Friday, May 20, 2011

The Game's the Thing: Kris

Instead of my usual "It's the Magic" feature, today is a general gaming feature called "The Game's the Thing."

I once told someone that I was the luckiest guy on Earth. I've got some first world problems, which aren't bad problems to have. There are some rough and dark parts, but everyone has their crosses to bear.  I've got the better parts of my Dad's genes, and only a few of Syl's crazy genes, I've been accepted to the US Naval Academy, I spent an amazing year with amazing people in South Carolina, my family loves me, and I've got friends who don't always get me, but who, unbelievably, just keep trying.

My bad luck actually manifests in the form of my escapism. I love playing with dice and cards, but dice and cards do not love me at all. I've drawn eight lands straight in Magic, rolled double '1's in Dungeons and Dragons, and performed so reliably poorly in Aberrant that I had to, as Storyteller, reverse the Target Number paradigm for ten-sided dice.

If you're not familiar with those games: 1 in 1,035; 1 in 400 and baby-punchingly abysmal.

There just wasn't enough room for a second, -21 ultimate "Punch all the babies."

My poor luck is only exacerbated by my determination to enjoy the feel of a game, the flavor if you will, that I often refuse to look at games as a mere numbers crunch of variables; a mathematical set of decisions to be optimized.

I thought I might note your opponent's concession in the last ability, but like most Planeswalkers' ultimates, it's just understood.

I've found that the finest randomizer is other players. I love games for 3+ players, especially ones that encourage deal making. I don't think I'm very good at them, but at the very least, interaction becomes a more important point than just manipulating probabilities. While I'm not sociable--misanthropic and misogynic--I do do a good job of bringing other people into my circle to add new blood to our gaming group, if only so they can bring a new perspective to our play.

Why Red/Black? Because none of those things are voluntary.

Ultimately, I play games as a way to connect with friends. Just playing a game misses the whole point. Solitaire is just sad, though it’s a good way to say “screw you” to your friends when their new perspective demolishes your non-optimized view of things. A revelatory sentence, but games are revelatory things. I think that there are few things that define a person or a people so well as the games they play.

Conversation is fine, but often tends to swing towards intractable differences or pointless head-nodding. Nothing is learned by vague, unopposed declarations of right and wrong. Even heated pointless arguments over stupid things can tell you about a person; how they argue, what they believe in, how intelligently they can articulate their beliefs and rebut criticisms. Gossip and even news are informative, but to some degree non interactive without a response. Processing and delivering data doesn’t excite the mind or reveal character (well, very much. Opinions on gossips in general are very low, but opinions on specific gossips are often quite high.) quite as much as interpreting and using that information.

However, games—at least the good ones—are quite good at forcing players to deal with information, think about it, and make decisions based on it. As someone who would sometimes rather stick their hand in a rusty bear trap rather than listen to a committee drone on about whether said bear trap still works or not, I do rather like the directness of it.


I’ve recently discovered an amazing game called Pandemic. It’s great. It has that much-vaunted “easy to learn, difficult to master” quality. I’ve had people who don’t usually play games sitting down and becoming quite good at it in their first game, but even after my fifth go-round, I’m still dreading the higher difficulties.

Regardless of the success/failure, Pandemic has been amazing for getting to know people. It’s given me enough reliable data points in terms of corroborating the various tendencies towards interest, disinterest, confidence, overconfidence, and overbearingness that I feel comfortable letting it tell me about people I’m not already familiar with by how they play.

And that’s really what I want from games; the shared experience that friendships are built on, the peeks into a persons true character exposed by random cruelty of dice, the nature of their desires through their strategies and choices.

Everyone else can stop making board games now. Sorry guys.

No, no talk is cheap, gestures are no better than practiced stagecraft, cunning philosophies are written in pages of books innumerable and hollowly elevated by unthinking throngs.

To catch a glimpse of a man’s true virtues; temper, wit, pleasantness, and conscience, the game’s the thing.

Next week, I swear I'll do that Green Box on Magic: the Gathering.

1 comment:

skiltao said...

Solitaire is also good for when your friends put on "Prince of Space," although the "your weapons cannot harm me" drinking game would be have been an acceptable alternative. It's nice to have a movie that you can talk over without interrupting anything, and the MST3K guys have a lot of good lines, which I apparently quoted for months the first time I saw it, but C'MON.

Resource management games- Race for the Galaxy, Puerto Rico -aren't my cup of tea. Much better when the information consists mostly of negotiating other players (like this bean farming card game I can't recall the name of). And yeah, makes sense that a well-designed game would be good at drawing out somebody's personality. Along those lines: the party game "Apples to Apples" isn't terrifically well designed as a game, but it is aimed exactly at building a shared frame of reference - a miniature culture, if you will. I assume the ultimate coup in that game would be to win a trick using a play that makes no sense without knowledge of previous tricks.

So you recommend Pandemic then? I think I know someone who owns it, will have to see about getting a game together. (My alternative right now is a scrabble/monopoly cross called "Acquire.")