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Subject: What the Doctor Ordered... rss

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James Webb
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"Are you comfortable, Mr. Webb?"

"Yes," I replied, which wasn't strictly true. My feet dangled over the end of the couch, as they usually do, but you get used to it after a while, "where should I begin?"

"Why don't you start at the beginning?" the doctor suggested, pen poised over his notebook.

"Well," I began, "I was, in many ways, a typical child of the 80s. First a VIC-20, and then a Commodore 64, and by the end of the decade I was drooling over my friends' Amigas and Atari STs. But I always preferred the slower paced games. You know, strategy games. RPGs. That kind of thing. So an interest in board games was very natural."

"I see," the doctor jotted something down.

"This was the 80s remember. So it was Talisman, Thunder Road, HeroQuest and the like. I remember falling in love with Space Hulk and Advanced Heroquest and dabbling in role playing with Top Secret/S.I. and RuneQuest. But then the 90s hit and before I knew it I was at university. I didn't have time for games then."

"Weren't you studying theology?" the doctor peered at me over the notebook.

"Yes, yes. Well, obviously it wasn't the nine hours of lectures a week that took up my time. It was everything else. Anyway, the board games just kind of vanished and by the time I left university and got a job the only gaming I did was on my PlayStation."

"Hmmmmm."

"I still dabbled. I remember picking up Axis & Allies in a charity shop, and going through a stage of building up a Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine army, despite having no-one to play with. Then, many years later, we moved to Australia and I started getting in with a crowd that played Warhammer."

The doctor was a professional, but I caught the briefest of twitches in his eye when I said that.

"Well, they also ran a gaming group on week nights and I started to go along to that. I didn't really know what to expect, but they were playing games that I'd never even heard of before! I played Ticket to Ride, which I thought was OK, but then we played things like Colosseum and Amun-Re and I was blown away! I'd never played anything like it. I was...well, I was hooked," I gulped nervously. The doctor said nothing. He didn't even look at me. He was writing something down.

"I found BGG and I ordered some board games for myself. I didn't know what I was doing. My first online order included In the Year of the Dragon and Zombies!!!, for goodness sake!"

The doctor chuckled dutifully, and then made a note in his infernal notebook.

"But the Euro High wore off. I think I realised something was wrong when I was playing a seven-hour game of Age of Renaissance. It was the antithesis of everything I'd played up to that point, but I loved it. I'd never cared about any Euro I'd played enough to get as angry as I got during that game of AoR. Stupid Civil War card," I muttered.

"Go on."

"Then I was playing Antike one day and I realised that although I couldn't fault the game design at all, it just felt clinical and boring. I was supposed to be building a civilisation! I should be feeling something other than numbing tedium, shouldn't I? The British Empire was founded on market forces and the Maxim machine gun, not on a rondel," I felt a solitary tear make its way down my cheek.

The doctor watched me for a while, and then made another note.

"So I threw myself into Ameritrash instead. I thought that was what I wanted! Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords, Tomb, Conquest of Nerath. I tried all kinds of things. I just wanted to feel something!"

The doctor had put his pen down. He nodded.

"I was trapped. Euros satisfied my urge for deep thinking, but left me cold. Ameritrash engaged me, but when I won I didn't feel clever, I just felt like I'd been lucky."

"Is it important for you to feel clever?" the doctor asked.

"I wouldn't say it's important. But it's just acknowledging reality," I responded.

"Hmmmm. You come across as arrogant at times, Mr. Webb."

"The smartest guy in the room always does," I replied.

Scribble, scribble.

"You've got to help me, doc! I don't know who I am anymore! Am I a Euro guy trapped in an Ameritrasher's body, or vice versa? Look at my BGG wishlist! Do I want Rococo or Triumph & Tragedy more? Russian Railroads or Duel of Ages II? I just don't know!"

"My normal course of action would be electroshock therapy," the doctor suggested.

"Does that work?" I asked, nervously.

"No, not at all. I just don't like you very much. As it is, the authorities no longer look kindly on such things, so I must prescribe something else."

He reached over to his desk and grabbed his prescription pad, chattering away while he began to scrawl.

"I'm prescribing some experimental treatment. It's something that straddles the line. Outwardly, it has all the hallmarks of a thumping Ameritrash classic. It's got direct conflict, a bizarre Egyptian theme and plastic. Yes, lots of plastic."

The doctor stopped writing and looked up at me. His glasses began to mist over.

"Lots of little troops moving over the board. And the monsters. Oh, the monsters!"

"Monsters?"

"Yes, little plastic monsters that you can recruit to your side. It should make you feel powerful and involved. It should...compensate for some things. One of the beautiful things about it is how the game system encourages attacking. You only get Victory Points if you're the attacker, you know."

"Victory Points?" I repeated, hopefully.

"Yes. You see, it also reflects some of the finer things of Euro design. The map is designed in such a way that - despite appearances to the contrary - no player has a geographical advantage over another. It's balanced, you see. Perfectly balanced. And no dice, except some funky four-sided ones that are actually pyramids that you can build."

"Build?"

"Yes, yes. You build up your pyramids and purchase technology tiles. That's the best of both worlds, isn't it? Kingdom building by force and by economy. Your British Empire example. Market Forces and a Machine Gun. You have to manage limited resources, namely your troops and your prayer points, to achieve what you want. And you only have a certain number of actions to use. You place these little pieces on the actions you want to take but, and this is sublime, you must make sure that you use an action from each row of your pyramid. So, how can you maximise your limited resources, and yet make sure that you are not stuck taking an action that you don't really want?"

"So, difficult choices then?" I asked.

"Most definitely," the doctor replied.

"Worker placement?" I sounded hopeful.

"Of a sort."

"Different paths to victory?"

"Oh yes. There are a lot of different ways to get Victory Points. It is possible to win by avoiding combat, but why would you want to? You don't roll dice, oh no. You play cards. You have a set of cards, and you have to play one in each combat. Once you've played it, you can't use it again until you have used all the others. Combat has nothing, nothing, to do with luck and everything to do with bluffing, maneuvering and keeping track of which cards you opponent has already used. It's fantastic. What's more, and I have a feeling this will be very important for you, Mr. Webb, you enjoy playing even when you lose."

"Doc, I'm cured!" I screamed, leaping off the couch, "this medicine sounds like it's exactly what I need."

The doctor ripped the page off his pad and held it out to me.

"Good, good. Try this for two months and come back and let me know how it's going. Actually, on second thoughts, don't come back."

"I won't need to if this is everything you say. Doc, I could kiss you!"

"Get out. GET OUT OF MY OFFICE NOW!"

I ran from that office a changed man. The change lasted until I got home and then looked at the prescription. I still don't know what game he was talking about, you see. I can't read his handwriting.
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Jonathan Harrison
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So long ...
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... and thanks for all the fish.
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revgiblet wrote:
The British Empire was founded on market forces and the Maxim machine gun, not on a rondel.

Preserved for posterity.
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Brian M
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Lol. Good read. Though I can't help thinking that when it comes to Kemet, The Doctor's orders would include stopping the fighting; he doesn't like violence.
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Hassan Lopez
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revgiblet wrote:


"Is it important for you to feel clever?" the doctor asked.

"I wouldn't say it's important. But it's just acknowledging reality," I responded.

"Hmmmm. You come across as arrogant at times, Mr. Webb."

"The smartest guy in the room always does," I replied.

Scribble, scribble.


Brilliant.
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Josh Hatton
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Tamworth
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First game of this at Cancon was a blast, even if I didn't exactly get the game at first. Good review mate, as always.

Also, electroconvulsive therapy is still mainstream treatment. I would write you a prescription but then you wouldn't be able to read my handwriting. whistle
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Jason Matthew
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This is all well and good but is it the most balanced game you've ever played?
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James Webb
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Thiessi wrote:
This is all well and good but is it the most balanced game you've ever played?


I would say yes, but we'd both know that I'd be lying.
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Tim Wagstaffe
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Broken Hill
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Great review James, why haven't we played this again?
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James Webb
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severian73 wrote:
revgiblet wrote:


"Is it important for you to feel clever?" the doctor asked.

"I wouldn't say it's important. But it's just acknowledging reality," I responded.

"Hmmmm. You come across as arrogant at times, Mr. Webb."

"The smartest guy in the room always does," I replied.

Scribble, scribble.


Brilliant.


Some of the credit for that exchange belongs to Owlman.
 
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Heath Stockburn
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Excellent review.
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