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ComparisonOfEditions

Comparison of Piecepack Editions

Originally a message on the piecepack mailing list from December 2001:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/piecepack/message/169

Added to the wiki and expanded by RonHaleEvans December 2003, then greatly expanded by RonHaleEvans and Mark A. Biggar in January 2004.

It is interesting to read the Designer Notes for the MesomorphGames products.

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Comparison of First and Second Edition Mesomorph Piecepacks

I own a first edition piecepack from MesomorphGames, as well as a second edition from the same company. I have seen and handled both extensively, so I feel I have some basis for a comparison of the editions. However, remember that MesomorphGames piecepacks are handmade in small production runs, so your mileage may vary.

There seems to be a common misconception that the only difference between the first and second editions of the piecepack is the rulebook, which has more games in the second edition. This is not the case. Here are the main differences:

  1. The art. Because of copyright issues with the artist for the piecepack icons in the first edition, MesomorphGames decided to design their own art for the second edition. To my mind, this is a happy change. The old art, which came from rubber stamps, was old-fashioned and syrupy (a smiling, cherubic Sun on the Ace, that sort of thing). The new art is much cleaner, more abstract, and ultimately more attractive, in my opinion. It also seems to be silkscreened on rather than rubber-stamped on, making for a more professional appearance. If you have a second edition rulebook but no other second edition components, you can see what the icons look like on the cover of the book.
  2. The texture. The first edition was somewhat over-varnished, leading to a sticky, "goopy" texture, especially on the tiles, but also on the coins. The new set has just the right amount of varnish, and a smooth, sanded feel that is very pleasant.
  3. Colour-bleeding. This is crucial. In my first-edition set, the over-varnishing and rubber-stamping led to some bleeding of the suit colours from the suit side of the coins to the number side, making it apparent what suit a coin was even when the number side was face-up. The effect is subtle in most cases, but if you were playing piecepack games for money, you wouldn't want to use my first-edition set; it would be like playing with marked cards. Fortunately, this effect is completely absent in my second-edition set.
  4. The box. The first-edition box is a plastic box evidently designed to hold baseball cards. It is hard and has sharp edges, but is very compact. Some people complained that it is too small to contain all the pieces. With some practice, I can actually fit all my piecepack components into it. MesomorphGames promised the second-edition box would be easier to fit the components into, but it's still somewhat tricky. In any case, the second edition box is wider, taller, flatter, and generally more attractive, with coloured labels on both front and back. It is made of cardboard, so you will not bark your hands on this box, as you might with the first edition.

Overall, the second edition is a big improvement over the first. But don't feel you got a bad bargain if you have a first edition. You can use a first edition with a second edition without confusing the pieces, and the first edition may be worth a nice sum down the road; can you imagine owning a copy of the first deck of cards?

I will update this page as Mesomorph officially releases new piecepack editions.

Disclaimer: Although I feel I have gotten to know the folks at MesomorphGames somewhat through extensive email correspondence, this is an independent, unpaid evaluation.

--RonHaleEvans

Mesomorph Third Edition, Four Seasons Expansion, and Playing Cards Expansion

This review is a combination and expansion of two posts on the piecepack mailing list in January 2004, one by Mark A. Biggar, and one by RonHaleEvans:

You can see images of these products and order your own at the Mesomorph Games Piecepack page.

The Third Edition

The MesomorphGames Third Edition Piecepack comes with the same suits, icons, and graphics as the Second Edition. However, there are several new features:

  1. Non-yellowing finish: The Third Edition finish is much nicer than the Second Edition finish, with a silvery sheen and a much smoother feel. For flicking games, the coins seem to slide better than the old finish. The tiles seem to slide a lot better too.

    The Second Edition finish is not bad, however. A week or two before they got their Third Edition, Ron and Marty Hale-Evans were examining their two-year-old Second Edition piecepack, and exclaiming how beautifully it had aged through repeated handling and the natural golden colouring of the varnish. In 2105, when this edition is a genuine antique, The 3V Antiques Road Show will be chiding our heirs for refinishing their piecepacks and removing the fine patina.
  2. Packaging: The Third Edition comes in a white VHS cassette case with a cover that folds and locks shut, so you shouldn't need to use rubber bands to hold your piecepack box together any more. It's a bit tricky to fit all of the components into the box and snap it shut, but MesomorphGames is considering putting a photo of how they fit the components before they ship on their website. In any case, Ron has seen several of these cases, and some close more easily than others, so your mileage may vary greatly.

    Mark has found that packing a piecepack set in one of the new video boxes is easy: with the box open with the hinge away from you, stack the tiles in six stacks of four against the lower left corner, the dice and pawns (lying flat) fit in the gap to the right, lean the pawn saucers on edge against the tiles along the hinge side, then just dump in the coins on top of the dice and pawns. The case should now close easily.
  3. CD-ROM: This is one of those mini-CDs, about three inches (instead of five) in diameter. (Most computers can read these, either via a spindle or via a 3" indentation in the CD tray. If you have a slot-loading iMac, though, you may be out of luck.) The CDs contain lots of goodies, including the rules for all the games published at Piecepack.org at the time of the CD's release, indexed in several ways: by author, by equipment needed, by number of players (with game durations listed), etc. The files are all linked together via HTML files on the CD, so it's almost a portable mini-website. This works well for Mac and MS-Windows, but not so well for GNU/Linux, which uses case-sensitive filenames, so some of the links are broken. Ron solved this by copying the whole CD to his hard drive and creating symbolic links (alias "aliases" in the Mac world or "shortcuts" in MS-Windows) with the right names. As for the rules, they come in a few formats:
  1. Pawn saucers: These are MesomorphGames' highly ingenious way to make pawns directional without conflict with the standard piecepack specification. (Ron had an "aha!" moment when he first saw them.) They're a little wider than the coins, with a slightly curved bottom that has a flat spot allowing the saucers to sit stably. There is a rim on top about 2 mm high with a flat-bottomed well that the pawn fits in loosely. To move a pawn with a saucer, you must either pick it up by the saucer or slide them both along the surface. There is a directional tick mark on the saucer's rim. Pawn saucers can also be used as standalone piecepack components. It will be interesting to see what people make of these.

MesomorphGames has decided to discontinued publishing a printed rulebook with all the rules from the CD. Ron would still like to buy one, but producing a printed rulebook is very time- and labor-intensive for Mesomorph, with the over 100 games now available. Perhaps they could consider CafePress as a publisher. All it would take is a periodic upload of the big printable PDF when new rules are added. For what it's worth, Seattle Cosmic's experience with them has been mostly positive.

Update from MG: While the CD-ROM does have all the games listed at www.piecepack.org and a lot of new features (more added as time passes), as of January 2004 the CD-ROM no longer contains the massive compilation of all the rulesets numbered 1 through 500+ pages - this document became too cumbersome to work with so it was discontinued - we expect to have something new related to the rule sets sometime in 2004. (The same CD-ROM ships will all MG sets and when purchased separately - they are burned to order so always up-to-date (unless you get a free copy at conventions!) --MesomorphGames

The Four Seasons Expansion

The FourSeasonsExpansion adds four new suits to the piecepack: Spring (light blue flower), Summer (purple fish), Fall (orange leaf), and Winter (white snowflake). This expansion can be added to a standard MesomorphGames piecepack to create an eight-suited piecepack, or can be used on its own, because it includes all standard components for the four new suits (tiles, coins, dice, pawns, and now pawn saucers). Apart from the different suits, it is identical to the Third Edition described above, including VHS cassette case, CD-ROM, non-yellowing finish, etc.

The production values are up to the usual high MesomorphGames standards. The suits are beautiful (Mark especially likes the leaf and flower). The white ink for the snowflake suit is a little hard to see in poor light. (The white is painted against bare wood, not against a coloured background, as on the cover of the box.) The use of a purple fish for Summer is somewhat counterintuitive, but leaves were already taken for Fall, and of course Suns are one of the original four suits. It's no big deal, though; most water sports (get your mind out of the gutter, or at least start looking at the stars) happen in the summertime, which is how Ron remembers the correspondence. MesomorphGames says the fish is the aspect of the Four Seasons Expansion that has received the most comment. Ron's prediction is that apart from seasonally-themed games (TimeMarchesOn 2, anyone?), people will probably end up referring to these suits as Flowers, Fish, Leaves, and Snowflakes anyway.

The dots on Ron's pawn saucers came out a little darker than the colours used on the tiles. The orange dot looks almost red, and the light blue dot looks almost green. Of course, unless you are using the pawn saucers as independent components, you might as well stick the purple saucer under the orange pawn and vice versa for all that it matters, as the pawns completely cover the dots when they are in the saucers, so it's not a significant problem.

The Playing Cards Expansion

The PlayingCardsExpansion adds another four suits to the piecepack: the suits from a standard deck of playing cards (Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades). The Hearts and Diamonds are red, while the Spades and Clubs are black, making this the first two-color expansion for the piecepack. Half of the pawns and saucers have a white dot on them to make them unique (distinguishable by suit as well as color), but there is no suggested association between the marked pawns and any of the suits. Mark suggests that the unmarked pawns be associated with the "Major" suits: Spades and Hearts.

Everything we said about the FourSeasonsExpansion applies here: it's usable as an expansion or as a standalone item; it has the same packaging and extras; and it has the same high production values.

Ron was initially looking forward to the FourSeasonsExpansion more, but now it seems to him that the Playing Cards expansion might offer more possibilities. Until now, color and suit were always the same in the piecepack. It would have been pointless to say (in a Poker-like game, for example), "Red Aces are wild" because Red = Suns and Suns = Red, yea until the end of the aeon. If you are using just the Playing Cards Expansion, however, Red can mean either Hearts or Diamonds, just as with a normal deck of playing cards. If you add the PlayingCardsExpansion to the standard piecepack, Red can mean one of three different suits. Most exciting is the possibility of adding the PlayingCardsExpansion to the standard piecepack, then removing Crowns and Arms. That would leave only three Red suits (Suns, Hearts, Diamonds) and three Black suits (Moons, Spades, Clubs). In this scenario, not only would there be an extra "dimension" (colour as well as suit), but there would be six suits to match the six values of piecepack coins, tiles, and dice, and two of the six suits are "special" (Suns and Moons), just as two of the six values are (nulls and aces). Ron calls this set of components a SixPack.

These mathematical features seem to throw open the door to new game designs. It was the "tightness", the integrity of the piecepack that was one of the main things that attracted Ron to it in the first place. This set of components seems to hold mathematical promise too, not to mention the LudicSynergy aspect: combining this expansion with a standard deck of cards. Mark is already working on a Rummikub-like game (PackKub) and a card-like solitaire, using the playing card suits.

Integration of a standard deck of cards with the piecepack favors playing several GreenBoxOfGames? games, because that game system has generic tiles, too; but natively incorporates a deck of cards with three different attributes (value, symbol and color), though in most games only value and symbol are used.


One each of the red and black pawns is marked with a white dot. Mark is thinking about marking the other two pawns as well, with a red dot on the black pawn and a black dot on the red one, so that the six red and black pawns from the PlayingCardsExpansion and the standard set are all distinguishable. The PlayingCardsExpansion saucers are distinguished in the same way as the pawns, so Mark is thinking of making the same "upgrade" to them. Mesomorph may want to consider something similar for future sets, although this problem is somewhat alleviated by the existence of the pawn saucers.

Conclusion

The Third Edition and the two expansions are both highly recommended. The high production values of all three sets should really be taken as real. This is MesomorphGames we're talking about here, not the Fred Bloggs Nocturnal Aviation Piecepack Co.. MesomorphGames has been producing piecepacks for years (Ron's first edition piecepack is dated June 2001), and continually, incrementally improving their production process (and customer service) in all that time.

The two expansion sets as well as the pawn saucers are going to make for some interesting games. Let's get cracking, people! :)

Disclaimer: Although we really like the folks at MesomorphGames personally, this is an independent, unpaid evaluation. Ron received a "comp" review copy of the two expansions; this is standard practice for game reviews.

Piecepack Expanded

I have a Piecepack Expanded set produced by Icepack games and this is my impression of it compared to the MesomorphGames sets.

Icepack Games sells piecepack sets in two sizes, the IPG basic a standard four suit set and IPG Expanded an eight suit set. They also sell IPG Extra which adds a large set of extra components including a ninth suit. I purchased a IPG Expanded set along with the IPG Extra set. For a picture see the Piecepack Expanded page.

Components list:

black -- moons (IPG Basic)
blue -- arms (IPG Basic)
gold -- stars (IPG Extra)
green -- clubs (IPG Expanded)
orange -- hearts (IPG Expanded)
purple -- spades (IPG Expanded)
red -- suns (IPG Basic)
white -- diamonds (IPG Expanded)
yellow -- crowns (IPG Basic)

The tiles, coins, pawns and dice are all wood. The tiles are the same 2"x2" dimensions as the Mesomorph tiles, but are slightly thinner. The coins are exactly the same size and thickness as those from a Mesomorph set. All the art is applied using thin clear plastic-film stickers that are printed using a color laser printer. The characters used for values are done in a high-tech looking angular font. A capital "A" is used for the ace symbol on both the coins and tiles. The grid side of the tiles is a black and white checker board pattern. The arms suit is represented by a shield symbol instead of a fleur-de-lis symbol. Some of the dice use negative space art work with the faces a solid color with the value a transparent section showing the wood.

The two joker tiles have same grid side as the other tiles with the Icepack games "Atom" logo in the center on the face surrounded by four suit symbols: the basic suits on one and the traditional card suits on the other. For the three suit dice: one has ace, null and the four basic suits, the second has ace, null and the four card suits and the third has a star, null and paired suits symbols (spade & sun, heart & moon, club & crown and diamond & shield). The barrel pawns are uncolored wooden cylinders with suit symbol and directional pip on one end and an ace symbol and pip on the other. IPG cash is paper funny money, 1.25"x3" in nine denominations (1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 & 5000) with colors and symbols matching the nine suits. You get 50 of each bill. The IPG card deck has 56 cards corresponding to the 56 tiles including the 2 jokers. The pyramids are just slightly tweaked versions of Tim Schutz pyramids printed on card stock; you must cut-out and assemble them yourself. The draw-string bag is sturdy light-blue cotton and is ample to hold all the above components.

This is a well made piecepack set with some very interesting extra additions. But I do have some problems with it:

    1. It doesn't slide very well, so the coins do not work as well for flicking games. 2. If it gets over heated (such as leaving your set in a car on a hot day) the stickers will heat blister and stick together.

I personally had no problems or delays with my order from Icepack games.

-- Mark A. Biggar

However, it is worth noting that numerous other customers of Icepack Games have reported problems with their customer service; for case histories, visit the piecepack mailing list and search for "icepack".

--RonHaleEvans

I purchased an Icepack Piecepack Expanded, the Extras and a JCDpiecepack from Icepack Games. It took about four weeks for the whole package to arrive. It wasn't next-day service, but I think it was completely reasonable and in-line with other things I've ordered from the internet, and I would order from them again in the future. -- ClarkRodeffer

At least three people have complained recently about not recieving product on the Piecepack mailing list, and the BBB has them listed as "unsatisfactory", which means at least one person has a substantiated claim of non-performance against them.

It should also be noted that as of today (September 6), Icepack Games' website appears 404-compliant, and that they have been complaining on their LiveJournal about their PayPal? account being locked. Makes one wonder.

JCDpiecepack

The JcdPiecepack is a set created by JonathanDietrich and is made available as a downloadable set of PDFs at the Piecepack Yahoo file area . The set can be downloaded, printed onto transparent sticker paper, and applied to readily available wooden bits. As well, the set is currently available for purchase through BluePanther games.

Components list:

8 suits (Suns, Moons, Crowns, Anchors, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs)

Notes: The JcdPiecepack is designed to be printed from a black and white printer, therefore all of the suits are are either dark or light.

Light: suns, crowns, hearts, diamonds
Dark: moons, anchors, spades, clubs

This feature means that there is no problems for colour blind individuals. All pieces rely on suit symbols for identification. Aces are marked with the swirly consistently through out the entire set. All sides of the dice show the value and the suit. The backsides of the tiles have an alternating black and white check (though this may change in the future as it suffers from the same shortfalls listed above for the Piecepack Extended set) Use of Anchors instead of a Fleur-de-lis means that it can integrate easily with an Empire deck of cards.

(The above is meant as info not as a review. Comments about the set and methods of producing it are, of course, welcome.) -- JonathanDietrich (creator of the JCDpiecepack)

The JcdPiecepack artwork has been used to create the VassalModule, an on-line version of piecepack for use with the vassal engine.

Ramalamas piecepack

This is a laser etched set that JorgeArroyo produced from Spain a while ago. It has its own design which now is freely available for download from The Internet Archive. A video review of this set was done by Tom Vasel.