Allow me to tell you a story.
A long, long time ago, in a country far, far away (if you happen to live in the US), I worked for an organisation called the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). My job had nothing to do with physics - I worked on their website and intranet. One day PPARC decreed that an Electronic Records Management System (ERMS) must be bought and so options were investigated by a committee consisting entirely of managers. Because the committee consisted of managers who did not include or consult any technical staff the ERMS they decided on, Objective turned out to be a complete turkey. It turned out to be such a turkey in fact that in an all-staff meeting one of the senior managers who'd picked it diverted from topic and made a sudden and spontaneous attack about it being so crap that he'd never, ever use it himself.
Thanks for bearing with me so far, this is going somewhere.
A new project manager was bought in to try and salvage the software. She was very good indeed and things did improve a little bit. Then she decided to hold a competition to rename the software from "objective" to something more touchy-feely, reasoning that a new name might help dispel the negative vibes surrounding the old project. The winning name was "nemo". Various small in-office publicity events were held to mark the renaming and a bit of marketing was done. And, amazingly, everyone carried on calling it "objective" and thinking it was shit.
Which illustrates exactly why, whatever you think about it, the name Ameritrash is here to stay as a genre label for the games we love and why it's completely pointless to try and change it. Now me, I don't like it. I'd change it if I could, although I'm not entirely sure what to. The reason is simply that a small minority of the very best early Ameritrash games got designed and published right here in the UK by good old Games Workshop in the far-gone days before it became a great satan which nearly rivals Hasborg and Michael Barnes in the Big Book of Gaming Bogeymen. So maybe we should change it to "specialrealtionshiptrash"? Bit of a mouthful I suppose.
Anyway, whatever terrible sins GW have committed they have continued to support one or two of the better board games they put out, most notably the excellent and quirky Blood Bowl which manages to turn most euro-assumptions on their head by being random, violent, steeped in theme and yet at the same time amazingly brain-burning. But what happened to the rest? Well, for a long time some of them were fairly important collector grails, although not so much here in the UK where copies were a bit more common. But then Fantasy Flight Games picked up the licence for many of the titles and started releasing them, redesigned for more modern and euro-friendly sensibilities.
I am not privy to exactly what this licence covers. But I think it's an unfortunate although understandable decision that the two games they've chosen to re-release so far are in fact two of the best games from the GW stable and the ones in least need of a redesign. The reworking of Warrior Knights which attempted to make this marathon game shorter feels like a game which ends just as its getting interesting. The reworking of Fury of Dracula looks to me like the game was redesigned entirely around an attempt to solve a very minor problem (dracula cheating). Both have a slew of new euro-style mechanics that sometimes feel a bit bolted-on. Don't get me wrong here, neither are bad games, I just continue to feel that the originals are better.
This is a missed opportunity. I'm hopeful that FFG will look at publishing some more GW titles, primarily because some of them contained some fantastic gaming ideas which got bogged down by weak play or old fashioned mechanics - although there's also Space Hulk which deserves an un-tweaked re-release in its own right. There are some games which are just screaming for a redesign - here's two of them.
Top of my list is Blood Royale. On the face of it this was a fairly ordinary looking middle-ages wargame with economic and diplomatic factors. However in reality the game revolved almost entirely around building your dynasty - you started with a small royal family and had to go about trying to produce more offspring and marrying them off to the children of other players' families while hoping your older and more experienced characters avoided the grim reaper for another turn. The marriage arrangements, just like in real medieval diplomacy, formed the basis of the deals and contracts that were made between the players. As far as I'm aware this approach to an empire-building game remains completely unique. Sadly the game took far too long and eventually got bogged down in the absurdly complex interplay of all the treaties made but the core of the game were a bunch of solid gold ideas that have yet to be replicated.
I'd also suggest that someone take another look at Rogue Trooper. This was part of a short series of games GW released based on characters from the famous 2000ad comics, none of which were particularly good, although in the Judge Dredd one was sometimes amusing for allowing you to arrest Judge Death for crimes such as ... littering or jaywalking. Rogue Trooper was probably the worst of the bunch - a Talisman like game which involved moving across a board, drawing encounters and collecting stuff until you had a final, climactic encounter to win the game. Pretty yawn inducing stuff in the first place, but the problem was exacerbated by the fact that Talisman got away with it because of its fantastically diverse encounter deck, whereas the Rogue Trooper one was short and samey. But I digress. Rogue had one of the most ingenious and thematic solutions to the "problem" of player elimination ever. In the comic, Rogues' equipment was powered by microchips that had recorded the personalities of his dead comrades. In the game a player who died left a microchip on the board and these were massively useful pieces of equipment, so the remaining players then got in a race to see who could pick it up. Whoever claimed the chip got the benefits and also got to play with the dead player as a team - everybody wins! It strikes me that a redesign of this could be built around preserving and expanding this mechanic in all sorts of cool and interesting ways given how the mechanics devised for co-operation in games have expanded so much since it was first published. But I'd ditch the rest of the game before I started work.
So please FFG, dig out those design resources and take another look at the GW back catalogue - but now you've done the obvious titles, try and take a look at the mechanics that are worth salvaging as well as whole games!
So please FFG, take a look at this, extract the good stuff and build us a cool, streamlined game around it!
Friday, 30 March 2007
Allow me to tell you a story.