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Subject: Abstract gamers: Why? rss

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Michael Redston
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I have no problem with gamers that have huge collections with an abstract sprinkled here in there. Hell, I enjoy dabbling into abstract myself occsaionaly. My question is for gamers that have their bulk of their collection comprised entirely of abstract games: Why do you enjoy them so much? why not add a smidgen of theme to your hobby and convert to euro? Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with abstract gamers either, I'm just curious about what you find in theme-less abstracts that you don't find in theme-light euro games?
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Samo Oleami
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you might wish to post the question here:
https://boardgamegeek.com/forum/743500/abstract-games/genera...
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Bryan Thunkd
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Well, I'm not an abstract only gamer by any means, but about 1/3rd of my gaming time is devoted to one particular abstract, Go, so I feel I have a little bit of perspective from which to answer your question.

Quote:
what you find in theme-less abstracts that you don't find in theme-light euro games?
Depth.

Most Euro games are designed so that you can sit down, learn the game, and be fairly proficient at it on your first play. Sure, the best players in the world will still own you, but the path to getting on par with those players is fairly short.

Comparatively, the first time you play Go, you will be quite horrible. Fortunately, Go has a beautiful handicapping system that allows for new (horrible) players to compete against better more experienced players. But there's a lot you have to learn to become a better player. And you could easily spend your entire lifetime devoting yourself to Go and always be improving and getting better and always knowing there are better players that could trounce you.

You can argue that I'm under-representing how much time and effort that it takes to get good at Euros... but like I said... I play Euro's 2/3rds of the time and Go 1/3rd of the time and there's absolutely no comparison. There is almost infinite depth in Go, while I've never run across a Euro that I thought had even a fraction of the same depth.
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I have no problem with gamers that have huge collections with a euro sprinkled here in there. Hell, I enjoy dabbling into euros myself occsaionaly. My question is for gamers that have their bulk of their collection comprised entirely of euro games: Why do you enjoy them so much? why not remove a smidgen of luck from your hobby and convert to abstracts? Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with euro gamers either, I'm just curious about what you find in theme-light euros that you don't find in perfect information abstract games?
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Scott Allen Czysz
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Themes can be distracting or just a turn off. I'm a middle aged professional and you want me to sit down and pretend I'm a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers?? There are some games that I won't buy just because the theme seems silly, childish, etc.

Themes can also go in and out of fashion: zombies, steampunk,...
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Pete
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Narrow Gate Games wrote:
Themes can be distracting or just a turn off. I'm a middle aged professional and you want me to sit down and pretend I'm a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers?? There are some games that I won't buy just because the theme seems silly, childish, etc.

Themes can also go in and out of fashion: zombies, steampunk,...
I don't know about that. In my experience, theme helps you put game mechanics in a context that makes sense, allowing you to play the game with an understanding of what is going on.

I'll offer one recent example:

I own a copy of Scandaroon. The best way I can describe it is that it's a card game on which every card has a point value and one or more powers. Unfortunately, it is almost completely unthemed. To make matters worse, the powers on the card are depicted with a symbology that would make Race for the Galaxy seem transparent...you constantly have to look at the player aid card to know what your cards do.

The fact that the game is unthemed makes it somewhat unintelligible. The card powers appear at first glance to be completely random and just thrown in for the hell of it, but they're not. There are four suits in the game, and they all have their "power set." Swords, for example, are offensive and allow you to make others discard, which is a very thematic mechanic, but it's underdeveloped. In many ways, Scandaroon has cards which fit the Magic: The Gathering motifs (Red=offensive, White=defensive, Blue=game manipulation, Green=card buffs)

I rethemed the game (printed my own cards in a Pokemon theme for the kids), assigning the various powers to factions which make sense, and the game really pops. It goes from a bland and soulless abstract to a game where the fire Pokemon make your opponents discard and the electric Pokemon benefit from the presense of other electric Pokemon and the earth Pokemon are difficult to dislodge and the water Pokemon are "fluid" and can draw/disard for better advantage.

With the theme, Scandaroon, plays VERY well. Without the theme, arguably it played just as well, but nobody I ever showed it to understood it or cared to try.

Pete (thinks a good theme makes gameplay far more intuitive and fun)
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Bryan Thunkd
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plezercruz wrote:
Pete (thinks a good theme makes gameplay far more intuitive and fun)
I'm amused that your argument for how a good theme can improve a game uses pokemon.
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Pete
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Thunkd wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
Pete (thinks a good theme makes gameplay far more intuitive and fun)
I'm amused that your argument for how a good theme can improve a game uses pokemon.
Right? I did the same thing with Biblios. My kids wouldn't play the game until I replaced all the pictures with Pokemon, even though it was the exact same game!

Pete (shares your amusement)
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Samo Oleami
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plezercruz wrote:
Pete (thinks a good theme makes gameplay far more intuitive and fun)
Fresh from discussion on abstract games forums - there are different ways how to connect bits together in a way that they make sense. Theme is one of them, especially if a the game is a hodgepodge of different mechanics, parts, functions. Abstract games on the other hand are a practice in minimalism, they make sense, because all ideas usually spring from the core idea and this link between the core idea and bit is constantly visible. (That's why euros need theme more than abstracts need theme).

Of course, I can still imagine a theme playing an abstract (my mind is wired this way), so a play of ZÈRTZ was for me an experience in how gravitational fields re-shape the space-time. Cool, eh?
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Pete
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sgosaric wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
Pete (thinks a good theme makes gameplay far more intuitive and fun)
Fresh from discussion on abstract games forums - there are different ways how to connect bits together in a way that they make sense. Theme is one of them, especially if a the game is a hodgepodge of different mechanics, parts, functions. Abstract games on the other hand are a practice in minimalism, they make sense, because all ideas usually spring from the core idea and this link between the core idea and bit is constantly visible. (That's why euros need theme more than abstracts need theme).

Of course, I can still imagine a theme playing an abstract (my mind is wired this way), so a play of ZÈRTZ was for me an experience in how gravitational fields re-shape the space-time. Cool, eh?
Maybe that's the essence of the problem with Scandaroon. It's possible it just has too many things going on at the same time without something to tie them together. The game chimes in at something like 10000 in the BGG rankings and while it's not a top game or anything, it's not nearly as bad as the games it hangs out with down there.

I'm with you on Zertz. I have a copy and there's no way I'd try to theme it.

Pete (is a fan of many abstracts, but plays them rarely in part because so many of them are 2-player games)
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Samo Oleami
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plezercruz wrote:
Right? I did the same thing with Biblios. My kids wouldn't play the game until I replaced all the pictures with Pokemon, even though it was the exact same game!

Pete (shares your amusement)
A game is a complex organism made of different parts and made by collaboration of different people. So I'd say, if you created a retheme and it made a difference, it's not the same game. Just the same engine. (Biblios really comes with a crap chassis).
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I stab your meeple in its face
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I like Abstract players.

They're basically Eurogamers with the courage of their convictions.
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David Buckley
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kroen wrote:
I have no problem with gamers that have huge collections with an abstract sprinkled here in there. Hell, I enjoy dabbling into abstract myself occsaionaly. My question is for gamers that have their bulk of their collection comprised entirely of abstract games: Why do you enjoy them so much? why not add a smidgen of theme to your hobby and convert to euro? Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with abstract gamers either, I'm just curious about what you find in theme-less abstracts that you don't find in theme-light euro games?
Put simply I don't need a theme to enjoy a game. I'm more interested in the strategic chalenge. I wouldn't say that I like abstract games more than Euros but in answer to your question abstracts have an elegant minimalism that you don't find in euros. A depth that arises naturally from geometry rather than being "programmed in" and unlike euros, abstracts are usually deterministic.
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J C Lawrence
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... wrote:
why not add a smidgen of XXX to your hobby and convert to YYY?
Because I don't care about or value XXX, be that theme or combinatorics or narrative or whatever. The set of games I play is in fact a reflection of my interests and values.

Now, why do you have your values? Why are they not more like mine? That seems silly. My values are clearly sensible.
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Markus Hagenauer jr.
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kroen wrote:
I have no problem with gamers that have huge collections with an abstract sprinkled here in there. Hell, I enjoy dabbling into abstract myself occsaionaly. My question is for gamers that have their bulk of their collection comprised entirely of abstract games: Why do you enjoy them so much? why not add a smidgen of theme to your hobby and convert to euro? Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with abstract gamers either, I'm just curious about what you find in theme-less abstracts that you don't find in theme-light euro games?
As I play Euoros too, I might not the best one to answer you question.

But what makes abstracts special for me is not the lack of theme, but the lack of randomness and hidden information.
So the advantage is, when winning an abstract I know I played better and my opponent wins, he played better. I don´t have to blame dice rolls or card draws.
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Bryan Thunkd
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clearclaw wrote:
My values are clearly sensible.
That's the funniest thing you've ever said.
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Michael Redston
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I really hope you didn't find my post hostile, because that was not my intent at all. I have nothing against you, and looking at pictures of game collections make me jealous regardless if the collection is mainly ameritrash/euro/abstract. I respect all gamers and I enjoy all 3 of these major genres. Not equally, sure (my preference is ameritrash>euro>abstract). I more than understand that different people have different tastes, I'm just honestly curious about you lot. I'm not accusing you of anything or trying to put myself above you, I just want to know what all the fuss is about. After all, there are plently of euro games with great depth and minimal lack that barely have any theme to them. Hell, there are even some ameritrash games with little to no luck (although it's true they have a theme). Just help my understand.
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Pauly Paul
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Narrow Gate Games wrote:
Themes can be distracting or just a turn off. I'm a middle aged professional and you want me to sit down and pretend I'm a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers?? There are some games that I won't buy just because the theme seems silly, childish, etc.

Themes can also go in and out of fashion: zombies, steampunk,...
I'm a middle aged professional and absolutely would want to be a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers. You're speaking of personal preference, age and "professionalism" doesn't come into play.
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I stab your meeple in its face
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venrondua wrote:

I'm a middle aged professional and absolutely would want to be a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers. You're speaking of personal preference, age and "professionalism" doesn't come into play.
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

(C.S. Lewis)
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It depends on what you want to get out of a game. Ameritrash games are (exaggeration mine) all about the sensation, the feeling, the excitement. They can have a hodge podge of rules, exception to the rules, exceptions to those exceptions ... all to stimulate people and give them an experience.

Abstract games are puzzles. Minimalist rules, little randomness, and it is all about tactics, strategy, and outwitting your opponent. A bloody battle in which two players decide which of them is the better one. Theme distracts from that. Randomness interferes.

With some themed games, theme does matter and helps you understand what's going on. With others, theme has no function at all (or worse, is a hindrance). Do we really care about building a firework when playing Hanabi? Or about sending letters to a princess with Love Letter? Is Werewolf really so much better a game when you have plunked down $10 or $20 for it, instead of the original version which was played with a standard deck of cards? I don't see it.

 
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Scott Allen Czysz
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venrondua wrote:
Narrow Gate Games wrote:
Themes can be distracting or just a turn off. I'm a middle aged professional and you want me to sit down and pretend I'm a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers?? There are some games that I won't buy just because the theme seems silly, childish, etc.

Themes can also go in and out of fashion: zombies, steampunk,...
I'm a middle aged professional and absolutely would want to be a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers. You're speaking of personal preference, age and "professionalism" doesn't come into play.
Fair enough.

I guess my point WAS about personal preference. You may want to be a dwarf, I may want to be a zombie, someone else my want to be a chef, or a bank robber, or an astronaut, or an insect, whatever. So, we may each search for certain games with that theme, AND avoid games that have other themes. So, the wrong theme (according to each person's preference) may mean that game doesn't get purchased, played, etc.

So, pasted on theme's that are pasted on for marketing purposes may be "hot" for a year, but then risk falling out of style.

 
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Narrow Gate Games wrote:
Themes can be distracting or just a turn off. I'm a middle aged professional and you want me to sit down and pretend I'm a dwarf in a dungeon with special powers?? There are some games that I won't buy just because the theme seems silly, childish, etc.

Themes can also go in and out of fashion: zombies, steampunk,...
I am as well, and I am the complete opposite. As are a lot of people in the community. Sure, I love my Euros. But I also game for escapism and for the imagination that most thematic games require. I always read the flavor text aloud and it brings everyone into the game just a little bit more.

It also helps that I strongly encourage my children not to be "sheep" and use their imaginations to the fullest. I'm convinced my oldest still believes unicorns are real. After all... It is the national animal of Scotland
 
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Sean Fletcher
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For me, I find a really intrinsic appeal in the visuals and conceptual soul of many abstract strategy games.

I have a background in art, and in college, I had to take several art history classes. One of the big recurring themes of art (and art criticisms) over the last 150 years or so is the emergence of abstract art.

There’s a story about Georges Braque (a cubist) where a critic in his gallery began disparaging Braque‘s skills as a painter, arguing that Braque’s art didn’t look anything like what he claimed the subject matter to be. Georges immediately picked up a pad and pencil and drew an incredibly realistic looking sketch of an airplane. The critic then asks, “Why would you paint these abstractions that look like you took minutes to paint when you could draw that plane just as quickly?”

Braque’s response — and please forgive me for not remembering the story exactly — was that it had taken him years to learn to make drawing look easy. Once he mastered showing the shape of a thing, he then spent years learning to show the soul of the thing. Anyone could speak the language of the shape, but it took a love and honing of his craft to say more than that, and to do so in a way that people who had not spent those years could hear it.

Abstract games don’t rely on a narrative to explore the beauty of a mechanical concept. There’s an incredible craft to taking such an elemental idea and giving it an understandable form.

Many abstract games, being that they don’t have a literal shape to adhere to, allow those who love that game to reinvent the form in a way that reflects what they believe the soul of that game to be. In most cases, this leads to a well-crafted version of that game to be something visually and often emotionally beautiful. This isn’t to say that a more themed, narrative game can’t also be beautiful, but it does allow the abstract game to have a more personal and internal meaning to someone who finds beauty in it.

Another aside into the history of art; if you look at the emergence of abstract art, it generally coincides with the advent of reliable, affordable photography. Before photography, art was frequently used to record and/or represent the appearance of the reality in front of the artist — accuracy not necessarily being the goal. Once technology allowed the recording of that reality to be done instantly and accurately, the practical value of having art created — as a documentation of a person, place, thing, or event — diminished. What art could capture that photography could not was what Braques was talking about — the soul.

As much as I love a good, narrative ”Eurogame”, I think that the appreciation for a good abstract game comes from a want for something that engages both the logical mind (same as a themed game) and the more “zen” soul.
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So it goes.
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I find myself often driven into a rage by the disconnect of Euro mechanics with their "theme." Abstracts are usually pure mechanic and rarely bring on this particular rage (though, can someone tell me how a spider moving exactly 3 spots makes sense?!).

Just kidding. I like all kids of games, but for whatever reason abstracts tickle the right parts of my brain. Additionally, I've found a wider range of flavors in the abstract space than in Euros, the latter I often find to differ only by "theme." Finally, I appreciate the stark simplicity of a good abstract with emergent complexity. I rarely find a Euro with similar emergence, but those that I've found I love.
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Larry L
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TheBoxmaker wrote:
For me, I find a really intrinsic appeal in the visuals and conceptual soul of many abstract strategy games.
I love your post. I have to admit that with care in design an abstract strategy game is a thing of beauty with no parallel in the gaming world.

I still don't enjoy playing these games though. But I love looking at and even touching them.
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