Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Two Thoughts from the past week.

Riffing on other writers

I feel forced to announce my own membership in the Effete Euro-gamer Game-Balance Wimps Association, despite never playing a game of War of the Ring1. I was driven by Kris founding the Association to go look over the arguments against game balance and was suitably unimpressed.

Like Kris, I came to the current crop of boardgames from a Avalon Hill, SPI wargame background2. Historical games are often replicating some of the most unbalanced situations ever. While I have never had the desire to play out the Zulu wars, there are plenty of games that allow one player to throw hordes of native africans against the guns of colonials in a vain attempt to not be completely destroyed. Eastern Front World War two is also a good example of unbalanced situations - The sheer power of the Germans in the initial invasion, and eventually the sheer numbers of Russians as they pushed back the German front lines.

But games representing unbalanced situations are poor games if the -game- is imbalanced. Historic games often deal with this by setting victory conditions with the expectations that one side will get crushed (i.e. the Zulus win if they have more than 2 warriors survive, etc. etc.) By doing this, the game designer creates a balanced game while retaining all the flavor of an unbalanced situation. The contention that a game must reflect an imbalance via win/loss ratio to be true to the source material strikes me as an excuse for poor game design. And poor game design should not be excused.

The Forgotten.

I sell games3. Once a year we hold an auction where gamers bring in games that are then sold via auction. It's a fun event for me and most people concerned. One of the side benefits is getting to see the truly wide range of games ever produced, both the exciting, rare, lame, or overly common4. This year, what struck me most was the beloved failures...5

Merlin's Maze
This was a strange 2D Backgammon-style game that was printed on a vinyl mat with wooden laminated pieces. Not listed on BGG. The method of play involved matching mediocre screen printed designs between the pieces and the board.

Clever Endeavor
A Party Game with Clever Clues (and other capitalized terms)

Both these games were obviously well-loved by their creators. Clever Endeavor even held long-term submission contests for game content. Clue creators had their signatures on every card. A massive effort was obviously involved in assembling the clues from hundreds of sources and publishing the game. Only to fall into obscurity, and like Merlin's Maze, perhaps not even listed in the largest database of boardgames.

It's always hard to see products that were loved bomb or trickle away into nothingness. It's easy for me to ignore bad art, or bad writing, but a bad game always draws my attention. Perhaps it's because I've seen so many, or perhaps it is some intellectual desire to figure out what is wrong - as if that could be quantified6.

I'm rather glib about these games during the auction, because it's hard not to laugh at how many games have pirates in them, or why anyone would think that publishing another backgammon variant is the best, most original idea ever. But I always take the time to actually notice those games. Someone should remember them. If only to not repeat their mistakes. But I don't think I'll play them. 7



1 Not because I don't want to. It looks like a great game. But those times when it is just me and one other person looking for a game are often monopolized by games published by GMT, or Multiman, or -gasp- games that feature collectible cardboard. There are a large number of very interesting looking longer 2 player hybrid games that remain unplayed by me. It saddens me. And speaks volumes about my priorities.

2 Well, okay, also plenty of Roleplaying. And the influx of 80's party games (pictionary, trivial pursuit) and Ravensburger. But also wargames.

3 I've owned a retail game store for about 6 years now. Maybe I'll write about it again. Maybe not. www.endgameoakland.com

4 Only four Harry Potter games this year! Woot!

5 I should now contradict the impression that our 2007 auction was full of lame games nobody wanted. We had one of the best sets of games we've seen. I got to practically give away a copy of Advance Civilization. We had numerous releases from the past five years, several mid-level rarities, and a big stack of all the early Eagle games releases, which I haven't seen for quite awhile. Good stuff was had cheap.

6 Can 'good' games be quantified? With artwork or writing, there isn't much to evaluate outside subjectivity. But is that true of games? I feel like I differentiate between games that are not fun for me (but have some merit), and games that should never have been published.

7 But I did play Clever Endeavor. At least the clues part. We didn't use the board. It betrayed the true problem of taking submissions from hundreds of people. Some of the clues were great, most of them were pretty bad.


Unknown said...

Guys, all your RSS feeds looks really messed up for some reason. I'm getting a strange assortment of recent and not-so-recent articles in the feeds. Firefox live bookmarks gives me one random assortment of articles (and often fails to load), Bloglines gives me another.

It would also help, in my opinion, if you could put paragraph-length summaries in the feeds instead of entire articles. The whole article overwhelms a reader like Bloglines, and makes it hard to get to just the posts we want to read.

Aaron_ said...

I think this is due to our recent attempts to implement Tags into the articles. I know that I've inadvertently submitted at least one or two things to the RSS feed.

The second part I don't know much about. Sorry for the mishaps.

Melissa said...

Chris, does Blogger let you put a summary in the feed? I know how to do it in Wordpress, but I've never seen a way to do it in Blogger.