Sunday, January 29, 2017

Replayability

Some time in the last year, I learned to play T.I.M.E. Stories. I'm not going to review it here, because it's a very different kind of game. I'll just give you a quick overview before going on to my main point.

The game itself is, similarly to a roleplaying game's core rulebook, more about the mechanics and less about the objective. Whereas most board games state, 'To win this game, you must collect the most gold coins' (or whatever), when you play a roleplaying game, the rules state, 'These are the mechanics involved in playing. Now decide what goal your group must accomplish in order to win.'

T.I.M.E. Stories's base game contains the board and all the counters you'll need to play. It also includes a deck of cards. Most of these cards are similar to the pages of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Each player is sent back in time to occupy the body of a person in a specific place. Whilst in this body, the player must help to solve a problem of some sort to fix the timeline. You lay out the cards in a specific order on the board, and the art of these cards collectively shows you what you see. For example, in the included scenario, you are inhabiting the body of patients in a 1920's mental asylum. The first set of cards that you lay out on the board will, when seen together, show you the day room of the asylum. Here's what I mean:
Five cards, laid out side by side. Each card shows one fifth of the total image, which is a painting of a day room in a mental asylum. The card on the left shows a nurse looking at the viewer, standing in front of the nearest window. The second card shows a man wearing a strange contraption on his head sitting in a lounger with a chess set on the small table in front of him. In the third card, as the wall of the room is seen running into the distance, with tall windows along it, you see a woman in a white patient's robe painting at an easel. The fourth card has the corner of the room, so the next wall starts moving into the foreground of the image's perspective. There is a love seat against the window of this card, on which sits a man in a suit coat and fedora, wearing a plague doctor's mask. The final card shows a chest of drawers on top of which rests a painting of a man.

Then, players choose which part of the room to explore, and which person to approach, by turning over the appropriate card and reading what it says on the back. The card describes what happens, what the person says, if there are any challenges that must be overcome (such as combat with the person, or rolling to find a hidden item, and so forth), and anything else that happens. If the players come into possession of an item, the card will say, 'Draw Item Number 23' (or whatever card number is appropriate).

By choosing what actions to take, and where on the overall mission map to go, players are given clues that will lead them to the story's eventual resolution (a word of caution, though: some clues are red herrings, and lead to dead ends, causing the players to waste the limited amount of time they have to perform their mission before they are recalled to the future).

And that's where the problem comes in: if players are unsuccessful in their first attempt to play through a story, they can try again a limited number of times with some of the knowledge they've already acquired. And it's almost guaranteed that they will fail the first time.

In this first mission, for example, if you run out of time before completing the mission, the T.I.M.E. Corps Director will send you back a second time. If you still don't complete the mission, he sends you back one final time under a 'Condition Red' status, which suspends the time limit, but places other restrictions on you. When you complete the mission, you read the appropriate 'Mission Successful' card (depending on whether you finished on the first, second, or third attempt), or you read the 'Mission Failed' card (there is a 'Mission Failed' card for each way the mission might fail: if all the agents die, or you make a bad decision and fail to prevent the temporal anomaly, or so on).

But once you've played through this mission, you can't play it again. You already know where everything is, what the important clues are, which characters to talk to and which to avoid, and so forth. In order to use your T.I.M.E. Stories set again, you must purchase one of the expansions, which contains a new deck of cards that allows you to simulate a new mission.

That's something that I've never cared for. I prefer games that can be played an infinite number of times. This means that I like games such as Red Dragon Inn, or The Resistance: Avalon. Even Balderdash has high replay value, because there are so many cards that even if one player sees them all, it's highly unlikely that he'll remember all (or even most) of them.

On the other hand, games like Malarkey, which ask players to guess which answer to the 'Imponderables' question is the correct one, even lose their replay value after a time. Once you've seen every card in the set, you know all the answers.

This is part of what I don't like about many video games, as well. Once you've finished a game, it's seldom enjoyable to play it again. Sure, some recent video games are using the branching story method, where the decisions you make in the game determine which ending you get. Once you've finished a game, you can play it again making different choices, and you will get a different ending.

But I still prefer games that give you different stories every time. I like sitting down for a rousing game of Hot Tin Roof, not knowing who's going to win, where each player is going to put their shelters and catwalks, not knowing what decisions are going to be available. Yeah, it's the same game. But every time you play it, it's new, and you don't know any of the crucial information before hand.

Anyway, that was what I was thinking this morning. Some people, of course, enjoy that sort of experience. Millions of people purchase new video games, play it through, then sell it back to the store and buy a new one. Obviously, it has some sort of appeal for somebody! Just not for me.

So go have fun playing games, whether you replay them or not. I will see you back here next week, and until then,

Game on!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Board Game Geek's Top 100

I was looking at the top 100 list of Board Game Geek a week or so ago. I realised that, despite all the games I've played in my life, I've only played about 16 of the ones in the top 100.

So I've made a resolution. I don't normally do resolutions, for several reasons. I think New Year's is a stupid holiday.  I believe that every day you wake up is a chance for a new beginning; you shouldn't have to wait for a specific day of the year. Besides, most New Year's Resolutions are silly, and forgotten before January ends anyway.

So this is not a New Year's Resolution. This is just a resolution that happens to coincide with New Year's, and is measured against the calendar year. My resolution is this:

By the end of 2017, I will be able to say, at least once, that I have played 80 or more of the games on the Board Game Geek's Top 100 List.

I know that the list is changing constantly. New games are added to the database, and get rated highly enough to displace some of the games already on there. BGG users change their ratings from time to time. New users add ratings. So the list is constantly in flux. 

That's why I'm setting my resolution for 80 games, instead of all 100. If a game that I've played drops off the top 100, I don't want to have to stress too much about it.

Also, if I've played 80 of the games on the first of December, and one of those games drops off, so my score is only 79, it will still count, because I will be able to say, 'At one point in 2017, there were 80 games on the top 100 list that I have played.' 

By wording it this way, I don't have to stress out about the constantly changing nature of the list.

I will keep track of the games I've played using the table (which is behind a cut) below. I'll check in once a week to see how I'm progressing. So you should come back on occasion to see how I'm doing, and how the list has changed! Until then, remember to

Game on!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Board Game Review: Push a Monster

Sometimes, it's nice to play a very simple game that's suitable for children as well as adults. Games that don't require a lot of thinking, and don't even involve a lot of luck. Games of skill, like Run Yourself Ragged (which has apparently been renamed Screwball Scramble). I'm not one to shirk a 'kids' game.' Labyrinth is one of my favourite games, after all!

So when I was asked to join in a game of Push a Monster, I agreed. It's a very simple game, so let's jump right into it. Here are some numbers:

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 1
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 0
Humour: None*
Attractiveness: Ideal
Average Length of Gameplay: 15 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
   Strategy: Low
   Conflict: Medium
   Social Manipulation: Low
   Fantasy: Low

The point of Push a Monster is to do exactly what the title says: push a monster. The game consists of five components: monsters, monster tokens, a die, a table, and a monster pusher. It looks something like this:
A small cardboard 'table' with an irregularly shaped tabletop. There are several wooden tokens, each adorned with a sticker of various monsters, arranged on top of this cardboard table. You can see some more of these tokens lying nearby. The hands of a player can be seen, holding the monster pusher, which consists of two rectangular pieces of cardboard, each decorated with monsters pushing at one another. The longer of the pieces is held in one hand, with a wooden monster token lying on it, and the smaller piece is used to push the wooden monster token off the bottom piece and onto the cardboard table.

The game starts with the two purple monsters on the table. On your turn, you roll the die. Five sides show one of the five main monster colours: white, green, yellow, orange, or red. The sixth side is a question mark. Whichever side the die shows determines which colour monster you must slide onto the table. If you roll the question mark, you get to choose.

You take the monster pusher, which is two rectangles made of cardboard, one slightly longer than the other. Place a monster of the appropriate colour on the longer one. Then use the shorter one to push the monster onto the table. You must slide it on, so that it does not sit atop any other monster.

Very quickly, the table starts to get crowded. Eventually, someone will cause one or more monsters to fall off the table. When that happens, all other players get a token in the same colour as the monster(s) that you knocked off.

These tokens are of varying widths. The red one is the narrowest, with the green one being just slightly wider. The white and yellow ones are next, followed by the orange. The purple ones are the widest of all, but they are also the rarest, as there are only two of them, and they both start already on the table. In a sense, the wider the token, the more 'points' it's worth. But remember, every time you knock a monster off the table, you're giving these 'points' to the other players. So if you have to push someone off, it's better to try to shove a red or green monster out, and avoid pushing the purple ones off if you can avoid it at all.

The game goes until the die rolls a colour that is not available (because they're already on the table) or until one colour of the tokens is gone. At that point, all players line their tokens up. Whoever has the longest row of tokens is the winner.

It's a very simple game. It's great for kids, and if you're in the mood for a nice easy game that doesn't involve a lot of thinking but you don't want to play a luck-based game, then Push a Monster certainly delivers. The monsters are kind of cute (and regarding the asterisk on the Humour rating above, I wouldn't say that the artwork is humorous per se, but the cute paintings can be a source of a mild chuckle. Certainly, it's fun to draw comparisons to various animals. For example, the orange monster has some sort of elephant trunk, and the white monster appears to be related to the rhinoceros in some way).

Anyway, I think it's a neat little game that can be fun in the right circumstances. Don't be afraid to give it a try! And with that, I bid you

Game on!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I Want to Play More Games

Note: The article begins below. I'm going to try something different. I'm contemplating the idea of making this blog a podcast as well. To that end, I've made today's entry into a prototype podcast. Let me know what you think. Or, if you're not interested, skip to the regular text version below the podcast.

It's my own fault, really.

I should never have agreed to play with them. John decided that, for his birthday, he wanted to run a special two-session game. We played The Dresden Files Role Playing Game. I played a young changeling who had just recently learned of his faerie heritage and was trying to learn more about his father to understand why he would agree to enter into a somewhat deleterious relationship with a faerie woman. There was also a necromancer, a witch, and a vampire of the Yellow Court. For the first session, we also had a were-armadillo, but that player's son fell ill and he had to miss the second session.

Ever since then, I've been wanting to play more games. It didn't help that, as I was sitting around with the Dork Spouse and two of my good friends, we somehow managed to talk about the Little Fears RPG that I have. I've only been involved in one session of that game, which did not turn out well, because I was GMing for a group of Butt Kickers and Power Gamers who were unable to appreciate the 'you are a child fighting against the monsters from Closetland that adults cannot perceive' aspect of the game.

Also, my copy of GURPS Prime Directive is still sitting next to my bed, where I will occasionally peruse the contents before going to sleep.

All of these things have been making me want to play more games.

I've got my Friday Night Changeling group, which meets once every two to six weeks, depending on players' availability. It's a great group, and we're all enjoying the game. Those Fridays I'm not playing Changeling, I go to John's house for board games. Also, we had a sort of New Year's party (it was actually the day before New Year's Eve), where we played The Red Dragon Inn and a couple turns of Superfight. At the mother-in-law's house on Boxing Day, we got in a game of Hot Tin Roof.

But there are still so many games I want to play.

Not just roleplaying games, either. I've had my copy of Winter Tales for three years now, and have still never had a chance to play it. We received a copy of One Night Revolution for Christmas, and despite my trying (rather emphatically) to get people to play it with me, no one has yet agreed to do so. There are many games in my game cabinet that I haven't played in years, although I would love to do so again soon.

And I have such ideas for roleplaying games, if ever I were able to start a new game or get a new group together. I would love to play a Star Trek game (using the GURPS system, now that I have the GURPS Prime Directive book) in which all the characters are ensigns with no knowledge of the purpose behind the missions on which they're being sent. I'd love to get an appropriate group together for a game of Little Fears. I haven't yet abandoned the idea of the fantasy worlds I've created.

But I don't think I'll ever have a chance to run any of these games.

I don't really know what's the point in my saying all this. I suppose that part of it is woolgathering; remembering my early adult years when we spent a ridiculous number of nights just playing games. When our group would dabble in so many different systems, like Tales of the Floating Vagabond or second edition Shadowrun or Albedo. I miss those days.

Nowadays, my time is taken up with my job, with my social activism, and with the day-to-day tasks of being an adult. I have little time for gaming any more.

An animated image of Felicia Day, taken from the webseries 'The Guild,' in which she is throwing a small tantrum and saying, 'I hate being an adult!'


Anyway. That's what's been on my mind lately. If I can't play games, though, maybe you can! Go forth, play some games for me, and remember to

Game on!