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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Deep Thoughts: By Coldfoot Handy

Having read about the nationwide game sale at Barnes and Noble, I swung by my local B&N to take a gander at any gems that may be 50% off. There were a lot of Monopoly, poker and trivia games on sale, but there were also a few of TGOO. Blokus (both regular and the Trigon versions) were abundant, as well as at least one copy of Puerto Rico, Rheinlander, Hey! That's My Fish, and Knights of Charlemagne.

A man and is son were perusing the same stack of games as I. The boy was holding Hey! That's My Fish. Dad was holding a copy of some Monopoly themed game. Dad said, "How 'bout this?" The boy shrugged. They took Monopoly and walked away.

And that got me thinking (Warning: Deep Thought begins now)

Anyone who knows me knows that I will often speak my mind. Even if my opinion is unsolicited. Even if my opinion is unwanted.

I've seen people perusing games in a game store, overheard their conversation and offered my thoughts on the game in question. I've only done that a couple times, and only if I thought I could be of real assistance.

I've overheard numerous cell phone conversations in my taxi and have offered such advise as, "Why are you going back to him if he beats you?" OR "Did you just call your mother a bitch? Your mother is a decent lady. You need to call back and apologize or you can walk." OR "Only a self-centered prick would try to persuade his girlfriend to get an abortion. She deserves better than you." (Yeah. I've said that.)

(Warning: Deep thought begins NOW)

So I was thinking, if I were to chime in that H!TMF is a pretty good little game, and if they were to buy it, and if they were to play it, could they appreciate it? More than they appreciate Monopoly?

Probably not.

There is quite a bit of strategy packed into that innocuous looking game. Granted, H!TMF isn't chess, but analyzing board position is very important in a chess-like way, and the better player will win 90%+ of the time. If you don't have some knowledge about games beyond that of a lay person, the depth of the H!TMF compared to its simplicity of rules and shortness of play would go unappreciated.

Being in a bookstore I had a fleeting thought that games are similar to books in that regard.

For example, a regular Joe could read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and enjoy the book. It is a fine adventure story with some humor thrown in. A person with knowledge of literature could read the same book, enjoy it, but also be impressed by the way Mark Twain raises questions of prejudice and the basic human condition. He might also be very disappointed with the way Twain hurried up the ending in order to meet publishing deadlines.

A critic wonders how good Huck Finn could have been if it had been properly play tested if Twain had taken the time to resolve questions he had raised. To a lay person it is a fine yarn.

At this point you will have to forgive me. My musings may exceed my knowledge of literature, but I believe my point will not be lost on the reader.

If H!TMF were a book what would it be? Perhaps a short story by Raymond Carver?

If Reiner Knizia were an author who would he be? His work is voluminous, but uneven. His best works are brilliant, but he churns out "pulp fiction" games at a remarkable rate.

As a full-time game designer Knizia isn't selling games to us game snobs. He is selling games to publishers in a manner similar to professional writers. Both have to give the publishers what they want. More often than not, game publishers are looking for a specific type of game to appeal to a specific market. Just as book publishers are looking for a book that will sell at WalMart or a book that will sell during the Christmas season, game publishers are looking for games that will sell at Toys R Us, or games that will meet the demand for 3-5 player, 90 minute, spouse friendly, Eurogames.

"That's a nice, little card game, Reiner. (Can we call you Reiner?) But it has a medieval theme, and is limited to 2 players. Could you rework it to an adventure theme for 6 players and have it done in time for Essen?"

"You have a novel about "man vs. nature"? That's good, but where's the romance? This story needs a "love interest" perhaps even a "love triangle" in order to appeal to a wider audience. Work on it and get back to us."

Richard Berg? Similar to Knizia? Large volume of games, but rather uneven?

"That's an interesting game Rich (Can I call you Rich?), but we really like your new WWII European theater game. The combat resolution was very innovative, congratulations. The reason we wanted to talk with you was to ask if you could re-do your successful WWII game into a "Pirate's of the Caribbean" theme with the same combat resolution system?"

Again, as a prolific designer, Berg's market is game publishers. Publishers are generally interested in the LCD (lowest common denominator), and which segment of the boardgame market has the MMBAHITP (most money burning a hole in their pocket). There just isn't much money to be made selling quality games to the niche market that appreciates quality games.

Francis Tresham? He has designed a small number of high quality games. Tresham is designing games for our little niche market. I assume the themes of his games are not up for discussion when he meets with game publishers? Maybe a tweak here or there for production reasons?

This could be a great game Frank (Can I call you Frank?), but this "slave revolt" calamity... I don't know. The boys in the Legal Department want you to call it a "colonist revolt" instead.

Let me get this straight... You think my Civilization game would sell better if it included more dice? Multi-colored dice? Dice depicting little shields, pyramids and ships? And you want me to make it politically correct? No thanks. If you'll excuse me, I've got an appointment to make an appointment with another publisher.

Francis Tresham actually reminds me more of Woody Allen than a literary figure in that regard.

Bruno Faidutti? More prolific than Francis Tresham, yes. But is any one of his games a "gamer's game"? Must his body of work be considered as a whole to push him into the realm of great designers?

Is he perhaps a Kurt Vonnegut, or Dr. Seuss?

Next, consider the value of a mentor.

Puerto Rico is a fine game. To a group of children with no guidance it would be dreck. (The person who ships the most corn wins. What's the fun in that?) They probably would not finish their first game and if they did finish their first game it would probably never hit the table again. The same group of children would find Romeo and Juliet to be booooooring, and possibly unreadable, but under the tutelage of a good teacher Romeo and Juliet is a gripping story. Likewise a good teacher could point out subtle strategy and the children's enjoyment of Puerto Rico would be enhanced, especially when they put the screws to the guy shipping corn.

I have had the opportunity to play HeroScape with many different children. Several of those children owned the game before playing with me. Several others acquired the game after playing with me. To a person, the kids who owned HeroScape before playing with me did not know how to play before I taught them. They just used the miniatures like other kids use little, plastic, "army men". To my knowledge (and this may be overly prideful on my part) the kids who acquired the game after first playing with me, acquired the game because the game is fun to play. Again, a minor mentor, one who could simply read and understand the rules, and then direct the flow of the game, was needed before the game could be appreciated.

Would the boy and his father whom I saw in Barnes and Noble take the time to get past the basic HeroScape rules and into the advanced rules before discarding it as a game and finding better use for the groovy, plastic miniatures as toys?

If games are art, akin to literature, where does the Stephen King parallel come into play?

Are there games with huge mass market appeal that are racking up millions of dollars in sales, all the while being snubbed by the "literate" gamers?

Do I even need to answer that question?

And therein lie some of the similarities. There are more, but that is enough. Trust me. I've given some thought to the subject and I could write more.

Game design is an art. Game designers are artists. The best designers can make a living doing their art. Lucky designers can make a killing by creating marginal designs with mass market appeal. Few people have enough knowledge of the art to be experts in the field, but everyone has an opinion. The situation is not so different from other arts.


Possibly Next,

perhaps soon,

or maybe never,

Thoughts on obtaining boardgame knowledge.

So who becomes Jane Austen? Only six perfect works, yet very popular today.

If Reiner Knizia were an author who would he be? His work is voluminous, but uneven.

Actually, that describes the work and career of Philip K. Dick to a t. His best work is mind alteringly brilliant, but he also pumped out a fair amount of crud in order to avoid starving, as well.

OK, I'll go finish reading the article now :)
I don't know who Dr Seuss is, but Kurt Vonnegut is definietly one of my favorite american writers - and, yes, it's litterature. So I'm flattered ;-)
This is such a stupid thing. I expected to find something useful, not baloney.
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