CNN ESPN ABC TNT but mostly B.S.
Where oxymoronic language like
"virtually spotless" "fresh frozen"
"light yet filling" and "military intelligence"
have become standard.
- "Television, the Drug of the Nation" by the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy
Let's name-check some games. Tempus. Mare Nostrum. Antike. Vinci. What do these games have in common? They're all civilisation building games that clock in at on or around a two-hour play time and don't burden the players with excessive rules. They are examples, and not the only examples, of what's become something of a design grail - the "civ-lite" game, a fast playing yet satisfying game that includes the basic blocks of the classic Civilisation - economic management, technology trees, exploration and warfare.
None of these games gets raved about. Indeed of the four (and I think I've picked the four most popular games in this category) only Antike matches (actually slightly exceeds) the original Civilization in terms of rank on boardgamegeek. Not that boardgamegeek rank is a particularly good determinant of quality, as I've discussed before but it's interesting to note that Antike is exactly the sort of game BGGers tend to go for while Civilization isn't. Yet they both rate reasonably well, which to me speaks volumes about how good Civilization actually is. Another classic empire-building game that no-one would accuse of being civ-lite, Twilight Imperium, ranks a good 40 places above them.
The reason that none of the civ-lite games has made a massive impact on the collective conciousness of the boardgaming community is that while they might be good games in their own right, they are seen by most as failing when it comes to being a civilization game. They're just not right it seems, they're missing some indefinable component that makes a great empire-building game. So the designers go back to their drawing board and gamers wait with baited breath for the next attempt at this semi-mythical game style.
I reckon that what's missing from these games is far from indefinable, indeed I'd go so far as to say it's blatantly obvious. They're missing two things - a sense of epic scale and the feeling of micromanaging aspects of your growing empire. In order to get these two things you need firstly to be playing a long game and secondly be playing a game with enough rules to make micromanagement an aspect of the game play. In effect what I'm saying is that the goal of the civ-lite game is oxymoronic, impossible - you can't have a game that feels like Civilization unless it's approach Civilization in terms of length and complexity. To go back to my opening quote the games are attempting to be "light yet filling". Hence Twilight Imperium works, Tempus doesn't.
While I was at pains in my last post to emphasise that I thought the basic approach to designing eurogames - that they should extract maximal play from minimal rules - was highly laudable it seem to me that in the rush onto the euro bandwagon we've forgotten things. We've forgotten, primarily, the awesome sense of satisfaction that can be achieved from winning a long battle, full of cunning twists and turns. Now that I have a family I don't find much time to play games and I'm really, really glad that when I get the chance to game I can pull a couple of euros off the shelf and get a satisfying game experience in whatever short space of time is available to me. But I still find myself yearning to have the chance to sit down and get completely absorbed in a six, seven or eight hour marathon of a classic like Titan or Diplomacy. Eurogames have never scratched that itch and they never will.
What I'm driving at here is a rejection of all those people who say that the fast yet absorbing games that come out of the euro movement have made older, longer and more complex games obsolete. There's something in more drawn out, difficult games that attracts gamers, call it a sense of scale, a momentous feeling that euros can't and won't ever capture. Indeed I think this is the reason that in recent years we've seen something of a backlash with the release of games like Twilight Imperium and Descent that can be played for hour after hour after hour - and the eventual resurrection of the ameritrash movement. We must make a distinction here between long games which are filled with meaningful decisions and requirements for strategy and long games which eventually tend to boil down to luck. The recognition that the latter style had come to dominate gaming in the late eighties and their subsequent removal and eventual replacement with long games which include euro-style mechanics to keep play interesting is something else that we can and should thank the euro movement for.
I'm not sure that many of the gamers who complain about games on the basis of length and complexity aren't really trying to do anything other than convince themselves that these games are bad just because they no longer have time to play them. Personally I've had to admit to myself that I'll probably never, ever get to experience Twilight Imperium - but it doesn't mean I don't want to, and it makes me sad to think that that's the case. C'est la vie.