Monday, June 19, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ How to grow a set and not be a whiner

I've been jonesing for some two-player board gaming action.

The urge hasn't gotten to an unbearable level yet, but if I attend or host too many more wussified Euro Game sessions I'm going to end up regressing back to the 70's... those were the days many of us remember... when we'd buy a manly two-player, direct confrontation, CRT-laden, dice-happy game and punch the counters, set up the board... and play it solitaire.

Yes. There were sissy gamers back then too, kiddies. So us war gamers had to learn the hard way; alone. The board gaming world has always been plagued by weak-kneed, sensitive types who cringe at the thought of having to pit their wits, intelligence and mental acuity against a single combatant. I will explain to you, in the following paragraphs, why multi-player games (Euro Games in particular) have the deleterious effect of eroding the gaming gene-pool. In short, these plain-vanilla, non-confrontational games reward unmanly cooperation, punish rugged individualism and minimize the very important risk-taking behaviour that builds strong gaming muscles.

First off, lets give the Euros the full measure of credit they're due. Hmmmm... what do they do? Oh yeah! Males who used to be real men are often allowed by thier wives to buy Euro Games. An added benefit of that sickening thought is that BGG has probably gained upwards of 40,000 new members as former men flock to the site to hungrily gobble up every Geek List and thread that's ever been written about "games my mistress/wife/girlfriend/dominatrix will play".

What else? Oh, okay, a bunch of people can use Euro Games as an excuse to socialize, drink beer and have group hug sessions where they applaud each other for being refined and discriminating enough to have risen above the barabaric gaming behavoiur exhibited by real men... like, you know, war gamers.

There was a perfect example of exactly this behaviour Saturday, right here in Idaho. A fellow BGG member lives about 20 miles from me. JonnyBravoh is by all outward appearances a regular guy, and he is nice enough to have hosted a bunch of all-day game sessions at his beautiful home. But to cut right to the chase, Jon only hosts these sessions when his wife allows it. Now Jon has a lovely wife and she likes some Euro Games as well. And me, not currently having a wife I have no room to criticize someone in an area where he is obviosly more successful than me... marraige. Hmmm... now that I think about it, I might actually be more successful than Jon at marraige, I have done it at least four times that I can remember and he's only done it once. So who is he to talk?

Anyway, there were between 6 and 9 people there throughout the day and almost every game played was a souless Euro. Not a one of them had any real backbone, not even the ones that were fun. They all fall short because they allow weakness to have a chance at success. They mask poor decision-making. They suppress man's innate desire for single combat. In effect, they turn what ought to be a monumental struggle for domination into a social affair where sloppy play, failure to comprehend rules and heads completely devoid of strategy can schlepp along and have a chance of winning.

Here's an example: A couple of weeks back Jon brought Keythedral to my house. Four of us played and I got slapped... badly. So, when there were five of us at Jon's on Saturday we played Keythedral. I handily won the game. Beating Jon out by a mere point and humiliating the other three. Jon was stunned. What I didn't tell him was how easy it was to beat the game. I watched what the guy who won a few weeks ago did and I did that. Duh. Everyone else played like total spaz gamers, randomly picking tile locations, buying too many house upgrades, getting behind the 8-ball on having the right color of goofy looking little cubes to buy the influence and so on. A bunch of amatuers. If there had been any real war gamers there they'd have given me a run for the money. Jon came close, but hey, it's his game, he's "experienced".

Another game we played was Santiago. I had played this 2-dimensional tile-laying clone once before, at Jon's house, and was beaten soundly. I remembered well what the guy who won did and I did that, winning the game easily. Even 2nd place was over 15 points back. Duh.

We also played Power Grid. Now I happen to like Power Grid because it is confrontational, somewhat. Jumbo won the game, but if the rules had allowed me to act like a renegade third world Religious-Totalitarian Psycho Nation, like Iraq, North Korea or France, I would have kept my nuclear plants, insisted they were for power generation only and secretly stockpiled weapons grade material and nuked the crap outta Jumbo's little East Coast power empire. But hey, it's a Euro, one made by a freakish looking guy with green hair. So I knew what I buying when I bought it and I'm not going to complain when Jumbo actually wins a game... he was sooo happy.

I also won Ticket to Ride Marklin, a bunch of games of For Sale - I rarely lose at For Sale and no one has ever wondered why, they just comment that I'm "lucky at For Sale", okay, whatever, - I won one game of Bang! and something else, I think.The general consensus was that DW had a good day. That comment alone, "DW had a good day", proves my point that Euro's have turned gaming into a pastime where winning is never a clear statement that someone is thinking and applying the results of their cogitation to the game, no matter how cookie-cutter and bland the game is. No, in the EuroSnoot crowd you aren't a "good player" or a "clear winner"... instead you "have a good day."

To be fair again to Jon, as well as Jason, they were both drinking. Jon to excess and Jason simply a steady stream of beer. At one point Jon was blubbering drunk and thankfully nobody wanted to play anything more serious than Liar's Dice until the 12 or 13 scotches he drank wore off. I waited the rest of the day and into the evening for what I knew was coming... that somehow drinking and then slobbering all over the table would be brought up as an excuse. As we were giving the day it's post-mortum and prepping to leave, Jon commented, "I would have done better in Power Grid if I hadn't been so blindingly drunk that my brains melted and gray juice oozed out of my ears and onto the game board."

Okay, what he really said was, "I would have done better in Power Grid if I wasn't drinking."

Well, duh. That's like saying, " I wouldn't have driven over your cow, your ornamental shrubs, your electric fence, through your garage, out into the fields and then knocked down that cell tower, if I hadn't been drinking."

When I look at pictures of various games on BGG what do you think I see? I see lots of pictures of metrosexual-looking guys all grinning like idiots over the various incarnations of the exact same game which sits on a table in an IKEA-stricken dining room and the table is littered with beer bottles, feminine wine glasses, scotch tumblers and puddles of gray liquid that has drained out of their ears.

The point here is simple, Euro Games and most popular multi-player games are weak because they usually can be easily beaten, once you learn the basic design... which is all too frequently a replicate of almost every other Euro Game. They apparancy of competition comes mainly from the fact that most people who play them are either drunk, or they are somebody's "grudging" wife, or the players are so busy discussing their latest iPod downloads, comparing ringtones, making condescending comments about Country Western music and complementing each other on how everybody solved the Game Storage Issue.

For about the 12,395th time Jumbo stated that he loves epic multi-player games and dislikes two-player games. He likes TI3, he likes Descent, he likes big, expansive epic struggles where 5 or 6 people get together and spend 4-7 hours playing. I reminded him that he never gets to play those games. He agreed, that is one of the downsides to epic-scale multi-player games. Yep. You spend $70 on a game and three years later you've played it exactly 1.4 times.... and that was with your cousin's two pre-teen daughters, your moody roomates and RoBee. That same $70 invested in two or three war games would have allowed you to actually play a game... many times.

But! All this leads to one of the more sinister aspects of multi-player games... the Dark Side of gaming... the morally corrosive and character-wrecking seed that virtually every multi-player game has built right into it. And that evil seed is - blaming the poor play of others for your own miserable failures, lack of comprehension and tendency to lose.

Of all the spineless and self-loathing excuses that exist in board gaming, pinning your sorry-ass lack of skill on the errors that other people make is the worst. It trumps everything... including being roaring drunk or having a 2 year old throwing collicky fit in the host's wife's she sits at the table and stares everyone down. It even trumps cheaters, liars and rules-bending nerd-boys who stare more intently than a Scientologist at anyone who argues their interpretation of a rule. Pissing and moaning about what someone else did wrong and how that was why you lost is so unmanly and so self-hating and it so disgusting that I wonder how board gaming sales have grown these last 10 or 15 years.

Maybe the God-fearing, purgatory-preaching and very well armed Religious Conservatives do have it right - we really have become a culture that has an internal self-loathing for our own despicable behaviour. Hmmmm... that would go a long way towards explaining why there are so many Liberal Weenies on BGG... puking all over themselves in a frenzied rush to blame their most recent Puerto Rico loss on "that idiot who chose the Craftsman at the wrong time".

Fact is, none of this BS happens in 2-player games. You don't lose at a game of chess and then carp away on BGG like a big whining baby that you'd have won except for the mistakes the winner made. Actually, now that I think about it, there are enough college grads and IT people infesting BGG that I suspect even that happens. 5 Geek Gold to the first reader of today's article that can direct me to a thread that shows an example of a loser in a 2-player game whining that he only lost because the winner was a lousy player. Oh yeah, and the thread has to be prior to June 19th, 2006, I'm on to you city boys and university people's wily ways.

I like the people I game with. I even like Jon, despite the fact that when he cooked hamburgers on his grill a few months back we ended up using them for street hockey instead of eating them. Jumbo, RoBee, Shaun, Lyle, Austin the 11 year old wunderkid with ants in his pants, Bode, Tony the RRT Baron, they're all great folks to game with. When we get a chance to have Jason and fellow BBG'er Rickwa play, it's even better. But... I really miss the mano y mano 2-player, single combat, confrontational style of gaming. Out of the current group I'd guess only Jason and Bode (who is about 10 days out from opening a game store with two partners) are the only ones who, like me, have the stones to play head-to-head games and face their losses like a man... or graciously congratulate you for putting up a good fight when they win.

For the most part I actually like multi-player games, despite the fact that so many of the ones from Europe are cookie-cutter rehashes of the same two or three designs with some crappy theme that was pasted loosely on after the designer lost control to the publisher. I also consider myself lucky that the people I game with don't whine too badly... well, Lyle does, but then he whines about everything. Lyle though, has shown more than the normal level of interest for war gaming, so perhaps I can get him to play a few real games and beat the whining right out of him.

Anyway, I really am looking forward to some of the upcoming Euro's and even more so, many of the designs coming from American publishers like GMT, FFG and Eagle. I think it's right here in the Good Ol' USA that theme and gritty competition stills exists in gaming and game design.

If you think about it, America is where War Games first rose up and became popular. As a culture we tend to be more "in your face" and willing to get down in the mud and wrestle for a win. I know that attitude pisses some people off because it's so brazen. But that's how it is folks, and for my money I like games that have those nose-to-nose qualities. I know I'm starting to sound like I don't like Euro Games, European people, college educated Wussy Boys, Canadians, people who drink wine, gamers who humiliate themselves by blaming their crappy play on others, men who allow their women to neuter them, women who gleefully neuter their men, folks who drink so much while gaming that they actually become more entertaining than the game and anyone who uses the word "elegant" when talking about games. Well, you're wrong. Except for the one about the usage of "elegant" and maybe the neutering thing, I can pretty much get along with anyone and get enjoyment from any gaming opportunity.

All I'm saying is this: 2-player games tend to be better designed games. They are much less forgiving. They are usually much more competitive. Good ones are, out of neccessity, of a much tighter design than even good multi-player games. They require a much higher usage of the brain and reward intelligent risk-taking, intuition and bold play. And... most Euro Gamers fear them because there is nothing to hide behind when you get your ass soundly kicked and there is only yourself to blame.

Finally, and I don't mean to pick on Jumbo here, but he is an easy target and he doesn't currently have internet access, the mark of a spinelss Euro-Wuss gamer is how they shun confrontation and seek situations where they can hide their personal gaming flaws. Jumbo did exactly that about a month or so back. We set up and played War of the Ring, a game that defies easy classification because it's designed by Europeans, published by an American company, has a huge board, lots of cheesy and garish platic pieces and is relatively complicated while at the same time being, at heart, a 2-player direct confrontation war game. After the game Jumbo commented, "That's a great game, but it'd be even better with four players."

No. No it wouldn't. It sucks as a 4-player game. Some of you folks need to grow a set and experience what I'm talking about. Heres a great link to get you started - manly gaming link

Enjoy the summer... and for chrissakes, quit yer whining!


Unknown said...

I'm not sure if it's just clever sarcasm, but this entire post was a whine.

GrillTech said...

When I tried to go to your "Manly Link" it asked for a username and password. I don't want to have to hack in from work.

Anonymous said...

Well, dw, step up to the plate and host a game day where we play nothing but "manly" games. You know I'll be there.

-The one drinking a steady stream of beer.

iguanaDitty said... don't like Age of Steam why?

Coldfoot said...

My wife lets me play 2 player games every once in a while and when she does I've noticed that it is actually harder to find opponents.

Wanna play Puerto Rico? 3 or 4 people will drop what they are doing and jump at the chance to play.

Wanna play Wilderness War or GIPF? The usual response is, "Let's see if anyone else wants to play, maybe we can get enough people for a game of Puerto Rico."

DWTripp said...

I'm not sure if it's just clever sarcasm, but this entire post was a whine.

Actually Ryan, if you want to split hairs on the definition of "whine", today's post doesn't qualify. But your comment about clever sarcasm shows once again that you are sharper than the average Canadian.

As for AoS, I do like the game. I also like RRT and the local gamers prefer RRT so AoS sits idle. It's the old "tyranny of the majority" that Ben Franklin lamented about.

Mike, the html tag takes me to GMT's website. But now that you mention it, you ought to come out and apply your skills to making my pc run better. We could play a war game.

Anonymous said...

Elegantly put.


Adam said...

... sharper than the average Canadian.

DW... throwing stones? I never thought I'd see the day.

While it's clear that you're never more than a stone's throw away from sarcasm, there's not much cleverness in constantly tearing down the rest of the human race.

Anonymous said...

Puh-leese! Been there done that. I've played Wargames, ASL, MtG, CCG's coming out my ears, RPG's, Minis, 40K, etc. etc. etc. I play and advocate TGOO's because I've played the rest, and found the best. Yes I'm a euro-snoot, but I didn't start out as one.

Anonymous said...

Are people holding a gun to your head with their right hand while brandishing the latest german release in their left? Go play some war games and stop sniveling.

DWTripp said...

My, my, such passion. Sorry, but I didn't mean to tweak anyone... I was just explaining why a good 2-player game is typically better designed and demands more competent play than a multi-player game.

MW Chapel of course defends Euro's, being a Snoot and all, but he doesn't argue against the plain fact that the vast majority of Euro's are all cloned from the same strand of Gaming Silly-String-DNA.

And lastly, my comment that Ryan is "sharper than the average Canadian" is no way a reflection that I perceive Canadians as not overly sharp. It's an open-ended statement that makes no assertions about how sharp the average Canadian might be. I merely said that I view Ryan as being sharper than what I perceive the average of all Canadian sharpness is... and apologies for the miserable grammar.

If you happen to view Canadians as mackinaw-wearing dullards, too busy learning French and stoking the stove to get an education, then you might take that as an insult. On the other hand, if you have high regard for the average Canadian's intelligence, then you'd probably assume I consider Ryan to be one sharp cookie.

ekted said...

If anyone wants to learn the basics of ASL SK#1, I'm happy to teach you. Install VASL, Skype, and send me a message. No more than 1 person per week, thanks. :)

qzhdad said...

Another fun blog! I also often enjoy two-player games. I am not into the hardcore wargames, but really like Titan, Hannibal (and many of the CDG') and the block games.
But some Euros and other normally considered multiplayer work well two player also. Carcassonne and 1870 are two games that I really prefer two player for many of the reasons that you outlined.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I am feeling more competitive and sometimes I'm not. When I'm not, I prefer eurogames.... The feeling of playing Hacienda is much different than Dvonn, chess, whatever. There is a debate about this??