$10.00

Recommend
21 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Game Together :: On streamlining and replacements

Damon Asher
United States
Jefferson
MA
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
I have been contemplating a few recent instances of streamlined alternatives to popular games being declared “replacements” for their predecessors. As examples, I point to Eldritch Horror vs. the venerable Arkham Horror, and Nations vs. the BGG #2 game Through the Ages.

People enjoy boardgames for different reasons, and I find the streamlining=replacement situation interesting because it really put this into sharp relief in a way I had not previously considered. I think this can be broken down into a preference for what a game does versus how it does it. It seems to me that when a person says that Eldritch Horror (or in the extreme case, Elder Sign) replaces Arkham Horror, he is mainly seeking a game that lets him fight against the entry of unspeakable horrors into our world. Similarly, a person who replaces Through the Ages with Nations wants to micromanage a civilization over the centuries, but do it with a minimum of fuss. People with this view appear to be primarily interested on getting to a certain thematic place in the most efficient mechanistic possible.

I and people like me, on the other hand, enjoy Arkham Horror because of all the little intricacies, such as struggling to find a way around a mass of unbeatable monsters, or trying to make a few bucks to buy a decent gun in the midst of paranormal disaster. I can also enjoy Eldritch Horror, but I see it as a different beast even though it shares a theme, and appreciate its distinct set of gameplay elements as a separate thing. I love Through the Ages because of its crunch, and a game without those myriad interlocking elements could not possibly replace it for me. I guess like having to wrestle with game complexities (within limits, of course). For me, it is the mechanistic journey, not the thematic destination.

I found myself considering this issue because my immediate thought when you say “I love Through the Ages, but Nations is streamlined so I’m replacing it with that,” was that you didn’t really love Through the Ages in the first place. This really hit me last year when I heard of people “replacing” Arkham Horror with Elder Sign. To my mind, those games share nothing in common but the profuse depiction of tentacles. But then I realized that the issue might just be that others place priority on different parts of the gaming experience than I do. What I love about Through the Ages are the game mechanisms, and the theme is just a tool to give a framework and interesting purpose to them. However, I now consider that others could love the game because it lets them feel like they are building a long-lived civilization and for them the mechanisms exist mainly to support and drive that narrative.

While I appreciate a well-executed theme, I generally value the intrinsic attributes of a game’s mechanisms above all else. For me, it makes sense that I can enjoy both TtA and Nations or AH and EH without one replacing the other, because in my mind, they are distinct due to their different gameplay elements. Big brother and little brother can coexist happily on my shelf. I do often replace one game with another, but that generally happens for me when my thought processes during a game feel similar, even if the two games in question have wildly different themes and frameworks. However, others come at it from another angle in a way I think I can now appreciate. Gaming can bring people together enjoy a common experience even though they may be getting pleasure different aspects of it. Some like the sizzle, and some like the steak, but it’s all good.
Twitter Facebook
13 Comments
Sun Jan 12, 2014 2:26 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
33 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Game Together :: Amerigo or no go?

Damon Asher
United States
Jefferson
MA
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
I recently watched a playthrough of Feld’s Amerigo. I am tempted, and trying to decide whether to go for this one. I am feeling a little burned by Rialto recently, but then again, I ended up liking Trajan more than expected. Amerigo was up on Kickstarter, but it didn’t attract me much there because Queen didn’t have the rulebook available, and what the hell is Queen Games doing using Kickstarter anyway? At least they didn’t make the Stretch Goals “Kickstarter Exclusives.” I hate that.

ANYWAYS, after watching Rhado’s Runthrough I think I have a handle on the game now. Amerigo is so incredibly Feldian that it inspires me to wax prosetic on the elements that characterize many of his games. Amerigo is clearly a mash-up of his favorite mechanisms.

d10-1Semi-random limitation of player actions. This is definitely a hallmark of Feld designs, and he is continually exploring interesting new ways to force the player to adapt their plans turn to turn. I don’t particularly enjoy it when every choice is available to me throughout a game, because then I wonder what is to stop me from just doing the same thing every time. For example, Kingsburg and Kemet suffer from this in my opinion. I greatly prefer it when there are varying setups and I am given new sets of options as the game progresses so that I need to continually adapt my strategy. Dominion with its random assortment of kingdom cards each game is a nice minimalist example of giving you a unique starting point each game.

Feld has many variations action selection/limitations, having used card drafting (Notre Dame), random selection of groups of potential actions (Rialto), a mancala (Trajan), positional card selection (Builder’s Duel), and numerous ways of using dice (Castles of Burgundy, Macao, Bora Bora, Roma). When this works well, I love it, because it provides a constant string of crunchy agonizing choices to make (Notre Dame, Castles of Burgundy, Trajan). However, just as often the result feels too constraining, and I feel frustrated rather than challenged (Macao, Rialto, Builder’s Duel). In fact, I think that this balance between posing interesting tactical choices and making me feel handcuffed is the single most important thing that distinguishes my “Yay!” from my “Meh” Feld games.

Amerigo leverages perhaps the most magnificent randomization tool known to man, the Shogun CUBE TOWER! The tower is interesting because it gives you a semi-predictable result, and also has a memory so that what it takes away at one time it will likely give back at another. The question is whether Amerigo utilizes this star performer in a compelling way. From watching the playthrough, I think it does, but I also thought Rialto looked fun until I played it.

d10-2Point salad (yummy yummy). Most Felds offer many ways to score points, with the trick being to utilize your available actions to access the points most efficiently. This element is common to most Feld games to varying degrees, and I think it exists mainly to give the action-limitation systems an interesting application. At first blush, I thought that Trajan went overboard with all its different mini-games, but once I played it, was pleased to find it all hung together very well. Luna on the other hand, is nigh incomprehensible, and I say that after winning my first play of the game. For a non-Feld example of point salad gone amuck, I would point to Egizia, which I think has a brilliant central worker placement mechanism utterly spoiled by a complete clusterf*ck of scoring schemes.

The various elements of Amerigo appear to be better integrated, with some nice choices between going for technology improvements, area control, point multipliers, and completion of scoring areas.

d10-3Random selection of goodies on offer over a series of rounds. a la Castles of Burgundy, Speicherstadt, Trajan. This appears to be used to good effect in Amerigo, as it creates tough choices when that tile you need is available for a limited time only.

d10-4Battle for turn order. Not much to say here except that Amerigo also engages in the Feldian Feldiness of making turn order a major point of contention (see Macao, Castles of Burgundy, Luna, Rialto)

d10-5Impending doom. Yes! I really enjoy when players must pay attention to defending against a building game-driven threat. I first encountered this from Feld in Notre Dame, where you can choose to ignore the rat threat and still have a chance of winning, but you had better really know what you are doing. I think that’s a perfect balance. He also employs this element in Bruges and the delicious In the Year of the Dragon, with the latter making this onslaught of misery the central focus of the game.

Some Feld games also keep the tension building into the endgame by making it difficult to complete everything you want to by the end of the last round (Notre Dame, Trajan, Speicherstadt), forcing you to be moderate in your plans lest you leave things unfinished. However, some other Feld games are not so well paced and fail to climax at the end of the game (Macao, Roma).

Amerigo appears to posses both external onslaught (pirates) and endgame tension (the need to complete building areas for maximum points), so I am hopeful on this front.

caravan
In many ways, Feld reminds me of Knizia. Both designers have a stable of elements they like to mix in various ways to produce new games. Where they differ is that Knizia games tend to focus on a single mechanism and derive interest from a simple but clever scoring scheme. Feld games also tend to hinge on a central mechanism, but opt for the approach of giving you lots of entirely different things to do with it and ways to score that may or may not interrelate. The trap that Knizia fell into over time is that he seems to have thoroughly exhausted all his favorite mechanisms, and now spends his time rehashing them into lighter and lighter games. I consider many Knizia games to be masterpieces, but can’t name an impressive one from recent years. Feld is still on the upswing, but I think he is going to have to start injecting some new concepts if he’s going to continue to thrive.

But in the meantime, AMERIGO. I am temped, as it appears to have the makings of Feldian excellence. I like the combination of upgrades, point multipliers, and board positioning. In this sense it reminds me most of Trajan, which I am finding very fulfilling. And did I mention, CUBE TOWER? However, I have also learned that I have a hard time prejudging how Feld games will hit me.

Who am I kidding, I can always trade it away.....
Twitter Facebook
12 Comments
Thu Nov 14, 2013 1:55 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Game Together :: Sparks & Deal-Breakers, Part 0: Keeping the game collection healthy

Damon Asher
United States
Jefferson
MA
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
I, like many of you, am taking a hard look at my collection these days. Also, like many of you, while I have a sizable collection, I am not a game collector. These games are here to be PLAYED, and each and every one of them needs to be one that I want to play.

I do love to look at these shelves though, because each game that my eyes fall upon excites something in me. When I look at a game I have decided to make part of my collection, it stirs something in me that makes me glad to have it. A game that I don’t enjoy, or has something glaring that I dislike about it, has to go, as it stands out like a rotting banana peel in the middle of my otherwise delicious dinner plate. Moreover, I am at the point where a game that is just "meh" is just as bad. When I have so many games that I LOVE competing for my time, anything just okay is unacceptable.

As I consider the games in my collection, I realize that for each one, the element that makes me like that game immediately springs to mind. The many common elements shared across games fade into the background, and that unique element is what pops out at me. I call this the SPARK. Each and every game that I keep has to have a spark to it. The stronger that spark, the higher I tend to rate the game.

These sparks tend to be game mechanisms that I find particularly, fun, interesting, or unique. When I think about the sparks, I realize that theme is not that important to me as a spark; it is generally the mechanisms that get me excited; the things you DO in the game and the ways you interact with your fellow players. If a game has multiple strong sparks, well, now we are talking 9-10 rating. Thinking about playing these games gives me a feeling in my gut like when I am about to watch a favorite scene from a favorite movie, or my wife is about to come out of the shower. Well, maybe not as good as that last thing. It is these sparks that give me a passion for these games and fuel my desire to share this experience with others.


On the other side of the coin, we have the things that turn me off from a game. I call these the DEAL-BREAKERS. I have found that deal-breakers generally supersede sparks for me. With so many games that do not have these distasteful blemishes, it is hard to justify putting up with a game element that annoys me.

I am experiencing more deal-breakers now than I used to thanks to my recent involvement with some excellent gaming groups. I used to play mainly with friends and family, meaning I always brought the games, and I tend to like the games I buy because I research them before purchase. Being in a group with other gamers has given me a chance to try some of their games that I was not initially inspired to buy myself. I have found a lot of games that I unexpectedly love by this route, but I have also found some that I unexpected don’t care for. Sometimes I am the only one who doesn’t like the game, and that has given me occasion to consider why that is. These games obviously have good to great things about them, which even I can recognize, but there’s just something that turns me off so much that it overrides the good. These are the deal-breakers.

Like the sparks, I have found that when I think about games that I don’t enjoy, usually the deal-breaker is what jumps out, kinda like an anti-spark. Sometimes the fact that a game is just "meh" is the deal-breaker, but often there is some specific element. Unlike sparks, I have found that the deal-breakers are less likely to be game mechanisms. While I said above that theme is rarely a spark for me, it is more often a deal-breaker. If the theme of a game just sucks or is utterly bleh then that can pull me right out of the experience. Component, design, or artistic issues can be deal-breakers. Fiddliness of rules or overly complex scoring systems are also common deal-breakers.

Just writing this now, I realize that the deal-breakers are things that pull me out of the game experience. It’s like seeing a mike boom in the middle of an intense movie scene. If I become acutely aware that "I am going through the process of playing game now" that kills the experience for me. A good game experience is like a massage for your brain, but these deal-breakers are like a stick in the ear and ruin me getting into that groove. The game needs to get out of the way so we can PLAY it rather than work through it. This isn’t an Ameritrash vs. Euro issue. Even the most procedural Euro can be immersive if it is well constructed, and I find that my favorites are entirely engrossing.

As my personal sonnet to this hobby, I am beginning a process of going through my ratings comments and putting into words the spark or deal-breaker. I think this will be useful as I periodically re-evaluate my collection in the face of new games and decide if that spark is still there or if it outshines the new hotness that tempts me. I also expect that I will fail to find the spark for some, and those will be brutally culled!

Over the next series of blog entries, I am going to list some of these sparks and deal-breakers and see what you all think. I look forward to some good discussions!
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Fri Mar 18, 2011 4:54 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Game Together :: Pet peeves

Damon Asher
United States
Jefferson
MA
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
OK, I recently realized that I have a geek pet peeve: thin cardboard counters in otherwise good production value games from publishers that should know better. Thin counters or tiles bug me far more than unmounted boards; you don't have to pick up and handle the boards as you play. On the list of thin-counter shame:

Hollywood Blockbuster (RIP Uberplay)
Notre Dame
Macao (come on Alea! This is the freakin' Big Box line, step it up!)

These are the ones that come immediately to mind, but I'm sure I'll add more as I come across them again.

Peeve number 2: unpainted miniatures. I am no painter, and I have a hard time distinguishing gray minis from one another on the board. What I usually do is color the base of each mini with a different colored Sharpie so I can tell them apart easily. I would much rather have a cardboard stand-up with nice art than an unpainted miniature. I'm not talking about dudes-on-a-map style wargames. There minis of different colors for each army are fine (unless there are factions within that army that should be different colors, WAR OF THE RING!). I mean games like Runebound where you have a single pawn that you need to pick out from all the other gray pawns on the board.

Fantasy Flight is a big offender here. Come on, can't we at least make each player pawn a different color? At least dip the bases? On the other hand, FFG also demonstrates the model I like the best with Arkham Horror: stand-ups in the game with the option to purchase painted minis separately. That's the way to do it! I'll invest in those bad boys if I love the game. So bravo FFG! And also BOOOO!

On a related note, if you're going to go with stand-ups, provide one stand for each stand-up. Do not make me destroy the stand-up bottoms by squeezing different ones into too few bases each game. Also, make sure that the bases actually hold the cardboard. I am surprised that Z-Man Games gave us those utterly useless bases with Magical Athlete. I can't remember right now if they did the right thing and at least provide one base per character, because I had to swap in some other stands I had. In any case, so close, yet so far!
Twitter Facebook
15 Comments
Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:30 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.