Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Asymmetry = Value

In Eurogames, often the focus is on creating a symmetrical game environment. The idea is that you want to start all players on exactly equal footing so that the winner of the game is decided "fairly", so to speak.

Often, the driving factor behind most Eurogames is finding a way to break that initial symmetry, or at the very least take advantage of fluctuations in symmetry and maximize your score at every opportunity. Players in Eurogames often poke and prod at the system to find these fluctuation points--maybe it's finding the rythym in San Juan that lets you Build when others aren't ready, forcing them to miss a Build phase or have to build a suboptimal building, for example.

While I think that such games have their place--and yeah, breaking the symmetry in such games can be a bit of fun--I think it lends itself to the notion that Eurogames are a bit more limited in their replayability. There's certainly the myth, real or no, that Eurogamers will "solve" a particular game and quickly move on to the next, maybe logging six plays or so before reaching that point.

It's not hard to see why; the decision space remains the same for all players. It may make a slight difference whether you are player 1 or 4 at the table, but beyond that each play is fairly identical to the last.

Critics of Ameritrash games will often lambast the asymmetry that is usually built in to these types of games. Of course, the reason for having them is pretty straightforward--when a game is tied directly to its theme, it doesn't usually make sense to have all sides or players have identical resources or even goals. In War of the Ring, it wouldn't make sense for the Shadow and Free People's player to have the same goals or even play even remotely identically; after all, it is trying to represent the events and situations in the novels, where this symmetry certainly doesn't hold true.

What really is appealing to AT fans however is the idea that essentially you get multiple games in one package. In Axis and Allies, playing as the United States or the entire Allied force is a MUCH different experience than playing as the Germans or the Axis force. Starting positions are radically different, strategies are therefore likewise much different, the goals of each player diverge and follow different paths. A Game of Thrones sees five houses with different starting positions, strengths, and combat House cards trying to win the game with what they have available. Fury of Dracula has one player as Dracula versus 1-4 players as Hunters who have goals that are completely different to one another--Dracula is to stay alive and create new vampires, while the Hunters merely want to slay Dracula before he does this.

Another way games create asymmetry is via variable player powers, a favorite game element of mine. Not only do you have different starting resources, but during the game you have an ability or set of abilities that are totally different than the player across the table from you. Twilight Imperium has a host of races who must approach the game in different fashions; some are combat monsters, others have vast wealth in trade goods for negotiation, some can hoard huge amounts of action cards, and still others are more politically focused.

How does this create value? In each of these cases, it is like you are getting multiple games in one package. When you pick up Fury of Dracula, you get two major games, one of which has four minor variations. Playing as Dracula is a much different experience--indeed, a much different game for you--than playing the hunters; each hunter is different, but less so (still enough to create a new experience playing Mina instead of Van Helsing, however).

Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit, a game I spend endless amounts of time pimping, is a great example. Let's say if the game was completely symmetrical--we might tire of the game after only ten sessions. But since playing the Federation is so much different than the Republic, you can effectively double that number...maybe I've tired of squashing Gungans, and now I want to unleash a twin Jedi beatdown on the horned Sith Darth Maul.


You can extrapolate this further when you get into games with variable army construction, such as Heroscape. Asymmetry is built in to that game at a fundamental level, as two 500 point armies are not necessarily created equal. It's very easy to spend the same amount of points as another player and still be completely outclassed in terms of efficiency and combos (imagine spending points to draft an Orc champion who gives your orc warriors free activations but then drafting no orcs to back him up...an extreme example, but a good illustration of how points can be "wasted").

If I tire of fighting you with my Super Orcs of Doom, I can move on to try new combinations, drastically extending the life and play value of my game. To me, that's a great deal.



This isn't a purely AT thing, of course. Reiner has been known to dabble in asymmetrical games such as Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Lord of the Rings, Blue Moon, and others. Amun Re and Ra both see players start out in fairly symmetrical positions that can quickly and very easily shift to tremendously large gaps in symmetry very quickly.


Balance might be nice, and I realize that it can be tough to balance different powers so that each players have exactly identical chances at winning. That's okay; to me, it makes me want to play the 'weaker' force more to see if I can't pull off the win, making it all the sweeter. Of course, this also means we can just swap sides so I can give you a good thumping....

79 comments:

Michael Barnes said...

Huh...I never really considered relative value to be a function of asymmetry but I think you're on to something, Franklin...I love variable goals, powers, and stipulations in games and your article _does_ make me realize that I do get a lot more value out of games where there's different "roles" (for lack of a better term). It really goes back to theme, you know...asymmetry is almost always a product of thematic elements.

Anybody played that STAR WARS original trilogy RISK? They've built in a lot of assymetrical elements that make it look pretty interesting...each side (Hutts, Empire, and Rebels) have different goals, different card decks, and different ways to build forces. Sounds awfully interesting, particularly since it can play in an hour...

Ken B. said...

I am not Herbert.

Jack Hill said...

The reason for symmetry in Eurogames is that it is easier to do.

You do want your game to be reasonably balanced. AT multiplayer games can easily manage this with a simple "nail the leader" shout out.

Because Eurogames have more subtle methods of interaction, that kind of direct intervention often cannot happen. And so, to balance the game, you start with mostly symmetrical positions.

(And then balancing with a few tweaks for the people going last.)

And so far, the Hasbro themed Risks rock. They are far shorter, faster and simpler than the 2250/Gods behemoths, but keep the game simple and short.

I've yet to try the original trilogy, however. It does look good. It really needed Ewoks, if just to deeply offend Star Wars fans.

Ken B. said...

Coming soon from Hasbro: Star Wars Risk: The Offensive Alien Edition

Featuring Ewoks versus Gungans versus Nemoidians in a FIGHT TO THE FINISH~!

Rliyen said...

Coming soon from Hasbro: Star Wars Risk: The Offensive Alien Edition

Featuring Ewoks versus Gungans versus Nemoidians in a FIGHT TO THE FINISH~!


Many Bothans died to bring us this game.

Dennis Ugolini said...

You didn't just mention Ra, did you?

I think the "everyone has a different power" asymmetry is my favorite -- other solid entries include Illuminati and Cosmic Encounter. It can be taken too far, though; Stratego Legends had a different power for every *piece*, and was virtually unplayable without days of study.

One discussion I find interesting is asymmetry in win percentage, namely "How biased toward one side can a game get before in starts hurting the fun?" Typical examples include:

Certain Memoir '44 scenarios (balanced by running them twice)
Breakout: Normandy (balanced by bidding victory points for sides)
Doom (slight sop to balance with "difficulty level", but mostly the Marines just suck it up)

Personally, I love games like Doom where a Marine victory is a song for the ages, but I don't think that's a common belief. It's also not as fun to be the Overlord. Some games fix that by adding fun to playing the villian (being sneaky and oppressive with your blips in Space Hulk), but it's still something of a lose-lose situation (you won because you were supposed to, or you lost because you suck).

Michael Barnes said...

Oh god, STRATEGO LEGENDS...in the immortal word of Darth Vader- NOOOOOOO!!!!

I'm with Dennis- in games like DOOM, a player victory _should_ be a tremendous, difficult-to-achieve event...that's one of the ways that I think they fumbled DESCENT, by making the stakes too low and player victories too easy.

As for the Offensive Alien edition...I actually think the Neimodians (or as I call them, "those space Chinese guys") are worse than the Gungans.

"But...is that leeeeeeegal?"

PaulW said...

Wasn't Axis and Allies fairly predicable in the early additions?

While the experience is certainly more different between the playersin AT games, I don't think it makes Euros easier to 'solve'. I doubt that any of these games are really 'solved' in the mathematical sense. Even Checkers is not 'solved'.

I think it took me about 50 hands of SJ on BSW (not including what I played in RL), until I REALLY was good at it.

If someone thinks they have SJ 'solved' after 6 hands, they are likely fooling themselves.

Strong lines of play can be figured out regardless if it is AT or Euro.

Shellhead said...

Looking over my top ten favorite games, only one of them lacks asymmetrical starting positions, Mall of Horror. Actually, now that I think about MoH, one player does start with an advantage... the oldest player is the default chief of security. Of course, that advantage quickly goes away if anybody can get the votes to give the badge to someone else.

Reviewing my collection again, it seems like my favorites don't just have some asymmetry, they have a lot of asymmetry. Very different starting locations, very different powers/abilities/forces, sometimes even different turn structures.

Some specific examples, from games that don't often get mentioned here at F:AT

1. Strange Synergy: each player is starting with three characters with three superhuman powers each. There are no duplicated powers in the deck, so that's a lot of asymmetry.

2. Prince of the City: each player controls a vampire with three special powers. At the most, any given opponent's vampire might share one power in common, if any.

3. The Hills Rise Wild: each player controls a faction of six characters. Every single one of those characters has a different set of stats for movement, attack, defense, and hit points. Some characters start with a ranged attack, and those have varying amounts of starting ammo. More importantly, every single character has a unique ability that can be used just once per game. In addition, the random arrangement of map tiles from game to game can make a difference in tactics for each faction.

Dennis Ugolini said...

paulw:

I think the "solved" argument gets overused, but one top-rated game that I would apply it to is Princes of Florence. My gaming group plays a *lot* of Princes of Florence, and they have it down to a science. Fight tooth and nail for one of the first jugglers. Grab the extra work cards as quickly as possible. You must produce at least five works to win, and at least one must be the top for the round. Et cetera. I'm describing it badly, but they know it intuitively by now.

I've tried like mad to break their strategy. I've tried going builder-crazy (since they tend not to bid highly on them), I've tried drawing lots of prestige cards early and then concentrating on fulfilling them, I've tried hoarding bonus cards to finish the two hugest works ever seen in Turns 6 and 7...nothing works. Their system *is* the system. And that saps some of the fun for me.

I really like what the original author said about how quality Euros spin off the main line quickly, so that you can't have a standard strategy. Ra fits that, Tigris & Euphrates does (since you have to adapt your strategy to your tile draw)...I'm sure there are more.

TheRankO said...

78 lines that distill down to "asymmetry good"...

Good post. Here's the flipside of your statement about some Euros making use of asymmetry: the loss of value doesn't only affect Euros. For example, Nexus Ops, as much as I love it, would be much improved by some asymmetrical elements among the corporations.

Ken B. said...

Oh yeah, absolutely! Variable player powers in Nexus Ops would turn it from nice, light filler to true classic. How much time would that have added to the game, anyway?

Ken B. said...

Dennis, those are some great thoughts.

We played Queen's Gambit this past weekend and that's where the inspiration dawned on me for this article. I was playing the Republic this time and thinking about how different it felt, and it made me realize that this was one of the defining features that made it one of my favorites.


Yeah, I namedropped Ra, and what you say is true--Euros that add enough variability to keep them from being static paths to victory are far and away my favorite. All the better if they can introduce asymmetry...now not only do I have to deal with different potential game states each time I play, but I have to do it from the perspective of a different "side".

Michael Barnes said...

Fight tooth and nail for one of the first jugglers.

Wow...that's pretty florid language to describe saying "I'll go two".

We've arrived at a pretty good approximation of _why_ Euros are so ephemeral and why they have a really high turnover rate, I think it is the "solving" paired with the absolute balance and lack of systematic variety that causes a demand for more.

I have noticed that AT-centric gamers tend to have much smaller collections than Eurogamers and also tend to show up at gaming events with the same games more frequently.

Bohemian said...

I don't check here too often, but this article ensures that I'll be back. Well written and not arbitrarily insulting. Be careful, or you'll lose your reputation as the Something Awful of boardgame sites!

That being said, I don't get this "Eurogames are too easily solvable" argument. Perhaps it's because I don't play to the hardcore extent that your Eurosnoots do, or perhaps it's because I'm stupid, but it seems to me that the euros I enjoy (Settlers, Carcassonne, hell, even Ticked to Ride European) present enough viable paths to victory to ensure repeated, long term play. Maybe if I had more experience with Puerto Rico or had ever played Caylus I'd see what you guys are on about.

So, I guess I have a question: do you find that there are specific euro games that lend themselves to 'solvability', or do you find that the type of player that is drawn to euros is more prone to attemtping to find the 'perfect' strategy rather than just enjoying the game?

Ken B. said...

As randomness goes down and perfect information goes up--the hallmark of a lot of "heavy" Euros--then solvability invariably increases. It's inevitable...someone will take it seriously enough to solve.

Hancock.Tom said...

You also have to remember that euros have a short "table life." This year's essen release is next year's "huh what is that?" You aren't going to play a game enough times to learn how to play it from both sides, or multiple sides when it gets maybe ten 45 minute plays and then moves to the shelf as you buy the next abstract piece of crap named after a european city.

Bohemian said...

Is perfect information really a hallmark of eurogames, though? Take Knizia, the favorite of the euroest of eurosnoots: it seems to me that there's always some sort of hidden information, and yes, even random elements, in his games, whether the tile draw in Samurai, the cards in Lost Cities, or the oasis values in Through the Desert. Are these games solvable ephemera?

reapersaurus said...

See, this element of symmetry/asymmetry is the first AT game principle that I don't feel I share with AT. I like when players start out on equal footing. I don't mind different starting conditions, as long as there is an equalizing factor for the different positions (a la Nexus Ops).

So I think the key for me is unbalanced asymmetry - I dislike it in games like Risk, Axis & Allies, and especially Puerto Rico. Yes, IMO PR is unbalanced asymmetrical. It's what shocks me about it being #1 on BGG. I'd think that a game would have to be balanced to be the best game ever (especially among Euro fans), but the difference in "startegies" (starting strategies) between player 1 and Player 3 is significant.

Anyway.....first post, from (I think) an AT'er who's been on BGG way back, and always resented the Euro/meeple/woodblock bias and welcomed you guys standing up for the games I've always enjoyed.

Ken B. said...

Knizia really bucks the trend, incorporating theme and randomness into his Euros. I think that's why he has such crossover appeal, generally speaking.

Puerto Rico only has the buildings as random draws, right? The rest is perfect information, is it not? And I didn't think Through the Desert had any randomness at all, I thought it was a perfect info abstract.


From someone who doesn't know--how much randomness is in Die Macher? That is often cited as one of the heavy of heaviest Euros.

PaulW said...

You also have to remember that euros have a short "table life." This year's essen release is next year's "huh what is that?" You aren't going to play a game enough times to learn how to play it from both sides, or multiple sides when it gets maybe ten 45 minute plays and then moves to the shelf as you buy the next abstract piece of crap named after a european city.

I guess I don't see that. My group have played my Euros for years. I can't help what Eurosnoots do. I think most Euro and AT games are much deeper than only getting 10 players or so.

My gaming group plays a *lot* of Princes of Florence, and they have it down to a science.

Sure, I've seen that in PR and in other games too. However, how is this different then making sure you take the high ground in a War Game like M44 or the way all sides open in Axis and Allies? Making sure you have a hunter in England in FoD?

I think the list of games that have a strong opening move is quite large and spans games of all types. I really can't see how it how it effects Euros more than AT or other games.

Jack Hill said...

Eurogames aren't STRICTLY solvable, as they still include random elements and variabilities in how the other players play.

But, a ton of Euros, I can mostly work out how to approach them by the end of the first game. At some point, I will never learn new tricks on how to approach the tactics or strategy.

Carcassonne is a prime example. The big trick is to become familiar enough with the tile distribution to learn which city tiles to place, and which cities will and will not finish. Farmers can be slightly tricky. After 2 or three games of it, you've learned just about all you need to know.

Ticket to Ride at least has some interesting choices. It takes a few games to learn when to build versus collect, and whether to jump on a few key connections or build linearly. TTR:Europe actually reduces this, as the passenger thing makes it easier to kind of bumble along and bail yourself out.

Settlers has one advantage over a lot of these. The random setup of the board often changes how you approach the game dramatically. IF you played all of the time on the basic board. This is perhaps a fatal flaw in a lot of the extended Settlers variant games.

Michael Barnes said...

Be careful, or you'll lose your reputation as the Something Awful of boardgame sites!

Wow, I never considered us as that...cool!

I don't think Euros are necessarily "solvable"- many are, in that there are optimal paths through their procedures but most (even the crappiest of them) have enough variability to keep the games from having the exact same outcome every time.

That being said, Euros are much more about processes and the maximum exploitation of processes...eventually, I think most of the games reach a point where without randomness or player interaction they become pretty static and at worst, interchangeable in terms of the type of play offered.

robartin said...

Asymmetry is what gives games their replay value. Every time you sit down to a game of Dune, it's different. Playing as the Bene Gesserit is an entirely different experience from the playing as a Harkonnens.

Ken B. said...

Dune. Man, I totally wish I'd had the chance to play that sometime recently.


Anyone up for Lost Cities?

Michael Barnes said...

You know, in the BGG Wiki for WIZARD KINGS it makes an interesting point about scenario design...if you set up pretty much equal sides on equal footing, the game is static and uninteresting. The author advises the scenario designer to build in assymetry in terms of starting positions, initial army composition, and relative strength to create a _reason_ for attacking in a game that naturally favors the defender.

Assymetry makes conflict a lot more interesting in the long run, no doubt. Even a relatively balanced game like NEXUS OPS has different starting allowances to generate some imbalance at the beginning of the game while also addressing turn order advantage.

Ken B. said...

Hey, that's a good point Michael, I forgot about the imbalance in starting money in Nexus Ops.

Plus, now that I think about it you are seeing variable player powers in terms of the missions, to a degree. "Hey, right now I have the special ability that if I kill all your fungaloids there, I score 2 points. Flippin' sweet."

PaulW said...

But, a ton of Euros, I can mostly work out how to approach them by the end of the first game. At some point, I will never learn new tricks on how to approach the tactics or strategy.

I agree, but does that stop you from playing it? Not me. I have a line of play in just about every game Euro and AT.

I can look at an M44 setup and likely figure out the best approach before playing it. Certainly after one play, I have a good handle on it. That doesn't stop me from playing again...

Habes said...

Maybe the reason for the similarity of Euro games is because there are sooooo many of them. I'm not an AT lover, so I'm not as familliar with them as the rest of you, but I don't hear all that many different games being mentioned. I think if you weeded down the immense eurogame library to a number similar to the popular AT games you would find plenty of diversity.

As for replayability, even a simple game such as the "despised" Samurai offers enough depth to explore for at least 20-30 games. If any of you feel different, you're welcome to play me :).

I don't know, to me it seems like only the best AT games get discussed, and much of the dreck gets left out.

Rliyen said...

Asymmetry is what gives games their replay value. Every time you sit down to a game of Dune, it's different. Playing as the Bene Gesserit is an entirely different experience from the playing as a Harkonnens.

Let's not forget Siege of the Citadel. The play experience on both sides is different as well.

The Corp players score experience by doing secret missions and eliminating various threats. The Dark Legion player scores experience by the number of wounds he has caused to the Corp players. Granted, some people seem to think that an all out assault as the Dark Legion player against the Corp players is the best strategy, which usually ends up being a high body count (usually for the Legion player).


The best way I deal with it is to play hide and seek with the Legionnaires and Necromutants to draw the Corp players into a trap.

Then, when the players are rushing after them to gain experience, then I hit them with the heavy hitters (Ezoghoul, Nepharite, and Centurions).

Most players don't like being the Dark Legion player, but I revel in it to try out new strategies. The missions in Siege may be static, but the game play and asymmetry never are.

Michael Barnes said...

The problem, Habes, is that a lot more AT games are out of print and relatively inaccessible than Euros...at this point you can almost buy a Euro at the Quick Trip. There's TONS of AT games out there that have to fight an uphill battle in terms of exposure and discussion not only because they aren't "current", but also because they're not in distribution. The games we talk about a lot tend to be the things that are more universal and more widely available.

I'd love to get a conversation fired up about GUERILLA or how to make CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB less dreadful but folks are much less likely to own those in a general sense than DESCENT or FURY OF DRACULA.

ubarose said...

For me variable player powers gives a game personalities and brings it to life. Also it is fun to play one game, and then switch sides/characters/powers and watch everyone throw out their brain transmission around the third turn.

Also, regarding Euros, "solvable" may not be exactly the right word. I find that they become "predictable." After a few plays, everyone knows what they have to do and everyone tries to do the same thing every time. There is no mechanism within the game that is going to cause anything really unexpected to happen.

alan polak said...

You are encouraged to find other ways of playing the game with variable player powers/starting positions, which I think is key here. As previously stated playing Ben Gesserit is a much different game from playing Harkonnen as you HAVE to adopt a different style of play. Elements of roleplaying come into the mix then. With games like Arkham Horror and TI you get so much more out of the game and so much more game out of the box. The flip side to this is when you end up with five guys all arguing over who gets to be Mr. Black

Pat H said...

As long as I don't have to be Mr. Pink...

Shellhead said...

ubarose: Also, regarding Euros, "solvable" may not be exactly the right word. I find that they become "predictable." After a few plays, everyone knows what they have to do and everyone tries to do the same thing every time. There is no mechanism within the game that is going to cause anything really unexpected to happen.

It's actually worse than that for many Euros. Once the snootier players have become familiar with the optimal strategies of the game, they become upset when somebody plays a non-optimal strategy, whether because the player is new or because the player is trying something experimental. It throws off the game for everybody else and ruins their limited worldview. This is particularly true for Puerto Rico players.

alan polak said...

Actually I just re-read Dennis's post re.Princes of Florence and it made me think of War of the Ring and the DEW strategy. I never tried it personally but from the little I read it sounded pretty unstoppable. Not sure how the expansion changes this. Is this a solvable AT game? Some on the geek seem to think its a signal of a game being broken so does this mean that the solvable Euros are likewise broken? I agree with Ubarose on the whole solvable thing too. Maybe "optimal"? The idea that there is a best practice to the game. Still not interested in playing something like this but....

Mr.Alan Polak said...

Damn you shellhead! You said optimal while I was still typing it.

ubarose said...

Shellhead said...

It's actually worse than that for many Euros. Once the snootier players have become familiar with the optimal strategies of the game, they become upset when somebody plays a non-optimal strategy, whether because the player is new or because the player is trying something experimental. It throws off the game for everybody else and ruins their limited worldview. This is particularly true for Puerto Rico players.


Oh yeah. And then they start trying to play your turn for you, like you are stupid or something. And it is even worse in those games where every thing you have needs to be in plain site, and they are all the time reaching over and touching your stuff to count it. So I tell them to keep their sweaty paws to themselves. And they say they can't see. So I say that's my variable player power, I'm not f'n blind. And then I get sent to the porch for a break.

Malloc said...


It's actually worse than that for many Euros. Once the snootier players have become familiar with the optimal strategies of the game, they become upset when somebody plays a non-optimal strategy, whether because the player is new or because the player is trying something experimental. It throws off the game for everybody else and ruins their limited worldview. This is particularly true for Puerto Rico players.


This is because PR is the worst case game for stupid shit done by one player gives the game to random player X.

Why is this the #1 game on BGG again?

Also, does anyone play with the alternate buildings? What about random buildings or would that screw up players knowing what to do 3 turns ahead of the time?


-M

Bohemian said...

It's actually worse than that for many Euros. Once the snootier players have become familiar with the optimal strategies of the game, they become upset when somebody plays a non-optimal strategy, whether because the player is new or because the player is trying something experimental.

See, that's why I think a lot of your criticisms come down to WHO you play with. I've got a friend who's kind of like the above described, and you know, he's just as much like that in a game of Advanced Civilization as he is in a game of Puerto Rico (and damn, it's tiresome). I think you all have just had bad luck with your eurogame experiences because of the snoot-crowd you're gaming with.

Shellhead said...

bohemian: See, that's why I think a lot of your criticisms come down to WHO you play with. I've got a friend who's kind of like the above described, and you know, he's just as much like that in a game of Advanced Civilization as he is in a game of Puerto Rico (and damn, it's tiresome). I think you all have just had bad luck with your eurogame experiences because of the snoot-crowd you're gaming with.

Maybe. But given the geographical diversity of the people posting here, the Eurosnoots seem to be ubiquitous. And if somebody tried to coach me on my Advanced Civ turn, my people would start moving in on his turf.

Jack Hill said...

Usarose chooses better words. I really find Eurogames "predictable."

One particularly noxious aspect that makes this much easier is the whole victory points thing.

Often, these are the kinds of games where I can work out that this will be worth two victory points, or if I do this and this, it will be worth three victory points. That isn't actually a choice, I just have to burn the brain cycles (and playing time) to notice it.

There is at least a small bit of plan modification in most Euros. And there are at least 2 or 3 good Euros each year.

But if you play a lot of games with the Euro crowd (I do, trust me) the massive waves of mediocrity are just soul draining.

Although, unlike Barnes, I am fond of Pillars of the Earth. All the little special powers on the board do it for me. The thrill probably won't last more than 10 or 12 games, but that is probably good enough by Euro standards.

Rliyen said...

Maybe. But given the geographical diversity of the people posting here, the Eurosnoots seem to be ubiquitous. And if somebody tried to coach me on my Advanced Civ turn, my people would start moving in on his turf.


That's the reason why I would reply, "Now, I am doing this move you don't want me to do just to spite you. Don't tell me how to play."

Shellhead said...

rliyen: That's the reason why I would reply, "Now, I am doing this move you don't want me to do just to spite you. Don't tell me how to play."

The first time I played Advanced Civ, somebody tried to coach me during turn 3, mainly because my people were starting to clash with his people. Noticing the blatant self-interest of his advice, I responded "Blah, blah, blah, the ooh-man is talking," and promptly declared that my people didn't speak the same language as his barbarians. I didn't win, but I had fun.

robartin said...

Aww come on now, playing someone else's game for them is a lot of fun. Especially when you're giving them really bad advice.

Rliyen said...

The first time I played Advanced Civ, somebody tried to coach me during turn 3, mainly because my people were starting to clash with his people. Noticing the blatant self-interest of his advice, I responded "Blah, blah, blah, the ooh-man is talking," and promptly declared that my people didn't speak the same language as his barbarians. I didn't win, but I had fun.

The only I time I do give advice is when I am teaching the game for the first time (i.e. Shadowfist, for example). We both play with our hands face up and I suggest what cards to play, what sequence, etc. in order to give the person a feel on how the game is. Once they get a few games under their belt, then I stop with the advice and then give them the school of hard knocks. If they beat me, then I have done my job. If they don't, then I haven't done my job and I explain to them why they lost and give them some help in the future. I am never condescending or rude about it. I want them to have fun playing the game. If I can get them to like the game, then that means one less game that's sitting unplayed in my closet.

Now, I have to think of a way to ease my group into playing Dragonstar Rising.

Anonymous said...

AT games are as easily "solved" as Eurogames, but not all games can be solved. Prince of Florence is ephemeral and has a dominant strategy. Same for Puerto Rico. Same for Axis & Allies, Hannibal, and, yes, War of the Ring. CCG value systems are the epitome of this method.

Symmetry, or lack thereof, is only partly relevant to balance. Most good game designs close the circle, so to speak, by having designed asymmetries accounted for in the scoring or winning conditions. Some don't (Dune). Most do (Civilization). Certainly every game that has a simulation aspect (ASL) to it or narrative arc (WotR) virtually has to or it becomes unplayable.

Dominant or optimal strategies are just as prevalent in non-Euro, AT games. Or CCGs for that matter. It's just a function of all games (including video games). In fact, a very good statistical argument can be made for dice-based games having more issues with dominant strategies than Euro games.

Take a Euro game like El Grande. Supposedly it is ephemeral because it is an abstract simulation. Yet each player chooses their starting places based on an asymmetrical card draw. Geography and asymmetries therein are also a major factor. The game ignores tactical controls (e.g. die-rolling, odds-based conflict resolution) in favour of pure strategic opportunism versus all other players. Those little cubes are just as representative of applied power as a dice roll would have it.

One way to see it is more abstract Eurogames kind of get to the essence of strategy, letting choice determine endgame asymmetries. AT games kind of hype initial asymmetry and then try and play to a tight, nail-biting symmetry at the end, where the circle is supposed to close if the design is any good. Initial, thematic assymetry (as in Dune) does not necessarily increase replay value over more abstract games (like El Grande). How can they? In many ways in Dune the Harkonnen player has to be fixated on specific, known targets (must flush out traitors, must collect spice blows). The rules even have a whole section on how to play them and the other factions! It is is hard to have variable strategic play when asymmetry scripts much of your behaviour.

There are pros and cons to both arguments. Some Euros are boringly dry (Goa, Attika), as are many AT games (as in most of the Eagle Games linup IMNSHO). Some Euros are rich in abstract ways that also meet other criteria often seen in AT games (Tikal).

And any game can suffer from the same thing Puerto Rico does when player X makes a "bad" move, giving advantage to someone else. Ever play A&A (pick one edition, any one) partnered with someone not competent in the nuances of the meta-game?

My biggest knock against many Eurogames is that they follow this pattern:

1) Start with a bit of resources and build/place.
2) Everyone gains resources at roughly the same pace.
3) Game ends after about 90 minutes.
4) Does every auction mechanism have to be the same?
5) I am soooo sick of the German Middle Ages.

The main knock against AT games:

1) Since when did dice/craps replace poker bluffing as conflict resolution. I blame Avalon-Hill and the MB GameMaster series. Dune has a better conflict resolution system, and there are others (the card-driven models).
2) Less is more. Really. Too many bits. Too many options. Distraction is not good game design, focus is. Variety is not achieved by more pieces or map zones.
3) Did anyone playtest this thing? (TI Editions 1 and 2, all of Eagle Games, and could someone PLEASE proofread the Arkaham rules BEFORE publication?).

Julian said...

Anonymous, this is a little more literate than some of your recent posts.

Seriosly, though, why don't you give us your name. Interesting ideas, and its nice to see someone with a slightly different point of view than all of us hard core ATers.

ratpfink said...

I'm always a little leery when someone claims an auction game has been solved. They should be self-balancing. If a player is winning Princes of Florence because of acquiring early jesters, then probably the jesters are too cheap.

Asymmetry is one of the reasons I like Blue Moon so much. Each matchup between different peoples feel very different. You have to use different strategies based on what deck you're playing against if you want to win.

Mr Skeletor said...

Asymmetry is one of my favorite things in games. I don't think it is even possible to have any 2 games of TI3 ever play out the same, and your approach to each game must be different then the one you took last game.

Personally I can't stand people who 'choose' their characters in games like Arkham Horror and Descent. Get dealt someone randomly and learn how to adapt your playstyle to fit them! That's the way to play!

Ken B. said...

Yeah, absolutely. Some good thoughts there, anonymous. Too good to stay masked; believe it or not, we appreciate opposing viewpoints, especially when they're as well-written and thoughtful as that one.

Thanks for the comments! You don't have to drink the Kool-Aid to enjoy the discussion here at F:AT.

Anonymous said...

thanx for the complements


ur all gay

Muzza said...

Anonymous said...
thanx for the complements
ur all gay


Shot!

ROTFL

Muzza said...

My experience of this phenomenon is a bit different. The most 'solved' or 'predictable' game in my arsenal is an AT classic.

I introduced old school Risk to some non-gamers years ago. They loved it and we had regular gaming nights playing and replaying it.

Eventually this suffered from the 'solved' or 'predictable' ailment as everybody started playing 'The Optimal Strategy'. Grab a region, get a card, end turn. Consolidate, consolidate. Get a good hand then have a small push and repeat.

I loved it originally when players had less sense, went charging across the board in mad offensives. Later games became a grind and went for hours.

I eventually talked them into trying different games such as Axis and Allies, History of the World and even Puerto Rico (PR went over very well. It is a game i still enjoy but have only played a few times, not enough to have a handle on the optimal strategies). Currently both Arkham Horror and Fury of Dracula are going over well.

I guess any game with enough play and with the same people will eventually succumb to these faults.

Scott from Vancouver said...

Anonymous = Scott from Vancouver.

Gaming since about 1978. Had my name on a few late modules from the ASL days (as a 17 year-old). Playtested for WoTC and other companies. Still have an original, near mint copy of MB Shogun, Civilization, and a near-ruined copy of Dune. I think many Eurogames are excellent and Reiner Knizia is a the deity of game designers. There are a lot of lesser designs from across the pond that are so me-too they make me cringe and say 'Why?" (China? That's innovative?)

Every Consim wargamer should practice Knizia's Through the Desert to understand the complexities of spatial reasoning and advance route planning. And Samurai to learn about economy of force. And Lord of the Rings to understand resource management and cooperation. And Ra to understand how bloodthirsty timing mechanisms are in competitve markets. And Amu Re to get the point that risk requires sacrifice.\

Don't dis Reiner. Dis-till him. He's rewritten the book on innovative mechanisms and their why.

I remember when the most influential games came from the US, like Diplomacy, early Avalon Hill and TSR, and, of course, the always innovative Eon. And Acquire. Never forget Acquire. Or Borderlands.

Today, most AT games appear to be formulaic, imitations of video games melded with the very, very tired dicefest mechanism—a design that is used out of habit, not creative need. Or they are trying to capture the GameMaster spirit of light, visually cool wargames but with little innovation (Eagle Games and a slew of FG products). Bigger appears to be better, and more expensive. A few exceptions like Game of Thrones make the grade, but the tedium of Runebound is unbelievable ("Wow! I can move....nowhere! What a productive turn.") That game should come with a cot. In my first game of Arkham Horror I got stuck in a basement because the rules were contradictory. A&A Miniatures. How....predictable. Don't you just want to buy a bunch of tanks and step on them?

That said, many Eurogames are also becoming formulaic. The current era of Eurogames looks to me more and more like the Avaalon-Hill, SPI, and Yaquinto games of 1983...hexes, CRTs, and dice wrapped around the historical conflict theme du month. So, the innovation on the Eurofront is dwindling a bit, especially in the 3-4 player, 90-minute genre of some sort of auction mixed with placement competition in predictable turn orders set sometime in medieval Europe. At least Wallenstein got it right. You drop peasants from a tower.

That's why everyone is so testy ;-)

Of course, there are some very interesting Euro designers, like the guy who did Wings of War. When he comes out with naval battles using that concept, I am there. WizKds crappy pirates are the best product with the zero content. The Pepsi Lite of gaming and unfortunate reminder that there is a whole other side to the AT syndrome of games. WizKids is the Chevrolet of American gaming.

Newest game: Ubongo. Love it. Brillaint. Fun.

Before that: BattleLore. Very good. Strategy, tactics and, yes, dice to handle the uncategorized vagaries of battle, are in fine balance here.

One could say my game collection and tastes are asymmetrical, not at all random, and balanced.

Muzza said...

That last post deserves a spot on the front page methinks...

Mr Skeletor said...

Yep, if that was submitted as an article I would have ran it.

Great post, though I found it bizarre that you complained about AT becoming silly and derivative but then ended up praising Battlelore...

vandemonium said...

Scott from Vancouver = amazing and astute. Well done!

Rliyen said...

Golfclap for Scott from Vancouver.

My helm's off to you.

Ska_baron said...

Goddamn this is good.

I had to stop half way though just to say.

Michael Barnes said...

Right on Scott...smart, even-handed discussion like that is definitely preferable to the usual factional anti-AT ranting we usually see that offers little more than calling us a bunch of adolesecent ne'er-do-wells incapable of sophisticated thought.

I'm definitely with you on Knizia- there's a lot to learn from him for both better and worse. His best games are untouchable, but my argument is that they're a very small percentage of his output. To talk "formula" in terms of AT is to completely forget that an overwhelming majority of Knizia's games are repetition of formulas, ideas, and mechanics that he's already employed elsewhere. Look at a game like the justly maligned BEOWULF- there's not a single damn thing in that game he hasn't done before in MODERN ART, RA, LORD OF THE RINGS, TAJ MAHAL, IVANHOE...

I also think you're off base criticizing AT games for having traits of video games. There's nothing wrong with that, and this generation more than any other is more aware of and in tune with video games than any previous. If the hobby is going to grow and continue to attract young gamers it's important that games appeal to video game sensibilities. That doesn't somehow "lessen" them at all. Video games _are_ games, after all.

I think you also discount how games like DUNE hinge on player personalities, instincts, rivalries, and emotions in terms of defining how AT games can be scripted...sure, I can read the strategy guide in the DUNE rules but when I sit down to play I'm interacting with five other personalities that are effectively interfacing the rules via their characters' abilities and special powers. I think there's a lot more to that than simply following a script. It goes back to Eurogames actively disallowing and prohibiting "open" strategies and foreclosing on the possibility to be creative and adapative versus following procedure. Sure, games like AXIS AND ALLIES have pretty much set opening moves and any game is going to have strategies that in most (but not all) situations are optimal...but there's a lot more going on then I think you give the games credit for.

I do think it's funny that the three games you cite as being recent examples of interesting and innovative design are pretty derivative- WINGS OF WAR is a cool game, no doubt, but really it's just a miniatures game with programmed movement. UBONGO is a simple puzzle/tile placement game with funky scoring. BATTLELORE is the 134th iteration of a decent system that was already perfected with COMMAND AND COLORS: ANCIENTS. That being said, there _are_ some really awesome, innovative designs coming out of Europe that really break the mold but they're not coming from the tired-ass minds of Kramer, Teuber, Knizia, Dorn, or Schacht. SPACE DEALER was a fairly fresh concept, CASH & GUNS took the BANG-style game to an all-new level, Vlaada Chvatli did both a full-on AT-style game with PROPHECY and a civ game that split the difference between a Euro and Tresham's CIVILIZATION (the mighty THROUGH THE AGES).

But now BORDERLANDS...that's a game every man, woman, and child interested in modern gaming should play. Completely brilliant on every level...glad you mentioned it here at F:AT.

Julian said...

Just going to pick up on a comment that Michael Barnes made. I think the psychological game is always a factor in AT. Axis and Allies is as good an example of a scripted AT game that has been solved as you can find (I'm confing myself to the old A&A, I haven't played the revision). There are ideal opening moves and an ideal strategy for each player. That being said, I occasionally enjoy a game of A&A if I can play the Axis. Basically my enjoyment comes out of doing something unexpected (like an iinvasion of Brasil) psyching out the Allied players and pulling them off script. If they stuck to the script they'd just win, but the head game becomes the game for me.

Scott from Vancouver said...

Knizia does repeat concepts, but that's fine. He's trying variations on a theme. His most basic mechanism is the auction and the sheer variety of applications he's put that to are a great resource for other designers to draw from. This is no different than almost all AT games where the basic concept is to line 'em up and have a slugfest.

Beowulf is actually very good once you've played it at leats 3 times and understand it is about long-term resource planning. If you play it turn-by-turn you won't get it. To some extent, Beowulf is about knowing when not to bid. It's a game requiring substantial restraint (like Medici). You really need to plan for the endgame, which is not too common in Knizia where the usual tactic is to maximize each turn and then set up for the following one. It's not his best game, but as a variation and compilation of his themes, it's better than I thought at first. Think of how Amun Re requires you to play a game in 2 parts, whereas Beowulf doesn't give you that second chance. And if we are still talking asymmetry, Amu Re is a masterpiece. It still follows tha "start with something, build, then score" mantra, but does it oh, so well.

Dune is generally an exception amongst games. It's a touchstone work. It has some deep flaws, however, compared with more recent innovations. It does not scale well, with more players absolutely favouring the Emperor and Guild at the expense primarily of the Harkonnen and Fremen. And a 3-player game is usually a wash. The combat, alliances and theme are extremely well done, but the economic balance is not, the geography is muddled, and the bet-it-all risk factor can ink a game far too quickly for what can truly be called strategy.

Yes, many (not all) Eurogames favour, by design, an economy of choice. That they very much play to a time limit of 90 minutes is a major reason why. There is something inherently reasonable to this as, frankly, most people cannot spend more than that an evening playing any game.

Most games get "gamed" at some point, that is to say, certain masterplays or set moves appear that become part of the metagame, like opening moves in chess or Diplomacy, or certain endgame solutions (get farmers down wherever in Carcassonne). I have yet to see a game where this is not the case. Take Dune. Only an idiot player for either the Atreides or Harks does NOT defend at all costs right from the start their bases in Arrakeen and Carthag. The game design follows a narrative arc that effectively limits a lot of open-ended choice.

It's funny you mentioned Dorn. Probably the best designer who cannot finish a concept properly. Goa is a tedious dud that got far too much hype, but between it and Traders of Genoa there were some great spatial movement and placement mechanisms tied to truly awful auction systems. This is where Knizia triumphs. He tells you by the force of designed economy that your bid in Ra is worth between 1 and 13 absolutely. What do you get for your effort? Well, that's a product of risk and timing, isn't it?

As for dice. Borg designs his systems around an end concept that all factors in direct conflict cannot be known and accounted for. For his type of slugfests, odds-based die-roll resolution with declining force factors works. They are en end result mitigated largely by strategic and tactical planning elsewhere in the design. For some other games, this system is a often a kludge. WotR is an example. The ONLY way the Free Peoples can execute a military victory is through favourable dice at the extreme end of the probability scale. There is no strategic ability to win by this method. It is solely opportunitstic and has zero to do with skill. You roll high, Sauron rolls low. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then : "Hey! Maybe I can pull this off." Or, you can get all 4 Ent cards and throw huge resources at that resolution at the expense of other opportunities only to have the dice from 2 Orc units ruin a massive strategic investment (about 8% chance of doing so). Not only is that un-Tolkien, it's design at cross-purposes. What possible random variables could allow so few Orcs to beat all the Ents? Drought and a forest fire? The invention of the chainsaw?

Julian said...

Scott from Vancouver,

Fucking hell! Just when I thought only died in the wool ATers had anything interesting to say about games you come along. I put it down to the fact that you are Canadian. Everyone knows Canadians are the most knowledgeable about games. The French/English thing allows us to understand both Ameritrash and Euros. Really you should write a piece for this blog instead of having all this buried in this thread.

A couple of small points about Dice. First of all history is replete with battles where the underdog won, and dice are a good mechanism for simulating this chance. I think that risk management is a large part of almost all AT games. The point is to maximise your odds all the time, knowing some will go against you.

WotR is a strange game to make your point. I would think that the Siege of Minas Tirith as depicted in the book translated into game terms as several lucky card pulls and a bunch of good rolling. Flukey rolling or some similar mechanism would be needed to capture the feel of Lord of the Rings. Without a probabalistic mechanism you can't get the feeling of beating the odds. Both the book and the game are about that. So you need both unbalance and probability to model the book in my opinion.

Michael Barnes said...

Well, first off...a Free Peoples military victory SHOULD be next to impossible, because thematically that's the situation.

I don't consider the fact that DUNE doesn't scale a flaw at all- it's simply designed to be a six player game, and if we have five we simply play something else. There's no reason to play with less than a full table.

As for this one-

There is something inherently reasonable to this as, frankly, most people cannot spend more than that an evening playing any game.

So most people's gaming sessions last 90 minutes? No, they'll play 3-4 90 minute games. I think it's pretty safe to say most folks do their gaming at events or planned get-togethers. Sure, if you're playing a pickup game with the family or as an after dinner sort of thing a 60-90 minute game is probably about right...but to assume that people somehow don't have time to game any more is a fallacy.

I think you make a couple of pretty grave generalizations regarding AT games- "line 'em up and knock 'em down" is certainly something we dig, but to characterize the games solely on that is preposterous. Even RISK has choices, decision points, and opportunities for long-range planning. It's that kind of routine dismissal of AT-style games that got us here in the first place! ;-)

Shellhead said...

I bet that one reason most Euros clock in at 90 minutes or less is the lack of elimination. Rather than suffer for hours in a game that they can't be ousted from, Europlayers want a shorter game so they can quickly move on to the next one. If only they would embrace elimination, they could be free!

Will Reaves said...

Since no one responded to Ken's question on Die Macher, the following could be considered random elements:

1) What regions get voted on. The are a couple dozen or so regions and only seven show up in any given game, in a random order. Regions 5-7 aren't known at the beginning of the game.

2) What issues the regions care about. These are drawn at random and partially concealed; you know all of the issues for the current region, all but one for the next region, all but two for the region after that, etc. Obviously, you don't know any of the issues for regions not yet in play. This can mitigated somewhat in that issues can be changed by players under the proper conditions (media control or an early majority in votes).

3) Opinion polls. Opinion poll cards (subject to blind bidding) are widely disproportionate in ability and target parties rather than players. (The equivalent of how the assassin targets roles in Citadels.) It's possible to successfully bid for an opinion poll card to find it only benefits your opponents. In this case, it's still a good thing you got it, because that way you can bury the poll, but stopping someone else from getting a great benefit isn't as fun as getting a great benefit yourself.

Thus, you don't necessarily know at the start of the game what issues will be important mid to late game, nor whether later regions will be worth more. Thus, there's a considerable amount of random elements and hidden information. I do not see how it is possible to "solve" this game.

Ken B. said...

Thanks for the answers, Will!


I don't think I could overcome the (to me) boring theme, but it does answer my question about randomness in prominent, heavy Euros. To me, a game with no randomness leads down a dull, deadend path of endless study and memorization, and I want no part of that.

Aarontu said...

Good article!

I've never really considered asymmetry in games as a plus (or a minus. I just didn't consider it), but come to think of it, I really do enjoy a healthy amount of asymmetry. War of the Ring and Twilight Imperium are a couple of my favorite games, and I feel that the asymmetry really adds value, replayability, and depth to the theme.

Scott from Vancouver said...

There shold be NO military victory by the Free Peoples. Period. Why? Because Gandalf said it was impossible. Who are the designers to overwrite Tolkien?

That's the problem with the standard AT convention of dice rolling slugfests. They lull players into formats that do NOT fit the theme A card-driven system similar to We the People strats the WotR actin, then it is ruined often enough by streaky dice.

That is both un-Tolkien, non-thematic, and just plain poor game design. It is not defensible. Dice are a way of saying "x MIGHT happen". How about a designer having the courage to say: "This can never happen".

Dune is NOT a 6 player game by design. I played the original at GenCon with the designers in a 4 player setup. It was always designed to be scalable and the rules are ecplicit on that. 20+ years later we now realize that it is not all that good when playing less than the full complement, and even then at least 2 factions are overpowered at the full 6, leading to less variability and even more scripting.

The 90 minute timeframe has little to do with gaming and nothing to do with some Eurogame standard. It is market psychology. How long is the average movie? Play? Poetry slam? Spectator sport? 90 minutes. There are very well-known and proven market tests that demonstrate most people canot focus on a task much longer than an hour and change. It doesn't seem to matter what culture or medium chosen. Bolloywood dance extravaganzas? Average = 79 minutes. We have a finite, ability to focus and problem solve. So if you're a gamer and want a 4-hour epic, go ahead. You'll sell precious few to a tiny, tiny market. That is why every major game publisher has to flesh out their offerings for the mass market, so they underwrite the nice offerings. A market for most games beyond 90 minutes is not self-sustaining. I have a few comrades from back in the AH days playtesting who will vouch for that. This is why Eurogames came to dominate the industry. They have a culture of board games that is much broader than North America. That big market drives a major revenue and investment strwam into the market the way that the hobby industry of AT games cannot compete with. The North American answer has actually not been board games, but the crack cocaine of gaming...CCGs, aimed suqarely at the same market that is avid about videogames. These have been the revenue stream for hard copy game publishing.

Mr Skeletor said...

There shold be NO military victory by the Free Peoples. Period. Why? Because Gandalf said it was impossible. Who are the designers to overwrite Tolkien?

Who the fuck is Tolkien? The way some people carry on about that guy you'd think he could turn water into wine. Get a grip.

The only way the Free People can win a military victory is if the Sauron player plays like an utter assclown or ignores his military forces and concentrates on finding the ring. If Sauron had have been an assclown or not bothered with the military but spent all his energies looking for the ring in the book, the free people would have won a military victory there as well.

I'm also calling bullshit on Euro's outselling AT unless I see some hard data to back it up. FFG seems to be the biggest and fastest growing hobby board game company around at the moment, Games Workshop if you count them is huge and I'm betting even shit like Munchkin outsells most Euros. I think peoples perspectives on games gets skewed by BGG, and most gamers who don't hang out on boardgame sites on the web are still digging their plastic zombies and licensed games over meeples.

Julian said...

I'm going to disagree with you here, Scott. In the Lord of the Rings after the Siege of Minas Tirith, the Free People's march on the Black Gate, which FORCES Sauron to react. The chance of a military victory was practically zero, but the threat of a military victory IS important in the book. In the book, Sauron had to take military defeat into account even though it was highly unlikely. He couldn't just abandon his strongholds to capture. The game captures that very well. Its possible to take the Orthanc, relatively easily, but the other strongholds are virtually impossible. So again to model the book you need the threat of a military victory even though it is practiacally impossible. That's just like the game. The Victory condition is there, but if the Sauron player is competant it won't happen. Without that in the game how can you model the march on the Black Gate?

I disagree with the 90 minute time frame. I don't think there's any magic number. I think that the period that people can concetrate is actually about an hour so that a game already exceeds that. The standard time for a TV show is an hour or half an hour. Whereas a movie is more like two hours. When people go on the internet they don't leave after 90 minutes. My impression is that the top selling hobby games in my town (this is totally unscientific and is just from casually noticing stock turn over) are Carcassonne, Settlers and World of Warcraft.

Pat H said...

I'd be willing to bet that Axis and Allies has outsold Settlers at this point.

No victories are impossible, and as such contingencies must be made like tying up troops and shoring up fronts for no apparent reason other than this possibility. This situation lends itself to increased chances for both surprise and victory. Scott, it is the calculating euro in you that is making these statements.

Michael Barnes said...

Because Gandalf said it was impossible

Yeah, but Gandalf was just a Negative Nelly, wasn't he?

Scott, I'm calling bullshit on you. To say that it's "poor design" and "unthematic" for the designers to foreclose on a Free People military victory is ridiculous. It's like the classic horror movie argument, "why don't the people just leave?" Because if they did, there'd be no movie. If the Free People can't win apart from the Ring, then it's not much of a game. There'd be no reason to invest resources or time in doing anything else. The _possibility_ is there, however remote, because it _is_ good design and the point is that it offers players a chance to participate in an alternate "what if" type story in Tolkein's world. Your argument disintegrates further when we look at wargames...what would be the point of playing any Waterloo game if Napoleon- _by design_- could never win?

It strikes me that you are very much a literalist- if a game has a theme based on a historical or fictional narrative you seem to demand it follows that narrative to the letter.

DUNE _is_ a six player game by design. That is why the player powers interact on such a deep level. Everything about it functions best with six, and although I can't point you to an EON statement, I feel pretty secure assuming they intended for it to be a six player game. Sure, they had to build in scalability because no one in their right mind would release a game that says "For six players only" on the box.

As for Euros in the marketplace...there's a couple of myths that you're perpetuating that need to be looked at. One is that Euros somehow dominate the hobby game market. Routinely, the top 10 best selling "hobby" board games according to industry figures (I'm getting mine from Comics and Games Retailer magazine)are the "big three" of SETTLERS, CARCASSONNE, and TICKET TO RIDE, BLOKUS, a couple of FFG titles (recently it's been DESCENT, WORLD OF WARCRAFT, and ARKHAM HORROR), AXIS AND ALLIES, MUNCHKIN, and typically one or two other distinctly NON-EURO titles. ZOMBIES shows up pretty regularly too.

I've seen in my own retail experience that I can sell 25 copies of a $80 retail big-box FFG game but I'll struggle to sell three copies of PRINCES OF FLORENCE. The point is that this idea, perpetuated largely by the insular worldview that BGG (and Scott) promotes that Euros are the "happening" thing in gaming. The fact of the matter is that Euros beyond the "Gateway" titles (and PUERTO RICO) don't sell worth a crap at retail. The real movers and shakers in the board game product sector are FFG and (sadly) Steve Jackson games. This notion that they "dominate the industry" is completely ludicrous and unfounded. Sure, they dominate BGG but that doesn't mean shit when it comes to dollars and cents.

I also think the myth Scott alludes to about this "magical board game culture" of Europe is equally ludicrous. Most families, regardless of what the "spielfrieks" think, don't play DIE MACHER every evening and it's not exactly possible to pick up the latest CARCASSONNE expansion at the 7-11 on the way home from work. The thing is, Europe is much less in the thrall of the Gigantical Megacorporation and Holdings and smaller press, smaller publisher items (like games) have a better chance since they're selling to a smaller market anyway. Further, companies like Hans im Gluck and Goldseiber are long established names in the industry there because they're local and in mainstream distribution channels.

An FFG game like WORLD OF WARCRAFT has a MUCH greater chance of showing up at Target than esoteric crap like PORTOBELLO MARKET or PILLARS OF THE EARTH, mainly because the chances of actually selling it are much greater. There's a reason FFG is pulling this TREMENDOUS licenses and becoming more and more ambitious with their release schedules along with completely revolutionizing what consumers expect in terms of material quality, and there's also a reason Rio Grande Games- even with limited access to mainstream distribution and one of the best selling games out there- is still doing little more than piggyback publishing US versions of niche-niche market German titles.

It's very telling that a game like NOTRE DAME, which supposedly is going to cure cancer and teach the world to sing, is only going to have a first printing 3000 English copies _worldwide_. I don't have figures for something like TIDE OF IRON, but I'd bet it's first printing will be easily twice or triple that number- and it will likely sell out immediately.

Like it or not, the game industry in the US is dominated 1) by gigantical megacorporations and 2) by "safe bet", high-return items.

So at the end of the day it doesn't matter if BGG rates MONOPOLY a 3.55332432 or 8.6343332.

the*mad*gamer said...

Scott vs Barnes

The winner?

Barnes by knockout

Mr Skeletor said...

I dunno, I have seen a picture of Barnes and he looked like he had an emo haircut, and we all know emo's can't fight for shit except for spider-man.

Clarissimus said...

The 90 minute timeframe has little to do with gaming and nothing to do with some Eurogame standard. It is market psychology. How long is the average movie? Play? Poetry slam? Spectator sport?

I don't know what it's like in Vancouver, but here in America the movies are 2 hours on the average, spectator sports are 3 hours on the average, and no one goes to plays except the families of the kids acting in them. Poetry slams exist only in rumor.

Aarontu said...

Another comment about the FP victory in War of the Ring...

The instruction book for WotR suggests that a FP victory doesn't necessarily mean that the army of Gondor cleared out Mordor and defeated all of Sauron's army, themselves. When the FP takes enough strongholds, Sauron must redirect his focus entirely on defending his remaining strongholds and call off the hunt for the ring. So, basically, a Free People military victory is really just a roundabout way of getting a ring victory.

Ken B. said...

You're absolutely correct. In the instructions it says exactly that--that Sauron becomes so distracted by the military campaign of the Free Peoples that he can no longer focus on the Ring. With his attention elsewhere, Sam and Frodo are able to easily dispose of the Ring.

This is actually what happens in the film--Sauron is beat back militarily at Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields, and the Free Peoples are marching on the Black Gate itself. His army practically empties Mordor to meet this charge, and he doesn't turn his attention back to the Ring until it's too late.