Mnmlst Gmr

Just because I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I have nothing to say.

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Why My Unplayed and Unloved Games Were Also Unhealthy

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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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Note: this post began life as a reply to one of Patrick Carroll's recent blog posts, but it soon spiraled out of control, and rather than dump a few hundred words into a reply there (I broke up with Brevity a long time ago), I thought I'd place it here instead. Specifically, it was riffing on this:

Patrick Carroll wrote:
I guess it's a sort of feng-shui thing with me. A cluttered room feels like a cluttered mind, and those unplayed games stand as daily reminders that something is amiss in my life. I don't think they're telling me to get rich and retire so I can play games all day every day. I think they're saying, "Why did you buy me, and what are you getting out of owning me?"
That said, I modified the wording of my post/reply here hoping that the "you" is not read as "Patrick." It was never directly addressing him.

--

There's some evidence that suggests when you have something on your To Do list (and it can be anything from "paint the shed" to "trim toenails" to "prepare presentation for project status meeting") your brain just logs it as a thing to be done (i.e., a "project"), and it's given equal status as everything else. In other words, your brain doesn't know or care that there's a hierarchy to the unfinished things on your To Do list (you have to do that work consciously), and it simply treats them all equally. Deliberately keeping 85 unplayed games on hand would then be identical, mentally, to having 85 presentations to prepare. Ditto unread books. The more unread books, unplayed games, unwatched things on your TiVo, unpaid bills, unfinished blog posts, etc that you have, the more stress is created by the mere presence of something unfinished in your life that your brain knows about.

The coolest thing about that idea is that gaming is supposed to be a relaxing, fun, enjoyable hobby, except if the above is true, that means there's an excellent chance the hobby actually introduces more stress into your life than it alleviates. I think about that every time I'm tempted to make a detailed, long-term plan for a hobby that involves more than one step. I'm also reminded of the Schopenhauer quotation "Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents."

I do not have a definitive answer or position on any of the points raised here. I just like thinking about them. I suspect there's more truth here than non-truth, though, at least in my N of 1 experimenting. The easiest way to clean up my mental clutter has been to not encourage mental clutter in the first place. I try very hard to not keep unread books around (at one point, I had more than two years of reading in my house, assuming I was able to read 200 pages a day) and I try hard not to keep unplayed games around (I think I have 6 at the moment). It is a lot easier to get rid of games and books than you might think, and after you've gotten rid of them, they no longer compete for your attention; sitting in a room surrounded by your unplayed games is different than sitting in a room surrounded by the games you like and actually play. Performing this task also makes it easier to not acquire the games to begin with; I highly recommend Product Abstinence as a policy.

(I've even given some thought to zeroing out my Previously Owned list here. Unless I deliberately consult that list, I couldn't recall everything I've gotten rid of anyway, and I'm not sure what the purpose of that record-keeping is except to allow for regret at a later date; I certainly have no practical use for the information.)

Most people think they have above-average control over their impulses and faculties ("I can lose weight anytime I want," "advertising doesn't work on me," etc) but that's simply not true. We're subject to all sorts of common chemical firings and misfirings. While people might think (hope?) they exert total conscious control over themselves, the reality is that they do not, and so a huge unplayed or underplayed game collection isn't "out of sight, out of mind" at all; it chips away at you, mentally. It certainly did for me.

My commitment to a small game collection didn't happen in a vacuum, as I was overhauling a lot in my life at the time: useless kitchen gadgets, excess unread books, cable TV, unwatched DVDs; I'd never argue that merely halving a game collection by itself led to instant Buddha-like inner peace or anything. But a large (for the size of my living space) game collection was a symptom of something else, and addressing it was an important part of eliminating a source of stress that was going ignored.

It's hard to talk about the Small Game Collection without seeming elitist, or condescending, and that's not why I'm sharing this at all. Loads of users here talk about reducing their collections, wanting to get away from the Cult of the New, etc. This tells me that this is on a lot of people's minds, even if the specifics of the plan might differ (such as how many games constitutes a Small Collection, how frequently something ought to be played, etc). But in the same way that no one on their death bed says "I wish I watched more TV," no one will ever say "I should have made more plans I had neither the ability nor the desire to follow through with." I guess I'm sharing this mostly to say that clutter was not healthy for me, that it took some effort to identify what needed to go, that it got progressively easier to carry the plan out the more momentum I gained, and that the results have been truly worth it.

Ultimately, it took a while, but I eventually did learn that maybe missing out on something great is just about the emptiest threat an inanimate object can come at me with.
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Fri May 25, 2012 4:31 pm
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Converting Several Hours of Work Into Eighty Dollars, Then Into Two Games, And Then Into Zero Games

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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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One of the many reasons (besides the salad) that I love gardening is because it's a peaceful excuse to go outdoors and think. So this past weekend I'm in my garden planting some kale and lettuce. And it suddenly hit me: I'm never going to play Le Havre or Ora et Labora again. Just like that. One minute I'm shaking kale seeds into a shallow trench and the next I'm realizing that, why yes, I do find the resource conversion efforts of those games to be borderline-to-fully ludicrous.

One of my favorite quotations is from Gretchen Rubin (she of "The Happiness Project") who wrote "you can choose what you do; you can't choose what you like to do." Previously, when I'd think about those games, I'd rationalize my continuing to own them by saying "well, I just need to try them some more." It took not thinking about those games for me to realize that I do not, in fact, like those games.

I thought I did, though. So why did it take me this long to realize it? I bought them enthusiastically; what happened? Why was getting rid of Agricola never an option, but these two were on the chopping block? A few reasons, I think:

1.) I don't feel the need to have a diverse menu of worker placement/resource conversion games. I'm keeping Agricola. It offers the most replayability because... well, it's the only one I ever seem to replay. That's a pretty good test, right? I'm not much of a believer in the idea that a game can have loads of theoretical replay value despite the practical problem of you never replaying it. An additional test for me: since I'm not averse to solo gaming, both O&L and Le Havre should be pretty comfortably installed on my shelves. Both have official solo versions, and I do play Agricola solo from time to time, so there's precedent there. But if I'm not interested in playing the game solo, nor am I interested in playing it with other people, well, then, I don't even need to finish this sentence.

2.) The longer I explore this hobby, the more I realize that "multiple paths to victory" often (not always) means "memorizing/learning routes or chains the designer put into the game," and I'm just not sure I have much interest in doing that. I have been very gradually moving almost exclusively toward abstracts and economic games over the last year-plus, and in both of those cases, the designers generally polish the concepts and get out of the way. There's a dynamic, living economy in some Winsomes that's just beautiful. I don't want my opponent in Le Havre to stockpile coal, not unless I can tank the coal market to try and stop him. So as economic games go, these two games are rather... light? I don't know what word I want here. The costs are fixed, the prices never waver, the market cannot be interfered with. In a related story...

3.) ...I own Caylus, Princes of Florence and Puerto Rico and am not done exploring them yet (neither am I done with Agricola, for that matter). I simply have to thin the herd of time-consuming, infrequently-played Big Box games with non-manipulatable economies. They're not THAT different from one another. Yes, there are slight differences that may cause someone to prefer one over the other, but in the aggregate, based on how frequently I actually play(ed) them all, it provided me with a false sense of variety.

4.) I take not owning a lot of stuff very seriously. I'd like my house to stay uncluttered even as my son gets older and accumulates his own stuff. In order for that to happen, I need to get rid of stuff.

5.) Ultimately, I think I'm really starting to realize that neither game is simple enough for me. I don't mean simple in the sense of "ease to win," or "simplistic," I mean it in the sense of where "ease to learn," "ease to set up," "ease to play" and "ease to teach" all intersect. Abstracts and Winsome-ish games seem to fit my lifestyle perfectly.

6.) Chally's review of Ora et Labora is a great read, by the way, if you haven't read it.

7.) I feel no tension whatsoever in Le Havre and O&L. Tension is the number one way I know I'm invested in the outcome of my decisions. Without that, I feel like I'm watching someone else flip through channels. It is also completely subjective.

8.) I find scarcity more appealing than abundance. One reason I think I don't see a problem enjoying Agricola's non-manipulatable economy is because it's an impoverished economy.

9.) I think I felt some obligation to like them because I enjoy Agricola so much. I try hard not to be enticed by the Idea of The Whole Collection, but I really do think some of my hesitancy to admit I just didn't enjoy these games comes from the pre-formed notion that they were Rosenberg games, I liked Agricola, Agricola was a Rosenberg game, ergo: etc. I do wonder how prevalent this is.

(I feel the need now to give the throat-clearing disclaimer. Please note that I'm not saying Le Havre and O&L are objectively bad games, flawed in some way that I and I alone am able to detect and understand. I'm sure it took an enormous amount of work and playtesting to balance the many moving parts of these two games. Both rank highly here at BGG. Clearly they are well-regarded by a whole lot of people, and someone could just as easily write a list of 9 things saying the exact opposite of what I did here about why they got rid of all their Winsomes ("what? Trains again?"). I'm merely saying these games don't work for me at all, I suspect that's because of the above reasons, and I enjoy charting how things change in my thought processes and actions (that goes for games and non-games; I see nothing wrong with Changing One's Mind). In other words, the subtitle of this post is not "What's Wrong With Le Havre and Ora et Labora.")

One thing that made me (slightly) jealous of several BGG users was the highly detailed "What I Like About Games" writeups on their profile pages. I never had that, but I think I really am starting to nail that down. It's taken almost three years; I don't know how that compares to other experiences.

There are now quite a few highly-ranked games in my Previously Owned list. Notre Dame. Settlers. Dominion. Castles of Burgundy. Sid Meier's Civ. Now these two. I don't know with certainty if this represents a shift in my enthusiasm, if I'm really falling out of love with most Euro qualities, or if I'm overreacting to a phase that both I and my game group are going through at the same time. I think it represents a genuine shift in my enthusiasm, truthfully, which is conveniently a testable hypothesis. Of course, I have to wait a while to actually test it.
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Tue May 22, 2012 3:09 pm
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My Tolerance for Dumb Luck and Bad Breaks

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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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Continuing the journey of realizing what I prefer in a game, and why. One of my favorite charts (yes, I have favorite charts) is this little gem:

From gallery of rarevos


It's like a Punnett Square for success and failure. It's probably pretty self-explanatory to read, but just in case it isn't, it shows what the options are for a few combinations of process (approach) and outcome (results). When you use Good Process and you get a Good Outcome, then that's a Deserved Success. When you use Bad Process and you get a Good Outcome, then it's simply Dumb Luck. Etc. There's a bit of value judgment here ("dumb luck," "poetic justice"), but honestly, the categories could be sanitized a bit more without much problem on my end; since I don't remember where I first saw this chart, and hence I don't know what the "original" language is, I'll set the word hagglery aside.

The important thing is that, for me, this has application to my gaming preferences, particularly with longer strategic games; I feel like shorter, lighter games are subject to a different ruleset here. I play games for a lot of reasons, but high up on the list of reasons is "to learn things." Why? The world outside of me is a massive place filled with all kinds of cool stuff. I want in.

So, the chart. I derive enjoyment and satisfaction out of knowing HOW the process led to the outcome, which means that two of these are highly desirable ("Deserved Success" and "Poetic Justice"), one is less desirable but still welcomed under the right conditions ("Bad Break"), and one of these I game in order to eliminate ("Dumb Luck"). Dumb Luck can be fairly common when you are still getting to know a game, so it's often unavoidable. Someone has to win the game (I'm not including co-ops here), after all. Ultimately, though, one of my most valued pleasures from gaming comes from teasing out exactly how my performances move from Dumb Luck to Deserved Success.

I cannot understand the move from Dumb Luck to Deserved Success if either dice are involved in establishing the outcome of a decision, or if the lesson I just learned cannot ever be applied. If "good plan, but you needed to roll better after you thought it up" or "your plan totally would have worked if the cards were shuffled differently" is the lesson, then there's nothing for me to learn, to apply, to test, and to learn from. That's an insurmountable obstacle to learning. Consequently, I have no interest in Bad Breaks in a long, strategic game unless the decisions and actions of another player created it. In other words, I should not be choosing an action and making a decision and then asking permission from dice in order to put that plan in motion. In a shorter, giggly game I can put up with stuff like that; in a longer game where I want to invest in the process and outcomes of what's happening around me, it's totally unacceptable.

I simply do not know how or when I identify a game that might allow me to learn enough to start applying Good Process with any consistency. But that's part of the charm, and is one of the lessons for me. Figuring out the lesson is a wonderful lesson (like "always leave a note," or "don't teach lessons to your kids"). Once we establish a comfort zone, it's actually pretty easy to spot things that meet the criteria for inclusion in that zone. I want to learn absolute lessons ("never do X," "always do Y") relative lessons ("X might be a good idea depending on the gamestate"), and conditional lessons ("If X happened, then Y is a good idea"). That these lessons take multiple plays to see and to remember is all part of the experience; I have plenty of time. The opportunity cost of missing out on playing some other game does not concern me at all, just as it doesn't bother me that I never seem to catch all the fish in the stream when I go fishing.

Most thoughts like this have a prompt, and my prompt was reading up on Bullfrog Goldfield. I've never played it. I don't know anyone who owns it. But my understanding is that there is a great deal of randomness and luck in the way that mines get tapped out, which can have huge impacts on the end game; players who have invested in mines that close out early suffer a penalty, so you need to time your exit from those mines. But here's the thing: staying one turn too long in a mine doesn't represent bad decision-making. If you invest in a mine and it gets emptied because of a random factor, then the only way to ward against that is to break out your clairvoyance. I get the thematic connection, in that you never know exactly when a Real Life mine is going to give all it had. In a shorter game, that's probably OK (I'll gladly play Incan Gold, despite it having little to teach), but in a game lasting 3+ hours, there's just no way I want a push your luck element to exert that much control over what the players have been doing. As always, YMMV.

A common response to the presence of dice or post-decision randomness is "but Bad Breaks are an important lesson of life! You can't always get what you want!" To that, I reply that a random, expensive, and permanent medical condition at 30 is about all the Bad Break I need for one lifetime, thanks. Plus, how many times do you need to learn that? Bad Break as a persistent lesson is pretty empty education, frankly. If you want to retort with "but not all games need to teach lessons the way you want them to," I can say that you're right, and that people can enjoy those games for whatever reasons they get drawn to them, guilt-free. I just will not be joining them.

I want prior knowledge to matter. Luck-heavy games with prominent random elements don't encourage me to care about retaining prior knowledge. If there's little to no point in me paying attention to what's happening on the table, then I'd rather be doing something else with my Saturday afternoon.

There is such a thing as "acceptable randomness" in that context, though. Exactly at what point "acceptable luck" becomes "too luck-heavy" for me is a topic for another post, I'm afraid.

EDIT: made the image bigger.
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Thu Apr 26, 2012 3:50 pm
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In Praise of Slowness

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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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I like slow things. Really slow. Slow food. My personality can best be summed up as unhurried; best of luck trying to convince me that your sense of workplace urgency extends to me. One of my favorite pieces of music is Shostakovich's 15th string quartet, where for the first movement he told the musicians to "play the first movement so that flies drop dead in mid-air and the audience leaves the hall out of sheer boredom." I want slow things, and six movements marked "Adagio" or "Adagio molto" more than qualifies. Ssssslllllllllooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww.

While there are no doubt several other reasons I've never done so, my affinity for slowness is probably the main reason I have never gotten into PC implementations of board games. While some people might look on them favorably because they remove all the shuffling, restocking, tallying, and other administration of playing a board game, I tend to view them as speeding up the game to the point where I am no longer capable of getting enjoyment out of it. I partly blame the AI/PC medium itself, but online gaming has also inadvertently conspired with my dayjob as well. How? Here's what I know so far:

1.) Depending on the Interface, I can't always tell what has happened when an opponent makes a move. I have to make heavy use of the Track Changes feature in MS Word for workplace collaboration, or versioning features in our CMS. Often, we need to undo something or at least see the history of a change to see how it went wrong. Not all online boardgame implementations have an equivalent, and some things get lost because it happens in a blink. Now, I know better than to dismiss an entire area of gaming based on a few bad User Interfaces, so I'll admit this is a minor hurdle and move on.

2.) The act of shuffling, rearranging, restocking, etc, provides a tactile connection to the game. When Kris Burm says that the sound the Gipf pieces make when stacked matters to him, I get that. When I play a game, I play as a whole person. I want the clink of pieces, I want that dull thud of dice hitting a sound-deadening cardboard gameboard, I want to hear my opponent's sigh of resignation as he realizes he's now backed into a corner and can't win. That's all part of playing a game to me. My co-workers are scattered throughout the world. My interaction with them is dictated by the little green light indicating that they are both online and free to accept my instant messages. When I log off at the end of a day, not only am I tired of looking at a computer screen, I'm tired of having my human interaction be mediated by plastic and silicon.

3.) The game clock is altered. With everything in the game happening in a blink, there's a sense that the game needs to hurry up hurry up HURRY UP, NOW NOW NOW, WHAT IS TAKING THIS GUY SO LONG? I do not play board games so that I can get the game with over as quickly as possible, and this seems to be an attitude by a ton of online players. I think the very medium encourages it.

I have another post in the works that specifically deals with Analysis Paralysis and my devotion to it, but I'll summarize it here: I cannot stand that my dayjob insists on receiving decisions and output as fast as humanly possible. The trade-off is that some problems are misdiagnosed, the solutions are not tested properly, and the work, as a result, suffers. People game for all kinds of reasons, but I game to get as far away from that as I can manage. I want deliberation, I want thoughtfulness, and I want to drag a decision out until I've thought my way through it; I do not get to solve workplace problems on my own terms, and I need to reclaim that in my personal life whenever I can.

So far I've established that my aversion to online gaming is largely driven by the circumstances of my job, and I'm aware that not everyone has that same experience. But it also might come down to a difference of opinion on what the administrative tasks in a boardgame represent, and what is actually changed by their removal. I suppose there are two extremes on this scale:

1.) Administrative tasks like shuffling, restocking, flipping chits, rearranging, and so forth are nuisance tasks, and they just prolong a game; outsourcing them to an automated machine helps with enjoying the game.

2.) Admin tasks offer an important period of controlled downtime where a player can think through a move, can reboot their brain, can reassess their needs in the upcoming round, and can otherwise help avoid AP when the gameboard is reset and the game properly resumes.

I side with #2, and so I'm probably predisposed to not get along with online gaming.

Now here's my eulogy to St. Petersburg. No, it's not dead yet, but I suspect that it is, and I partly blame the AI version. Having played both the physical version and the AI version, I simply cannot bring myself to play the physical version any more. The last time I played my copy of St. Petersburg was against my brother in a two-player game, and I noticed a strange thing happening: it seemed too slow. Wait, what? I thought I liked slow things? How did something get too slow? Because the AI version established the new baseline for how long a game of St. Pete ought to take, that's why. I apparently mentally noted that St. Pete takes 10 minutes to play, and you can churn out a few games while waiting for the shower to free up. The fact that the physical game still plays in under an hour isn't good enough any longer. I am terrified that that will happen again, this time to a game that I enjoy more than St. Petersburg. A similar thing happened with Yspahan, though I recognized the symptoms a little earlier.

Online boardgames seem to either replace the real-life experience, or else it becomes a fairly distantly related replication of what I get in real life; it's St. Petersburg, but somehow different.

The only possible exception I've discovered to this seems, once again, to be abstracts. Abstracts are the only online games I play slowly, and they are the only games where my opponent seems to also want to play slowly. They are the only games where I am thoughtful about my moves, and where the entire experience slows down to align more with the physical version of the game.

This could very well be a private hangup, and I suspect that it is; I'm not looking to condemn gamers who use online or AI implementations regularly and are satisfied doing so. A lot of BGG users I read and respect seem to spend time online playing things, whether it's at BSW or isotropic or Yucate or orderofthehammer or something else. Now, I have been exploring Boardspace a bit over the last few weeks (username: rarevos), but the jury still seems to be out. The games I have played the most online seem to be games where the online playtime and the real life playtime match pretty closely. So far, this means Hive, Dvonn, Tzaar, and maybe a few others. These games would still be my most played games without the boost that comes from playing a Dumbot or an opponent I meet online.

Ultimately, I suspect that my affinity for slowness is wrapped up in my affinity for AP, which is wrapped up in the relationship that my work life has with my personal life, which is another example of how a personality is really an ecology of traits, and demonstrates how there actually is a connection between a week of work filled with menial tasks demanding instant attention, and that 6-hour brain-burning marathon of 1830 that so thrilled you on Saturday afternoon.
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Thu Mar 1, 2012 2:37 pm
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The Appeal of Abstracts

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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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One of the unexpected joys of getting into modern board games has been the discovery of modern abstracts, and in discovering that I prefer them above all other game experiences. This was a surprise, especially since I began with Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, which meant I was strictly on a Euro path for about a year. I wasn't expecting to veer from that path so suddenly and so enthusiastically. And abstracts just do not exhibit any of the alluring qualities that drew me to the hobby in the first place.

By the way, I'm going to assume the following definition for abstract: "Two-player combinatorial game with no luck and no hidden information that is visually simple and has no theme."

So how and why have I gotten to the point where I prefer abstracts?

1. Believe it or not, I'm red/green colorblind, but only in one eye. Consequently, my eyes sort of fight one another when I, well, look at things. Many game boards of more thematic board games feature colors and color schemes that I struggle with. But a simple board with high-contrast pieces that cannot be confused with each other and do not disappear into the board counts as visually pleasing to me. After a day of having to wink at things if there's something red sitting on something green, an abstract game is so beautiful and soothing I could cry.

2. While I'm lucky to enjoy quite a few enthusiastic gaming opponents, my most common player count is 2. Many of my favorite Euros and card games require a minimum of three players. I like that designers or fans propose 2-player variants for a lot of these games, but in some cases (like with Hansa Teutonica's bizarre sentinels) the resulting game is too different. Abstracts are generally 2-player-only affairs.

3. With very rare exceptions, abstracts have very simple rules. The presence of simple rules means time spent trying out new games is devoted mainly to playing the game and not the administrative task of learning the various constraints of that game's universe. This matters. Not a single one of my gaming opponents is on BGG. While my opponents are all intelligent people, they simply do not want to slog through 20 pages of special abilities and unique actions if we only have two hours until they have to pick up their kid.

4. While I am not a hardcore minimalist, I do lean in that direction. So although my game "Collection" (71 as of this writing) might look somewhat large, it actually only occupies four shelves, and is not allowed to grow more than that. I have a box filled with titles from nestorgames, I have a box of card games, and I have a box filled with DIY versions of more than a dozen abstracts (and counting). Abstracts, so far, offer the most variety with the smallest space commitment.

5. I'll have some thoughts about theme in a future post, but for now I'll just say that I find no inspiration in theme at all; I never am drawn to theme as a reason to play something, but almost always use it as a reason to not play something. Abstracts get rid of the fluff and concentrate on what I find most engaging about a game, which is the thinking, puzzling, computing and executing of strategy. Or tactics. But that's another post as well.

6. I don't have consistent opinions on kingmaking. In theory, I dislike it. In practice, if it occurs in a multiplayer game I like a lot, I tend to rationalize it away. On the one hand, I'm not very interested to lose a game because one of my opponents has no choice but to hand the game to another of my opponents. On the other hand, I'm not sure if there are too many multiplayer games that don't have some level of kingmaking. Regardless, this isn't a problem in abstracts, which is the point of this entry.

7. If I can help it, I don't want luck in my gaming. There are times when it does not bother me (some card games), but for the most part, if I'm investing time and energy into learning a game or game system, I'm not too keen on having my ability to improve at that game be nullified by a random event. If my destiny is not in my own hands, then I lose a lot of interest in playing the game again.

This isn't an exhaustive list, by any means, but one thing that stands out to me now that I've assembled it is how much of my gaming preferences have been shaped by non-gaming things. My vision issues, for one. But only having enough players for a two-player game most of the time is another, as is having to adopt my opponents' preferences (or risk not playing a game at all), or having to balance "plentiful variety" with "storage shelf constraints." I'm sure there are other reasons these types of games simply work best for me, and I'll perhaps revisit this in the future. I know it's our obsession with base-ten numbering that does it, but it does seem odd to have a list with only 7 things in it...
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Wed Feb 22, 2012 8:37 pm
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Introduction

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
Hello, World

I should know better than to write a detailed first post of a new blog, because I've had three other blogs in my life and they sputtered into nothingness long before any significant anniversary was reached. Even here on BGG, 172 of the 668 total blogs have just one post, which is roughly one-quarter of all registered blogs. Clearly I'm not alone in preferring the ease of making a plan to the commitment of executing one.

I'm probably what could be called a Casual Serious Gamer. I enjoy games, but I don't think about them all day. I don't subscribe to podcasts. I don't have a Top Ten list (heck, I don't even rate games), and I don't know any detailed history of designs, designers, publishing companies or conventions. I don't try many new games, largely because I don't know many other people who buy them, and partly because I've stopped caring a whole lot about what passes as New around here. The race to keep up with the hottest and newest game is a race with no finish line; for a little while I pretended my stamina would allow me to make it a few laps around the track, but no more. In general, I'm a skeptic, and I can no longer see new games as being appreciably different from old ones. Plus, I haven't even figured out how to win my old games yet.

Despite my casualness about gaming by BGG standards, I'm The Game Guy in every single one of my social circles. It's generally my job to investigate new games, to bring games, to teach games, to pontificate about them, to tell them why their collection is….not so good. I bring games to family events, I bring them to friends' houses, I'm usually told "go get a game" when we have friends or family over.

Why A Blog Rather Than…No Blog?

Truthfully, I feel stuck. I am an authority figure on exactly nothing. I follow no new releases, I have no unique theories or strategies for games, I offer no particular insight in reviews, I have no mathematical proofs for why one abstract is superior to another, I have no complex Unified Theory of Gaming.

And yet I get a great deal of pleasure from teasing out what I like about the games I play now. It helps me clarify my thinking, it helps me enjoy what I play more, it helps me resist purchases that will probably be a bad idea, it helps me identify and investigate games that offer the most replayability for me. I look at games as being a transaction: if I'm to take the time to learn a rulebook, I want more than an afternoon or two of enjoyment out of it. If your game can't give me that, then you didn't design a small universe, you designed a diorama. I have long suspected that, if we're only honest with ourselves, we know that Temporary Diversions With A Hot! New! Mechanism! are easier to spot than we might fear, and that truly deep games are rarer than we might hope. I wouldn't mind testing that out loud.

But I Have Blueprints!

This is something I've thought about doing for a while, and I wouldn't have sounded my barbaric yawp in this intro post if I didn't also have enough ideas or drafts to get me through a few weeks of posting, at least. So here are the upcoming posts that seem to be closest to a finished state:

--Why I Find The Most Replayability in Games With Fixed Setups
--What I Understand Designer Quirks To Be
--Some Mushy Thoughts on The Pie Rule
--Thoughts on Theme
--Why I Like Solo Gaming
--DIYing Games
--What Got On My Radar Before I Turned My Radar Off
--What Seems to Work in <Name of Game>
--What Does Not Seem to Work in <Name of Game>

If this sounds at all appealing, then by all means, please listen in. I get to babble to some degree in my GCL, but I might need an additional outlet, lest I drive them crazy. I'd like to propose I do it to you instead.
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Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:39 pm
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