- "@pbooth81: @digital_sextant @KatieRBooth and I were talking about #MiceAndMystics today. Wanna continue our story soon?" Yes! 07:30:04, 2015-05-24
- Tweets from 2015-05-17 to 2015-05-23 http://t.co/qHoyjmzgFD 10:00:29, 2015-05-24
- Weekend #GameLog. Two games of #Citadels in which my daughter's friend clobbered us both, three games of Uno of which I won two. 20:27:10, 2015-05-24
- #GameLog Played a round of.@FloodgateGames #EpicResort last night against Avery. The kid squeaked out a win, 23 to 21. BLAST! 08:02:16, 2015-05-25
- I love the names @iamjohnoliver uses in his mini rants to illustrate his points. "STRIKE FOUR, Greg." #LastWeekTonight 14:18:25, 2015-05-25
- The park. 15:26:11, 2015-05-25
- #GameLog Avery won #Takenoko, 36 – 26 -13. I suggested Finn and had I won as a team, but this was roundly rejected. http://t.co/Son87kltKZ 17:29:48, 2015-05-25
- Kids puzzling out solution to #Clue "A dog can carry a knife if it wants." Family movie night success! #1+2+2+1 #CommunismIsJustARedHerring 19:45:42, 2015-05-25
- RT @Lord_Voldemort7: You may make mistakes but at least you're not one of the twelve publishers that rejected Harry Potter. 20:44:38, 2015-05-25
- On Game Design: Yes, and… http://t.co/K9vsNQiO8q http://t.co/mzTNjPv7DS 11:31:15, 2015-05-26
- "@BCADrummer: @digital_sextant do you play Tsuro?" Looks fun but haven't had the chance. 13:56:05, 2015-05-26
- #GameLog A brutal game of #CosmicEncounter left my race of Fodder in utter ruins. #Clobbered http://t.co/mgJT5Ws8aL 23:17:03, 2015-05-26
- #GameLog Came back for a big win in #7Wonders. No green? No problem. Plenty of blue and red cards to win the day. http://t.co/Y06pWpTBF5 23:18:56, 2015-05-26
- Inquiry: a long-running dispute reveals one person who seemed to have moral high ground revealed is sock-puppeting. Is this a deal-breaker? 11:27:23, 2015-05-28
- @joncgoodwin in determining how credible someone is. in reply to joncgoodwin 13:26:31, 2015-05-28
- Came home to a nice surprise from #queengames today. #AlhambraBigBox http://t.co/o6Nnjw0L4e 13:28:33, 2015-05-28
- #AskPOTUS: If stopping climate change is so important, why are FBI & NSA spying on climate activists? #SunsetThePatriotAct. via @idltweets 17:16:12, 2015-05-28
- Academic tweeps! If you are invited to participate in a book or journal, do you put that fact in your CV? (Is 'invited essay' a plus?) 06:11:03, 2015-05-29
- Broken Time http://t.co/Pa1Ue61b7u http://t.co/ay02n9B32x 11:32:08, 2015-05-29
- 14k sites #BlackoutCongress, redirect to naked protest pics to #SunsetThePatriotAct http://t.co/voFrpLWCmF http://t.co/EvxexNZPwL @idltweets 15:48:09, 2015-05-29
- #GameLog We try #QueenGames' #Alhambra. Jenny OWNS the game, 114 points. Turns out I am a poor architect, 43 points. http://t.co/85hVt21y0q 21:27:50, 2015-05-29
- #GameLog Another game of #Alhambra today. Super fun! Next time we'll try adding in one of the modules. 18:23:10, 2015-05-30
by Maggy Thomas
When Siggy gets a job at an interplanetary supermax prison, she doesn’t know she’s going to become a conversational pal with a pair of serial killers. Or that this relationship will hinge on the fact that she’s one of the few people who has encountered time pockets more than once. Also, ballroom dancing.
Broken Time is an odd book, with lots of interesting ideas but not tight enough to work well. A few thoughts:
- There are a bunch of great ideas and sketches of great ideas that the book doesn’t follow through on. Among the ideas we don’t learn enough about: a Lost Fleet that is trapped in time, showing up occasionally to attack a planet long after the war is over and an interstellar economy that’s brutal and punishing but we only hear about a little bit at the beginning of the novel. The book also features an alien species, the speedies, who move far more quickly than we do. It’s a cool premise that could also have had more attention.
- I like the novel’s focus on Siggy’s interest in ballroom dancing, and it has a nice payoff later. The novel also takes some solid narrative steps to give Siggy the skills and ideas she will need later.
- The references to differences in planets gives the book the feel of grandeur, but in practice the planets don’t get enough descriptions to really show how they’re different. Siggy might just as well have been in two different cities or countries on Earth.
- I like the insight that in times of war, we will do whatever it takes, including science that destroys the people it aims to help.
- Last, it’s a little off-putting how much Siggy’s job in the supermax prison feels like The Silence of the Lambs. From the hallway she has to walk down (passing rude and awful prisoners to get to the most horrible one) to his temperamental interest in her to his habit of standing very still, one can’t help but see that famous film. Adding just a few touches to make it feel different would have helped this part of the book a lot for me.
Overall, this wasn’t my favorite. It took a long time to capture my interest (I actually said “If I don’t like it a lot more tonight, I will put it down”), but the main character is nicely developed and the book focuses more on her character than on techno-wizardry.
I’ve written a bit about the improv rule “Yes, and” over on the Rattlebox Games blog. Check it out.
…Like Improv, RPG storytelling takes real trust between the game master and the characters. And like Improvosational comedians, they need to remember the “yes, and” rule. (“Yes, and” refers to the philosophy that Improv performers should pick up and add to the ideas offered by the previous person, rather than negating them or leading off in a different direction. It goes back to trust.) In RPG design, “Yes, and” is a useful and necessary mechanic. In Board Game design, though, I think it’s pretty underused. (link)
- Tweets from 2015-05-10 to 2015-05-16 http://t.co/RQdRkFe6ii 10:00:32, 2015-05-17
- Checked out this "Crazy Men" show last night. A little confusing but entertaining. I am looking forward to next week, Mr. Drapes! 04:19:06, 2015-05-18
- Because I'm lazy, I want a link at the top of Moodle forums that I can click to spawn each entry into its own tab. Get on it, Internet. 11:06:41, 2015-05-18
- If you're grading and the Carmina Burana O Fortuna section comes on, does it make the papers seem more monumental? https://t.co/Xhoa1fh0lo 15:54:36, 2015-05-18
- Retweet this to ask @RonWyden & @RandPaul to fillibuster the #PATRIOTAct & #USAFreedomAct! | http://t.co/AhGowkQC0p http://t.co/yHUfOi9ZVb 16:34:29, 2015-05-19
- BREAKING @RandPaul filibustering NSA spying. Vigils tmw to #SunsetThePatriotAct! http://t.co/iQ9AG6JIVO by @IDLtweets http://t.co/BsO5QeG8Jf 15:18:47, 2015-05-20
- A useful reminder about how Free Speech is often misrepresented by the media whom the doctrine protects. http://t.co/r0vrCJkhlL 06:25:56, 2015-05-21
- Shake us and we rattle… http://t.co/df3aSzdx4R 11:32:46, 2015-05-21
- This is it. We have a chance to #SunsetThePatriotAct & stop #NSA spying. Join a vigil tonight! http://t.co/nZYUvU5yaU http://t.co/Ei6K2aKgtR 13:10:26, 2015-05-21
- Comics roundup – Chimichanga, Kabuki, Locke & Key vol 2 http://t.co/iT7TmWt6LF http://t.co/fuipzYtcYA 11:31:26, 2015-05-22
- Retweet to ask @SenSherrodBrown @SenWarren @SenSanders to filibuster #FastTrack for #TPP! We need debate! @idltweets http://t.co/h94pA2fXnY 16:15:12, 2015-05-22
Some comics I’ve read in the last month.
Chimichanga – The last few times I’ve been to cons (C2E2 2014, SDCC 2014, C2E2 2015), I saw Eric Powell, the smart and friendly writer of The Goon. I usually buy a new comic from him and ask him to sign an old one. This time around, I bought Chimichanga, a bizarre comic about a bearded girl from a circus who befriends a monstrosity that reinvigorates the circus’ flagging attendance and generally makes friends with her. There’s a side plot about evil pharmaceutical companies too. It’s generally enjoyable in the way that the Goon is. Worth reading.
Kabuki, vol 1 – I also read volume 1 of David Mack’s Kabuki, which is about an assassin in a dark-future Japan where a public-secret cabal keeps the people in line, but really works to keep the balance between the corrupt government and the vile gangsters even. It’s a good comic, but hampered by its age and style, which feels distinctly 1994. It feels of a piece with Snow Crash and, perhaps, some 1980s comics like American Flagg. Mainly, its art is a bit exploitative in a way that was completely standard in the 1990s but would be limiting for the comic today.
Locke and Key, Vol 2: Head Games – The adventures of the Locke family kids and the monsters haunting them continue in this edition. While some bad things happen here and there, the protagonists don’t quite realize how the villains are lining up against them, so Volume 3 looks like it will be especially terrible. The side story about the teacher from the school is great, giving depth and feeling and some drama to an edition that’s chock full of creepy ideas but not that tense.
Last, I read the first issue (not trade paperback, but good ol’ single issue) of The Fiction Squad, which wasn’t very good. It was about nursery rhyme detectives investigating — wait for it — the murder of humpty dumpty (an idea that’s done much better in both The Big Over Easy and Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse). On top of that, many of the female characters are drawn in the worst style, with pneumatic breasts and tiny waists. I won’t be reading more of this one.
Some friends and I have been working at some board games, recently, and we’re very near to putting our first print-n-play game up for people to see, try, download, and so on. As part of the project, I’m starting to tweet and blog over on that website occasionally, so that there’s content there, and stuff. Please head over and check it out:
Anyway, when I post on the blog over there, I’ll do a little snippet here to let y’all know. Here’s the first one…
…The crux of the problem is a single word, part of that rule. It says “a mouse can attempt to move to a new tile.” The other half of the problem for me was that at other places in the game, when you ‘attempt’ something, you have to roll a die, trying to get an asterisk. Since the rule said “attempt,” I presumed this was something you could fail. And we spent much of the first game playing with my made-up ‘attempt’ roll in place. Since Mice and Mystics also punishes you for going too slowly on an empty board, we encountered way more monsters than we should have, and the game took a lot longer than it was supposed to. All from one word…. (link)
I hope to see you there!
- Tweets from 2015-05-03 to 2015-05-09 http://t.co/r8JiEMLMBf 10:01:08, 2015-05-10
- "@DanKCharnley: The opposite of "Stairway to Heaven" is "Elevator to Hell."" Pretty sure it's an escalator. 21:42:36, 2015-05-10
- April Music Roundup http://t.co/NIfEVSY6Gd 11:30:43, 2015-05-11
- Senate vote to #FastTrack the #TPP censorship deal is tomorrow! Take action now http://t.co/ddnIrdvrAv http://t.co/lAvs2abFdd via @idltweets 14:51:00, 2015-05-11
- @TheGoodMariner Re Castles of Burgundy — how is it? Looks a bit crunchy for my taste. in reply to TheGoodMariner 11:14:10, 2015-05-12
- I feel like #CharlieBrown when I try to click something only to have the pop-up menu disappear and trick me into clicking something else. 11:15:44, 2015-05-12
- On Game Design: The Kitchen Sink http://t.co/KJN5WxvevX 11:31:15, 2015-05-12
- "@TheGoodMariner: depends on how Euro you want to get. I love it." Hrm. I'm more Ameritrash. Will try if I get a chance tho. 16:06:31, 2015-05-12
- #GameLog last class meeting of the semester ended w/ two rounds of #TheResistance. Students thought I was lying the whole time. Damn spies. 16:16:14, 2015-05-12
- @TheGoodMariner Let me know how #TimeLooper goes. @pbooth81 has a copy so I can give it a whirl. in reply to TheGoodMariner 23:47:45, 2015-05-12
- Fun night losing at #Netrunner to Rob. Also, did some @Rattleboxgames playtesting. #GameLog http://t.co/1wGEkHN62R 23:50:13, 2015-05-12
- RT @ACLU: .@ACLUofWisconsin on decision to not charge the police who shot #TonyRobinson http://t.co/9lmVBVYQXc http://t.co/R1DXUapWHp 04:59:00, 2015-05-13
- Sure, computer, you can restart to do an update.
"Installing update 1 of 50…"
FOOEY. 05:52:39, 2015-05-13
- Congress about to overturn court ruling that declared #NSA spying illegal. https://t.co/vAK3F8Ywn3 RT! http://t.co/8832Y579C2 @IDLtweets 11:16:56, 2015-05-13
- Drink and play board games? Consider backing #Alewood from #AcronautGames. It's an old west gunfight drinking game. https://t.co/JJRcSrrj2e 09:16:09, 2015-05-15
- @ShutUpShow I've never played a Vlaada game before, which should I go for? Complexity is a feature, not a bug, for me. 10:06:08, 2015-05-15
- Lunch at #WowBao before heading to #manifest at @ColumbiaChi. Gonna be a great day! 11:20:20, 2015-05-15
- At a @ColumbiaChi play today, kids heard nearly every word George Carlin revealed you couldn't say on television. #GoodParenting. 15:58:06, 2015-05-15
- @ShutUpShow thanks! in reply to ShutUpShow 16:38:55, 2015-05-15
- My bi-annual end of semester cold has arrived. Kleenex and DayQuill. 20:38:07, 2015-05-15
- Headed downtown for @ColumbiaChi graduation. Yay grads! 08:36:52, 2015-05-16
- @Royalngames Once you get the rhythm down, it's pretty fun I think. #HeroesWanted in reply to Royalngames 08:37:59, 2015-05-16
- RT @mountain_goats: Wisconsin passed a bill barring people barring people who get SNAP from buying ~bulk dry beans.~ @scotte_allen wrote th… 08:40:11, 2015-05-16
- RT @mountain_goats: I've heard of some repulsive openly cruel legislation,but @scotte_allen's "no dry beans, staple of poor households the … 08:40:14, 2015-05-16
- RT @mountain_goats: If you, as a legislator, have never lived in a household that required assistance to get by… 08:46:55, 2015-05-16
- RT @mountain_goats: …no drafting bills that tells people getting help what they can or can't buy. This is fair, right? Or not right? 08:46:57, 2015-05-16
- Congratulations to all the #ColumbiaCollegeChicago people graduating today. Well done! @ColumbiaChi 12:41:58, 2015-05-16
- Feels like we passed a milestone. Finn just put his music player in the window to play tunes outside while they hang in the yard. 18:18:49, 2015-05-16
I am an unabashed sucker for Kitchen Sink games. I don’t know where I first heard this idiom applied to game design, but I definitely can’t claim it for myself. I’m using the term to describe the following kinds of games:
- They have lots of complex, interconnecting rules
- They have multiple game mechanics to learn, often that affect one another in weird ways
- They allow players to use different play styles
- They are usually pretty thematic (which is probably the only way to hold all these pieces together)
Some examples of Kitchen Sink games I like:
- Dead of Winter – This collaborative ‘survive in a village after the zombie apocalypse starts’ game has several different awesome mechanics in play: there’s a saboteur in your midst, maybe, which means you can vote people out of the colony; the group has to manage resources for each crisis and for the overall health of the community; each player has their own secret goal which will allow them to win; you can play defensively against the zombies or offensively; dice play both a mild role (determining what kinds of actions you can take) and a major role (the exposure dice can be brutally punishing). Then there’s the cards that ask the group to make moral decisions as well. So there’s some role-playing. Awesome.
- A Study in Emerald – This anarchist 19th-century Cthulhu-bombing mystery area-control deck builder is just as complicated as it sounds. There are hidden roles, three or four ways to end the game, all sorts of secret information, cubes, cards, permanent effects, a few cards that radically change the game. Then, when the game ends, you really don’t know who won until you reveal roles and tally points. It’s amazing. Also, Sherlock Holmes!
- Vampire: The Eternal Struggle -is the first kitchen sink tabletop game I really learned (and loved). Players can win by subterfuge, by politics, by brawling, through minor chipping-away actions or major bloodletting. There are many factions, each of which plays differently, and even more skills to choose from. It’s too rich, by half. And awesome.
Of course, as board games get closer to RPGs, they get closer to the all-encompassing kitchen sink that is a good pen-and-paper RPG. But I still find the contained aspect of these games very satisfying.
As a designer, one has to think carefully about what all these interconnected mechanics can mean. Do the overly-complex rules turn off players (some, certainly). Do they add to the overall experience and theme? (Study in Emerald works particularly well this way, because it’s supposed to be about the madness of the Elder Gods. And Dead of Winter tries to provoke the tension of living in this embattled colony, so having tons and tons of rules that you have to keep track of stimulates some of the same anxiety the characters are dealing with.)
One question I’m wrestling with is whether to cut a rule because it doesn’t get used very often — but a player who makes use of it well can radically alter the game, perhaps.
Which Kitchen Sink games do you like?
I review my music playlist for each month, compiled from albums that drift across my transom and tunes I download from eMusic. This month, my ‘reviews’ of the albums tell you almost nothing about them. Enjoy.
- four songs from Syl Johnson, Complete Mythology. I didn’t know Syl Johnson until I heard about him on Bullseye, and he’s a great member of the classic soul music movement. I downloaded four songs, with the idea of getting his “Complete Mythology” collection bit-by-bit from emusic over the next couple months. Alas, now it’s gone, so until I pony up somewhere else, I’m stuck with only these four classics: “Falling in Love Again,” “Different Strokes,” “Dresses Too Short,” and “Is It Because I’m Black.” The last song carries particular resonance these days, but all four are great.
- Silent Majority, Based on a True Story. This kind of late 1990s growly punky music is the sort that I would have scrunched my face up at when I heard the deejay before me playing it at our college radio station. (For the record, I would have followed his punk set with Bob Dylan, modern folkies like Ani DiFranco, and a bunch of They Might Be Giants. His set was probably more popular.) I came upon this group when one of my podcasts featured someone talking about “Knew Song,” which I like very much. It’s a lighter, more melodic one, so I thought I’d give it a try. Overall, doesn’t do much for me, but it does make me think of Perry Lamson. (There’s a deep cut for you UF readers.)
- Fat Cat Records Winter Sampler 2013. These samplers are, obviously, a mixed bag. The only song I liked enough to mention here is “Edward the Confessor” by Breton, which sounds like a missing track from a Killers album.
- Pete Seeger, Spike Jones, and Garfunkel and Oates — I’m almost out of these songs, so I’ll only be mentioning them a few times more. “Ox Driver’s Song” from Pete Seeger is pretty good, and “My Apartment’s Very Clean Without You” is a surprisingly heartfelt and sad song from G&O.
- The Script, No Sound Without Silence – A gift for Avery from her grandpa, I put it in my music queue too. I imagine this will be harder to do as her tastes tend toward whatever tween girls are listening to. That said, The Script is decent light radio music — something that you’d hear between Maroon 5 and the latest Kelly Clarkson son. “The Energy Never Dies” is pretty good; “Never Seen Anything ‘Quite Like You’ ” tonight is pretty great, though I found myself imagining it as a song being sung by a Lovecraftian cultist to a lugubrious half-human monster. In their better moments, it seems like they could reach toward Mumford and Sons or toward Great Big Sea, but they aren’t as good as either of those bands.
- Wu-Tang Clan, A Better Tomorrow – The guys from ReplyAll like Wu-Tang, and I have been feeling like the absolute gap in my music knowledge that is ALL OF HIP HOP is a glaring problem, so while I plan to make a more orderly entree into the genre, I also just picked up an album I could get easily and cheaply. “Mistaken Identity” resonated significantly with recent highly public police killings; I really like the sample on which “Keep Watch” is built; “Preacher’s Daughter” is an interesting take on the classic “Son of a Preacher man” that still holds with the idea of the titular character being, well, experienced. But the song I kept returning to most was “Necklace,” which seems to be a meditation on the nature of fame and status, and has both a great sample from an old timey movie and excellent use of the vibraslap. (Also, it gave me the motivation to look up the name of the Vibraslap.)
NOTE: Wu-Tang song is NSFW.
- #GameLog A fun time playing Party games last night with @pbooth81 @KatieRBooth @trauman and others. #Telestrations is a pretty wild time! 09:14:38, 2015-05-03
- #GameLog Oodelolly We had a riotous time playing #THINGS last night too. 09:16:57, 2015-05-03
- Tweets from 2015-04-26 to 2015-05-02 http://t.co/eoTigNnQF5 10:00:30, 2015-05-03
- MT "@TheGoodMariner: @ActionPhase How is #HeroesWanted?" Very fun if fiddly to set up. Card mechanic is cool. Good theme, a little silly. 14:13:26, 2015-05-03
- #GameLog 1 turn from curing blue disease & winning @Zmangames_ #Pandemic when an outbreak in Algiers doomed us all. http://t.co/8nbVGryuzD 19:24:53, 2015-05-03
- On Game Design: Is It Luck? http://t.co/YZIcxjza0t 11:32:00, 2015-05-04
- Avery: "Ella and I wore the same pants today."
Me: "It must have been hard to walk around."
Avery: http://t.co/yUlAGi5taT 15:26:00, 2015-05-04
- Define Awesome: friends go to cons and send me #LastNightonEarth supplements & @feliciaday #DeadOfWinter promo card! http://t.co/tO8SWh9xd9 17:06:54, 2015-05-04
- #GameLog Played zombie in @FFPGames #LastNightonEarth LOST IN THE WOODS scenario. Ate those campers. CHOMP CHOMP. http://t.co/xyjatbfFqX 23:36:12, 2015-05-05
- Retweet this to tell @NancyPelosi we need her leadership to save the Internet! http://t.co/ddnIrdvrAv http://t.co/8Dmmm1MwzP via @IDLtweets 14:36:01, 2015-05-06
- Burned my tongue on some coffee this morning. Now I feel like Tim Dalton at the end of #HotFuzz. @simonpegg 18:48:19, 2015-05-06
- @replyall #18 reminds us: "Underneath the hood, almost nobody's Voldemort." Also, autocorrect just tried to turn Voldemort into Conformity. 08:24:29, 2015-05-07
- Directive 51 http://t.co/tGkdk0yDWM 16:51:33, 2015-05-07
- Finished watching #Fargo Season 1 today. Amazing. DAMMIT why isn't @ColinHanks in everything? 21:03:41, 2015-05-07
- Game Design: The Rules that used to know http://t.co/3xzqKE02uW 11:30:42, 2015-05-08
- SF tech CEO: If @NancyPelosi supports open Net, she should oppose #FastTrack & #TPP http://t.co/GaFzu4pcZM @idltweets http://t.co/mlUSubEBUH 18:15:48, 2015-05-08
- #GameLog High point of the evening playing #SheriffofNottingham: Finn talked Avery up from a 7 point bribe to a 17 point one. 19:37:59, 2015-05-08
- "@DogandThimble: What games are you gaming this weekend?" So far, #SheriffofNottingham. Some Netrunner, probably. 21:14:48, 2015-05-08
- Jenny is baking delicious cookies that I do not get to eat. Damn you and your charity bake sale, @pbooth81. 21:17:24, 2015-05-08
- @AGoldmund Discretion 13:02:20, 2015-05-09
- #GameLog Avery and I duked it out at #Strife tonight. Below: legacy Barbarian surveys the battlefield. @vision3games http://t.co/vUN8fKK5Ij 21:53:09, 2015-05-09
Have you ever had a game whose rules you didn’t know as well as you thought you did? Discovering that the rules are different than you thought can be a real blow–suddenly that game you thought you had all figured out is something else altogether. It’s like somebody you used to know.
- Nearly everybody who reads board gaming news has encountered the Jonny Nexus essay arguing for the real game of Monopoly, in which you trick people and try to buy properties at auction. I have to say, I still think Monopoly sucks, but he makes a cogent argument for why it’s better than we all remember. The takeaway from this essay and the seven-years-later Internet freakout about it is that Monopoly is not the game we thought it was.
- A bit closer to home, Finn and I got out Forbidden Island for the first time in several months to give it a whirl, and I couldn’t remember how many cards we each get at the beginning of the game. So I opened the rulebook and scanned the “setup” section, at which point I discovered that we’d been playing the game wrong THE ENTIRE TIME. For the whole time we’ve had this game (at least three years), we’ve played by setting the game up and beginning with all tiles dry. The rules indicate that three tiles should begin the game flooded. This makes a HUGE difference in how the opening turns begin, as you’re already behind on upkeep when the game starts. The Island’s treasures just got a lot harder to claim, I must say.
- Playing Last Night on Earth with some friends I hadn’t played with before, things were going swimmingly until we got to our first fight. We rolled the dice and then tried to determine who won the fight. Different ways. As we realized that there was a fundamental disconnect between our understanding of the rules, we had this “oh shit” moment. One of us–and both of us have been playing this game for a long time–had been resolving fights incorrectly. For years. When you discover that a fundamental rule for a game is different than you thought, it can be pretty disorienting.
So, dear reader, what rules have you mis-read? Have you ever discovered that you’re playing a game wrong, and what happened when you did?
As a designer, we need to ponder, carefully, the way we communicate our rules. And have people who haven’t played the game before read them to find the hidden rules we forgot to share.
by John Barnes; narrated by Susan Eriksen
What would happen if all the people who hate the “big system,” for the many, many different reasons that people do, decided that their differences of opinion about why they hate it were irrelevant, and all bonded together to do something about it? Technological apocalypse, that’s what. Barnes tells the story of a worldwide technological meltdown, brought about by a concerted sabotage campaign among tens or hundreds of thousands of activists around the world. They seed the world with rubber and plastic-eating nano machines, and things very quickly fall apart. The tale is told from many perspectives (nearly all American), and traces many paths people might take through the chaos. A few thoughts on the book:
- The book feels like it has a significant Libertarian bent, though it takes care to recognize the dangers in extremes of any political philosophy. There was an awful lot of “smart people would do just fine, but dumb people would die off quickly” attitude, and often the ‘dumb people’ part equated to urban poor. So that part grated a little bit.
- But there’s hope at the heart of the Libertarian mindset, the idea that people will work hard and, when the system gives them a chance, will do well. The “regular people pulling things together and doing it right” part of the book was downright nice.
- I also really liked Barnes’ approach to politicians, skilfully interpreting the old canard that power corrupts, and viewing how easy it is for well-intentioned leaders to push us into war.
- Last, one of the concepts of the book is the idea of a “system artifact,” a collection of ideas that gain power and a kind of agency despite not being steered by anyone in particular. It reminds me of two things: first, Dawkins’ original idea of ‘memes,’ as sticky ideas that evolve like genes in our collective intelligence matrix; and second, like the smart spam in Maelstrom that evolves in the information ecology of the new web.
Susan Eriksen does a nice job with the narration, using a few kinda-voices to add some depth, but generally hitting it straight and clear. Overall, a pleasant diversion, if you like your stories with apocalyptic megadeaths.
As I started to get more serious about the board game hobby, I learned a number of amusing terms for different kind of games. One that I enjoy quite a bit is “Ameritrash,” a seemingly-derogatory phrase for games that a) have tons of little fiddly bits, b) have a strongly developed theme, and c) rely heavily on luck. There are more detailed descriptions of the term, of course. The opposite game style is “Eurogame,” which is generally a) tightly constructed, b) focus on mechanics and play more than conflict, and c) use balance far more than luck.
While a developed theme is a big deal for me, and I love the little fiddly bits, I think the reliance on luck is the biggest divider between the two genres. While you can have bad luck in Settlers of Catan, the statistics of the dice rolls generally work out okay, and any failure you have in covering the various resources point back to your poor choices in the land-grab phases of the game. By contrast, you can do everything right in Last Night on Earth, have a couple bad rolls, and find your hero being eaten for dinner.
So how do you decide when to rely on luck in your game? I’d suggest three questions:
Is it thematically appropriate?
Figures an Ameritrash fan would focus on theme first. But really, luck amps up tension because you don’t know how things are going to come out. In Last Night on Earth, which prompts players to imagine their characters in a zombie film scenario, luck plays a huge role. It’s a common staple of the zombie movie for a character to do everything right, to beat back a zombie horde, only to get bitten on the ankle by a zombie laying under an overturned bookshelf.
Other games have themes that accommodate virtually no luck. In Mammut, players are part of a primitive tribe, just returned from their hunting expedition, sitting down to divvy up the results of the journey. They take turns taking piles of goods, either from the communal pot or from one another, until each has a share. This system relies on hardly any luck at all (except for the handful of mystery tiles in the pool and the player’s secret amplifier card). This fits the theme well, as the scenario doesn’t involve a narrative where surprise or mystery would be part of the tale.
So designers should ask if the luck they’re building into their game fits the theme they’re using.
Is it about skill and strategy?
Some games reward skill and strategy to the detriment of nearly everything else. Games of perfect information, such as Chess, provide all the possibilities to players up front, and all moves are made in public. Other games use complete information, meaning that you know all the things your opponent could do, but can’t always see what they do, or may have some options arrive by chance (such as a card that determines possible game states but appears randomly). Battleship is an example of a game of complete information.
Games that rely on luck have an inherent information gap. Neither player knows how a dice roll will come out, or which card will be at the top of the deck. Additionally, games like Magic: The Gathering or Android: Netrunner have the additional issue of mysterious game elements — each player has information about elements in the game (her own deck) that are missing from the other player. Games like this usually achieve balance through statistical averaging (the ‘best of three games’ rule, for instance, mediates the ‘luck of the draw’ aspect of CCGs).
So designers should ask how much they want to reward skill and strategy in play. Should newbies have to grasp lots of complicated interconnections among many different features to compete with veterans? Should one or two moments turn the whole game?
Does it add fun to the game?
Of course, this is the most subjective question to ask. Some people find the churning-gear machine analysis of 7 Wonders intriguing and interesting, while others delight in the Elder Sign moment when a beleaguered investigator rolls the one crucial result on her last die to fulfill the task and prevent Cthulhu from waking and destroying the Earth. So it might come down to taste.
But we’ve all played games where the dice just aren’t on our side. For example, after a particularly bad game of Elder Sign, my daughter refused to play the game for months. She only recently realized (or admitted to herself) that it wasn’t because she didn’t like the game, but because she’d had such a bad experience that one round. We hadn’t kept the theme strong enough to offset the sour experience of luck going against her.
The question a designer should ask is: can the player do anything to change the game if the dice aren’t working in their favor? If the answer is no, then that player is probably going to have a crummy time of it.
What’s the right balance of luck and strategy? Which games do you think master this balance best?
- Tweets from 2015-04-19 to 2015-04-25 http://t.co/fCu3GAhPHO 10:00:38, 2015-04-26
- The @GeneHa graphic novel #Mae has already funded and the stretch goals are starting to emerge. Go check it out! https://t.co/tDnQXrtqnZ 05:34:47, 2015-04-27
- #GameLog Fun #TicketToRideEurope game: we finished w/in 6 pts of each other 'til grandma claimed longest route ftw. http://t.co/mVcxOjU3ae 09:14:18, 2015-04-27
- Koko Takes a Holiday http://t.co/ytb2RJcXDt 11:30:53, 2015-04-27
- #GameLog Busted out #Netrunner last night against Avery. Hit tons of #Jinteki traps, but squeaked out a win anyway. http://t.co/SLxFNtsUAV 04:33:17, 2015-04-28
- RT @Zmangames_: CONTEST! Win these games before their release! RT & FOLLOW. Ends Friday May 1st 1PM Eastern. http://t.co/jf4tlMvzsD 08:56:10, 2015-04-28
- Nonviolence as Compliance in Baltimore http://t.co/ldlbWT09y7 09:04:56, 2015-04-28
- On Baltimore http://t.co/aXSDsqlRK4 11:30:48, 2015-04-28
- @dilger's Twitter feed is killing it. While I try to squeak in under 144 characters, he's averaging 80. 14:18:16, 2015-04-28
- Talking animals are ALWAYS funny. https://t.co/ypGB8BQCdv 19:59:52, 2015-04-28
- Oh shit, I got emoji now. ☺ 20:06:45, 2015-04-28
- On balance, I wonder if television producers aspire to make their shows part of the Tommy Westphall universe or avoid it. 04:24:56, 2015-04-29
- Regarding the word "immediately," I just told a student "This word is like a strong spice – use it sparingly." 05:41:22, 2015-04-29
- April 29, IN HISTORY – labor relations http://t.co/twgG6Ovrfv 11:33:03, 2015-04-29
- Am I the only one bothered by people using 'so' as a synonym for 'very' in written work? Drives me so crazy! 13:04:10, 2015-04-29
- Retweet this to tell @NancyPelosi to take a stand against #FastTrack & the #TPP http://t.co/ddnIrddQbV http://t.co/j8xzoyCjPv via @IDLtweets 16:02:35, 2015-04-29
- Student writing quote winner of the day: "Just like bell bottom pants, the idea of eternal return has cycled its way around multiple times." 16:26:46, 2015-04-29
- #OrphanBlack Where does Felix keep getting money for all those iPhones? 21:25:13, 2015-04-29
- RT @MPCAACA: Are you working feverishly on those submissions? Well keep working but remember we extended the deadline until May 15! 04:33:08, 2015-05-01
- Watched the most recent AGENTS OF SHIELD last night so we are caught up with MCU and ready for Ultron. 09:34:01, 2015-05-01
- "@maydaygames: Eaten by Zombies giveaway. Watch the video for contest rules. @MaxHolliday contest ends in one hour " where's the video? 11:53:43, 2015-05-01
- @hodgman "A rainbow connection riff there." @JesseThorn "Yeah, that was fun." #jjho #ftw 17:46:29, 2015-05-01
- RT @pneyu: The Internet summarized (thank you @pattonoswalt; apologies for the overgeneralization on my part): http://t.co/puJgUvE9nV 10:19:54, 2015-05-02
- #GameLog Yet another game of #SherriffofNottingham where no one believes me and I finish in last place. Fun anyway! 11:36:38, 2015-05-02
- #ConfuseTwoFilms We're the Miller's Crossing. 12:27:20, 2015-05-02
- #GameLog Mysterious Laser) & Pale Computer saved Zeta City from Boss Terror in #HeroesWanted today. @ActionPhase http://t.co/NkjDpIeFxQ 15:54:26, 2015-05-02