Friday, 18 March 2016

Blue pill, red pill


You take the blue pill, the story ends.

You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. 

You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

> Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix

Col. Jessep: You want answers? 

Kaffee: I think I'm entitled 

Col. Jessep: *You want answers?* 

Kaffee: *I want the truth!* 

Col. Jessep: *You can't handle the truth!*

Tom Cruise & Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men 

The search for truth - some objective perfection - as so eloquently implied above is often as much about the truth as it is about the person doing the searching. .

What, you might ask yourself not unreasonably, has this got to do with what went on down t'pub this week.

Ah ha !

This week I got to partake in not one but two playtests of as yet un-released games, and ( here's the payoff ! ), like a search for the truth, playtesting games can be as much about finding an answer to an open mechanics question as it is about capturing the mood, mindset or otherwise of the designer.

A blue pill, red pill moment for the designer in a universe of their own crafting, if you will.

First up was Elliot with his new prototype ( Mausoleums of Umiat ) about building the fanciest resting place for your soon to be dead self. A bit like some Pharaoh competition to see who can build the swankiest pyramid and bury the most of their still living staff with them. Sharing is caring.

Elliots prototype game - Mausoleums of Umiat
Set in Elliots own world of Umiat and Kenai ( which you can go buy a book about here ), the game has a fantasy theme of orcs, pyromancers and Krakens amongst other things, and combines classic worker placement mechanics with some basic resource engine capabilities.

Players compete to out resource gather and manage each other with an ultimate aim to earn Vanity points - the main thrust of which is to be gained by building your mausoleum with said gathered resources. Some twists on the familar light euro mechanics include apocalyptic style resource collapse - over fishing, over hunting and complete deforestation are a real ( and depending on players almost guaranteed ) threat, and a tactile mausoleum build, where you don't just get to pickup tokens for your tomb, you get to build the tomb in 3d with blocks and decorate its surfaces with fanciness. You could imagine that with some lavish spending on production for the game beyond its humble prototype origins, the mausoleum building could be a thing of wonderful gimmicky goodness ( it cries out for some lego building imo ! ).

MoU has already had a few playtests, but this was its first visit to NoBoG and the game itself is in its early days of balance and feedback, with some hairy rough spots of probability wackiness, pacing, length and choices made, but overall looks promising. Elliot was taking notes throughout the evening and was interested in what everyone had to say about the balance of the game - even though he confessed to finding the undertaking somewhat harrowing. He seemed particularly downcast when I mentioned the game needed a "shit ton of balancing". Mmm. Maybe I should have given Elliot the option of the blue pill.

My second playtest of the evening was with Pete and Galaxy M101 which has had... what must be over a years worth of playtesting by now. In its latest tweak Pete has imo managed to break one of his key game mechanics, and whilst the final game scoring was close - we managed to zip through a full game - I commented that the balance was now kinda fubar and a non event for one of the action selections. Alas, I was only offering red pills again. Pete's stated aim with this iteration was however to push the mechanics until they broke and then dial it back some ( in a bid to encourage an under used part of the game ). So. Perhaps design goal met - action broken. Fix it.

Mice & Mystics - Joe is trapped awaiting rescue
Mice and Mystics graced the Mash Tun again this week to continue the ongoing diminutive adventures, and much like the first week, the team of gallant rodents aced the chapter and whisked their way to a complacent easy victory. After Joe had been talking up how difficult M & M could be, it seems that either it's not so hard after all, or the assembled players are some red hot mice tacticians. Joe was incredulous at how easy it all was - I think he secretly wants more pain and woe to befall the intrepid group.

David got La Granja to table for the third week (?) running, Pete trying it for the first time gave it a hearty thumbs up and noted there were some interesting multi use card mechanic malarkeys going on in this properly crunchy euro. And at the complete opposite end of the scale we also had ameritrash Risk in the house - in the form of a walking dead variant - delighting a table of three.

King of New York
Lewis committed the etiquette sin of introducing a whole bunch of new to NoBoG and new to game people to the wonders of King of New York, before roundly beating them at his own game. He then further added to the problem by slicing everyone up at Secret Hitler and triumphantly riding the win home as a Fascist. Thus teaching the newcomers in proper barbarian style that weakness is not to be tolerated, for as Conan says, the best thing in life is to "Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.". Harsh.

Kingdom Builder made a return after several months of hiatus - mainly because Stu stopped bringing it - Champions of Midgard of course was played ( with relative NoBoG newcomer Halvor teaching everyone the correct pronunciation of the nordicness ) and there were outbreaks of epic spell wars of the battle wizards, Resistance, Bang !, Love Letter and a whole bunch besides.

La Granja
The Tun was busy this week - an unfortunate somewhat busy spread of regular punters in the pub conspired to make tables ultra short, and a number of small player count pre-arranged games exacerbated a difficult situation into almost breaking point - we nearly had to leave the Tun and split across site. This is the second time in a handful of weeks that space has been critical - and this week with only around 43 gamers in the house it wasn't even particularly gamer busy. Lack of available extra space is beginning to bite, and the issue is on my radar as A Problem that may need some work. A chat with the Tun about what other days or solutions are available, or talking nicely to Jamie and Athena to offer a split solution may be in order - or possibly even floating the so far elusive second NoBoG day to spread numbers across two days instead of just one.

No Monopoly this week. Boo. Although I really shouldn't talk these things up. We all know what happens when I talk things up, even in jest.

Ok, that's it. Cue up the gallery music and take it away...

Risk, Walking Dead Style

Champions of Midgard. With added Halvor authenticity * ( Halvor is not included with the game )

The excellent Istanbul

Bang !

Epic spell wars of the battle wizards

Avalon Resistance


Elliot Symonds said...

Thank you Bork for a swift NoBlog and the comments. Ultimately agree which is why we playtest but quirks and themes do also have their place. I will talk to my man at Lego about an association with death based mechanics and ultra violent source material. 😉

Minitrue said...

Personally I look at it this way - the goal of a designer can be anything. To delight, annoy, puzzle, etc. It's an experience crafting. So absolutely any thing - games included - can have quirks, themes, yada ( tangentially there's been a debate in computer terms about skeuomorphism and whether it's "good", "bad", ridiculous or otherwise in software UI and design ). In my view, *so long as the outcome is what you intended* then you're successful. Regardless of whether that aligns with notions of high stakes gambling, or finely balanced worker placement, or a raft of other different design thingers. Bad example, take a game like the classic mousetrap, roll to move, first to finish, and by a hardcore euro point of view the game is bad. Otoh, from a funky unique inspiring kinetic model point of view the game is amazing - and sticks in the imagination and memory for a long time ( beyond say some average Euro games ). Uh huh.

James Mapp said...

I'm still not liking this prearranged game malarkey.. It's flattened the whole experience of NoBoG for me.