BlogGeek of the Week #131
Unless a game is flagged as a Must-Have on my wishlist, I am almost certainly not interested in a game trade by mail. My tradelist is used as a way of tracking games I intend to lose at local trades and auctions, not as a means of attracting trade offers from others.A note on my game ratings and comments
As of 2010 and with rare exception I am no longer maintaining my game ratings or comments. They are accurate as of when they were written but are frequently no longer current. While I no longer have a use for them, others do, and so I am leaving them in place. Some of the groups I play with:
-- Endgame Oakland
-- Los Altos Gamesday
My Top 10 is a fairly simple ordered list of my favourite games. It should concur fairly closely with my game ratings, after adjustments for game-similarity. My Hot-10 is the list of games that I have not played and which I'd most like to acquire and/or play.
I stopped recording plays at the end of 2009 as I noticed I had no use for the records I'd made until that date.
An embarrassing and overly flattering set of replies
, noted simply for reference.How I look at games:
I don't look at games as performance art
or experiential or subjective events
. Instead I look at games as conversational statements
within a larger investigative discourse. Games are part of a conversation which is identifying and discussing the field of problem spaces
. Thus like any other statement in a discussion, games only have value while the current/local participants are still at work understanding that part of the problem-space. Once the local players understand and agree on that portion of the problem-space (Why yes, gravity is proportional to mass and inversely proportional to the square of distance!
) the conversation (and the game) is over.
There is no reason to play a game which contains no questions as there's nothing left in that part of the problem-space which isn't understood. (Yes, we all know that the internal angles of a triangle sum to 180 degrees. Why are you going over this again? We all know it already...
) Why bother having a conversation when everybody already knows what everybody else is going to say?
Of course sometimes it turns out that there is more to say, that non-euclidian geometry exists and that there are triangles whose internal angles sum to something other than 180 degrees, or field-effects which are not inversely proportional to distance etc. Sometimes there are discoveries in areas that were long since thought resolved. At those points the conversation in an area restarts, new investigative questions are asked and answered, and the (larger/global) conversion moves on toward fresh fodder.
I believe without reserve that all multi-player games in which players can affect each other's positions are in fact exercises in negotiation. The negotiation doesn't have to be verbal or explicit -- no actual jaw-flapping diplomacy need take place -- but every move a player makes in a game is a nuanced mixture of offers and information quanta given to the other players and to which the other players can and will react, thus making their own offers and adding their own information to the gestalt. Predicting and controlling how the other players will respond to those offers, and the moves (aka offers) they will make in response, is central to much gameplay. Using this to your advantage doesn't require a silver tongue (it can be done without saying a word about the game and I like it better that way), just an understanding of the incentives expressed by the game-state and how the other players understand them.Game preferences:
-- Relatively strong zero-sum patterns
. While I have no interest in Take-That! games, advancement explicitly at the cost of the other player's positions is appreciated. Screwage should be clearly but not dominantly expressed, and must be matched and balanced by personal player self-interest. Arbitrary hosage is uninteresting. Carving on and foiling other player's plans and positions while advancing my own is desirable. On the other side, if I can't positively and negatively affect another player's game fortunes, why am I wasting my time with this pansy activity? There must be struggle, and it is good if at least a portion of that struggle is zero-sum. I am generally not interested in efficiency-race games.
-- Small random effects
. This is often thought of as a requirement for perfect control. That's false. I simply find random events/effects uninteresting and even mildly depressing (why am I bothering?). I'm interested in the other players as the source of prediction challenges, not the game. I find no tension or interest or anything but mildly distasteful disinterest in rolling dice or pulling cards to see what whatever comes up. I'd rather go do something actually interesting and have the game tell me what happened later.
-- No hidden trackable information
. If it is trackable with pencil and paper then almost without exception I'll play it open. Making such hidden trackable information open doesn't change the logical definition of the game. Example cases include an open Castillo in El Grande, open hands in Settlers of Catan (I know about the thief not being trackable), open money in Container (and most other games), Tigris & Euphrates with open cubes, Acquire with open shares etc. The realisation that I could potentially make a better decision if only I'd tracked (whatever) is an excellent means of persuading me to either not to play that game again, or to only play it with open information in future.
-- Emergent strong player incentive structures
. The ability to control, direct and even dictate other player's interests, as well as to have my own interests similarly declared by other players is wonderful. Frequently this manifests as either explicit negotiation or implicit negotiation via board play (moves that make offers to other players
). Quite possibly the one pattern I enjoy more than any other in gaming is to setup another player so that their primary in-game interest is to help me win (or to be setup that way myself). In short, Set it up so that the best way to improve your game position is to help me win.
-- Networks and graphs
. They are simply fine and enjoyable things. Topologies, especially inferred or implicit topologies, are a wonderful thing.
. Games which work against the player's own intuitions and presumed natural proclivities are especially liked.
. Games without ambiguous decisions are uninteresting. I specifically look for games that allow players to manipulate how, why and to what extent other player's decisions are ambiguous (or not). I specifically don't want a rich texture of interwoven variables to consider if that consideration pops out only one answer. With only one answer, that's a False Decision
as there is no choice among alternatives. It states that the interest and difficulty of the game is in parsing the game state, not in making substantive decisions. I want ambiguity, decision points at which all the calculation in the world will still always give you multiple answers along with a great lack of clarity as to which might be better. The interesting challenge isn't who can calculate better
, but who can better understand and manipulate both the game-system and the effects of the game-system and their decisions on the all other player's analytical processes?
The core assumption and model here is that games are exercises in ambiguity, that games start out with an extremely ambiguous situation (who will win?
) and incrementally resolve that ambiguity to a certainty (he won
). As such it is the player's primary task during play to wrestle with ambiguity and to attempt to manipulate that ambiguity to their advantage during the course of the game.
. Simply, my favourite games seem to specialise in making their player's game lives difficult. They have absurdly high penalties for failure, they disproportionately abuse early errors and they appear capricious and even arbitrary (despite being perfect information games) until the secret dances and languages are learned. Ideally merely playing the game could be catharsis for deistic sin.
-- No combinatorics or economic snowballs or efficiency race games
. I'm simply not interested in presumably clever combinations of special powers, features or abilities and I reserve an especial dislike for economic system/economic snowball/grow-like-a-fungus games. Not my thing, don't expect me to play them, do expect me to sit out if that's the only thing on offer as that's what I expect you to do in the same situation of a game you dislike.
-- Blood only
. I do not play party games and will generally only play family or gateway games under protest. My preference is to simply avoid those games and somewhat even the people who play them, and when that's not possible, to sit out until something worth playing hits the table.
-- Game first
. When at a game group I'm there to game, not socialise. Socialising is fine and I enjoy it, but that's not what I'm there for -- let's play! The gaming comes first and second. The socialising and shared experience maybe comes fourth. I'd rather play a game I love with people I dislike than a game I dislike with people I like. If your friends/game group won't play the games you like, get a more amenable game group or friends.
-- Poker chips
. I always use poker chips
for the money in games, no matter what components the original game did or didn't come with. Monopoly money and little coins are simply not worth the hassle. If you don't have poker chips, play something else.
Recommended poker chip distributions of various sizes:100-count -- recommended for almost all Eurogames and the like: Count Value Total Sum Total
White 40 $1 $40 $40
Red 30 $5 $150 $190
Green 25 $25 $625 $815
Black 5 $100 $500 $1315
100~300 count (put the overflow in a card-well in the chip case), recommended for all but the larger 18xx: Count Value Total Sum Total
White 75 1 75 75
Red 73 5 365 440
Gray 78 20 1560 2000
Black 50 100 5000 7000
Purple 36 500 18000 25000
312~1,000-count -- recommended for the larger 18xx: Count Value Total Sum Total
White 200 1 200 200
Red 250 5 1250 1450
Gray 300 20 6000 7450
Black 200 100 20000 27450
Orange 100 500 50000 77450
Purple 100 2000 200000 277450
-- Right/Left binding bad, variable turn order good
. Player left of the newbie wins
is a death knell, as is leaving it up to the player to the right of the leader to stop the leader. No thanks. 'Nuff said.
-- All games are abstract
. Theme is just a source of convenient nouns and verbs for explaining a game. Once in play all games are abstract. Narrative is emergent and occurs in the player's heads; it does not require the game to explicitly support it.
-- Tabula rasa
. The only thing that should enter the game is the players and their knowledge. The only things that may leave the game are the players and the results. Every game begins and ends on a perfectly blank slate. Emotions, history, relationships, outside considerations, metagames, social contexts, cultural considerations and all the rest of that claptrap and the people who wish to carry it with them have no place in the games I play.
-- Play the game
. The only things that are allowable in the game are the bits of the game itself and the players with their knowledge and skills. Unless explicitly cleared before-hand the only acceptable goal of a player in a game is winning or some suitable approximation of that if winning is no longer possible (ranking, absolute score, percentage of winner's score, etc). All other considerations are not part of the game. Once in a game players are merely resources to be exploited in the pursuit of victory just like any other game resource. Adding external considerations like friendship to a game is unacceptable metagaming. Out of the game more social considerations may hold but that has no relevance inside the game.
. Negotiation is only acceptable in games if the rules explicitly allow it or negotiation has been explicitly cleared and accepted by the players before the game starts. With rare exception if a game doesn't explicitly allow negotiation in the rules I will not allow negotiation when playing it.
-- Exponential rating
. My game ratings are according to an exponential scale (Okay, a small base). Yes, I consider a game with a rating of 5 to be exponentially better than a game with a rating of 4, likewise for the difference between a rating of 9 and 8. I do not rate any games a 10 but two player two colour Blokus probably comes closer to that target than any other game.
-- Start player
. I almost exclusively play the remainder game to pick start players. Number the players in rotation starting with 0. Have each player stick out some number of fingers on a count of three. Add up the fingers and get the modulo of the total number of fingers by the number of players (remainder after division). The player with that number is the start player. The requirements that drive use of the remainder game are:
b) Deterministic results
c) Actually random
d) Short execution time (linear with the number of players)
e) Works with any number of players in any situation
f) Works with any game in any situation
g) Is clearly auditable by all concerned
Note: Properly the number of fingers displayed by the players should be in the range of zero to one less than some multiple of the number of players, otherwise there's a bias toward the #0 player and descending to his left. I don't consider this bias large enough to add this complexity to the instructions.