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Links: Don't Hate the Player or the Game, The Five Stages of Grief, and Eurogames on the Couch

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• Designer Kelsey Domeny explains why gamers should stop hating on Monopoly:

Quote:
I think we gamers and game designers can jump too quickly to scoffing at mainstream games. But we owe a lot to them. Monopoly really is a bridge from the world of no games to the world of hobby games. If we are to grow our industry, we must be willing to sit down with people who love Monopoly and enjoy a game of Monopoly with them. When we start where they are comfortable and show them we can have fun on their turf, they will be more likely to try our "gateway games" and enter into the world of clever design and cool mechanics.

Don't dismiss people because of what they play; invite them to your table because they do play. Perhaps by playing together you can find games that you all enjoy.

• Designer Nat Levan goes through the five stages of grief after receiving feedback — and a suggested list of extensive changes — from a prospective publisher:

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My first reaction was denial. They were completely wrong. I've been working on this for a year, and they've only played it for a few months. Never mind the fact that since there's a whole team playing, they've probably put in almost as much play time as I have, if not more.

• Alex Harkey at Games Precipice catalogs "early game structures" — resources, turn order, and player decisions — to explore positive and negative aspects of each, while giving examples of games that demonstrate these elements.

• When an article on board games opens with this phrase — "In a 1967 lecture, Michel Foucault stated:" — you can be forgiven for wondering whether you're being pranked, but if you're familiar with the Analog Game Studies blog, you probably expect such things by now.

In any case, Devin Wilson's article "The Eurogame as Heterotopia" makes a case for there being as much theme present in a Eurogame design as you care to discover, with such a design simultaneously being a tool through which you can see yourself, should you care to look. A long excerpt:

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Existing commentary on eurogames is most often written by enthusiasts and rarely by scholars, though academic interest seems to be on the rise. What we will see is that, though all can agree that thematic abstraction is a hallmark of eurogames, there is dissent among both enthusiasts and scholars about what to do in the face of that abstraction.

In the only extant monograph on the genre so far, Stewart Woods provides a history of eurogames that concludes that their thematic abstraction — while distinctive — is not of great interest.2 This postulation of eurogames' effective lack of theme is demonstrably aligned with the widespread enthusiast perspective that theme is often a negligible quality of games (even outside of wholly abstract games like Blokus). For example, popular board game reviewer Tom Vasel said of the eurogame Vasco da Gama, "Don't come into this looking for any kind of theme." But — far more so than with many eurogames — Vasco da Gama is very plainly about something real: its namesake is a particular historical figure and the gameplay embodies this person's biography in non-trivial ways. Yet Vasel forbids us from looking for theme in this game, insisting that there is nothing there.

Conversely, Will Robinson describes Vasco da Gama in far more situated terms, noting that the game's abstraction erases the violence of the game's thematic referent. Robinson looks at the virtuality of the game and subsequently directs his attention to the reality of the history depicted. He writes:

"Taking violent histories and turning them into resource management/worker-placement games for family audiences creates an ideological fairy tale. Vasco da Gama reinforces a clean and unproblematic interpretation of the Portuguese empire with each play."

Indeed, the question of "what is being abstracted out" is vital, particularly when the theme is so specifically historical and that history's violence undermines the supposedly non-violent interactions that characterize the genre. Ultimately, in Robinson's critique of Vasco da Gama, it's tempting to liken it to a Foucauldian mirror test at which Vasel fails by not seeing the reality of Vasco da Gama's real actions via Vasco da Gama's unreality.

Wilson goes on to discuss The Castles of Burgundy from his viewpoint as an "ethical vegan":

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Given Castles of Burgundy's abstraction (which is typical of the eurogame genre), these animals can be interpreted as companions, wards, ornaments, or consumable resources. Given my perspective, I see them as more like wards or perhaps companions. The game — like much great art, and like Settlers of Catan as described earlier — can function as a mirror: it shows me who I am in reality through the materiality of its unreality. In my case, I can clearly (and somewhat unexpectedly) see my real vegan convictions in the unreality of the game and its abstract and polysemic components.

My view of Castles of Burgundy, like Robinson's view of Vasco da Gama, is grounded in social critique. But the situation I find myself in when facing the abstraction of Castles of Burgundy allows me to fill in gaps and virtually "re-theme" the game — without any physical modifications or concrete house rules — according to my politics.
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