Monday, May 15, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ The Price of Being Lazy (or) Why Appelcline Is My Hero

I would like to be more like Shannon Appelcline.

Not that I know Shannon or anything... I don't. And I don't mean personality-wise or anything else. The one trait Shannon has that so many of us lack is that he is always ready in advance. Right now there are at least 6 written or partially written articles ready to go for "Gone Gaming". The guy really pisses me off.

Why is this a big deal? Here's why...

Saturday was an enjoyable game night. Jumbo, Robee, Shaun, Lyle and even their uncle Tim came ready to game. Considering that Jumbo had been being a big baby about not having ever learned A Game of Thrones it was decided we'd pull out the 6-player expansion and give it a go. I have played AGOT as have Lyle and Shaun so it was a simple matter of teaching the other three. A great time was had by all as we played A Game of Thrones twice and then when Jumbo and Robee left I taught Santa Fe Rails to the three remaining players.

As is usually the case, I was gathering little snippets of material for the blog today and thinking through the events in the games and since Jumbo and I had tried War of the Ring last week-end I had this whole hazy image of a blog dealing with big games and the way personality works in them.

Then I went to bed... at about 2:30 am early Sunday morning.

It's now 7:55 am early Monday morning and I have been up for less than an hour. What happened during the missing 32 hours isn't pretty. But it wouldn't matter if I was more like Shannon. I would have logged on, selected one of my pre-written and editied articles, clicked on submit and then sauntered away to trade some stocks or consult or whatever else people who are annoyingly efficient do while the rest of us struggle with life.

I got bit by a flu bug... I think. I remember once, when I was a teenager travelling in Spain I got sick for a similar period of time... just over 24 hours. This is pretty much what happened yesterday. It's as if someone really large took a 2x6 and used it to knock me face-first onto the ground. Very little energy, aching joints, no desire for food, no strength to get up and write a blog... so I just slept for all but maybe the 5 or 6 hours I spent listlessly pondering why I was listless or telling people who called me to stay away for a couple of days.

The bad thing about being like me instead of being like Shannon Appelcline is that I have three or four fleshed out articles I want to write for the Gone Gaming blog but they are drifitng around in the murky stew that exists somewhere in the general area of my head, whereas Shannon's are already finished and ready to go. So one wrench (or spanner, for you blokes out there) gets thrown into the mix and I'm screwed.

Did I start this blog by saying I wanted to be more like Shannon? Yep... maybe it'd be better for the rest of us if Shannon was more like us. Then we wouldn't have to be as good as him, which I assume is hard, and he could just be lazy like us and if not, well maybe we could threaten him or something.

So I guess I'll have to save my detailed article on why Meeples are not only evil, they're stupid as well, for later. And then the one about how to recover from the advice I gave several months ago to teach male gamers their wives and girlfriends had no right to tell them what they should and shouldn't do... it'll have to wait for a future Monday as well.

But back to A Game of Thrones... and something that never really occurred to me until Saturday's games of it. Here's what happened... Jumbo won the first game very quickly because we had three new players and were all concentrating on teaching them or getting familiar ourselves with the expansion rules. So of course we all told Jumbo his win didn't count. I pointed out to him though that since it was my house, if I won the second game then his win would "count". Anyway, everyone felt very comfortable with the rules and we re-drew our starting Houses and began a "real" game. This time I was House Greyjoy instead of Lannister, Robee was Lannister instead of GreyJoy and every one of the other four players drew the same houses as the first game.

It was during the course of this second game that I learned something interesting about game groups primarily composed of people in their 20's and 30's... they don't always understand that games like this are often won or lost because of treachery, guile, deceit and off-board commentary. The whole game through Lyle and Shaun were referring to me as "the Songbird", I guess because of my running commentary, which was designed to focus everyone's attention on any threat on the board other threats that my Greyjoy forces represented. It's not as if I was the only one chattering, A Game of Thrones, and others like it, generate lots of commentary during play. But still, I could see that at least two of the boys wanted me to shut up and quit pointing out how evil they were and how blessedly good I was.

The game came down to Harrenhall... as is often the case. I had 5 cities of the needed 6 and Lannister had lost all but Harrenhall and one other small region. Barethon didn't have any forces close enough to take it and Tyrell was a new player and he failed to properly threaten one of my cities. Once I saw the situation I pointed how how the Winterfell player (Shaun) had built enough boats to strike on both the west and east coast and if the game lasted long enough for the 2nd march order to be played he would win. Shaun blurted out something mean to me then... I'm not sure what, but I could tell he wasn't used to having his own evil intentions so easily seen and then revealed by the forces of Good from the Iron Islands.

What Shaun didn't realize was that Tyrell had given me the game by not attacking. The other thing he failed to see was that if Tyrell had attacked, costing me a city, then Martell would have won as they moved right after me and before Winterfell. All this really highlights why games like AGOT are so good and also that they are open to off-table gamesmanship like Diplomacy.

Speaking of which... there are many, many similarities bewteen AGOT and Diplomacy. I burnt out on Diplomacy in the early 80's and I never want to play again. But I could see that a group of gamers who are learning big games that have political elements to them could be well-schooled by games like Diplomacy. I would not enjoy AGOT or Conquest of the Empire or Struggle of Empires or Manifest Destiny if the players were required to not "chatter" between each other and attempt to sneakily move events into a favorable direction for them. Big games are often all about table-talk and at the same time the chatter can be annoying if specific players feel they're the target. I have often been the target, partially because for so many years I owned a game store and therefore I was automatically targeted. In addition, I am somewhat mouthy, a trait that can come back to haunt you in future games.

We all sit in our respective positions, each knowing what has to happen for our House to win the game on this turn. Everyone "knows" they can win if only this or that does or doesn't occur. So if someone had pointed out to newbie player Tim that Tyrell ought to attack Greyjoy and keep me from winning it might have ticked me off. And since I didn't point out Winterfell's evil plan until the turn started I suppose I wasn't out of line.

I believe that there ought to be some basic agreement between players about what is and isn't acceptable table-talk for certain games. AGOT and others like it require about 2 hours to play, some games much more time, and I believe a participant has a right to expect that he or she can invest their time and that everyone will play fairly. Fair though, needs to be defined so everyone understands it.

Anyway, the whole getting sick and being bed-ridden for 24+ hours thing allowed time for many different concepts to float through my mind and the special requirements, personality-wise, required for playing large, multi-player games like AGOT are not the same ones needed to get something out of, as an example, what seems to be Shannon's favorite game: Carcassonne. I suppose some of the appeal of Carcassonne and other Euro-style games is they have an absence of personality requirements in order to win. In that many of the multi-player war games are admittedly zero-sum and many of the popular Euro's try and cover the truth (that they too are zero sum games) by not having player elimination or in many cases, mechanics that require actual player interaction, getting the desired milage out of a particular game probably has as much to do with your personality as it does the quality of the game.

Carcassone and A Game of Thrones are perfect examples... I don't even recall how to play Carcassonne. It was so boring to me the few times I did play it that I was constantly amazed by how many I sold in my store. I never let on, of course, that Carcassonne was better than Sominex for ensuring a deep and restful sleep... unfortunately it usually happened to me in the middle of the game itself. I think the point is that games like Carcassone don't generate direct conflict or personality in the sense that games like AGOT or Struggle of Empires do. Which means playing Carcassone requires about the same level of people skills as playing Free Cell on your pc.... which is none.

I know I'm rambling a bit, blame it on the 20+ hours of sleep I had in the last 36 hours, but I'm actually headed somewhere with this. People like me do enjoy Euro Games, sometimes. The people-interaction though in most Euro's is not about the game itself because, in most cases, what you say isn't usually going to change the outcome. I'll play Euro's because I like games and usually enjoy the company of gamer people. But given a chance to play a game where what you say can and does affect the outcome of the game I'm all about that. Thinking back to the 70's and the angry games of Diplomacy and then into the 80's and games like Warrior Knights and Blood Royale where it was all about politicking a win, I can easily see that building up a thick skin and being impervious to the verbal assaults of other gamers is an important trait to have when playing direct-conflict games. If you don't have that trait (or don't want it, I suppose) then Euro's are the perfect style of game for you.

Since I started this whole muddled blog out stating that I wanted to be more like Shannon I suppose I ought to back up my statement with action. I hereby resolve to pull out my dusty copy of Carcassonne and get it to the table soon. I suspect the unruly and very emotional group I game with will not care for it, but damnit! Shannon likes it, and that alone is enough for me to give it another try.

Maybe some other of the goodness will rub off on me and I'll get one or two blogs done in advance. I think I'd like that and I'm certain Shannon would approve.


Unknown said...

Don't worry about it, man. Your posts are still my favourite on this blog!

Question: when I envision Robee, I picture a rather large individual with a crew cut, mullet, and ridiculously tacky skiing sunglasses. Am I right?

Shannon Appelcline said...

Aww ...

You're my hero too DW.

Joe Gola said...

You make it sound like these diplomacy games are much more manly than euros, but all this "chatting your way to a win" sounds like a big girly tea party to me. "You know, Ro-Bee, black really is the color for you. That tracksuit is simply adorable. Wherever did you find it? By the way, would you be a dear and invade the Crimea? Oh, you're an angel."

But seriously, I think I would like to be in on one of your punishing psychological warfare games some day, but part of me wants to ask, "do you table-talk people not have enough arguments in your real lives?" What I wouldn't give to be so discussion-deprived as to hanker for a nice long harangue on game day. I'm guessing that none of you guys are married.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Ah, but you see ... these games are not so different after all.

In war games and diplomacy games like you are describing, the entire battle win or loss depends upon negotiation. In a way, you can envision the game as 100 "tactical points" game, where 95 of these "tactical points" are decided through negoatiation.

Euro games can also have negotiation, they just don't look like it. That's because out of the 100 "tactical points" you need to win in Casrcassonne, only 5 might appear to be through negoatiation.

The remaining 95 tactical points are through finding the correct play, like a puzzle.

But assuming that all players play well, it is a given that those 95 tactical points will all be achieved by all players. You therefore can eliminate them from the equation, and the game comes down to those remaining five points. And that's where the vicious tention lies.

Have you ever played a vicious game of Carcassonne? The deception, the cajoling, the negotaition over where to place the tile, which meeples to leave high and dry and which fields to contest can be extremely tense and highly confrontational. Same goes for trading and robbing in Settlers of Catan, and which phases to take or goods to trade or ship in Puerto Rico.

So really, it is not that these games don't or can't have negotation, it is that they also have other things. If you don't like negotiation, you still have 95% of a game. If you do like it, you can gloss over the other parts and still have a negotiation game.


Anonymous said...

You nailed it DW, people who don't talk much are roadkill in GoT. It's all about the metagame, baby!

You might want to pick up Warrior Knights if your group likes GoT. I played it this weekend and it has all of those elements + a much more interactive political system.


qzhdad said...

I've not played AGoT, but am looking forward to it, but I did play a lot of PBM Diplomacy back BI (before Internet).

Carc can be (almost) as negotiation heavy as Diplomacy, if the players want it to be. But you could also play without saying a word about the game. I regard that characteristic as one of its strong points. Some other Euros fall in this category, too.

The problem is that all the people at the table have to be interested in the same amount of diplomacy or some feel rushed and others think the game is dragging.

As to people that prepare ahead of time, I envy them when I need to have something done, but haven't been able to force myself to do much ahead of deadline.

DWTripp said...

Okay... I'd have to agree that maybe I didn't give Carcassonne a real chance. Or perhaps I just played it with a bunch of boring people. I'd definitely welcome both Gola and Yehuda to a large diplomacy-based game... and yes, I do think they are a bit more manly than the decidely wussy Euro Games.

As for RoBee's appearance, it's odd that both Gola and Ryan nailed him pretty good. The mullet is off but I'd have to agree that Robee is both large and more than capable of invading the Crimea alone. He'd be a real hit in a black jogging outfit too. His tacky sunglasses would set most Crimeans to cowering in their hayfields... or feedlots... or whatever passes for activity in Crimea.

I suspect that part of the mindset that I have (and the typical personalities at my game table) is that weapons and the elimination of pieces and players through conflict is the basis of negotiation games. It's a mindset and it is a bit simplistic. But it works. I mentioned teaching Santa Fe Rails after our AGOT games and that is a game that has lots of direct conflict... but not any realistic negotiation opportunities. I prefer the meta-game in AGOT.

And Shannon... you were my hero first. So don't let me down man.

Anonymous said...

Just to back up what some others have already said. Carc can be a game of negotiation as well, the game is not won or lost on those points, like Dip or TI3, but it can provide you with some points.

I run a game group and we do play games that are both styles. Some, which are pure negotiation (Dragon's Gold) and some that are not (usually T2R). Success of the game depends on who is playing.

The first time I played Dragon's Gold I found it underwhelming, mainly because 2 of the players were lousy at that style of game. The next two times it became a cut throat game where loot was tossed out because there was no agreement. DG became a better game because of it.

I think carc will be a different game for you if you play it with this group as opposed to a store group though.

Gerald McD said...

DW -- If you want a conflict/negotiation game of Carcassonne, play it with one rule change: allow a player to place a meeple anywhere on the tile he is placing, even if it is on a road, city, or field where another player already has a meeple. This creates direct competition, lots of table talk, and many threats of retaliation and possible violence!

Right down your alley....

Sorry to hear you were sick, but if you write articles like this after a bout with the flu, you may have found a new creative muse -- the flu bug. :-)

Anonymous said...

Stop playing games and blogging and finish the racing game. :)


Anonymous said...

"I suppose some of the appeal of Carcassonne and other Euro-style games is they have an absence of personality requirements in order to win."

I'm not sure if this is entirely true, but it IS pretty hilarious.