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Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Frugal or Stingy >> Are There Gaming Equivalents?

With Trish out of town all week on a business trip, I've been spending 2+ hours each day driving, since I have to drop Benjamin off at daycare before work (which, of course, is in the opposite direction of work). I've been churning through a lot of music, and actually listening to some talk radio -- a completely new experience for me.

Today, I was listening to "the Big 550" here in St. Louis, whatever the heck that is. But I caught their early morning show right during an interesting discussion. The panel was talking about the difference between Frugal and Stingy. Being Frugal tends to be seen as a Virtue, while being Stingy is viewed as a Vice.

When you use your coupon for buy-one-get-one-free at the local restaurant, you're just being Frugal. But when you're basing your tip on the discounted price, you're being Stingy. A lot of the discussion was pseudo-humorous, but had some interesting undercurrents which I thought were accurate. Frugal is looking out for yourself, while also taking into account others. Stingy is being an asshole about it.

And as is usually the case whenever I start thinking about, well... ANYTHING, I started thinking about game applications. If there was a game etiquette or conduct equivalent to Frugal versus Stingy.

I tried to come up with witty things like "Frugal is when you drop out of the bidding early to conserve cash in an auction. Stingy is refusing to pay the going price, while complaining about everyone else driving the price up." but as you can see. Erm, it didn't work out so well.

Perhaps a better analogy for gaming would be Conservative versus Obsessively Cautious?

What do you think? Got any good Frugal vs. Stingy comparisons to make for gaming? Or a better analogy than what I slapped together?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Get Played >> How Many Plays is "Enough"

Taking a different slant on the "old vs. new" debate on gaming, I've been considering just how many games played it takes for a certain title to lose it's rookie status and become a veteran -- you know, a qualified, reliable member of your boardgaming collection.

As with nearly everything else in the hobby, the question can be answered with the ubiquitous "it all depends." For me, the depending point in this regard probably comes down to overall play time than anything else.

For a light, quick-playing filler, say in the 15-30 minute range, it's likely to get more opportunities to hit the table and work its way onto the team than a monstrously deep, complex 3-4+ hour megagame. So that certainly is a factor.

We can churn out several quick games in the same session, or get it played once on several consecutive meetings, quickly inflating its numbers. Some shorter games that have become standards on my filler list include Diamant, Coloretto and Bucket King. Going just from the games I've logged on BGG (which is probably 80% accurate), I've played the above 6, 13 and 10 times respectively.

Some longer games make the cut with barely any plays -- I just happened to enjoy my few plays so much that I know they fulfill a certain gaming need and fit a certain niche incredibly well. Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition has only seen 4 full game sessions to completion, but I'm always hankering for more. I've only actually played 1 complete game of Die Macher, but I daydream about getting another game in frequently. I've also only played 1 complete game of A House Divided, almost 3 months ago now, and would love to get another game in.

With these larger games, though, scheduling is a far greater issue -- but I still consider them viable, valuable first-string options despite their lack of repeat playings (in the right context, of course). TI3 and A House Divided I don't really consider "new" any more. I'm familiar enough with the rules that I could teach the game easily after a quick brush-up. Die Macher I still consider "new" in that regard even though it's proven its worth otherwise. I've owned it for over a year, but have only played it the once, and due to the sheer density of what's going on, would need to study the rules religiously beforehand.

So when does a game stop becoming "new" for you? How many plays before it becomes second nature and you can slip into a session like a pair of comfy slippers?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Getting it Right >> Do Rules Explanations Impact Perception?

On and off today there's been an interesting discussion I've participated in with Jay Moore (MUkid) and some other St. Louis gamers. It was talking about preferences for playing new games or established and well known games, and included elements about rules explanations and the learning curve of games.

Part of the discussion was about the accountability of teaching the rules. If you have the luxury of gaming with a set plan in place and a scripted list of games to play, folks can read ahead and prepare for a game, and ideally several people can read the rules or brush up on them, and perhaps even read up on strategies or FAQ content.

That rarely ever happens, though, and often a few games hit the table that are brand new and someone is only somewhat familiar with the rules, or a game that hasn't seen action in a long time surfaces and rules recollection is a bit fuzzy. Invariably, some rules get overlooked, misexplained or outright mangled. The impact can vary greatly, from a subtle nuance to a dramatic scoring shift.

I ended up teaching Blue Moon City over the weekend to folks who had not played. I have never read the rules or looked up anything about the game online. I had only played one game the week before with Jorge (hibikir) and Eva (DeiTass) who did a great job explaining the rules. So it was completely from memory.

I missed a point here and there, and didn't know if playing with 4 instead of 3 changed anything other than the winning condition... But I think I did okay -- at least, hopefully my rules explanation was good enough to show that Blue Moon City is a very good game, and didn't dissuade anyone from wanting to try it again.

If you play a game with the rules wrong and find out part of the way through, do you retrofit the rules? Just correct it from then on? Start over? Well, all those are fine options depending on the group. I'm actually more interested in what you do next.

If you didn't like a game but realize you had some rules wrong, do you feel your opinion is still valid? Are you willing to commit 1-2 hours to a game to give it a second chance if you were less than impressed, despite knowing there were some rules mistakes? Or would you prefer investing your time in a game you know well and believe is better overall than the former game could be, even with the correct rules?

Me? Ida know. I really enjoy churning through new games and trying new things. Some games suffer from bad first impressions (Mykerinos, Ticket to Ride, Euphrates & Tigris Card Game) while others have been redeemed only through second, third or fifteenth chances (Ra, Princes of Florence, Beowulf - The Legend). But with sooo many games out there, and still 125 or so unplayed in my own collection, it's getting harder and harder -- even with rules mistakes -- to consider giving those chances.

I'm at the point where it's worth passing on the chance to uncover another Ra if that means avoiding another Siena, Marco Polo Expedition or Risk: Godstorm.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Quick Hits >> Masons, Blue Moon City, Desert Bazaar, Mykerinos

Wrapping up a few loose ends from gaming last weekend, and just last night at Chez Moores... Good friends, good games, good times. Even though I lost a lot and was utterly exhausted. But it was better than mowing the lawn.

Desert Bazaar (Brian Yu/Mattel) Bottom Line 6.5/10: Fun game with a slight Attika feel of visualizing "efficiency patterns" to get reduced build rates for your tents. Since the complexion of the gameboard changes dramatically from turn to turn, it is very difficult to plan ahead or even start considering your options until it is actually your turn, whcih can slow the game down. Solid mechanics and nice components but poor graphic design decisions. The high contrast on the gameboard make seeing space outlines difficult, and the card colors do not match up well with the corresponding costs colors on the tiles -- a tent may cost 2 "red" resources, which are actually the brown camel cards, or 2 "purple" resources, which are actually the bolts of pink silk. That oversight knocks the game down from a 7.0...

Blue Moon City (Reiner Knizia/FFG) – Bottom Line 8.5/10: Great components, great strategy, nice use of the Blue Moon setting and established art/motif. I liked the number and type of decisions, and the fact that coming in second could be almost as beneficial as coming in first -- the rewards for participating in the scoring was tempting enough to warrant a lot of careful decision making, especially at the risk of letting someone resolve a region by himself and take all the credit solo. In that regard, it reminded me a bit of Marracash, where if it's gotta' score anyway, you at least want a piece of the action. Pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Went up .5 in rating after the second play.

Masons (Leo Colovini/Rio Grande) - Bottom Line 7.5/10: A very nice light game with excellent components. Creates the illusion of needing to plan in advance to take advantage of scoring cards, but with so much changing from turn to turn it's hard to do anything other than optimize your current turn while making adaptable plans for the next. I like the ability for the trailing player to cycle scoring cards, as some cards are far, far less valuable than others and the values change frequently during the game. Should "feel" lighter, but does cause some Analysis Paralysis.

Mykerinos (Ystari/Rio Grande) - Bottom Line 4.5/10: What a horribly unintuitive and brutally unforgiving game. With 75-80% of your total game score being determined by your end game bonuses, there is no margin for error any step along the way. So if you invest 3-4 cubes that earn you nothing the first round, while the other players are earning supporters, there's simply no way to catch up to the rest of the power curve. Even if you horde pieces for the next round, you can't get them out fast enough to compensate for the powerful abilities of the advisors, and can find yourself forced into a losing proposition very early on, making the second half of the game meaningless. Would be simply average, but gets knocked down a full point for the horrible game design and graphic design decisions -- namely the back-loaded scoring focus, the atrocious high contrast rule booklet with 7 point type (virtually impossible to read), scoring markers larger than the scoring spaces, poorly developed icons to represent the supporter powers, and overall very disappointing component design.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Great Wall of China >> Review/Recap

Better late than never, right? Last Friday I got some great gaming in with Jorge (hibikir) and Eva (DeiTass). Not only was it the first time I got to play something in nearly a month, I got to play three games I've never played before, and one game I had only played once before. A rousing success all the way around. Since each recap is longer than usual, I'll post them separately for maximum blog spatter.

Great Wall of China (Reiner Knizia/FFG) – I picked this up at GenCon for $20 at the FFG booth. It's in a new, slim design box, about half the size of the Silver Line series of games. The cards are nice, durable, well-finished cards with decent art and easily identifiable information. The scoring tokens are thick cardboard chits that need to be separated before play, but have huge "pills" from where the connect, and are subject to peeling – so be careful when you separate them. For the price, I was expecting slightly better quality bits (especially the scoring tokens).

The game play is simple. Players each have their own unique deck of cards representing their contributions to building sections of the Great Wall of China . The cards have a numeric value, and some have special abilities that influence play. Player turns are quick and fairly easy.

On your turn, you must first check to see if a section of wall has been completed. This is as easy as checking to see if you have more points worth of cards in a wall section than anyone else. If so, you can claim 1 of the 2 scoring tokens. Once the second scoring token is claimed, that wall section is cleared, cards discarded, and two new scoring tokens selected from the pile.

After checking for scoring, you have two actions. As an action, you can either play cards to a current wall section (by playing any single card to any of the eligible sections being built or by playing several identical cards at the same time) or draw a card from your deck. You can draw and then draw, play and then play, draw/play or play/draw.

There's a big element of brinksmanship – playing chicken with the other players to see if they're going to continue spending resources to go head-to-head against you in a single section or move on to a different section where they might have the opportunity to force someone else's hand rather than play catchup.

It was an odd dynamic with three players, as with three wall sections open, it was possible we could each work (more or less) on our own little section unimpeded. Ha! Like that would happen – especially since the scoring values for the different sections are randomized. Jorge and Eva ended up spending nearly ½ their decks on one of the first wall sections, with scoring tokens worth 7 & 3 points, I believe.

It ended up being a fairly quick game. Eva vs. Jorge on Wall #1, Jorge vs. Jay on Wall #2, Jay vs. Eva on Wall #3 – essentially working in pairs, as the third person in, unless they had a very strong hand or play, was essentially far enough behind the curve where they were better off expending resources elsewhere. We kept rotating through head-to-head matchups through only 5 wall sections before the game ended, using just 10 of the scoring markers available.

The end game, though, was frustrating. I played the last card in my deck, forcing the last round of card play (to be followed by one last round of score-checking). Jorge positioned cards to compete with Eva on one section and me on another section. On Eva's turn, based on her cards in hand, she had no good decisions.

• If she played any cards on Wall #1, Eva would claim the small scoring token there while Jorge and I would tie for the remaining scoring marker on Wall #2. This would let me claim the scoring marker on Wall #3 and win the game.
• If she played any cards on Wall #2, Jorge would win the smaller scoring marker on Wall #1, nobody would claim the marker from Wall #2 and I would claim the scoring marker on Wall #3 and would win the game.
• If Eva played any cards on Wall #3, nobody would win the scoring marker on Wall #3, Jorge would claim the smaller scoring token on Walls #1, Jorge and I would tie for Wall #2 and Jorge would win the game.
• If Eva played no cards, Jorge would claim the marker on Wall #1, Jorge and I would tie on Wall #2, and I would claim the scoring marker on Wall #3 and win the game.
What a rotten, rotten position to be in.

Overall, it was a bit underwhelming, but I think playing with only 3 players has to be part of the problem, as there were these natural tendencies to break up into separate one-on-one conflicts on the wall sections. I'd imagine with more players (especially 5 players, where you're playing with 1 fewer active wall section than players in the game) you'd have more conflict and more decision making about where to go. It's definitely worth trying again with 4 or 5, but I'll pass on playing it again with 3.

Bottom Line -- 6/10: At first blush, feels like a combination of Samurai (individual player decks, a few pieces with special abilities, played to locations for effect) and Condottierre (vying for control of VPs instead of regions, but knowing when to say when and dropping out). Some interesting concepts, but the brinksmanship can reach levels of absurdity. In our first game, only 5 wall sections scored, so only 10 of the scoring tiles were even in play as no one wanted to yield a section. Biggest disappointment, however, was the strong kingmaking endgame. When the last player took her last turn, her card play could not win the game for her, but since she had to play somewhere to perform her actions, she was forced to decide who would win -- tie a section of a wall and allow no scoring, letting Player A win, or win the lower VP chip on another section of wall and allow Player B to claim the higher value token and win. Very disappointing, as I can see this happening often enough with fewer people to spoil the experience. That said, I think the game has potential as a slightly longer "filler" for 4 or 5 players.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

XCrawl >> First Impressions

Wow, I read a good chunk of the core XCrawl RPG book (from Pandahead Games, now picked up and distributed by Goodman Games) and skimmed the 5 supplements I got for it at GenCon. And I must say, I am very impressed. It's a d20-based game set in a dystopian future where technology and magic mesh, but not quite in the classic Shadowrun sort of way.

It's such a neat setup, basically putting the characters in the role of up and coming sports celebrity in front of a ravenous television audience. The players are athletes competing in live dungeon crawl events for the amusement of the general public. It's the big sport of the future, complete with team sponsorships, fan clubs, trading cards -- the whole shtick. The "Gladiator Games" setup works incredibly well, and allows for a lot of creativity and imagination for putting together dungeon crawls, as well as creative in-game applications.

Some of my favorite elements include:

- Team Mojo: Mini rewards for good roleplaying, clever ideas and the like. You have a pool of Mojo Points that anyone from the team can borrow from to add a bonus to any d20 die roll. If you roll a natural one, you lose extra Mojo. If you roll a natural 20, you only spend part of the Mojo. But it works out kinda' like action dice letting you add emphasis to really important rolls.

- Quasi Dark-futuristic: There is the television spectacle of it all, and the dungeons are built with television monitors and video cameras everywhere, so the audience can see the action -- but sometimes clues and warnings can be flashed onto the screen, adding an interesting DM "Deus Ex Machina" to work with that's already built into the game.

- Scoring: Kind of like the Dungeon Crawl Classic tournaments, the XCrawl modules are "scored" based on accomplishing certain goals. Your rewards and pay can be influenced by your score. Your score and success/failure also determines how quickly you advance through the ranks to larger, national tournaments and XCrawls to compete for better prizes and renown. There are standings and other teams to compete with in an odd sports like way.

- Fame: Lots of games have a Fame mechanic, but I like how it's represented in XCrawl, as you can "spend' your Fame points to purchase special perks in the down-time between XCrawls, like better accomodations, access to certain gear, making celebrity appearances at special events and so on.

- Signature Moves: Players can earn Fame and Mojo in game by creating Signature Moves, which are special 3 Round Actions that follow a certain sequence -- Opening Move, Action 1, Action 2. They are long and drawn out sequences, but when you pull one off, you can earn some major bonuses to other rolls and quickly become a crowd favorite. For example, you could create a Signature Move called the "Big Bad Blitz" which starts with Opening Move (flourish that let's the crowd know what you're about to do), Charge Attack (Action 1 in the second round) and finish it off with a Bull Rush (Action 2, completed in the third round).

In this case, if you pull off the Charge Attack, you'd get a bonus to the Bull Rush. And if the Bull Rush succeeds, you'd get a bonus to your Crowd Reaction check. And even bigger bonuses and rewards can be gained by having teams pull off multiple-person combos (like my Signature Move ends by pushing the guy right into the start of your Signature Move).

- TV Time Outs: Since this is all televised, there are some interesting elements the DM and players can take advantage off to gloss over boring bits. Just win a big battle and earn a chest full of 10,000 gold? Don't worry, during the next commercial break, the grounds crew will cart that off stage and have it waiting in your dressing room after the event. Or did someone pull off a restricted action or spell? A referee may blow the whistle and warn or disqualify a player or monster based on the infraction.

- Quirky: That's probably the term that sums it up best.Very quirky. And very cool. And it's episodice, sports-like nature would scale incredibly well for a group that has players who come and go and may miss a session here and there. I really, really think my main group would enjoy it. I'm hoping there's a dead spot in the schedule some time later this summer or in the fall. I'd love to give it a shot and see what everyone thinks.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

GenCon Quick Hits >> The Great Big List of Loot

Well, this is pretty self explanatory. This is a quick look at all the stuff I grabbed. Stuff highlighted green is stuff I'm pretty excited about and am glad I snagged. Stuff highlighted in red is a bit disappointing, and perhaps I should have snagged something else. But overall, decent haul!

New Boardgames Acquired

- Hunting Party (Seaborn Games)
- Order of the Stick (APE Games)
- Clout Fantasy (Even free I paid too much)
- Gopher It (Playroom)
- Right Turn, Left Turn (Playroom)
- Monkey Memory (Playroom)
- Desert Bazaar (Brian Yu)
- Conquest of Pangaea
- Battlegrounds: Fantasy Warfare (Your Move Games)
- - Dwarf Army & Reinforcements
- - Elf Army & Reinforcements
- - Orc Reinforcements
- - Undead Reinforcements
- - Human Reinforcements
- Top Dogs (Playroom)
- Great Wall of China (FFG)
- Dungeonville (Z-Man)
- Street Illegal (Z-Man)
- Take Stock (Z-Man)
- Tempus (Cafe Games)
- BattleStations: Pax Galactica (Gorilla Games)
- Scavenger Hunt (Goodman Games)
- World Championship Dodgeball (Goodman Games)
- Geekwars (Goodman Games)

New RPGs Acquired

- Serenity RPG, GM Screen, Module (based on Firefly series)
- Hollow Earth Expeditions (1930s pulp adventure)
- Meddling Kids ("Scooby Doo" Mystery)
- XCrawl RPG, Core Rulebook (Televised dungeon crawls, dystopian future)
- - Necroamerica supplement
- - Sellout supplement
- - Guild & Group supplement
- - 3 Rivers Tourney Crawl adventure
- - Emperor's Cup adventure
- - Pro/Am Celebrity Tournament adventure

New Misc. Acquired

- Order of the Stick Collections 1, 2 & 3
- Call of Cthulhu: The Movie
- Shoggoth on the Roof Soundtrack
- A Very Scary Solstice Soundtrack
- Serenity - The Story Behind the Movie (Book & DVD Set)
- A bunch of new minis I'll probably never assemble or paint

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

GenCon Quick Hits >> Highlights & Lowlights

I'll post more as I collect my thoughts and find time to unpack everything... And eventually I'll post my full list of swag and haul from the 'Con (25 or so new games, all said and done). But here is a smattering of highlights -- and sadly, lowlights.

GenCon 2006 Highlights:

- Got to spend some time with Valerie Putnam, Scott Tepper, Steve Zamborsky, Brian Yu, Simon Hunt, Chad Ellis (Your Move Games), Mike Zebrowski (FFG), Greg Benage (FFG), Jeff Siadek (Gorilla Games), Zev Shlasinger (Z-Man), Rick Thornquist, Ray Peterson, Mike & Christy Pennisi and Jay Tummelson (RGG) over the course of the weekend, as well as a dozen or so St. Louis gamers that made the trip

- I got to talk with Ron Edwards (Sorcerer RPG) and Jared Sorenson (InSpectres, High Octane) and some other members of the Forge community to talk about indie RPG design. A great bunch of guys, and I'm very interested in pursuing publishing my two own indie RPGs. Sadly, I missed the Indie RPG design forum they were moderating, as I had a scheduled tournament slot at the same time.

- I had submitted a boardgame prototype to Z-Man Games a few months ago. We met at the con, and the president of the company told me that with a few tweaks, Forbidden City (the name of my prototype) is a game he'd definitely be interested in publishing -- he was very, very impressed with the end game and the novelty of many of the mechanics and scoring

- I picked up a great new RPG called Hollow Earth Exploration, a pulp adventure / "lands of the lost" sort of thing set in the 1920-30s. Excellent production quality, a premise that I've always enjoyed, and some great, great mechanics. I was very impressed with the product, and am looking forward to more by the company. I especially like their "Ubiquity Dice Pool" approach.

- Thursday night I went out for dinner with Eric (forgot his last name!), the designer of Pizza Box Football -- his booth was back-to-back with the Goodman Games booth, so we talked quite a bit over the course of the Con. Very nice guy, we talked about game design and sports games all weekend long. They virtually sold out of their entire stock they brought with 'em, which was great to hear.

- 10-12 people recognized me by the large "karate chop" Ynnen avatar name badge I made. Most of them invariably were "Oh, you're the guy who writes those Geeklists" but one was "You're the guy who dissed Ticket to Ride" or somesuch.

GenCon 2006 Lowlights:

- I slept through the movie premier for the Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising movie I wrote the module-adaptation of. It was scheduled for 8 PM, so I set my alarm clock for 7:30 so I'd wake up in time. But I set it for 7:30 AM!! Missed the whole damn thing.

- One of Goodman Games' judges had to cancel his trip to GenCon on Tuesday, so we had to juggle time slots to accomodate -- meaning I ran 1 extra slot and had more booth time than expected.

- I did not get to play a single full game over the entire weekend. I did play 1/4 of one game (essentially one round) of Take Stock, which Simon Hunt (the designer) was demoing.

- I did not get one of the swag bags. As an exhibitor, you usually get one of these bags filled with all the freebies, catalogs and cool promo items. I completely forgot about it until Saturday, by which time they were completely out.

- I met Dom Crapuchettes, who is rail-thin, curly haired and looks a bit like a librarian. We had planned on getting together for lunch and to talk about Wits & Wagers, as he disagrees with several of my observations and opinions about the game. Sadly, our schedules didn't sync up to go out and grab a bite, but we did talk for a bit at the booth he was sharing with a vendor.

- This will sadly be the last year that the Tiger Lady makes an appearance at GenCon -- for the last 5 years, she's dressed up in a black leather bikini and otherwise full body tiger paint, ears and tail. She will be missed.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Prepping For GenCon >> Crazy Week Straight Ahead

Well, it's the homestretch... Or whatever you want to call the pre-GenCon prep phase. Aside from prepping the D&D tournament module I'm running for Goodman Games again this year, I'm also trying to organize the prototypes I'll be taking along, and trying to develop some last minute tweaks to Forbidden City. I'm also looking forward to getting a lot of gaming in this year with my fellow BGGers.

Highlights to include:

- Look for me at the Goodman Games booth (#439 - right next to WOTC) on Thursday. I'll be working the booth a good part of the day, and have two signing sessions for two new D&D products debuting at GenCon this year

- I'm attending a pre-screening of Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising by Dead Gentlemen Productions, a movie based on a bunch of guys playing D&D. I wrote the official module adaptation for the movie, which was pretty damn fun

- I left my early morning slots open this year, so I'm hoping to stop by and pester Zev at Z-Man and Jay Tummelson at Rio Grande before standard exhibitor hours

- Dom Crapuchettes (from Northstar Games, maker of Wits & Wagers) are going to grab a beer and talk about games and gaming

- I have more time in the evening, where I hope to run into all my BGG friends at GameBase 7 or the 500 Ballroom where the majority of open boardgaming is.

I've printed a nice laminated name badge with my BGG username ynnen clearly marked, as well as the BGG logo and my "karate chop" avatar, to make it easy for other BGG members to recognize me. If you see me there, please stop by and introduce yourself. I love hobnobbing with my fellow gamers.

So, as this crazy week gears up, I'm heading out Wednesday bright and early. This might be my last post until after the 'Con, where I'll spill all the gory details about the fun I had and all that jazz.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Collector's Curse!

So today I stopped by Target on the way to work. For no particular reason. I just had a need to delay getting to the office.

As I wandered through the store, I found myself (as I often do) in the toy section, checking to see if there were any new Heroscape boosters. After the last few series, there's usually been a nice large gap in that part of the shelf, where all the Heroscape stuff would be.

But today, as I drew closer, I realized there was no gap. No gap?! That means there's STUFF THERE! And sure enough, there are two large box expansion cases -- the frozen wasteland/Yeti set and another series of large-size figures featuring a griffon, a white dragon, a black dragon, a huge sword-wielding giant and another techno-borg thingie.

I don't know the names of the expansions. Because I never even bother looking. I just grab them, race to the checkout and drool over the anticipation of... Of...

Of nothing.

These expansions, much like the last two series of expansions (and the Hot Lava Death expansion) are destined to sit on a shelf, unopened, in the basement. I haven't even played Heroscape in the last 18 months. I've got 3 copies of the base set and 1 or 2 copies of each expansion since. Some are even open!

But the vast majority of Heroscape items will never get played, much less opened. So why do I still buy them? Why do I go out of my way to look for them? Because I'm a collector, cursed to pursue complete sets and new-in-shrink versions of games I know will never see the game table. To grab the 1st, 2nd and 3rd edition printings of games I scarcely like. To own multiple copies of a classic game "just in case" one gets damaged.

Of my current game collection, hovering somewhere around 575 games, I believe there were 150-175 that had yet been unplayed at last count, and of those, a good 25-35 of which were still NIS. There simply isn't enough time to get to play everything I'd like to play, but it's oddly comforting to know it's right there, should the time be right.

Yeah, like that'll happen.

So what about you? Are you cursed to collect, as well? What do you unerringly purchase knowing full well it will never get played?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gaming Goals vs. Gaming Roles

A blog posting by my GeekBuddy Ekted over at Gamer's Mind got me thinking. His post, If It Doesn't Hurt, You're Not Doing It Right, is about competitive play among gamers. It had me thinking about taking a closer look at how you define the competitive environment while playing a game. It’s not really examining what your goal is, but what you believe your role is.

It’s not as simple as looking at whether or not you’re trying to win – that’s a goal. Rather, a look at what you do while you play, how you relate to the other players, and how you present your strategies and those goals – that, in my mind, is your role in the game.

For me, that role is defined on a case-by-case basis. It is heavily influenced by the group I’m gaming with, as well as the games we’re playing. And it’s not necessarily restricted to one specific, overriding role. As I started noodling over this, I quickly spat out a few different roles I assume during gameplay.

Host: I have a very strong host mentality. I like to have people over at our place, make sure everyone is having fun and staying involved, and so on. This plays a big part of my role in many games. With in-game and meta-game conversation, I try to keep people involved and interested, and encourage their level of interaction with the game events. I often tell people I measure my own level of enjoyment by how much fun the people around me are having.

Mediator: This is very group dependant, but sometimes my role is to position myself between other players to smooth things over. Not that meta-game theatrics get out of hand, but more of a subtle, nuanced diplomat in a game sense – trying to make sure one person doesn’t get too great a lead, trying to maintain a certain sense of equilibrium. Hard to explain…

Mentor: This is quite a bit different from teaching, but as a mentor, I take pride in assuming a role as a role model, if you will. This is certainly the case when playing with my family and Benjamin in particular. I want to be able to pass along a love and appreciation for the hobby, but more importantly good sportsmanship. In this role I am quick to reward clever moves, applaud another’s victory and try to reinforce that playing and sharing time together is far more important than winning.

Nemesis: This role is often tied to the over-arching goal of playing smart and playing to win. As the nemesis, I look to make life hard for other players. Not necessarily picking on any specific player, but trying to open up my gameplan and strategy to encompass how to be as tough an opponent as possible. I often find myself playing rather myopically – so focused on my own goals and own plans that I fail to see opportunities to advance myself by being a thorn in someone else’s side.

Teacher: I often am the person who teaches the game to the other players. This goes beyond explaining rules before we get started, but also pointing out opportunities and rules as we go, clarifying points that may not make sense until a certain situation comes up, and making sure people are aware of critical points during the game – such as when certain endgame conditions might be coming up, etc.

Whipping Boy: Ultimately, a lot of games end up with me in this role. As fellow gamer and GeekBuddy Jay Moore (MUKid) can attest, we often hear the chorus of “It doesn’t matter who wins or loses as long as Jay loses.” Sometimes this reaches comical proportions. But when all else fails and it comes down to picking on a Jay or Non-Jay option, I believe many of my gaming buddies opt for the Jay route. The upside of this role is I really get to playfully snivel and bemoan my fate a lot.

What do you think?
- Do you agree with my distinction between goals and roles in gaming?
- What other roles do you assume during games?