John OwenUnited States
- If I could only keep 50 games, May 12th, 2021 edition: Love you more than everything Loved it more than anything Loved everything more than anything: an attempt at commitment
But now I will tell the lineage and the names of the heroes, and of the long sea-paths and the deeds
Just another bgg blog about playing games.
Archive for John Owen
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11 May 2021
According to wikipedia:
Eurogame - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurogame
"The oldest known games in the American-style are Pachisi and Snakes and Ladders from India."
"Contemporary Eurogames, such as Acquire, appeared in the 1960s."
So, Amerigames originate in India? Eurogames originate in America, where the typical games originated in India?
Besides Amerigame being a stupid name that should never be legitimized, did any Ameritrash fan at any time argue that the games they love could be traced back to their origins in Snakes & Ladders? If anything, Backgammon and various gambling games combined with historical miniatures games seem like a better antecedent.
The BGG Ameritrash wiki is quite good by comparison - https://boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/Ameritrash
I'm almost convinced that this wikipedia article was written as a joke.
"These games are sometimes referred to as Ameritrash. This is in reference to their propensity to use themes aligned to trashy low budget horror movies."
Is this just someone guessing at what the name means? Sigh.
My understanding, based on the hazy memory of being here in '06, and based on reading through links on the BGG wiki, is that Ameritrash began as a term of derision (in a way that Amerigame never was) to describe mass market American games from the past that had virtually no decisions, then was taken up as a term of affection by those championing American games from the past that had plenty of decisions though often had more luck and narrative aspirations than the average BGG user was open to in the mid-00s.
The wikipedia article is just terribly confused.
The earliest games in the American-style are Pachisi and Snakes & Ladders. This leads into a bit about Monopoly, then out of nowhere Diplomacy is mentioned as if it follows naturally from everything above. Then, Risk in the same way. Then, jump to War of the Ring, which is just like Pachisi, right?
The "characteristics" section isn't bad, but it's difficult to see how it follows from the "history" section above it.
Anyhow, it's been a while since I've posted anything here. Those were just some quickly typed out rambling thoughts on having read a wikipedia article. I've got a few blog post 'projects' and a few non-blog 'projects' planned and in various stages of done and not-done. Some day, some day.
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14 Apr 2021
I'm getting rid of games.
HEre's a list:
Flick 'em Up! Ethnos When I Dream
Say Bye to the Villains
Finger Guns at High Noon
Letter Jam Secret Moon Trick of the Rails Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
The Grizzled The Legend of Robin Hood Diamonds: Second Edition
Ugly Christmas Sweaters Nanofictionary
Linko! Senators Ragemore
Universal Rule: Singularity
Skulls of Sedlec
I'm not tagging any of these games here. This post is just for the regular folk who have subscribed to my ramblings. I'm still surprised you're here; thank you.
If you want any of these games, post a comment below AND AGREE TO PAY SHIPPING CHARGES. First come, first served because I'm not about to judge who is more worthy right now. First comments get it just because. I apologize that this happens to reward whoever was on BGG when I posted this and not the most worthy, but just remember that these games are garbage; whoever got them first got my garbage while you were spared of the same. Be glad that you have been spared my garbage while others had to shamelessly beg for my garbage.
If you want the game(s) and agree to pay shipping costs, I'll send the game(s) to you. If you want to pay more than shipping costs because you think I should have more money to spend on more games to give away at a future date, well, I won't stop you.
I'll let this run for a few days. It's Wednesday 6:15pm Eastern Time as I write this. I'm hoping to ship whatever wants to be shipped on Monday morning. Whatever doesn't get shipped will get taken to the thrift shop.
Purge purge purge.
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27 Mar 2021
I need help.
Tell me why I need all of this:
Tell me why I don't need all of this:
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26 Mar 2021
Browsing the homepage (not the dashboard), I stumbled upon this gem not too far down the page:
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24 Mar 2021
It has been over a year since I wrote about my history with cards: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/98922/personal-history-na...
I’ve spent a lot of time since then playing cards, mostly with my family, which I'm convinced is the best way to do it.
Here’s a list of lists for those who like lists.
Top 3 favorite 2p card games
2 Schotten Totten
Magic: The Gathering should probably be here at #1. I still love it, specifically drafting, any form of drafting, or even limited constructed. But, yeah, I also hate everything about it, the cost, the felt (real?) need for a constant influx of new cards, the community that is caught in an obsessive culture that is not healthy (yes, I went there) and jokes about how unhealthy it is (cardboard crack, etc). If a game can be judged by the culture that it spawns (and I think it can be), then I think it's fair to continue to stay away from this scene.
You might have heard of Haggis? I would be worried about praising it too much, but I’m late to the party on this one, and Sean already knows that he created an excellent game. If his head were going to explode from too much praise, it would have happened already! I’ve only played Tichu once and half the table wasn’t enthusiastic about it, so it’s hard to truly compare, but I prefer Haggis. What elevates it for me is that everyone always has at least one 'bomb' at their disposal, but doesn’t always want to use that bomb because the constituent parts of the bomb are useful as wild elements completing other incomplete puzzling elements in the hand. How to best get rid of all of these cards?? I had a great game recently (playing to 350 points) with my 11yo in which she was ahead 222 to 29 and I was able to pull off an insane comeback win 386-290. That was exciting.
Lost Cities used to be my Knizia 2p card game of choice. I still do love Lost Cities, and both games are full of delicious tension, but I prefer Schotten Totten’s tug-of-war tension right now. It is really satisfying to be holding on to those cards you know your opponent needs, then playing one of them right after they’ve given up on their plan. Likewise, the pain of having to commit to an action while being uncertain of being able to complete it in the best way is just the right kind of pain. So good.
And Scopa. This one might stay or it might go. I almost left this spot blank or filled it with another Knizia (Lost Cities or even Duell). I need to play Scopa more this year. I found it to be a relaxing game, enjoyable in the best way a casual game can be. I’ve already forgotten some of the weirder scoring quirks (the 7 of diamonds is important, right? something like that?), but I want to play this again more than other games in this category, which is what nabs it the #3 spot.
Top 3 favorite 3p card games
1 Plus-Minus Jass
2 Ambiente Abissal
3 Boon (Sheepshead)
3p is a sweet spot for card games for me. There’s still a lot of control, but the addition of one more person increases the unpredictability substantially.
Plus-Minus Jass is a brilliant game. Play to 7 victory points. Each hand, you win a vp by having either the highest score (based on card points won in tricks) without going over 100 or the lowest score. If you’re that third player stuck in the middle, you get nothing. What’s especially beautiful about this is that it takes something many people don’t like about 3p games, something that I’ve always loved, and just doubles down on it. If two players are competing for one thing, the best position as the third player is to go for the opposite thing. So here, if two players are going for points, avoid tricks and settle into lowest score. If two players are losing lots of tricks, go all in and get the highest score (keeping an eye on points to stay under 100). This involves first, reading your hand when it is dealt to you, but then, second, reading the other players, and being flexible enough to pivot in response when needed. This is complicated by trump being determined by one of the players during the course of play! And all of this packed into a fairly rules-light game that is easy to pick up (especially if cards are marked with points values, which can change depending on trump).
Ambiente Abissal is an even lighter game that plays super-duper-extra-booper-quick. It’s played to 6vps and rounds are quick. The “gimmick” of this climbing game is that not only are there numerical ranks as usual; the colored suits themselves are ranked. Lead player plays 1 card or a pair of cards. The next players must play a higher number (following single or pair) or a higher color. The thing is, it’s not just a gimmick. It increases the choices significantly and makes for tough decisions. It’s still a very light game, but it’s a satisfying one, like that peppery popcorn at the bar that has you eating a handful of popcorn because it’s so good, taking a swig of beer because it’s so peppery, then taking another handful because yum, then more beer, then more popcorn, then suddenly you’re ordering your 3rd beer and asking for another refill of that tasty popcorn. Ambiente Abissal is like that, in the best way.
And Boon (Sheepshead). Like Scopa (how often do Sheepshead and Scopa get linked together?), this is one that I played and greatly enjoyed last year and just never returned to because, as we all know, there are always new games, even for those of us who are actively trying not to buy new games!! What I love about this one is the 1 vs 2 nature of it. By ‘picking’, you’re shouting that you’re confident enough with your hand to beat two other players actively working to undermine everything you do. It feels great to accomplish this and it feels great to stop someone else from doing it! Maybe someday I'll try the 5p game, but I really love it as a 3p game. I just need to play it more.
Top 3 favorite 4p card games
Yes, I find trick avoidance very satisfying. Yes, Hearts is fairly simple. Yes, I like fairly simple. Not only is trick avoidance satisfying. Slipping nasty cards to others at the table is very satisfying. It’s maybe the perfect family game for me if I had stopped procreating at 2 kids. :-p
I’m looking forward to trying Haggis 4p. I almost put it in this slot just based on reading through the rules.
I almost put Maskmen on this list, but I'm still unsure about it.
It's also possible that Doublehead Kids might settle in here, but I've only had one play of it.
The truth right now is that at 4p settling down with a deck of cards I'd always rather play Hearts than anything else.
Top 3 favorite 5p card games
2 Oh Hell
3 High Society
Vivaldi is so good that I wrote a true review of it, something that I hadn’t done for any other game in a long while (usually settling for rambling incoherent comments scattered across a dozen different places instead). It’s the secret partner aspect and the simplicity of it that I love. It’s even the bidding system that determines the picker that I love.
Oh Hell is a close second at 5p, again because it’s simple. Its exact bidding rewards skill (and some risks), but is also frustratingly stupid in a fun way when there is hardly any information and you're making a bid based on seeing one card. I play that meeting the bid scores 10 points, but every trick won also scores a point, which I find is a bit kinder and forgiving, while also really allowing the game to continue to be almost entirely about meeting your bid.
Finally, High Society. Is it a card game? It’s played entirely with cards, so maybe? I’ll admit that it feels less like a card game than any other game I’ve mentioned so far. It’s an auction and resource (money) management game. The status cards could easily be tiles. The money cards could be Monopoly money. I think maybe I’m talking myself out of including this one? Dang. Um, how about I slip No Thanks in this spot real quietly right now. Did anyone notice? Is anyone still reading this? No? Phew.
Top 3 favorite 6p card games
I've got nothing here.
I'll eventually try Haggis 6p. I should also try Cancellation Hearts at 5 and 6. It has been a while, but I like 6 Nimmt. Ziegen Kriegen goes up to 6. 6p is pushing at the limits of what I'd like to play, either card game or board game. At 6, you might as well go outside and play kuub or settle into some stupid Telestrations fun. Pagat has a very helpful 'games by number of players' list. I should check out more of these 6p+ games.
The question that follows all of this is… can’t I just be satisfied with these great games? 2 players and want to play? Choose between Haggis or Schotten Totten. 3 Players? Plus-Minus, Abyss, or Boon. 4p? Hearts. And so on. Pick from 2 or 3 games that we all know well instead of picking from a dozen or two dozen or several dozen games that I’m fuzzy on the rules for and don’t remember liking quite as much as these. Of course, I’ll keep trying new games because I like playing new games, but that shouldn’t be the usual thing. The usual, the normal, should be just defaulting to a handful of favorites.
I should stop writing this same thing over and over again in different ways and just be more active in actually doing it instead.
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Rules As Written
I’m pretty much a RAW guy. I follow the rules. I don’t even usually think to tinker with the rules. If I play a game and don’t like an aspect of it, I throw away the whole game rather than make my own ‘house rules’ to ‘save’ the game. The best example of this is probably Railroad Tycoon. I hate what it did to the turn auction of AoS. Instead of a continuing auction for each space in the turn order, RT had an auction for 1st place, then turns proceeded in seat order around the table from that 1st place winner. So, really, the best strategy was to sit to the left of the person that went for 1st the most often. I hated it. The game belonged to my friend Mark. If it had been my purchase, I really would have tossed it in the trash. I hated it that much. I never thought to just keep the game and tinker with that one part of it. Maybe part of this was because AoS already existed and I could just play AoS instead of RT. Still, I think it illustrates my point. I follow the rules as written. If I don’t like them, I just stop playing the game. Years later, I’ve heard that that turn order aspect of RT has been completely overhauled and no longer exists in the same way that I hated. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never given it another chance.
An exception to this ‘playing a game only with the rules as they are written’ is any role-playing game that gives the DM/GM a lot of wiggle room to just make stuff up. When I DM/GM (or Judge as it’s called in DCC), I make public dice rolls when called for and I let the dice decide (according to agreed-upon rules, of course), but when I’m just narrating, I’m happy to make stuff up (within the confines of a pre-written module, because, you know, I’m old and it takes a lot of work to make stuff up) and fudge furiously on the fly as needed. If you ask me if your character can do something and you explain why they would be able to do it, I’ll be happy to let it happen (or call for a roll if it seems appropriate). I like to keep track of time, but I don’t really care about encumbrance rules. I’m willing to keep the rules that help with the flow I like and discard the rules that hinder this. If the players are hurting severely, but it’s still close, I might tone down that next encounter in the session to ensure that they’ll make it to the Finale, or I might not, depending on what fits the developing shared story and what best suits the mood of the table, which is always an individual judgment that takes skill and attention (I like to think I'm decent at this, but I've definitely had sessions in which the group energy just wasn't right, definitely sometimes my fault but also sometimes because of someone else at the table).
But this willingness to bend rules while playing an RPG is usually really just me following the rules as written again, because these rules as written often (in the games I prefer) point to broad discretion on the part of the person running the game to do whatever they want to do.
There’s probably a tension here in my relationship to authority and what I expect from any given structured play environment. In the context of a strategic contest, I want an external arbiter (in most cases, an agreed-upon rules document). In the context of the construction of a shared narrative, I want the delicate balance between free-for-all player contribution and some gentle bounding by a benevolent GM seeking the good of the table.
What Parlett points out (quote below) is that ALL games are exercises in co-operation and that the special experience of a game can be ruined by anyone failing to co-operate. The rules exist, but those rules only exist insofar as they are adopted by and enforced by any particular group at any particular table (which is another way of saying that all games are folk games). In a letter to rebuscarnival, I wrote that I’m struggling towards understanding how exactly this is true, this extraordinarily bold (stubbornly wrong?) idea that I can't shake, that all games are folk games; it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As long as games are played by free folk at their own tables without any external monitoring and interference, then these games are limited engagement performances at each of these tables, interpreted by and enacted by each of the players present at any given session. It is the players that preserve any given game and perpetuate that game into the future through their actions, precisely through their continued play.
Rebus wrote that when he returned to gaming (specifically RPGs) in his 30s, he was struck by the ritualistic nature of physical games. All games may not be folk games. Maybe all games are rituals?
All Games Are Rituals
All Games Are Co-operative Games
Long Parlett Quote:Quote:Where games are valued as a means of bringing people together for the enjoyment of a common social activity, cards may be treasured for the breadth of their appeal and the depth of their sociability. Contradictory images--the nervous, eye-glazed fluttering of the casino Blackjack addict, the film-studio Poker set-up apparently staged by the local Mafia--represent the more newsworthy pathology of card-play rather than its general practice. I take particular issue with John Scarne’s assertion that ‘Nobody plays [cards] only with close friends.’ While the definition of ‘close’ may give him an out, it seems a matter of common experience and observation that card games are mostly played by people who know and get along with one another, whether family, friends, neighbours, fellow-travelers, club members, or workplace colleagues.I'm going to ramble on about ritual a little bit below. I'll pause here to quote one line again that I ignore below. I don't want it to get missed: 'Convention implies co-operation, and this imbues them with a marked educational value.' Parlett doesn't quite say what this 'educational value' is. Is it simply the value of learning to co-operate, or is it also the value of being included in the conventions governing the game, becoming 'a civilized society, through this process of convention which generates kindness and through itself, through the binding of others to a common purpose, 'consolidates' society.
The pleasures of card-play may stem from the unconscious, and therefore largely unremarked, satisfaction of participating in a ritual [emphasis mine -john] governed by conventions--’rules’, perhaps, though agreed from within rather than imposed from without. Convention implies co-operation, and this imbues them with a marked educational value. The competitive nature of games is easily exaggerated and often confused with aggression, especially by those who would do away with all but so-called co-operative games. ‘Playing to win’, in a civilized society, should be a self-contained concept restricted to the field or framework of the game itself. Only the disturbed and maladjusted embark on games to demonstrate their superiority (or adequacy?) in the ‘real world’ outside.
This is not to deny that winning is the legitimate object of a game. On the contrary, playing without seeking to win threatens the stability of the group by failing to perform one’s own role in the ritual [me again -john] and thereby degrading everyone else’s. Do not be misled by a rule often encountered in gamebooks which states ‘The object of the game is to win the pool’. It isn’t. The object of the game is to compile a hand of matched cards, win a majority of tricks, or whatever, and winning the pool is the pay-off for achieving that object. Some may make it the object of playing the game, but it is not the object of the game itself. A better one is to enjoy the shared experience of talents and values held in common. Card games, therefore rightly exercised, may well come to fulfill Dr. Johnson’s expectation of ‘generating kindness and consolidating society’.
Huizenga:Quote:Primitive society performs its sacred rites, its sacrifices, consecrations and mysteries, all of which serve to guarantee the well-being of the world, in a spirit of pure play truly understood. Now in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primaeval soil of play.I’ve only dabbled in Huizenga’s book, but dabbled enough to know that he compares play to ritual (indeed in some instances sees them as inseparably joined to one another). I think I need to do a deep dive, maybe a read-along here on the blog? Anyone interested?
If you’re reading my stumbling ramblings attempting to understand play, how could you not want to read someone much more intelligent than I am writing about play with chapter titles like this:
NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF PLAY AS A CULTURAL PHENOMENON
THE PLAY-CONCEPT AS EXPRESSED IN LANGUAGE
PLAY AND CONTEST AS CIVILIZING FUNCTIONS
PLAY AND LAW
PLAY AND WAR
PLAYING AND KNOWING
PLAY AND POETRY
THE ELEMENTS OF MYTHOPOIESIS
PLAY-FORMS IN PHILOSOPHY
PLAY-FORMS IN ART
WESTERN CIVILIZATION Sub Specie Ludi
THE PLAY-ELEMENT IN CONTEMPORARY CIVILIZATION
All Games Are Folk Games
So, right, moving on past that desire to read Huizenga more deeply in community (please leave a comment saying that you’re interested in this), writing that all games are folk games means that all games to some degree involve ritual performance in circumscribed times and places, not dissimilar to religious liturgy. Further, this coming together in ritual performance is the very thing that creates the ‘folk’ that play games. You belong to the community of gamers (the gaming ‘folk’) because you play games. Or in certain irregular situations created by our online environment (exacerbated by continued physical isolations), one can imagine someone immersed in ‘gaming folk culture’ who has never actually played a game. I guess this is similar to what some in the early Church called a “baptism of desire”, a situation in which this imaginary person who wants to play games desperately has been prevented from doing so. We could still consider this person “a gamer” (part of the gaming folk), but this is irregular. Normally, you are a gamer because you play games. What types of games you play determines what type of gamer you are. But it’s obvious to me (though could still be disputed) that there is some legitimacy in speaking of an umbrella ‘big tent’ gamer category that describes everyone from the cell phone puzzle app gamer (maybe) to the Vampire: The Masquerade LARPer to the chess tournament player. The why of play between these gamers is probably very different (at least in terms of self-understanding). The way that any person plays is the product of their material culture, the persons that surround them, cultural expectations/experiences, etc. What gets played is exactly what distinguishes one folk from another folk within the broader gaming folk community. I’m sure someone somewhere has done a decent taxonomy of gamers, with varying degrees of overlap in which any single gamer may fall into any category or multiple categories.
Here’s a good essay that I found a couple months ago while thinking about these things:
Read the whole thing, but here’s the conclusion:
Quote:Through a ritual process of performance, cultural roles and situations are created and reinforced, and individuals are brought into relationship with each other. What is most distinct about this process is the way in which this negotiation not only establishes the relation of the individuals to each other but ties to the way in which the individuals interact with folk groups of varying levels.Related is Jeremy Friesen’s struggle with how to relate to his community after a perceived betrayal of trust on the part of two others in the community. [I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on the specific actions of Koebel or Crane. It’s related to what I've written here, but also off-topic and incendiary enough that I don't really want to deal with it in this post; I’m also not invested in that community-- My outsider opinion doesn't really matter. I do think, based on limited evidence that I’ve seen, that there were failures on both Koebel’s part and Crane’s part even if I’m not convinced that either one of them is a capital-c Creepazoid]
The folk process contained within is a holistic approach to the folk group. Instead of approaching the folk group as a single entity, this study demonstrates the way in which folk groups are created and negotiated through performative acts of social linkage. By performing jokes that reference the various tiers of cultural identity possessed by the members of the group, the members show their relationship to the common core of traditions that is the folk group.
Instead of viewing the folk group as a pre-existing condition of culture, this study shows the way in which the folk group is produced and re-produced by cultural practices. Within the span of five hours, a group of people can construct a set of social relations constituting themselves as a micro-level folk group through consensus establishment while simultaneously negotiating their relationship with a macro-level folk group through auto-critique. Understanding the dynamics of this process can help reveal the overall relationship between folklore and culture.
Jeremy's post is found here (and I would more generally recommend his blog, another non-bgg site I found while away): https://takeonrules.com/2021/02/28/recontextualizing-my-rela...
I agree 100% with Jeremy about trust being the most important thing in the ritual action of playing a game. Jeremy writes 'When you don’t have trust, it creates potential emotional danger.' This echoes Parlett above, that there are certain actions at a game table that 'threaten the stability of the group', when one fails 'to perform one’s own role in the ritual... thereby degrading everyone else’s'. Friesen narrows in on the relationship between GM and players, but Parlett makes clear that this trust aspect is always present in every game, which goes to the idea of 'the magic circle', which returns us to ritual and back to Huizenga.
What interests me most about Jeremy’s post, though, is the last part about 'closed games and lack of governance'.
FriesenQuote:I have a long running, personal, and nagging concern that it is a liability to not use a game with an open license.Here is an insistence that games should be 'open', controlled by the players that play the games instead of by 'the owner of that rules system'. This is a hardcore folk stance (tempered a little by the use of the word 'license' which is legalese that living folk cultures will ignore, needing no license to continue their own folk culture; it's definitely complicated right now by competing commercial and non-commercial interests in the various gaming sub-communities). Regardless of who created the rules or parts of the rules to the game that the community plays, the rules should (ideally) be always open to all because they are the common property of all through shared participation. This is a direct inheritance of card culture and abstracts culture. You can call it the DIY punk ethos or you can simply call it folk tradition. The community receives a tradition, participates in the tradition, and it then passes on some form of the tradition. There will be arguments and there will be factions, but this is how life and culture works outside of false manufactured consent.
No one’s yet coming to take the physical copies of games sitting on my shelf. I can run my B/X D&D just fine.
However, without an open license, any community around the game depends on the benevolence of the owner of that rules system. Any community that extends beyond a single game table of friends playing their version of the game. In other words, the community lacks governance around a critical and central component of their existence.
In the RPG world, in particular, I think that 'open games' are inevitable. I could play a house version of D&D this evening without opening any rules, just based on my memory of rules systems. Some of it would be authentic. Some of it would be completely made up (I've never been the type to nerd out over Monster Manual stats, for instance; I'm sure some geeks carry an entire bestiary in their heads at all times). It is, in the best sense, a living thing, that cannot be taken away from me. I think that the same is ultimately true of Burning Wheel for others. I don’t have any experience with the system, but I’ve heard good things. The players who have played Burning Wheel for the past decade cannot have it taken from them, at least what part of it is already in their heads and hearts. In the end, RAW will always fail. It’s only what the players continue to play that matters. I know that I’ve somewhat dodged Jeremy’s final point, which is that this closed system model is a problem for the wider folk community and not for any single table of friends. I don’t know that the solution is one shared absolute standard, but just a continuance of what already exists, a de-centralized shared participation in a community that continues to identify itself around the core principles of gameplay that they have in common, “created and negotiated through performative acts of social linkage” which will never be 100% homogenous.
If you're interested in 'open RPGs, here's a good place to start: http://fossilbank.wikidot.com/category:tabletop-game-libre
I’ve rambled on and on. I’m getting old. Every day, I know it more concretely that I cannot and will not know even the tiniest bit of knowledge, in gaming or in most other things. I know very little. I’m afraid that even the things I do know are held in a shallow and superficial way. I can’t know everything. Maybe I can know a few things well. I’ve shared in a few places on the ‘geek this article on centireading. Like the games struggle, I’ve often thought that I’d be better off getting rid of 95% of my book library, especially the mountains (mountains of boxes) of unread books to-be-read-in-some-perfect-imaginary-future-in-which-I-have-unlimited-time-and-unlimited-attention.
It’s a ridiculous scene, but I’m moved by Truffaut’s (take on Bradbury’s) community of book lovers that burn their most beloved books in order to keep them. It is goofy and unbelievable, but sometimes there's still some shred of truth in the hokiest hokies.
I think this is why I’ve come to prefer simple RAW, the type of RAW that can be easily memorized and internalized, whether it is half a dozen card games that I could play from memory with a single deck of cards, or the half dozen games I could play on a go board or chess board or with pen and paper, or, yes, following the example above, the skeletons of a basic RPG that exists in my head. I think that this is maybe the best argument for my continued simplification, that I really want to know, deep in my bones, the games that matter to me. Because I'm not the kind of guy capable of memorizing Tale of Two Cities, but I know I can handle a few Blake poems, and that's what I'm looking for right now, gaming gems that are the equivalent of short poems, maybe deceptively simple, but worthy of deep familiarity, shining more brightly the closer they are handled and used.
I’ve said that I love Babylonia. Do I love Babylonia enough to remember how many hexes are on the board and the exact distribution of tiles, so much that I could reproduce it on my own if I lost my copy? Maybe. It’s an edge case. So many mass-produced games today are just that, mass-produced, dependent on industrial techniques that often are militantly against this deep internalization. There are probably a handful of persons who have this deep familiarity with a 1,000 counter war game or 1830 or Magic Realm or whatever. I hope there are. I know that there are Magic players who will somehow instantly have a deep familiarity with every single card in a new set as soon as it is announced. It goes back to my old post about The One Game, I guess, and I don't have mine. But maybe I can have a handful of games that I can know well enough to pass on to my kids that they can pass on to their kids.
If you lost your ten favorite games today and could not order replacements, could you reproduce them yourself? Maybe this is a silly question, but is it? To continue the religion comparison from above, I’m sure that anyone who has spent years in a liturgical tradition could faithfully replicate the ‘shape of the liturgy’ if not always all of the exact words used throughout. To move to a sports comparison, is there any lifelong baseball fan who would not be able to recreate baseball if civilization collapsed? I’m sure there would be a diamond in the field just as soon as everyone’s basic needs were cared for.
Some of this is definitely personal preference, and specifically personal preference that has shifted in me as I've grown older. Some of this is just me tilting at windmills. And it's all exploratory. I'm not even sure how far I'd go with any of this. And of course some part of me loves the game industry churn as much as anyone even as I'm disgusted by it. It is a marvel that there are so many ideas for so many games and that we have the resources and the ability to produce them, plus the increasing interest in a growing community that wants to play them. I can't quite tear myself away from this heavily commercial scene even as I find the smaller more folk-oriented (based on traditional decks, print n plays, abstracts) scenes more interesting and would probably be happier if I could force myself to throw away 95% of the games cabinet. I'd be happier, I think, if we could go back to a gaming culture established organically as part of Parlett's civilized society, in which everyone shares in a common foundational gaming language, but I also know that I wouldn't ever want to force that on anyone; It's something that has to happen naturally in a community or not happen at all.
Don't listen to me.
I want everyone in the world to know how to play Plus-Minus Jass and I want them to play it clockwise around the table.
I want the tradition I like and screw the tradition I don't like.
I am a beast.
I am a 21st Century American Man.
I am at my highest and holiest when I play.
- [+] Dice rolls
BGG Top Ten June 2006
1 Puerto Rico ($54.95)
2 Caylus (currently out of print)
3 Euphrat & Tigris (currently out of print)
4 Power Grid ($49.95)
5 Princes of Florence (currently out of print)
6 El Grande (currently out of print)
7 Ra (currently out of print)
8 Die Macher (currently out of print)
9 Age of Steam ($89.99)
10 Wallenstein (currently out of print)
7 out of those 10 are currently out of print. AoS is available from Eagle, but probably only because they printed too many copies and there wasn’t enough demand, otherwise it would be out of print right now as well. Puerto Rico and Power Grid have been surprisingly popular, proving their longevity even if I personally don’t love either one of them. From this list, I think that they are the only ones that have been in print with no lapses for nearly a couple decades now. The rest have received occasional reprints, but have not stayed in print (I think that El Grande has maybe been in print throughout the years in Germany, but it’s been off and on in the States).
Let’s remember that hobby culture is ephemeral. No one outside our hobby cares about these games, which isn’t too surprising considering that relatively few within the hobby care about these games. And even if you care about these games from 15 years ago, do you care about the ‘hot’ games from 15 years before that, 1991? How about 1976? 1961? How much do you know about the gaming cultures of 1921?
15 years from now, will Gloomhaven, Pandemic Legacy, Brass: Birmingham, Terraforming Mars, etc still be the darlings of hobby gamers? We know that they will not. And even if I’d rather play any of the 2006 games over any of the 2021 Top Ten games, I don’t think that it’s a terrible thing that these 2006 games are mostly forgotten. The popular games that appeal to a broad audience will continue to be played. The ‘hobby’ games that this site champions will continue to be cycled through, mostly disposable. What games from the past 30 years will really survive and be played 100 years from now? I don’t expect to be around to find out, but chances are very good that most of the games that you and I love from the past 30 years will be forgotten. Just like you and I will likely be forgotten. So it goes.
I didn’t mean to write about any of this. This post was supposed to be about how much it would cost to buy every game in the BGG Top 10 right now at retail prices.
BGG Top 10 March 2021
1 Gloomhaven $140.00
2 Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 $69.99
3 Brass: Birmingham $69.99
4 Terraforming Mars $69.95
5 Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition $149.95
6 Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization $69.99
7 Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion $49.99
8 Gaia Project $99.99
9 Star Wars: Rebellion $99.95
10 Twilight Struggle $65
I was talking to a friend about the world of hobby gaming. He couldn’t believe that these were the most popular games among self-described gamers (it probably didn’t help that he was forming his opinions off of my descriptions of these games, and I’m hardly unbiased in my disgust at the bloat that my fellow gamers seem to love). Anyhow, to purchase all of these games, to get your ‘starter kit’ of the 10 most popular games according to those who ought to know, you’d be spending $884.80. That’s not to mention the Hotness. Our new-to-hobby-gaming enthusiast may want to also pick up whatever the Top 10 Hot games are to join in on the conversation of what is happening Right Now. That’s another $500+. Sure, sure, online discounts. Let’s say an even $1000.00 to get up-to-date with the “best” of what’s happening right now.
These are all fine games, sure, as good as the best of 1991 or 1976.
They will be forgotten.
You know what will still be played in 100 years? Haggis and Plus-Minus Jass and Hearts. Because my grandkids will have a cheap deck of cards and some freely available rules.
And so begins the campaign for Haggis and Plus-Minus Jass and Hearts to be included in the 2121 BGG Top 10. This is the long game, folks. Join me and we can change the future.
- [+] Dice rolls
22 Mar 2021
A report on winter break plays. I wrote this as an ongoing document over the past couple of months. If there are any weird inconsistencies, it's because some of this was written piecemeal with additions and edits maybe not always actually helping.
10 Chess x6 (58 all-time)
10 Hearts x2 (5 all-time)
10 Magic: The Gathering x7 (283 all-time)
10 Tigris & Euphrates (20 all-time)
9 Ambiente Abissal x9 NEW!
9 Haggis x3 (4 all-time)
9 High Society (11 all-time)
9 Mittlere Jass NEW!
8 Adder: Realtime Chase System x2 (20 all-time)
8 Checkers x4 (7 all-time)
8 Hnefatafl x6 (11 all-time)
8 Nine Men's Morris x2 NEW!
8 Terra Nova (12 all-time)
7 Fliptricks x5 (35 all-time)
7 Heul doch! Mau Mau x3 (8 all-time)
7 Maskmen (2 all-time)
7 My City x9 (25 all-time)
6 Bosk NEW!
6 Carcassonne Junior x2 (10 all-time)
6 Fano330-R-Morris x2 NEW!
6 Here to Slay NEW!
6 Miniversity x3 NEW!
6 Ninja Camp NEW!
6 Oh Hell! (3 all-time)
6 Qwinto x2 NEW!
6 Qwixx x3 (5 all-time)
6 Reign of Witches NEW!
6 Tammany Hall NEW!
6 Texas Showdown NEW!
6 The King is Dead: Second Edition NEW!
6 Unpublished Prototype x5 (11 all-time)
6 Zero Down x2 (3 all-time)
5 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde NEW!
5 Just One NEW!
5 Letter Jam NEW!
5 Mountain Goats NEW!
5 Quarantine Haircuts NEW!
5 Slide Quest NEW!
5 UGO! NEW!
Two Instant 9s
In Mid-December, seandavidross added this to his Top 50. bankofdracula commented either there or elsewhere that he wanted to inject the game into his veins. As an addict always looking for the next fix, I knew that I’d have to check this one out. Fortunately for me, the rules were available on the ‘geek and it was playable with a Rage deck, which I had recently acquired prior to December. This could also be played with a Schotten Totten deck if you have one of those and not a Rage deck. The game needs 36 cards, 1-6 in six colored suits. And could be played with a Tarot deck. Anything withs six suits. It’s the simplest climbing game I’ve ever played (which admittedly is not a long list). The lead player will play any single card or one of two kinds of pairs, either a number pair or a color pair. The next two players need to follow that lead, playing a higher single card following a single card, a higher numbered pair, or a “higher” colored pair. That’s right, not only is there numerical rank here; the suits are ranked. This really only takes half a play to get a handle on, and is helped greatly if you set out a reminder (I kept out the 0s in each of the suits off to the side in rank order for this purpose). First to empty their hand wins the round, gaining 2 points. Second out gets 1 point. Third place gets zero. First to 6 points wins the game, which is over so quick that you’ll just want to play it again. I was surprised by how much I loved this game. I know that others were dissatisfied with the 2 player experience. Sure, it’s not quite as good as the 3p game, but I still liked it a lot. I’d be happy to play this 2p or 3p anytime. It has become a permanent part of my collection. I even paid to import the official version (for the story of how stupid I am, see my spending geeklist), mostly as a token gesture to support a great game and great designer, but also because the official art is pretty great.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that player tastes can be very different even when players share similar sensibilities and are looking for many of the same things in a game. This is true with my gaming friends locally, my childhood gaming friends, and my BGG friends. And I know that my own peculiar mix of gaming affections will not map onto any other single player. I know from painful experience that no one loves Bladder as much as I do, except for my friend Mike, who is the same guy who crapped on Bus the whole time we played together, so who knows who will like what games for what reasons. I sure don't. It’s still mostly a mystery to me. That’s a long rambling way of getting to saying that I tried Jass because hanibalicious has relentlessly championed the game, a game that has something like anti-buzz on BGG while millions of Swiss families happily unaware of BGG continue to blissfully play their favorite Jass games unconcerned with any goings-on here.
I was going to play Mittlere, but started with Plus-Minus at Hanibal’s recommendation, which turned out to be a great one. I think that I could be happy to just play Plus-Minus for a long time before moving on to any other Jass games. Honestly, I’m not sure if the rest of the Jass family, with its melds/marriages, interests me that much more. Maybe I’ll want added complexity some day. Right now, I’m happy with simplicity. And Plus-Minus is surprisingly simple. It’s played with standard ranked suits with Ace-Ten points (A-11, 10-10, K-4, Q-3, J-2, number cards are 0), but it’s simpler for newbies because the 10 keeps its “normal” rank between the 9 and the J instead of getting moved in between the A and K. Then, to confuse things, the J and 9 of the trump suit become the strongest ranked cards and are worth 20 and 14 points respectively (so trump suit is J9AKQ10876). It’s not too hard to remember if you have marked-up cards to remind you of the point change (thus reminding you of the rank change).
The two things that I love about Plus-Minus are how trump is determined and how VPs (called sticks in the game) are awarded. Whenever a player cannot follow the lead suit and breaks suit for the first time in a round, the suit of whatever card they play becomes the trump suit. It’s marvelous, but mostly because of how it works in combination with the VP scoring. At the end of the round, the person who won the most points (without going over 100 points) wins a stick and the person who won the least points wins a stick. The person in the middle wins nothing. So, when evaluating your hand, it’s good to plan whether you’ll try to force a certain trump suit if you can, either to benefit yourself for a high score or to force trump in a suit that you have no more cards in so that you can lose all future hands, settling in to lowest score while the other two win with their trumps. There’s enough planning to satisfy and enough chaos from interaction to ensure that those plans will get frustrated and you’ll often have to decide whether to stick to plan or pivot to doing the opposite of what you’ve been trying to do.
It’s a delicious game. It’s an hanibalicious game, and I love it.
I’ve read the rules to full Mittlere and it looks very good, in some ways better in little things like that it’s good to have the lowest score, but only if you win at least one trick, a requirement not present in Plus-Minus, making it a little more friendly. I’d like to try Mittlere someday and I probably will, but I’m happy to continue with just Plus-Minus for a while longer.
Finally, I’ll admit that we played the game clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. I’m not going to change the direction I go in every single other game unless I have a very good reason. I don’t find the “it’s always been done this way” argument very compelling, but that's only because of my circumstances. If I found a community of counter-clockwisers, I'd join in their opposite-world antics.
Somewhere between a 7 and an 8, rounded up to an 8 because I found it charming.
Nine Men’s Morris
How had I never played this before? This is the game that I should have been playing every time that I played tic-tac-toe with my sister when we were kids. If only someone had been there to teach me Morris! I’ve known about the game for at least a couple of decades. Being a chess snob in my youth, I looked at Morris variants in books and read descriptions and thought, hey, that’s cool, but then immediately dismissed these games as not chess, so having deserved their fate in being forgotten by history, not passed on by any living tradition. But I was mistaken. Nine Men’s Morris is still remembered and is still played by some. I’m happy to now be part of that community of players.
I’ve begun compiling my own “Great Games” book for family use. Right now, it’s just a digital text file full of rules which will eventually be printed and make its way to a 3-ring binder. I have past experience using print-on-demand services (which are quite good now), so maybe someday this will become a real book that I can pass on to my children. The rules included are for card games using a standard deck or a Rage deck, board games that can be played on a Chess or Go board or on a board that can be hand-drawn in less than 5 minutes (which is also pretty much true of a chess or go board), using common pieces such as stones or blocks (or yes, checkers and chess pieces), pen/paper games, and party games that can be be played using any of the above items, scraps of paper, or nothing at all, and once dice game (Liar’s Dice; I’m open to suggestions for other quality dice games).
I’ll eventually make a separate post about this rules tome, which may or may not ever actually exist. That entire previous paragraph was a ramble away from Nine Men’s Morris, but the point was/is that Nine Men’s Morris has a place in my heart and in this book. I like it that much. Yes, of course it’s still second or third tier under the likes of chess/shogi and go, but what isn’t? For its simplicity and purity (how is that for a loaded term?), I prefer it over most of the commercially published abstracts that I've played.
Hanibal sent me rules to a fun little card game that I think is even better than he possibly realized. It's feels like a mash-up of Knizia's Black Sheep or even Schotten Totten (in the sense that you are playing cards to win material for an endgame condition) and a Poker version of Officer's Skat (in the sense that it is a great 2 player game that teaches poker ranking while being fun, involving some skill but also a heaping portion of luck) and something else I'm not quite pegging, maybe even Movable Type, but others as well. I'm thinking of the fact that the "resources" you are fighting over (cards) are used to shape your hand for a final showdown. I only played it 2-player (and think that's how I prefer it, not really wanting to even try 3-4). This rating might even go up. I had a blast playing it with one of my daughters. It's light, quick fun, perfect for playing with kids. (And I've also now played it with an adult friend and taught it to his girlfriend and watched them play a match. It's light and it's quick. I think it holds up as a form of "Officer's Poker"). If Hanibal approves, I'll post the rules.
The only reason that I played Nine Men’s Morris is because bootleby sent me a hand drawn fano330-r-morris board, which was one of the best Christmas gifts I received this year, even if I was a bit disappointed by the game itself. I liked it, but didn’t quite love it. Instead of trying to win, you are trying not to lose, which of course means that you are actively trying to maneuver your opponent into positions in which they are forced into a losing move. It’s superficial, I know, but I probably would have liked it at least a little bit better if I had played it with the Nestor pieces. Each side gets four pieces, two each of two different shapes. It’s important to see the color and shape of pieces while they are stacked. First, I tried using dice, two flipped to 1, two flipped to 6, but I discovered pretty quickly that it’s hard to quickly distinguish what’s what. The next game, I used Quarto pieces, which seemed appropriate because the games share the similar “don’t lose” vibe. The Quarto pieces were theoretically great, but in practice they were hard to keep stacked and they’d fall over. So it goes. Sorry, Fano, maybe some other day, but at least you led me to Morris games. Thanks, bootleby.
Reign of Witches
This was also a gift from bootleby. I played it on Christmas day and had a lot of fun with it. Unfortunately, after that one play, it never got played again, a victim of the busyness of the end of the year, I guess. Now, a few months later, I’d be happy to play it again, but I also don’t feel like I need to or especially want to. I’m going to keep it around, though, because it really does pack a nice bit of historical flavor into a very tight little package.
I did have one rules question after reading the rules, but it was only a few days into my BGG absence. I figured that it wasn’t terrible to go to BGG for something very specific like this. I went straight to the forums for Reign of Witches. My problem was not addressed anywhere at all. What could I do? I almost right there and then logged back into BGG. Then I caught myself and thought, no, there is a way to do this without BGG. So I headed over to consimworld. :-) But that was no help either. That’s when I did the sensible thing and sent Tom an email. Sent Tom an email! It just suddenly clicked that I knew that Tom and/or Mary had responded to every email I had ever sent them. Those were only a couple of emails about orders, but I figured that rules questions were probably welcome as well. I sent the email. Within 15 minutes, Tom had sent me a very pleasant response which answered my question. Amazing! Hollandspiele is one of the best companies in the business. Thank you, Tom and Mary.
I've surprisingly caught the roll n write bug. Context definitely matters. These would feel like a waste of time at a BATS game night (I'd never want to play these for any kind of main event game and I'd probably rather just sit around chatting even if we did have 15 minutes or so to play this at the end of an evening or in between games). At home, with any of the kids, though, both Qwixx and Qwinto have been big hits. These games are a pleasant way to get in some quick gaming.
I don't know about Bosk. The theme is charming. The gameplay is fine, but I found it rather dry and procedural. I planned out my last 5 turns, then executed them as planned pretty much on auto-pilot. This is strange in a game that seems to have so much interaction. I don't know. I think I found the actual interaction to be too gentle, but then again, maybe that's fitting for the theme.
Here to Slay
I was surprised by how much I liked this. It's a very simple 'take that' style game, but it has charming art and it does not overstay its welcome at all.
Hanibal sent me this little game. I had a good time playing it. 'Nuff said.
This is basically Hey! That's My Fish! with a grid layout and special powers. I liked it.
I'm glad I finally got to play this. It was a good time and I'd happily play it again. It's wild and swingy, but the player interaction and the shared narrative development makes it a treat.
I'm still cautiously optimistic about Texas Showdown, but my first play was not as great as I wanted it to be. I can see some fun here, but can I grasp it?
The King is Dead 2e
This rating may go up. I'm not sure. I had a great time playing this, but need to think about it some more.
5s or 4s or I don’t know, whatevers.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
These are two trick-taking games that I respect more than I like. I feel like UGO! played me more than I played it. I somehow still found it pleasant and fun, but not compelling enough to ever return to. This is one in which I definitely disagree with hanabilicious. Jekyll & Hyde was too clever by far. There’s a lot of skill involving tracking and deduction, but I just didn’t like the way that the game was often about making other people do things instead of doing things yourself. It almost felt like a combative cooperative game, if that makes any sense. Again, I respect it a lot, but didn't really like it, disagreeing with bankofdracula. See what I mean? I started this post mentioning the games that I enjoyed that these guys enjoyed. Now I'm crapping on other games that they also enjoy. Tastes that are so close yet so far away. I love Plus-Minus, but am lukewarm on UGO! I love Ambiente Abissal, but don't like Jekyll & Hyde. So it goes. There's still enough crossover that we're all gonna have a blast at DeepCatCon, if I even have time to play any card games or want to live at all or do anything but cry after playing a day long session of Xas Irkalla with mplsmatt. I can dream, I can dream.
These were all games that I gave to the entire family for Christmas. The kids have since gone on to play Slide Quest several times without me, but I don’t think anyone has touched Letter Jam or Just One since we first played them. I know that I don’t care to revisit them. They’re not at all bad games. I’d just rather be playing something else.
This is fine, but it's just rolling dice and hoping for the best.
This is a fun enough way to spend a handful of minutes, but nothing really to sustain repeated plays, which is fine, because I think it was designed to make a person smile, not to survive as an example of a great game.
Not new, but notable
I’m grateful for the experience that My City gave me. 25 plays with Abigail, with her usually being the one asking to play. That’s a great success right there, but… I don’t care if I never play it again. I ended up winning the last six games as the system became more baroque, with mines and trains, oh my. Instead of there being multiple good options, I felt like there was often a best option than multiple red herring distractions. It felt less like the great puzzle game that it had been and more like an efficiency Euro. The “eternal” game on the reverse board probably represents the game at its peak, which must be why it was chosen as the version to keep, the version that is the most fun to play repeatedly. In the end, I think that the legacy aspect grew past what the game should have been, and I write this as someone who grokked the ending and ended up winning by a significant margin after a mostly otherwise close game. Abigail just wasn’t having as much fun the last few games and that meant that I didn’t care at all about the game anymore.
Do I recommend it as a couples game? Yeah, I do. Do I care to ever play the legacy game again or ever play the eternal game? Nope, I don’t.
- [+] Dice rolls
He hears with gladdened heart the thunder, or, A Quiet Spirit, or, On not being a better person after having left boardgamegeek for 3 months.
21 Mar 2021
I've seen your face in every place that I'll be goin'
I read your words like black hungry birds read every sowin'
Rise and fall, spin and call, and my name is Carnival
He hears with gladdened heart the thunder
Peal, and loves the falling dew;
He knows the earth above and under —
Sits and is content to view.
He sits beside the dying ember,
God for hope and man for friend,
Content to see, glad to remember,
Expectant of the certain end.
Converse much in your thoughts with the dark and silent grave. You meet with many things now that disturb and disquiet you, and much ado you have to bear them: think how quiet death will make you, and how incapable of resenting or resisting injuries, and what an easy prey this flesh, for which you are so jealous, will shortly be to the worm that shall feed sweetly on it … And is not a quiet spirit the best preparative for that quiet state? Think how all these things, which now disquiet us, will appear when we come to look death in the face: how small and inconsiderable they seem to one that is stepping into eternity. Think, "What need is there that I should so resent an affront of injury, that am but a worm to-day, and may be the food of worms to-morrow?"
It took me less than a couple weeks to realize that I really and truly missed BGG. I finished out the self-imposed 3 month exile just to be certain, and, yes, mostly because I would feel like a loser if I came back any earlier than I said I would.
So, how was it away from BGG? Did I learn anything about myself? Did I use my time any more wisely? Not so great. Not really. Nope.
This BGG blog of mine has always been as much about my search for contentment as it ever has been about games. Contentment and games. The two are related. I’ve long understood about myself that games settle my mind, bring me peace. I’m prone to anxiety and despair, acedia and melancholia. So it goes. I know from long experience that there are physical actions that make these things better and physical actions that make these things worse. The right choices are pretty reliable, even if it often seems like I reliably make the wrong choices. One positive choice that almost always works without fail is to play a game. Works at what? Works at convincing me that all is right with the world and my place in it. For the time that I’m playing a game, any good game worth playing, there is always “a temporary, a limited perfection.”
“Inside the play-ground an absolute and peculiar order reigns. Here we come across another, very positive feature of play: it creates order, is order. Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of life it brings a temporary, a limited perfection. Play demands order absolute and supreme. The least deviation from it ‘spoils the game’, robs it of its character and makes it worthless. The profound affinity between play and order is perhaps the reason why play, as we noted in passing, seems to lie to such a large extent in the field of aesthetics. Play has a tendency to be beautiful. It may be that this aesthetic factor is identical with the impulse to create orderly form, which animates play in all its aspects. The words we use to denote the elements of play belong for the most part to aesthetics, terms with which we try to describe the effects of beauty: tension, poise, balance, contrast, variation, solution, resolution, etc. Play casts a spell over us ; it is ‘enchanting’, ‘captivating.’ It is invested with the noblest qualities we are capable of perceiving in things: rhythm and harmony.”
Play has a tendency to be beautiful. That’s it, right there. For the time in which I am playing, I am part of a rhythm and harmony, the rhythm and harmony of that particular table and those particular people, but also, I am convinced, in rhythm and harmony with the way the world itself is rightly ordered.
“The ultimate lesson games give is not about gratification and reward, nor about media and technology, nor about art and design. It is a lesson about modesty, attention, and care. Play cultivates humility, for it requires us to treat things as they are rather than as we wish them to be. If we let it, play can be the secret to contentment. Not because it provides happiness or pleasure—although it certainly can—but because it helps us pursue a greater respect for the things, people, and situations around us.”
This is something like a “posture of play” in the every way that one could (should?) engage with all of the world.
“But games aren’t magic, and the most special thing about them isn’t unique to them anyway—their artificial, deliberately limited structures teach us how to appreciate everything else that has a specific, limited structure. Which is just to say, anything whatsoever. Play isn’t our goal, but a tool to discover and appreciate the structures of all the malls and fishbowls we encounter.”
I take Bogost’s point, but I'd quibble a bit. Games are indeed “magic” and supremely special precisely because they are “deliberately” limited structures. It is that deliberateness that focuses the mind (and emotions) in a special way. It may be true that they teach us how to appreciate anything and everything else, but they do so by providing a deliberate space in which the training of those faculties can happen. Playing in a deliberate way in closed environments built for play may train us to play, deliberately, in wilder, woolier, more open environments. I think so. But I also know that I play games because it is beautiful and right and proper to play games and there doesn’t need to be any further justification than that, any more than there needs to be a defense of birds or flowers.
So, what does all of this have to do with being off of BGG and with now being back on BGG?
In the past three months, I was more content with what I had and didn’t chase as many new games for myself while I was gone from BGG. I certainly didn't care about the commercial churn cycle. What’s maybe weirder is that I didn’t feel any pressure or care to play any of the unplayed games in the basement either. That pressure just lifted. I don’t know if this was really an effect of being off of BGG or rather just the natural culmination of the past year of public self-reflection, in which I discovered that I’m actually a lot happier playing traditional abstract games and card games than I am playing pretty much any new “designer” game. Being away from BGG meant that I was even further away from the cult-of-the-new churn, but also away from the cult-of-the-small-new-exotic-card-games crowd that I had been gravitating towards (I love you guys). I stopped thinking about what to play next, which meant that for a while I played less, but then I just played at whim or left things set up, playing chess or checkers with one of the kids several nights in a row, which was always satisfying.
Taking a moment to breathe, it was also easy to notice that playing or not playing the games in the basement does not matter. At all. One bit. I mean, I always knew that and would have told you that if asked, but I hadn't felt it. They are still there, but I've already let them go. Kondo-style, I'm grateful that they gave me some moment of purchasing/collecting joy, but I'm even more grateful that they've taught me an (expensive) lesson in the perils of accumulating too much too fast. I was just telling a friend that the best gaming decision I made last year was the rule to play a new game immediately (within 2 weeks) or mercilessly dispose of the game, with this lesson being cemented in my by bootleby calling me out on the massive trade and my then playing that massive stack of games. Barring illness or disaster, I will never buy another game and not play it within 2 weeks. This really is the key thing I've internalized. I've been reflecting on my bedroom as a teenager. It was stuffed full of crap, a clutter-hater's nightmare, and I loved it. I never felt bad about it and I really never have been bothered by clutter. The big difference, I can understand now, is that I never ever brought something new into that room that I did not read/watch/play/listen to as soon as I possibly could.
I’d still like to get to at least a few of those games in the basement before I dispose of them. I’m still going to stick to the Crates rules that I’ve outlined somewhere here. Play the games by sometime (I can’t even remember when) later this year or get rid of them. But I no longer feel any pressure at all related to this. It just doesn't matter. I also culled dozens more games, but that process probably deserves its own short post.
Being away from BGG also meant that I spent time other places on the Internet. Because I didn’t just suddenly stop caring about games and I didn't suddenly completely unplug, I found other gaming websites out there. They exist! BGG is not the only games-related site. I know, this is not news, but BGG was definitely my default, and when it is the default, it’s easy to default to wasting time on general threads on BGG that I’m not ultimately interested in just because it is the default. Away from BGG, I found a wider world of games. I read the rules to a lot of small free (or pay what you want) indie rpgs. I read about traditional parlor games. I read the rules to card games that I’ll never play. I read essays about games and about play. I discovered stuff like Ludocity, “a collection of pervasive games, street games and new sports - social forms of play that take place in public spaces, such as city streets, parks and public buildings.” I briefly joined the new community.consimworld, which is a sort of facebook for wargamers, and stayed there long enough, about half a day, to know that it wasn’t for me.
I’ve reflected a lot on this one Matthew Henry sentence, “And is not a quiet spirit the best preparative for that quiet state?” Quiet here does not mean silent, but being at peace. It was the restlessness that I sometimes associated with BGG that often “disquieted” me. Always something new. Always another update/notification, and if there isn’t a new something yet, I’ll just refresh a few times, and maybe there will be one soon. Outside of BGG, I was still on the internet. I did not quit that completely. There was some degree of restlessness in my searching, but there was always some greater degree of boundedness to the search results. I was able to sip at a thing or two, then put it down, which is a different feeling than the notification-driven "refreshing" interaction of BGG (just like "content" doesn't seem to bring contentment, "refreshing" webpages rarely feels actually refreshing), which is fortunately user-controlled so I can only blame myself, but I don't think it's any accident that BGG's new homepage changed to an endless scroll. That is the new model. Infinite Content, so some approximation thereof.
Sometimes I even went on BGG (gasp!) when it seemed like the best place to look something up. If I learned anything in all of this, I learned that BGG is a far worse place when not logged in than when logged in. Because despite my complaints, despite the degree to which BGG is complicit in a culture of dissatisfaction and continued acquisition, BGG is also home to a great community of other players, those whom David Parlett, following Cotton, likes to call Gamesters. You, my fellow Gamesters, you who understand the rhythm and harmony of play, you are the reason that I am back and the reason that I will still continue to consider BGG my primary home on the web. I think I understand that better now and I am more grateful than ever for it.
I love games. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop loving games. I don’t think I can ever stop thinking about games or talking about games. This preoccupation with games is frivolous in a sense, but I’m also convinced that it’s a genuine groping at something more profound. If not, it’s at least a welcome respite from the pain and hardship experienced elsewhere. You all reading this might agree with my speculations or you might think I’m crazy. It doesn’t matter. What I do know is that you’re all here because you love games like I do, or like you do, in your own way. There’s something about the ludic life that can’t be shaken. Since those of us smitten in this way, self-concious of our ludobsession, are scattered far and wide, we might as well share our experiences with one another as best we can here on boardgamegeek. At its best, it is a marvelous place.
This time around, let’s talk about digital media and the dead.
As deep fakes, virtual reality, and virtual worlds become more commonplace, I worry that at least some of us will lose our ability to die.
I’ve probably mentioned here before that I’ve deleted multiple facebook accounts and multiple twitter accounts. I was definitely active in both of those places at different points over the last decade or so. It might be weird to many of you, but one major reason I deleted those accounts and have not gone back is that I’m terrified that some social media account of mine will outlive me. So much ephemeral conversation, which is really what any of these accounts are, should be forgotten. They are all, at best, partial representations of some carefully cultivated version of some aspect of myself, what I felt like performing that day to that crowd. I don’t know. I just didn’t like it, and still don’t like it, the thought of some future ethnocultural-archivist specializing in early 21st century U.S. history reconstructing some version of me through the tattered scraps of online personas. Not that I imagine myself important enough to be worthy of study. The scenario is more like a future descendent researching his family history, looking into the Owen side of the early 21st century only to conclude that the most important thing in this ancestor's life, based on years of Google Hangouts conversation data, was the regular fart jokes exchanged with his friends.
It’s maybe even weirder that I don’t feel that way about BGG. If anything, this blog and my contributions here give an even narrower version of myself than other outlets. I present the Ludic & Ludological John as primary. And I think I’m okay with this because I wish it were true that the Ludic & Ludological John were the Primary John (here I distinguish slightly between ludic=playful and ludological=playing ordered by and consisting in Logos, which is my own spin on ludological, but also not too far from standard definitions; I'm also happy describing myself as someone who attempts to speak logical structured words about games). I'd like to be remembered for my playfulness. Following Huizenga and Bogost and others, I admire and appreciate and, most importantly, play games because they are beautiful in themselves, but also because in themselves they reveal something true beyond themselves. Not all human activity is play, but “it might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play.”
And maybe that all got too heavy. For the record, I'm definitely not writing this for any future folk. I'm writing it for all of you, right now, as part of an ongoing conversation that I'm enjoying. I've learned something from each of you about what it means to play and be playful. Being on BGG is its own form of play; I think that I can settle back in here happily without stressing too much. See you all around.
It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke—that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls.
I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.
For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order–with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order?
How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis?
No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live.
But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”
- [+] Dice rolls