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Subject: How far can we push the "Abstract label" onto a game? rss

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Pablo Schulman
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Ok, here's the deal:

Fooling around here in BGG I saw several pieces describing the Knizia tile-laying trilogy as abstract in its core.

A reminder of the games:
Through the Desert
Tigris & Euphrates
Samurai

I can't seem to agree with those remarks, except in the case of Through the Desert (although I don't see why a game with almost no tile is a tile-laying game. Or the camels are tiles and I'm wrong?). But I find no problem calling The Bridges of Shangri-La and Terra Nova abstracts!

So, my main question is: How far can we push the "Abstract label" onto a game? Do you think those games qualify as abstracts?

Note that the parameters I'm using for a abstract by no means are the same as a Themeless Combinatorial Game. I'm just thinking about the relevance of the theme to gameplay and mechanics involved (i.e. can we strip the theme without damaging the gameplay experience? Is the theme pasted on?)

Regards,

Pablo Schulman
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p55carroll
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PSchulman wrote:
Note that the parameters I'm using for a abstract by no means are the same as a Themeless Combinatorial Game. I'm just thinking about the relevance of the theme to gameplay and mechanics involved (i.e. can we strip the theme without damaging the gameplay experience? Is the theme pasted on?)

The problem is that "gameplay experience" is subjective; it varies from one individual to another. When I play Lost Cities, I'm running archaeology expeditions; but others are just playing a game with numbered cards (and multipliers). Others wouldn't care if we played the game with a modified deck of ordinary cards, but I would; it wouldn't be the same game to me.

Same with Through the Desert, where I'm managing caravans. Others are just playing a lighter variant of Go.

Some tournament ASL players have long-since stopped caring that it's supposed to be a simulation of WW2 tactical combat; it's all numbers and game rules to them.

Certain individuals can play Dungeons & Dragons without doing any role-playing at all. Like all games, D&D is abstract at its core--and there are always some gamers who'll simply ignore theme and cut right to the core. For them, doing that doesn't spoil the "gameplay experience" at all.
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J. Jefferson
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Like all games, D&D is abstract at its core--and there are always some gamers who'll simply ignore theme and cut right to the core. For them, doing that doesn't spoil the "gameplay experience" at all.


I like this idea and think it is true of most strategy games. But not all games. For example, I don't think it is true of Dixit.
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Ryan Tullis
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The game must have: No hidden information, no non-deterministic elements (such as card shuffling or dice rolls), and is usually without a theme. That's taken from Wikipedia, and that's also how I define it (albeit I think abstracts are fine having light themes). I, personally, think the word "abstract" is thrown around on BGG too often.

I'm pretty strict about what I consider an abstract: Chess, Shogi, Go, Othello, Arimaa, Hive, etc. I do not consider Ingenious, for instance, to be an abstract, because (I think?) you draw tiles to give yourself options of play.

If there is any element, no matter how slight, of luck, I don't usually classify it as an abstract. If it's themeless, that's fine, but it doesn't make it abstract (ie. most standard-deck card games are themeless, but not abstract).

So there you go. For better or worse, that's an abstract (in my eyes).

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p55carroll
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Tryken wrote:
The game must have: No hidden information, no non-deterministic elements (such as card shuffling or dice rolls), and is usually without a theme. ...

I'm pretty strict about what I consider an abstract: Chess, Shogi, Go, Othello, Arimaa, Hive, etc.

Of course, that's much more restrictive than the only dictionary definition of the adjective abstract that would apply to games:

"having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content" (Webster's Collegiate, 11th ed.)

IOW, the dictionary pretty much equates "themeless" with "abstract" when it comes to games, art, music, and such.

Let me ask this: What kind of game is rummy if it's not abstract? It's not thematic, unless someone adds a theme to it.

The OP's question is basically, How much theme can there be in a so-called abstract game before we have to stop calling it abstract? I agree that there really shouldn't be any theme in an abstract game. But as long as we're just speaking informally about games, I don't see why there can't be hidden info, randomness, or other factors that are not part of two-player combinatorial games like chess.

If we kick card games and dominoes and backgammon out of the Abstract Games subdomain of BGG, I think we need another place for them--and they don't all belong in Family Games. They'd need to be called something else.
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Russ Williams
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As the wargame forum would say, I enjoy the repetition... whistle


PS: Speaking of wargames, note that a "wargame" is not merely a "game about war". And a "eurogame" is not merely "a game from/about Europe". Why should an "abstract game" merely be "a game that is abstract"?
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p55carroll
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russ wrote:
Note that a "wargame" is not merely a "game about war". And a "eurogame" is not merely "a game from/about Europe". Why should an "abstract game" merely be "a game that is abstract"?

It shouldn't (have to) merely be that. But it should at least be that (otherwise the name is potentially confusing--and unnecessarily so; like "eurogame").

Thus, it has to be what we'd call themeless. Beyond that, it's open to interpretation, opinion, and preference.
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Pablo Schulman
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I normally use 2 definitions:

Abstract games: themeless or near themeless games
Combinatorial games: no luck, no hidden information, finite games (that might be themed, themeless or near themeless don't care)

p55carroll
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is totally right about what I want to know. In those games what are the things that make eurogamers say it is not an Euro but an abstract? the mechanics involved? The weak theme (although there are several euro and ameritrash that has pasted on themes)? Divination?

There are games that I simply can't accept as "abstracts":
Tigris & Euphrates
Samurai
The Swarm (A reviewer said it was an "acceptable abstract", given he doesn't like abstract soblue )

Although I can accept these others as abstract strategy games:
Medina
Terra Nova

Russ: sorry for the repetition... I'm not here to repeat the abstract/combinatorial discussion. I'm here to try to understand why are games who gain the label abstract like it was a fault, disqualifyng it from being a Great Euro (even though it was designed to be).

edited some typos.
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Russ Williams
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PSchulman wrote:
Russ: sorry for the repetition... I'm not here to repeat the abstract/combinatorial discussion. I'm here to try to understand why are games who gain the label abstract like it was a fault, disqualifyng it from being a Great Euro (even though it was designed to be).

I think it's because of several factors, probably mostly:

* There is simply no clear consensus on what "abstract game" means, so not surprisingly different people use it differently.
* A lot of people dislike abstract games and use it as a pejorative for any game they think doesn't have "enough theme".
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p55carroll
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russ wrote:
* A lot of people dislike abstract games and use it as a pejorative for any game they think doesn't have "enough theme".

Just as a lot of people dislike "Ameritrash" games and use that as a pejorative for any game they think has too much thematic glitz?
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Tryken wrote:


I'm pretty strict about what I consider an abstract: Chess, Shogi, Go, Othello, Arimaa, Hive, etc. I do not consider Ingenious, for instance, to be an abstract, because (I think?) you draw tiles to give yourself options of play.



You think you're strict, I'm even stricter
Chess and Hive I don't consider true abstracts because not only do they have a given theme, but, some of the mechanisms are theme-related.
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Russ Williams
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Abstract Games » Forums » General
Re: How far can we push the "Abstract label" onto a game?
Patrick Carroll wrote:
russ wrote:
* A lot of people dislike abstract games and use it as a pejorative for any game they think doesn't have "enough theme".

Just as a lot of people dislike "Ameritrash" games and use that as a pejorative for any game they think has too much thematic glitz?

Perhaps, but there seems a significant difference to me: AFAIK when a game is called Ameritrash (whether by someone who likes AT or who dislikes AT) there seems agreement that it is AT (as opposed to some other genre), and the only disagreement is about whether that kind of game is good or not.

Whereas with abstract games, there is terminological disagreement about whether (e.g.) Ingenious and Backgammon and Poker and Scrabble even ARE "abstract games" (regardless of whether one likes them or not).

But I'm not so into the AT scene, so perhaps analogous debates occur about whether (e.g.) Arkham Horror and Battlestar Galactica really are AT or not (if they're not, then what are they?)
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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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Eclipse is an abstract.
 
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p55carroll
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russ wrote:
With abstract games, there is terminological disagreement about whether (e.g.) Ingenious and Backgammon and Poker and Scrabble even ARE "abstract games" (regardless of whether one likes them or not).

Then we need an abstract-games dictator to tell us exactly which games are abstract and which ones are not. Or we need to form a committee to decide. Or maybe we need to take the democratic approach: all the games that BGGeeks have voted into the Abstract Games subdomain are abstract games, period--end of discussion.

(Or we could just let things be, I guess. But where's the fun in that?)
 
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Pablo Schulman
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Or maybe we need to take the democratic approach: all the games that BGGeeks have voted into the Abstract Games subdomain are abstract games, period--end of discussion.

(Or we could just let things be, I guess. But where's the fun in that?)


Yeah... using this approach we have Yinsh being of the same genre as Aton. shake
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David Lame
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
russ wrote:
Note that a "wargame" is not merely a "game about war". And a "eurogame" is not merely "a game from/about Europe". Why should an "abstract game" merely be "a game that is abstract"?

It shouldn't (have to) merely be that. But it should at least be that (otherwise the name is potentially confusing--and unnecessarily so; like "eurogame").

Thus, it has to be what we'd call themeless. Beyond that, it's open to interpretation, opinion, and preference.


The name is confusing, because when someone says, "I like abstract games", they probably don't mean that they like themeless games. They probably mean that they like luckless games, but "luckless" and "combinatorial" sound goofy. "Perfect information" doesn't sound quite so bad.

For what it's worth, I always get the annual Games magazine buyer's guide issue, and this year I don't think any of the games in the abstract strategy section were games that I would have called abstracts, because all of them had luck elements. (Hidden information or random draws.) The word "abstract" doesn't mean that, but that's what I think of when I think of "abstract strategy game".
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Rob
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I'm glad you made this thread, because I've kind of been wondering this myself. I guess the consensus on the definition of abstract appears to be that it's not well defined, haha.

I've always thought of an abstract as something that is theme-less or very minimally or 'abstractly' themed (eg Chess). Abstract strategy - to me - is something that is theme-less and involves perfect information. I find that by having a game be theme-less, this often leads to a more elegant rule set, that is free of some of the capriciousness that might be introduced if a theme were involved. Obviously, this is not always true, but I find it true more often than with themed games. So for me, when I say "I like abstract games", I am primarily saying I like theme-less games. I may qualify with "I like abstract strategy games", which then I am referring to the perfect information aspect, as well.

Thinking about it, are there any heavily themed perfect information games? (I'm not asking this rhetorically, my gaming repertoire is fairly limited)
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Russ Williams
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mccann51 wrote:
Thinking about it, are there any heavily themed perfect information games? (I'm not asking this rhetorically, my gaming repertoire is fairly limited)

Of course! E.g. off the top of my head:
Some euro-ish examples:
Stephensons Rocket
In the Shadow of the Emperor
and Through the Desert (depending on your idea of "heavily" themed)

Even some historical wargame-ish examples:
Battle: The Game of Generals
Battle: The American Civil War
Conquest

Tactical spaceship combat:
Anteel

And no doubt many others I'm not thinking of.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
russ wrote:
With abstract games, there is terminological disagreement about whether (e.g.) Ingenious and Backgammon and Poker and Scrabble even ARE "abstract games" (regardless of whether one likes them or not).

Then we need an abstract-games dictator to tell us exactly which games are abstract and which ones are not. Or we need to form a committee to decide. Or maybe we need to take the democratic approach: all the games that BGGeeks have voted into the Abstract Games subdomain are abstract games, period--end of discussion.

(Or we could just let things be, I guess. But where's the fun in that?)
Period, end of discussion: the democratic approach.
 
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mccann51 wrote:
Thinking about it, are there any heavily themed perfect information games? (I'm not asking this rhetorically, my gaming repertoire is fairly limited)

Crosshairs
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Stephen Tavener
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PSchulman wrote:
I'm just thinking about the relevance of the theme to gameplay and mechanics involved (i.e. can we strip the theme without damaging the gameplay experience? Is the theme pasted on?)


My own take is that theme is about narrative; the players are constructing a story as the game unfolds, and the theminess is related to how immersed the players are in the story.

A good theme will make playing the game easier, because the good moves are ones which advance the storyline; players get a reality check (and complain about pasted on theme) when the moves required to win contradict the story.
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Avri Klemer
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mrraow wrote:
mccann51 wrote:
Thinking about it, are there any heavily themed perfect information games? (I'm not asking this rhetorically, my gaming repertoire is fairly limited)

Crosshairs


Penguin Soccer
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Rob
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drunkenKOALA wrote:
Patrick Carroll wrote:
russ wrote:
With abstract games, there is terminological disagreement about whether (e.g.) Ingenious and Backgammon and Poker and Scrabble even ARE "abstract games" (regardless of whether one likes them or not).

Then we need an abstract-games dictator to tell us exactly which games are abstract and which ones are not. Or we need to form a committee to decide. Or maybe we need to take the democratic approach: all the games that BGGeeks have voted into the Abstract Games subdomain are abstract games, period--end of discussion.

(Or we could just let things be, I guess. But where's the fun in that?)
Period, end of discussion: the democratic approach.


Well, if we're going the democratic approach, it's not end of discussion because I disagree. How about a clear and concise definition for abstract, 'democratically' decided? To have everybody voting on what they consider to be something based on subjective ideas of what defines that something is kind of a waste of time, because then you have lots of discussions like this, but for every single game.
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mrraow wrote:
PSchulman wrote:
I'm just thinking about the relevance of the theme to gameplay and mechanics involved (i.e. can we strip the theme without damaging the gameplay experience? Is the theme pasted on?)


My own take is that theme is about narrative; the players are constructing a story as the game unfolds, and the theminess is related to how immersed the players are in the story.

A good theme will make playing the game easier, because the good moves are ones which advance the storyline; players get a reality check (and complain about pasted on theme) when the moves required to win contradict the story.


Well put. I think certain games benefit from a theme by having moves that are representative of 'real-world' actions, and if the theme wasn't there, the different plays would seem arbitrary until one really started to get to know a game. However, to add to what you're saying, I think there are lots of games which benefit from also being themeless, in that the gameplay is elegant (ie simple but 'deep') enough to not need to add theme elements, as these will detract from the overall 'elegant' experience. For instance, if somebody tried to fit a theme on Go, the whole gaming experience would be greatly reduced I'd imagine (this last point goes along with the pasted-theme idea).


Btw, thanks for the themed combinatorial game examples Russ, Stephen, and Avri, gonna look through them.
 
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p55carroll
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mccann51 wrote:
mrraow wrote:
A good theme will make playing the game easier, because the good moves are ones which advance the storyline; players get a reality check (and complain about pasted on theme) when the moves required to win contradict the story.

Well put. I think certain games benefit from a theme by having moves that are representative of 'real-world' actions, and if the theme wasn't there, the different plays would seem arbitrary until one really started to get to know a game. However, to add to what you're saying, I think there are lots of games which benefit from also being themeless, in that the gameplay is elegant (ie simple but 'deep') enough to not need to add theme elements, as these will detract from the overall 'elegant' experience. For instance, if somebody tried to fit a theme on Go, the whole gaming experience would be greatly reduced I'd imagine (this last point goes along with the pasted-theme idea).

When you get to wargames, you're in a whole different ball park. "Theme" does not exist in those games to help the rules make sense; it's there because the whole purpose of the game is to simulate that real-world subject. Usually the word "theme" is not even used for wargames; we speak instead of what the game is about, or what its subject is. (Stepping back, the general theme would always be war. But that's a trivial point.)

Is "abstract wargame" an oxymoron, then? Maybe (except insofar as all games are abstract). But Nieuchess looks like an attempt to create an abstract wargame. And some would argue that chess and go are abstract wargames. I think that argument depends on assuming that battle or war are themes of those games, then looking for ways in which the games map to real warfare.

 
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