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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

That New Game Smell

First, the answer to the obligatory “least favorite game mechanic” question. Charles Bronson. Sorry, I meant “mechanism”. While I’m very close to being with Dave on this issue, I’ll refine it further by answering “Negotiation”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love games like Manifest Destiny and Successors, where diplomacy is critical to success (“Me? The Leader? You high!”). What I hate is a game where everything is a negotiation. Like Traders of Genoa, a game I bought, played once at Sunriver, then promptly sold. And I never sell games. I can handle Chinatown from time to time, and certainly negotiation in small doses (like in many games), but a game where all you do is negotiate starts to feel like I’m buying a car real quick.

Now on to something important: The New Game Experience. A quick show of hands: Who loves opening and “punching” a game almost as much as playing it? Don’t be shy.

We begin, of course, with the purchase experience. When my sister lived in Ashland, OR, and Funagain had a browse-able warehouse space, I used to freakin’ live for the days before New Year’s when we’d drive down for her NYE party. I’d spend a couple of hours in the Funagain stacks, picking up a couple hundred dollars worth of games, many impulse buys. Even better was unwrapping, prepping, and setting them up. I spent at least a day doing this, and it was heaven. No more, I'm afraid. My sister has moved north on I-5 a few hours, and Funagain's warehouse space is all in boxes and organized by arcane codes and on shelves that are far too tall. I still prefer to purchase games at brick'n'mortar stores, at least when I'm not buying in bulk. There's definitely an edge to the experience that I don't get with mail order, even if it is much cheaper.

I find the experiences of opening a wargame and opening a euro to be very different. To start with, there’s a much different smell with a wargame. I suppose it’s because of the components (unmounted map, cardboard sheets of counters, paper play-aids), although there is certainly a different scent with different companies. Even wargame card decks smell a bit different, so it’s not completely components. Since most euros are printed in Europe, and most wargames are printed here, that may be the difference.

Because the components are different, there’s a much different effort in prepping the game for play. I’m one of those geeks that clips the counters of my wargames, and for euro counters that are of particularly poor quality. At about an hour for a sheet of 280 counters, that’s quite a bit of prep time in many cases. And I’m not afraid to admit that while that’s a pretty anal habit to get into, I have to say that playing with clipped counters is a much more pleasant experience, and with wargames it’s all about the tactile. For me, anyway.

Euros take a lot less time to prep. Sure, you’ve got to punch some heavy cardboard, but generally they are die-cut well and not as many pieces (though Arkham Horror and it’s ilk sure give it the old college try). Sorting the pieces is generally easier for a euro as well, although I do like figuring out which wargame counters will go in which baggie. I must have 10,000 of those little technological wonders sorting my counters at this very minute.

OK, so I'm anal compulsive. Sue me.

With a wargame, there is a much different curve to learning and playing the game as well. I can pick up a euro at the local shop in the afternoon, prep the components, read the rules, and perhaps even run through a turn and be ready to play that evening. With most wargames (and this is becoming more of a problem as development time and experience start to become optional rather than mandatory), I’m lucky to be able to play the game in a few days. Even then, most publishers treat wargames like software, they’ll “fix it in the mix” a few weeks down the road with a "living rules" version on the web. It's great that they can do this, but I wish they'd try to get it right the first time. But enough complaining!

So who cares about the mechanisms, it’s all about the smell, baby! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a game to unwrap...


  • At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Laurent said…

    First, I want to post a comment on Doug's message to please him. He was so sad last week nobody said anything nice to him. No strike that, nobody wrote anything. He felt persecuted.

    Second, having access to this blog and know more about you is scary.

    Third, I'm sure they "new game smell" in bottle, if not, here is a great idea for your retirement.

  • At 5:31 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    And appreciative I am, although I'm still feeling just a tad slighted. Perhaps it's the spelling of my name...


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