Thursday, March 22, 2007

The News in Reviews / Old Puzzler Answer / New Fortnightly Puzzler

The Allure of Classic Games

Lately, I've been playing a lot of checkers and chess. I still play several new games a month, but I go back to these games again and again.

Why? Newer games offer more variety, theme, and a ton of varying levels of difficulty, all for the player to choose to his or her liking. Newer games are prettier and clever and often accommodate more people.

However, classic games hold a certain magic over me. What classic games lack overall they make up in hardiness and depth. Let's take a closer look.

1) Time Already Invested. In recent years, I've added Cathedral, Gipf, Jambo, Hive, and Pente to my two-player arsenal. These are good games. Pente and Gipf in particular I hold in high regard, but I don't go out of my way to play them. Probably the games I've played the most often out of the newbies are Pente and Cathedral and that mainly because they're such short games. I have put in thousands of hours playing chess and checkers over the course of my life. I have a certain loyalty to those games because of it.

2) Magic in Combinations. Many newer games I've played incorporate combinations into the game play which is a great thing because combinations spark the imagination. Magic: The Gathering, Jambo, and Puerto Rico all have neat combinations to be made; the first two with card combinations, the latter with well-timed actions. But the combinations are pre-set. The creator made the game with those over-the-table combinations in mind. I had a fascination with M:TG for two years, but eventually, the repetition of game play wore on me. The card combinations that the designers created were eventually combinations that I discovered and used. This got boring. In chess and to a lesser degree checkers, the combinations are born of the moment. Some get repeated, but some I'll never see again. The pieces have an inherent combinatorial power that is inexhaustible. I play for that magic.

3) The Advantage. In many newer games I've played, say Yspahan or Louis XIV, the "advantage" is that you're winning. You get the lead, and barring a massive mistake, you keep it. Other Euros like Puerto Rico simply eliminate the scoring track, but it doesn't eliminate the idea that if someone gets ahead they can usually keep the lead. Checkers is like this as well, but you do have fighting chances. Chess on the other hand has a beautiful advantage-making capacity built right into it. For players at my level (intermediate or ~1600), retaining a subtle advantage becomes a game in and of itself. My opponent can attempt to negate it or work around it; the main idea is that the game is far from over. I can't just cruise to a victory off a little advantage. The advantage is slippery and must be fought over. I love that.

4) Easy to Find Opponents. These days, you can find so many games on-line. Brett Spiel Welt is an amazing resource for gamers. Yahoo! has its own amazing array of games, both traditional and non-traditional. If you're a gamer, the internet is for you. But I prefer person to person games, and I'm not just going to happen to stumble upon a six-player game of Power Grid. Those have to be planned. Chess and checkers, on the other hand, are played around Missoula. I can walk into a coffee shop and stand about a 65% chance of finding a game of either.

5) Willingness to Explore Depth. Many of the newer games I like best offer depth. Power Grid, Caylus, Goa, El Grande, Puerto Rico, and Taj Mahal all have depth to them in their own right. They are heavy games, and the designers have earned their depth. I can't really say that I like one newer game's depth over another's. I like the thinking involved in all of the above games. It comes down to my willingness to explore a game's depth. I just don't see myself playing for an extended period of time with any one Euro-game. I'm much more of a flavor-of-the-month type with Euro-games. With checkers and chess, I am committed to learning much more than I have right now. Perhaps it's a combination of some of the above listed reasons; I don't know. They say checkers is a solved game. Well, not for me, it's not. And chess's depth is so dark and miserable; it goes on forever. Somehow, that appeals to me.

6) Exclusive nature. This is my one beef with these otherwise great games. Most of the Euro-games I've played allow me to interact with a group. I love that. The more I get comfortable playing with people over the board, the more I can joke around with them and get to know them outside of the game. With chess and checkers, I tend to completely shut out the world. I rarely joke. I find myself responding to questions about dinner with vague interest. It's terrible, really, this power to cut off everything. And yet, if it didn't have this aspect, I probably wouldn't be playing it as much as I do.

I don't believe I'm alone in these beliefs, and I doubt seriously if anything will change during my life. But I'm curious about the other side. Who favors modern games better and why?

Thanks for reading! That's the News in Reviews!


Old Puzzler

Q: What do all long-distance hikers start out with?Here's the two-word answer, in code:5.8, 1.4, 14.1, 11.7 4.2, 7.6, 10.9, 2.3Crack the code to get the answer.

A: SOFT FEET – You round all the numbers to get 6, 1, 14, 12 and 4, 8, 11, 2. Then you take the first letter of each number to get the words. And while there are bound to be a handful of hikers with trail-worn feet, the vast majority have 'soft feet.'


New Fortnightly Puzzler

I'm thinking of two syllables. Let's call them Syllable A and Syllable B.

If you said A-B-B, you'd get a classic insult.
If you said, A-A-B, you'd get a modern musician.

What are the syllables?


Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Smatt said...

You're the best for solving the puzzle! But other people want a shot at being the best too, so please refrain from writing answers next time. Thanks!

Coldfoot said...

Finally, a puzzler even I could get.