Monday, February 20, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ How to avoid being a Whiny Little Puke.

I had another article all ready to go for today. It's a great one too... it's all about what I'm going to do with the $365 million bucks I get from the big Power Ball lottery. Then I found out some loser in Nebraska won. Crap!

That's actually too bad for you because I was going to give each of you $10,000 apiece.

Oh well, next time maybe. That'll teach me to pick my lottery numbers based on the dates I was divorced from all of my ex-wives and the number of attorneys still hounding me for their fees.

So here I am Monday morning ruiminating about how many people bitch about games. Not just on www.boardgamegeek.com either. On various blogs and sites about the world there is an annoying undercurrent about rules, boards, cardboard thickness, paper selection and the size of cards or quality of dice.

The thing about all this carping is that there is a grain of truth in most of it. But the fact is you could take almost any product on the Earth and select out one or two specific features and then accuse the manufacturer of that product of selling a shabby item. BGG is rampant with this manner of carping and grousing.

Let's take Railroad Tycoon and the infamous warping board... a bunch of us went to a fellow BGG member's house Saturday evening, Johnnybravo (kind of an odd handle because Jon is pretty much a computer nerd and bears little resemblence to the super hero or adventurer the name implies, whereas I look exactly like DW Tripp) and his gracious wife actually let us in the door for 8 hours. One of the games that came out was Railroad Tycoon. My boards had a little warpage initially and I fixed it by back-bending them gently over the course of the first several plays. I have suggested that about 100 times on BGG and yet it appears there is a very vocal group who'd much rather accuse Eagle Games of, of, of... of something! Anything! They just want to make sure Eagle is accused and if they simply fixed their stupid boards then what would they bitch about?

I asked one of the other players Saturday if his copy of the game had warped boards. He said yes and that he had gently back-bent them a few times and they were fine now. Hmmm... either this really isn't a major issue or Eagle Games made sure the gamers in Idaho all got the good copies.

To carry the story a bit further; last night Jumbo-Tron and Ro-Bee wedged their way into my little hovel and we played a bunch of rounds of GMT's Formula Motor Racing to warm up. Then I brought out my copy of Tigris & Euphrates. I hadn't even opened the game for two years. When I did I noticed the board didn't lay flat... yes, when I last played T&E a couple of years ago I had to bend it slightly to get it flat. But wait! About 6 weeks ago a bunch of us played Oasis once or twice a week and guess what? The board needed gentle bending prior to play.

You know, it seems to me that the only game boards that consistently laid flat from opening the box were the very heavy mounted boards from Avalon-Hill and some of the heavy boards that SPI produced. Oh sure, there are isolated cases of boards that come out okay, FFG did a great job on Runebound and several others, but I have had to bend a few FFG products. And the German publishers also have this issue from time to time, but realistically, so many of the Euro-Snoot games have small cards instead of boards that it's not a real problem. Think Puerto Rico or Princes of Florence. But when the board gets large, like so many area-control or war games, this is common. Mare Nostrum? A few gentle bends the first several plays, now no problem. Giganten? Yes, slightly warped... very slight. problem fixed after the first play.

I think there is a nasty little sub-culture of Game Geeks who will find something, anything, to bitch about unless the game is on their top 5 list. You guys, and you know who you are, are really sick little twerps. My dog wouldn't even pee on your shrubbery.

Having not played Tigris & Euphrates for a couple of years Jumbo-tron suggested we read the rules. Phew! There really aren't a lot of rules but grasping the concepts in a game like T&E make the rules seem....difficult.

This got me to thinking about rules. That's the second most popular subject of carping in the Game Geek universe. And like the board issue, sometimes it's just griping to gripe (or to be noticed) and sometimes it's accurate. Usually it's not accurate critcism and I'll tell you why.

Beacause you are doing the reading and you don't know how to play the game yet. Once you understand the rules you'll see that they normally (at least in this day and age) are well written. What I'm saying here is that it's the reader who applies their own definitions to the sentences on the page. You may have a misunderstanding about a word. Or perhaps you're mentally applying one specific defintion whereas the person who wrote the rules means another thing entirely.

This can be ludicrous at times. Even with simple rules. Back in the 70's I bought a very simple race game called London Cabbie. Essentially you drive your cabs around London pick up & deliver style and race to amass the most cash before the fares run out. I was playing with a guy named Bob one evening who was a tough guy to game with because he had a college degree and already knew everything better than anyone on the planet. Well, the rules state very cleary that once a cab you own picks up a fare you have to take the most direct route to the fares destination. I'll repeat that... the most direct route.

Bob saw a situation where he could block one of my cabs by turning up a one-way street and he did so. I pointed out that when he did that he was now taking a less direct route... ergo, not the most direct. What ensued was a 15 minute firefight over the definition of the word "direct". This was followed by looking up the word "most" in the dictionary. Despite the fact that used the dictionary and the applied literacy of both of us, Bob steadfastly refused to accept that his move couldn't somehow fall under the "most direct" rule and he refused to take it back.

So I sent him away forever.

No, I didn't kill him. I just never played another game with him.

My point is that unless the rules are actually written poorly, with mistakes in them and unanswered questions that refer to vital elements of the mechanics, then the constant carping about rules is usually indicitive of user error. T&E is a great example. After playing last night I realized that the rules are well-written but that grasping the subtle concepts of the game require not referring mentally to other games when digesting the T&E rules. This is a tough game for a war gamer to grasp initially because you really don't "own" a kingdom in T&E, you merely help establish kingdoms and then use them to build victory points. The rules tell you that. Now you have to make the leap of understanding what the author is saying.

Power Grid is another matter though because Rio Grande failed to properly vet the rules and they use "phase" and "step" differently in different places, adding some real confusion. In addition, the layout could definitly have been better. The actual mechanic that triggers the end game is buried in the b&w rules in small print. Hidden. Whereas T&E has a section that makes the end game conditions obvious.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I own Reef Encounter and after reading the rules I had no concept of how to even begin to play. Johnnybravo told me he's played several times online and doesn't know the rules either. Henry Rhombus posted on this blog in response saying that Reef Encounter would begin to make sense if I read the rulebook backwards.

So... does this sound like a good product to you? I mean, if the rules are so difficult and so poorly written that reading them backwards might give someone an idea how to play then it seems to me that the designer did a lousy job of explaining what he designed. I'm keeping Reef Encounter despite the fact that nobody can figure out how to play it. It looks great and I think when I get really old I'm going to while away my golden years learning the rules.

Despite Power Grid's editing breakdown and Reef Encounter's convoluted rule book, Power Grid is a great game and Reef Encounter will make a great book-end. Why go online and put these games down? It takes a person with some sort of serious emotional flaw to spend their valuable time writing about how awful other people's products are. Man, I'm glad I don't act that way.

What got me thinking about rules as a much more vital element of game publishing than the boards was that I was using BGG to get some info on Columbia Games' recent product Crusader Rex, which I think I'll get. So I looked at this excellent review:

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/77772

Dane Peacock (who I understand actually looks like his name also) did a great job. Yet the follow-up commentary devolved into one or two members attacking the game because the rules were poorly written. You read it and tell me if I'm wrong when I suggest that the rules are probably not poorly done, but the one particular member who made it an issue just wanted to bitch about Columbia Games.

Which brings me back to what I think I was saying to begin with - some people just like to put other people down. Some people are pissy little complainers and no matter how nice the product, they'll find fault in it because... because... well, because other people like it! I expect this sort of behaviour in politics or environmental discussions, or religion. But it always sets my teeth on edge when I see it in the game universe.

These are just games. Some are better than others and frankly -- and this is to the pissy little complainers who really ought to get a life -- they are all better than the games you have published. So go write a review, sell off your copy of the game and be done with it. Why go on a crusade to keep others from buying it?

Okay. I feel better now. Thanks for listening and I apologize that you didn't get your $10,000, I promise to pick new lottery numbers based on the amount of times I fell asleep with the Reef Encounter rules in my hand.

Oh yeah, and this is to Gary, who probably never stops by to read my articles...

"Dude. I apologize for slapping you repeatedly across the face and upper torso with the Blood Bowl rules. I realize now that was unwarranted behaviour on my part. I'll never hit another person with a rule book again. But in my defense, you really were being a dick. "

20 comments:

GrillTech said...

Oh and thats supposed to mitigate killing him? OH wait, that was a disagreement on the Indiana Jones RPG rules.

BilboAtBagEnd said...

I didn't have any problems with the Reef Encounter rules, actually. I thought they were laid out quite nicely. They are no more confusing than T&E rules to a newbie.

Hoist on your own petard...? ;)

People get hung up on the terminology too much, I think. It's basically

- algae strength determines which corals can take over which other ones

- you try to lay down big thocking corals on the board using your coral tiles, and to declare them for yourself using your shrimp. Shrimp protect some of a coral from being taken over by others.

- once you have a huge coral that you own, eat it with a parrot fish. you also eat the shrimp. Thus you can eat only up to four times in the game, so choose wisely.

- You play tiles of one type per turn, if you can also play a polyp cube of that type. (It seeds, you see.)

- if you take over bit of other coral, you get to a) lay down your tiles and replace the tiles you take over, and b) put those tiles you overtook in front of your screen.

* use tiles you overtook to break the tile limit per turn so that you can, say, put down seven black coral tiles instead of just four.

* use tiles you overtook to trade for cylinders, so that you can change the strength of some of the algae and thus the strength of some of the corals (flip some of the algae tiles). If your parrot fish ate once this turn (a shrimp is on the open sea board), nail down an algae tile.

- You score based on how many coral tiles your parrot fish ate, and how strong they are on the algae board. The stronger they are, the more points each tile of that type is worth.

Everything else is little stuff that make sense once you have the basic idea.

BilboAtBagEnd said...

And yes, I do agree... people complain too much about little things, or problems that result from their own impatience.

But that's probably just a vocal minority (very vocal).

There are a lot of other people who really don't have problems with all that's being complained about.

It's also a quick way to be "in vogue"---complaining about the "right" things. Makes you seem like you know what's down, that you can properly complain about things. So there are trends of complaint too, even if the original complainers (who tend to be honest) got corrected and then said "Ah... never mind. I have no more complaints." It lives on beyond their own bewilderment.

The case of the Railroad Tycoon boards was just like that, hah, when I was looking at the threads on the Railroad Tycoon message boards. Very bold example of it, and the thread meandering past that point as if it hadn't existed at all.

There are legitimate complaints. But ... sometimes there are quite too many to justify given the severity of the problem and the apparent quick fixes available.

Anonymous said...

I haven't laughed so much at a game article since the Misadventures in Gaming guy wrote about a bear eating his LOTR figures.

One of my pet peeves has always been the 'I cover the waterfront' attitude towards game reporting/discussion. Unless you've discovered that the game was made by 8 year olds chained to a stump in a quonset hut somewhere I'd like to be spared the moral outrage.

Al the Handsome

Shannon Appelcline said...

Good for you DW.

A few months ago I read a pathetic, pedantic, and mildly outraged thread called "Things That Don't Make Sense in Ark of the Covenant" at BGG. You can find it at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/87819, but here's an excerpt:

Since this game is set in the time of the Israelites just having entered the promised land, there shouldn't be any Temple tiles. The Jews worshipped at the Tabernacle. There wasn't a Temple until the reign of Solomon.

Furthermore, there was only one Temple at a time, and it was in Jerusalem. The concept of having multiple Temples just doesn't make any sense.


I started writing a similar article to this one, but could never find the right hook.

I've gotten quite sick of moral outrage on BGG, particularly of the "Company X is out to destroy our way of life!" variety.

It's one of the reasons that I visit the site considerably less than I used to, except to view comments on an individual game.

A lot of the problem is peoples' tone. That whining about Ark of the Covenent could have been turned into an interesting historical discussion, but that wasn't the poster's purpose. He wanted to tear something down.

I generally call this punch-em-in-the-face-itis. People on the 'net say things that they'd never say face-to-face in real life because they're not afraid that someone will punch them in the face in response.

ekted said...

Tripp, if there were no ranters, then what would you have to rant about? ;)

Jeff Coon said...

Yes, people complain a lot. But remember there are those of us out here whose boards are warped so bad that back-bending hasn't fixed the problem, and whose cardboard has started peeling away in layers. Counting all the other boards I've bought that haven't warped, it seems like a good thing to complain to Eagle about. I hope they will provide the boards at a reduced rate for those of us that bought first-gen copies. If they do, then the complaining was worthwhile.

Jeff Coon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DWTripp said...

Ava... I am not suprised that you understand Reef Encounter. You understand everything! That's why I'm figuring out how to legally break my parole and move in next door to you. ;-)

mrjohnson... I killed Gary because he inexplicably mutated into a horrible monster during a game. If you recall, I managed to insert a copy of the Call of Cthulhu RPG into his forehead, killing him instantly. To make up for accidently killing him I cloned a newer, better Gary a few days later.

ekted... What I do is not ranting. I prefer to view it as shedding light on the weaknesses of others... and hopefully keep it aimed away from me.

jeff... Okay, some boards warped. I got that. But if you read the threads on BGG you'd see that the normal pack of slobbering attack-hyenas went on a very personal crusade to indict Eagle Games of being a bad company because of a production issue. I will assume that you personally aren't one of the pissy little whiners and that you did the right and proper thing by addressing the problem with your game directly to Eagle Games.

I am not part of Eagle's defense team, but I have the attitude that perfection is near impossible and that those who complain loudest about other's imperfections are likely even less perfect human beings than their targets.

Shit happens. Cars break. Shirts tear. Milk spoils. Diapers leak. Game boards warp. I can think of a million things to do with my time rather than go on a personal vendetta over a $50 board game. I assume Eagle will remedy the problem when the 2nd printing arrives. Even then, I also assume that there will be a new round of whiny-ass bawling and mewling from the usual gang of idiots.

Mario said...

First, with regard to poorly-written rules: there are certainly cases where rules are so poorly written that having to read them becomes a time-intensive ordeal. I have issue with this. Rules are a game and a game is its rules. Publishers are human and so may make mistakes. No biggie.

My real issue is when rules are not well supported. Every publishers should strongly support his rules for at least a few months after publication by providing any of a FAQ, errata, and rules revision. Otherwise, many people all have to put forth an identical effort in trying to figure out (usually in online discussions) what the designer intended.

Second, some of us have a mind and desire for wanting to improve things. Many of the games about which I comment, I own and like quite well and so I don't mean to down the game. Though I had mentioned a few usability issues on the Geek about Das Zepter von Zavandor, I own and enjoy the game very much, and now Z-Man is reprinting it. Perhaps they will read some of the comments that people have offered and use them. If people don't voice issues about a game's shortcomings, by what means of feedback will publishers depend for improving? I know that if I were a publisher I would covet feedback, good and bad.

I agree with you that lots of people just enjoy harping. I think what matters is the spirit in which comments are made. Some people do have self-serving attitudes, and others just hope to offer feedback by which future improvements can be made.

Friendless said...

DW, yes, the rules to Reef Encounter are complicated, but so is the game. They are reasonably well-written considering what they have to describe.

BTW, Johnny Bravo is a cartoon character famous for his vanity and sexism, not for his adventurous spirit. No doubt somewhat like you before you became the sour curmudegon we all admire so much.

Fraser said...

Reading rules in reverse or from back to front is not a bad idea for some games.

I was (re)reading the rules for Traders of Genoa recently out aloud to the other players. We started a chant everytime I said "see below". It kept on mentioning things that had not been introduced or explained yet and to see what it was that was being talked about you had to "see below".

Actually it would have made a killer drinking game, skol a drink at every mention of "see below" and none of would have been in a state to play the game!

Strabo said...

Soo...DWTripp is making a post in which he rants about people who rant about things and attempt to put other people and companies down. He does this by calling them pathetic...

Did you hear that "Boom!" sound back then? That was my irony meter exploding.

DWTripp said...

Did you hear that "Boom!" sound back then? That was my irony meter exploding.

I hear you man, Ekted and Yehuda both blew theirs earlier in the day. As for me, I order them by the case. Everytime I fire up the word processor two or three of them explode.

What's troubling to me is that both Friendless and Fraser also seem to understand Reef Encounter. Those guys are Aussies. How is that possible? I thought all Aussies did was drink huge beers, BBQ shrimp and tease Greg and Murray Wiggle for being pansies.

Shannon Appelcline said...

I tend to see a difference between ranting (which I'd call this) and purposefully trying to drag down a company or product because (1) you're trying to show how clever you are -or- (2) you've got some type of chip on your shoulder (which I see a lot of on BGG and elsewhere on this fine net of ours).

PS: I played Reef Encounter twice last week. After learning the game from the rules. Which are OK, but I'm not convinced of the ordering.

Fraser said...

I thought all Aussies did was drink huge beers, BBQ shrimp and tease Greg and Murray Wiggle for being pansies.

I'll pay Greg Wiggle being a bit of a pansy, but Murray is only a victim of perpetual bad haircuts (as a hairdressing friend of mine used to say "That's not a hair-do, that's a hair-don't").

I understand Reef Encounter? Cool, now I just have to find someone with a copy.

Joe Gola said...

I'm with ya, D.W., though to be fair there were a lot of minor ambiguities in the first version of the Crusader Rex rules. However, I'm definitely in the "send an e-mail to the publisher and post clarifications on BGG" camp rather than the "give up and post a complaint" camp. I kinda wish that Jerry Taylor would answer my question about assassins, though.

Ava is really on the mark about the "look at me, I'm in the club" complaining, as are Anonymous Al and Shannon with the "set phasers to outrage" syndrome.

Henry rhombus said...

Fraser wrote:Reading rules in reverse or from back to front is not a bad idea for some games.

My initial problem with the R&D rules for Reef Encounter was that I felt like I was circling around the point of the game without being able to see that point. Once I hit the "feeding the parrotfish" section in the back, everything made more sense. Thus my suggestion to start with this section, then move to the front.

Anonymous said...

It can certainly be overdone but if no one ever complained do you think the quality of games ( or indeed anything else) would be better or worse?

Anonymous said...

I remember a post complaining about the thinness of the bags holding the trains in T2R:E as compared to the bags in the original! They're freakin' bags!