Monday, March 12, 2007

Older Games, but really Potatoes

Let's be blunt. I love old games1 New games are great too - In fact, these days I tend to learn about two new games a week 3. But the games that I tend to obsess over are mid-70s titles, primarily from Avalon Hill, but occasionally from SPI, or even older 3M titles. Sometimes i'll slip into the non-hobby games and force a mid-century classic like Careers onto my ever-patient friends.

Interestingly, at least for me, the older titles have a tendency to support obsession in a way most modern games can't4. The older games have an inelegance that demands lots of attention, not only during the game, but also before and after the game, figuring out how the different parts of the game interact and what decisions are meaningful.

Even the older Eurogames have some of this quality. Last night I finally got to play the potato game (Dicke Kartoffeln) (1989), which I've been hoping to play for goodness knows how long5.

Kartoffeln is an early Doris and Frank game, about growing potatoes in a profitable and organic manner. The winner must attempt to optimize profits while keeping their fields healthy. The potato market actually differentiates between organic and non-organic potatoes!

The result was a moderately fun game with lots of time spent wondering exactly how anyone was going to win, and a good fifteen minutes afterward spent trying to figure out exactly what happened, and what the different pieces of the game contributed. It's not exactly an underrated classic, but it's a fine example of an economic planning game - and a game that demands repeat play to really feel like you understand your own choices. To contrast Kartoffeln with a recent game that i enjoy - Taluva - is interesting. Both are engrossing games, but Taluva brings a lot of the modern sensibilities to the forefront. Taluva is well developed, streamlined and ultimately a simple, deep placement game. Kartoffeln is expansive and convoluted, supporting repeat play from the complex interactions and the harsh decisions that it forces upon the player.

Ultimately, for me, modern games tend to focus on the table time - grabbing you as you sit at the table and vanishing away once the game ends. Older games tend to demand brainspace outside the gametable - from pouring over rules, to theorizing about strategies or even tweaks to the game system. And that last item strikes me as especially telling - because I have not spent any time thinking about how to modify Taluva, but I've already thought about how players should be able to save potato seed from one year to the next in Kartoffeln.

But really, this is all just a lead in to the fact that I have a current old game obsession7, and i'll be back in two weeks with my reports on that, because I was aiming for this week, but really - sometimes your obsessions get away from you.



1"old" in this case is twenty to thirty years, which doesn't really seem very old when you think about it - I actually don't play many games that are older than I am - Probably only the card games, abstracts, and dexterity games, games that are now firmly ensconced in the public domain. So i suppose that saying 'old' is a bit of a misnomer, but since the 1970s were really the early years of the hobby boardgame 2, it seems okay to be labeling them old.

2I also like the history of boardgames, and there are plenty of great, though sometimes dry, books out about the subject. Prior to the 1960s, there really weren't the sort of hobby games we have today - The giant publishers were not yet the monolithic edifices that Hasbro and Mattel are today. Most boardgames were made for the mass market - and the mass market had more variety than it does today. Of course, since the mass market was the only market, the variety of games was actually much less - and hence I feel it was the early years of the hobby boardgame.

3And let anyone who says that there aren't more games published in english within 2005-2006 than there were in 2003-2004 feel my wrath. I've played about the same amount for the past six years and I've never learned as many new games as I have in the past six months.

4Allowance given for the Monster games from Fantasy flight. Yes, Descent truly does support Obsession. With a capital "O".

5What I really want to do is pair Dicke Kartoffeln with Garden Competition and The GrainGrowin' Game6 for an evening of argricultural goodness!

6"A game of chance, luck, risk, and guts... Just like real grain farming in western Canada!"

7Magic Realm


qzhdad said...

I really have to try Dicke Kartoffeln someday. It was one of my first ten Eurogame purchases, but I still haven't played it. I've read the rules three or four times, but it's never made it to the table, even for a solo play.
I agree, in general with the post, though. There are some Euros that have me plotting strategy for next time and/or trying to figure out where my plans went awry. Usually, though, it's "What are we playing next?"

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to read your post next week on Magic Realm. I'd just built my own set (does that count me as obsessed too?) and I'm still trying to get a group of my gaming friends to try it out. Works great solo though.