Black Vienna, Modern Art

Tonight’s session was a bit of a disaster. The guys were very nice about it, but we were really let down by two poor games.

Black Vienna

One of my favourite movies is The Third Man a 1949 film-noir classic, starring Orson Welles and set in occupied Vienna. Any game with this theme, even if loosely applied, is a must try for me.

Black Vienna has always had good reviews and ratings, even though it was published back in 1987. I suspect this is because of the out-of-print effect – where a games merits are amplified by the smugness of collectors. Luckily, Mikko made his own set and generously uploaded them to the Geek. It only took me 45 minutes to print and cut out the cards and slip them into card protectors.

I wanted to try it as it has a reputation of being a solid deduction game, but without being quite as complex as Sleuth. Greg Aleknevicus summarised these games in an old article at the Games Journal. Although Greg does not find the fragile nature of Black Vienna a problem, it shafted our evening. It is so frustrating to play for 45 minutes and find out the game has been ruined by a simple mistake. I warned the guys about this problem beforehand, but we were still stung.

I can see why this game is so popular as the level of deduction is pitched at an accessible, but skilful level. Sadly, for me, Black Vienna is too fragile. We have had the same thing happen in Sleuth, which makes me wonder if I have been too generous to it in the past.

Modern Art

Everything was going swimmingly, until we wondered why no one was selling pink or purple paintings by the third season. It turns out that Mayfair had packed my copy of the game with the wrong numbers of paintings:

  • 18 Krypto
  • 26 Yoko
  • 24 Lite Metal
  • 1 Christen P.
  • 0 Karl Gitter

What a great evening – not.

  • Too bad the game failed for you. That’s the problem with most deduction games – one mistake and it’s all ruined. Still, I like Black Vienna, if you’re careful I think it’s deduction at the right level.

  • Thanks Mikko.

    I wonder if a computerised play-by-web moderator would remove this problem? It should be trivial to code. But would a deduction game be fun to play over a long period?

  • That’s too bad about the flawed copy of Modern Art. I think it’s a classic game. Underappreciated due to it being a bit subtle, and maybe a little fragile, but utterly wonderful if you get past that.

  • Oh I have not been put off Modern Art. That is undoubtedly a great game. I just need to check components before starting playing. 😉

    Mayfair have promised to send me replacement cards, so I’m content.

  • You’re probably right. I suppose I was really thinking of programming projects for teaching myself.

  • Have any of you tried Timbuktu? It’s a good deduction game that doesn’t require one player to disclose hidden knowledge. The knowledge is passed around from player to player in the form of cards. IIRC, it played best with a compliment of 5. It is a longer game, though.

  • I thought that I was clear that Black Vienna’s “fragility” WAS a problem in the article you cited. I wrote:

    “There is also the issue that the game is absolutely unforgiving of mistakes—if a player accidentally indicates that he has only one spy rather than two, it will completely destroy the work of others. Since there is such a large investment of effort in the game you really do need to stress the importance of answering correctly. This is a problem with all deduction games but the reason it feels so bad here is that Black Vienna is so challenging to play. If someone makes a mistake in Clue, it’s not that big a deal but if the same thing happens in Black Vienna, you feel that you’ve wasted 45 minutes of intense effort.”

    What I didn’t state in the article, is that I very rarely play Black Vienna anymore precisely because of this issue. It’s absolutely fantastic when it’s played without errors but this happens only about half the time.

    I think a computer-moderated version would be ideal. Playing over a long period? I think this would IMPROVE the game. Removing the pressure to play quickly allows you to devote as much effort as you like to long chains of logic. I’d love to play a game that had a turn-a-day rate of play.

  • Hi Greg. Good to see you haven’t vanished from the net completely.

    I was trying to say that you didn’t seem to mind it as much as me, but I could have expressed it far better.

    A PBW moderator would certainly be a nice experiment. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a difficult coding project either – it’s not as if there would be much of a GUI required after all. Sounds like a job for the “lazyweb”:

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