Monday, October 09, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Warning! Hazardous Blog Ahead!

It's nice to see all the new people participating on Gone Gaming. Gee, a real doctor of something and the guy from Finland with the cool name and Kris from out there in....hmmm... West "By God" Virgina? Or something like that.

However you personally react to these fine people, I think they add some depth to the blog and looking back over the 15 months or so we've been doing this it feels like Coldfoot's idea has turned out well. Yes... very well indeed.

As for me, well, I'll be absent the next two weeks. I did something very stupid and now I'm going to have to pay the piper for my indiscretion. I got a job.

Sheesh! I'm a frickin' bonehead! What the hell was I thinking!!!!

Anyways, I posted this dummied-up resume on Monster.com as an experiment to see how many automated emails I'd get from insurance companies wanting me to sell policies to my relatives. It was great fun for a while. And then I got an email from a guy who asked me if he could interview me when he was in Idaho about selling a very, very sexy product. Yes fellow gamers, I went to the interview and, despite all odds, the guy actually liked me and now I'm fated to sell "Industrial solvents, hazardous waste sorbents and lint-free wipers".

How sexy is that? Yum.

So I'm off to Sunny Southern California for a fun-filled week of super-secret specialized training where all will be revealed to me... yes, I'll soon have in my grasp the dirty little secrets of industrial clean-up and proper disposal of printing solvents, diesel spills and other earth-friendly products. The world will now be a safer, cleaner place because of me.

At least I'm getting a Manager title.

And for the second year in a row I've had to email Aldie at BGG and donate my BGG.Con fee to the cause. I'll be a two year veteran of the Con without ever having attended.

But let's chat about games for a few minutes, shall we?

Mission: Red Planet

Despite some hilarious discussions on BGG detailing how incredibly anal some gamers are about games... the main complaints about this game being centered around how a few gamers struggled to get the box open... most people who have picked up this game agree it's a winner. Me too. Here's why:

Citadels, with it's role-selection and screw your buddy mechanic has grown stale. Plus, it's a game that wearies me to play. It's because of people's tendency to think-think-think too long and then the table talk drags on while one group attempts to convince another group to beat up on the player closest to winning. Even a 5 player game of Citadels can drag on past 90 minutes and that gives me a headache.

El Grande, with it's area-control mechanics and suprise cube-invasion-from-the-Castillo trick can drag on and induce analysis paralysis in way too many gamers. Not to mention, knowing the cards, understanding the subleties of the bidding mechanics and finessing points while appearing to run in the middle of the pack is way to subtle for most gamers, especially those who find real joy in 45 minute card games and dry-husk Euros.

At the same time, role-selection and area control suprises are two mechanics that I happen to find very appealing in a game. Mission: Red Planet brings those into play in a much smoother and quicker-playing fashion. While I still prefer El Grande overall, I think M:RP is just about perfect for most of the gamers who like shorter games with less subtlety. And I see no reason whatsoever to open my Citadels game ever again.

So what about theme? Euros are notorious for having pasted on themes disguising the same oft-used mechanics. M:RP is no different. Not really. I think they did a much better job of applying make-up and giving the appearance of theme and the graphics, pieces and general feel of the game hides the ugly secret that it's really a Frankenstein, cobbled together from two popular titles that are really close relatives of several other popular titles... all with no real theme, but with enough interesting design twists to make them fun to play.

Since theme, or lack of it, seems to be the main complaint about what Euros lack, what could Asmodee have done to further dupe gamers into believing M:RP had an actual theme? In fact, what single error do most Euro publishers (and some Ameritrash publishers as well) make that is the gaming equivalent of a genetic receptor that signals, on a purely physical, non-analytical level, that the game at hand is a drab and lifeless repackaging of game mechanics that have been so overused as to cause almost instant vomitous reactions when the box is opened and the contents viewed?

Why, it's the "little wood bits". Cubes, discs, retarded-looking farmers and phallic pawns... absurd representations of dragons and animals... all painted in the same pallette and stuffed by the hundreds into thousands of game boxes that are shipped the world over and hungrily opened by gamers seeking to be sated, to be fulfilled... but somehow always coming away from the game table still hungry. Hungry for substance. For meat. For something... anything... some blessed relief from yet another gawdawful ziplock bag of painted cubes and discs!!!!

Mission: Red Planet would have been an even better game if the two Brunos had fought a little harder with the bean-counters at Asmodee for something to represent the astronauts other than Puerto Rico slave pieces. And that's what they are... five racial types of slaves/colonists brought directly to you from the bowels of the Puerto Rico slave manufacturing facility. Couldn't they at least have made a new jig and cut little wood astronaut helmets out? Or little wood figures that looked like John Glenn or Neil Armstrong or that Yuri guy from the old USSR?

Don't get me wrong, wood cubes and discs have their place. In games where you deal with abstract commodities they work. Age of Steam, Railroad Tycoon and a few others where the cube or piece represents something indistinct. But an astronaut? A slave worker in the Caribbean? WTF? At least give us something to fool us into momentarily suspending our disbelief.

I know, I know, there are two very distinct camps regarding components. Those who think any game with actual theme represented, at least in this respect, by pieces that actually look somewhat like the thing they represent, is a cheap and trashy product... and those, like me, who find real joy in the extra level of immersion that iconic components creates.

And don't tell me it's just about money. Nexus Ops has cool looking parts that appear to be what they are meant to be in the game. Hell, even games using wood pieces like Fearsome Floors have found a way to make better wood by applying graphic stickers. And how about war games? You know, the block variety? I own Hammer of the Scots, Crusader Rex, C&C: Ancients, Europe Engulfed and few others and have found the sameness of the wooden blocks is masked by the simple application of a sticker that gives either a graphic or a symbol that translates into an image in my brain.

So. When I look at Mission: Red Planet I see a fine game that takes two proven (but worn) mechanics, incorporates them into a compelling game, creates an attractive and even lavish package and creates a winner. But... this game would have been beyond cool if they'd spent the extra time and maybe a couple of bucks to conjure up a way to put something other than little wooden dics in the box.

See you in a few weeks... enjoy the new guys!

5 comments:

MWChapel said...

I like M:RP( I did the first review on BGG last year). As for the components, thank god they didn't go all FF and stuff in little wastes of Polyethylene Terephthalate dweeb toy pieces. Long live wood(my general overall life philosophy).

I am however a little disappointed that they had to dump the round game board like the original. It's was very kitsch.

Anonymous said...

crossing mwchapel off my geekbuddy list... :)

Anonymous said...

When, where in SoCal?

Nonamnon said...

DW,

You are breaking my heart. I assume that since you will be in California, we won't get to hear your lamentations in person at the Idaho Convention for Boardgamers in Idaho Falls this Saturday. Que sera, sera.
Thanks for the comments on M:RP. I will now have to move it up the purchase list a little higher.
And I won't lie. Little dweeb toy pieces make me salivate. It may be a glandular problem, but who knows.

DWTripp said...

Yep. Gonna miss the Idaho Falls deal this year.

As for where and when? I'll be leaving this week-end for Beautiful Burbank. Not sure what the evening schedules are like next week but I know the super-secret training starts at 8am every day.