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Thinking Out Loud

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gaming By Proxy >> Using Stand-Ins and Substitutes

I caught the tail end of an interesting email chain among some local gamers here that touched briefly on the idea of gaming proxies -- things you use to "stand in" for other game elements. It had me thinking of why some people use proxy components and materials, and why some proxies are considered acceptable, while other proxies are discouraged.

There are two main reasons why I can see people use proxies:

Convenience: The number one reason people use proxies surely must be convenience. In fact, that's the number one reason for me. It's simply easier to use a proxy than the real deal in some situations -- especially if the original components in question are of poor quality or are awkward/fiddly to use.

The best example for this I can think of would be the nondescript plastic coins in the original Caylus. The denominatons were hard to distinguish and they were pretty fiddly to work with. We always use poker chips instead of coins in Caylus. Actually, we use poker chips as proxy currency (or scoring, for games like Tichu) in a variety of situations. The standard denominations and easily identifiable amounts make them very interchangeable.

Accessibility: Another big reason to go with proxies would be that the real deal may not be accessible, but people still want the benefit of playing the game with said difficult-to-obtain item. This is really a phenomena of collectable and expandable gaming. And I have to admit I'm fickle and view this differently case by case.

I abhor people using proxies in Magic: The Gathering, for example. Taking a forest and writing Mox Ruby or Black Lotus across the card with your Sharpie does not cut it for me. I refused to play with people who kept including this proxy cards in their decks, even if it was just casual play. Part of the game to me was getting those cards. If you couldn't get 'em, don't play 'em.

On the flip side, though, I use (and encourage the use of) proxy figures for Blood Bowl. Tracking down the "official" GW miniatures, then prepping and painting them can be an arduous and expensive task. I have made several proxy teams by purchasing incredibly cheap Mage Knight figures for $.25 or less per figure, popping them off their old bases and gluing them to standard 35mm bases so they'll fit on the Blood Bowl board.

I still take some time to number them, highlight them and make them presentable (as well as the initial research to find figures that look fairly close to what team I'm building in the first place) and they serve the same role perfectly as the standard GW figures would.

Defining Right and Wrong? So I can't help but wonder why I'm so dead-set against the use of proxies for M:tG, but such an advocate for other games like Blood Bowl. On one level, they seem the same thing, but on another, it feels quite different. Perhaps it's utility. The Mage Knight figure representing my Orc Lineman fulfills all the same game requirements and functions as any other figure of the same size, regardless of manufacture. The rules impact come from the rulebook, not the figure.

With Magic, though, the cards are the rules - they spell out the costs, the game impact, the implications, etc. The rules and cards are enmeshed in such a way that you can't remove one from the other, or you change a fundamental aspect of the game and gameplay.

At least, that's what I think my mind is telling me right now. Who knows. What do you think? How do you feel about using proxies in games? Which are good, which are bad?

(image of Orc Blitzer from the official Games Workshop site)


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