Gamer’s Notebook

I don’t wish to be precious, but I am probably not a true blogger. If blogging is writing on the fly, adding pictures, and posting fairly quickly or same day. The result of trying this was that the previous Notebook was the worst thing I have written in a long time.  Perhaps the worst. Bits missing, no structure, meaningless references.

Yes, I know. Better than usual…

The situation has become a bit unstable because I have recently gone active on Twitter, Instagram, Cloud storage and Facebook, as well as the WordPress blog. Deep down I want to be on Tumblr. And I don’t see any point in recovering my ludeme.com domain now.

I have had trouble working out what content should feed into what, where the pictures live, where my pictures are stored, and who is seeing the background articles. I linked to The Tao of Gaming where I thought my context comments would appear, but they got lost, so my article made no sense.

And Twitter still strikes me as turning up in the middle of someone’s private conversation.

My plan is this:

  • Game writing at Ludeme.
  • Writing archive at Ludeme.
  • Gaming comments and images on Twitter.
  • Miniatures images on Instagram.
  • Miniatures blog to be separate.
  • Personal stuff on Facebook.

So, lesson learned.  Any input welcome. Meanwhile I am slowing down, regaining control and pulling my horns in. I will revert to the tried and trusted system of drafting, leaving it for a bit, polishing and then publishing. I am not sure you will even notice. I have therefore also decided to delete the offending column and re-write, which you will find below.  Apologies for wasting your time.

Once again, with feeling…

Today I will be writing in the style of Mike Clifford, long time oppo and master of concision.

EXPERIENT

I found that unusual word searching for experience games. It seems to be the academic version of what Charles Vasey and I outlined 25 years ago, in Sumo Issue 7. Sadly the spellchecker doesn’t recognize it. Why the search? Rick Heli tipped me off to an excellent article by Brian Bankler. I found it interesting and pretty much proof of what I suspected: that I don’t game like gamers. There are gamers who like to win, and there gamers who like to play.  I am not typing Reiner’s quote again.

It may not surprise you that I play all games in an experiential fashion. I like to try something different, to see what the sandbox offers. I push the design, try big plays, refuse to jump through certain ‘VP hoops’. What I do rarely has much correlation with earning VPs. Winning is not very important, sometimes at all. I can win and do win, but that is a happy coincidence. I enjoy the ride. The journey. The mechanisms and the narrative. For clarity, I always make an effort.

It is why I have always championed Phil Eklund because, whether he designs this intentionally or not, the games are simmish and fascinating but can also just be a sandbox. Sure, there are constraints, but not many. I have always assumed that everybody is doing the same thing to temper the chaos. Perhaps not. Chaos and experience in one game is unusual – it is my wheelhouse. Which is also why I have loved most of Phil’s designs, but not all. And ending the game with no money and a burned hacienda is great fun. Usually.

The downside is that I can be accused of playing sub-optimally rather than differently. This triggered a serious row once. My play apparently caused another player to lose, and he was not happy. I had made a play where he, and perhaps others, had spotted a better ‘obvious’ one. It was not obvious to me, and of course we quickly get into the merits of pointing out other’s options, and kingmaking.  In short, he felt he should have won and I had denied him his right. You know what I am going to say, and it boils down to it being a hobby. For fun. I have always said that there is more to a game than the ludic and competitive qualities. This is a different strokes thing, not inferior or superior. Just there.

The big reveal is that I sometimes appear sub-optimal, but that is the best I can do. Sometimes, I deliver a genius play that leaves people gasping (the last one was in 1995). And seriously, I know gamers who have retired because they felt they were letting everyone else down. But I am not alone here. My current group splits 50/50. I would say two are hardball gamers, competitive, and good at the winning process. Another is more along for the new game experience, the social and chat, the laughs and the ride.  Like me.

Early Comment Joe Huber You know, I do wonder if your comment ‘I don’t game like gamers’ isn’t really what’s at the heart of the matter. If one enjoys experiencing a game, perhaps (nearly) all games are experience games. I suppose there are some games at either end of the spectrum – experience games which don’t really work for goal-based gamers, and goal games which don’t really work for experience gamers. I suppose the same’s true for gamers, too…

PANDEMIC

This Legacy thing not only demands a lot of time, it gives one plenty to write about. Following the time drain that has been Seafall, still very much alive and heavily house-ruled, we moved to Pandemic Legacy. Firstly let me say, following complaints last time, I have no problem with Pandemic. I really like it. I played it several times. I think the mechanism is brilliant. But, it is co-op and I find that I don’t want to play it that often. I gave it an 8. It won a Sumo. My defence rests!

Anyway. The Legacy edition reminded us all how clever it is, and everyone had a good time. The opening scenario went well. A bit easy if anything. Everyone enjoyed the stickering, rewards and looking forward to the next game. [awkward silence] I am still not convinced about Legacy Systems. Sorry. I love playing new games every week. I live for the new mechansims, even when that is all there is on offer. I don’t want to play the same thing, even with rule stickers, every week for the next three months. There have been exceptions in the past (more on this next time) but not many.  I am conflicted.

PAX UPDATE

After perhaps seven games I finally get Pax Renaissance. This speaks volumes. That I have played this much means I like it a lot; I did not like it in playtesting and refused to continue. Now, I think it is brilliant. What has happened is an extended learning curve. We all did stuff and learned about the obscure rules one by one. Finally, in March, we had a game that did not finish on the first topple, and showed its true colours and depth. It is not my favourite Pax game, which is still Pamir, but this is a keeper.

YAMATAI

They certainly do not skimp on bits at Days of Wonder. This is quite an exercise in unpacking and setting up. The graphics are stunning. Tempting does not cover it. The volume of bits quickly steers you into thinking that Yamatai is not Ticket to Ride, and that is certainly true. This is a middleweight game that feels a little bit like Five Tribes and a little bit like Via Nebula. It is neither, being at a slightly higher complexity level, and is weaker than both for that. I cannot believe I am saying this, given the designers and publisher, but it is not quite there. It is playable, and interesting, and no-one disliked it. But you can see the problems, especially the late game issues, unfolding. If I can see it, why not the dev team?

Firstly, I won. Always worrying. I won because of one of the special power cards. It seemed ridiculously powerful. Combos compound this and there are three or four that are suspect. Secondly, the rules are not trivial and slightly woolly. Not bad, but there were a couple of, ‘What do they mean here?’ discussions. Thirdly, there is an old school game end condition where you have to watch two or three things to work out if you have one, two or three turns left. Fourthly, it is one of those games where everything is moving so planning your turn doesn’t start until the previous player finishes.

What I liked was the overall feel. You could see what you were trying to achieve, you knew the other players would stop you, and it was a decent challenge.  The turn order selection/action card system is good. There are some fascinating micro-plays possible, leading to several tactical approaches, and even an essentially abstract game had me thinking hard to get more points.  Other players managed better than I and kindly pointed out how. The verdict? Old skool, abstract, puzzley, light on development, rules heavy. Good but not great. I just felt Five Tribes was leaner and meaner.

Mike Siggins

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