Monday, November 28, 2005

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ The Highlander Effect

Seeing as how I'm in the throes of moving from a largish house on a fair sized piece of land to a way downsized rental house with only a single car garage for storage, I've been a bit pressed for both gaming time as well as writing time over the last 7 days.

Add to that the bonus of a cranky ex-girlfriend who's so used to having it her own way that she is once again proving my philosophy of both gaming and life... which is:

No good deed goes unpunished

Perhaps I shouldn't have knocked off that extra $25K on the sale price of Mosquito Acres to her and her parents. Oh well, I never claimed to be particularly smart, just straightforward.

But onwards to something game oriented that I have taken note of over the last 25 or 30 years and which has been highlighted, proven and polished to excess on www.boardgamegeek.com. I call it The Highlander Effect.

Basically, The Highlander Effect goes like this; Gamer plays game. Gamer has fun with game. Gamer gets excited about game. Gamer's intellect, ego, self-image, id, libido, worldview and everything else that can be added is defined (in his or her view) by the game, mainly because Gamer seems to do well at the game. Effectively, said game becomes "The One." As in, "There can be only one", from the really terrible, and therefore highly fan-driven, Highlander movies and TV series.

Boardgamegeek is a boiling cauldron of arguments, threads, flames, mathematical formulas, assaults and onslaughts that take The Highlander Effect to dizzying heights. The previous genres I noticed this in back in the 80's and 90's were D&D and MTG. But since there is no site I'm aware of that does for CCG's and RPG's what BGG does for board games... which is throw several thousand over-active egos into the electronic dimension and give them a forum for rating games and then defending their ratings... the Geeks of board games have taken The Highlander Effect into uncharted territory.

For proof I give you Puerto Rico, and now it's equally ugly step-sister, Caylus. I would be willing to bet you a date with my recently ex'd girlfriend that when Caylus reaches the #1 spot on BGG that major Highlander warfare will erupt. And why not? If a gamer has spent hundreds of hours playing a game and then hundreds of additional hours defending the game online, it's unlikely that gamer will suddenly cede his or her contention that Puerto Rico is THE ONE to any other game... ever.

But there are many other games that suffer from this effect, I wrote about one last week. Age of Steam versus Railroad Tycoon has sparked numerous threads and the AOS defenders are thicker than flies on horseshit, staunchly defending AOS with what I consider fairly dense and even laughable points. Such as: AOS doesn't have as much chance as RRT. Huh? Fer Chrissakes! You roll the dice, six of them, every round. Bad roll? No product. No product? No income increase. No income, bad for victory conditions. And then there's the boring auction defense of AOS vs. RRT which proclaims that AOS auctions -- which are a snooze-fest to start with -- are better than the the equally unexciting RRT auctions. Well I'm sorry to bust anyone's bubble, but auctions in any game that is played by unexciting, fearful, cheap and terrified players are boring.

In a recent game, attended by a fellow BGG'er Jon and his son, I claimed a vital route from Raliegh to Atlanta for 8 points (roughly the margin I won that game by) one turn before Jon could claim the route. He was kicking himself for "letting me have it easily". Yeah, sure. When we were BS'ing about the game afterwards I pointed out that there were five players in the game and only two of use were actually bidding for starting player the first 7 or 8 rounds. I further pointed out that had he been bidding at all, he could have claimed that route one action before me. Jon is certainly no dummy and he pretty much said that he saw that Shaun and I were much more aggressive bidders and he wasn't.

The point? AOS and RRT both have auctions. AOS is more restrictive, RRT is more open-ended. Winning either game's auction can be what determines your final tally. So if you want to win, you ought to think about bidding. Anything else is too passive a gaming style to be competitive in games with auction mechanics.

Have I digressed?

Right. Back on point. I personally feel that RRT is an evolution and also an improvement on an excellent game. By my reckoning, it's better in almost every regard. It's deeper, it allows more freedoms -- and therefore requires much finer control as a player -- it's got hidden elements and a flexibility in track-building and product delivery that it's older brother doesn't have. It's so much more attractive that only people who think Hillary Clinton is a "hot number" would choose AOS over it for presentation. And, it's much easier on novice players due to it's more open architecture and switchable strategies. Not to mention, it's less prone to "take that" moves that are all too cheap and easy to employ in AOS.

So, I pronounce RRT a better, deeper and more flexible game than it's predecessor. Which will likely cause a number of gamers suffering from The Highlander Effect to shake their heads and wonder what it is I missed.

Back when I role-played, about 20 years or so ago, I found other systems superior to D&D. Many gamers tried to correct me. Just as the 1st Edition fans correct the 2nd Editon fans who correct the 3rd Edition fans. Same goes with MTG. There are definitely better CCG's out there than MTG, but the defenders will defend no matter what. Most won't even try many other CCG's and some will try them only to discover why they aren't as good as MTG.

Wanna know what I think?

I think lots of games are good. MTG is a good game, so is D&D. No doubt Caylus is too. AOS is good and I also like 7-card Stud better than Texas Hold 'Em and I like Formula De better than Speed Circuit. But I'll play them all and most likely I'll lose a few and win a few. Just like in Puerto Rico or in my somewhat questionable choices in female companions.

Hmmmm.... I'll get back to you on the "win a few" part when it comes to romance. Perhaps "There is only One" in that department and I just barely missed her 32 years ago when I arrived at a party 20 minutes late. Well, whatever, she probably hasn't aged well and has now added 200 pounds and 5 unruly kids to her life, along with a husband that makes Homer Simpson look cultured and urbane. Or maybe I'm thinking of one of my ex's, there was that one who did add 200 pounds and a clutch of squawking brats not 5 years after we parted company.

Anyway, back to games.

My whole point here is that there really isn't "Only One". There are just too many good games out there to ever truly determine that any specific game is somehow better than another game if both are really, really good to begin with. Games are all about who you play them with and the mechanics and clarity of play, along with other elitist traits like "weight" and "elegance" only matter if the group you're playing the game with is somehow focused on those traits above other positives aspects of the game. I've played several thousand games in my lifetime and hope to play that many others before the Great Pale offers up it's door to me. Looking back at the images, sounds and emotions of thousands of game sessions with as many different people, I personally could never be so frickin' self-centered as to declare any particular game as THE ONE.

I will offer this though, to those who are utterly convinced that such a thing as THE ONE exists... there are what I think should be called defining moments in gaming. Specific sessions, people, interaction and environment that all combine just the right mixture and the perfect qualities and generate a memorable experience. And if you can sustain those elements, keeping them all in play over a series of game sessions, then you could easily be convinced that it's the game that made the experience. And you might mistakenly think that that game is truly The Highlander of all games.

Of course if you did that, you'd have immediately reduced yourself to a slobbering fanboy and I wouldn't trust your lousy judgement on a printed bus schedule, much less a game.

If Caylus never reaches #1, or if it does get there but fails to inspire lively defense from the Puerto Rico Cult, I'll be happy to set you up with that date I offered earlier. My recent ex is very attractive and I would only suggest that you bring a suitcase full of money, some tie-downs and WD-40 for her brood, a set of jumper cables for her vehicles, earplugs, manure rake and possibly a bottle of anti-depressants. That last item will be for you.

In the meantime, I think I'll go home and mix a drink, see what Tivo has for me and savor my recent Railroad Tycoon victory... thanks to that Raleigh/Atlanta route card.

8 comments:

gamesgrandpa said...

Amen to your point about "only one" best game. I have so many favorites that I would find it impossible to select a "top favorite." Your comments about the circumstances of playing the game are right on -- the setting, the mood of the players, the chemistry of the players -- those and other factors make or break a game session (in addition to the game selection).

Good post, again, DW.

Fellonmyhead said...

I wonder...

Are you really hung-up about the stubbornness of other gamers or is this just your stubbornness showing through?

I mean I'm getting the impression you are saying that nobody can have the opinion that a game is "the one"; or that "the one" can be replaced.

Yet for the time being at least, your "one" is RRT...

...pole-dancing stripper with a Porsche or something, wasn't it?

Speaking of RRT, there are two reasons I don't rush out and buy it:-

1. I own AoS and the two might be too close for me to justify owning both.

2. It's only just become available over here, and there's a queue.

3. I'm trying to cut down on buying "the one" every time it comes out.

Three reasons - I'll come in again.

-Johnny- said...

Hmmm... I think I'm going to go rate Caylus a '10', just help it along it's way to #1.

sexy amy said...

Although I think Hillary is kinda cute by Senatorial standards (she's definitely got Trent Lott beat by a mile), RRT's huge board has the added advantage of providing built-in exercise equipment as you circle around it searching for the perfect track placement. Not to mention the Charles Crocker-like feeling of power as the octopus tentacles of your rail empire penetrate the yearning orifices of a virgin continent. I'm not joking, baby ! It feels so good !

ekted said...

Amy,

You made milk come out my nose...and I wasn't even drinking milk! :)


- Jim

huzonfirst said...

It's very unlikely that Caylus will overtake Puerto Rico in the BGG ratings, DW. It's average rating is less than PR's Bayesian rating, and that's while Caylus is still in the early stages of its life--ratings tend to move toward the mean with time. This has nothing to do with whether Caylus is better than PR or not (I haven't even played it yet), just a commentary on the way ratings work on the Geek.

And I'm kind of wondering along with Anthony: what is the difference between your heartfelt defense of RT and other's defense of AoS? It seems likely that the two games appeal to different audiences and that you're in the RT camp. But both sides are allowed their preferences and the feeling that "their" game is superior (at least to them).

DWTripp said...

Anthony and Huzon ~

While it may seem I'm defending RRT over AOS, I'm not. They're both very good. Instead I prefer to point up the fact that some gamers, not all, some, get very personal about there being only ONE game that is BETTER than all others.

I did highlight why I feel that RRT is a superior game to AOS but it's not my ONE... I like way too many games to have a ONE.

That being said, I will admit that I enjoy sowing the seeds of discord and discontent wherever I go and I consider my day successful if I can get even one fellow gamer rankled.

Amy ~

You took the words right out of my mouth.

Anonymous said...

Great post DW. You couldn't be more right about those suffering from "The Highlander Effect." As far as I'm concerned, it's okay to have a favorite game, but if that game becomes "THE ONE" at the expense of all others, people will be missing out on a whole lot of fun out there. To me, gaming is about having fun. Heck, sometimes even a game of "Candyland" with my four year old is a blast. There are times I wouldn't trade that in for a whole afternoon of my current favorite, Warmachine.