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Subject: Sacred Cows are Mighty Tasty: A Review of Risk Legacy rss

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Originally posted at menwithdice.com- used with permission.

I’m an admitted snob about certain things. I’m the guy who only buys whole bean coffee, grinds it myself, and brews it in my french press. I’m the one at the party who will drink water before touching anything that’s been cold brewed in the Rockies (whatever that means). I listen to music that most people have never heard and read stuff that’s equally obscure. And, of course, I play hobby board games. My wife calls them, dismissively, “your board games” – by which she means ones that nobody has ever heard of, that have a rulebook the size of a small magazine, and that can’t be picked up in a store with a name ending in “-mart”. And I’m ok with that.

There’s a difference between being a snob and being elitist, though. I’d like to think I’m the former without being the latter, by which I mean I’m not under any illusion that what I like makes me in some way a better specimen of humanity than anyone else. Some folks like Folgers, and while I don’t get why anyone would drink that swill, I’ll probably complain about it while watching a movie with more explosions than dialogue with my hand stuck in a bag of Chex Mix.

The world of hobby boardgaming has certain memes that can come across as both snobby and elitist – why Monopoly sucks, for example, or the more recent variant, why Settlers sucks. Or one that I’ve started to find particularly irritating: Hasborg. I get it – Hasbro puts out a bunch of crap and dominates the market. Stuff like Twilightopoly or My Little Pony Uno is a travesty and there’s nothing wrong with saying it. But Hasbro has actually put out some pretty damn good stuff over the past decade. Heroscape, for example, was a fabulous system that’s attracted a great community of fans and, yes, you could buy it in those “-mart” stores. Other notables include Epic Duels, Nexus Ops, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Battleship Galaxies. They have some great designers putting out some great stuff, even if it doesn’t get the same kind of exposure as their more mainstream fare.

So when a game comes along that’s particularly innovative, the first assumption of most hobby gamers isn’t that it’s going to come from Hasbro. And when they do find out that it’s a Hasbro game and shares a common lineage with one of those downtrodden mainstream titles, immediately cynicism starts to take over. But let the game challenge some of the norms of hobby gaming and the gloves will come off. Destroying components? Writing on the board? Stickers? Permanent changes? Words like “gimmicky” and “disposable” and “bad product design” and “cynical cash-grab” will be among the kinder things said; people who find the premise intriguing will be called “morons” or worse. It’s like watching Comic Book Guy berate a fan who actually reads Radioactive Man #1.

Risk Legacy is the game, and those words are pulled from some of the comments on significant websites. Some people are calling it the game of the year, others are calling it the beginning of the end of hobby gaming as we know it. It’s easily the most polarizing game of the past several years, if not the last decade. And, yes, it’s a Risk game – but it’s not your daddy’s Risk. This version evolves over time. The map will change. You’ll write on the board. You’ll put down stickers, open hidden packets, reveal secret changes, tear up cards, and name continents after your favorite Italian restaurant (yes, this actually happened on my copy – thanks, Paul). You’ll make irrevocable alterations to your copy, and at the end, when all of the packets are open, all of the stickers are used up, and the ink in your marker has run dry, your copy will be completely unique. The board is even stamped with a unique id, just for effect – mine happens to be Earth #6698.

A lot of people are dismissing this as just another version of Risk, which isn’t exactly hailed as a paragon of game design. And, yes, it does start out that way, albeit with some significant changes for the better. The core combat mechanic is the same: attacker rolls three dice, defender rolls two, compare highest results to determine victor with ties going to the defender. You’re still not going to get unit differentiation or terrain modifiers or anything like that. The map is still the same, Australia and all – at least to begin with. But even right out of the box the game messes with the classic formula in some small but substantive ways. Personally, I’ve always thought that the real problem with classic Risk was never the combat, it was the victory condition. Complete world domination requires an unreal investment of time that far outlives the interesting decisions in the game. It encourages certain degenerate strategies like turtling and creates a game that lasts hours too long for what it is. This is compounded by two factors: the starting territory placement allows too many cards to be earned too quickly, and the escalating rewards for turning in cards encourages players to be the last to cash in. This creates a situation where players pick off weak territories while turtling in strongholds, waiting for the big payoff.

Legacy tweaks the formula by changing the victory condition from eliminating all other players to capturing stars. Each player controls a Headquarters piece that is worth one star. In addition, turning in four cards will earn a player one star, and players that have not yet signed the board signifying a victory also receive a star at the beginning of the game. Controlling four stars at the end of a turn will result in a victory; because each player begins with at least one star, two if they haven’t yet won a game, the focus shifts from turtling to aggressive strikes on opposing HQs. Cards are more difficult to earn in Legacy as well – although they’re still a reward for winning a battle, players do not begin the game spread across the map, but rather each player will place eight troops plus the HQ in a single territory from which they expand. This often allows several turns of maneuvering before forces come into conflict. Finally, because the rewards for turning in cards are static, and because cards can be used for either troops or stars, the valuation of holding or turning in cards changes significantly. Gaining more troops means delaying the opportunity for a guaranteed star, which creates interesting decision points throughout the game as short- and long-term goals are placed in tension. Add in variable faction powers and components that are top-notch, and the result is a fun, light, aggressive game that retains the classic version’s table talk and diplomacy while stripping away a lot of the elements that caused sessions to bog down. Our group’s first four games ran about 45 minutes each, resulting in back-to-back sessions in the course of an evening.

All of this would mean little more than another interesting Risk variant, except for the signature trait of Legacy – permanent, game-altering customizations to the components. This is the part of this review where I’m more limited than I’d like to be, because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers at this point for players who aren’t as far along in their game as we are. First, there’s the obvious stuff that’s available out of the gate – scars and rewards. Scars are stickers that alter a territory permanently by doing things such as adding or subtracting from a defender’s die rolls. They’re played at the beginning of combat, providing an element of surprise, but then remain in the territory in perpetuity. Rewards happen at the end of a game and constitute bigger changes to the map. They include changes such as city stickers that increase the population of a territory, coin stickers that change the value of cards, and the option to alter continent bonuses, for example. After five games, our map plays nothing like the first play. The changes are subtle but meaningful, and really shape the strategy and valuations of territories.

Then there’s the…other stuff. I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the game contains a number of packets of hidden material that are opened and added to the game when certain conditions are met, such as a person signing the board for a second time or placing all of the Minor City stickers on the board. What’s in the packets? …Stuff. Game changing stuff. New cards and new stickers and, I think, new plastic – but I’m not sure because I haven’t opened that bin yet. New scars will come out (that’s in the rulebook), new card types will be introduced (that’s in the rulebook too), and new faction powers will be made available (also in the rules). New rules will be introduced, old rules will be superseded and the rulebook itself will be altered. The game will get more complex – it remains to be seen by exactly how much – and new options will present themselves. And it’s all done in a way that’s meaningful, not gimmicky. The players control their own destinies. You’ll earn the right to name a continent or found a city. You’ll earn the additional faction powers. You’ll uncover more paths to victory and you’ll learn not to let any one person get too powerful. And every decision you make will go on the board in a flurry of glue and ink, set down in permanence for everyone who comes after you to see and to rue. And for my money, that is a truly significant decision.

I understand that this game messes with the established tropes of boardgaming. It does things that are off the wall, outside the box, and against the norm. I get why people want a reset button or why some are trying to find a way to avoid the shockingly obvious conclusion that the design works best when it’s played as intended. But in practice it’s the difference between playing poker for M&Ms or playing it for money – while technically it’s the same game, it doesn’t work nearly as well when it’s not played for keeps. What changes? Well, for one, there’s so much going on that trying to track it in a way that allows do-overs just seems to me like so much extra busy work for not a lot of payoff. But more to the point, one thing that I think is commonly misunderstood about Risk is that it’s a game that happens primarily above the table. It’s not the mechanics that make a game of Risk enjoyable – it’s the metagame. It’s the trash talking and dealmaking and alliance breaking and bluffing and all that comes with it that makes the game fun. Playing for keeps – making the changes permanent – really elevates the game above the table. Not only does it raise the stakes, it creates situations where the game will enshrine those outcomes for future games. If you can take it back, then it loses something – something that may be hard to put into words, but something that’s still very tangible in-game. It loses gravitas.

Will everyone like this? Not a chance. For some, the game goes too far against established norms to be really enjoyable. For others, the core mechanics aren’t significantly different enough from a game that they’ve long since dismissed. And for others, the fact that it’s a game that depends highly on vibrant play above the table will be a dealbreaker. But in my group, I have three guys who haven’t played a game of Risk in years and one, my son, who’s cutting his teeth on a game that owes a lot to something I played when I was his age, all throwing dice, laughing, jeering, trash-talking, shouting, and on the edge of their seat waiting to see what happens when the battles are resolved or the packets are opened. And we’re recording the history that will form the world of Earth #6698 in a way that we can always come back to and revisit. Why would I want to reset that? Wiping out the history of a shared narrative seems far more destructive to me than writing it down and replaying it for years to come.
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Pas L
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This review makes me wish my old Risk playing friends still lived in the same city as me, and that I had some beer, some chips and this game.
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Making things permanent and providing the overall goal of winning the most number of times adds a new thing to consider. Granted, you want to win each individual game, but if you don't, it actually matters who does. We're all playing to get our names written on the board the most times, so you know that I may be more aggressive to the guy with two signatures than I would be to the guy with none, even if the guy with none has a better chance at winning a particular game.

I totally agree with this review. If this were not so hated by elitist and/or neurotic board gamers, this would certainly be the next big thing in gaming. I hope that it still is.
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John Nemo
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Great review.

While I do like some of what the game is after, I just can't get passed the idea of the permanent changes. After you've played it the requiste fifteen times, then what? the world you've stuck with at the end is locked in, there's nothing more to accomplish.

Not to mention I don't like the idea of destroying pieces of a game I payed 60 bucks for.

It's an interesting and intriguing concept, but I think it needs to be played with a bit more before a experiment on this scale is tried again.
 
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It will be interesting to see if it receives the Spiel game of the year at Essen.David
 
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John Nemo wrote:
While I do like some of what the game is after, I just can't get passed the idea of the permanent changes. After you've played it the requiste fifteen times, then what? the world you've stuck with at the end is locked in, there's nothing more to accomplish.

Not to mention I don't like the idea of destroying pieces of a game I payed 60 bucks for.

Can I just point out that these two objections stand in utter and complete opposition to each other? On the one hand, you object to the fact that at some point you'll be done customizing, but on the other, you object to the process of customizing. And I'm not picking on you here, but rather pointing out what I take to be a contradictory stance by a great many people who have expressed exactly the things that you're saying.

Once you're done, which might be in 15 games but might be more like 20, just to be clear - then you can continue to play the game. Here's the truth about it - the game isn't the customization. The game is what happens on the map. Customization is an interesting mechanic, but the game completely works even when nothing changes during the game. We've played a couple of games already where nothing has been customized during the game, and they worked just fine. The rewards happen after the game. And, honestly, at some point you're going to reach a saturation level - you simply can't tweak everything without the changes becoming meaningless.

On the other hand, let me ask a couple of questions that I think are relevant to the subject of "destroying" components - a word that I used but only to frame the objection, not because I agree with the sentiment.
- When you enjoy a great meal with friends, did you destroy the food?
- When you fill a journal with your thoughts, reflections, and stories, did you destroy the journal?
- When you create a painting that's meaningful to you, did you destroy the canvas?

That's what you're doing here - it's an act of creation, not destruction.
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ScottB wrote:
Once you're done, which might be in 15 games but might be more like 20, just to be clear - then you can continue to play the game.


Yes, just as you can play regular Risk over and over again.

ScottB wrote:
Here's the truth about it - the game isn't the customization. The game is what happens on the map.


Yes, and after you go through an entire campaign, what happens on the map does become more static (although not completely static)

ScottB wrote:
And, honestly, at some point you're going to reach a saturation level - you simply can't tweak everything without the changes becoming meaningless.


Of course. But if you play a fresh game, you get another chance to tweak in different directions. Of course, after time, even playing from scratch will lead to a saturation level also.

ScottB wrote:
- When you enjoy a great meal with friends, did you destroy the food?


No, but I don't have them sign the toilet bowl after I take a dump either.

ScottB wrote:
- When you create a painting that's meaningful to you, did you destroy the canvas?


No, but IMHO, I don't see how this campaign is going to be any more meaningful than any other game where I don't sign the board/apply stickers/destroy cards.

I realize everyone has their own opinion but for me personally, the fun will be in the journey to the end with friends. I don't need the board as some sort of "Legacy" to remind me of that.

Additionally, if I can use the game a second (or third) time to take me on that journey, I don't think that cheapens the first journey.

I took a memorable vacation with my family this year. I didn't destroy my car along the way - that way it is there for next year's trip.

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You may not have destroyed your car, but did you keep the photos you took or did you destroy them because you are going back next year anyway?
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Sometimes you've got to let go of the rail and jump.
It's not about whether you can fly or if the water is deep enough.
Embrace the possibilities.

(we all spend/waste $60.) on fast food, going out to eat. Or whatever.

I suggest to everybody still worrying about ruining the board to buy 2 copies or split the cost of the first one.
We just finished our first 15 games. A buddy's copy. I got one for Christmas. You have to share the world. Why not share the expense.

JM
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kjamma4 wrote:


Yes, just as you can play regular Risk over and over again.



Or any other game. This isn't just Risk with changes. As the reviewer pointed out, the different victory conditions result in a very different play experience from vanilla Risk.
 
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joeynine wrote:
You may not have destroyed your car, but did you keep the photos you took or did you destroy them because you are going back next year anyway?


I was waiting for this analogy to come up

I kept them. I also did not destroy the camera so that I can still use it next year.

I have had many games that are memorable. I have taken pictures of many as well and look at them from time to time. That is sufficient for me - I don't need to glue the pieces to the board, frame it, and hang it on the wall.

Again, I'm not saying that signing the board, applying the stickers, and ripping up the cards is bad or those who do it are bad. If that is what you are doing, fine. You paid your money for the game - you can do what you want.

All I'm saying is that I don't think doing that is for me. For me, I can enjoy the game more by making it resusable and I would have more fun having it available for the second/third/subsequent times.

The "magic" of making it permanent is just not that strong. For me.
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comandantedavid wrote:
kjamma4 wrote:


Yes, just as you can play regular Risk over and over again.



Or any other game. This isn't just Risk with changes. As the reviewer pointed out, the different victory conditions result in a very different play experience from vanilla Risk.


Yes, but at some point, YOUR particular version of the game will be static (although your version will be different from Joe Down The Block's version).

It seems to me the game is about the journey, not the destination.
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kjamma4 wrote:
The "magic" of making it permanent is just not that strong. For me.


I think you aren't considering exactly what is magical about it. By making things permanent, it gives your decisions much more weight. You may choose to lose a battle in order to win the war. While I think you would still get some of that with a reusable version, it puts less emphasis on the importance of your decisions if you know that after fifteen games, all of those decisions will be meaningless anyway.
 
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kjamma4 wrote:
joeynine wrote:
You may not have destroyed your car, but did you keep the photos you took or did you destroy them because you are going back next year anyway?


I was waiting for this analogy to come up

I kept them. I also did not destroy the camera so that I can still use it next year.

I have had many games that are memorable. I have taken pictures of many as well and look at them from time to time. That is sufficient for me - I don't need to glue the pieces to the board, frame it, and hang it on the wall.

Again, I'm not saying that signing the board, applying the stickers, and ripping up the cards is bad or those who do it are bad. If that is what you are doing, fine. You paid your money for the game - you can do what you want.

All I'm saying is that I don't think doing that is for me. For me, I can enjoy the game more by making it resusable and I would have more fun having it available for the second/third/subsequent times.

The "magic" of making it permanent is just not that strong. For me.



The game is neither the car that takes you to the vacation nor the camera that takes the pictures itself. It is simultaneously the vacation and the pictures, which is why it is so tough for people to wrap their head around. For some, the experience of playing is all they want. The photos in the end are not as important. They will go to the same vacation next year, do similar activities, maybe try something different, and all the years going there will blend together after a while. But a lot of times they will reminisce of that first time, the one that made it special.

Others, this one vacation is the big one, the once in a lifetime. The honeymoon. Going back again won't make it the honeymoon, won't be that first trip alone with my wife, and to have it enshrined in a special way with the souvenirs is just great reminders of the favourite week of my life. I guess it depends on how you look at it. (I of course am not saying playing risk legacy is equal in memorability to my honeymoon, but that first time will be different then the rest)
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John Nemo wrote:
Not to mention I don't like the idea of destroying pieces of a game I payed 60 bucks for.


Do you like the idea of paying 60 bucks for the opportunity to have a custom copy of a game unique from everyone else's? More so, a copy that is customized not by random variables or by something determined in the factory packing, but by a process that is itself a second gaming experience you can share with a few friends. You CREATE the custom copy through gaming!

To refer to it as "destruction" or "defacing" suggests that the game arrives at your door in a complete, pristine state. It is in fact in a "some assembly required" state: ripped cards are like the punchboards holding your drachmas; stickers on the cards or the board are like the sticker you put on a spinner wheel to show the numbers, or on the flags of a Battle Lore set; inking your name on the board is like painting your miniatures. Try to think of these as components for creating a completed copy over time.
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Dexter345 wrote:

I think you aren't considering exactly what is magical about it.


No, I have. I think my opinion of magical is different than others (which is what makes the world go round).

Cheers.
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joeynine wrote:
I guess it depends on how you look at it. (I of course am not saying playing risk legacy is equal in memorability to my honeymoon, but that first time will be different then the rest)


Agreed. However, I personally don't think you need to "memorialize" the board to retain the memorability. However, I do respect the opinion of those who do.

Cheers.
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The Schaef wrote:
Do you like the idea of paying 60 bucks for the opportunity to have a custom copy of a game unique from everyone else's?


No. I'm not looking to compare my game to yours.

I'm looking to have a fun 15 game campaign with four friends and then be able to do the same (without shelling out another 60 bucks) with either them again or a new set.

But, I'm not knocking those who do. I definitely think the "what you do in the first game affects what happens afterward" but I know, based upon my own personal preferences, that I will get more enjoyment out of replaying another campaign on the same board than playing games 16-1000 on the first board (or retaining it as a "keepsake").

Cheers.
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kjamma4 wrote:

I'm looking to have a fun 15 game campaign with four friends and then be able to do the same (without shelling out another 60 bucks) with either them again or a new set.


First off, I love this discussion. The ideas behind Risk Legacy are here to stay--it has forever changed the board game world. And this discussion is here to stay as well. We might as well enjoy it.

I underlined an important part of your statement above. I would argue that even without Risk Legacy's changes, the 15 games would never be the same--could never be the same. We grow and change everyday. The tactics and strategies I used in Scrabble ten years ago are nothing compared to what I use today. We go back to old movies we once loved and say, "Ugh. That was terrible." Did the movie get worse or did our taste develop?

You can never "do the same" in any series of games--the players will always develop, change, grow in understanding, grow tactically. Risk Legacy just makes a magnificently fun document of it.

(And from what I understand so far from the Mechanics in two opened packs, this game will offer wild twists and turns 20-30 games in.)
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kjamma4 wrote:
ScottB wrote:
- When you enjoy a great meal with friends, did you destroy the food?


No, but I don't have them sign the toilet bowl after I take a dump either.

Your analogy fails. To what in Legacy are you comparing the bowl? I can't begin to fathom your point here, unless you're just trying to score points through snark.

Quote:
ScottB wrote:
- When you create a painting that's meaningful to you, did you destroy the canvas?


No, but IMHO, I don't see how this campaign is going to be any more meaningful than any other game where I don't sign the board/apply stickers/destroy cards.


Then nothing that I or anyone else will say can convince you otherwise. As I said in the review, this isn't for everyone. You have to be able to embrace the awesomeness of the concept and allow yourself to enjoy it without focusing on what you want to describe as "destruction". If you can't get past the core concept, then it ain't for you.

Quote:
I took a memorable vacation with my family this year. I didn't destroy my car along the way - that way it is there for next year's trip.

This is more like buying bumper stickers and commemorating your trip forever on your car. Again, I'm not sure why you insist on calling it "destruction". The end result is a completely playable, completely custom game.

I understand the objection. I just wish people would be able to frame it in a way that is honest instead of sarcastic or hyperbolic. It would make the discussion a lot more palatable.
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I think people have gotten way too hung up on the "destruction" aspect. Very few things end up getting destroyed permanently. Most of the cards that get torn up only get torn up after all their stickers have been played, which makes sense because the sticker was the only reason to have the card in the first place. Someone can choose to rip up a territory card as a reward for winning, but if it really bothers you, make a house rule forbidding it. Although I happen to think it's a great option and serves an important purpose.

Then there are a few spoilers that involved destroying cards, but those also have very good reasons behind them, and the amount of new stuff added by the packs dwarfs the stuff that gets destroyed. It's really a very tiny part of the game experience, and shouldn't scare anyone away from the overall concept.
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Gamblin Mat Cauthon wrote:
I think people have gotten way too hung up on the "destruction" aspect. Very few things end up getting destroyed permanently. Most of the cards that get torn up only get torn up after all their stickers have been played, which makes sense because the sticker was the only reason to have the card in the first place. Someone can choose to rip up a territory card as a reward for winning, but if it really bothers you, make a house rule forbidding it. Although I happen to think it's a great option and serves an important purpose.

Then there are a few spoilers that involved destroying cards, but those also have very good reasons behind them, and the amount of new stuff added by the packs dwarfs the stuff that gets destroyed. It's really a very tiny part of the game experience, and shouldn't scare anyone away from the overall concept.

Absolutely fantastic point. You're exactly right - earlier, Pete from Superfly Circus compared the "destruction" to throwing away the sprues once you've punched out the tokens, and I think it's a point that should be reiterated.
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August222 wrote:

I underlined an important part of your statement above.


Maybe poorly worded on my part.

To do the same = have a fun 15-game campaign, not to have the SAME 15-game campaign.

Each game/campaign will be different. For me personally, I don't need a memorial of each one - I'll either rely on my memory or take a photograph.




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ScottB wrote:

Then nothing that I or anyone else will say can convince you otherwise.


Fully agreed and I also understand that what I say won't convince you otherwise either. Like I said, that's what makes the world go round.

ScottB wrote:
As I said in the review, this isn't for everyone.


Agreed. I have the game, will play the game, but will not make permanent changes.

ScottB wrote:
You have to be able to embrace the awesomeness of the concept and allow yourself to enjoy it without focusing on what you want to describe as "destruction". If you can't get past the core concept, then it ain't for you.


See above on how I plan to play. I'll fully admit I'm not ebracing the awesomeness as much as others are. I've gotten past the core concept but done so without embracing it. As for "destruction", that comes from the rulebook itself.

ScottB wrote:
I understand the objection. I just wish people would be able to frame it in a way that is honest instead of sarcastic or hyperbolic. It would make the discussion a lot more palatable.


I challenge you to show me where I wasn't honest. As for sarcastic or hyperbolic, I can fully cop to that although I thought I did not use too much sarcasm. One man's treasure.....

I wish people would accept that although they may have embraced the awesomeness, others may not have exactly the same opinion. That doesn't make either party right or wrong.
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kjamma4 wrote:
I challenge you to show me where I wasn't honest.


Quote:
ScottB wrote:
- When you enjoy a great meal with friends, did you destroy the food?


No, but I don't have them sign the toilet bowl after I take a dump either.

ScottB wrote:
- When you create a painting that's meaningful to you, did you destroy the canvas?


I took a memorable vacation with my family this year. I didn't destroy my car along the way - that way it is there for next year's trip.

How about trying to critique the game on its own terms? That's what I'd consider to be honest. Frame your objection in a way that's true to what the game is actually doing.
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