Thursday, 15 November 2007

No Video Card Required

So do board games go obsolete? For all the "90 minute CIV" squawkings, the "FANTASY GAME X is better than TALISMAN" folderol, and this whole idea that games get replaced by newer, jumped-up versions I don't think they do. And this week's Cracked LCD column is about these thoughts. Plus you'll be treated to a special guest appearance by The One True Leatherface.

Completely unrelated- LAST NIGHT ON EARTH is a bona fide smash. It's in the top 10 list of every major hobby distributor and it's one of the top 3 best selling board games right now- and that with fairly limited distribution. That puts it in company with SETTLERS, CARCASSONNE, and TICKET TO RIDE.


Matt Loter said...

Still needing one for your wife for Christmas is a pain in the ass though. Specifically when I passed on it at launch figuring I'd pick it up with my holiday ordering.

Though I imagine some are envious that I need it for my wife at all even more than for myself (and I really enjoyed it so far).

Michael Barnes said...

They're supposedly going to have a second printing out before Christmas, so watch the stores.

Will LAST NIGHT ON EARTH be this year's Tickle Me Elmo?

mtlawson said...

Mike, I thought the reason why Valley Games didn't go with the Trampier art is because Trampier was doing his best J.D. Salinger impression, not for lack of desire.

Outside of that, nice article. I've often wanted to boot up MoO and MoM and play them again, for old time's sake. And also because I've never found a replacement for MoO or MoM, either. Or the old Ultima series.

--Mike L.

Michael Barnes said...

That may be the case...but I think the design they're going with certainly isn't the answer. I'm all for really great art in games but I think they really dropped the ball. Part of what makes TITAN what it is is that it's unique and the monsters- even if they're just silhouettes- are iconic. I mean, even the font Trampier used on the Titan chit is just, well, TITAN-ic.

I don't really have a problem with them redesigning the art, changing the graphics, and so forth but I do think that what the direction they've gone with the chits looks like crap. It's just generic and it doesn't have any character whatsoever. It just looks like prety much any other fantasy art, and frankly I wanted something more than that for such an iconic, significant game.

Imagine if someone took the 1st edition D&D Players Handbook and replaced all the art with new, computer-assisted fantasy illustrations. Just wouldn't be the same, would it?

Malloc said...

I have been looking at the titan art all morning (somehow i missed this a week ago) Anyway I really like the art for the board and for the legion markers. I think the updates work, look good and pay tribute to the original.

I am not so sure about the CG art for the units, but give me time with them.

I guess in short I agree with what Mike Doyle has done, the monsters rendered by Kurt Miller seem a little out of place, but these are still being worked on.

I will always love the old version, but I think there is room in a reprint to change (not necessarily improve) things.


Michael Barnes said...

I think I agree with you Malloc- I think Doyle's work is actually pretty good and I like the style of the board actually quite a lot because it doesn't feel fundamentally different. I even like the round counters. It does seem that the bone of contention is the rendered unit chits. The legion markers so far look great, definitely in the spirit of the original.

The solution, in my eyes, is for Miller to take a look at how those silhouettes add character to the's not impossible to update them and do something really creative and artistic without resorting to modernizing them in such a crass way. I know they were an early version, but from a purely visual standpoint I thought the layout of the counters was really, really bad. The text bar really sunk them for me- not to mention that in practice the art is going to be too small to really warrant the level of detail.

I think that folks often don't have an appreciation for "dated" art or graphics...people get caught up in "cult of the new" thinking and assume that old=bad too much without understanding context. But no, that doesn't foreclose on an opportunity to update and enhance what was already great to begin with. The keyword really ought to be "enhance", not "replace".

mtlawson said...

I think it's a matter of time and taste. When I was a kid or a teen, I hated the old AD&D module art. The Haunted Castle of Inverness was a great module, but I hated that artwork.

Fast forward 20 years later, and I can look back on the art and realize it had a certain charm.

--Mike L.

Michael Barnes said...

A couple of weeks ago, I was visting my pal Dan Baden's place and he had a copy of STAR FRONTIERS, which was the first hobby game I ever bought. When I flipped through it, I remembered every single image in the book and how it felt to be a kid seeing it.

Even technically crap art (witness the original D&D Monster Manual) can be evocative and provide a direct association for the viewer with the material illustrated. I think that some "better" art, like the TITAN units, completely fails to do that other than on a very base level.

Michael Barnes said...

You know, getting back to FURY OF DRACULA...they completely updated the art too. At first, I was disappointed because I ADORE the original artwork but I completely understand that some of it just wouldn't fly in today's marketplace. Yet they made very respectful changes that actually enhance the atmosphere and visualization of the game and as a result it's a pretty successful transformation.

Frank Branham said...

Prophecy is still better than Talisman.

Likewise the central premise that something that only provides an iterative improvement is worse than the original seems out of whack.

Talisman and Doom are better games if you consider how remarkable and clever they are, but the reworkings and improvements make the more recent games more enjoyable to play.

Not more amazing. In fact, we desperately need new games, as both gaming industries are starting to stagnate.

Or why don't you go back and play Twilight Imperium, first edition?

I just finished Call of Duty 4. It has nothing new at all. It has an overwrought Tom Clancy-ish plot. And it might have been the most fun FPS I've ever played. It'll be forgotten in a few months, but it was far better than trying to play Marathon recently.

ozjesting said...

Regarding LNoE...will the 2nd printing be "better"? As in, will the cards be brightened up properly? If so it might have been worth the wait ;) But I jumped early and have been nothing but pleased indeed!

But to the issue at hand...One thought I have is that your article comes from the point of view of one who "knows", or perhaps "remembers" is a better word. I imagine we are of a similar age yet I come much later to board games, and as such have none of these memories. Talisman 4th ed is my first exposure to this game and indeed I love it! But any discussions of which boards/art/characters/expansions etc "should" have been used is lost on me. So in its "new and improved" release it finds a new customer/fan and thus has done its job. Same with Fury of Dracula. I have no exposure to the original, yet find the current one to rock! So as my "first memory" is the new one, would working backward be as compelling?
Regardless I agree with the main premise that there is (or shouldn't be) an obsolete game as such. A person may move on as a player, no longer find the same enjoyment in an "old" title...but this in and of itself does not diminish the game for what it is...only its current relationship with that particular player.
I welcome the "cousins" of older games as well. I have yet to get my copy of Prophecy (tyranny of distance!) but have high hopes for it. I think it will step up the Talisman game idea...but won't (and shouldn't) replace Talisman at all! Each will have their experience I imagine...and I welcome them both. Hell...I even enjoy the odd d10 fest of RuneBound (2nd ed) on occasion ;)

Anyway...another excellent article! I always enjoy the deeper feel you bring to this hobbies discussions. Well done.

Shryke said...

I'm always amazed by the amount of negativity I see about video games coming from board gamers. What, hte younger guy hit the mainstream first, so now it's cool to rag on them?

Video Games have only been getting better. Any perceived stagnation is all in your head.

Ken B. said...

I say, good man! Let us retire to the study, where we might have a fine brandy, smoke cigars, and enjoy a round of "Pac-Gentleman!"

Uh...that sounded far more homo-erotic than I intended.

Michael Barnes said...

Frank's Comments-

Likewise the central premise that something that only provides an iterative improvement is worse than the original seems out of whack.

No, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're worse...the point is that I don't really think things have to be improved on if something was already great to begin with. It's the same notion as taking a film like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which is more or less completely perfect, and assuming that since it's 40 years old that it needs to be updated or modernized because we have contextually different standards due to technology, narrative conventions, aesthetic values, or attention spans.

I get what you're saying though, that improvement is possible and I completely agree- look at ARKHAM HORROR for example, the "modern" version" is definitely a better game because it really makes the most of the 20 years of design and increased production capability between it and the original. It's one of the rare instances where a new version has replaced and old one- but really, it's almost a fundamentally different game.

In fact, we desperately need new games, as both gaming industries are starting to stagnate.

This is really what I was getting at more than anything. There's a lot of development dollars in both industries being wasted on retooling established concepts (like the 45 minute Eurogame, for example) to squeeze out maximum profit for minimum innovation.

So I'm playing SUPER MARIO GALAXY and it is almost certainly the best platform game I've ever played. But what makes it really special is that it recaptures that sense of newness and discovery that the first SUPER MARIO BROTHERS had, along with a lot of new gameplay ideas. And it completely pays respect and homage to the things that made the Mario games great to begin with- it's innovation and retrospection. Being a Wii owner, I see Xbox 360 and PS3 get all these really cool looking games like CoD 4 and I feel kind of envious but when I think about it, I'd rather have one game as timeless and well, magical, as SMG than a hundred of Nth-generation FPS games.

Or why don't you go back and play Twilight Imperium, first edition?

There again, it's practically a different game than TI3. I'd actually like to do this sometime just to see how far along it's come.

Michael Barnes said...

Ozjesting's Comments:

One thought I have is that your article comes from the point of view of one who "knows", or perhaps "remembers" is a better word.

You're right. It's totally from my personal perspective and I do think that a person's entry point into the hobby really informs where their position is going to be on the issue. I do come from growing up in the '80s around gaming so I was definitely "there" for it, and if you weren't then a lot of what I'm trying to get across may well be irrelevant to you.

"First memory" is a powerful thing...I think it's a different sensation than nostalgia, and when I think back to my first games of TALISMAN first memory definitely informs my overall opinion of the game. If your first memory is of 4th edition, then that's going to be where your experience and investment in the game starts.

A person may move on as a player, no longer find the same enjoyment in an "old" title...but this in and of itself does not diminish the game for what it is...only its current relationship with that particular player.

This is a great statement that really encapsulates how I feel about it myself. It really is about current relationships, how where we are either in life or in our hobby experience may inform what we feel or think about a particular game.

One thing I'm really a proponent of is applying the same aesthetic and critical standards that we evaluate film, art, books, or music with to board games because I think they are a legitmate creative medium. Along with that, I think that just like in music games should be evaluated in the context of when they were released, what the design idioms were at the time, and how they have a lasting value. Look at the first Velvet Underground record- we can hear it now after 40 years and it seems really mild in light of black metal, experimental industrial, or avant garde hip hop but at the time it was released it was considered very extreme and even amusical. But has it been "replaced" or made obsolete because artists have refined extremity and experimentalism in rock music to a different degree? No, it's still a monolithic achievement in modern music and its values and qualities still persist and will continue to do so from now on.

Likewise, a game like CIVILIZATION will always be great, no matter how many revisions, alterations, or reiterations the core concepts, theme, and mechanics go through.

Mr Zir said...

Great article Michael.

I definitely agree that some games will never be outdated or obsolete. A classic is good for all time, great in its own time yet still relevant and provocative today. One of my favorite games is Master of Orion. I have played it every so often since its release. Yes, most of the execution of the game is outdated by today’s standards and it wasn't very deep, but imagination can make up for those things. It had character and lent itself for a good narrative. One thing that I miss in the newer versions of MoO and Civ (PC) are the race/country specific theme songs during diplomacy. It added that extra touch of uniqueness. One of the main problems I have with most Eurogames is the lack of imagination. (The chief problem being "impress the authority figure”. Absolutely not.) I'm moving little blocks that represent shipping crated goods? Pardon me while I fall asleep.

- Michael