Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Complex Issues

One of the driving forces behind the Eurogame design paradigm is the need to get down a game to it's essential play elements - to streamline the rules to the point where design becomes an exercise in extracting the maximum amount of gameplay from the minimal amount of rules. For this reason one of the reasons that Euro fans cite against trying out AT games is that they are too complex.

Now I have to say that as time has gone on I've started to sympathise more and more with this particular complaint. This has less to do with the fact that as I've got older my time to play (and learn) games has become more limited as with the growing size of my game collection. I try very hard to play the games I own and not just collect them for the sake of it. But in order to play games you need (in most cases) some willing opponents. And there's the rub - I simply can't be bothered to be teaching complicated games to people any more, especially games which require one or more "learning plays" during which the neophyte players can't expect to be at all competitive with their more experienced peers.

So where does this leave me with my love of Ameritrash games? Well, firstly there's been an increasing modern trend for AT games to copy this aspect of Euro design although, obviously, they do try to leave as much theme on as possible. Happily for me there have been a number of notable successes in this regard such as Nexus Ops, Bootleggers and others pack plenty of violence, theme and skulduggery into short rulebooks. But there's more to it than that, else this would be a very short column indeed.

Let's digress shortly. I've been avoiding games in Richard Borgs' Command & Colours system for a long time because I generally avoid 2 players games unless they're really, really good. But I eventually decided that given the popularity of the series I really couldn't call myself much of a gamer if I didn't own at least one. Since a friend had already picked up a copy of Battelore for his son it came down to a straight fight between Memoir '44 and C&C: Ancients. So I played a few games of both on Vassal.

Before I started the games I thought this was going to be a no-brain decision. C&C:A is rated much higher over on the 'geek than M44 and my buddies on that site also exhibited a strong preference for the ancients game. I preferred the WW2 theme a bit to ancients but I figured if I got desperate for a dose of world war tactical combat then something like Tide of Iron might satisfy those cravings a bit better. But playing the games I got a real shock. It's not that M44 is a better game than CCA - it's weaker, although both are good fun - it's just that the fiddly exceptions in CCA really started to annoy me after about .. ooh ... one game. After several it isn't getting any better. Do I really care that Auxilla infantry count as light units but can't evade, like other light units? Do I care that they've got missile weapons that can't be used if they move two hexes, whereas other missile troops can? M44 just seems to be cleaner, faster and more fun even if it is a poorer simulation of combat in the given era and a slightly lighter game. Neither is particularly heavy and both are fairly luck dependent, so can I really be bothered learning a bunch of extra rules to play a lightweight dicefest?

Which brings me back to the topic in hand. There's really two kinds of complexity in a game. The first kind, the sort you find in CCA and a lot of wargames, is complexity through exceptions. In this approach the base rules may be really simple (although they're often not) but the real complexity comes from trying to remember that unit A can do things that unit B can't do and that unit C can do everything A&B can and more, but only when it isn't raining. This approach to gaming has started to annoy the hell out of me. It's all about simulation when really how much of a simulation of something can a game be? No amount of playing simulations of the battle of the bulge can recreate the experience of the soldier on the ground or even then tension at HQ as the generals push blocks around the map knowing they're ordering real men into the meatgrinder and that the price of loss could be the fall of western civilisation.

The other kind of complexity is having long rules. But long rules don't necessarily mean a game is difficult to learn. If they're not exception heavy then you tend to find that medium size rule sets often have an internal logic that make them quite easy to pick up and digest. Take Titan for example (my favourite game so I'm trying to work it into every blog post). Titan has a rulebook which, from memory, is 12 pages long and almost all text. It also has additional rules printed on the battleland boards for combat in that particular terrain. Yet I, and all the people I've taught Titan to, have been able to learn the rules successfully and jump right in to be competitive in their first play. A lot of AT games come into this category - the rules may look daunting but once you've got stuck in, they fall into place with relative ease.

Except for Magic Realm of course, which has the lowest gameplay/rules length ratio of any game I've ever come across. But that's another story.


Mr Skeletor said...

You just explained exactly why I simply cannot get into wargames, try as I might.

mads l. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mads b. said...

I recently played Arkham Horror (which I would definitely say falls in to the AT category) with a friend who's played some, but is not a hardcore gamer. And what struck me about it was how easy it was to explain the rules he needed in order to play the game. Especially compared to the fact that it is in fact a quite complex game. And though I haven't actually played it yet it seems to me that Heroscape is if not as complex then quite easy to teach as well.

But complex rules can also be a problem with serious euros. For instance I've owned Reef Encounter for almost a year, but still haven't played it.

ps - did some editing, hence a deleted post above.

thedude05 said...

Titan is one of the best games I have ever played. Its great! Its layered and never gets boring in my opinion. The only bad thing is the down time between turns in larger multiplayer games.
But I can live with that.

Michael Barnes said...

Great piece, Matt!

One of the things I find most irritating about "classic" AT games is that the rules for the better games generally aren't nearly as complex as the rulebooks seem to want to make them- MERCHANT OF VENUS, KREMLIN, TITAN, CIRCUS MAXIMUS and even UP FRONT are really pretty simple systems but the way they're described in the rules is just a nightmare, which I think scares off a lot of people. There's been many a time when just the sight of an AH rulebook has scared away folks from my table. GUERILLA has probably the worst rulebook I've ever seen...it's an easy game, but poor card layout matched up with a rulebook that reads like a Thomas Pynchon novel make the game practically inaccessible. Every time we play Robartin and I have to combine our knowledge and recollection of how to play and we _sometimes_ get it right.

As far as exceptions...I think that they can be very necessary when describing a particular theme or situation, but yeah, some designers and developers (Don Greenwood, you listening?) go overboard with them. Even relatively simple wargames like HAMMER OF THE SCOTS have 'em...it seems like exceptions are one of the key principles in generating unit differentation. PATHS OF GLORY is a good example of how exceptions can make a basic system a little too complex. Contrast that to TWILIGHT STRUGGLE, which I think has one exception.

You bring up a good point, and one that I think goes back to the replayability issue...since AT games often have deeper, more intricate gameplay it can be hard to really experience them at their best when you're constantly introducing new players and essentially playing learning games over and over again. I do think this is a function of having larger collections...I remember buying CIVILIZATION back in the 80s and that was my one game purchase for an entire year (I was on an allowance)...but we played the CRAP out of that one game and really got the most out of it. We used to think that having 9-10 games was a large collection.

I think a lot of newer gamers, the ones who played Carcassonne over at Jim and Judy Juniper's house over wine and cheese saturday night and happened upon BGG, just really don't want to commit to learning anything with complexity of any type...which is fine for casual gamers...but when a lot of the complexity is actually fairly illusory I feel like a lot of people miss out on some really great games.

Michael Barnes said...

Oh, and MAGIC REALM...it really is that complex...but the kicker is that patience and commitment to learning the rules rewards you with the best fantasy adventure game ever published...the rules are just exquisite, but they are very specific and intricately detailed. REALMSPEAK makes learning them a hundred times easier. An AT essential!

hughthehand said...

Matt...good article. I am really enjoying the righting on this blog. So, props to everyone writing here, from a euro gamer.

Now, as a euro fan, I have no problem what so ever with complex rules. Its the game length that kills it for me. For one, I just don't have the time or patience anymore to play a single game for more than 3 hours. I would rather play 2-3 different games in that period. Of course there are exceptions, like Crusader Rex, and Hammer of the Scots, but I can only get them to the table about once a year. And since I just learned them in the past 6 months or so, that hasn't really happened yet.

The fiddly-ness you describe about C&C:A is the kind of stuff I like about Battlelore, so I am sure once I try C&C:A, I'm gonna love it. MM44, while fun, just lacks in some things. Mostly support rules, but that is just me. This kind of stuff I like in war type games, but in typical euros, this would frustrate me a lot.

To mads b., not sure who you are, but you really need to play Reef Encounter. The main problem with the game isn't complex rules. They are actually really damn good and work well to convey the theme...another opinion, but I stand by it. The problem with the game is that the rule book (1st edition) just plain sucks. I had to read it twice, and then I still didn't get some stuff. After a game on speilbyweb.com, everything made sense, and I never had a problem.

I own the second edition (better graphics in my opinion), and the rules are written way better. If you own the 1st ed., get a copy of the 2nd ed. rules. The writing is the problem, not the rules themselves.

hughthehand said...

Ahh fuck. Just ignore everything I just posted and read what Barnes wrote. He did it better, and nailed it on the head.

That will learn me to read ALL the comments before I post mine.

Matt Thrower said...

..but the kicker is that patience and commitment to learning the rules rewards you with the best fantasy adventure game ever published

May be the best ever but I'm sorry .. I just don't think it's good enough to be worth the learning curve. I spent days learning it ... and I mean days .. and while I did eventually come to understand that there's a fine game in there somewhere in no way did I feel it was rewarding enough to justify that ridiculous rule set!

Michael Barnes said...

Well, the first round I had with MAGIC REALM ended pretty much like you described, Matt...I sold it off, pretty sure that it wasn't worth the time. Last year I decided I wanted to give it another shot because I remembered that there was a lot that I really liked about it and I spent a couple of days figuring it out with REALMSPEAK...my knowledge of the magic system is still a little shaky, but I've pretty much gotten it down.

I think it's totally worth the effort...no other fantasy adventure game captures the detail it does and the automation systems in it are brilliant. The combat system is incredible, much like GUNSLINGER it delivers a swing-by-swing account of what happens. The way natives work is very cool and all the built-in interactions between them creates a neat, comprehensive fantasy world.

It's very complex, no doubt about it...and I think RETURN OF THE HEROES or even MYSTIC WOOD are viable alternatives if you don't want to make the investment...but I just find it tremendously satisfying to dig out those treasures...

Godeke said...

"I spent days learning it ... and I mean days"

Ouch. This is a game that takes a few sessions to work up to the full game, I will admit that. But it isn't *that* crazy if you use the new unofficial rules.

At BoardGameGeek.CON we had a table of new players who got through the rules explanation and a game of the "no magic" version in four hours one night. The next morning we got back together and a full magic version explained and played over another four hours the next morning.

The trick is to ignore how intimidating the rules *look* and dive in and try it. Much of the game only makes sense when the counters are flying around to their proper homes.

The Red Phantom said...

Great post, but I don't agree with some of the underpinnings. If any Eurosnoots call AT games complicated, save for TI3 and Magic Realm, they are out of their mentat minds. M'44 is "cleaner and faster" than C&C:A because it's simpler and has less going on, although that's not so true with some of the Russian campaigns. C&C:A *is* fiddly, but it's as close to a true wargame as that system can take us. And as a wargamer, I think a game either is or isn't complex, rule length be damned. Titan, an absolute masterpiece, just cannot be called complex. PoG is complex, although the standard rules are a bit shorter than for a wargame of that magnitude.

It's funny: I would have thought ATers and wargames would be a natural fit, especially with the player-friendly CDG's and Taylor blockgames. I know Cleitus would agree.

Malloc said...

For one, I just don't have the time or patience anymore to play a single game for more than 3 hours. I would rather play 2-3 different games in that period.

I will never understand that statement. If you have the time to play 3 crappy euro games, why not invest that time in a much richer game.

We used to get people who wouldn't play 3-4 hour games at game night (wed 8 until about 1:30) but would stay there tile 1:30 playing tons of shitty little games.

Has our attention span really gotten to the point that anything longer than the average sit com causes our minds to wander?

The problem I have with all these short games is that there is a price they pay for their brevity, That price is depth of strategy. Let's face it PR is a simple fucking game. There really is nothing more to it than playing the machine forward in your head and taking the best option. In fact even Caylus is nothing more than a longer version of this.

Why is it that you need to stop playing after 60-90 min and start something new? It like saying I really like steak but I don’t have the time so I will eat 2 hamburgers instead.


Godeke said...

There are three types of complexity:

Emergent Complexity: This is complexity that comes not *from* the rules themselves, but instead from the interplay of the rules, pieces and the board.

The poster child for emergent complexity is GO. The rules fit on a 3"x5" index card, yet the *implication* of those rules once the game is underway is absurd levels of emergent complexity. No novice has a hope of challenging an experienced player.

Rules Complexity: This is the complexity of exceptions and conditions that are actually printed in the rule book and what is being decried here. Personally, I don't mind rules complexity as long as the goal is simulation and not playability. You can even be simulating the imaginary, as Star Fleet Battles does, and I'm fine with that. However, rules complexity is what makes a game hard to get people started with. While I can teach Go in two minutes and start the process of learning immediately, Star Fleet (or ASL or any other "wall of books" games) will take much longer and yield less satisfactory results *unless* my opponent *wants* to simulate science fiction starship combat.

Layered Rules: The third type of complexity is really rules complexity, but with a twist. Magic the Gathering and many card based games have a simple core rule set that can be taught quickly. However, these rules are broken or extended on a case by case basis by the cards that are played.

Another example is Navia Drapt, a Shogi-like game where the pieces can cause various rule breaking effects. Card driven wargames have a bit of this flavor as well. Twilight Struggle has a core that is quite simple (despite the rulebook's attempt to screw that up) but the cards drive much of the actual game in a way that adds a lot to the experience and allows rules to be added "just in time".

Personally, I prefer Emergent Complexity and Layered Rules these days, as it allows the game to get started quickly. Games with Rules Complexity are fun, but so hard to find opponents for these days that I'm just not getting much table time with them.

One potential danger with Layered Rules is the FAQ of Doom effect, which turns it back into Rules Complexity, defeating the benefits. However, a *well designed* game with exceptions on the pieces or cards can avoid that and bring the benefits of a short rulebook *and* exceptions to the party.

Shellhead said...

hughthehand: "For one, I just don't have the time or patience anymore to play a single game for more than 3 hours. I would rather play 2-3 different games in that period."

I'm definitely the opposite. I would rather play one long game instead of a bunch of shorter games. It's like the difference between watching a 2-hour movie or 4 different half-hour tv shows.

Of course, it depends on the games. A long game with a runaway leader problem (Risk) would be tedious, while 2 hours spent playing Nuclear War, Kill Dr. Lucky and Mall of Horror would be great.

Ken Bradford said...

Great post!

That is one HUGE fallacy that many Euro fans have in their minds--that AT fans will tolerate any level of rules complexity. This is not true. We will tolerate more than they will, but there is a breaking point.

Likewise, we don't mind when rules are simplified, but there is a breaking point there too when the theme is flushed away.

Wargames are notorious for having these rules exceptions that really drive me crazy. That is complexity of a different sort, and not my favorite. I can handle checking the rulebook a few times during play, but by the end of our first or second game we should NOT be constantly grabbing the rule books.

When we played A Game of Thrones for the first time, we were checking the rulebook frequently. But the rulebook was laid out so well that finding what we wanted was easy. Furthermore, after that first game there would only need to be occasional glances at the rulebook, if that. If a game can manage that, without being a cop-out simplistic Eurogame, then THAT is rules nirvana.

Rich theme but easily digestible rules and stripping out exceptions that are only peripherally necessary. Borg, I think, understands this best of all, as well as do the designers at Columbia Games (Taylor, Dalgleish, et al). Bowen Simmons will shortly release his second game, and we'll know if he was a one hit wonder or the next big pioneer in accessible wargames with sensible rulesets. Based on my short conversations with him on BGG, I think the latter will prove true.

Michael Barnes said...

First off...let's give a high five to RED PHANTOM for making this Blog's first DUNE reference...well done!

Godeke points out something (along with some interesting ideas about emergent complexity/layered rules) about these old games...a lot of times, our first experience with them these days is reading the rules via a PDF or scan. Which is really a bad, bad idea. If you just read MAGIC REALM, it sounds like a nightmare. But if you sit down with the game (or on REALMSPEAK) and see everything, it makes a HELL of a lot more sense. Chalk it up to the internet...it used to be we'd buy games like that without having read little if anything about them...which might have been a better way to circumvent the apparent inaccessibility.

I do think "rules technology" for lack of a better term has come a long way- due in some part to Euros, no doubt. Bowen Simmon's BONAPARTE AT MARENGO is a great example...it's a very specific, very thematic, and fairly detailed depiction of Napoleonic-era warfare complete with the strategic and situational particulars of terrain, line formations, cavalry, etc...that it provides so much in jut 12 pages of rules with very little up-front complexity is pretty god damn amazing. Likewise, TWILIGHT STRUGGLE.

I said it earlier...the really cutting edge, avant garde design has been in wargames for the past two or three years.

robartin said...

Look, it's just like beer. You've got your Bud Light drinkers, who just want something fast that goes down easy. Then you've got your Chimay drinkers, who savor every sip for its character and complexity.

The Eurogamers are your Bud Light drinkers and the Ameritrashers are your Chimay drinkers. Or maybe it's the other way around... Fast and easy...that sounds kind of Ameritrashy. And isn't Chimay made by monks in some kind of secluded Belgian cloister?

Ah hell, I give up. Where's my beer? You guys figure it out.

Michael Barnes said...

Where does PBR fit into this whole equation?

Godeke said...

Bonaparte at Marengo is an excellent example of a modern take on the a classic wargame theme. The decision to forgo the usual dice mechanisms forced a rethinking that really was fresh and timely.

I have heard complaints about B at M's rules, but almost without fail it is along side a confession that they took preconceived notions in with them.

If you read the rules as they are written and work though what is being said, the game is easy enough to pick up. The complexity is mostly emergent with just enough rules complexity to keep the theme front and center.

Excellent game, rules and visual presentation, I'm looking forward to the more games built upon that engine.

hughthehand said...

malloc...did I say I would rather play three "crappy" euro games? Would you rather play 1 "crappy" AT game for that long?

Of course not. I would play 2-3 "good" euro games. And my complaint is for games that last MORE than 3 hours.

I like Vinci. I play that game about 2-3 times a year while I'm at Origins. Which is about the only time I get to play a lot of games face to face. Vinci takes us about 2-2.5 hours. Or Tikal, which can take up to 2.

More than 3 hours, and the end might not be in sight yet...well that just isnt' for me. As I also said, there are occasionally exceptions like Crusader Rex or HotS...which I can't wait to play at Origins this year.

If you like to play a single game for more than 3 hours, go right ahead. I'm into euro games that last anywhere from 1-2.5 hours. Variety is for me.

Do you want to talk and cuddle or nail a whole room full tail? I know what I'm doin'.

Shellhead said...

Where does PBR fit into this whole equation?

My dad was a huge fan of both PBR and Acquire. But trying to work with Robartin's analogy, I would associate PBR more with Risk.

Maybe my dad ruined my childhood by teaching me how to play Acquire at age 6, but it's just about the only Euro-type game that I still enjoy. And when my dad gave me Dogfight a few years later, I think that's the moment I became an AmeriTrash gamer.

Michael Barnes said...

But when was the moment that dad made you a PBR drinker?

Shellhead said...

Dad let me have a sip of PBR at age 10. I didn't like it. I still don't like PBR, but for completely different reasons. Back then, it was too bitter, but now I consider PBR too weak-tasting. If I have to drink an American beer, give me Dixie's Blackened Voodoo Lager, or Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark. Mmm.

William Boykin said...

Re: CCA, 'Fiddlyness', and Game design.

I come from a background of being primarily a miniature wargamer- historicals mostly. I also have a bit of a background in the history of ancient warfare. For me, it is self-evident that Auxilla are slightly 'heavier' skirmishers (to quote the example in the article). Given that the Roman Auxilla were uparmoured light troops whose job on the battlefield was to hunt down and crush opposing skirmishers, it makes sense. Knowing that, the exception doesn't feel like an exception- its just an expression of what that unit was like on the ancient battlefield. It's not 'fiddly' for me, because you use the units the way that a Roman general would- you sick them against the opposing skirmishers, cleaning a lane for your infantry to get in amongst the enemy line.

However, I can see how if one isn't aware of the history behind the decision, the distinction can get a bit wierd. What are these units? Why are they different? What do they do? All you know about them is the nature of the 'exception', and have to try and figure out how they fit amongst the game.

My point. I don't think that the 'exception' idea of game design is wrong. I do think, however, that a game needs to be very clear in presenting all the information about the rules, the doctrine of the armies, and the units, to the player. My rule of thumb of what makes a good game is not how it handles 'exceptions', or how much chrome it has. For me, a game is good if it has a clear sense of who the player is in the game. CCA, for me, is great because my role, as the player, is Scipio Africanus or Hannibal. The game could be better for newbies if it better explained WHAT the units were, and how they fought (an example of this sort thing is the scenario book in Great Battles of Alexander)- but overall I think that CCA is great- and better than Memoir '44.

Why better than Memoir? Because, Memoir '44 doesn't have a clear idea of what the game IS. The unit scale in Memoir is so incredibly vague, they could be almost anything. This makes it very hard to determine the action- units behave one way if we're playing a skirmish game (one tank piece=one tank), or if we're playing a divisional level game. (One tank piece=one tank company). In the different scenarios, the game moves up and down in its scale, and makes it very hard to empathize with whats going on.

Case in point. When a unit retreats from shooting, it always has to move to the starting edge of the map. What if the fire that caused retreat result came from behind? I still have to move towards my rear- CLOSER to the enemy.

If the game is more of a skirmish game, this just feels wrong. Platoons would move directly away from the enemy. If its a divisional level, then its different- a regiment would move closer to its source of supply and control. So whats going on? I don't know- a 'unit' in Memoir could be anything. So as a result, I feel disconnected. It doesn't 'grab' me as much as CCA.

Other games that do this are like the old monster, World in Flames. Here you are, either Churchill or Roosevelt, but yet you have to make decisions that would be handled WAAAY down the chain of command. As a result the game is too chromy, fiddly, and not satisfying. However, Bootleggers is very clear. You're the head of a crime syndicate, growing your 'hooch' empire. The decisions that you make are ones you would make- do I go for more trucks, or do I hire a hitman? Do I whack Tony, or do I try make a deal?

Anyhoo, my point is that the 'exceptions' approach to game design is not, in and of itself, bad. What makes a bad game is a lack of clear sense of what the game is about- who is the player, what are the units, what are we doing here? If any of these is vague, then you have a bad game.


the red phantom said...

What is all this AT fear of complexity? The heftiest AT games--Dune, TI3, AH, FA, Samurai Swords--are all as complex as a medium weight wargame, say Hannibal:RvC and Wilderness War.

If you can play the one, you can play the other. Wargamers have no problem going "the other way."

Michael Barnes said...

Welcome to Fortress AT William!

You make a great case for the exception model, and I completely agree with you. I actually get a lot of satisfaction out of exception rules when I look at them at think "Oh, well that makes perfect sense". Example- in LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD, archers can't fire if they cross a ford on the same turn. It says why right in the rules- "Because their bowstrings are wet". Makes perfect sense. Sure, it's a very minor, easily forgettable rule but that one exception adds a huge amount of realism.

But the larger issues you raise about in-game identity- the player's "ego", for lack of a better term- point to an entirely different design problem that pops up in Euros and AT games alike...I think the textbook case for how a game that lacks "ego" also lacks context is EUPHRAT & TIGRIS...just what, who, or where the hell is the player in relation to in-game events? I think that is one of the things that, at least on a sublimated level, makes that a tough game for a newbie to learn.

Friendless said...

What I don't like about 4 hour Ameritrash games is that what I do on my turn matters so little. If I'm playing TI3 and I build a couple of spaceships nobody will care much - in the grand scheme of things it's an insignificant move, and less important than the result of some dice roll later where the things get destroyed. OTOH if I'm playing PR and the guy to my left has coffee and I build a coffee roaster, that's a big move - he's screwed and I'm the coffee king. When I play a 4 hour Ameritrash game we futz around making hundreds of insignficant little moves and in the end someone turns out to be the winner. Massive yawn from my end of the table! Shorter Euros give you the opportunity to make moves which change the course of the game. malloc says Euros are like playing the machine forward in your head - I absolutely agree. You play the machine forward in your head, I make an unexpected move which completely derails your machine and you have to plan again. I LIKE THAT. If I can't see the machine and poke it to make it do stuff I don't wanna play the game.

Shellhead said...

Red Phantom: "What is all this AT fear of complexity?"

It's true that some AmeriTrash games are fairly heavy and complex. But I think that AmeriTrash players are only willing to accept so much chrome before playability has clearly been sacrificed. A hardcore wargamer is more likely to accept lots of complexity in service of the simulation, and is less concerned about the pace of play.

Shellhead said...


It makes sense that any given play in a shorter game will have more impact. As I see it, the major difference between a big play in an AmeriTrash game or a Euro is one of style and narrative.

For example, you build your coffee roaster and your coffee-owning neighbor is screwed... that's significant in your Puerto Rico game, but it's not very interesting to contemplate or talk about. Coffee! Woot!! The style is kind of passive-aggressive, or even multi-player solitaire.

When an AmeriTrash gamer makes a big play, it's more aggrssive like I'm In Your Base, Killing Your Dudes!!! There is a very direct strike, involving risking symbolic troops for the chance to snuff out your opponent's troops.

In some AmeriTrash games, the stakes are even higher, as you can directly eliminate an opponent from the game. There is no comparable "big play" in Puerto Rico or any other Euro that I've played.

William Boykin said...

"Big Plays"

Again, I think it comes down to my perspective of my 'ego' (As Mike put it) in the game- who am I in the game, and what am I doing?

A lot of 'process' games like Puerto Rico don't really worry about who you are, or what you are doing. Take TransAmerica- don't get me wrong, I love it as a light filler game. But who are you in that game? I mean, the tracks disappear after every round? What is that?

So I think that the definition of a "Big Play" is going to change. For a AT game, you're going to wait ALL night till you get your chance- and then you stick that knife in! For a process gamer, EVERY move is equally important- and therefore just as dramatic, as in, not at all.

Its only when some moves are EXCEPTIONAL that you get a lot of good drama. If every move is exceptional, then none of them would be, capice?


ubarose said...

AT rules might be long, but a well integrated theme usually makes remembering them easy. Once you are playing, it becomes instinctive. Even the exceptions usually make good sense. Dracula is going to be stronger at night, rivers are going to be harder to cross than an open field, it takes time to land a space ship.

Euro rules might be short, but sometimes, what you have to do is so abstract and gamey that it is hard to remember, "Do we deal 5 cards and pass three to the right and then bid, or do we bid and then get cards?"

Michael Barnes said...

Can somebody get Ubarose a gold star? Well stated- theme based rules are always easier to remember as far as I'm concerned.

hughthehand said...

Sigh....I will have to agree with ubarose too.

Friendless said...

I hate it when someone is In My Base Killin' My Dudes! I don't get why it's fun to spend all afternoon Gettin' Stuff to then have it taken off you. Man, I built all this good shit, I wanna play with it. You and your army F*** OFF! I like games where you build stuff, like PR, I like games where you take stuff off each other, like BattleLore or GIPF, but I hate games where I build stuff and then have it taken off me. I have an attachment to that stuff and I take it rather too personally.

Michael Barnes said...

But then why are you friendless?

Did they take all your stuff away?

Ken Bradford said...

I don't see why it's interesting playing a game watching someone else Gettin' Stuff when you have absolutely ZERO chance of Killin' or Takin' that stuff.

It's my only complaint with San Juan is once someone starts to run away with it, they're gone. There's not much you can do.

Every game would be better if it had at least a little bit of Killin' Dudes in Peoples' Bases and Whatnot. Otherwise, why don't we just play the game solitaire at home and phone each other later with the results?

Friendless said...

Most Euros allow for passive aggression. Blocking me can destroy my chances in a game and I don't mind so much, it's only killing my dudes that I object to. As my ID suggests, I'm not a really big fan of friends, PARTICULARLY ones that want to kill my dudes. If I take the game seriously it pisses me off, if I don't take the game seriously I might as well just be watching TV.

Michael Barnes said...

"As my ID suggests, I'm not a really big fan of friends"

Ha ha! That's awesome...come play DIPLOMACY with us!

Ken Bradford said...

Friendless--but if you're strolling out to a lead and I block you, this only works if and only if I can make moves that follow that help my position without helping yours.

There are plenty of games like that, and that's well and good--but a common theme in Euros is "lifting all boats". Take San Juan again--a fine game--but there are few moves I can make that won't benefit you in some way. If I "steal" Builder from you, you still get to build, just not at -1. When you're off to a 5-8 point lead, that's a small comfort.

Killin' Dudes is the equalizer. It allows me to reduce your score, or your opportunity to score. It isn't supposed to piss you off, even if you take the game seriously. If it can be built, there should be a mechanism for taking it away.

Also note that such mechanisms shouldn't always dominate the game...in TI, sometimes Killin' Dudes does jack and squat for me and is a waste of my time. If I truly take a game seriously, I will only be Killin' Dudes when it impairs you from direct victory, or grants me a path to the same (by eliminating your ships in my way to Mecatol Rex, for example).

Anonymous said...

Ummm, don't play games on vassal if you don't own them.

Friendless said...

Killin' Dudes is more often a randomiser than an equaliser. Isn't the biggest bitch about Risk that an overwhelming force can't be confident of winning? If equalising and randomising are the same thing, why would I waste my energy thinking about the game when you're just going to come along and randomise me later on?

The reason that you taking the builder in San Juan is a big deal is because I have 6 cards in my hand and wanted to build the Guild Hall. Now I can't afford it and I either spend the money I saved up on something else or I don't build and fall behind in the VP race. Or maybe you even chose Builder when I had no cards at all.

Ken Bradford said...

The biggest complaint against Risk is that you cannot sufficently stack the odds in your favor. In other words, take any number of troops you want; I'll take my two. You still cannot guarantee with any certainty that your pile of troops will kill my two.

This is a flaw in the "You roll 3, I roll 2, zero-sum" outcome in Risk's battles. For each die roll, there can only be one casualty. I can roll two sixes and it negates your three fives.

In games with a "proper" combat resolution system, this is not the case. Take Twilight Imperium again; for each series of rolls I can inflict casualties regardless of your rolls. Just because you roll well it doesn't negate my own.

Where this leads is that I can in fact "stack the odds" by calculating expected casualties (on both sides) and determine whether it's worth it. I can also skew these odds further by accumulating and utilizing action cards. Proper combat systems will reward the overwhelming force, every time. Sure, the cost may be high in the form of higher-than-expected casualty rates for the attacker, but the end result will be achieved. If I send a War Sun, a couple of carriers, a fleet of starfighters, and a couple of dreadnaughts against you and you are defending with an inferior fleet, you will go down. The only randomizer in this case is my actual versus expected cost in the process.

Following this further, if you wish to "protect" yourself, you must invest enough resources in defense--or at least, sufficient deterrent--to keep yourself from being a victim. Leaving two ships to guard an important area and then complaining when I sweep in and wipe them out is counterproductive.

Because you must balance actions, as they are finite--because you must balance resources, as they are also finite--then you become the oddsmaker. At this point, the "odds" become a background noise, something to waggle fingers at should 'luck' go badly for you.

Heh, I've been on the "only have six cards and my opponent picks Builder" end. I usually just build another Indigo and bide my time.