Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Epiphany

Last night, I had a visitation.

It'd been a tough day - during work I'd had to spend the afternoon chairing a meeting instead of using the whole day to prepare for my first ever shot at playing War of the Ring like I'd planned. It was going to be a PBEM game via Cyberboard with a long-time PBEM opponent of mine. Our baby had decided that being awake and playing of an evening was a much more fun alternative to going to sleep - can't say as I blame her really - so home time had been awkward too. As a result, I'd wound down by scoffing a curry and then polishing off maybe a glass too many of a cheeky French Shiraz that smelled of violets and tasted of plump, ripe blackberries on a summer morning.

Perhaps the chillies and alcohol were to blame, perhaps not.

I was awakened from my slumber by a strange noise. Out of instinct, I turned over and looked at the baby monitor but it lay quiet. It was then I noticed that the room, instead of being dark as it should be at 3am, was filled with a cold glow.

I sat up in bed and saw before me the indistinct outlines of the EON design team trio, shimmering and ephemeral.

"We are the ghosts of Ameritrash past!" They moaned, and rattled their shrink-wrapped copies of Dune and Cosmic Encounter.

The first thing that struck me was that this was very odd, considering none of them were actually dead yet, but before I could consider the situation more, the spirit of Bill Eberle spoke again.

"You have sinned! You have been seduced by the Euro and it is time to atone!"

With mounting horror my thoughts raced back to the Gaylus boxshot that got posted a few weeks ago.

"No wait! I can explain!" I stammered. "It was just that blue eye-shadow, I couldn't help ..."

Jack Kittredge cut me short. "Not that, puny mortal. Tell me, did you not give your second ever ten-out-of-ten score to Wallenstein?"

"Well, yes. But what's wrong with that, it's a great game!"

"It is indeed a fine game, but is it really fit to even lick the boots of Titan?"

I had to consider this. "No" I said. "But it's so short and simple in comparison."

"There you go" replied Jack. "Seduced into playing inferior games on the basis of complexity and play time." He looked at the baby monitor. "Okay, maybe we'll forgive you on the play time, but the complexity angle ... " He shook his head sadly.

My initial shock had faded and I was starting to enjoy myself here. It was pretty cool to be debating games with three of the best designers ever and I was determined to face them down. After all, what the hell right did they have to be invading my bedroom in the small hours of the morning? Bastards! Gaming legends or not, I wasn't going to let them leave without bagging me one of those shiny copies of Dune!

"Allright, I accept that" I said. "But I kind of only gave it then ten because I could see how playing face-to-face would be better than over on SpielByWeb, especially with a real life dice tower. So that's a pretty feeble basis on which to make any accusations."

It was Peter Olotka's turn to chip in. "Don't presume to tangle with us, boy. We've been in this business long enough to have become omniscient when it comes to games. We remember when you posted an article in this very blog about how low complexity games are cool."

"Well yeah but that was ... that was ..." I rallied. "That was just to generate discussion!"

The next question came, like a barrage. "What was the last face-to-face game you played?"

"Tigris and Euphrates. Oh but I'd been waiting to play that for months. And it made it into the Ameritrash top 25 games!"

"Did you, or did you not" Peter thundered "have Santiago on your wish list for a considerable period of time?"

I could see that they were all starting to get angry. "Er, yeah but I took it off in the e..."

"WHAT'S LISTED AS YOUR MOST PLAYED GAME OVER THE PAST 12 MONTHS?" Peter was screaming with rage now.

I broke into a cold sweat. Guilty as charged. They had me.

"Attika" I said in a tiny voice and started to weep uncontrollably into the duvet.

Between sobs, I managed to gather myself sufficiently to speak. "Masters. What must I do to absolve myself?"

Bill piped up once more, more gently this time. "You have accepted your great sin, grasshopper. That is the first and most difficult step. Your atonement shall be easier - indeed you have unwittingly already begun it."

I lifted my head in wonderment. "How so?" I asked.

Jack spoke. "Recall the time you spent this morning, reading the rules to War of the Ring. What did you think."

I cast my mind back. "Well ... I can recall thinking that I'd never learn all the rules in one step ... but they seemed to have a logical consistency which made them a bit easier than I'd been expecting."

"Good" said Peter. "Remember that game of T&E you played - your first ever? What did you think of the rules to that?"

"They were easy but really unintuitive and I had a really tough time remembering them. And like with a lot of Eurogames the strategy was just mathematical and stupidly obtuse because I had no real-world anchors to start to build on. With WotR I could see there would be lots of play options, but I could immediately see how to put some into effect."

"Better" said Bill. "You realised that complexity is often necessary to build a great game and that the time invested in learning is repaid during play. Yea, verily, even tenfold for the very best games. What did you think of War of the Ring?"

"Erm, it seemed to be a game of considerable strategic depth, with lots of decisions."

Jack frowned. "You're sounding like a Eurogamer again. Strategic depth is important, but there's more to a good game than just that. What else did you read, apart from the rules?"

"Some strategy articles and .. and .. session reports."

"And how did they make you feel?" Chorused all three dread spirits together.

"Wow, they were great. Made me remember how much I loved reading the books - I could really piece the games other people had played together in my head, and they made such great stories. Not like all those Euros - I can never follow what's going on in the session reports."

The cold radiance in the room had extended to a warm glow. The three were smiling broadly now as I continued.

"Yeah, made me really want to play the game - test out some of the strategy ideas I'd formulated and make up some narrative of my own. I mean some of it seemed a bit silly - rolling a dice for corruption with that Shelob tile was a bit much of an extreme random mechanic to use in the endgame - but most of it was so great I could forgive that. Anyway, I guess it's just up to the fellowship player to get to Mordor with as little corruption as possible - and phew! It'd be one tense roll!"

Lost in thinking about how much fun I'd had anticipating the game ahead, I didn't notice the spirits begin to slowly fade.

"And the balance? Who cares about that! There's some easy fixes to apply by the sound of things, without spoiling the theme - maybe put a city in South Rhun like they originally intended. And when I get the game and play it face to face, it'll probably be four-player and that's more balanced anyway. Man, can't wait to get the game, take it round to Graham's house and play in that room he has with all the Tolkein posters on the wall! Even if it takes him hours to learn, he's gonna love it! I don't remember the last time I was this excited about trying a game!"

I looked up and the trio were gone.

Instead of a shrink-wrapped Dune, they'd left a sticky mess of ectoplasm on the carpet. Bastards!

I leapt out of bed, went downstairs and put on some coffee while I waited for the computer to start. Half-past three in the morning. If I was lucky, I'd have just enough time to download and read the rules to Twilight Imperium 3 before breakfast.

33 comments:

Ken B. said...

I think this was more the result of the 400 acid trips you took.

Nice article. Finding that sweet spot where the game is just complex enough to give your mind the fuzzy tingles without it being a crushing, nasty mess is an art that few game designers can pull off. It feels great when they do.

robartin said...

As a result, I'd wound down by scoffing a curry and then polishing off maybe a glass too many of a cheeky French Shiraz that smelled of violets and tasted of plump, ripe blackberries on a summer morning.

Who the hell let this guy in?

Instead of a shrink-wrapped Dune, they'd left a sticky mess of ectoplasm on the carpet.

Oh come on Matt. I know you're probably just trying to give MrSkeletor some easy material to work with, but really.

Thaadd said...

I'm actually a fan of a glass or three of wine at Friday board games. For whatever random reasons, alot of the board gamers (as opposed to RPGers) I know don't drink, so it's generally me and DanielC's girlfriend who have to carry the torch. We carry it so willingly, we're comic relief some evenings...

It makes Diplomacy more fun. It kills the pain of the end of TI3 when X refuses to take his freaking turn. I've yet to get a game of drunken Arkham in, though. (Maybe some evening at GenCon)

Sad to say, I don't know who any of the 'Big Three' are. Time to do some pestering of people.

Mr Skeletor said...

Oh come on Matt. I know you're probably just trying to give MrSkeletor some easy material to work with, but really.

Sorry Robert, but I don't have time to respond to Mat's baiting, not with that AWESOME online game of TI3 we have going. You know, the one that Matt missed out on because he doesn't know how to read his emails properly? Man what a game, 30 emails minimum when I wake up in the morning, death threats, betrayal, Barnes sounding like he is about to throw a chair - and we haven't even finished turn one yet!
I'm glad I didn't miss out on getting in on this game. But don't worry Matt, I'm sure online Wallenstein is... umm.. fun. Putting those digital cubes in that digital tower must be a real blast. ..

BTW, I still have a 2 resource trade deal up for grabs when Trade comes up, which one of you tradegood loving bitches wants it and what have you got to offer me?

Muzza said...

There must have been mushrooms in that curry...

I'm a fan of War of the Rings myself but did not like the 4 player version when I tried it. It felt more like a 2 player game with a couple sharing each position. If it is a decent 4 player game then so is chess.

I've yet to get a game of drunken Arkham in, though.
I have had the pleasure of a drunken bout of Arkham, it was a riot. We didn't even mind when old squid-head showed up and ate everyone.

Michael Barnes said...

The best part about that TI3 game (you know, the one that Thrower didn't get in on) was when Bruce Campbell showed up and gave us all $20 for beer and cigarettes.

It was also really cool when all that awesome stuff happened while Matt was off drinking Shiraz, likely whilst wearing a smoking jacket and monocle.

J de said...

Good read! I blame the Shiraz

Russ Fade said...

Lay off the wine bashing, fellows. What do you think was quenching the thirst of the Roman Empire as it pillaged and conquered the known world? It certainly wasn't a Coors or a Bud. Those are children's drinks. (No, they really are in South Carolina. I've seen it. )

Wine is about as Ameritrash as it gets . . . though the modern Wine Snob has perhaps given it a softer appeal, unfortunately. Ignore them. Wine is best served straight from the bottle inside a brown paper sack . . . chugged so quick, you can't "taste the ripe blackberries", rather, you BECOME the ripe blackberries on a summer morning. That is Ameritrash.

robartin said...

BTW, I still have a 2 resource trade deal up for grabs when Trade comes up, which one of you tradegood loving bitches wants it and what have you got to offer me?

I'll take your trade goods. By force.

Michael Barnes said...

Why did I imagine Angus Scrimm playing Peter Olotka in this story?

Seriously though...complexity is obviously a big issue in gaming because more and more we're seeing that gamers don't have the patience to learn more complex games- it used to be that folks would _want_ to learn complex games, they'd make an effort to really get into something and get the most value out of it. I remember the summer I got CIVILIZATION that's all we played- it's the only game we talked about, it's the only game we read the rules for, and it's the only game that mattered. Of course now, there's more money and more games to go around so people aren't as interested on focusing on a game to really it down.

There's got to be a balance...I like playing a new game just as much as the most disgusting "spielfriek" but I get more out of replaying a complex game that rewards attention.

In design terms, I do think EON pulled off a ridiculous amount of ingenuity in terms of making really rich games with a tremendous amount of variety while not breaking the bank in terms of complexity. I remember when I read the rules to DUNE I expected the usual Don Greenwood nightmare logic riddle but I was amazed at how easy it was apprehend.

The Era of Euro Dominance saw a lot of things that used to characterized "sophisticated" or "better" games villified and ridiculed, and one of those things that unfortunately fell into that bracket was complexity. Of course, when you get into to higher-end wargames that never went away, but there was a time when games with 1 page of rules were classed with the other games you could buy at Target or Walmart. Or, at the time, Richway or Zayre.

Pat H said...

After getting a grasp of Squad Leader everything else falls into place - even poorly written rules become legible.

Wine is good - got a little "Ameritrashed" last night myself.

As long as the rules to a game can draw you in and keep your interest mounting with "Oh great - I can actually do that?" then it doesn't matter if they are long or complicated (Unless you are naturally dumb..). There is a difference to be made between "Long" and "Cumbersome" rules. I've read some short rulebooks that were nothing short of work - stopping midway through some ramble and deciding to house rule rather that try to understand garbage.

Michael Barnes said...

Shiraz won't do. You ain't "Ameritrashed" unless the trashing agent is one of the following:

1) PBR
2) Hamm's
3) Old Miluakee
4) Jack and Coke*
5) Schlitz Malt Liquor ("The Bull")
6) Golden Grain
7) PBR

* _Not_ Jack and Diet Coke- that makes you a pussy, not "Ameritrashed".

Mike said...

Great read, well done.


2) Hamm's

I went through 6 years of my life drinking this but now ... I just can't touch the stuff. Life is too short to drink bad beer.

Thaadd said...

What about cheap red wine? Night Train? You can play GnR, drink, and game...

the*mad*gamer said...

Beer is a tough subject. The idea is to drink the best beer you can without drinking a "yuppie" beer.

Avoid "Euro" beer at all costs!

Pat H said...

Drink whatever you have in the house (I mean to the last drop)and then you're Ok.

Michael Barnes said...

Thaad- Night Train is a completely acceptable Ameritrash beverage.

Boone's Farm Strawberry Fields- not on your god damned life. That's what they drink at the Elfenland table.

Last night, the erstwhile Joel Abbott and I were talking and he told me one of the Great Secrets of the Atlanta Board Game scene- he spilled the beans on who brings Big Gulp cups full of Sangria to these "family" gaming events.

This weekend is the Atlanta Game Fest, I can't wait to see Will Kenyon trying to drunkenly Overlord a game of Descent at 4am.

Mike said...

Avoid "Euro" beer at all costs!

Surely you can't mean St. Peters-brau?

It's a rather elegant beer and my wife likes to drink it too.

robartin said...

You ain't "Ameritrashed" unless the trashing agent is one of the following:

On the beer side, don't forget about watery midwestern classics like Grain Belt Premium. And of course anything that is primarily sold in a 40oz bottle.

Wines...you can go for the 2-Buck Chuck from Trader Joes if you have a bit of self respect. Or why not try the Mad Dog 20-20. The fluorescent green Kiwi flavor is...unforgettable. Matt would appreciate its floral bouquets and touches of vanilla on a warm summer afternoon.

Matt Thrower said...

Avoid "Euro" beer at all costs!

Spoken like a true citizen of the one nation on earth that can't brew a fucking decent alcoholic beverage of any description.

Michael Barnes said...

Why can't we all just drink? Why do you feel the need to create these divisions? I don't see why we can't just like them all. It used to be that we all came here to talk about beer, now you ruffians are stirring up trouble and disrupting the friendly atmosphere here.

BTW- is Thrower revealing himself as a Eurosnoot of Beer?

robartin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
robartin said...

Spoken like a true citizen of the one nation on earth that can't brew a fucking decent alcoholic beverage of any description.

Drop a couple of rocks in a glass and fill it with a good American bourbon one of these days. You might change your mind.

Mike said...

I was wondering, what should we call people who only buy their beer at Wal-Mart?

Pat H said...

Wine is best served outdoors under a freeway from a bottle with a twist cap. Corks are too fiddly.

Michael Barnes said...

I was wondering, what should we call people who only buy their beer at Wal-Mart?

Patriots?

Cleitus the Black said...

Great article, probably the funniest I've read here.

Muzza said...

They might make some dull, repetitive games but the Euro's have it all over the American's in the beer-making game.

As my dear ol' dad said to me as a lad "Son, drinking American beer is like making love in a canoe, it's f*cking close to water!"

But yes, a good bourbon is a wonderful thing.

I personally think that marrying your drink to the game at hand is the best option. As Dracula there is nothing finer than swirling a large glass of Shiraz while smirking at the poor mortals trying to challenge you.

Thaadd said...

Hmm. Perhaps someone should come up with a suggested drinks list for various games? (or perhaps I'm just digging too deep, trying to avoid what I SHOULD be doing right now)

Sadly, I can't drink anything but expensive, and not very good beer (being allegic to the key ingredients of beer - grains) My options are generally wine, booze, and cider. Which sucks, as I used to brew.

Michael Barnes said...

As Dracula there is nothing finer than swirling a large glass of Shiraz

Nonsense. When we play, I have a carafe of human blood at the table at all times. When a hunter gets bit, I make them drink from it. When I feed, I take a good swig. Soothes the bodily humours.

Matt Thrower said...

Drop a couple of rocks in a glass and fill it with a good American bourbon one of these days. You might change your mind.

You know why everyone seems to have dropped the "Whiskey" off Bourbon Whiskey?

Because compared with proper Whiskey from proper ex-celtic countries it tastes like flavourless pap.

You only need to put ice in it to make it drinkable. Ice ruins good Scotch.

ubarose said...

Matt Thrower said...

You know why everyone seems to have dropped the "Whiskey" off Bourbon Whiskey?

Because compared with proper Whiskey from proper ex-celtic countries it tastes like flavourless pap.


You, sir have obviously never tasted a small batch bourbon. They taste of oak, and honey and vanilla with a touch of smoke. Each one has a flavor as distinctive as the different tastes of single malt scotch. Most are at their best straight up, but can stand up to a little ice meltage without going flat.

robartin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.