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Encounters with computer scientists and tabletop games, or something like that

Topics/tags: Games, rambly

The other day, Eldest, Youngest, and I decided to play The Great Dalmuti, which is one of our family’s favorite games [1]. Because it’s my children, they realized that we never had to switch seats; we could just switch the direction in which we played [2]. Then Michelle [3] joined us. My kids then determined that we never had to have more than two people switch seats, as long as we were comfortable having The Great Dalmuti switch seats.

Anyway, that got me to thinking about when and how I first learned the game.

Way back in 2009, SIGCSE was in Chattanooga, Tennessee [4]. I’d driven down with my research assistant and a student. The primary conference hotel, or at least the hotel I was staying at, took advantage of the weather and had the entrances to the rooms on the outside. That is, in going to your room, you’d walk through a courtyard, by a train.

On the first or second night, I was walking back to my room at about 10 p.m. and encountered Steve Wolfman, the SIGCSE 2009 Program Chair. Steve said, Hey Sam, I got this great new game. Want to play? I replied, Steve, it’s late. I’d rather go to bed. Steve then said, But I hear it’s a great game. And look, it says here that it only takes ten minutes. Now, you can’t really say no to the Program Chair, can you? So I said Yes and we wandered over to the hotel bar [6] to read the rules. We gathered a few other people along the way.

Two hours later, we finally finished reading the rules [7] to Space Alert. And Steve was right. At that point, it only took ten minutes. That encounter started years of playing games with Steve at SIGCSE. I recall playing Bunny Bunny Moose Moose on the executive floor one year [8] and learning about Codenames in the lobby of a hotel in Memphis [9,10]. A few years ago, in Kansas City, I believe, a colleague introduced us to his game about fire dancing. I also have fond memories of playing games in the Student Volunteer room in Atlanta [11]. Two or three years ago, SIGCSE decided to have an official Tabletop Game area [12].

In any case, the next few nights, the hotel bar became a place for people to play games. On the second night, computer science legend Eric S. Roberts showed up and taught us The Great Dalmuti. I recall him saying something like This is a great game that went out of print for a while, but now it’s back in print. He was right; it’s a great game. The rules are relatively simple. The strategy is more complex. You can play for five minutes, or for five hours [14]. Plus, it reveals important societal concepts. It’s been part of the Rebelsky repertoire ever since, or at least once I found a copy.

So, how do you play The Great Dalmuti? Perhaps that’s a subject for a subsequent musing [15].

[1] Don’t worry, if you don’t know The Great Dalmuti, I’ll explain it later.

[2] That will make sense when you understand the rules.

[3] I’m not sure why I’m comfortable describing my three children as Eldest, Middle, and Youngest, but I feel like I should write Michelle rather than Wife.

[4] Did I spell that right? Let’s see .. Tee ee en en ee ess ess eye pea pea eye, or something like that [5].

[5] If that didn’t make sense, you probably never learned the rhythm of spelling Mississippi, or you are not a northerner, or something like that.

[6] Always a good place to play games.

[7] No, that’s not an exaggeration.

[8] In the year of the executive floor year, we also played a time travel game that a Grinnell student was in the process of designing. I think he abandoned it, but it had the potential to be a great game.

[9] I’m pretty sure that Steve buys games from publishers other than Czech Games Editions. But those are three highlights. Speaking of CGE, my family also likes Dungeon Lords and Alchemists.

[10] In playing Codenames, I learned that Eric S. Roberts understands deep game strategy much more quickly than I ever will.

[11] At least I think it was Atlanta.

[12] I had regularly suggested it to the Conference Chairs. I’m not sure if I had any impact, but I like to pretend that I did.

[14] That is not an exaggeration. Eldest, Youngest, and I started playing at about noon yesterday. After Michelle and Middle joined us, we finished at about 5 p.m.

[15] Did I say that I’d cover the rules later in the musing? I’m pretty sure that I just wrote later. Another musing is later. And I’ll post it with this musing [16].

[16] Why not keep them together? It felt better to separate the storytelling from the

Version 1.0 of 2019-12-22.