teams, with each trying to correctly interpret the coded messages presented to them by their teammates while cracking the codes they intercept from the opposing team. In plainer parlance, it's basically a word game where you're trying to give clues about certain words, so your teammates recognize them without your opponents, who are also listening to you give those same clues, stealing and realizing which words you're trying to give passwords for. It would be crazy for me to attempt to explain the rules on this podcast for any of these games. I won't do it. Suffice it to say that if you've come across the wonderful game Codenames in the last few years -- and by the way, if you haven't heard of Codenames before, I think you should buy Codenames first before Decrypto. It's an outstanding word game. There's a lot of similarities between these two. Decrypto adds a couple of extra wrinkles, Again, it's particularly good for six players.
Decrypto is my first game I'm leading with, but I'm also, for this one and each of the others, I'll mention at least a couple of other titles that relate. Codenames is a wonderful game that you'll enjoy with your family, kids, grandparents around the holidays, if you haven't already found Codenames. Both are great!
Game No. 2. This is a simple card game for two. If you're part of a couple, I think it's a great couples card game. If you want to play with a child, you and that child will have a great time playing what is a simple trick-taking game. It's with only 36 cards in three suits. It's not a traditional 52-card deck. Of course, in that case, you would just buy the deck, you wouldn't actually go out and buy Fox in the Forest.
Fox in the Forest has some lovely theme-ing, but the brilliant design is that it's an engaging trick-taking card game. You play a card, I play a card back, one of us is going to win that trick. One of the cool things about this game is, you need not to make the mistake of either taking all the tricks -- that's bad -- or none of the tricks --that's also bad. There's a really cool dynamic to the cards, which you'll see. It's a lovely animal theme. It retails for only around $15. Again, it's for two people. This one should be broadly and generally available, like Decrypto.
Now, I'll mention a couple of card games that I also really like, simpler card games. There's one called Love Letter. The theme is, you're trying to get a love letter to the princess. For two to four players, with a thin deck, it is a very engaging and fun game where you play multiple rounds. Definitely recommend Love Letter. Or, Red7, which is more of a math-y kind of a trick-taking game, but one that is very innovative. Fox in the Forest was my lead, but if you already knew it, or you're looking for others, Love Letter and Red7.
Like so many lists that I present on the show -- for example, my five-stock samplers -- we're going to continue alphabetically down the line. We've gone from Decrypto to Fox in the Forest. Game No. 3 is Reef. In the game of Reef, players are taking on the role of the reef itself. You're alternating turns, you're carefully selecting the colors and patterns of the beautiful components of this game and adding them, growing your own reef. The more beautiful the reef, the more points you're going to score. It's an abstract game and it's a good pattern game. It's also a math-y game, because you're going to be drawing different cards that are going to reward you for having different patterns as you build your reef out.
The game retails for about $40. That's twice as much as the two card games I just told you about, but that's because you're paying up for boards and these beautiful components. You can look it up on Amazon or the other sites I mentioned and see what Reef looks like. This has been one of the big sellers of 2018 because it's a very accessible family game. It takes about five or 10 minutes at most to teach, which is really great for the holidays when you don't want to sit down and have Uncle Earl go over an hour and a half of rules for some war game that you're having to play with your Uncle Earl. This is the exact opposite. In fact, all four of the games I'm presenting here to you are games that can be taught and learned quickly.
Reef, you're really going to enjoy it. It's great for kids eight and up, it says on the box. The game takes, like the others, about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes at most to play.
A couple of other games that I think of that are kind of like this game, a little bit more expensive, with beautiful components that are very family friendly, the game Azul, which came out about a year ago. I haven't played Azul yet. It's a tiling game.
Rick Engdahl: I've played it!
Gardner: Awesome, Rick! Talk briefly about Azul.
Engdahl: I won't try too hard to describe it. You select tiles, then you have to put them down in particular patterns in order to gain points. We played it all summer at the pool. It's a great pool game because it doesn't have cards that fly away in the winds. It's a tile game. It worked really nicely there. All our neighbors played it together.
Gardner: Wonderful! Thank you! Rick Engdahl, my talented producer and a gamer extraordinaire unto himself. Thank you, Rick! I haven't played Azul, but it's gotten very good reviews.
Then, a game from a few years back called Splendor, where you're collecting gems. It's a card and token game. All three of those -- again, I led with Reef, but if you like Reef and you wanted some new ideas, and you didn't already know about Azul or Splendor, I highly recommend all three.
Engdahl: I'll have to chime in once again and say Splendor is the No. 1 family and neighbor game that we have going. It's a really good game!
Gardner: Awesome! Thank you, Rick! Yeah, the whole point of this holiday games list is to think about games that are lighter and more appropriate for all ages, and could be learned quickly and enjoyed forever. The replayability that goes through each of these games is still very high.
Alright, that brings me to my fourth and final family game for the 2018 holiday games list. That's War Chest. War Chest is a two-player game. It's kind of like chess in a way. You're sitting over a board and you're trying to take over your opponent's pieces. But imagine if, on a chessboard, instead of it just being that I'm taking your piece, imagine if I'm taking an area, I'm controlling one of the squares on the board. Then, imagine, unlike chess, that the types of pieces from one game to the next change. Imagine if you played some games of chess with no rooks, but some other brand-new piece that does something you've never seen before on a chessboard. That's the way War Chest plays. You draft at the start, four piece types for each player, and you each have different capabilities. They're pretty simple. It doesn't take a lot to learn, but it is wonderful! There are 16 different types of pieces. Again, imagine a chess game where you had 16 different types of pieces, but every game, you had a mix of four different ones against four different ones. That captures a lot of War Chest.
Now, why does it cost $40? Well, you're playing with poker chips. Those are what the pieces are. And they're beautifully illustrated, heavy, chunky, meaty poker chips. It's a lovely game. I do, of course, recommend War Chest as family games holiday list No. 4 this year.
I will mention, this is a little bit of a harder game to find. Part of the act of me mentioning these games on a broad, general podcast is, I might have just made it even harder for people to find it if you're going out and buying War Chest or any of these games. In this case, you might want to look extra hard on some alternate sites if Amazon isn't your friend. I did mention eBay, and, of course, going back to BoardGameGeek itself. I highly recommend War Chest!
While I'm not a big fan of abstract games -- for example, I don't really like chess that much. And backgammon is fun enough. But War Chest, I think, is much better than both of those games. I also want to mention a wonderful abstract series called The GIPF Project. It's a made-up word, it's not even an acronym. There are five or six GIPF games. There's GIPF, there's TZAAR, there's YINSH, and they all interrelate with each other. Each one of them is a boxed game unto itself that can give you a lifetime of fun, but there are also elements that run across them. The designer, Kris Burm, who I believe is Belgian, is a genius. If you find yourself enjoying War Chest, or if you can't find War Chest, and you want to find another great abstract game, I highly recommend the GIPF series. I'm pretty sure I own all those games and have played them with my kids and family over the years.
I think for most of my listeners, that's probably all you needed to know. Maybe it's even more than you needed to know. Maybe you're like, "I listen to the podcast every week, but I don't really care that much about games. I don't even like games." Well, if that's true, I think that's kind of sad, because I think we should all love games. Perhaps I got you a little closer with my list and some of my thoughts for you this week. But I know some of you still hanging on are harder-core gamers. And you're like, "Yeah, I already know Decrypto. I've played War Chest. I know Love Letter and Splendor. What about the deeper strategy games? What about the games that take an hour to read the rules?" I'm the one in my family, I'm the one who reads the rules. You might be thinking, "Give me some rules, give me some deeper strategy," some of the types of games we've talked about in the past on this podcast. Well, I'm glad you asked. I'm going to share five titles in closing here for you, my harder-core gamers. Here are the five games.
The first I'm going to mention is Betrayal Legacy. I mentioned earlier the legacy format that Rob Daviau has pioneered. Well, Rob took one of his most successful game designs of the past, a really fun game that fellow geeks like me will recognize as Betrayal at House on the Hill, and he turned that into a legacy format game. It's called Betrayal Legacy. It is an expensive game, I think it costs around $75, but it gives you a unique narrative. It gives you, I think, quite an amazing experience. It was a pleasure to see some of my cousins and other members of my family during Thanksgaming sequester themselves in a part of the house and just play this game for hours, and watch the excitement as new components and new developments happen as you unwrap little boxes. After finishing game five, open this box and add it to the game. And that haunted house format, done from one successive game to the next. The idea is, 30 years lapse after every game. So, you go through the centuries. It's a remarkable game and very highly rated on BoardGameGeek. So, there's Betrayal Legacy.
I also want to mention a game called Detective. That one comes from the Polish game designer Ignacy Trzewiczek, who is a game-designing genius. Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game -- that's the official title -- brings classic card-based puzzle-solving gameplay into the 21st century by introducing online elements. You're going to gain access to the online Antares database that contains data about suspects, witnesses, and documentation from arrests and trials related to your case. For some of you, this may sound like a lot of work or a nightmare. For others, you'll realize this is an absolutely ingenious design. You're going to solve five different cases. Each one takes about three or four hours, so you're going to get about 15 to 20 hours of gameplay out of this game. It's more a game you go through once, and maybe not again, although it does have some replayability. But, it's a very innovative title.
The third game is Fireball Island. Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Karcar is actually a reimagining of a game that was released in 1986 called Fireball Island. Some of you may remember it. The idea is, you're taking your explorer onto the island. It's a large 3D game board. It looks like an island with a volcano in the middle, and marbles come spewing out of that volcano and try to knock over your explorers as you move them around the island, trying to collect treasures in different areas. It has a great sense of humor. It's a dexterity game in part. It looks stunning on a game table. But, it costs about $100, and it's not that easy to find this time of year. If Fireball Island sounds like the kind of game you'd like to visit, I highly encourage it.
Now, I will say that this is a lighter, simpler game. This is as much a dexterity game. It has some cards going on in the game to move around the island, with some set collection and some surprises, in terms of what your goals are. There are also about four expansions coming for it. So, it's kind of a game system. But unlike the other games I'm sharing in this closing list, this is much lighter and simpler.
Which brings me to my last two games. And how could I not make one of them, alphabetically next, from Fireball Island to Keyforge. I just talked about it with Richard Garfield on this podcast, and more coming this weekend. I have greatly enjoyed opening up a few decks. Again, they're unique. My deck, I'm the only one who has that deck in the world. I've really enjoyed playing "Trenchant Everett of the Region" against my son's deck. Yep, that's the name of my deck. I have a unique card back, it's a green card back. Trenchant. I guess that's like cutting. Everett is the name, I guess. Trenchant Everett of the Region. I'm not really sure what the Region is. But when you algorithmically create over 100,000 different names for card decks, you end up with some really funny-named deck. I have "Trenchant Everett of the Region." It tends to lose to my son's decks, but we've had a lot of fun with Keyforge. I highly recommend it.
And then, I'll close with what's probably my favorite game of the last couple of years. I know I've mentioned it at least once or twice before on Rule Breaker Investing. That's Terraforming Mars, which is really one of the great strategy games of our time. You can hear from the title the theme of the game. We're terraforming Mars. Again, if you're the geeky kind of gamer who's still listening to the podcast at this point, you probably already know about this game. But do you know that there are a couple of good expansions out for it? Prelude in particular was a great release here in 2018, which adds more interest to the setup of the game and customizing the corporation that you're going to be playing to terraform the planet of Mars against your competitors, who are in other corners of the planet trying to terraform Mars, as well. It's a wonderful coopetition. You're all working together to terraform Mars, but you're competing as corporations to see who can add the most value. Anyway, it's a wonderful strategy game. It's got the whole package. It's got a game board where you have placement and area control together with lots and lots of cards, all of them unique with different prices on them. So, you're deciding when to spend the money, if you even have the money. There's an economic engine underneath. It's a spectacular board game, and I'm delighted to see couple of new expansions, including Prelude and, most recently, Colonies.
Alright, thank you for indulging me, especially if you're a non-gamer. Thank you for sitting all the way through our 2018 holiday games list.
Next week, we're headed back to stocks, but with a game-y twist, because once a quarter on this show, we do the Market Cap Game Show, the game show we invented about market caps. Get ready for a Market Cap Game Show: Episode VI next week.
Final reminder: you're going to get a Rule Breaker Investing extra, my full interview with Richard Garfield, coming this weekend.
Have a great week! Fool on!
As always, people on this program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at rbi.fool.com.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. David Gardner owns shares of AMZN. Rick Engdahl owns shares of AMZN, EA, and MSFT. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends AMZN and HAS. The Motley Fool owns shares of MSFT. The Motley Fool recommends EBAY and EA. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.