<body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\x3d14979738\x26blogName\x3dMusings+On...\x26publishMode\x3dPUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\x26navbarType\x3dBLUE\x26layoutType\x3dCLASSIC\x26searchRoot\x3dhttp://musingson.blogspot.com/search\x26blogLocale\x3den_US\x26v\x3d2\x26homepageUrl\x3dhttp://musingson.blogspot.com/\x26vt\x3d-8564575961458918903', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wei-Hwa's final score: 8.

Okay, switching!

I hear the complaints, and I switched over to a Yahoo! group for our next Musings, inviting all of you. I'm currently wrapping up the Camelot Legends and New England Musings, and will post those in the next couple of days.

Thanks for your patience!

Tom

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Huh?

Rick here...as I mentioned to Tom, I have the technological skills of a parakeet. You folks decide how you want this to work and then assign someone to explain it all to me...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

re: Groups

Wei-Hwa said"
"... Google Groups is better than Yahoo Groups for browsing, but doesn't support
polls."

I haven't done much with google groups, but the combination of gmail + yahoo groups works pretty well for me. Set your config to individual emails and set up automatic labeling in gmail and you have a nice threaded model that allows you to respond to any post in the forum, keeps track of new content, and is isolated from the rest of your email.

Monday, September 19, 2005

[OT Continued] Groups

Google Groups is better than Yahoo Groups for browsing, but doesn't support polls.

[OT Continued] Add'l Input

I'm fine using whatever format folks are most comfortable with, but for virtually all my other group-based brainstorming, project coordination and design functions, we usually set up a Yahoo! group to facilitate tracking posts, targeted responses, ability to post files and set up polls (ie, the game ratings or opinions could be conducted via poll).

However, I'll keep using what best suits this blog's purpose and goal!

[OT] Is this the best forum for Musings discussion?

I know this is probably completely inappropriate for me to suggest given my complete lack of participation so far, but is a weblog the best way to carry on the Musings On… conversation?  My issues with this approach include:

  • The Weblog is pull vs. email’s push technology.  I tend to check my RSS feeds less frequently (1–2 times per day) than my email.  Email shows up in my inbox and I’m more likely to respond to it in a timely manner.
  • Inability to easily respond to a particular post/question/comment.  Email / discussion groups can have multiple threads of discussion that might be easier to organize when Tom does the final publication.

Did you guys consider using a Yahoo group for this the first time around, but discount it for some reason?  I’m fine either way and expect to participate in the next game discussion.

Summing Up...

Ok, in 48 hours I'm going to shut this one down - on New England. Everyone make their final comments!

Tom

Wei-Hwa's take on New England

One of my gaming groups played New England quite a bit when it came out. Part of the reason was that it was one of the few Eurogames that one picky member of the group (I'll call him Jim) would actually play (Jim prefers trick-taking games and two-player abstracts). Throughout the sessions, we got to be pretty good at the game, especially Jim.

I think the main reason that the game feels boring to some is that unlike a lot of other growth strategy games, the growth in NE is linear instead of quadratic. What I mean by that is that every turn, the number of resources you get is about the same; you don't get twice as much stuff because you have twice as much stuff. (Compare with a game like Settlers of Catan, where someone with twice as many settlements tends to gets twice as many goods.) There's no feeling
of a "snowball effect" where you get bigger and bigger and feel like you can take over the whole
world if only the game wasn't ending.

Another factor is that the scoring is so balanced that the optimizations you make have a very teeny tiny effect on the final results. Let me do some number crunching to demonstrate this.

Let's suppose you're playing a "domino" 3VP card. It will cost you 2 actions to get the land, then 1 to get the card. 3 actions to get 3VP = average 1VP per action.

Next, let's suppose you're playing a "triomino" 6VP card. 3 actions for the land, then 1 for the card. 4 actions, 6VP = 1.5VP per action.

Finally, the red "2x2" 10VP card works out to be 5 actions for 10VPs = 2VP per action.

So, obviously the last one is a better deal, right? Ah, but we're forgetting that the players start with a "free" domino tile in each color! If we figure those in, then we have:

1 action to get 3VP = average 3VP per action
2 actions to get 6VP = average 3VP per action
3 actions to get 10VP = average 3.33VP per action

These are very nearly identical! What does this all mean? This means that early on in the game, players are all getting VPs at approximately the same rate (as long as they're all getting actions they can use). It isn't until most of the initial bonuses are spent that the disparaties between the different strategies start making a strong difference in the score -- and even then we're talking something like 0.5VPs per action here. That means a good player is gaining on the medium-strength player something like only 1VP per turn, which sure doesn't feel like much. Not to mention that the player going for the 10VP card might be getting a better payoff, but only if they manage to do it before the game ends, which isn't a guarantee.

Playing New England well means that you have to be able to pay attention to tiny optimizations, because among players who don't make horrible moves, the game tends to be really close; often won by one point or even on tiebreaker. It means that timing the last turn is critical; if you're investing in something and you don't make it pay off before the game is over, you've lost. Not only have we had games that were decided on the last turn, but we've had games where on the penultimate turn we could calculate the exact probability that a player would win (because it all hinged upon the luck of the last draw).

But I think what this also means is that among casual gamers, the game doesn't really feel that exciting. Your moves rarely have giant repercussions. Often it seems like there isn't much difference between most of your options -- because there isn't! Playing well is about seeing those tiny differences and getting enough of them to win over your opponents.

I can see why a game like New England can seem exciting to a player like Jim, who loves analyzing the effects and values of individual moves, and not so very exciting to those who
are more about theme and story, and expect their games to have more "oomph".

Saturday, September 17, 2005

New England

Shannon Appelcline: I think those score cards are nice, because you can theoretically stack them up with all your other cards and quickly count your score. Unfortunately this doesn't work due to ties, in which case you can't atually hand the score cards out because two people share them.

I'd call that all a nice usability element for the game that doesn't quite go the whole race.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Silly me...

OMG, how could I forget those black markers!? Yes, yes... those wooden markers were totally redundant. I mean, they are so pointless that their very existence was completely forgotten :) It's funny how our memory works, because all the time while I was writing that "economic bits" paragraph I was thinking hard about those score cards that are awarded for having the most pilgrims/ships/barns(was it barns?), wondering whether I should call them redundant or not!

A Redundant Redundancy

Shin: With regard to the economically designed bits in New England, I have to take at least partial exception, because of one item: those silly-ass black markers that nobody uses! I'd nominate them for stupidest component in a game, except that the scoreboard in Capitol has long since retired that award. I do agree with everything else you say.

New England - The economic bits

Greetings everyone - I was on board with WotR but have remained silent since I have yet to play WotR. I do own and enjoy New England, so here goes my humble, first post.

The bidding : the comments about "1,2,3,4" aspect of the bidding was interesting because I've only seen it in my last game(4 player). Indeed it happened almost through the entire game, and it resulted in a somewhat boring game too. However, in my previous games with 4 player, we've seen 6 and 7 taken in a heated competition; and the game was intense. Does it depend on players, or the particular development of game play? Honestly I don't know - I'll have to play the game more.

The components : what I admire most about NE is the use of cards and tiles. The components of this game is constructed in such an economical way that nothing feels redundant. There's no need to keep track of your score because the cards that you took sum it up nicely. Whenever I think about well-constructed game pieces, I think of NE.

The drama : I too think that there is no highly dramatic story-line in NE. But that does not make this game boring. NE is a game that slowly builds itself up to the finale, and I think it provides enough interesting, if not ground-breaking, decisions to make during the process.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

My Take on Opaque

Shannon, I'm almost certain the reason that we don't feel we have a good grasp of the bidding strategy is due to inexperience with the game. I mean, it just isn't that complex. I'm sure there are New England fans out there who can quote you letter and verse about how to bid, just as there are experts in other games of skill.

One of the reasons I feel this way is the very similar bidding system in Santiago. I feel the choices there are, if anything, more involved, because of the possibility of becoming the Overseer, as well as considerations about irrigation. I've played that game more often then New England, though, and probably because of that, I usually have a pretty good idea what a "proper" bid is. (BTW, this isn't because of any cost/benefit analysis I do; the uncertainty of how the board will develop, as well as which tiles will come out, make that difficult. It's just based on an intuitive feel of the value of the different tiles.) This is developed to the point that I'll look at what's available and think, "I'd bid $3 here" and, sure enough, the opening player will say, "$3." I just don't see where the issues in New England are any more complex than those in Santiago. I'm certain that with sufficient game time, I could have a grasp of the bidding in NE similar to the one I feel I have in Santiago.

By the way, I feel the same way about Fifth Avenue. I've only played it twice and am no closer to divining a coherent strategy than when I first played. But the game isn't rocket science, it's just a bit non-intuitive. I'm sure that with a few more plays I could have a pretty good idea of what good and bad moves are. Whether I'll have the chance to do that is up to the desires of other players. I think Fifth Avenue has been unfairly maligned, mostly by players who didn't grasp some elementary truths about good play when they initially tried it out. But as a result, it can be pretty hard to get to the table.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Ian - New England - another shelf warmer

Nothing much to say on this one. I own it, have played it once, and also have never had the desire to give it the second shot. Perhaps the next one.

New England

Shannon Appelcline: You know, when I wrote, "you never want to get in a position where you can't buy two items on your turn", I did immediately wonder if that was true or not, but then just shrugged my shoulders and let it be because that's how I've always played the game. That huzonfirst also offers that question up for consideration brings it home again.

Economic systems in games can be tricky things.

On the one hand you have a game like Santiago where there's a very clear cost/benefit analysis. You can quickly calculate the value of your holdings before and after a particular move, and thus know the value of that move.

On the other hand you have a game like Ra where there's sufficient chaos based on what other players are doing and on unknown factors (the drawing of the Ra tiles) that all you can do is move in the best direction based on generalized cost/benefit considerations. (E.g., I'm ahead on pharaohs, so that pharaoh that maintains my lead is probably of high value to me.)

And then on the third hand you have games where the economic workings are sufficiently hidden that most people can't manage a cost/benefit analysis. I'm pretty sure that Fifth Avenue fits into this category, and that's why it largely failed. And I think the auction of New England might too. That even those of us who like the game can't say exactly what's a good move and what isn't is somewhat worrying.

Is that because no one has enough experience because the game just didn't reach critical mass out of the gate, or is the game sufficiently opaque that it could never have hoped to reach critical mass?

I dunno.

Pilgrim Palaver

Bubslug: That's exactly why the split was so surprising, Richard. Usually, you would see the Americans complaining that the theme was too weak. However, there are some mitigating issues. First of all, most of the gamers who seemed to take issue with the theme are from Britain and Brits tend to be closer to Yanks in the way they view theme importance. (All massive generalities, of course, but true in the aggregate.) Second, the American fans are Euro-gamers, so we're used to pasted-on themes. Nevertheless, the dichotomy continues to surprise me, as New England is definitely a German-style design, rather than an American-style one, but is more popular on this side of the Atlantic. I'd be curious to hear if any of you have a theory of why this should be so (and no, I don't think too many Yanks find Pilgrim-themed games to be irresistable!).

Shannon: My assumption, like yours, has always been that you really want to be able to buy two items a turn. However, my last two games featured players who were more free-spending than I would have thought prudent, but who nonetheless did very well. I'm afraid I haven't played New England enough to be able to determine whether their more aggressive bidding was responsible for their success, but the idea is intriguing and would definitely raise my opinion of the game if it were true. Maybe the idea is that it can be better to bid $4 (or even higher) and get the one good item you need than it is to grab two mediocre items for total of $2 or $4. I have no tangible proof of this, but just have a suspicion that the bidding and purchasing in this game is a little less straightforward than it first appears.

Great Quality...

I've had my copy for nearly two years now and I must say this: The shrinkwrap is of outstanding quality. I've moved it from storage to the shelf, to a box and then back to storage and now a game shelf and despite all the heavy traffic, the shrinkwrap doesn't even have a tear in it.

As for the game... haven't played yet. It looks bland and the whole pilgrim thing fails to excite me. I suppose eventually one of you is going to say something that will kick-start me into motion and I'll rip that oh-so-excellent shrinkwrap off and read the rules.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New England

Shannon Appelcline: huzonfirst said that players might be too conservative in their bidding in New England. That's possible, but the problem is that you never want to get in a position where you can't buy two items on your turn. Unfortunately, that's all too possible, even if you do bid conservatively.

Assuming that everyone always bids 1-2-3, then 4 in a round, on average you're spending 2.5 x 2 = -5 on a turn, and you're earning +4. In 12 turns you run out of your spending money due to this -1 a turn cashflow. (It's actually some number of turns less because you spend, then gain, not vice-versa, and how many rounds less depends on when you're forced to make your high bids.) As soon as you go through this cushion, and you go through it faster if you spend liberally, you end up in the spot where you can only buy 7 items every 4 turns.

Yes, pilgrims are the answer to this. One pilgrim makes you +5, which is break even, and two bring you to +6 a turn, allowing you to bid 1-2-4-5. However, I think that tight money at the start can really lock down peoples' spending, particularly if they aren't able to get pilgrims through gameplay.

Is that all good or bad? I dunno. I do think that the economic system is a little tricky, however, and that has the potential to put people off if they can't figure out how to play the game right.

Oh, and by the by, I agree with one thing that Mark said: the graphics on this game are BORING. Which is a shame.

Go Ahead, Make My Day!

Tom says we need more interaction...I've never played this week's game before but I'd be happy to throw in a quick riposte if someone comes out with something really dumb!

Now this isn't about something dumb, but a comment earlier from Andy Daglish in the WotR discussion caught my attention. It was about that thing called "theme." About how it seems to matter more to us here in North America than it does to European gamers (or designers for that matter?) that a game should have a theme. I took from that observation that European gamers can be happier with abstract games in general; and, the lack of a theme, or strong ties to a theme, doesn't matter to them as it might to us here on this side of the Atlantic. If true, it would explain a lot and resonates with me because I happen to think theme is an important ingredient in game design.

Larry Levy (huzonfirst) offered this regarding the theme of this game:

It's interesting about the theme. It really isn't any thinner than most games we play, but it really bothers a lot of gamers, particularly, it seems, Europeans. I actually find using Pilgrims and farms as economic units to be rather charming. In any event, the theme doesn't bother me and there's enough of it there to keep me from considering this an abstract.

Do Larry and Andy need to talk? Or am I reading this right? Did you mean "thicker" rather than "thinner" Larry?

Cheers, RJY ;)

New England

I haven't played New England in about 2 years. It came out several times when I was still living on Long Island and I joined in a few times. As with others, I never found it that exciting. I also did not come near mastering the strategy that I will admit is there. I was constantly misbidding and grabbing the wrong item. Still, I was intrigued and found myself wanting to play it once it left the rotation. It seemed as if it was something that didn't wear well on the group for very long, though, and it dropped off the radar.

Fast forward to our move to South Florida. Our new group also does not have a whole lot of interest in the game, no matter how often I suggest getting it to the table. There seems to be the same general feeling of "eh" whenever it is mentioned. No one hates it, but no one seems to particularly have a desire to play it either. If the BGG ratings were not stated to be a measure of replay desire and were instead a gauge of apathy, New England would probably gather quite a few 10s.

Now that I am trying to thin out my collection, New England is on the bubble. One of the almost automatic categories to keep a game is that it was a Games Magazine Game of the Year. New England may be an exception to that rule. I'd like to play it at least one more before I pas final judgement, but I can't get it to the table. Maybe that, in itself, should tell me all I need to know.

New England

Notice all the phrases that keep echoing each other here... "boring", "lacking fun", "staid", "a bit lacking in excitement"... and my ever-so-succint "no oomph." (Can you tell I majored in English?) Note: these comments come from both the positive & negative takes on New England.

All of which begs the question: "Why no oomph?!"

Discuss this amongst yourselves. :-)

Thumbs Up for New England

For some reason, New England has never made it to the game table all that often, either today or when it first came out. Despite this, I find the game consistently enjoyable. While I disagree with Tom that the game is lacking in fun, it's true that it is a bit lacking in excitement. I feel it's a fairly subtle design with several different possible paths to victory. Almost every time I play, I find I'm reconsidering my theories on what it takes to win! I agree with Shannon that the auction mechanic, though innovative, seems to result in a "1, 2, 3, 4" result too often. Actually, I suspect that players may often be too conservative with their bidding, but even given that, I doubt that anything much more dramatic would work until the end of the game. This takes a bit of the lustre off of the auction mechanic (which works far better, IMO, in Santiago). But even though the game might be less dynamic than it seems it could be, it's still a fine design.

It's interesting about the theme. It really isn't any thinner than most games we play, but it really bothers a lot of gamers, particularly, it seems, Europeans. I actually find using Pilgrims and farms as economic units to be rather charming. In any event, the theme doesn't bother me and there's enough of it there to keep me from considering this an abstract.

I think the reason New England's table time has been limited for us is that it fills a rather narrow niche. As mentioned, it isn't very exciting; it only works with four players and there are other, better games that fit that same description; the box is ungainly; and it was quite expensive when it was first released. All of this means that it will probably never be a highly played game. But I still consider it one of the better creations of the great Moon/Weissblum partnership and a game I will happily play and suggest. I rate it an 8, which means it's definitely in my Top 75 games of all time and possibly in my Top 50.

Quick Note

Just a quick note - some of the initial feedback I've gotten asks that there be more interaction between the folk who are posting. Instead of this becoming a pile of mini-reviews, I think it would be even better if there was more response to what others wrote....

Tom

nought

Haven't had a chance to try this one yet, hence I will refrain from commenting.

New England

Shannon Appelcline: I rated New England highly when I originally played it, and despite its large box size it continues to make it into my gamebag and gets a few plays a year.

The tile-laying aspect of New England is pretty unique, with its tight constraints on tile placement matched up with the need to create larger plots of land. The auction mechanism is entirely unique & there's always a lot of tension in seeing which cards and tiles other people will take, and where they will build.

It does have some flaws. I've more than once seen who takes each of 1, 2, 3, and 4 become really staid as the turns move around the table. However, I'd never say it was boring. The tension keeps it going for me and the interesting & unique gameplay keeps it coming back to the table.

[Shannon's rating is "8" out of "10".]

New England

I really had two issues with New England:
  1. I just don't like the graphic design - which is weird, because I usually go ape over the look of Goldsieber games. But the muted colors & patterns don't make me feel like I'm settling New England... they remind me that I need to go out into the yard and rake up all the dang leaves.
  2. There wasn't any "oomph" in the game. Well, maybe that isn't quite fair. There were nice "oomph-y" moments, as you had the opportunity to make clever plays and/or finally make the last piece of a plan fall in place... but overall, the order in which the cards/resources appeared either blessed or hosed your strategy and sucked the "oomph" out of the game.
Now, I'm a big fan of Alan Moon designs, which are often fraught with card order randomness, usually mitigated by some auxiliary system. In Union Pacific or Elfenland or Ticket to Ride, I find the balance of randomness & planning to be "just right". Not so much for New England, though.

Better late than never? - Thoughts on WoTR and the subjective nature of the boardgaming experience

Hello all!

I too appreciate Tom inviting me to participate here. Writing about board games is sometimes more fun than playing them – at least some board games…

I, like Jason, am one of the detractors, but for entirely different reasons. Although I think I understand his reaction… let me explain.

One can catalog all the negative elements of WoTR play: long combined setup / tear down time, long playing time, single scenario, complicated rules, limited number of strategic options in play… or those of production: small type on the cards, difficult to distinguish minis, crowded board surface, difficult to differentiate board marking… but in my view this doesn’t get a the crux of the issue. The problem with War of the Ring (for those who have a problem with it) is that it is, in all ways meaningful: a war game! After all… the title is not “Euro of the Ring”…

A personal confession: I am a recovering grognard. I played my first AH war game in about 1975, played it again and then never looked back. I spent 20 years as a lifestyle SL/ASL player – at peak, competing in 3 tournaments per year and playing at least once per week. I loved war games, particularly tactical war games. Yes, I said “loved” (past tense). I realize now that I have “come to the light” (a reference for those who view euro-players turning wargamers as “turning to the dark side”). In the late 90s, I moved to an area of the country where I couldn’t find regular opponents. I got tired of teaching new players. I stopped playing.

Fast forward to 2002… on my way home for Christmas, I decided to pick up a game to bring home and share with the family… a euro game. I’m not even sure how I became aware that they existed. As they say, the rest is history. I now have a cabinet full of the darn things (they keep multiplying), I host a game club with an average attendance of over 20, and attend yet another game club. My wife and I have played games every night for the past 5 nights straight… a new low… or a new high, depending on how you look at it. I’ve converted a number of my friends to the hobby, or at least to an enjoyment of it when they are with us after dinner, or sitting at anchor in some quite cove of the Chesapeake with an evening to kill.

Another confession: In retrospect, I realize that WoTR was a watershed for me. Before the game came out, I got caught up in the hype. My wife and I had read the Hobbit and the three volumes of LoTR in the year before the first movie came out and have since seen all the films. So I guess you could say that we were “into” the theme. When the rules were posted, I downloaded them and set about to master them - before the game even came out. Remember, you are dealing with an ASL player here… one who can still recite the entire sequence of play in every detail from memory. Complication and convoluted-ness was not an issue. I wrote a rules summary. I posted it on the geek. I like writing rules summaries and making player aids… that’s part of the fun!

So, back to WoTR as a watershed… I bought the game; I played it. The first time was a “dry run” with my spouse during our annual Fall sailing trip. It was a rainy day in a slip on Tangier Island and we were down below in the cabin with the fireplace going, WoTR set up on the galley table, two mugs of hot chocolate and the sound of the wind in the rigging. We played a half-dozen turns or so, enough for me to get the feel and flow of the game. I considered it a success; but my wife was put-off. She doesn’t like that much complication in her games.

The next play was with Steve, my buddy at the Friday night game club. Steve and I are very fond of each other… we tend to have a really_good_time when we play. This playing of WoTR was no exception. By then I had the rules down pat, and had a plan for explaining them. Both of us were very impressed with the game (Steve ultimately ended up buying my copy from me…). The theme to mechanics-of-play link is ingenious and superb. I LIKE the interaction of the cards, action dice, and the board play. The way the key characters of the story are incorporated is spot-on. This is a moment of genius in game design.

Over the course of the next 5 plays, my enjoyment of the game continued, but diminished. I admit, that yes, I even enjoyed my 6th and final play with yet another Friday night game bud, Alex. We too had a delightful time… but we always do, regardless of the game. By then, I was bored. The game was too long and too repetitive. I was done. It was a fun ride and a good experience. Did I “waste” my $40 (plus all the cash and time I spent preparing and printing player aids)? Heck no! I had a grand old time. But in the process, I realized something…

I was no longer a war gamer. Euros had spoiled me. This was no longer my cup of tea.

As I said at the outset… WoTR is a war game. All of its “weaknesses” are the weaknesses of war games. If you like war games and you are interested in the LoTR theme, you will like WoTR. If you are a Eurogamer, be forewarned… this is not a Eurogame. It is not even a crossover game. It is a wargamer’s wargame.

And that's it! - NEW ENGLAND

Okay, I'm formatting, editing, and working with this now - I'll post it tonight and we'll see if anyone likes it.

At least I enjoyed reading it, even though I contributed very little.

So on to the next game, starting comments anew.

If no one objects, I thought we'd do an older game - New England. It won the Games Magazine game of the Year a couple years ago, and I'd like to see how it is viewed today.

Tom Vasel: New England won Games Magazine's Game of the Year award in 2003, sparking many debates (as all awards generally do.) Designed by the team Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum, and produced by Goldsieber and Uberplay, New England is a game about bidding, placement, and multiple options when playing.

In short, a "typical" Eurogame.

When I first played New England, I really enjoyed it, thinking that the game's mechanics were clever and original. I especially enjoyed the auction mechanic - and how well the whole game fit together. After one play, I was ready to purchase the game.

Then a friend picked the game up, and I played it again. The second time through, and the plays after that, discouraged me from playing it much more. I just wasn't enamored with how contrictive the game felt. I didn't like the thin theme, but other games with just as slim of a theme have interested me, so that wasn't the problem.

It's just that New England felt, well - boring!

Games didn't have enough variance between them, and while there were several options - it just didn't have the "fun factor" that I so desperately seek for in a game. The game system itself appears to be flawless, but lacking fun.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Closing thoughts on WOTR

I give WOTR a '10' because I think it succeeds admirably as a wargame and as a game. It succeeds as a wargame because it manages amazing fidelity to its theme, which is always difficult for a 'historical' wargame and doubly so for one on a very well-known subject. A designer tackling an obscure battle has more leeway than one dealing with a popular topic where most players will have already formed strong opinions.
It also succeeds as a game, because the game play is rewarding, full of strategy and drama for the players. Is it the last word in elegant game designs? Probably not. It's extraordinarily difficult for any 'historical' wargame to be a clean, simple and elegant design, because history (and Tolkien's fiction has the detail of real history) is 'messy,' full of unusual events, unforeseeable twists and human frailty. People are much more unpredictable than 'meeples.'

Abandonding Geek

Theme has always been a problem in American game criticism because they think it somehow matters, as if it is an integral part of the design. European designers treat it as something of a joke. Martin Wallace never actually played Secrets of the Tombs but he did get around $10,000 in advance for designing it, his proof that he never took its crappiness seriously. We and they, the true professionals, don't forgive design failures because firstly they are failures and secondly because they are obvious in play, and how could they not be? Whether some players are looking past it or genuinely are unable to spot the problems doesn't matter, as it results in the same thing. Thus naughty old Knizia has learnt to publish everything, even Stephensons Rocket.

I have little or no interest in Prof. Tolkien, or his works, and espeially not in the wake of the films, and its certainly not his fiction that he would have liked to have been remembered for. He died just before the potential value of LotR began to be realised. I imagine a curmudgeonly old bugger who was far too intelligent not to dislike analogy, at his happiest spouting that elevated combination of Welsh and Finnish he liked to call Elvish on Radio 4. Sinilarly the genuine themes of his books are rather high-minded, almost sophisticated, and as such have been over-used as the basis of academic coursework. Tolkien did take his fantastical hobby seriously, however, as do we, which may not have been so common in his time.

One reason Jason may be puzzled is that he clearly mixes up his own subjectivity in his first paragraphs with his perceived objectivity later on. Its harder to lose objectivity if you feel thats the only way you can judge the quality of a game's design. The fundamental point of Sauron's hunt for the Ring in the books is that he never considered that his enemies would try to destroy it, at least not until a few seconds before the deed was done. Reproducing that, by a simple method of indirectness, is this game's crowning achievement, and what the rest failed to do and the reason why they don't really work. I think this was actually admitted in the notes of the SPI game.

Turning to Master Tripp's post, I'd hope that here we are in a clique, and not just on Geek Mk. 2. As for the Cayenne, clearly its supposed to be faster than the similar VW Toureg, the silly Turbo being neither family nor utility in its fuel consumption, but excellent across muddy fields. BBC's Top Gear showed in December that a Murcielago driven by a racing driver could not get away from an Evo VIII, and eventually he spun out trying to.
I think the Lamborghini was red, but does it matter?

Jay >> WotR final thoughts

A few things I have seen posted from time to time about War of the Ring seem puzzlesome to me.

First are comments which seem to mirror Bubslug's observations that predisposition to the theme seems to create a willingness to overlook issues with the game -- be they mechancical (clunky mechanics) or physical (clunky components/font size). I agree that a strong theme can have a favorable impact and allow players to look past blemishes to enjoy the "spirit" of a game.

In a way, this is why some games still hold a strong nostalgia rating for me, even though I know in my heart of hearts that the game is not nearly as good as I remember from my youth (Talisman, Castle of Magic). But since I have such fond memories of these games, and I desperately want to still enjoy them and keep those memories evergreen, it's incredibly difficult for me to offer unbiased feedback, let alone concede some of the problems that exist with the games -- after all, they're my babies... I don't want anyone saying anything bad about them! While it's not wholly apples to apples, I think a bit of this nostalgia factor applies, since so many people have a strong attachment to the Tolkein fiction.

On the other hand, I'm a bit surprised by comments which seem to pass off some of these blemishes and (what I perceive to be) flaws as actual innovations and brilliant design achievements. It's one thing to have your perception altered by an eagerness to embrace a theme (or in my case, clinging to nostalgia) but I think there comes a point where this can lead the player to lose objectivity, and thereby make it difficult for new or prospective players to get a real sense of what the gameplay experience offers -- or what quirks/oddities the game may include which could affect someone's purchase decision.

Not to pick on Andy, but his comment in a previous post is a good example of the sort of comment that catches me off guard:

The design brilliance lies in the indirectness of Sauron's ability to set about the Fellowship

To the casual reader, this sounds like a clever innovation. But rather than design brilliance, my personal experience was otherwise. After playing the game, my admittendly biased translation of this comment would be:

The design problem is the inability of the Sauron player to directly set about the Fellowship

A number of players see this element as a challenge to overcome or a nuance to explore strategically, while other players see this as a limitation preventing them from pursuing gameplay strategies that seem sensible. A truly objective evaluation might end up being something more like this:

The design structure limits the ability of the Sauron player to direclty affect the Fellowship

... My point? I guess the bottom line is that since War of the Ring generates such fanfare and has attracted a healthy, vocal fanbase, I think it's becoming more and more difficult to find objective and balanced content about the game, which I believe is just as important to the potential gamer.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Seems Theme Can Be Important

Looking at the views expressed so far, it looks like the game has attracted some solid support. I hope that the reasons for this are evident enough to convince readers that we're not just fanboys. Still, I can't help musing on the impact the theme had on our opinions. I, for one, was willing to forgive aspects that have drawn sharp criticism from others because the design choices that were being critiqued, as I saw them, simply helped to support the theme. So, it is easier to forgive (or submerge) "little" things when the total package just seems so right.

I think a number of us may have been wondering how our fanhood affected our impressions. If I disliked the whole Middle Earth thing, would I be as easy on some of the niggling annoyances, most particularly the font on the cards? Or, on trying to fit a bunch of figs into some tiny space and also keep track of whether it was important for combat or victory point purposes? The whole design leads us roughly along the story arc of the trilogy. Knowing the story certainly helps the player accept where he is being led...but what if you don't know, or care, about the story?

Personally, I think the game design is robust and satisfying and simply benefits from having such strong thematic elements. In fact, I think the best games are those that have both strong design and theme. El Grande is generally credited with having a lot of good design hooks. Where it falls down for me is that most of them don't support the theme. Okay, I've read the design blurb and have a general idea of the timeframe and nature of the struggle in Spain that is supposedly being represented, but as I play the game I'm not being reminded of any of it. Same goes for Wallenstein. If you are going to do the Thirty Years War, shouldn't you try to have the game's timeframe roughly match the premise? A lot of "pretty good" games lack that certain something that compels you to be playing. It is why I prefer playing Settlers of the Stone Age to the original. As well as being a lot less random, it has a story to tell that you relate to as you play.

There are scarcely any hooks in WotR that don't contribute to both gameplay and theme in some way, from the use of the dice and cards, how combat works, the play of the individual leaders/characters, through to the way victory is defined. As you play, the story is unfolding. It's pretty hard to miss. Frankly, you are probably better off never having read the story than having been bored by it, because you are going to be re-living it in this game!

As for me, I enjoyed reading the story and now playing the story back through this game. Few others have done such a superb job of melding story and game together. As much as I admire and enjoy playing the board game rendering of Dune and believe it fairly captured the essence the book, I have to admit that this game does everything that game did but a great deal better!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The War of the War of the Ring

War of the Ring is a great classic game. They don't come along very often. The last one was Wilderness War, and its sales were poor until recently. They are easily recognisable even at the playtest kit stage, even if they've got more holes in them than a horse trader's mule. So no hype.
This was the first test of mine where every problem could be illustrated by an example from the past. Testing this game wasn't a very popular activity, which surprised me, whereas just about everyone turned up for the expansion test. A problem with great classic games may be that to some degree they require great classic players, lest the game, that inanimate cardboard and plastic construct, proves itself to be the dominant force in the games room.
The early Aragorn strategy we missed, except perhaps when accumulated Fellowship moves and events, combined with a Will, led to sudden crowning in Dol Amroth. However I have doubts that it is any good. There is a strong temptation to separate Gandalf early too, depriving the Fellowship even more. This is the game where the SA's nerve is regularly tested by a Fellowship in Lorien before his military conquest is apparently underway. However after that the FP Ring and Military games can fall apart rapidly.
The "hidden hobbit" or Fellowship Starting Point technique is questionable. It doesn't much matter whether Sauron knows where they are or not, since better knowledge would not confer greater powers to his Ring game. Carrying over movement of the FSP between turns merely allows it to scoot out of trouble, or into safe havens, along with the aforementioned boosted separation of companions. The design brilliance lies in the indirectness of Sauron's ability to set about the Fellowship. The SA player gets the impression that Sauron doesn't really know if the Ring is extant at all, nor what is intended for it. He just suspects strongly -- perhaps more on some turns than others! Thus the bane of previous Tolkien games is defeated.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Great!

Okay, I'll be wrapping this up in about 48 hours. Everyone make their final comments, and make sure you either post (or email to me at tomvasel@gmail.com) your rating out of 10 for the game.

WOTR ~ Another Perspective

This discussion sure sounds like what I read on BGG. WOTR does create a fissure in gaming circles. I'm somewhat with Ynnen on this game. I've tried it three times and it left me wanting less, not more. My personal tastes in games are such that WOTR seemed destined to be on my playlist regularly. It's not about length, it's not about set-up time, it's not even about the klutzy mechanics... shifting from card effects to dice rolling and such. I could even get past the fact that the miniatures are hard to distinguish, tend to fall over and are a nuisance to keep track of.

What I can't seem to get past is how difficult it is for me to wrap my limited mental resources around what I'm supposed to do next. On top of the bull-in-a-china-shop feel I get from the miniatures spread everywhere is the annoyance of the small print on the cards. Do I really need to buy one of those Owl magnifiers they sell on TV in order to play a game?

Having read detailed reviews that praise WOTR I can understand why some people tout this one as the best. But to me nothing seems to flow about the game. Since I internally relate games to other interests, such as cars and motorcycles, I get the same feel about WOTR as I do about the SUV that Porshe makes... the Cayenne. Great label, great engine, great features, great finish, great, great, great! But a family SUV? Made by Porsche?

Why?

If you can afford a Cayenne then I'm guessing you can buy a real Porsche and a Dodge Caravan. Why muddy the waters with something that tries to be two things and ends up being neither? That's WOTR to me. A top quality game, obviuosly crafted by skilled designers and based on a popular theme. But it's not a game that in my thinking has a distinct genre... it doesn't stand out as a TYPE of game. WOTR is more like art that is cliquey, if you have to ask what's so great about it then you'll probably never understand.

FWIW, I also played the LOTR Risk game three times... the Trilogy Edition. It's definitely NOT as well done a product as WOTR, I'll concede that. But it plays faster, makes more sense and left me feeling like I had played a game rather than wrassled with an angry bear.

Musings on...WotR

I consider WotR to be one of the "pearls" of my collection; it's a gorgeous game I like a lot and will play almost anytime. That said, I must acknowledge that I AM a Tolkien fan, and as such have played just about every game that deals with Middle Earth, from SPI's War of The Ring to the dreadful Hobbit. Part of the reason that I like WotR so much is that, FINALLY, here is a game that gets it right.
The designers have done an outstanding job of realizing the nuances and major "historical" events of the Trilogy. Probably my favorite aspect of the game is the remarkable way the event cards allow players to create a new story with each play! I've had games as the FP where Aragorn led a glorious charge through Orthanc and the rest of Isengard and up to Moria, culminating in a Free Peoples' military victory, and I've also had games where an uncrowned Strider spent the whole game drunk in Bree! Since players will likely use most of the Event Cards for their combat effects, those cards played as Events usually have a significant impact on the game, and consequently serve to craft and mold the "story" of that game.
Complaints about excessive "fiddly-ness" or complexity, frankly I just don't understand (or agree with). As a grognard of the "old school" (cut my teeth on Afrika Korps and its ilk), I'm used to games of greivous complexity and endless exceptions, neither of which are present in the relatively simple rules of WotR IMO. The game is fairly deep, though, and will require a couple of plays to get all the mechanics meshing smoothly, as well as attaining a good grasp of how best to utilize one's Action Dice. One quibble I have (which is likely adding to some peoples' confusion) is the quite unnecessary inclusion of the "Basic" game rules. The "basic" game is so different that I don't think it really helps players grasp the diverse mechanics of the Advanced Game.
I also do not agree with comments stating that the FP has few choices with regards to gameplay--it might seem that way after just a few plays, especially if the FP player has utilized the so-called "Fellowship Blitz" to ride hell-bent for Mordor. But my advice for players seeking a Free Peoples' military victory is to recall the adage of Robert E. Lee--"The best defense is a good offense." Consider abandoning "surrounded" strongholds (such as Lorien) and counterstriking with your still-intact army--after all, the shadow needs 10 points of strongholds to win--the Free Peoples only need 4. If the Shadow player has left his stronghold thinly defended--charge down and grab it! Moria and Dol Guldur are the most obvious targets, but as the FP, I have also seized Orthanc, Minas Morgul and Mount Gundabad. It CAN be done, I assure you.
I think Steve makes a great point that WotR has provoked such hostility because of theme--the designers are treading on "sacred ground" in a sense. But as someone who has literally searched for decades for a great game with a Middle Earth theme, I feel comfortable saying that WotR IS that game--THIS is the one I've been waiting for!

Musings on the Ring

The strength of War of the Ring, for me, is its ability to play out the "what if"s of Tolkein. What if Boromir had returned to Minas Tirith in time to aid his father? What if Frodo hadn't broken the fellowship? What if Gondor had come to Rohan's aid instead of the other way around? Since this fictional world has meaning for me, it adds gravitas and storytelling to the games. Only the most "pure" gamer would say that theme has no impact on a game. This kind of thinking is an anathema to wargamers, otherwise you'd see very-well-designed games about the Crimean War outselling run-of-the-mill WWII and American Civil War games. It doesn't make sense to me either. Theme matters. If you don't like the theme of this game, then you should expect to have less fun relative to the most vocal fans.

In general I avoid Licensed products like the plague. Coming from a computer-gaming background, its been drilled into me time and again that licensed EQUALS shoddy. I only gave War of the Ring a look after much research and review-reading.

I've played the game about 30 times now. I think I mainly got invited to this party on the strength of my frequency-of-posting to the BGG WotR Forums. I'm still climbing up the learning curve. And not in a derogatory, "I can't read the cards they're too *#*&! small" kind of way, but in a "the possibilities are endless!" kind of way. Still certain patterns are appearing often enough that I no longer have to thrash through them every time. Occassionally, though, I fall "out of book" and have to think with my forebrain. Like the time my buddy failed in all his seiges, but had corrupted the pants off the fellowship on its final approach to Mordor. The FP had nothing left to muster, so it was only a matter of time, but it was going to be a LONG time: the SP barely had any military units left on the board. As Frodo I could go to Mordor with high corruption, or I could backtrack to Dale, heal up for a few turns, and then try a suicidal dash. Neither was a very good option, but I just didn't know how much time I'd have to work with. The SP only had four of his ten victory points, on turn 12 or so! George Bush would call that a "tough decision", and I had to mull it for a long time. Then well I recalled the feeling of when I was a new player, agonizing about splitting memebers off the fellowship. I had to make decisions without an accurate mental model of the ramifications, and frankly if you're having that feeling on the 15th play of a game, the game is doing something RIGHT.

It seems every time I play this game, I want to play it two more times to explore the options we could have taken if we'd made different choices.

The game doesn't appeal to many people I play games with. Some are put off by the rules. Others by the theme. Others by the time it takes. However, the people that like it tend to really like it. And really you only need to find one other preson in that category, and you're set for some serious fun.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

War of the Ring - Theme and Following the Story

Hi.

Well, I better start by saying that War of the Ring has been my favorite game since about two months after it came out. Throughout this time, I've enjoyed playing it repeatedly, and indeed have also signed up to playtest the expansion (which I have also enjoyed immensely).

Coming a bit late to the conversation, I think many of the relevant points have already been covered. I just want to say a bit about theme in War of the Ring, and why it's a good story-telling game.


I think War of the Ring has a great balance between forcing people to follow the story, and giving players freedom of strategic choice. It doesn't, in fact, force much of anything. here are the mandatory "choices":

1. The Fellowship needs to bring the ring to mount doom.

2. The Shadow needs to corrupt the Fellowship and conquer Free Peoples nations.

3. Both sides need to bring their great leaders - Gandalf the White, Saruman and the Witch-King - into play.

That's really it - just a couple requirements set forth by the victory conditions and some bonus action dice. You're not forced to do anything else, though it often makes strategic sense to do things that happened in the story. Minas Tirith is an excellent location to conquer, not because the rules say so, but because it's strategically located.

Throughout the game, there are many situations where it makes sense to follow a similar path as the forces in the book, but it's not because the designers want to give you brownie points for replicating the story - it's because the designers have replicated the situation that decisions in the story were based on. Anyone who has tried to make a game based on a story should know that this is a pretty big accomplishment.


Another commendable aspect of the game is the restraint the designers showed when it comes to special abilities. I swear, if I had made the game, there would be different figures for each Free Peoples leader - Faramir, Eowyn, Cirdan etc. - and each of them would have a unique special ability.

Instead, the game as printed has a marvelous sense of perspective. In the books, the story was experienced by hobbits, and so the individual people around them took on great significance, while far-off wars were ignored. In War of the Ring, it's a much more epic point of view, and everything is on a different scale.

Look, you can see all of Middle-Earth from up here. Over there is Gondor, and here is Thranduil's Woodland Realm. Both are woefully under-defended. See here - it's the Fellowship! Can you tell which one is Boromir? I can't. He's one of those three, but honestly he looks just like Legolas and Gimli from up here. In the grand scheme of things, it's pretty irrelevant, isn't it?

Indeed it is, and that's what I mean by restraint on the part of the designers - the level of detail is appropriate. There are only two kinds of troops - regular and elite. All the wonderful qualities of our heroes are represented by a simple "1 leadership". In my opinion, this game has just enough rules to fit the story and situation, with hardly any unnecessary chrome.

Introductions and Initial Thoughts on WotR - Rick

Hello all! I feel honored to have been invited to join you. As it happens, the invitation comes in the midst of a discussion of one of my most recent and, for now, favorite game experiences...WotR. Before launching into some opening salvos regarding that, I should introduce myself.

1) I Am Canadian! (oops, sorry about that)
2) I am not that Rick Young (of EE fame...sorry about that too)
3) I am a mature gamer (read "old fart") who cut his teeth on the AH early classics (no apology for that)
4) I have maintained an avid interest in our hobby throughout my career and have had many a good discussion regarding it over the years but am new to the explosion of venues for wider discussion such as BGG, the Blogs, etc. It seems only recently I discovered the Geek and the ripples are expanding exponentially from there (this will be to explain why I may come out with things that many of you will have seen, heard, read or said, often before, as though it were a new revelation)
5) I have concluded, on balance, that the current "Euro" phenomina has breathed new life into the strategy board game niche that I was beginning to have great concern for...
6) I love games, gaming and gamers (in general...not to say I don't also have some pet peeves)

That said, what about War of the Ring?

At the risk of repeating what I have already shared on the Geek, I believe this to be a towering achievement! I have always been a solid JRRT fan, but not a rabid fanatic. Let's just say that I'm pretty familar with the back-story. The captured imagination that goes with being a fan can be an advantage and an impediment. Renderings of the Middle Earth universe, in whatever form, runs the risk of offending what the imagination has created in each of our minds. So, my impressions come with that as backdrop. Overall, this game satisfies everything I imagine a game on this theme should be, after many other earlier disappointments. In some ways it reminds me of the 1977 SPI release of the same name, but this is so very much better in all respects.

First the map board: mounted (hello GMT) and absolutely beautiful. It is what my mind sees when I recall The Map. I will grant all the criticisms it alone has garnered in terms of markings, borders, size of areas, etc.; but, as far as I'm concerned, it all still works. It wouldn't be The Map and answer some of the critiques without being, say, twice as large as it is. It already stretches the capability of my dining room table. I find the unit replacement counters work just fine and I like them better than the tiny poker chips employed by Axis and Allies. As for the markings, and border areas, colors and so on...it only took a couple of playings before that became second nature.

The Figs: I love them...even the Nazgul! Especially the "pewter" ones. I don't find them to be indistinguishable at all, I don't feel I have to paint even the bases (I'm not into painting miniatures), and, again, one playing was all I needed to be happily familiar with all of them. Once the figs have been sorted and bagged, along with the other bits, I'm rubbing my hands together in anticipation...

The Setup: I don't find it a particular burden. Wallenstein has been mentioned by way of comparison, and frankly, I still struggle more with the pre-drawn setup for the different player numbers in that than I do with WotR. Besides, WotR is an epic and setting up for it should feel like you are getting ready for just that! Gamers are great for coming up with helpful player aids...they are out there...get one that works for you if that's what you feel you need.

The Cards: Event/Battle card design is a separate discussion in itself. It is not an easy task to design these sorts of decks without drawing a lot of criticism but as far as I'm concerned, the decks in this game are as well done as anywhere I've seen. Along with the dice, they help shape and drive the action and, in general, do what these things do best which is to force players to think strategically rather than just manage an operational level war game. Moreover, they aid, as do all the other components, in capturing and maintaining the theme. I do wish that a slightly larger font could have been chosen for the cards however (note point three of my intro).

The Play: Is the thing! I had intial concern that the game would quickly end up playing you rather than the other way around. There are enough games out there that, once the voyage of discovery has been sailed, end up largely playing themselves. History of the World, played by a number of equally experienced players, is just one example. Detailed discussions of strategy and tactics I will pass over for now, but after playing this game a fair bit I come away with even more admiration for the thought, effort and design subtlety that results in leading the player to follow the story arc. A seamless and rewarding blend of a character game with an strategic/operational level war game, the task of managing your dice, cards, and resources (characters and forces) to do what you soon learn you have to do still provides an fully satisfying array of decisions and moments of tension and suspence.

It remains my favorite two-player game and has the highest rating I've given a game to date (9). Thanks for reading this far.

Wargame/Eurogame

Ian--no need to apologize at all!

I agree that much of the negative reaction from people to the game comes from eurogamers who venture into more wargamey territory and find the game "inelegant" or "fiddly" or "too long" or whatever. As you say, the reason for the DEPTH of the reaction (i.e. why people feel the need to vent against the game rather than simply dismiss it as one they don't like and move on) is probably some combination of the much-beloved theme and the fact that the game IS so highly rated.

Seth--I am 100% in agreement that I'm surprised at how strategically robust the game seems to be. With people like Alex Rockwell turning their analytical minds to the game, it's surprising to me that there hasn't been a consensus "best" opening which has developed in the game. It could be that the event cards have such an impact on plans that you can't sketch out an opening strategy without so many caveats that it's not worth your while.

I also agree with Aaron regarding the Shadow vs. FP issue. The friend I usually play WotR with doesn't like playing the FP and feels like he only has enough "going on" when he plays the Shadow. I don't get this feeling to the same extent, but it's certainly true that there just isn't that much to the "war" part of the game as the FP--you might go through a whole game moving less than 10 armies.

WOTR

For all pactical purposes, War of the Ring is a histroical wargame, never mind that the events depicted are fictional. Tolkien's world is so richly detailed and "sourced" that it compares favorably with the historical record we have some many eras of ancient warfare.
On the other hand, it has many of the attributes of eurogames, particularly the high production values, neat "bits" and simple underlying game routines (no CRTS, etc.)
As such I think it illustrates the fault lines between eurogamers and wargamers that sometimes make we wonder if ever the twain shall meet.
As a wargame, WOTR is quite an achievement, managing amazing fidelity to the original sources while providing strategic choices. Most of the complaints against WOTR that I have read seem to be the generic complaints nearly all wargames get. To most eurogamers "chrome" is a distraction. To wargamers it's a vital part of the experience.
To me one of the most interesting things that has happened with WOTR is the vigorous debate over game strategy. I don't think anything like that has happened since the early days of Avalon Hill, when everybody was playing the same handful of games. While those early AH games such as Afrika Korps, Stalingrad, Midway, Waterloo and Battle of the Bulge often left something to be desired as games, they were examined in considerable detail and they have an extensive strategic "literature." The flood of wargames that started in the 1970s had many positive aspects, but it also means that very few wargames since then have been played enough by a large enough number of people to have had an examination in any depth.
It's refreshing to see a "historical" wargame provoke this level of interest and debate.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ian >> WOTR - (Response to Steve)

Steve - I can support your statement about treading on sacred ground creating a tougher critic, but I am not aure I can attribute that as being the only source for strong negative reactions. The fact that is sacred ground would motivate those negatively impressed to share their views.

I am not a diehard Tolkien fan, but I do know a few and have played the game to our mutual enjoyment; just a couple of data points I know. A very common complaint I have heard is about the extraordinary amount of setup time required before the game can begin. To me, this complaint I can characterize as typically from a player who is very used to getting the board for a euro set up, ready to go in 3 minutes or so. I do not believe that this would be a complaint I would expect to hear from a diehard wargamer. In your example of Wallenstein, which is also certainly in the in-between space, a game can be set up certainly in less than half the time for an unpainted WOTR game.

This brings up another potential source of difference between the wargamer and the eurogamer... being the tolerance/enjoyment of 'chrome' in a game. Traditionally some wargamers gets a lot of satisfaction from game elements that help represent the historical accuracy of events coming up during gameplay even to the extent that the additional burden on rules length, situational ambiguity overcome by post-release errata are an expected part of the hobby. In the case of WOTR, this historical accuracy can translate to a parallel of a well understood and documented content-rich work of fiction. I would contend that an intolerance for chrome could create a tough critic from the viewpoint of a euro-focused gamer.

Now amongst some of the reasons why this title does rate highly for me on a personal note:
  • this is a 'chrome' game that I can bring out from time to time without making a significant time re-investment to relearn the rules.
  • the movie trilogy offers a very high visual relationship to the game on top of the literature. I can imgaine in rich detail the retreat into stronghold siege warfare..
  • an appreciation of the dedication of the pre-release efforts that went into such a game that is new evident would be held under such scrutiny
  • nostalgic remembrance and re-introduction to a past hobby of miniature painting. Some may see the ambiguity of the good forces as a negative, on a personal note, it was the desire for clarity that brought back days as a teen painting scores of lead figurines
  • the appeal to the would be 'amateur designer' in me. I love the Sauron dice mechanic for the hunt, the partially known position of the fellowship, the fight for control over tiles targetting the entry into Mordor.

In summary, I believe there are many possible factors, and the fact that no one can really point to a definitive proof allows for the existance of multiple sources. I do acknowledge that there are many flaws that are in the game, such as physical region/unit size limitations and the like, but for what this game offers to me, I would not consider removing from my collection. This leads me to another potential source of evaluative angst...

How do I rate this game? I consider myself more in the euro camp and the defacto scale is the BGG scale. Well the BGG scale tells me that if I want to rate WOTR an 8 or mote, I will never turn down a game... Well that is not going to fly, there are many reasons for me not to not bring this one on the table:

- I don't believe my opponent will enjoy themselves and would rather suggest an alternative we both will like
- I fell like something more social or dynamic right now
- I don't have the time right now - could go on...

If I deviate from the defacto scale, how can anyone else know how to interpret my rating..., but there are really distinctive things about this game that make it very meaningful for me. In the end, I decided to leave the defacto scale and substitute my own seat of the pants rating scale. If I had to take my game collection and order them in importance to me, how would they stack up? In this scenario, I tried to rank in relative terms of importance my enjoyment of other games in my collection. In this case an 8.3.

[sidenote](P.S., I am feeling a little awkward debating in this anonymous forum, I hope my written tone is ok, I much prefer having dialogue face-to-face, enjoying the discussion, but I am happy to give this a try, learning hopefully..)

WOTR

I'm a playtester for the expansion, but I don't think that prevents me from chiming in...

I think the reason WOTR gets such positive/negative reviews is because of its theme. On the positive side, many people feel (as I do, and I think Tom does) that the game is a brilliant attempt to capture Tolkien's world and present it in a game which actually gives the players enough latitude to feel like they're playing a game, while always preserving the flavor of Middle Earth and feeling true to the source material. The game gets a significant boost to its enjoyment factor for me (and I'm sure for many others) because I relate so closely to the characters and events. If someone presented a similar quality game to me but it was based on a world I was less familiar with (the Eddings world? the Jordan world? Shannara?), I think I'd feel like it was a decent game but had nothing to grab me.

On the negative side, the theme drags people in who wouldn't otherwise be interested in a game of its kind, and some of them recoil in horror at the way the game plays (whether too fiddly, too slow, too simple a battle mechanic, etc.)--which is made ten times worse because it's JRRT's story which has been adapted in a way that they don't like. "They ruined my story!" Also, there are the people who want to emphasize that it's NOT that great a game at its core (i.e. not one of the best 5-10 games ever designed), denuded of its theme, and that the theme has unfairly pushed it among its betters as a pure game design.

The first group of people are just different from me, and luckily there's a huge variety of games out there for them to choose from, LotR and otherwise. The second group raise an interesting issue--is it fair to try and judge a game strictly on the quality of its mechanics apart from the overall gameplay experience?

I don't think there's much value to be gained there, because so much of the design is geared to the constraints of the fantasy world it is set in and the real world where it is sold. As a design accomplishment, is Go more impressive than WotR? I don't really know. Go is obviously an incredible game based on a very simple rule set. It could have been thought up in 10 minutes and had its more tangled issues (ko and so forth) resolved over several weeks of play. WotR was designed to fit very tight constraints--the game has to last X amount of time, replicate this story to a significant degree but still create strategic options for the players, etc. Go is like E=MC2 and WotR is like sending a man to the moon--the first is a brilliant flash of inspiration and the second is an amazing product of engineering. As an aside, I think perhaps the most impressive thing to me about WotR is that in a year of heavy playing and discussion on the internet there has been little consensus about the "best" strategy to employ in the game, with only the "early Aragorn" strategy being one that is well-regarded and wouldn't necessarily be intuitive to a first-time player.

Veering off-topic here. To get back on point, I think the probable source of the game's polarizing effect is not the Euro/wargame blend (does Wallenstein have similarly vocal advocates/detractors?), but the fact that the game treads on ground that is sacred to much of geekdom. It's easy to not have an opinion about the guy who moves in at the end of the street. It's a lot harder when he moves into your house.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Not for Publication/Discussion Points only:

I am puzzled by the hostile reactions. Is it because neither party got what they really wanted (or thought they wanted?). Those wanting a Richard Berg design were disappointed. Those wanting an easy access Euro playable in 60-90 were disappointed. Lots of people weren't, and you also have to say that a number of these people (as expected) are external to the hobby.

To my mind it fits pretty well into the Venn Diagram Jay describes, except that I would say it didn't set out to appeal to any group, just to be a certain level of game. The idea essentially was that those people who like this sort of game would like this game. Add in the title, which is going to sell boxes, and you have the answer.

As for the game, trying to steer clear of value judgments (I love it, but saying I love it is a bit awkward at the mo.), it strikes a chord for those who enjoy the narrative quality in a game. You can play right through and generate an excellent, believable story arc. Those that err to the ludic side of gaming (i.e. those that want a repeatable challenge and lots of things to try out (Puerto Ricans)) are finding that the game has limited options over time. There is, and always will be, a conflict between these two approaches.

To an extent one is along for the ride, which I think gives rise to Jason's concerns. My response is that there is more than enough decision making but again as appropriate for this type of game. Back that with the excellent flavour, and the clever systems (how is the hidden hobbit move anything but elegant?) and you should have a winner.

On production, the card text is small and even I felt that the game would be better played with wooden blocks or chunky counters rather than the figures. Colour identification could also be better.

Siggins

Friday, September 02, 2005

WOTR

I think War of the Ring an excellent game and was even a minor playtester for it. However, my one trouble with it is I think the fun of the game is somewhat unbalanced towards Sauron's forces. He gets more dice/actions and basically drives the action everywhere while the Fellowship player must just try to hold out everywhere as long as possible and advance the Ring. I just find their decisions to not be nearly as interesting as Sauron's and losing every battle isn't that fun, either. Of course, this is quite thematic except that Tolkien wisely only showed us the battles where the Fellowship side won and had all the others (pretty much every one of which was lost or at best holding out just long enough for the Ring to be destroyed) more in the background. Here that can't be done so things feel somewhat dreary for me as the Fellowship player.

Also, although as a game mechanic it works fine, the sacrificing of the Fellowship members (characters who I, as a lover of the books, care about) one after another is kind of painful. I just overall find myself enjoying the game, win or lose, much more when playing Sauron.

Jay >> WOTR (Response to Ian)

[quoted from Ian's post] I believe that for War of the Ring, we have a much wider group of people offering opinions than for a lot of recent games. . . Two of the largest camps that participate in certain forums happen to be the 'Euro' camp and the wargaming camp. Long has the search for the holy grail of cross-over hits, the game that all people in both of these camps can love and cherish and could serve as common ground. . .

Ian -- I think you're really onto something. This is a keen observation, and one that I can agree with, despite not liking the game myself.

If Eurogamers and Wargamers are two "circles" of gamers, then War of the Ring could very well be one of the best examples of a game that sits firmly in the area of overlap between these two camps -- like the MasterCard logo, that little orange oval formed by the overlapping red and yellow portions.

For folks inside that area of overlap, the game offers enough of each gaming experience type that it fills a niche in a way few other games have. Unfortunately, I also think that's why there are some very vocal detractors of the game -- for players (like myself) a bit too far on one end of the gaming spectrum (for me, Eurogamer over Wargamer), the game blurs the lines, trying too hard to be both, without a solid identity.

Very interesting concept. I'd love to hear what others have to say.

WOTR - Nothing To See Here

Sigh.

I'm all ready to jump on board and "muse" and you guys pick a game I haven't played.

Enjoy the conversation. Wake me up when we get to the next game. :-)

mark
aka fluff daddy

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wotr - Ian

War of the Ring:
Well here goes my first musing...First of all, I enjoy this game immensely, but it is certainly a game for me that has it's time and its place. One of the most interesting things to me about this game is the intensity of opinions formed over it. Initially there was very high interest and hype and the subsequent shilling and shill-busters that were taking up a lot of bandwidth amongst the discussions. The thrust of my musing goes to what explains the diversity of opinions on this particular game, can we attribute it all to people caught up in the hype, and those who might seek to look for chinks in the armor of any game with a large degree of hype surrounding it?

Well I have theory to throw into the pot. It is not the aha single explanation, perhaps only a factor. I believe that for War of the Ring, we have a much wider group of people offering opinions than for a lot of recent games. Different gamers have different interests, some gamers share the same interests, some have no common ground and every thing in between. Two of the largest camps that participate in certain forums happen to be the 'Euro' camp and the wargaming camp. Long has the search for the holy grail of cross-over hits, the game that all people in both of these camps can love and cherish and could serve as common ground, or at least a game both agree is a 10 or something close to that anyways.

With a large pre-release hype, there were some that hopes that WOTR could be that cross-over hit. If create an x/y quadrant grid with the wargaming camp on the x-axis and the euros on the y-axis, a particular gamers participation could be plotted where a wargame-only gamer being found on the extreme bottom-right, and the euro-only gamer on the top left. If you accept the constraint that most active hobby gamers will not in the lower left by virtue of being active (yes there are CCG only gamers, et al...), then you can accept that most gamers wanted to at least take a closer look at WOTR by virtue of the hype of being a cross-over grail game, which means that you have a larger pool of opinions that is typical.

Next, if you accept that games that fall directly in the sweet spot of one of these two camps are only get a closer look by people from the second camp if they have a certain level of activeness in both camps. Where I am going with this is that, euro-only gamers are not going to have a real strong opinion about Advanced Squad Leader because they either have no interest in trying, or do not feel justified to present an opinion.

I believe that WOTR will earn a good to great rating from people who have strong enjoyment in both of these two major camps. I also believe that there are people who have greater imbalance in their participation in both camps who are at higher likelihood of having a poorer rating. My hypothesis is that for WOTR we had many more people wanting to form an opinion for a game they were unsure about, but took the time to form an opinion.

This is certainly not a scientific opinion, only a musing..., I wonder if it has any validity..
My Rating 8.3

Mike: WOTR. I'm sorry guys, but this game throws up a conflict of interests for me (I consult for the publisher, Sophisticated Games) so I will have to pass on this one.

Mike: Camelot

Overall, I am just going to file this one under 'great art, real potential, but expensive and very disappointing'. This means I will mellow over time and try it again, perhaps with a different group of gamers, and it may tip the balance. At the moment there are better games to play. I rate Camelot Legends a 4, but I hope something comes along to crank it up a few points. As I said, I will hang on to it.