Saturday, January 30, 2016

And now for something completely different... Storytime!

I'm going to do something different again this week. I've been thinking a lot about stories lately; in particular, about how games that involve storytelling (such as Gloom or Fiasco or most tabletop RPGs) are so satisfying because they follow Freytag's Pyramid.

So I thought I'd share one of my favourite stories. This is the story of Alice. I first heard this story when I was in middle school, and a professional storyteller came and told us some stories. So now I will share the story with you.



I have many other stories, not all gaming related, and not all fictional. If this seems to be a popular thing, perhaps I will share more stories with you in the future. But for now, I hope you enjoyed this departure from my normal format, and I will see you again next week. Until then,

Game on!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Board Game Review: Scotland Yard

This week is a review of the family game Scotland Yard. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's a Parker Brothers game marketed at families; despite its simple format and easy rules, it has a lot to offer the serious gamer. So let's get right to it and look at this fun little game.



In my work at Pinkfae.com, I have created a new, hopefully easier to read version of the ratings system. Let's put that here to see if it makes things easier:


Click on that to see a larger version if you need a reminder of how my ratings system works. With that in mind:

Strategy: 3
Randomness: 1
Complexity: 1
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Average
Average Length of Game Play: 30 - 60 minutes

In this game, the detectives of Scotland Yard are trying to track down Mr X, who is loose in London. One player takes on the role of Mr X, and the rest are detectives. If Mr X can avoid capture for 24 rounds, he wins. If any of the detectives are on the same space as Mr X before that time, however, the detectives claim a joint victory. That's pretty much it. The rest is details.

The board is a map of central London, complete with many landmarks labelled, including Hyde Park, the Houses of Parliament, and the Tower of London. Nearly 200 of the intersections on the streets are marked with a number; each player is randomly assigned one of these numbers to serve as their starting position. Each number is shown in an icon that has three coloured areas; most of these have all three areas yellow, indicating that they can only be reached (or departed) via taxi. Some of them have one area shaded green, indicating that that intersection is reachable by bus. A small handful of them have one area yellow, one area green, and one area magenta. These tri-colour locations can be reached by taxi, bus, or underground (the subway). All these icons are connected by coloured lines indicating how players can travel from one icon to the next; you may use a Taxi token to travel along the yellow lines, a Bus token to travel along the green lines, and an Underground token to travel along the magenta lines. 

Travel is limited, however. Even if the intersection you currently occupy is on (for example) a magenta line, you can only take the Underground if your current intersection is an underground station. You can't jump on the subway halfway between stations! Furthermore, no matter which mode of transport you choose, you must go from your current location along the appropriate coloured line to the next intersection of the appropriate colour; you can't skip over one taxi space to go on to the next! Finally, not all adjacent intersections are connected by all colours; sometimes, a path coloured for the Underground does not have a Taxi path going in the same direction.

This is why the tokens are so important. The detectives are assigned a specific number at the beginning of the game. If you run out of a particular type, you can no longer use that type of transportation. Most of your tokens are Taxi tokens; they are the most common form of transportation, but don't get you very far. Bus tokens are second most numerous; you have a moderate amount, and although the bus stops are more limited, they take you (in general) a little further than a taxi will. You have fewer Underground tokens than the other types; Underground stations are also the rarest on the board, but they can take you sometimes halfway across the map.

Mr X, unlike the detectives, does not have a limit. Every time a detective uses a token, Mr X receives that token. Also, he does not have a pawn on the board as the detectives do. He keeps track of his movements on a pad of paper, and covers the number of his current location with the token he used to travel to that location. Every so often (on turns 3, 8, 13, and 24), he reveals his location by placing his pawn on the board in the correct position. The detectives don't know from which location he came, nor where he goes from the current location. They only know where he is, and how he got there.

This is where the game gets fun. The detectives must then use logic and deduction to discern where he may be next. By looking at what form(s) of transportation he used from his last known location, detectives attempt to deduce where he's gone next. Meanwhile, Mr X is trying to deceive the detectives and slip free from their pursuit.

Despite the secrecy, Mr X is at a slight disadvantage. To offset this, he has a couple of powers that the detectives do not. Aside from an unlimited number of each type of token, he also has two ×2 tokens which allow him to skip a round of detective moment. In addition, he has a couple of black tickets, which may be used in one of two ways. He may replace any transportation token with a black ticket, so that the detectives don't know how he travelled on that turn. Alternately, he can use the black tickets as a boat ticket, taking one of three black lines marked on the River Thames.

It's a fairly simple game. But don't let that fool you. It's very thinky-thinky. If you like deduction, logic, and using your brain a lot, you'll find this game very enjoyable. If you've played this and decided it's not quite intense enough for you, you can always try Letters from Whitechapel, a Jack the Ripper themed game that is, mechanically, very similar to this one. But I think that, even for a simple family game, Scotland Yard is sufficiently challenging and enjoyable for even the most die-hard board gamer.

That's all for this week. I'll see you here next week with another exciting installment of the Game Geek's Gaming Corner. Until then,

Game on!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Games as social interaction

How much do you know about autism spectrum disorders?

I know this seems a strange question to ask at the opening of an article about games, but bear with me for a moment.

In a sense, the autism spectrum disorders (on which, admittedly, I am no expert either, but my understanding is that it's not really a spectrum, though the various related disorders are still referred to under that umbrella term) are a lack of the normal social hardwiring in the brain that is usual for human beings. Let me explain a bit more in depth:

Whereas most animals developed certain physical or sensory advantages to allow their survival (for example, the web-spinning ability of many spiders, or the echolocation abilities of insectivorous bats, or the sharks' teeth, and so on), the trait that allowed humans to survive was their social networks. Like wolves and other pack animals, humans developed an ability to co-operate that increased their chances of survival. Their need for greater inter-dependency developed a feedback loop with their intelligence; they needed to be smarter so they could support larger co-operative social groups, and they needed larger co-operative social groups so they could be smarter.

But in modern society, we are seeing a rise in those people who have a dampened ability to interact socially. Note that this is usually not because they lack emotions, but rather the ability to deal with those emotions. They don't have the innate ability to pick up on social cues that most people have.

As an example, there was a study done in which a man with Asperger's syndrome was observed as he watched a film (I don't remember which film it was; I can't find the article to verify). In this film, there was a scene at the climax in which the lead male pulls a gun on the lead female. The man laughed at this point; he had missed the emotional tension developing in the narrative, because whereas most people are looking at the characters' eyes for the myriad of non-verbal social cues as to the emotional state of the characters, the man with Asperger's was looking at the light switch in the background.

In some ways, this resonates with me. I've never had a professional examine me to attempt a diagnosis, but I have noticed that I find social interaction more difficult than most. Most people are able to easily navigate the treacherous seas of interpersonal subtleties by following cultural norms (for example, they know that when someone asks, 'How are you?' it's not a genuine question, but standardized greeting in the form of a question), whereas I tend to analyse the language and ignore the expected responses (most people, when asked, 'How are you?' respond with, 'I'm well, thanks!' But I actually take a moment to think about how I'm really feeling, as if the person asking had posed a regular question instead of a social-constructed exchange).

I know this has been kind of long, but the point is, it can be harder for me to interact with people than for most. I like to envision it as having a bunch of scripts in my head, and I choose the one most appropriate for my current situation. There are some situations in which I can dispense with the script and say what I'm actually thinking, like when I'm with my wife, who knows me and has a pretty good idea of how I work. But with strangers? That can be much more difficult. I don't always know which script is appropriate.

This is one of the reasons that I love games so much. It provides a framework for social interaction. I have an idea what to expect other players to do, and it comes with a pre-approved set of responses that I can use to react to others' actions.

This feeds directly into my love of social interaction games like The Resistance and Panic on Wall Street. Despite the fact that my social skills are... dampened... I am still human, and I still have the need for social involvement. These games allow me to take part in that involvement without fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. It gives me the structured framework that is lacking from normal social settings.

And that is something that I greatly treasure.

Until next week,

Game on!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why do I like the games I like?

I have joined the writers at Pinkfae.com. I will be posting weekly articles over there as well as what I write here. Some of those articles will be duplicates of what I've written here (sometimes, I'll be writing about a topic I've covered before on this blog, and other times, I may just copy an article directly to that site).

I just submitted my second post to that site. As I was working on it this morning, I was contemplating the question, 'Why do I like the games that I like?' Most of the games I enjoy playing are of what I call the 'thinky-thinky' variety. They involve a lot of careful thought, weighty decisions, deliberate planning, and consideration of the actions of your opponents (and how those actions might totally hose you if you make a mistake!).

But then there are those games I like that do not involve much thought at all. Games like Panic on Wall Street, or The Red Dragon Inn. Why do I like these games that don't require the use of grey matter?

This got me to thinking. So I sat down and made a list of my favourite board games (and one roleplaying game that lasts a few hours at most, because it seems to fit better in this category than with traditional roleplaying games). Then I sorted those games into the different reasons why I like them. Here's what I came up with:

Thinky-thinky
games
Asphodel
Clans
Dominant Species
Hanabi
Hive
The Lord of the Rings
Scotland Yard
Settlers of Catan
Stratego
The Three Musketeers:
The Queen's Pendants
Ghost Stories
Colosseum
Fetish games Balderdash (words)
Bananagrams (words)
Labyrinth (spatial reasoning)
Unknown Fate
games
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Citadels
Social Interaction
games
Resistance (Avalon)
Panic on Wall Street
The Red Dragon Inn
Coup
Fandom games Firefly
Order of the Stick
Star Trek Road Trip
Storytelling
Games
Gloom
Fiasco

The 'Thinky-thinky games' category is obviously the largest, with 12 games. Fetish games (which, by the way, I'm talking about games that appeal to one of my particular fetishes; non-sexual fetishes, obviously) has three games; two that appeal to my lexophilia and one that is fun because it plays with spatial reasoning.

Unknown Fate games are those that include some element of not knowing what's going to happen in the future. For Betrayal at House on the Hill, that means not knowing which scenario you're going to play out until it actually happens. For Citadels, that means not knowing which roles are available to you in any given round until the character cards get to you. I find that sort of anticipation to be enjoyable; What's going to be the objective of the game this time? Which characters will I have to choose from this round? We don't know yet! We won't know until it happens! It could be anything! It's so exciting!

There are actually five games in the Social Interaction games category; The Resistance and The Resistance: Avalon are almost the same game. Aside from the thematic elements, the only difference is the inclusion of Merlin in Avalon. There is no such aspect in The Resistance. But all of these games allow a structured way for me to interact with my friends, which is something that I (being a borderline socially incompetent individual) often find to be very helpful. These games also allow me to behave in a way that I don't always get to do; Panic on Wall Street lets me be very rambunctious and animated, which I don't always enjoy doing, and The Red Dragon Inn is a very humorous game.

Then there are the games that appeal to my specific fandoms. These 'Fandom games' are ones that I might normally not enjoy, but because they're set in a fictional universe that I already enjoy, it makes it much more palatable to me.

And finally, of course, are the storytelling games, those games that are loads of fun to me specifically because I get to be involved in telling amazing stories.

Anyway, those are probably the six primary reasons why I'll likely enjoy a game. I'd love to hear from you; what reasons do you like to play games? Leave you answers in the comments below, and come back next week when I talk about more awesome gaming stuff! Until then,

Game on!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Board Game Review: Star Trek Road Trip

As one of my christmas presents, I received the Star Trek Road Trip board game. When I went to Board Game Geek to update my collection, I discovered that there was virtually nothing in the entry for that game. No photos, no description, and just the tiniest hint of an overview in the text description.

In the course of working to update these shortcomings, I decided to write a review so that I could add it to the entry for this game. So today's post will be a review of Star Trek Road Trip. Activate inertial dampers, we're about to engage the warp engines!

Here's the damage report, captain:

Strategy: 1
Randomness: 5
Complexity: 1
Humour: Derivative
Attractiveness: Nice
Average Length of Game Play: 1 hour

Trainees, to the briefing room. You are all cadets at Star Fleet Academy who have been chosen to participate in the Enterprise Challenge. You are required to travel to some uncharted planets to accomplish some tasks, returning to your dormitory after each task to verify completion of that task. Beware, however, as you're likely to encounter hostile attacks, and if you drain your weapons in fighting off these attacks, you'll be required to complete one of those tasks anew! The first player to complete all four tasks is declared the winner of the Enterprise Challenge!

There are actually several games in the 'Road Trip' series. They're all basically identical; they've just changed the artwork and text to reflect the new setting. Existing titles in this series include Batman Road Trip, Zombie Road Trip, and (interestingly enough) Bacon Road Trip. They all work like this:

There is a game board that consists of an outer track and an inner track. You must travel around the outer track, starting from your colour's home based (called 'dormitories' in the Star Trek version), until you collect a pass that will allow you to move to the inner track. Along the inner track are spaces (in the Star Trek version, called 'uncharted planets') which have four different victory tokens ('Federation tokens' in this version) that players are required to collect. When you land on one of these spaces, you must engage in a 'Hostile Attack' at level 3 (that is, you're rolling against three enemy dice). If you are victorious, you may choose one of these tokens. It's unsecured, however; you must carry it back to your home base to secure it before you can collect any more. Until it's secured, other players may ambush you and cause you to lose that token. The first player to secure all four tokens is the winner.

Game play is basically roll-and-move. When you move, you carry out the instructions on the space on which you land. Possible spaces include: gain or lose phaser blast tokens (these tokens serve as your life counters; when you run out, you lose one of your Federation Tokens, and return to your dormitory where you receive ten new phaser blast tokens); teleport to the other side of the board; draw a card (cards include 50/50 cards, which are carried out immediately, and may have either beneficial or detrimental effects, and action cards, which are held until you choose to use them, and are always beneficial); roll again; blockade spaces (which are essentially the same as the Jail space from Monopoly); and 'Hostile Attack' spaces.

Most 'Hostile Attack' spaces are coloured; if you land on one of your own colour, you can ignore it. Otherwise, you roll up to three dice (you choose how many to roll, but you're not allowed to roll more dice than you have phaser blast tokens) versus the player of the colour on which you've landed (if that colour is not currently being played, the banker rolls as the hostile force). The space tells you how many dice the hostile force gets; usually one or two. Dice are compared as in Risk; each pair that the hostile wins causes the player to lose a phaser blast token, whereas the pairs that the player wins eliminates a die from the ones being rolled by the hostile forces. Keep rolling in this way until the hostiles have no dice remaining, or the the player is out of phaser blast tokens. Any phaser blast tokens lost in this way are awarded to the player whose colour the space is (thus, if the blue player lands on a red Hostile Attack space, any phaser blast tokens the Blue player loses go to the red player). If that colour is not being played, any lost tokens are returned to the bank instead.

The Uncharted Planets are a little different; they don't have an associated colour, so nobody gains the phaser blast tokens that they player loses. Also, the hostile forces battled on that space roll three dice. If the player is victorious, he can choose one of the Federation Tokens available on that space to carry back to his dormitory. It's unsecured until he manages to return to his dormitory, and thus vulnerable to ambush by other players, and he's only allowed to carry one unsecured token at a time. But once he makes it back to his dormitory, it's secured and can only be lost as a result of running out of phaser blast tokens.

That's pretty much it.

It's definitely not a serious game for hardcore board gamers, like many of the other games I've reviewed here. As far as I can tell, it's going to appeal to two categories of players:

  1. Families who want simple games to play with children.
  2. Fanatical Star Trek fans who will love anything with the Star Trek logo on it.
I'll admit that I'm definitely in that second category. As such, I enjoyed this game even though it's lacking in strategy or player agency. Especially since the cards carry humorous references to the original series (such as the card that reads 'When stuck in a no-win situation, you remember Captain Kirk's success over the Kobayashi Maru. Not believing in a no-win situation, you redefine the problem to escape the situation. BYPASS BOARD ACTIONS' which is amusing to those players familiar with the original series and the films based on it).

Otherwise, the biggest downside to this game, in my opinion, is the phaser blast tokens. They can be a cumbersome way to keep track of life points. Paper notes like Monopoly money is easier to handle, if only just.

Anyway, that's all for this week. Until next time, I say to you, 'Live long and prosper,' and:

Game on!