Random Ruminations

It seems to be part of my nature to reflect on all my experiences--even the hobby experiences many people consider trivial. And I reflect best when I'm typing. So, here are some of my thoughts on games and gaming. Enjoy them if you can, comment if you like.
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Beginning of a Purge?

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"‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep. ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’"
"‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter."
Microbadge: 2022 RPG Geek Play-by-Forum Initiative participantMicrobadge: Solitaire WargamerMicrobadge: Live and let liveMicrobadge: Civilization V fanMicrobadge: I completed the 2022 VGG challenge: played 25 video games or played for 250 hours
This weekend has been a turning point for me in the area of video gaming. I've been putting some thought into what to line up for the 2022 Videogame Challenge (an annual VGG event I'm new to), and it has prompted me to look at my games in a new way. I never plan ahead, and now I'm doing that--considering which games I'd choose to fill the year up with.

I have 21 games installed and displayed in GOG Galaxy. The other 200-odd games I keep uninstalled (sometimes even hidden) so as not to be distracted by them. So, first I looked over my 21-game display.


Oddly enough, I had both Civilization V and Civilization VI installed. I'd been trying to decide which I liked better, but it was more or less a toss-up, so left them both there and moved on to playing other games. Now, however, I got to thinking about Civ IV. Some fans say it's the best in the series, and I can believe it. So, why did I uninstall it, then?

To find out, I reinstalled it and played three games. After that experience, I uninstalled Civ IV, Civ V, and Civ VI.

I started playing Civ back when it was new, around 1991. I had mixed feelings about it even then, and I soon found other games I liked better and played more often. But over the years, every time a new Civ came out, I felt I had to try it. It's a very cool concept for a game, and parts of it are fun. It's also compelling; it has that "just one more turn" aspect to it. Yet overall, every game I play leaves me feeling either frustrated or bored. If there's much war, I'm frustrated and irritated; if there's no war, I'm bored.

I just don't like the way war works in Civ. I never have. Doesn't matter to me if it's the "stacks of doom" in Civ I through IV or the "one unit per tile" of Civ V and VI. War just never feels right to me in that game, and I can't quite put my finger on why. Either it's just incongruent with the rest of the game or the combat system is poorly designed or designed in a weird way. Whatever it is, it goes against my grain. Maybe it's because I'm an old wargamer and I have certain expectations of how the units are going to move and fight.

Anyhow, although it took thirty years, I've finally come to realize that Civ is not my kind of game. There are Civ spin-offs I like--e.g., Master of Orion and Age of Wonders, or even Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri--but not Civ itself. If I had to take a shot at explaining why, I'd say it's probably because the games I like all make war central to the gaming experience, whereas Civ has always tried to make war optional.

That fits with my general dislike of other multidimensional strategy games--e.g., Victoria, Europa Universalis, Imperialism, and even Pride of Nations--games where the player has to manage politics, economics, religion, and more besides just war. If I'm busy building an empire, I don't want to also have to destroy other empires or risk mine being destroyed; I want to just build, not fight. On the other hand, if the whole concept of the game involves my being at war, that's perfectly OK with me, as long as I can just wage war and not have to simultaneously manage finances and popular support and a bunch of other stuff.

Even the Total War series rubbed me the wrong way in that respect. It's certainly war-focused, but there's an awful lot of building, politicking, and more going on. (And then, when it gets right down to war, the real-time, up-close tactical combat also puts me off, as it's more than I want to have to be in direct command of.)

Anyhow, Civilization is out for me now, and I suppose other games of that kind are also.

Puzzle Games

I played a half hour or so of Desktop Dungeons to remind myself what that game is like. I've had it installed for a long time, but it mostly sits there unplayed. So does DROD, another very good puzzle game.

Another excellent one is SpaceChem, which I reluctantly uninstalled after two or three hours of play.

Unfortunately I have a low frustration threshold. All my life I've said I hate puzzles but love games. What I really mean is that I can't stand being stumped by a puzzle. Nor do I love a mystery. I want to be able to wrap my mind around whatever game I'm playing. I expect to play poorly in the beginning but nevertheless succeed at the easiest tasks. And as I get in more practice, I expect to build skill and become more competent. By the time I'm fairly proficient, I expect to also have a good understanding of the game as a whole.

But puzzles don't work that way. In a puzzle you're tasked with achieving just one specific goal, and you either can or can't. If you can't, you're stumped. You start over or try again. If you get in a rut and keep trying the same things, you're in for perpetual frustration, so you eventually have to think outside whatever self-imposed box you've been in.

That, I suppose, is a desirable and useful thing to do--a good practice to learn. But for me, it runs counter to the kind of entertainment I seek in games. When I immerse myself in a game, I want to feel I'm on familiar ground. I already know how to do some things well, and I'm ready to build on that and learn how to do things better. I may even be up for learning entirely new things. But I don't want practically everything I face to be a new thing that stumps me at first.

And if I'm stumped for more than a minute or so, my frustration builds to a level where I'm not having fun anymore. I may dutifully keep at it until I find a solution, and when I do it'll be a relief, but I will not have enjoyed the process.

So today I played Desktop Dungeons until I'd lost three or four times (in "easy" dungeons each time). I started to catch on to the fact that the game calls for a high degree of order and precision; I realized it'd be necessary to do things in a specific sequence in order to succeed.

Part of me wanted to forge ahead, try again and again, and eventually discover the winning combination of moves. But a bigger part of me wanted to go play a game where I already know how to do many things--a game which is is forgiving enough that I'll be free to express my own style, make suboptimal choices sometimes, and still win.

Because of that, it has gotten to where I'm reluctant to play RPGs and point-and-click adventure games. The latter, especially, are too puzzle-like for me.

RPGs and Adventure Games

I've played some of these games through and even enjoyed the experience. But frankly, I always ended up wishing I'd had the experience in the form of a book or movie instead. Then I could have just enjoyed the story.

RPGs are more tolerable, as they're often just a series of combat encounters mixed with inventory management and other kinds of encounters. If I like the combat system, I can focus on that and just rush through everything else. Still, there are usually mysteries, and there are often puzzles. Impatient with both, I usually look for a "strategy guide" or "walkthrough" to follow along with as I play.

Point-and-click adventure games are practically impossible for me to play without a guide or walkthrough. They're stories regularly interrupted by puzzles. Until you solve the next puzzle, you can't enjoy any more of the story. Then, to add to the misery, the puzzle solution is often some bizarre combination of moves that no sane player would ever guess.

Hence, this is another type of game that has all but drifted off my radar. At the moment I have Avernum installed, and I'm partway into it. I've actually done OK too, even without a walkthrough. But already I'm feeling a little antsy about the whole mystery I'm involved in. I'm uncomfortable having to just "wing it"--pick a mission and go for it and see how things turn out, even if I may be heading in the wrong direction. I prefer to have more of an overview than that--the kind of overview a chess player has when looking over the game board.

Unfortunately, that's a luxury one doesn't get in a story-based game (or in any story, the first time through). You have to take it one step or phase at a time. The future is uncertain, and much of the world remains unknown. Only when you reach the end can you look back and put it all together.

So, What's Left?

If I'm purging (or at least phasing out) Civilization, puzzle games, RPGs, and adventure games, what games will I still be playing?

Well, my favorites, for starters: Master of Orion, Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith, Conquest of Elysium 5, Age of Wonders, and more.

Most of these I'd call elaborations of chess and/or go. Probably not many other people would see these games that way, but that's what they are to me, behind all the thematic chrome. Tactical combat in AoW is pretty obviously a little game of chess. Expansion through the galaxy in MoO is an awful lot like the territorial acquisition in go. In that sort of game, the player enjoys an overview and simply focuses on what moves to make next. It's all about building an empire or defeating a foe.

Then there are genres I'm still exploring. One is the roguelike or roguelite. Sometimes I like these, other times not so much. I was surprised at how much I liked Darkest Dungeon; though I doubted it'd be my kind of game, it was love at first sight. But on the other hand, I couldn't warm up to Tales of Maj'Eyal: Age of Ascendancy; the level-ups and all seem much too fiddly. Again on the plus side there's FTL: Advanced Edition; I feel compelled to keep trying and learning about that game.

And there are historical wargames, which take me back to my roots. I got big into board wargaming in my teens, and I've never lost my enthusiasm for it even though the games just sit in my closet most of the time nowadays. I haven't completely given up on Civil War II, an excellent (if a bit clunky) grand-strategy game. And I may get around to learning Ultimate General: Civil War as well (though I found it intimidating the first time I played). I've also got Battle Academy and its sequel to play around with.

I'm also sometimes into simulation games--a certain kind anyway. At this point, it's limited to submarine sims. Every now and then I get in a mood to just shoot at something, arcade-style. But I don't have the reflexes, or a good enough game controller, to enjoy the Aces flight sims anymore. I still like Silent Service II, though, and I aspire to become competent at Silent Hunter III.

Then there are card games and such. Spectromancer is a longtime favorite, and I could get into other games of that kind.

So, plenty of good gaming still available to me. I'm just surprised that during the past couple days I've turned my back on two or three whole categories of video games. That's quite a change.

It's also good news, as I always did have too many irons in the fire. For years I've wasted a lot of time on games I'd heard were good and hoped might be for me. Then, once I had invested many hours in them, I'd cling to them even if I wasn't enjoying them that much. Maybe I kept hoping I'd learn to like them better.

Anyway, it comes as a bit of a shock and something of a relief, this video-game "purge." And now I'll have to revisit my list of games for that 2022 Videogame Challenge.
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