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Subject: The Rise of Combinatorial Hybrids rss

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Michael Van Biesbrouck
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Some issues facing abstracts in the marketplace.

I've seen some beautiful Chess sets, so let's ignore production values.

Presentation of Mechanics

A typical abstract game gives you a list of rules by which you can place and move pieces.

A non-abstract game will give you mechanisms for interacting with other players -- auctions, trading, drafting, negotiating, limited worker placement slots, racing to achieve goals and combat.

Goals and How to Achieve Them

Getting N in a row or surrounding more territory are typical abstract game goals. These goals may appear in non-abstract games, but building a better farm, city, country or dinosaur is more typical. The steps from your initial state to the end state are generally clear; good moves follow the theme (or at least point awards) and the winner will be someone who pursued the goals most efficiently. New players to abstract games may have no idea what they need to do to win against a skilled opponent. (This can also be true of abstract game designers and top-ranked players. Hidden depths are hard to appreciate until you've been sucked into them.)

Santorini benefits from a simple goal (move up to level 3) and being able to only do things that contribute to it (moving and building). This makes it accessible, but there is still the failure mode for new players who fail to note that they will need to interact with each other.

Apparent Complexity

Abstract games such as Go are known to be complex from a computational standpoint. It won't be obvious to a new player how the placement patterns of stones affect the results of the game.

A Euro game might have three obvious subgames that players need to balance. It's obviously hard.

What's Happening at the Next Table

If you don't know an abstract game, you can see two people staring intently at a board and moving pieces. With high-level play, there's more staring. A non-abstract game usually makes its state more accessible with people obviously doing things and talking. Bits that you don't understand are mysteries to explore.

Recently I didn't back an abstract KS because I couldn't tell whether the designer was incompetent in the watch-it-played video or just trying to demonstrate the different rules. I couldn't tell if it was worth playing without first playing against a decent opponent. I backed one expensive non-abstract KS because the videos of 90-minute playthroughs were more interesting that movies. The game lived up to its promises (except shipping time).
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Russ Williams
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mlvanbie wrote:
A typical abstract game gives you a list of rules by which you can place and move pieces.

A non-abstract game will give you mechanisms for interacting with other players -- auctions, trading, drafting, negotiating, limited worker placement slots, racing to achieve goals and combat.

Trading & negotiation do seem pretty explicitly about interacting with others players, but to me none of the others seem any more so than e.g. capturing or blocking opponents in an abstract. Drafting, worker placement, combat, etc is all literally doing stuff with game components (and I believe typically described as such in the rules). So if they are "player interaction", why isn't e.g. capturing opponent's pieces in Chess or blocking the opponent in Hex? (To me, that all seems like player interaction.)


Interestingly, I often read descriptions (which could be complaints or praise, depending on who's saying it) that many modern "mainstream" euros do NOT have much player interaction. Everyone is busy optimizing their own player board, oblivious to the other players, and all that (thus goes the cliche). And the people who like that kind of "multiplayer solitaire" complain about the "direct conflict" in typical abstract games (e.g. capturing opponent's pieces in Chess, Go, etc).
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christian freeling
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Yes it's a weird world. Now there are players who love abstract strategy. Isn't it a good strategy to provide those players with better abstract strategy games? Of course they're not as many as 'the broader market' but why would one wish to accomodate a broader market if not for purely commercial reasons? I don't quite trust the 'educational' argument of bringing the beauty of abstract strategy to the 'wider public'. Serving the wider public may give rise to 'abstract tabloids', the kind of game you play a few times and then next season it's another one. Everybody happy and I've nothing against it, but it's hardly 'educational' in terms of abstract strategy.
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David Ploog
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christianF wrote:

Yes it's a weird world. Now there are players who love abstract strategy. Isn't it a good strategy to provide those players with better abstract strategy games?
(Bolding mine.)
That's the crux: abstracts are precisely the product you cannot only sell with "bigger & more colourful!" (People do try this approach, of course. With varying success and 100% no new Go in there.)

One of their draws is a kind of transcendental quality and some mythical depth. Like I said in my previous posting, the classics, Go & Chesses, have that: cultural heritage & proven depth.

To give a reasonable comparison: in so-called classical music, the bestselling composers are Beethoven etc. "Why no new, better Bach?" is very similar to "Why no new, better Go?" It won't happen, and just as with abstracts, there is a lot of new music, of all kinds, including Baroque, neo-Classical etc.
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Michael Van Biesbrouck
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russ wrote:
Trading & negotiation do seem pretty explicitly about interacting with others players, but to me none of the others seem any more so than e.g. capturing or blocking opponents in an abstract. Drafting, worker placement, combat, etc is all literally doing stuff with game components (and I believe typically described as such in the rules). So if they are "player interaction", why isn't e.g. capturing opponent's pieces in Chess or blocking the opponent in Hex? (To me, that all seems like player interaction.)

Drafting and worker placement are all about trying to outguess your opponent's strategy so that you can get the things that you both need first. You can capture pieces in Chess, but only novices mistake that for the fight in which all pieces are 'pawns'. Players definitely interact in abstract games, perhaps more so than in some euros (which favour the indirect conflict mechanisms I listed more than combat and outright pillaging), but compare the rules of Go with the importance of making eyes or plonking a stone down several intersections away from any other. Most euros have a nice flowchart from available actions to victory points and the challenge comes from making hard trade-offs and reading the players.
 
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Russ Williams
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mlvanbie wrote:
Players definitely interact in abstract games, perhaps more so than in some euros (which favour the indirect conflict mechanisms I listed more than combat and outright pillaging), but compare the rules of Go with the importance of making eyes or plonking a stone down several intersections away from any other. Most euros have a nice flowchart from available actions to victory points and the challenge comes from making hard trade-offs and reading the players.

Hmm, that latter point seems more about whether the strategy and tactics necessary to play well are obvious at first glance from the rules, rather than anything about player interaction. (And of course there are abstracts with simple obvious strategy and tactics, and there are euros with non-obvious opaque implications in the rules, so I don't see this as a clear dichotomy between abstracts and "mainstream" or "BGG style" euros.) Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point?
 
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Ben Bosmans
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I never play a game to “play a game”.

I think the sentence sums up nicely why this kind of abstract gaming thoughts will never take off with me.

Even Chess was in its early form creation considered a wargame.

I have no idea why some people play games to just play games if they don’t tell a story you can believe.

But then again I don’t see the purpose either why I would play a boardgame just to beat another player over abstract mechanics.

Pure waste of time, and I think I am not exactly a minority either, hence why KS for abstract entertainment simply does not work out.

Thematic gaming - in all its forms - is far more attractive these days. Why should you limit yourself to abstract game mechanics as such?

Better to stick to real math then and try to capture CO2 and save the earth. More fun even.



 
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Russ Williams
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Ben_Bos wrote:
I have no idea why some people play games to just play games if they don’t tell a story you can believe.
Are you interested in knowing why, or just in mocking and ranting against other people's interests?

Quote:
Pure waste of time, and I think I am not exactly a minority either, hence why KS for abstract entertainment simply does not work out.
If you're going to worry about popularity when deciding what games you play, then you shouldn't be playing wargames either. After all, far more people play Chess or Go than Conflict of Heroes or even the most popular wargame.

Quote:
Thematic gaming - in all its forms - is far more attractive these days. Why should you limit yourself to abstract game mechanics as such?
Because someone enjoys it, of course.

But why do you assume that someone "limits" themselves to abstracts? I enjoy and play abstracts, wargames, euros, and more.
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christian freeling
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dpeggie wrote:
christianF wrote:

Yes it's a weird world. Now there are players who love abstract strategy. Isn't it a good strategy to provide those players with better abstract strategy games?
(Bolding mine.)
That's the crux: abstracts are precisely the product you cannot only sell with "bigger & more colourful!" (People do try this approach, of course. With varying success and 100% no new Go in there.)

One of their draws is a kind of transcendental quality and some mythical depth. Like I said in my previous posting, the classics, Go & Chesses, have that: cultural heritage & proven depth.

To give a reasonable comparison: in so-called classical music, the bestselling composers are Beethoven etc. "Why no new, better Bach?" is very similar to "Why no new, better Go?" It won't happen, and just as with abstracts, there is a lot of new music, of all kinds, including Baroque, neo-Classical etc.
It occured to me that religions show the same kind of division.
 
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christian freeling
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russ wrote:
Ben_Bos wrote:
I have no idea why some people play games to just play games if they don’t tell a story you can believe.
But why do you assume that someone "limits" themselves to abstracts? I enjoy and play abstracts, wargames, euros, and more.
A story you can believe ... hmm. That's my issue regarding religions, but so far as abstracts go I'm one of those people who likes abstract conflict. Actually I have no idea why people play war games. War is not a game, it's a tragedy.
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Ben_Bos wrote:
I have no idea why some people play games to just play games if they don’t tell a story you can believe.

All games tell stories. It's merely a question which game stories you like best.
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russ wrote:
Interestingly, I often read descriptions (which could be complaints or praise, depending on who's saying it) that many modern "mainstream" euros do NOT have much player interaction. Everyone is busy optimizing their own player board, oblivious to the other players, and all that (thus goes the cliche). And the people who like that kind of "multiplayer solitaire" complain about the "direct conflict" in typical abstract games (e.g. capturing opponent's pieces in Chess, Go, etc).
Interesting indeed. In one of the rating comments on a game of mine, a person whom from all other available evidence I had taken to be an aficionado of abstracts remarked: "I don’t much like staring at the board for a long period of time just trying to figure out what my opponent may be thinking". But (newsflash!) that's precisely what the whole genre consists of. It's pretty much the definition of combinatorial play.

[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

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mocko wrote:
[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

Actually I never know what to think. I usually think first and then look what it is that I thought.
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christian freeling
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nhjelmberg wrote:
Ben_Bos wrote:
I have no idea why some people play games to just play games if they don’t tell a story you can believe.

All games tell stories. It's merely a question which game stories you like best.
Well it's got a lot of thumbs and I understand your point, but Tic Tac Toe, although it is a story, doesn't exactly tell one.
 
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christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

Actually I never know what to think. I usually think first and then look what it is that I thought.
Ah! This explains a lot - notably the illusion of having discovered games rather than invented them
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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mocko wrote:
christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

Actually I never know what to think. I usually think first and then look what it is that I thought.
Ah! This explains a lot - notably the illusion of having discovered games rather than invented them

But some great games really look like they were discovered rather than invented.
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christian freeling
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nhjelmberg wrote:
mocko wrote:
christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

Actually I never know what to think. I usually think first and then look what it is that I thought.
Ah! This explains a lot - notably the illusion of having discovered games rather than invented them

But some great games really look like they were discovered rather than invented.
Thinking of say Hex, I think it's hard to tell whether this is an illusion. More importantly, I don't care. But I prefer 'hunting' for presumably existing core behaviour over 'designing'. The latter feels more like work.
 
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nhjelmberg wrote:
mocko wrote:
christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

Actually I never know what to think. I usually think first and then look what it is that I thought.
Ah! This explains a lot - notably the illusion of having discovered games rather than invented them

But some great games really look like they were discovered rather than invented.
I agree that the category of games giving this impression is not entirely void, but add the dual requirements of plurality and greatness and I think we struggle a bit. Hex is everyone's go-to instance (and in that light the famous parallel authorship should perhaps not astonish), but beyond Hex ... what? Even a game as spartan as Draughts carries a faint odour of the lamp, and on the other hand surely something like Noughts and Crosses only qualifies if one has a sentimental/historical view of greatness. Personally, I can't see any further afield than Othello, and even then the starting arrangement puts it that one crucial podium step below Hex.

 
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mocko wrote:
nhjelmberg wrote:
mocko wrote:
christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

Actually I never know what to think. I usually think first and then look what it is that I thought.
Ah! This explains a lot - notably the illusion of having discovered games rather than invented them

But some great games really look like they were discovered rather than invented.
I agree that the category of games giving this impression is not entirely void, but add the dual requirements of plurality and greatness and I think we struggle a bit. Hex is everyone's go-to instance (and in that light the famous parallel authorship should perhaps not astonish), but beyond Hex ... what? Even a game as spartan as Draughts carries a faint odour of the lamp, and on the other hand surely something like Noughts and Crosses only qualifies if one has a sentimental/historical view of greatness. Personally, I can't see any further afield than Othello, and even then the starting arrangement puts it that one crucial podium step below Hex.


Actually, I thought Bug got quite close in terms of elegance. However, I'm not in a position to assess its depth yet.
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nhjelmberg wrote:
mocko wrote:
nhjelmberg wrote:
mocko wrote:
christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
[Shakes head sadly.] Sometimes one knoweth not what to think.

Actually I never know what to think. I usually think first and then look what it is that I thought.
Ah! This explains a lot - notably the illusion of having discovered games rather than invented them

But some great games really look like they were discovered rather than invented.
I agree that the category of games giving this impression is not entirely void, but add the dual requirements of plurality and greatness and I think we struggle a bit. Hex is everyone's go-to instance (and in that light the famous parallel authorship should perhaps not astonish), but beyond Hex ... what? Even a game as spartan as Draughts carries a faint odour of the lamp, and on the other hand surely something like Noughts and Crosses only qualifies if one has a sentimental/historical view of greatness. Personally, I can't see any further afield than Othello, and even then the starting arrangement puts it that one crucial podium step below Hex.


Actually, I thought Bug got quite close in terms of elegance. However, I'm not in a position to assess its depth yet.
Me neither. But what do you mean by elegance?
 
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Michael Van Biesbrouck
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russ wrote:
mlvanbie wrote:
Players definitely interact in abstract games, perhaps more so than in some euros (which favour the indirect conflict mechanisms I listed more than combat and outright pillaging), but compare the rules of Go with the importance of making eyes or plonking a stone down several intersections away from any other. Most euros have a nice flowchart from available actions to victory points and the challenge comes from making hard trade-offs and reading the players.

Hmm, that latter point seems more about whether the strategy and tactics necessary to play well are obvious at first glance from the rules, rather than anything about player interaction. (And of course there are abstracts with simple obvious strategy and tactics, and there are euros with non-obvious opaque implications in the rules, so I don't see this as a clear dichotomy between abstracts and "mainstream" or "BGG style" euros.) Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point?

This was an observation about shelf appeal.

Non-abstract games make it clear what sort of interaction you are supposed to have before you've played, even if it fizzles in reality. A sufficiently deep abstract may have exciting ways of interacting that nobody has even discovered yet; what's great about an abstract is rarely apparent until you've played against someone (or thing) that gets the game.
 
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christian freeling
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mocko wrote:
Personally, I can't see any further afield than Othello, and even then the starting arrangement puts it that one crucial podium step below Hex.

Othello to me behaves like an organism trapped in a poorly fitting exoskeleton. I've mentioned Io a couple of times as a better alternative. You can play it with Othello equipment if you don't mind the occasional draw that is possible on even grid sizes. It's less rigid, more fluid.
 
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milomilo122 wrote:
Related to this discussion: I have a hypothesis that many people prefer the feeling of familiarizing themselves with rules over making progress in strategic understanding.

Learning rules has advantages over learning strategy: the former is both more straightforward and more assured. It requires only memorization, assured by repetition. Learning strategy, in contrast, requires insight, often at the cost of strenuous thinking, and for which a positive outcome isn’t assured.

I think that may be a reason why there are so many tabletop hobbyists who lose interest and move on to the next game after after internalizing a game's rules. As long as you're learning rules, you have a consistent sense of progress in learning, and when that sense becomes inconsistent, you move on to something else.

Games with austere rules don’t afford players the pleasure of learning rules and instead throw players directly into the more stressful and disorienting (for them) realm of strategy.

Conversely I think this may be a reason CCG's and other games with tons of distinct cards are so popular. There's always a new rule (card) to learn.

[edit] Similarly, I've noticed when hobbyists talk about the value of "variety" in games (and many do), it's almost always focused on mechanical/rules variety, and almost never strategic/tactical variety.

This really resonated with my observations of gamers. Very insightful.
 
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christianF wrote:
mlvanbie wrote:
Playing a game and considering purchasing it are different.
And if it's all about purchase, considerations become different.

mlvanbie wrote:
Looking forward to an endless succession of new experiences is a selling point. People who don't want new experiences should master Go or Shogi.
I think there will be posters like me who find this a remarkable statement.
Yes. I think the distinction here is the "purchase/play" distinction. And a "selling point" is not the same as a "fact". After all, "and endless succession of new experiences" is the selling point of television as well. "See this NEW show!" "See this NEW episode!" "See this NEW star make a SPECIAL guest appearance!"

An author whose name I don't remember unfortunately said, "I would trade a hundred readers of my book today for one reader a hundred years from now." I think the same holds true for games.
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christianF wrote:
mocko wrote:
Personally, I can't see any further afield than Othello, and even then the starting arrangement puts it that one crucial podium step below Hex.

Othello to me behaves like an organism trapped in a poorly fitting exoskeleton. I've mentioned Io a couple of times as a better alternative. You can play it with Othello equipment if you don't mind the occasional draw that is possible on even grid sizes. It's less rigid, more fluid.
Just to be clear: I wasn't praising Othello/Reversi, which I regard as probably the dreariest abstract game with any sort of claim to classic status. All I meant was that, if I'm trying to think of games which get close to the Hex standard of 'take otherwise undifferentiated pieces of two colours, have them placed alternately on a board of natural format with a single rule to guide them, and off you go', Othello may be the one that, after Hex itself, comes most naturally to mind. I shouldn't be at all surprised to find Io a better game - indeed, I can hardly imagine finding otherwise - but, for the little this is worth, it isn't quite as elemental a conception.

 
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