Yasir Alam
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This is a term I first noticed when reading some thoughts people had about Knizia's Lord of the Rings co-op boardgame (I've been considering picking it up for my GF who is a big fan of all things LOTR).

I can sort of surmise what the meaning is but it would be cool if someone could explain it, sorry if this is a totally newb question. I suppose I could google it but I'm not looking for a technical definition and I like personal input.

I'm concerned because the some comments I read, referring to the game, speak of the abstract gameplay as a possible con, and while the GF just likes LOTR, I want to get her a game she would actually enjoy playing rather than just deriving pleasure from ownership of one more piece of LOTR merchandise. Seriously, she even managed to get a bottle of LOTR branded beer from New Zealand. I have no idea what it tastes like since I've been forbidden from ever cracking it open, though I suppose mistakes do happen... devil
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Yasir Alam
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Also I've heard of the term when referring to games like Blokus, FITS etc., and that confuses me more since the LOTR game isn't very much like that at all :s
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_strategy_game

"An abstract strategy game is a strategy game, aiming to minimise luck, and without a theme."
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toober wrote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_strategy_game

"An abstract strategy game is a strategy game, aiming to minimise luck, and without a theme."


That article contains apparently at least four different working definitions of abstract strategy game all with different category membership. It would also seem that "abstract game" should at least be a broader category than "abstract strategy game."

As for "abstract gameplay" I'm not sure what that would mean. Perhaps it means lacking the sort of special case "chrome" rules usually included only in service of a theme?
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Ben
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Kiraboshi wrote:
As for "abstract gameplay" I'm not sure what that would mean. Perhaps it means lacking the sort of special case "chrome" rules usually included only in service of a theme?

In general, I use the term to describe a game in which the mechanics have been so refined as to be interesting, but which, as a result, lacks thematic integration: I am no longer able to use the game's narrative as a toehold for my gameplay decisions.

A great example of this is First Train to Nuremberg. Ostensibly, this is a game about building a train company by laying down track and then selling to larger companies. How does the game play?

Each round, players get 12 wooden cubes. The players bid these cubes on boxes randomly populated with colored circles. The colored circles are translated to spaces on colored tracks. Players "spend" the steps on the colored tracks in order to do some train-related things. Those train-related things produce VP and "income" which is yet-another track (no actual money in the game). At the end of the game, the "income" track is converted to VP.

In other words, the game is almost entirely about rates of exchange between cubes, circles, tracks, and, ultimately, VP. The train-game-like things (laying track, for instance) are simply means through which players can effect the game; they are not the game themselves.

Why do I describe such a game as abstracted? Think about any abstract game -- chess, checkers, go, etc. You are given unfamilar peices and a set of rules. The game provides no familiar context to clue you in to what you ought to be doing, or to help you remember that this piece corresponds to that rule. One of the primary purposes of theming in Eurogames is to provide precisely the context that Abstract games lack. (For example, if I play a game about sailing, and the rules say that I need to buy a boat and hire crew before I can sail, that rule gets absorbed immediately and without a second thought. If I play an abstract that is about placing square blocks in Quadrent Y, and the rules tell me that I need to turn in two spheres and place a cone on Quadrant X before I can place a square block on Quadrant Y, I will strugle to internalize that rule.)
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Here's what it means in Lord of the Rings specifically:

There's plenty of artwork and text to call the Tolkien story to mind, but the game mechanics are only loosely connected with the story.

If it were a role-playing game, each player would be one of the hobbits; the players' actions in the game would be a lot like the characters' actions in the story. But the LotR game is not like that.

In the game, players work to move markers along various tracks (or to keep markers from moving along certain tracks). To do that, they exchange and play cards and collect tokens. A player who's not at all interested in the story can focus on those game actions and forget all about what they're supposed to mean in terms of the story.

In other words, it would be possible to take away all the artwork and text, turning LotR into a purely abstract game--and it would still be perfectly playable that way. The LotR theme can be regarded as decorative rather than essential to the game.

That said, I think there's plenty of text and artwork to appeal to someone who does like the story. I played a couple games of LotR just recently, and it would have been hard for me to ignore the art and card text. The game, IMO, does not bring the story to life on the tabletop, but it does an admirable job of summarizing or recalling the story in game form.

Yes, when you're playing the game, it definitely feels like you're just playing a game--figuring out how to play your cards right in order to get to your objective. It doesn't feel much like reading a story or watching a movie. Still, images and text from the story are plentiful, so the story is never far away.

Hope that helps.
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I believe they mean that it's "boring." ninja
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I think people are putting way too much thought into the meaning. Just take the definition of "abstract" and precede it with a subject.

Defintion: having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content

So, given that definition...it's a game without a set meaning or in the case of board games, a theme.

Arkham Horror, Cosmic Encounter, Carcassonne and even LOTRO are all thematic games. You have a "story" behind the game, the pieces or objects in the game are visually/physically represented, and there's a related goal to victory.

Hive, Checkers, Yikerz or Da Vinci's Challenge are what I consider bstract games. Even though some pieces have a graphical representation, such as Hive, there is no story behind it. You're given an objective and certain guidelines to achieve it. Yikerz or Checkers even go as far as to omit a distinguishing feature for it's pieces.
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arcane220 wrote:
I think people are putting way too much thought into the meaning. Just take the definition of "abstract" and precede it with a subject.

Defintion: having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content

So, given that definition...it's a game without a set meaning or in the case of board games, a theme.

I think you're not putting enough thought into the question. The OP didn't ask what is an abstract game. The question is what do people mean when they describes a game like Lord of the Rings -- which has an obvious and very overt narrative theme -- as playing abstractly.

There is a fairly well-understood conceptual dichotomy between the two predominant uses of theme in board games: it either serves as narrative or as metaphor.

To someone like Patrick (above), theme serves as narrative: a "thematic" game should feel "like reading a story or watching a movie." An abstracted game "feels like you're just playing a game."

To someone like me, theme serves as metaphor: it exists to help shape my in-game decisions by providing a context for understanding them. A "thematic" game is one in which the narrative cues guide and shape good strategy. An abstracted game is one in which the metaphor breaks down, and the game demands a decision-making process that exists outside of or in tension with the narrative cues.
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Quote:
In the game, players work to move markers along various tracks (or to keep markers from moving along certain tracks). To do that, they exchange and play cards and collect tokens. A player who's not at all interested in the story can focus on those game actions and forget all about what they're supposed to mean in terms of the story.



When viewed this way, all board games are abstract. Battlestar Galactica for instance...

To engage in space battles in BSG, you just move bits of plastic around on a cardboard surface with lines and a space ship drawn on it. To make decisions as a group, you just take cards from your hand and place them on a table top. What would it take to make the game truly thematic? Would you have to be aboard an actual space ship? Even the show itself is just a bunch of light being projected from an electronic surface.. there are not any Cylons actually in my television... it is so fake...

The game mechanics in the LOTR game represent the thematic elements of the story in a very satisfying way IMHO. Get her the game, she will love it. The art work is beautiful and the game is fun. Generally, it is a game that is very well received by people who do not game regularly too (though many experienced gamers I know like it to).

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chally wrote:
If I play an abstract that is about placing square blocks in Quadrent Y, and the rules tell me that I need to turn in two spheres and place a cone on Quadrant X before I can place a square block on Quadrant Y, I will struggle to internalize that rule.)

This is the problem I had with Duck Dealer. I forget the specifics, but you're talking surreal conversions like:

2 blue pills + 1 flyswatter = transistor radio
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skullcap wrote:
When viewed this way, all board games are abstract.

So it's been said...
 
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skullcap wrote:
Quote:
In the game, players work to move markers along various tracks (or to keep markers from moving along certain tracks). To do that, they exchange and play cards and collect tokens. A player who's not at all interested in the story can focus on those game actions and forget all about what they're supposed to mean in terms of the story.

When viewed this way, all board games are abstract. Battlestar Galactica for instance...

All games are abstract at their core. Everything that doesn't boil down to mathematics is really just window dressing. But gamers like me are big into the window dressing and prefer that the abstract underpinnings be kept out of sight.

Quote:
To engage in space battles in BSG, you just move bits of plastic around on a cardboard surface with lines and a space ship drawn on it. To make decisions as a group, you just take cards from your hand and place them on a table top. What would it take to make the game truly thematic? Would you have to be aboard an actual space ship?

No. It'd be like an RPG or wargame, where the game mechanics simulate or closely mimic real-life actions.

For it to be real, you'd need to be on a spaceship. For it to be realistic, it just has to be a credible representation--one that engages your imagination and gives you the sense of being there.

To be thematic--well, that depends on how you look at theme. See Ben's insightful post above.

Quote:
Even the show itself is just a bunch of light being projected from an electronic surface.. there are not any Cylons actually in my television... it is so fake...

If you refuse to suspend your disbelief, yeah. But why do that?

Quote:
The game mechanics in the LOTR game represent the thematic elements of the story in a very satisfying way IMHO. Get her the game, she will love it. The art work is beautiful and the game is fun. Generally, it is a game that is very well received by people who do not game regularly too (though many experienced gamers I know like it to).

That I agree with. But I can understand why some people call LotR too abstract. It doesn't automatically grab your imagination and pull you in, the way a novel or movie does--or an RPG or wargame. You have to exercise your imagination to enjoy the theme as you play.

I like LotR, and I think it does sync up with its theme very well. Still it's drier and more abstract than many games I've played.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
skullcap wrote:
Even the show itself is just a bunch of light being projected from an electronic surface.. there are not any Cylons actually in my television... it is so fake...

If you refuse to suspend your disbelief, yeah. But why do that?

It takes time away from all the stuff that invites glorious real belief.

 
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@Ben

Wow. That was amazing, and exactly what I was looking for and it made complete sense. I've watched some gameplay videos for the LOTR game online and I understand what they meant now. How many thumbs up can I give you anyway?

This is the exact reason I posted up this question here instead of just gooogling it, I doubt I'd get an answer that was so well worded with an actual explanation that made sense elsewhere.

(Hey, when I just hit reply to someone's post, does that person know that I'm replying to them or would I have to include a quote or something else to make it clear who I'm replying to? Still trying to get used to the commenting system here whistle)
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@p55carroll

Thank you for giving me your LotR specific take on the question of abstract gameplay in this game, Ben's already done a beautiful job of explaining about abstract game play in general. I think what you described might work for the gf, since she actually knows the story, I think she'll get a kick out of reenacting it in a board game.

One of my initial fears was that (aided by my misunderstanding of abstract gameplay)was that this was one of those games that relied on dumb luck and not much meaningful gameplay to get through. I hate those games that play as if their on autopilot requiring you to not more than throw a die and gives you a feeling that your actions won't really make a difference in the outcome. But it would seem this is not one of those games.

Thank you loads for your input.
 
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@skullcap

Quote:
Get her the game, she will love it.


Despite only really asking about the abstract gameplay question, my end objective was to try and work out whether this game is worth buying or not. If it weren't a gift I would've probably just bought it and tried it out, but I really wanted to get something meaningful. My other option was getting her dixit which I know she likes, but what I really wanted to get her was something that was awesome and she had no idea she wanted. So it was going with the sure, yet obvious thing, or the riskier choice which would show that I actually put thought into this.

Your approval of this game goes a long way in steeling my resolve, I'm going off to get the game in about an hour. And I'm leaning towards the LotR at the moment. Wish me luck
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Typically wherever you see abstract appended to a game's description in any way it means it's further away than average from 'dumb luck'.
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