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Subject: Is a "game" just rules & the interplay of minds? rss

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(The Artist formerly known as) Arnest R
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Yes, to me the game itself is independent of its physical embodiment.

But obviously the game experience can be enhanced by the senses, otherwise we'd all be playing with paper bits.
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I discussed this with a friend of mine a long time ago about what's important in a game (ruleset, theme, components) and we both came to the conclusion that it depended very much on what type of game.

We both felt that:

1) for a theme-heavy game, like Descent or Dungeon Quest, or Talisman, the visual (not really the material) of the components are very important. RoboRally would actually be more fun if all the walls were really walls, and the holes were holes. Talisman would be better if there were really monsters to place on the board and stuff like that. However, metal or plastic were like "yeah, whatever's best visually". And Descent would be ultra-boring with card chits. Minis matter.

2) For a game-mechanics centered game, like, say, Catan or Ticket to Ride, a super-elaborate 3D board is just in the way. The anniversary edition of Catan (all 3D) felt rather boring for both of us. We figured "whatever for, it's the mechanics that are the main part". Here, we figured that as long as the components were sturdy and steadfast, it was OK. Neither of us figured TtR would be better if the trains were of metal or wood, apart from the fact that metal trains would be heavier and thus better suited for outside play. The function was more important than the material.

3) For an abstract game, the material quality felt suddenly important. We figured that for chess, go, backgammon and such, elaborate pieces in nice metal or beautifully carved wood actually increased the wish to play and the feeling of the game.

That said, of course there are games that are both theme-heavy and game-mechanics centered (the first that slips to mind is actually Agricola, even though I perfectly well know the theme is interchangeable)
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I had essentially the same debate as this with a musician about music. You can take the structure, reproduce it, and you won't get the same experience as the original if you don't also reproduce the sounds and other aspects of it's expression.

You can reproduce gameplay, but without the other aspects of expression, it's not the same experience. Game expression probably isn't as nuanced as music expression, but the analogy holds.
 
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Drew1365 wrote:
Would you still play a game like Descent if it had cardboard counters? The game rules would remain the same after all. Or are the minis vitally important to the game experience? Could you, in fact, argue that objectively speaking, the game is a better game because of the minis.

In the case of Descent, where (at least as a hero player) you've got only one or two pieces which you tend to move a lot, it does make sense for the pieces to be something easier to pick up than cardboard counters. But having my piece be a colored pawn instead of a miniature wouldn't change the game experience for me. In fact, having colored pawns instead of miniatures would make the game better in some cases; those razorwings hang into adjacent spaces and screw stuff up. So I disagree that the miniatures are vitally important to the game experience, and that it's a better game because of the miniatures.

(Actually, if Descent did use counters, and they included the relevant bits of information about each monster, that would be much better than looking off-board for the card which tells you how much armor this creature has.)

Drew1365 wrote:
If the game in question has historically been produced with wood, plastic, or metal pieces (in the case of Diplomacy), when you create an edition with all paper components, you are essentially creating a different game.

I disagree. If the rules are the same (and the pieces are still identifiable, etc.), then it's not a different game; people who were good at the previous version will still be good at the new version. If it were a new game, I would expect that someone would have to explain to them how to play.
 
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"Yes, I'm quite good at chess, I--whoa! You didn't say anything about magnetic travel chess! I don't... I've never... how does the horsie move?"
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Once upon a time when I was studying at uni, I came across an article related to postmodern theory, and the work of this guy, whose name is lost to me.

Basically, they invented a game while walking home. It involved one person walking straight ahead, while another orbited him like a planet. Then someone else had to weave in and out... or something like that.

What made this a game? There were a rought set of rules, there was some kind of achievement in being able to continue this activity, and they got to go faster and faster until they crashed. One very important thing for this to be classified a game is that, to them, it was fun.

If you want to get into this heavily, you have to think of what really defines "a game", or even what defines "fun". Is a game of chess really different to a game of blood bowl? Or even a game of twister to a game of tennis?

There are some elements of the activity that we call "gaming" that are fundamental to us, because our sense of gaming might revolve around a board, or cards, or a tennis court: though it depends on a context.

Theoretically figures, chits, and tokens are all meaningless to a game, because they don't necessarily affect the essence of how it is played. But holy crap I love miniatures

I really like Warhammer Quest, and I compare it sometimes to DungeonQuest. Why do I like it more? Essentially it is the same game! But there's just more of everything! And that, to me, makes it more enjoyable.

I thought I'd offer up some thoughts to keep this really interesting thread going!

Also, anyone recognise the example of the game I put above?
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Drew1365 wrote:
BUT. I couldn't imagine trying to play Memoir '44 with counters. Though obviously it could be done.

That's another one which would be better without miniatures, though! One block per unit which you rotated as you took hits, or a single tank with Battleship-style pegs showing how many hits it had left, would be better than shuffling a pile of tanks around. When you have to stack the plastic tanks on top of each other to get them to fit in the hex, you lose whatever "neat, tanks" feeling you might have gotten from using them.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Classic hex-and-counter wargames aren't much farther down the evolutionary path. I couldn't imagine trying to play a game like Squad Leader with minis. BUT. I couldn't imagine trying to play Memoir '44 with counters. Though obviously it could be done.


But I can imagine Squad Leader played with minis. Moreover, I've seen it done! For awhile, Avalon Hill promoted Deluxe ASL with large hexes to play the game with low counter-densities and MicroArmor miniatures.

BattleCry, Memoir: '44 and BattleLore are played with miniatures/figures on a board. The Commands & Colors:Ancients players prefer to play with blocks--even though many originally wanted the game to be made with miniatures, too. There is even some simmering debate as to whether these blocks should be played standing upright (like miniatures and shown in the rules) or face down (like counters in other wargames they usually). The underlying engine for all these games are otherwise pretty similar. ...There is even a subculture of players for all the games that find the experience best with painted miniatures on a large, hex-gridded table.

All think their way to present and play the game is superior to all the others--even if it is only by a little bit. And if they enjoy it, I don't begrudge them. If their publishers decided to use counters in some future editions to broaden the appeal for the folks that like counters, more power to 'em.

...And some folks recreate the Battle of Trafalgar with naval miniatures and all the record keeping off the table on erasable sheets and others play same battle as a hex-and-counter naval wargame with the information on the board and counters. To each his own!
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I don't know if this has been covered already or not, but playing games has a good deal to do with escapism for me.
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Drew1365 wrote:
kuhrusty wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:
BUT. I couldn't imagine trying to play Memoir '44 with counters. Though obviously it could be done.

That's another one which would be better without miniatures, though! One block per unit which you rotated as you took hits, or a single tank with Battleship-style pegs showing how many hits it had left, would be better than shuffling a pile of tanks around.


I don't know if it would be a better game, but it would be a different game. (Which is sort of what I'm getting at. It would not be the same game as Mem'44.)


It would be the same game presented differently. If they like it that way, why should it bother you?
 
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Drew1365 wrote:
BradyLS wrote:
To each his own!


To each his own, sure. I'm not necessarily trying to convince that one way or the other is better. I'm gettin' all high-falutin' an' existential an' philosophical with the notion that the same ruleset with different components makes a different game entirely. Which is why we feel so strongly about the component quality of our games.


So if I played Chess one day with a Wooden Staunton set and Chess the next with a plastic, magnetic travel set, I actually played two different games that shared the same name and rules?
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Drew1365 wrote:
Would you play Chess if the pieces were simply cardboard counters that you moved around? Would you play Go if the game consisted of placing circular stickers on a paper grid? Or are the components for these games part of what makes them the classics they are?

Would you still play a game like Descent if it had cardboard counters? The game rules would remain the same after all. Or are the minis vitally important to the game experience? Could you, in fact, argue that objectively speaking, the game is a better game because of the minis. And it would be a worse game if it used cardboard counters? Why, if all that matters is the ruleset?


As you mentioned with m44, you certainly could play any of these games with counters, and they would function as they do with minis, or pawns, etc. in the case of chess.

My sense is that lots of folks would say something like, "As theme increases in importance, 'cool' bits increase in importance." I would suggest that we use the minis as aids to our imaginations when we play games like Descent or Doom. It's easier to imagine a giant monster bearing down on you when there's a (mini) giant monster bearing down on your (mini) character.

But then look at Arkham Horror. FFG uses cardboard counters for all of the monsters, for portals to the outer worlds, and for the investigator tokens. Sure, there are pictures on them, but the physical presence of these pieces isn't terribly impressive. Even so, the game positively oozes theme, and I have no trouble diving into it; suspending my disbelief for a short while so that I can really get a lot out of the game playing experience.

As another example, look at Combat Commander (my current favorite). GMT uses cardboard counters, which, given the amount of information attached to each unit, is pretty much a necessity. But like Arkham Horror, CC tells a great story with each playing. It's easy to imagine my leaders encouraging their men to make dangerous moves in the field in order to achieve and objective.

So I'd suggest that it ultimately boils down to, "Who's playing, and how willing are they to really put their imaginations to use?"

EDIT: Looks like I took too long getting this post together. The topic appears to have been disgust somewhat.
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I've been doing some research on games and gaming for my research on gaming in libraries. There's a recent set of essays that the Macarthur foundation funded at http://www.mitpressjournals.org/toc/dmal/-/3; I'm still working through it.

But a few things that might help:

I've been using Kevin Maroney's definition of game - A form of play with structure and goals. It's simple, but hits on the critical parts.

One thing I got from the resource above was the difference between a game and gaming.

A game is the structure and goals; the pieces, conceptually, are part of that structure, and that is the game.

Gaming is the larger experience, which involves the representation of structure (which is what you're wrestling with), the setting, the people, and everything external to the underlying game. Each gaming experience is different and all of these items can change your perception and interaction with the game.

So, a nice wood chess, online chess, a lifesize chess, and a magnetic travel chess set are all based upon the same game, as they have the same structure and goals.

They provide different chess gaming experiences.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Is a "game" just rules & the interplay of minds?


Yes. Gold and silver pieces don't make chess a different game.
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Drew1365 wrote:
it would be a different game. (Which is sort of what I'm getting at. It would not be the same game as Mem'44.)

If the difference in your mood or feeling (or whatever) resulting from cosmetic component differences are enough for you to say it's an entirely different game, then wouldn't your overall stress level, health, the setting, and opponent have even more of an effect? "Well, I really enjoy Memoir 44 with Bob on a weekend in the dining room when I have a major deadline looming, but Memoir 44 with Sally in the den on the second Wednesday of the month, that's a different game entirely!"

Drew1365 wrote:
I haven't played any scenarios where you can't fit the tanks in the large hexes.

Elite armor units don't fit.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Would you play Chess if the pieces were simply cardboard counters that you moved around?


Yes, in fact I have, many times back in High School.
Same game.
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Drew1365 wrote:


BradyLS wrote:
So if I played Chess one day with a Wooden Staunton set and Chess the next with a plastic, magnetic travel set, I actually played two different games that shared the same name and rules?


Yes. That's my position.


This is where you just lost my interest.
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Drew1365 wrote:

A large part of any game is sensory input -- the tactile sensations of physically moving pieces around. In fact, I submit that this sensory input is crucial to what makes a game worth playing.

Consider:

Would you play Chess if the pieces were simply cardboard counters that you moved around? Would you play Go if the game consisted of placing circular stickers on a paper grid? Or are the components for these games part of what makes them the classics they are?

Would you still play a game like Descent if it had cardboard counters? The game rules would remain the same after all. Or are the minis vitally important to the game experience? Could you, in fact, argue that objectively speaking, the game is a better game because of the minis. And it would be a worse game if it used cardboard counters? Why, if all that matters is the ruleset?

I maintain that the physical space on which a game takes place as well as the material components of the game are every bit as much part of "the game" as the rules and the minds that engage each other in combat.


I disagree with the notion that sensory input makes a game worth playing. As I see it, the game is the game and is worth playing or not on its own merit. In most cases, physical pieces, bits, etc. contribute to a broader experience that is being marketed. Though an exception here would be a game like Pass the Pigs where you cant play the 'game' with out certain particular pieces, but I digress.

Consider the number of chess players who have bought chess software for their PCs. They have no physical pieces to grasp and move, yet they are fully involved in a 'real' chess match. Every time my Nintendo DS crushes me at Shogi, I'm playing 'real' Shogi.

As far as minis being vitally important to a game's experience...well that's a different story. I agree that is is important to the *experience*, but not the game. Memoir '44 would still be a great game with hand made counters and cards, but you would not have the same experience due to heavy theme. Having the minis lets the player get more absorbed and feel more involved. Having less theme than something like Memoir '44, a chess match is not a drastically different experience whether played with wooden pieces, or hand made paper counters.

YMMV
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Drew1365 wrote:
I would tend to disagree. I'm going way out on a limb and saying that they are two different games entirely.

Consider a game where you have to push a component across a field and into the opposing goal. There are several games that use this structure and have roughly the same rules but with a few tweaks here and there. However, they use vastly different components. Oblong ball vs. round ball vs. puck, for example. When you step back a bit, they are pretty much the same games with the same rules. The understanding of how one works makes it easy to understand how the others work. But somehow the difference in components makes them different games.

Okay, so that's a bit of a stretch, because there are different rules. But if we were talking about a tabletop game, we might call them different variants. The goals remain the same.

Hey, what is philosophical inquiry if not an attempt to look at something from a different point of view and then exploring the ramifications of that? I'm inviting y'all to consider that maybe a difference in components makes for a different game entirely.

What do you say?


I think your analogy is broken here. While it's true that soccer, football and hockey all feature a thing that you move around in order to score points, and they feature teams of players, the similarities end there. They are entirely different games, with dissimilar rules.

Replacing a soccer ball with a football or a hockey puck in a soccer match would make for a different game entirely, but that's because the game play is predicated upon the physics of how the ball will move.

Whether you move a plastic figure or a cardboard counter, the physics of the game haven't changed. If the rules are the same, the game is the same. Only the experience changes.
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Drew1365 wrote:

Perhaps the experience is just as much the "game" as the ruleset.


I think it's impossible to dismiss components as a part of the game; they are. But I think you're overstating their importance.

A game with crappy rules and fabulous components is still a crappy game. It just looks nice. Maybe you can put the bits to better use somewhere else. But a great set of rules makes a playable game regardless of the type of components used for it.

What about themed versions of Monopoly? I could be Luke Skywalker and buy a Millennium Falcon for my Boardwalk, or I could be a thimble and just buy a hotel, etc. The game doesn't change, in spite of the fact that the components are different.

Or how about the various incarnations of Risk? They all have different components. But with those, the differences in game play come from the differences in the rules, and the components are made after the rules changes so that they best reflect the new rules.

I guess my point is that components, while an important part of a game, are of secondary importance to the rules.
 
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Drew1365 wrote:
Rather that components ARE the game. (Or at least, just as much a part of what makes a game a game as the rules themselves.)


You can use a Chess set to play Checkers. They are not the same game.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Hmm. I guess what I'm trying to establish here is that components are not just that which we use to determine the comparative value of a game -- i.e., better or worse than some other game. Rather that components ARE the game. (Or at least, just as much a part of what makes a game a game as the rules themselves.)


I think part of the problem is that the word "game" is overloaded: it has multiple meanings, and often is used for different meanings in the same conversation (or sentence!). I will usually use the word to indicate the rules and interplay of minds (as you put it), but I will sometimes use it to indicate the whole experience, and am not always careful to explain the change in terminology.

I got in a net.argument here on BGG a while ago, about whether Warmachine or Warhammer (I think it was Warhammer?) was a better game. I kept saying that Warmachine is a better game (meaning the rules mechanics were better), but that it was hard to tell which was the better game (meaning the miniatures quality, gaming background, tournament scene, and all that in addition to the rules quality). It wasn't until things wound down, however, that I realized I was using the same word for two different concepts.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Just trying to see what I can do to open minds to the possibility of embracing my new religion of "componentism."


I understand your perspective, in that you feel the components used are as critical to defining the game as the structure.

It's a similar discussion that we have when we navel-gaze in Information Science. Is a print version, an online version, and a spoken version of the same text providing the same Information? (short answer, no, because Information is quantified by the person getting it, not the person giving it. The printed word to someone who can't see contains much less information than the spoken word. But that's not the topic.)

My argument is that you need to unbundle your definition of game. If the game requires some aspect of a component, like a round ball, then it is defined in the structure. If the game doesn't require specific aspects of the component, then they are not defined as part of the "game".

Your argument is that you can not separate game from component. My response is that the structure provided will account for that if the component aspect is important to the game. If you have defined aspects of components as part of a game, and then you change those aspects, you have changed the game.

In most cases, the components go into larger the gaming experience, which can be changed without changing the underlying game itself.

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Drew1365 wrote:
snicholson wrote:
It's a similar discussion that we have when we navel-gaze in Information Science. Is a print version, an online version, and a spoken version of the same text providing the same Information? (short answer, no, because Information is quantified by the person getting it, not the person giving it. The printed word to someone who can't see contains much less information than the spoken word. But that's not the topic.)


I think you have actually just taken a drink of my Kool-aid. Without realizing it, you have provided the perfect support for my position. Are a deluxe woodn version, a cheapy cardboard version, and an online version, providing the same game? I'd say "no" as well. That though they are the same rulesets and perhaps even the same players, the physical actions required in playing the different versions make them different games altogether.

So I'm going to make you my first disciple! cool


I would say, in this case, that the medium has changed, not the game. If the boundaries and goals of a game don't change, the game itself hasn't changed.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Perhaps the experience is just as much the "game" as the ruleset.


I firmly believe that that depends on the gamer, not the game. In the past year, Helen and I have become much more aware of what kinds of game we enjoy, and why we get pleasure from some games and not others. This leads also to a realization of what pleasures others get from games, and how they differ from us. In particular I have realized that there are gamers for whom the "puzzle" (as I think of it) is paramount: eurogamers tend to think this way, and Helen and I are pretty strongly in this group. But for some gamers, the experience is paramount: the more they feel like they are really participating in some exciting and exotic activity, the happier they are. These gamers aren't interested in pretending to be merchants or farmers, because sales and plowing are neither exciting nor fun.

I think there are a number of reasons why people prefer high-quality components over poor-quality ones. Esthetics is one reason: independent of the game, it's nicer to be looking at something pretty than at something ugly. Ergonomics is another: serious chess players tend to prefer a standard Staunton set, of a certain size, well-weighted in the base. The size and weight are convenient to the hand, so you don't fumble for pieces or knock them over; the standard design frees the player from trying to remember whether that thing is a bishop or a queen. And of course, for the experience-loving player, the more the pieces evoke the experience, the better.

So to address your core question, Drew: yes, different bits make a different experience. But whether a different experience makes a different game is a question to be answered personally and individually by each gamer.

For me, as much as I love a nicely-produced game, it's the rules that define the game. Chess on a screen is chess on a cardboard travel set is chess on my best board and pieces is chess in my head.* I'd rather use my best board and pieces, but it's still all chess.

* Disclaimer: I have never successfully played a full game of chess entirely in my head!
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