The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings

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Social Deduction Schema - Part One

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How do we describe social deduction games? Beyond the obvious breakdown of "the ones I like" and "all the others," there seem to be a couple more underlying dimensions that can categorize them in ways that make it easier for me to articulate what I do and don't like. I wouldn't say they're full-scale dimensions that are completely independent of each other, but rather various adjectives that can in some cases be opposites, or in some cases label a specific category.

I consider Werewolf to be the progenitor of the modern social deduction genre, with perhaps a time jump separating it from spinoffs such as Bang! and The Resistance. There are also a couple games that seem to fall near, but not exactly under, this umbrella (New Salem). As a starting point, let's say that a social deduction game is one where you're issued a secret identity near the start of the game, these identities determine your win condition, and some or all of them fall into factions/teams.

Closed versus Open

Most traditional, competitive board games have very discrete turns. On my turn, I move my pawn or draw two cards or place a worker, and then it's the next player's turn. Sometimes this fosters indirect interaction ("hey, you took my spot!"). And sometimes, the turns are more open-ended; in Catan, even when it's "my turn," I can open the floor to anyone who's willing to trade with me, which is a more direct form of interaction.

In social deduction games, there can be a lot more "free-for-all"ness. The long "day" phases of werewolf feature very little turn-taking, although players are forced to make a decision when voting phases come along. But mostly players are left to talk amongst themselves to root out evils, or deceive goods, in their own way and at their own volume. I'll call this an open game.

Something like Emergence, however, is more closed: players have fixed rules for what actions they can take, when, and where. Of course you can argue and accuse people in between this, but once I've indicated my action, I need to move to an adjacent hex and possibly claim a resource.

Purity and lack thereof

In standard werewolf, the win conditions are pretty easy to define: the village wins by eliminating all the werewolves, and the werewolves win if this doesn't happen (within a certain number of rounds). Basic Resistance is a bit more complex, but in the same vein: the rebels will win if they send three passing missions, which will certainly happen if they can correctly identify all the other rebels (although it can also happen if a couple spies float early on, collide and double-pass, etc). However, the spies will win if they send three failing missions, which they will do if even one spy is continuously trusted by most rebels enough to get on the last mission! Avalon, Hunters, etc. complicate this.

I'll call these games relatively pure, not in the sense that they are necessarily more enjoyable or morally superior than others, but that their win conditions are fairly simple to describe. Uninformed majority: wants to discover who's who, informed minority: wants to prevent this. The informed minority's goal, therefore, is to act as much like a member of the uninformed majority as possible, to gain trust.

From now on I'll probably use "good" and "evil" interchangeably with "uninformed majority" and "informed minority," if the game in question has these factions (not all of them do!). Werewolves are not "evil" because they eat villagers (some villagers are tasty, they had it coming), but because they have to lie and pretend to be villagers. And many people find that kind of lying more cognitively demanding than the deduction process of being a villager.

So I think most people would agree that, although it has teams, werewolf is not a cooperative game. The basic mechanic requires a lynch mob (or whatever the politically correct term for it these days). Yet, there are several games that meet my definition of "social deduction" that could also be called "cooperative with a traitor." Shadows over Camelot and Dark Moon are examples of these. I'll call them crunchy games (by the standards of social deduction!).

In some ways, these are similar to true cooperative games like Pandemic, where the struggle is that of all the players versus the board. In Shadows over Camelot people are running around gathering swords and removing catapults, in Dark Moon repairing systems and resolving crises. (Dead of Winter is similar, but with some caveats. See part II.) These have significantly more crunch than "I think A is a rebel so I want her to go on the team, thumbs up." For the good guys, the win condition is achieved by beating the game, which requires cooperation and teamwork. For the bad guys, the win condition is not letting this happen.

But the bad guys don't need to stay hidden to win! In fact, they can win even after being exposed as bad guys, and in some cases gain new powers. This can make it fun to play the second half of the game as a revealed traitor. (Source: I seem to draw traitor all the time in these.)

There is a downside, however, which comes in the first half of the game. Sometimes goods will just get a bad hand of cards, and they'll have to say "well, I couldn't contribute much to that round, but it's just bad luck, I really am good please trust me. " This is necessary in order for there to be genuine uncertainty about who is evil. But on the evil's part, they have to play like an incompetent villager: "oh I just tried to find the Holy Grail but I tripped over my horse oopsies" This is subjective, but I think the challenge of playing "like a good guy who just has terrible cards" is less engaging overall than the challenge of "I really am a villager, here is me hunting and looking shiny" while eating people at night. (The latter is hard. But interesting!)

Not all games even have the concept of an informed minority. In Two Rooms and a Boom, the Blue Team and the Red Team have (roughly) equal character powers; in Shadow Hunters, the Shadows and the Hunters are chosen to be equal in number. You might consider bombing heads of state or being a vampire to be thematically evil actions, but, you know, from their point of view the political establishment is evil. Let's call these symmetric examples of the social deduction genre.

And there are also examples of games that feature an "informed majority!" Maybe they're not all informed of each other (that would be pretty broken), but they're all in on a secret that the uninformed minority has to act like they know. (Spyfall, Fake Artist.) I'll call these inverted since they switch up the usual uninformed majority/informed minority paradigm.

For iterative, obscurant, and “almost-but-not-quite social deduction” games, stay tuned for part II!
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Tue Jul 2, 2019 3:55 am
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"Defies Description of a Game"

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Some background: I don't really rate games on BGG. In 2015 I was compiling a list of my then top-25 games, and so at that point I assigned a bunch of numerical ratings to games to make sure they were consistent. Then I stepped away from BGG for a couple years. When I came back, I did a couple "relative rank" lists, and may do so in the future, but without the "absolute rank" quantification.

During that time, BGG switched the format of the game pages to trim down the descriptions of what different rankings mean, but the originals are still there--if you go to your own "collections" page, edit a game ranking, then hover over the (i) information icon, you get a listing from "10 - Outstanding, always want to play and expect this will never change" to "1 - Defies description of a game, you won't catch me dead playing this, clearly broken."

So in my limited sample size, I only gave out the harsh 1 ranking once. Why? And what is the "description of a game" that this product defies? A tangential discussion on "the difficulty level of co-ops" brought this back to light, so let's see. Complete with wall of text and many thought experiments!

*

There are many products that modern gamers like myself might agree to be bad games, and yet also agree they are still board games as opposed to something else. What are they? When I browse BGG games by geek rating, the bottom 3 (with enough rankings to qualify) are Candy Land, Chutes and Landers, and Tic-Tac-Toe. Tic-Tac-Toe is a completely deterministic game like Chess, but it's trivial for most people above the age of 5 because the optimal strategy is well-known. The other two, however, are completely chance-based; there's no way for players to make meaningful decisions, and the winner is entirely decided by the luck of the draw. 584 out of 3402 people rate Candy Land a 1, and 742 out of 3134 do so for Chutes and Ladders.

But turn that around; this means that about 83% (76%) of people believe Candy Land (Chutes and Ladders) is at least a 2! 2s are not good games: they might be "Extremely annoying game" or "Very bad, won't ever play again," but they're still games! They have rules, they have a fixed turn order, and they have a winner. And the winner isn't predetermined before the game wins.

If you would consider both of these to be non-games, you can probably stop reading for a while/the rest of the post, I'm not sure how interesting these thought experiments will be if you don't accept this definition. But it does seem to be a definition accepted by many people.

So these games, trivial as they are, are examples of traditional/competitive games, in which there's only one winner and everyone is out for themselves. But cooperative games, such as Pandemic, are surely games too in the BGG sense. Can we design a cooperative game that's just as strategically boring as these?

Sure! How about "Co-op Chutes and Ladders: Players take turns moving their pawns as in traditional Chutes and Ladders. If one player reaches the end within ten moves, the entire team wins; if nobody does, the team loses." If Chutes and Ladders is a game, so is this; there's an unambiguous win condition, and whether the players will achieve it is an open question.

Well, this game is kind of long for what it is. So let's streamline it. "Co-op #2: The team rolls a six-sided dice. If the result is 1 or 2, the team wins; if not, the team loses." Again, this is a terrible game, but it seems at least as much a game as Co-op Chutes and Ladders.

So that said, let's talk about Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination.

Machine of Death is one of the best examples of the "if you spend more energy explaining the theme than mechanics, it's probably not a very good game" proto-generalization. The game is inspired by (or vice versa?) a short story anthology in which a superintelligent machine can give cryptic predictions on everyone's cause of death. (Does "fork" refer to being stabbed with one, eating poisoned food with one, taking a wrong turn at one in the road?) Some people choose to learn their fates, some do not.

The premise of the game is that the group draws a set of cards representing one individual's demise, as well as randomly generating whether the person knows about this prediction (and thus will be trying to avoid those objects), or not. Then, they need to (cooperatively) decide on a semi-plausible way in which that death could occur.

So far, this seems perfectly entertaining...as an improv skit generator, for instance. In improv, the audience might yell out three random names, and then the group is tasked with going with it, no matter how silly it may seem. So I don't think it's fair to, as some have, characterize this process as only enjoyable for extraverted neurotypicals; I think lots of personalities could enjoy the process of generating a morbid story from random parameters.

But that's only an open-ended activity. Where does the game mechanic come in? Well, the group needs to decide, as a group, what the relative difficulty of getting that assassination plan to go off is, on a scale of two to six. Then they roll a die (ohoho), and if the number is above or equal to the difficulty, it's a win; if not, it's a loss.

To me, there's a fundamental issue here, namely that the mechanism for determining difficulty (which is the only mechanical aspect of this game) is entirely under the players' control. For one thing, it's supposed to be a co-op game, and who's to say everyone will agree? Some people will always be more on the side of "yeah, we're great at this, make this an easy one," and others will always be more on the side of "I don't want to appear self-interested, better make it hard just to be safe." There's no objective way to getting them to agree with one another. Beyond that, of course, different people will have different evaluations of the scenario, maybe depending on how much their ideas were incorporated, etc.

So to me, that "defies description of a game." Having the win conditions be outside the players' control--whether set by a non-player GM, a "puzzly" deck like Pandemic, or even a stupid randomization process like the hypothetical games above--seems to be fundamental to meet the definition of a game. In competitive games, some of this is built in by the requirement for each faction to be able to win, which requires at least some level of symmetry. It would be hard to say "okay, I just need to roll a 2+ to win, you need to roll a 6" if you want people to ever play with you. But with a co-op, where the only constraints are self-imposed, it seems futile. So I think this is what some people are getting at when they ask for stricter rules in co-ops versus competitive games.

Machine of Death also comes with a variant in which one person is a "GM," of sorts, and the others are all competing individually. Each player gets their own set of prompts, comes up with a scenario, and then the GM assigns them a difficulty rating to roll against. I would say that this meets my threshold for gaminess, although it's still not a very good one, and the GM might have a negative experience in that they have to sit out.

A corollary would be, what about video games, or games like Pandemic where you choose the difficulty level at the beginning? I guess I would say to the latter, there are still meaningful decisions to be made once the game gets underway/you've chosen the number of epidemics. In Machine of Death, there's nothing of this sort.
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Fri Jun 7, 2019 12:16 am
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Strategicon: Gamex 2019

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Once more unto the regional convention!

Friday

As I discovered last time, the "collectibles" room can have a variety of random stuff. People were demoing KeyForge: Call of the Archons, the "computer automatically generates a deck for you" hotness. I got to be the Arctic Singer of Elktrack, featuring a couple Pawn Sacrifices, which was fun (and some powerful shadow beasts that protect their neighbors). It felt like a close game but the other guy pulled it out. Then he gave me a couple new packs! Which was great, although my goal for the con was to try to get rid of stuff...

I love Dread, and the RPG of Star Crossed being run was in the same mold. This was a simultaneous set of two-player Jenga-block romances all occurring on the same space station and informing each other. I was a management droid paired with a moth-looking alien and our attempts at making a connection amid the corporate downsizing ended in disaster. (Unlike Dread, this requires you to touch the tower without pulling when your character is speaking dialogue. You'd think this wouldn't be so hard, but...)

More puzzle playtesting from the Escape Room in a Box people. They have a hard task, in my opinion--making freestanding puzzles that can ideally be solved within five minutes, without being too easy or too difficult, that are pasted into an ongoing adventure/game/quest thing with a lot of superfluous flavor text. All the best to them, but this seems a high order.

Monopoly Deal Card Game: second in my first-round group, then third in the finals (out of four, so it was like "she won, and now he won, okay guess it's down to just us." But hey, it got me a ribbon, so can't complain. The same GM ran Love Letter and despite a hot start I went out in the first round.

Then Seven Blunders, which is just like 7 Wonders except you're competing for the lowest score. (I think from the same punsters that gave us Sushi No!) 3rd at a table of 5, either way you count it.

The Escape Room people were also testing a circus-themed social deduction game. It made me appreciate how most of my favorite games in that genre have an inherent progression towards an end point: Resistance has a finite number of missions and votes, in Werewolf people die and that moves along the "game clock." This game...did not. There's just endless rounds of trades, and very little opportunity to get concrete information about people's allegiances. The one time the group did get some information, it went to a good guy who didn't understand that it was safe and in fact pro-her-win con to share it; meanwhile, I was a blind traitor, and my partner (who knew me) made no effort to communicate with me, so I played the first half of the game assuming that someone else was on my team, because he was the only one really talking to me while the other three (who knew each other out of game) all traded. At the risk of sounding elitist, this prototype was not a good game to play with newbies to the genre.

Saturday

Got crushed in Ticket to Ride: France, but did much better in the original, winning in the first round despite some congestion along the long Canadian routes. (I got to use my own board so maybe home train advantage?) In the finals, I missed out on the ten points for longest route by one train...and then lost to that guy by eight points. But he was the GM, which meant he was not eligible to win the "dealer dollar" prize, so I actually got the first place payout! Despite offloading some old games at the auction, between this and Keyforge I was not feeling great about trying to leave with fewer games than I started with...

Intrigued by The Acts, but eesh, the color scheme. I get that they were trying to go with muted greens and browns and stuff because first-century Judea, etc, but it came out even more washed-out than intended. I don't usually have color-discrepancy issues with games, but I definitely moved the wrong piece at least once (although maybe that was inattentiveness). Also the art felt kind of cluttered, and like, the prayer location doesn't get blocked unlike other worker locations, so maybe that should have a different symbol or area or something to indicate it?

On the other hand, the rules do ensure that regardless of player count, the game always begins with twelve disciples on the board, so that was a nice touch.

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"Lydia traded in purple cloth, what's their excuse" -my mom when I told her about this game, pretty much

Young GM led Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition), and though I prefer the first edition's mechanics, I was glad to play the individual game instead of the raucous, kid-skewing real-time version. I had the character power that let me steal bullets from people, and was lucky/paying enough attention to do so successfully several times, but finished well out of contention.

Then...well, the most interesting thing going on was the raucous, kid-skewing real-time version. :/ I teamed up with a family whose surname lent itself well to a punny team name (team names are hard, okay, everyone seems to agree on this), but freaked out when one of the other guys lambasted me for getting the timing of my aim wrong. Despite this we finished second (out of four), and I got the ribbon because my teammates weren't going to take it. All about those ribbons.

Wandered around open gaming and managed to interject myself into a group that was looking for something to do; we realized that we all knew and liked Ticket to Ride, so we borrowed Team Asia from the library and went for it. Both teams avoided the northeast (Chinese border control was tight) and got in each others' way, but we both managed to complete plenty of tickets. The other team won.

Late-night Wingspan had a lot of signups but there was room for me despite the scarcity of copies. A couple of the more experienced players went with frequent flocking strategies, but a newbie's dominance of the round bonuses let him win.

"Motherflocker!" "No, it's not a mother, there's no egg on that card anymore." "Fatherflocker!"

Sunday

Slow start after a headache but I slowly improved throughout the day. There's this group that has been doing various game shows, and I sat in on part of one last time, but the audience couldn't really play along. This time, however, they advertised Countdown (the British numbers and letters show) as being open to everyone. I'd played online a couple times (one of my internet acquaintances from another site was on the real thing in 2010), so I was able to get up to speed quickly. Despite the migraine, I was good with both the arithmetic and anagram components, and held a five-point lead going into the last round, which made it a CRUCIAL COUNTDOWN CONUNDRUM.

The letters were STOPHYENA, and I scribbled down various health-condition looking things: enphy...? asphytone? Someone guessed HYPOTENUSE, which, no. Finally with a few seconds left I realized it was PANTYHOSE and pulled out a convincing win!

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Hung out with the Stupid Users: BETA demoers, not a super deep game but they're nice people who I've seen around. Then onto Manila with some enthusiastic newcomers. (The GM, who runs this often, is the father of the guy who ran Cash and Guns the night before.) I came in second by eight points, for a few more dealer dollars.

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When it's the last round you have to bet on the 2 for 15.

One of the others invited us to be the first to play his new fanmade map...Ticket to Ride: Westeros.

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We didn't play with these mean cards, but note that George R.R. Martin lets you kill any special card and remove it from the game...

Another guy had come up with the base map (mostly standard, but with "shipwrecks" that are a little bit like mountain routes in Europe/Asia), but Brandon added on with bonus cards. You take one, play it on your turn to give you some bonus, then immediately draft a different one. So some will let you draw face-up cards out of turn, some let you build a route with one less card, some are just straight bonus points. At the end of the game I got stuck with Faceless Men, which lets a girl play a set of matching cards as if they were a different color for some route of the correct length. This sounds good but in practice was bad, because I had more of the colors I needed anyway than any others (but not enough), and I couldn't play a route to swap it for a good card. So I got frustrated that I couldn't complete my last route. Brandon was like "oh, now I'm worried you had a bad experience your first time playing my game," and I'm like "...I have a migraine, it's never gonna be a great experience, but it's well-designed." Even though I've only seen a few episodes, I was able to make a few thematic jokes, so that was worth it anyway.

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Came out of it with only a headache and a bruised sense of pride, which I understand is better than 90% of the characters in Game of Thrones.

Had to get rid of those dealer dollars, so I splurged on "Filibuster," which I'd played at earlier cons. I'm not sure if it'll work mechanically (I've never played a full-length game), but the theme is spot-on, and my brother wants to work in political campaigns so I figure I can always give it to him to use as a drinking game.

Wandering around open gaming, saw a Base Roll demo. I was wearing my ubiquitous Cubs sweatshirt so obviously I could be like "yes, I know how baseball works." We played the simple mode of the game and it was a bit...too simple, lots of thematic dice rolling and tension but not much in the way of interesting decisions. It was not obvious at first that while cards from the public pool were a finite resource, cards from one's hand could be burned through and replenished often. Oh well.

New Salem: Second Edition was very good! It's an individual winner game, so it's not true "social deduction," but there are "Puritan" and "witch" factions that have conflicting goals to be eligible to win. The tension of trusting the Constable with hope to make "pro-good" decisions was good. We busted one witch early via an Interrogation and put her on Trial, but then a later constable reported via Hysteria that there was another witch in the game. Truth or bluffing? The last constable was like, "give me your hope, I'll burn down the outed witch's buildings," and I had to patiently be like "I'm not giving any more hope and I don't think you guys should either. I've seen the witch's card and I know she's correctly on trial, that will reduce our despair even if another witch escapes and increases it. So witches cannot win. I am not giving an unknown power that she could use to backstab me." Sure enough, the constable was a witch who got thwarted, so I felt like I'd argued successfully even though one of my fellow Puritans got more points than me.

Then I got to talking with the designer and it turned out we went to high school in adjacent suburbs in Minnesota, small world.

Again tried my luck in open gaming, saw a few guys sitting down to read the rules of Sapiens, which is a cross between Kingdomino domino-type mechanics and Rise of Tribes theme, while being more complicated and harder to grasp than either. One of the other guys misunderstood the details of the mammoth tile versus mountain-action bonus, so he missed out on food at the end, which would have let him pull ahead of me, so as it was we tied.

We weren't in the mood to read more rules, but I realized they had just bought The Acts, so I quickly taught that. This time I won.

(The premise is different disciples each competing to have the most individual followers, which seems like something Paul would have gotten snarky about. Also, Paul, how do you not know if you've baptized anyone else? Are you performing baptisms in your sleep???)

In bittersweet news, this was probably my last Strategicon, at least for the medium term; I'm leaving the LA area and waiting to see where I'll get a job and settle down. Thanks to all the GMs, teammates, and opponents who have made it such a wonderful experience over the years.
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Tue May 28, 2019 2:16 am
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Shirts, Late Lynches, Agape

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This one goes out to my homeboy Dake, and all the other wolves who occasionally get sidetracked on this kind of thing.

There's a video mafia league that recruits players from different sites. I backed into representing BGG mostly by process of elimination, and I've enjoyed playing a couple seasons. Some of the other players were recently at a mini-convention to play mafia/werewolf that wasn't too far from my place, and although the commute was kind of a drag, I wanted to meet them. So we met up and played mafia! Our site was one of the larger contingents there, and so one of the admins got us matching T-shirts. I have more than enough T-shirts as it is, but it was free, what's one more among mafia friends?

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(As you can see my number is 64, because...powers of two, and a chessboard, my avatar is a rook, my username on some other sites is based on chess slang. Appreciate my terrible geeky humor, bleepit.)

*

A while back I got into modding werewolf here, very sporadically. The way my life is scheduled (right now, not indefinitely), modding games with a 1:00 AM BGG lynch time is probably something that I can do more easily than a lot of people here, and there's been occasional mention that that's good for some people. (Including, but not limited to, Australian time zones.) Not everyone who's discussed that were ultimately able to play my games, but both of them did fill and run eventually.

I have ideas for other thematic games, in fact I have one in signup as of this writing. (My intent isn't to advertise my own game, though I recognize that it might appear that way; I hope the nature of this post makes it obvious why it feels relevant to mention it.) Do I expect people to rush to sign up for it? No, of course not. Is that a problem? No, of course not.

At the moment, the ratio of willing/interested mods to people who are able and willing to fill games is quite skewed. So, the thing to do in my situation seems to be "recognize that people not signing up for my game isn't a comment on me as a mod or a person, just one incident of a broader pattern." Which I can do! I don't think I'm entitled to get to mod a lot of games just because I have creative ideas. (Link is to the Onion because I thought the headline was funny, it has nothing to do with werewolf though.)

If and when my life schedule changes such that it won't be feasible for me to mod a game at that time, I might remove it from signups for that reason. As of now, though, am I harming anything by leaving it up? I don't think so.

I could take it down just because I think that "there are too many games in signup so someone should delete some, and hey, I'm someone." But I've seen in the past people use this as a passive-aggressive maneuever--"nobody likes me everybody hates me guess I'll go eat worms!! wow if only the other mods could be as selfless and sacrificing as I am!! guess they're just not that cool"--and that's not the message I intend to send.

Likewise, it's also a very bad precedent to say "the people who hate playing most are the ones who get to mod," because that just incentivizes people to overstate their issues with others if they have fun ideas. I recognize that I might not get many chances to play and/or mod, and I'm content with that, because the alternatives are worse.

*

I don't really know what there is to say that I haven't already said here? I don't know, maybe I can repeat myself in the case people haven't read it, but I still can't be like...pithy.

As I said in the general thread, something I consider a religious obligation is to try and "love" everyone (in the sense of "agape," not "philia" or "eros"). So if someone is doing something that really gets on my nerves or violate my sense of fairness, I can step back and say "okay, they probably aren't purposefully doing this because they're out to get me, it's much more likely that they have no ill intent." The loving, neighborly thing to do is to not respond in kind or blow up at them, and I like to think I'm pretty good about living up to that.

But: werewolf is a hobby, a fun chosen activity. I don't and can't like everybody, or share "philia"/platonic camaraderie with them. If someone hurts my principles, I'm not obliged to continue spending time with them. I'm a risk-averse person, and I don't want to run the risk of someone's corrosive emotions ruining my game.

(Concretely, this means in practice I sign up as the last slot if at all. So the "people not wanting to sign up for a game that's far from full if they don't know when it'll run, etc" has fairly specific vicious circle effects here. I'm assuming mods would rather see a game linger half-full and then suddenly jump to fill than for me to go in/out/shake it all about/repeat ad infinitum?)

And, as I've said before, if someone's hurt my principles, or even stood by and enabled others to do so without consequence, I'm not going to speak up. Partly because I don't want to go to that level, partly because the message I've received from the site in general is "we tolerate the lowest common denominator"--I'll probably be the one who looks bad. There's some geek social fallacying going on there.

*

There are other important and often depressing issues in, like, the world, but this blog isn't a place where I talk about them. In my speculation, those don't really infringe on the issues here too much. Again, I'm here as a fun hobby, and if it stops being fun, I stop participating. So whatever the scale of my RL concerns (and I appreciate that they're smaller and more idiosyncratic than many others'), I'm usually able to compartmentalize.

*

So back to t-shirts. Yes, I have too many, I have to set a few standards for buying new ones or I'll drown in them.

However, back before the last CabinCon, I went ahead and said I'd be willing to buy a "I just signed up on Cassandra/[vote nightfall]" shirt. It's cryptic and probably confusing to outsiders, but to me, it would reflect "this is a site I care about, these are our catchphrases and private in-jokes, this is one small expression of who I am." As it happens, the order didn't go through, which is fine, I have more than enough already so I don't need any more. If I have the chance to order one later on, who knows, maybe I will. But there is one thing I definitely will not do, and that is buy the other design, the one that says "came for the game, stayed for the community."

If other people want to wear that, fine, good for them! But that is emphatically not me. I came for the game and I stay (sort of) for the game.

I think something like "community," (like "friendship") is vague enough to be meaningless at times, and at others is used to chilling effect--"I'm your friend [part of your community], so you have to suck it and endure everything I dump on you." For me, and maybe this is just an issue with my word choice, there's a very large middle ground between "friend" and "enemy." Again, just because I don't actively like someone doesn't mean I have a license to insult or demean them. But the absence of that hostility doesn't automatically make you someone I enjoy spending time around.

I've had some not-great experiences on other sites where people who originally signed up for a forum about X become less active and tend to contribute more in the "Everything Else" conversations. Which, of course, is their right! But sometimes, some of those older users give off the vibe of "oh you like X huh, well it's cute that you're into that, but everything that could be said on X has been said *pats head*." That's one reason I sometimes tend to avoid the "Everything Else" subforums, because I'm afraid of inadvertently doing that to the next generation. So commentary on "well the village square is energetic, therefore blah blah blah" doesn't really resonate with me.

I don't have a pithy wrap-up. Just, I am always full of thoughts, if not necessarily a place to dump them.
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Fri May 3, 2019 6:28 pm
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CabinCon Spring 2019

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No mountains, no valleys
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Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
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Microbadge: Crosswords fanMicrobadge: Taboo fanMicrobadge: I record detailed playsMicrobadge: I helped celebrate BGG Werewolf's 10th Anniversary!Microbadge: Ice Cream lover
Another wonderful CabinCon with play-by-forum Werewolf friends!

Thursday

Flew into DC and was picked up by itsbrianyay; we swung by to pick up VikingJ and were on our way. Brian occasionally failed to abide by the speed limits, and when Viking made tangentially related remarks (“well, we seem to be making good time” etc) pretended to overreact. But we did make good time!

We were the second group there and joined the Buffalo-ish contingent for a couple rounds of Shadow Hunters. I was Bryan (neutral who wants to kill high HP guys) in the first game and lost, then George the hunter. maximumsaximum was my fellow hunter and died early, but Viking was Daniel and forced to side with me. Despite the neutral back-and-forths, I eventually perished for the shadow victory.

Kingdom Builder is a game I had learned last time and was excited to try again. I cleaned up hard on the "longest distance between two connected settlements" goal and won against MajaiofDreams and dejojam1.

I had brought Manila, or as Brian referred to it, "that boating game." We taught Majai, who had bought it after Benesephiir's enthusiastic recommendation the previous CabinCon, but had yet to play his own version. They got into enormous bidding wars for the harbormaster role which allowed me to sit back and hoard my pesos for the win, even when Tarrant subbed in for Brian.

The only thing I knew about The Game was that it was related to The Mind, which is one of those "I'm glad it's fun for some people but nooooot gonna give it a try" things for me. The Game is somewhat more structured and less bad. We got to the end and ran out of options, but Maxie continued on, being like "okay well what if we could just skip to so-and-so's turn, then we would..." and I took this rampant and flagrant cheating as an excuse to make my escape.

Big game of Welcome To..., which allowed me to check off a bingo box as my first time playing with nyriv! VikingJ's "Trashville" was the winner there.

There was a Codenames tournament on the schedule. Like many CabinCon events, some things get scheduled and then don't come to fruition, so it wasn't too disappointing when ljtrigirl never got around to hosting an "official" one. As there were several of us who were up for a game, we organized into teams of two and drew our own bracket...only to be stymied by the fact that only two Codenames word cards had been packed. (A full slate of the grids, though!) So we turned to online generators and persevered. Viking and I were partners, eliminated by xandryyte and nyriv in the best-of-three opening round.

Friday

For the first couple nights I roomed with the Richmond crew of Quaseymoto, TFang, and xand. The former two are fairly early risers, and Quasey was tasked with finding a game for the morning crowd that was both "pretty social and light" but also "had actual win conditions." Lost Legacy fit the bill, and allowed other people to join in as they woke up. The Lord of Rot became a powerful (and amusing) strategy in a combined deck, and TFang pulled out the win.

Then onto Yokohama, another "placing dudes and trading goods in a real-world city name" installment. I guess I got a little frustrated with the fishing ports being blocked, no hard feelings though. Fang won this one as well.

"Why does the UK want copper, why can't it want something I have access to, like tea."
"Well, it's the US who needs tea, they threw all of theirs in the ocean."

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Quaseymoto and TFang: "okay, then you're screwed."

Dread was also "scheduled but not really scheduled." When I kind of backed into running it, I decided I needed to be firmer than usual for CabinCon and was like "we are running at four on Saturday, be there or be a rectangular prism thing."

We had a fun group of lunar colonists, and the collaborative roleplaying was wonderful. There wasn't actually much in the way of dramatic pulls: lj's secret weapons agent wound up making most of the pulls, nobody died, and the players solved their problems (a weird bacterial breakout, possibly but not necessarily lunar lycantrophy) by contacting the appropriate authorities and not exposing themselves to much danger. So a little anticlimactic, but still fun (I hope). Maybe with more warning next time, whenever next time is, I'll have a better plot built out. Or maybe not.

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Before...

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and after

dejo had liked Kingdom Builder enough to try again, and she won the next round. (We got several turns in before we realized "oh there's a new terrain in this expansion that nobody can build on," welp.)

Played a couple rounds of CrossTalk, which is in the burgeoning Codenames genre of "clue things that relate to other things." (I also played a couple rounds of Wavelength--I'll talk about that more when I get to a full game, but for now you should know that dejo, who is from New Zealand, mentioned the current New Zealand prime minister in one of her clues.)

If I sound harsh on these or some of their cousins here, I'm just trying to pick apart what makes some of them work versus not work for me. Usually in these games there can be several people trying to receive/interpret the clues at once. In Crosstalk, I felt like we hit diminishing returns with player count. Like, "it could be this maybe, Madeline do you have anything to add"? "Uh, not really."

Somewhere in here was the (Halloween) costume contest. I was Sexy Prime Numbers (Halloween is a big deal in the math department) and managed to win “best holiday-themed costume,” since Quaseymoto was lobbying for Pi Day. Contiguity as the Xylophone Werewolf and whirlingdervish as an astronaut were also very impressive.

Then it was time for Cabin in the Woods werewolf! I was a normal Cabin Guest (Villager), and started reading Benes as good the first day, so I followed him to vote Stonecutter. Little did we know there would be a five-way tie! lj asked the uninvolved participants to revote, at the risk of killing all the people who remained tied; we averted catastrophe and narrowly lynched a villager. To help prevent a reoccurence, she had everyone who died the first cycle (all goods) nominate a living player who would break ties if it happened again. "Well what if that person is up for lynch?" "Then they won't kill themselves, hopefully."

I went back and forth on my reads of Benes and Stone--was it a dichotomy? Day Two, after many tally corrections, ended with another tie, between TFang, Stone, and xand--and sure enough, Fang was the tiebreaker! Despite having been voting stone, TFang flipped on the read, and governated the lynch to xand, a max evil!

Night three there was no kill, which meant there was some kind of conversion mechanism in play. By day four I was whispering to Benes "people are saying you don't sound like a villager, want to claim? I am a villager." "Okay, I'm not a villager." "Uh...I guess that really doesn't help all that much." But I must have started trusting him and went back on my stone read, because at the end of the day Stone was like "who are you voting?" "You! " "Me?! You think I converted?" "No, no, I think TFang converted, but I want to hunt for a starting evil today." "You think I converted TFang?" "Sure! You or one of your evil pals, I dunno how the mechanic works." Despite this the village wound up lynching contig, the last starting evil, so that was that! The Facility (evil-tending neutrals) had not gotten the benefits of conversion, so they got to try to guess the remaining good specials to secure a win. "If we get one wrong will you just put us out of our misery?" "Sure." "Okay. Madeline?" "Nope, she's a villager, heh."

Played some more Shadow Hunters as karaoke was starting up. dejo the Werewolf died (but of course), and then I died as Emi the hunter. Didn't stick around to watch, but it sounds like the neutrals won.

Karaoke was a blast, once again. I sang "What About Everything?" by Carbon Leaf (great band, also they are from Virginia, so I will recommend their Virginia-themed songs if I'm carpooling through). I forget who did "Shut Up And Dance," but it was great.

LJ had some great werewolf-themed parodies (instead of "in my head, zombies" we got "in the thread, werewolves"!). So I decided to add my less raucous, but personally meaningful, riff on "Burn" from Hamilton, from the perspective of the capricious Cassandra Project werewolf bot. (Originally written 2017 in the Wolfy threads. You can see the grains of some of the ideas that would develop here but that I hadn't really found a place to share.) Thank you guys for being quiet enough to listen to my lyrics!

There was also a rollicking sea shanty about nautical implements.

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maximumsaximum gives a PSA: "Trust me, I'm almost a doctor"

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"Satisfied": ljtrigirl as Hamilton, Netslummer as Angelica, Quaseymoto as Eliza, whirlingdervish as the chorus

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Irina_Phoenix and stonecutter, partners in song

I wanted to stay up for the "traditional" close-out songs, but the group showed no sign of slowing down as it grew close to 3, and Quasey basically told me it was okay to go to sleep. I appreciate him looking out for me despite his significant alcohol intake!

Sunday

Woke up early enough for a walk with the morning crew (not necessarily by design, but it was pretty).

Learned Pandemic: Fall of Rome. cvb2009 had a cool player power that, among other things, let him draw three cards from the player deck and discard one to the top at the end of his turn, as opposed to the usual draw two. So he kept drawing three cards, one of which would be a "Revolt" (Epidemic) and kept putting them on top for DeMorcerf to draw on his turn. "I feel like I'm being set up..." DeMo complained. Found the hidden traitor! We were able to ally with all the tribes (cure the diseases) for a standard-level win.

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That feel when everyone teleports to share cards and you're out manning the front lines

Just One is a word-cluing game we play via forum sometimes, I prefer the RL pacing. I failed on guessing one of my words (went for a less-classy form of the correct "manure") but we seemed to work pretty well as a group. I like this well enough; each player is working independently, and adding more players isn't necessarily for the best because duplicates can be an issue.

Then there was the now-traditional Game Show. I'd been hesitant about participating the previous time, but wound up enjoying myself and doing well, so I jumped in again. The first round was current-ish events, including werewolf role events, so I felt good about that, and made educated guesses about some others. (Plus recognizing one new song only because it was in a baseball commercial!)

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The question was about New Zealand, and dejo had just clued the prime minister the day before. cvb: "I think you've got this."

I wound up winning the first round, which put a target on my back and gave me some winner bonuses that wound up snowballing later. I tried to downplay it, people have led in these kinds of things without going onto win, but it beat the alternative! I felt much better about the Christmas songs category than the similar-formatted TV Theme Songs category last time around.

With five players left, we got to HOLIDAY Scattergories. whirlingdervish and I tied for last; we had lost points for both putting Independence Day for a holiday. So we needed a "quick" runoff with I words/phrases. Something related to winter? We both thought of "icicles" but in the few seconds remaining, I came up with "indoor sports" which was four points, and his answer also had four points. Welp. Something related to werewolf? "Idiot villager"/"Interesting role mechanics." Tied again! Something, anything related to holidays? "Idolatry"/"Indigenous Peoples' Day." Okay, even the mods were starting to get frustrated at this. Any board game? "Innovation: Echoes of the Past"...? Whirling didn't come up with one, and so on the fourth tiebreaker, I squeaked by.

Won the Easter Egg hunt despite that, and that brought us to holiday-themed Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I breezed through the first few questions, but then got stumped on "which is not true about Oktoberfest?" Is it (not): "a 16-18 day folk festival"? "celebrates beer and sausages"? "sometimes begins in September"? "originated in Munich, Germany"? All of those sounded right to me. Time to use a lifeline.

The good news was, as the winner, I had first dibs on phoning a friend--and we had a European in the cabin, annab from Sweden! So I brought her in, and she confidently said it was the September one. Deferring to her judgment, I went with that, only to find it was the beer and sausages one. Just sausages, not beer. Oops!

Brianyay was next up, and he was stymied by the "Twelve Days of Christmas" one. "Who would I even call for this? TFang, or is it too secular? I'd call you but obviously I can't." A lifeline helped him...but then he got to the Oktoberfest one. "Is it a trick question because it's not beer, just sausages? Nah, they wouldn't do that." (I sat in the background trying to keep a straight face.) "Okay, 50/50..." did not really help because the audience was almost 25/25/25/25. So he too guessed, and was wrong. Tied again!

Quaseymoto went last, and, spoiler alert, failed on the Oktoberfest question. So we all got/had to answer all of them for "best overall" score. This led to liturgical calendar nitpicking (how long is Lent, really? 40 days? Well more than 40. But less than 55...), but ultimately, Quasey and I snuck through. We had an epic showdown in Time's Up/Celebrities/that cluing phrases from a hat game, and he prevailed to be the champion!

Call to Adventure was a pretty fun game, except for the “never knowing which dice things to pick up” issue. I’m not much of an RPG person, but this was structured and competitive while still allowing for some fun elaboration on the flavor text. Ryagic won this.

We had 17 people signed up for the Christmas-themed hidden roles game, which is a great number, but a little questionable for multi-village mechanics with a double lynch and nightkill. So the mods had one village lynch, while the other village made “naughty” and “nice” lists with unknown purpose, and the second village had the nightkill. I was The Grinch (max evil, bodyguard/blocker type), and wolves with ljtrigirl in “the sleepy village.” The mechanical stuff meant we had a slow start of “actual” hunting, particularly given an unfortunate emotional blowup. (On the plus side, that did allow us to make Good Friday instead of Christmas allusions…?) But I seemed to be pretty well-read by the time we collapsed, and lj was able to give a believable good read on me. I was pushing hard that cvb was good, he’d sounded genuine to me the first day and we’d almost nightkilled him. He gave me a “present” that happened to be a governor power, awesome! Things didn’t look great for us at collapse, from what I could see; the other village had already killed two auxes and the only remaining max from their side, Tarrant, was outed, and there was some kind of seer power floating around? Plus people were saying all of them were kind of clear because of claiming magical present views? But the living seer type (xandryyte) turned out to be a spent OPG thing, and the previous “views” were from a cool mechanic that let seer whirlingdervish distribute them to the nice list, so that village got paranoid of each other and we went along with it. And then it turned out cvb was an aux, so we more than had vote control by the end!

Sunday

The Shipwreck Arcana with the morning crew, fun game. We won!

Learned Custom Heroes The wording of the player aids was a little confusing, it says “go out first with 10+ points to win.” Well, TFang went out first in the second round (and the first round), going over the top with 10 points. “No, it means I have to have 10 points before a round starts and then go out first, or accumulate 10 via a bet. You guys will all have more energy than me so I won’t win this next round.” Spoilers: TFang won the next round.

Got a few rounds into Marrying Mr. Darcy before I realized that it wasn’t for me. Maybe if I’d read “Pride and Prejudice” I’d enjoy it more, but even the other players seemed to advertise it as more an experience than a competition, and a lot of stuff came down to a dice roll at the end. Which, we could modify slightly, but still kind of random. And then we had to go through the entire event deck to get there, so every game would see the same cards?

I think it illustrates just how hard it is to design a game, because the designers obviously know and love their theme and a lot of effort went into making the events unique and thematic. But as a competition, for me, it just fell flat. Anyway, I won, yay?

A few rounds of Crossfire which is a little too chaotic/arbitrary for me. Then Wingspan, which my aunt had sent me a newspaper article about! It’s a little like Isle of Skye in that each round has different bonuses, so I was like “they’re all going to be going for the forest goal in the first round, I’ll just not do that so I can compete for others,” but then I was scrambling just to get bits of food. itsbrianyay went heavy on an egg strategy, and we actually ran out of egg tokens during play (substituting food, it sounds as if there wasn’t intended to be a limit), but he was still surprised when he won.

Pictomania sounded like a fairly light/silly game, and laughs were laughed, but it actually worked surprisingly well as a game? The increasing abstractness of the cards was good, plus the “this is probably a moral value, but what if it’s human resources from the business departments?” issue. I wasn’t thinking in the first round and guessed the number card that I had (although for a different column, thankfully), but managed to do pretty well later on.

A full game of Wavelength this time. I think as a guesser I still prefer Codenames, maybe because it’s more discrete? You can say “I think X” and your teammate can go “well I think Y” and there’s only a limited number of choices to go between. (Decrypto is similar, albeit with pointing and whispering instead of talking out loud.) With this it’s just “ehhhh okay.” I also found the “print and play” spinner (really a crude Styrofoam thing) to be pretty difficult to use, but genuine thanks to Majai for bringing it along!

The potential for silly, subjective clues is amusing:
On a scale from pleasurable to painful: “a threesome with Majai and Benes at CabinCon, but you have to leave on Wednesday.” (Majai’s response was “okay that would be pleasurable but there are a lot more pleasurable things in the world,” and he underestimated it!)
From good man to bad man: “Hitler, killing puppies with his buddy Satan, while drowning...everyone.”

Kami-sama; placing shrines to honor the blizzard/luck/frog/tree deities. In the latter two years there’s a lot of blocking and having to destroy other people’s stuff since the board was full, but the first year felt kind of a slow start. “I will complete this easy goal, and then I will move to this other village to complete it again, and then I will move...” DeMo’s flips of fortune let him win.

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DeMorcerf and itsbrianyay

Some tough games of Decrypto where both sides struggled to understand their own clues; we lost on miscommunication after three rounds in the first game, and our opponents did in the second. Majai was amused that, when cvb would clue the other team, dejo and Irina leaned way in to whisper while cvb just sat there.

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A quieter moment

Then werewolf time! The “CabinCon ##er” is a kill-heavy set that gets adapted to the player count; we had thirteen that wanted to play. As we were drawing up the roleset, lj was like, “the sorcerer will learn a pure villager N0. Actually, what the hey, they can learn the tinker villager N0.”

I was a villager. Early D1, Irina was like, “should the seer claim who the tinker is?” “what?” “that would help us, right?” “um, it’s the sorcerer who knows who the tinker is.” “oh. Well. Yeah, they could claim it to help us, but maybe that won’t happen.” Derp cleared?

Whirling and dejo were whispering some stuff and some discussion swirled around them from the outside. I nominated whirling, but his defense seemed okay and I didn’t vote for him. Other nominations came and went. Someone nominated stone, and his reaction felt like “caught for the wrong reasons,” so I did vote him. Nobody got majority, so we went to a tribunal. Stone was one of the last two standing, so we had to vote between him and the other candidate. I voted for Stone again, he got lynched, and he was the gunwielding werewolf, who’d never gotten his shot off! Good start.

Then we went to sleep.

Whirling was the remaining starting wolf. And he decided to kill me.

DeMo was the seer. And he decided to view me. And he got a hit.

xand was the aux seer. And she decided to view me. And she got a hit.

Anna was the gunsmith. And she decided to give me a gun. And the mod tapped me on the knee, to indicate I had a gun, while trying not to crack up.

And that was the saga of the tinker villager.

(Goods won that game; whirling died D2 and brutalled brianyay, a villager, so the cub promoted. Dawn of D3, lj was like, “tragedy has struck the village for the first time, as Anna the gunsmith perished.”) Jamie pipes up “was Madeline’s death not a tragedy?!” Thanks for having my back!)

Game 2 we removed the brutal villager because it seemed good might have been a bit too strong. I was the seer, and got stone as an N0, so that was a nice way to turn around from the previous game. Again, there was a tribunal, that came down to contig and Irina. I’d been reading Irina as relaxed, so I voted contig, and he died, but he was the hunter who took out an aux. Decided to view Irina to get more information on the tally, and got a hit! Between tinker potential and guns floating around I slow-played it and just pushed her hard D2, but couldn’t get traction, and wound up claming D3. She got shot and we lynched the second wolf but the cub pulled it out.

We were down to 10 for game 3 so went with a modified Hi set. 2 of the 4 villagers died D1/N1, and I was the third, so pushed for an all-claim. When a martyr claim war arose, it seemed as if Benes and Majai were the evils outside it, so I pushed on them and we did get Benes lynched as a wolf. Stone was the second wolf, and he’d thought Majai was the unclaimed clear, so he tried to kill him, and the mod revealed him as sorc-cultist even though he should have had aux immunity. So the game was called, but goods were in an okay place since dejo would probably have brutalled Majai anyway (which was good since contig the seer was about to clear him)!

Was about werewolfed out, so I played a little more Shipwreck Arcana to wind down for the night. Quote from Stonecutter: “so do you just read a lot of old games? Because I feel like you don’t participate much.” Me: “...yes.” “Do you, like, read them as they’re going on?” “...yes.” Now you have met madelineb, everyone.

Monday

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Assembly line

Made French toast for the gang, which as DeMo pointed out might have been the only time someone actually made breakfast at breakfast-ish hours!

Mission: Red Planet is kind of a Citadels-like game, where we all have the same cards but can play them in different orders. A little more up my alley than Libertalia, and the art/components were very nice. Contig won that.

The Resistance We went with 7-player Avalon/Commander. I was a normal rebel; lj and dejo passed the first round, and DeMo nominated those two plus me for the third. Just DeMo being DeMo? It was the mission I wanted, anyway, so I voted it up and it went through...but failed.

Itsbrianyay: “Which one of you guys failed that mission? Uh, you ladies, I guess.”
Me: “I’m from Minnesota, guys is the generic plural.”
dejo: “Which one of you guys failed that mission/I’m from Minnesota? What kind of answer is that?!”

Round 3 also single-failed; Round 4 was myself, lj, Brian, and DeMo, which passed. We felt pretty solid about the first three, and were just choosing between DeMo and Majai (contig had basically given up after being accused earlier). I felt that Majai was being less rebelly in his logic, but lj pointed out that he wasn’t really influencing the game, whereas DeMo was pushing hard to get failing missions to go. At that point I figured Merlin was either lj, who knew what was up, or DeMo, who was isolated from the rest of the team, so the best thing to do would just be predeclare that I was voting the mission down and send the proposal along to someone who could send a better one. This worked out; lj and Brian added Majai to the team, it passed, and dejo the assassin killed Majai!

Trapwords is a kind of Taboo variant with a few more random elements. I don’t think I like the troll mechanic, at least at large player counts—it seems likely that the game could end before someone got to clue, and cluing is maybe the most fun part.

mmazala had brought along a Truth or Dare reimplementation that was being playtested. More of an activity than a game, and outstayed its welcome (and the feedback period really outstayed its welcome). But it was fun to see contig acting out Ocean’s Eleven (I realized later that of course he would, he’d given a movie-themed clue to Ocean in Decrypto that nobody had got the previous night!), mmazala going on and on about the Cleveland Film Festival, and learn that lj and I had independently almost taken jobs at the same place out of college. (How about that alternate universe?)

On the other hand, as I told mmazala later, it was a more structured reimplementation of “talking to neurotypicals,” which already makes it better than The Mind… >.>

Fall of Rome again, this time more of a slog, enlivened by mmazala’s attempts at pronouncing the Latin city names. I had the role that cvb had had before, and mmazala pointed out that I might as well take the Revolt hit on my turn so as not to go over the hand limit! It’s hard to figure out which tribes you’ll be able to eliminate by the end, since they keep popping up, so it’s safer to go for alliances. But we were in deck-card-count trouble by the end...when we lost on outbreaks, womp womp.

Was fighting a migraine during dinner and beyond, played a couple rounds of Muse as a loose co-op. I do like the constraints here! But then, you know me.

mmazala also had a prototype Resistance expansion to playtest, which made me feel very cool and hip despite the headache. It’s supposed to make it go quicker, which is pro-spy, so there’s another mechanic that gives rebels another chance, but without limitations on how that can go it kind of defeats the purpose. As we were analyzing it we found that there were some issues with (7p) missions 1 and 4 as currently designed; on the bright side, before we’d dug into “optimal play,” we had the thrill of a single-failing M4! Spies were myself, lj, and mmazala, and we wound up sowing a lot of confusion and none of the rebels (whirling, Viking, Benes, Majai) were particularly close to the correct team by the end.

Was laying low and just talking for a while, so some of the blog stuff came up. Viking: "well, her calling you a plateau is the highest form of flattery. The highest form of flattery. The highest form of flattery." If I'd been healthier I would have thrown things.

I rallied enough for some Ticket to Ride: UK which is a beautiful map (all the rainbows!) that I struggled with. mmazala won the first game, and VikingJ took the second (in part because he beat mmazala to the 40-point sea route by one turn!)

Tuesday

Still headachy but survived. On the first few minutes of the drive out, I was trying to rest, DeMo’s GPS was confusing him, then he hit potholes in the rural area, and then he started going on about the gas tax in different states. DeMorcerf is a Twenty-one Pilots character, confirmed.

Flight back featured, as usual, TSA agents being like “how old are you?” As less usual, I was exhaustedly going “where is my city on the departures screen...oh I’m transferring in Phoenix lol right.” Then when I got to Phoenix I was like “how is this flight time correct...oh Arizona doesn’t do daylight savings so I’m in ‘Mountain Standard’ which is actually the same as ‘Pacific Daylight,’ lol right.”

Still grappling with migraines, but this stage of academia should be drawing to a close soon (famous last words), so we’ll see where I land after that! Hope to make it to future cons someday, and until then, I’ll see you all around the forums.
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Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:07 pm
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No mountains, no valleys
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Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
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For a change, how about some actual board game writeups on this blog! surprise

This weekend I had the pleasure of returning to Strategicon, the local gaming convention. (They have three installments a year on US long weekends; Orccon is the February/Presidents' Day edition.)

Friday

Arrived Friday afternoon. I usually like to see what tournaments/events are going on in the main room since I don't come with friends for Open Gaming, but nothing looked super intriguing in the moment, so I wandered upstairs to "Collectibles." This is mostly stuff like collectible card games, I guess? (Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh), but also some companies who make more traditional board games show off their stuff too. There was supposed to be an "indie games" display that never materialized, so I wound up going to the demo from Cheapass Games, and learned Unexploded Cow. Usually I feel like when the intro starts with a lot of theme ("after World War II, the UK had a lot of cases of mad cow disease and France had a lot of landmines, they decided to help each other...") and few mechanics, that's a bad sign. But it was okay.

Tried to sign up for some party games early on, but the party game signup was also the LARP signup, and the organizer there was really a proselytizer. "Well you didn't like the LARP you tried? There are lots of other genres!" I think the same person was also running a seminar later about "correcting false stereotypes about LARPs," which, maybe the problem lies elsewhere.

Then onto Ticket to Ride: Africa. There are a lot of TtR expansions played at Strategicon, which is great, I love learning and playing them. Came in third in my first-round table.

I joined the first of several Love Letter tournaments. Somehow won my first round despite feeling like I had the 1/3 combo every other hand (and then getting guarded and having the 3 guessed to eliminate me, on top of that). The finals table had several players and onlookers who all knew each other, plus me, so at one point I was like "yes, it's your turn, stop yik-yakking and play." This verb choice was apparently very amusing? After all the yik-yakking, I placed second, and got the bragging rights that come from getting a ribbon for my badge.

The creators of Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment were playtesting several puzzles they were designing as part of someone else's big game. A couple sudoku and mastermind-type ones were cool, the visual ones less appealing to me. Timed myself and gave feedback (mostly of the form "liked this, didn't like that.")

Was getting drowsy, but tried a game of Dreadball because hey, futuristic sports, what's not to like. I'm not much of a miniatures game person either--not super appealing for the additional expense, and visually distinguishing the pieces is hard, but I took on the robots against my opponent's dwarves. His sister-in-law had painted the latter and they were very cool. Later a friend of his came to play and so he took over, with the original guy teaching us both. His teaching style was more of a "jump right in and I'll talk about additional options (how to pass instead of running, etc) as needed," which isn't how I prefer to learn games. But it was charming nonetheless? ("Since the referee isn't in play, you can hit from behind and get away with it!") Ultimately after a tied regulation period, my robots took it in sudden-death!

And then back to the ranch. (I live close enough where I can take a straight-shot bus down, but prefer to rideshare back to my place when it's late at night.)

Saturday

Had a little time to kill before the virtual flea market, and lo and behold, a new game store was advertising themselves with flyers downstairs featuring "games for short attention spans" upstairs. Perfect! I went up to find a game of Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game in progress, and I swapped in for the organizer while he started up Kingdom Builder, which had caught my eye. Though I inherited an excellent position in Bob Ross, another player caught up to win. It's a light and straightforward game mechanically, but it's a theme I'm not familiar with and all things being equal that's kind of a turn-off for me.

I'd learned Kingdom Builder a few months ago and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to try again. We had the "largest settlement" and also "most settlement areas" goals in play, which was an interesting contrast/dynamic. I got an engine going that allowed me to place several extra settlements per turn and trigger the endgame, but the other players had the "you can move your settlements" bonus power, which was good for the "most areas" goal and also AP-inducing...Despite, or perhaps because of, my enormous desert, I was a distant third out of three.

The flea market was very hectic, but I was able to meet up with the people I'd contacted online, and got great deals on Cash & Guns, Pandemic, and Resistance (with plot cards)! No, I don't have a consistent group to play with. Yes, I want to move soon. No, my collecting problem is far from the worst out there. Yes, it might be a little more of a problem this week.

More Ticket to Ride, this time Rails and Sails. We blocked each other somewhat in the middle, so I wound up needing to trade in several trains for boats and taking the point hit.

There was a mini-tournament for two-player games, which wasn't really scheduled and just drop-in. (They've done stuff like this in previous years, too; I'm not sure how successful it is at getting consistent participation.) This time it had been exiled to the Collectibles room; there weren't many people there, but I was able to get in a game of Patchwork. I tried the button engine-building strategy that's been recommended, and it actually worked! Even though my opponent got like all the small patches and the 7x7 bonus, I came out on top pointswise. And we were both in the positives, very exciting.

Then 108, which is basically Sudoku with a take-that component. I'd seen an earlier version in development; the new components are very pretty, although from what I saw of the rules writeup/box it looks a bit woo-woo? One of the players had to leave after an hour for another event, but a second player had just pointed out she could win in one move so we agreed to call it.

This left me free to...start another Ticket to Ride tournament, this time the new Old West expansion. You have to start the game by placing a depot, and can add more later; you start building in your depot and can only build adjacent to your network. When other players build through your depot(s), you get the points.

I feel like this game would give a bigger-than-usual advantage to people who have played before and know what the tickets are, so they know where to put stations? I was just like "I'll put one in Spokane because I have a ticket there so I'll start there...someone is coming to Denver so I'll put one there to get his points [netted one measly point]...one in Albuquerque because it has a lot of longer routes coming from there? [nobody came]." Spokane, however, paid off a little much later, to my surprise. It's harder to block people in this game, because even if you know where they want to go, you can't play there unless you're already connected.

Probably at this point I wandered around Open Gaming looking for someone to jump in with? The danger is that a lot of the people who are free and actively looking for players are also the people who are trying to push their own games in...various stages of polish.

I played a Colosseum game which was, shall we say, "in development." It felt mostly like roll-and-move, and if you overshoot the place you want to go, too bad. Also a lot of rolling to get out of jail--did I get a 2? Nope? Lose the turn. And also it was an "interactive game" which meant you had to stop and say the right response when this video interrupted, and then listen to the random event instructions, which were hard to understand and hear, even playing with one of the designers. I asked him what this was based off of/what kinds of games he liked and he said it was actually an upgrade of a "VHS game," which, okay.

(On the upside, the decks of cards were interesting, and the components you're trying to collect were very nice-looking?)

Also wandered around the dealer room. I'd seen Filibuster (very funny theme) and Escape from Dulce (complex dungeon crawler, cool components) in earlier stages/demos, and both were displaying samples. Didn't splurge, but would recommend either if you want to burn some cash on cool new games from enthusiastic, hard-working designers!

Early evening, there was a meeting for people interested in learning how to moderate Werewolf. Nothing too surprising, but an interesting look behind the scenes culture-wise.

"If you're an apprentice, you don't sit at home waiting for your master to die, you follow them."

Not sure how long I'll be in town/able to moderate, but maybe someday!

One of the longtime moderators/players had died recently, so there were several memorial games in his honor. He had pioneered "Texas Werewolf" (no relation to the BGG variant of the same name), where everyone has guns and no one has healthcare. So it's 2/3 brutals (woodcutters/hunters), 1/3 werewolves. And then at the end Obama comes to take away everyone's guns.

This is less broken than it sounds (maybe not by much), at least playing with slightly more mature/less hyper people than the kids I played it with the first time. Our village actually got off to a strong start in terms of lynches/brutals. On N2, "usual suspect" Rob died, and brutalled me (I'd mentioned being a Minnesotan so I found Texas hot, death sentence there); I brutalled someone who'd had a weird interaction (reluctant bussing?) with the werewolf we'd lynched the previous day, and she was evil! So good was in control for a while, but then the chain reactions came along and then someone semi-arbitrarily decided "okay no more brutals" the last day and evil won. Maybe if there was a more fixed rule for when the brutals would stop it could be even less broken? (I died just after gun control was randomly implemented in the previous game which wasn't fun either.)

Sunday

Since most of the events start on the top of the hour it's kind of a tossup coming down by bus; will I make it in time for the next thing or wander around for an hour? Good news: I made it just in time for a Kingdom Builder tournament. Bad news: there were a lot of people already signed up. Good news: they had brought lots of copies, so I made it in! No horses in this game, so we were able to play fast.

There was a "content production" (web show) seminar/audience playalong later on. Weren't really enough people to make Team Carcassone a thing, but I was mostly there to spectate Resistance: Avalon. (The audience had loyalties, and combined to be a seventh up/down vote in addition to the sixth players.) I was a spy-affiliate, and since it was a fast game there wasn't a lot of time for Merlin-hunting. "We" lost.

Manila is one of my favorite games which I learned at the convention. I had my own copy this time! ...and promptly got curbstomped, taking out and repaying a loan, to finish on a whopping 37 pesos. Woo.

Did leave time for me to bring my own copy to, surprise, an (original) Ticket to Ride tournament. All four players decided to keep all their routes, and I was able to complete mine, including a long one; some people got cut off around Oklahoma City, however, and the woman who'd done it by accident going for longest route cruised to victory. I was a distant second (by 48 points), which did not qualify me for "best runner-up."

Open Gaming was a little more promising; I demoed a game about dinosaur hunting with the designer. A lot of luck, and the "these cards are negative, unless you have the most, then they're good" felt a little weird with two players (maybe more a risk-reward thing with more?), but it was much better than the gladiator one.

France is the flip side of the Old West map for TtR. The routes of length 2-5 don't come pre-colored, so when you draw cards, you also assign a color to a route (hopefully of the colors you just took). When the route is built, the track is returned to the supply. Again, a little harder to block others since the route might not exist yet (but you can jump on the thing they just built).

You only use 40 trains, so when I took some extra routes at the end, I realized that I would need every train! Fortunately some timely rainbow-grabbing let me eke it out to trigger the endgame and then win.

The guy who runs this (and most of the Ticket to Ride tournaments) is very hardcore about "you must randomize player order like so," etc, but he was in a good mood touting the virtues of this map, and we got to chatting. "You're a math person, huh? I liked college math up until linear algebra...it wasn't linear and it sure wasn't algebra." laugh

In the second round I lucked out with an awesome opening ticket hand, several long routes that would be basically overlapping each other for the main north-south component. Picked up a few more long ones, connected the outlying cities, and won the tournament!

Downstairs, I saw a "player wanted" sign in open gaming. For another demo? No, it was several people (maybe a family?) starting into Pandemic. "Do you know how to play?" "Yes." "Awesome, we don't, want to teach us?"

I tried not to alpha-game too much, just responding to questions, and we set in on beginner level. The kid pointed out that "[the dispatcher]'s ability seems way more powerful than all of ours," which seemed to be true in my Legacy Season 1, but we tried to deploy the others as needed. It came down to the last turn--there was one card left in the deck, the dispatcher needed five actions to cure yellow, and she only had four. But they seemed into it. Apparently they already owned Legacy 1 but had never played the base, so were just trying to learn it?

Snuck into the Sagrada tourney under the wire. One of the players was new. "We won't be hardcore. You're not competitive, are you?" "...she has multiple ribbons on." "I mean, I'm competitive, but not cutthroat." Of course, I was the first one to screw up my placement, and the experienced player was like "you can take it back." "No," said the woman next to me, who seemed very adamant about not being tokenized/treated like a newbie, "we're playing by the rules." So out went my illegal die...and then she caught the other (young) new player on the same thing.

Afterwards several of them were in open gaming and invited me to join them for some Love Letter with their friends. "Oh wow, another favor of affection from the princess, who isn't even my type," said one of the men. "I guess..." *riffles through deck* "the priest would be the most attractive to me?"

I then taught them Manila and wound up basically doubling my score from earlier in the morning, which meant I still lost by a wide margin!

All in all, another exhausting and thrilling weekend. Despite a few early morning headaches I was able to make it over with lots of energy every day, which did feel like a good sign!
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Mon Feb 18, 2019 10:48 pm
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Impostor Syndrome

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Like a lot of people (especially, but not limited to, women in academia), I struggle with impostor syndrome--the belief that my accomplishments are fraudulent, or just flukes, or not earned, and that any respect I've earned from my supervisors'/teachers'/whoever isn't really valid. In some limited ways, this also affects my feelings in circles like these--but with an important difference I think I just recently put my finger on.

In stuff like my work/schooling, I don't doubt that my advisor's heart is in the right place. I believe that his standards are looking for people who demonstrate diligence, aptitude, curiosity, reliability, etc. The sorts of things he "should" be looking for! So my anxiety is entirely self-doubt; that I am not living up to these standards, and that he's being overly generous in sticking with me. I don't think that he's, like, keeping me around for unscrupulous reasons.

But in these kinds of social communities, when I feel like someone is pretending to respect me despite not having any reason to do so, then it feels like the discrepancy is on both our ends. For me, it's like, "you have no reason to think I did well, look at the outcome of the last game, I was objectively not an asset to my team." And on their side, it's like, "you've also shown [by your actions and not your words in other situations] that the traits you really value, in practice, are XYZ, which people very different from me demonstrate but I don't." (See here.) So it creates a similar effect to the anxiety I feel in more RL situations where "success" actually means something, but with a more complicated onset. I guess. Or something.
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Fri Feb 8, 2019 7:26 pm
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Socks and Standards

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(Content note: this post will allude to some specific instances of behavior that I have found objectionable; if you don't want to deal with particulars, stop after the first few paragraphs.)

There's a particular conversation I've seen every so often, and it goes something like this. A and C are relative old-timers, B is a newbie.

A: Sorry guys, but some stuff came up, so I won't be able to be around much today.
B: I'd like to [vote a], maybe they're not really posting because they're overwhelmed at the prospect of being evil and/or conspiring in wolf chat.
C: HOW DARE YOU VOTE A, NO ONE WOULD EVER LIE ABOUT REAL LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES, IF SOMETHING CAME UP IT CAME UP, YOU DO NOT DARE DISPUTE A's UNQUESTIONED TRUTH
B: oooookay then.

The meta-rule of "don't accuse others of lying about RL circumstances" is by and large a good one, but only with two big caveats.

One: you still have to have room for voting people based on their tone. For me, there's a difference between:
"[vote z], essentially nightfallen since I won't be back for lynch!"
and
"Sorry guys, I won't be able to contribute as much as I'd hoped for this week, in case I can't make it back, I think I will leave my vote on [vote z]."

In my experience (and this is a general tendency, not a specific read), evils tend to be more concerned about excusing their inactivity and/or being worried about letting their team down. So it has to be fair game to vote someone, not based on the content, but the tone--even if it's an inaccurate read, or a wolf faking a read. Of course, as evil you might be annoyed when you get run up for "bad reasons," but that's no less valid than being more inclined to vote the second person than the first here:

"[vote y], timewarping!"
and
"hi guys, i'm just catching up on the thread now, can anybody tell me the case on the lynch leaders? [vote y] for now"

even if they essentially mean the same thing.

Two: it also has to be a standard meta-rule that people don't lie about real life!

Now, I think a lot of people are going to say "but that is a rule we observe; I've never said that 'I'm dealing with a blizzard and a pop quiz' when actually I was panicking in wolf chat, and neither have my friends! So we're all good." And I agree that the main intent behind this meta-rule is being followed.

But also, like, lying about RL is lying about RL. I would classify the following as untruths:

"I've never played online before! [if you have under a sock]"
"I'm busy because I'm in three other games! [one of them is my friend who I loaned this account to so they could get the advantage of my meta]"
"We can't vote off Y because they're actually my cousin! [if they're not your cousin]"

If we let old-timers get away with stuff like this because "it's just a joke," I do feel like the letter, if not necessarily the spirit, of a meta-law we generally affirm is being violated. And I'm not cool at all with "these old-timers are popular and influential enough to break rules and get away with it." If you're not going to carry out the rule in both principle and practice--why is it there?

This is why I'm not amused by "ohoho this newbie is totally a sockpuppet of this older user, lolz!" jokes. They're not funny.
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Thu Jan 24, 2019 9:44 pm
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Chess, Christmas Carols, Sturgeon's Law

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Bear with me, there's a lot going on here, but I promise I'll get to board games eventually!

A science fiction editor named Theodore Sturgeon was once said to have asked "why is ninety percent of science fiction crud?" (There may have been some slightly stronger word choices.) To which he gave a famous reply: "ninety percent of everything is crud."

I think in many ways this holds true. In many creative fields, lots of stuff is put forward, and a lot of it is forgettable. (Goodness knows that would apply to a lot of my creative efforts!)

Around this time of year, a lot of pop music stations play lots of (mostly modern and secular) Christmas songs. And...I would estimate that ninety percent of them are crud. Now, there are some reasons for that that are specific to me. I'm not really interested in songs that repeat themselves over and over and have a low "information density" in computer science terms. Nor do I care for trite romance-focused things. And I'm kind of bemused by songs that don't really have anything to do with Christmas per se but just kind of assume the listener has some cultural context for it ("it's a repeating event that has taken place in the past and will take place again in the future!").

The good news, such as it is, is that most of those songs that are forgettable...probably will be forgotten! Why do I say that? Because Christmas carols as a more expansive genre (mostly, but not all, religious ones) date back hundreds if not thousands of years. And I'm guessing other generations had songs that were equally stupid to their ear as a lot of these are to mine. But those ninety percent have been filtered out, and what we're handed down with are, in most cases, classics for a reason. (Not all; something like "O Come O Come Emmanuel" has a really long history of predecessors, but songs with tritones at the beginning are gonna sound terrible no matter how theologically deep they are. Digression for another site though.)

The "a few stragglers from early centuries/lots and lots of choices now" is also of course, relevant to board games! The "cult of the new" can be overwhelming, but by waiting to see what survives the hype, you're probably left with better choices in the long run. (With some caveats.)

Chess, for its part, is like the "O Come O Come Emmanuel" of boardgames; maybe not the flashiest or most clever by modern standards, but it's been around forever and serves as a common touchstone. I was recently looking up some goofy chess problems for another project and recalled how much I'm impressed by the aesthetics of fairy/retroanalysis chess problems (even if I'm not good at solving them!) The combination of the very simple moves for different pieces, plus the extra wrinkles of castling/en passant/promotion (and loopholes formerly associated with them), creates a rich domain for puzzles and cultural allusions alike.
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Fri Dec 14, 2018 4:57 pm
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Miscellanea

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Last post for now, just wanted to make sure I've expanded on most of the things I've said elsewhere.

*Religious Metaphor Follows*

There's a CS Lewis quote that says "aim at heaven and you'll get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you'll get neither." This is probably a theological oversimplification, but again, a very modified version seems relevant here.

My take is that if I aim at playing to the best of my ability, for the sake of making a competitive game, I may well get to befriend similarly-minded people along the way. But if aim at socialization, I'll get neither.

I recognize that this treads close to flipping the traditional phrase about treating people as ends versus means. What I mean to say is that it's hard for me to "just socialize," or deliberately go about trying to make friends in a void. I have better luck if I'm drawn to others who enjoy the same pastimes as I do, like playing the game on the field. If someone's ego overshadows it, then the game becomes unenjoyable.

--

I have an admission of sorts to make. I don't think it's exactly an apology, because I'm not sure my actions in a void were harmful or that I wouldn't do it again. But it indirectly brought about hurt to others, and I wish that hadn't happened.

A couple times during my absence, there were big discussions on the state of the game/community. And I wanted to chime in, because I felt my perspective wasn't being heard. But I didn't want to post as myself, because I didn't want to make it about me--"where've you been?" "are you dumping your problems on us now?" So I posted anonymously, under a communal sock puppet. If a lot of this rhetoric seems familiar, that may be why. Unfortunately, that opened the door for others to use the sock puppets to make personal attacks on other users, which was not my intention.

I don't think I need to go through and say which of those old posts are mine, but if anyone feels like it's important to do so, I almost certainly could.

So now here I am, feeling close enough to the community to post this under my own name, but distant enough that I'd rather do it in my own space. I hope some of it has been useful, even if it's not always to the point, or pleasant.

I like these games for what they can be, but having a group of friends who you can trust to have the same perspective you do is something I can't take for granted. And that's a big part of what has made my math friends' annals something worth chronicling.
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Tue Oct 23, 2018 12:02 am
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