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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

But Series-ously, Folks...

Oh, the puns are flying fast and furious now, eh?

When I think of the word "series" I'm usually thinking of television, books (especially the 800-page-per-volume fantasy series), porn, and Darlington Pairs (an electrical engineering reference I've been unable to purge in almost 20 years of life where, to my knowledge, the idea of cascading transistors has had no conscious relevance). I haven't really thought of games as being a series, although Dave pointed out several. Like him, I picked up the Kosmos two-player line for a long time, giving up when they charged me $20 for Crocodile Pool Party (actually not a bad little game, but an awful lot of money for a few pieces of cardboard). I also have all of the GIPF series, despite have almost no two-player activity other than wargames.

Dave also mentioned a few wargames series, linked by a common publisher and basic ruleset. There are lots of these, partially because it takes a lot of time to develop a historically accurate wargame for much less return. When you consider that "much less return" is compared to a successful euro-style game such as Havoc!, you see just what a labor of love this is for most of the designers out there.

In my case, my own preference would tend to be toward the Card Driven Game series, originally published by Avalon Hill in their We The People game, followed up by the ACW title For The People, then promoted in spades by GMT with more titles than I care to type in. There are many reasons for liking these games, among which I'd list relative ease to learn and enjoy and the unpredictability of the card distribution, but perhaps the biggest reason is that the fact that socio-politico (and occasionally, religio) elements of any historical period can be incorporated into the cards rather than the mechanisms. These games almost regularly get me interested in a period of history I know very little about, and I tend to pre-order pretty much any title that features this particular game element.

While other series (such as the Standard Combat Series from the Gamers) try to leverage a system into many different conflicts, and typically do a pretty good job of doing so, most of the time these games don't really give me any new insight into the period, but instead simply mean that I can learn a game more quickly (other than having a new version of the rules every other game, plus remember whether a rule lives in the series rulebook or the game-specific rulebook). The CDGs always give me additional insight, or at least spur me to search out the reference material the designers used. Twilight Struggle got me to read Gaddis' "Cold War: A New History". In this particular case, I learned that the author really liked Ronald Reagan (it is very hard to take any research seriously when the author talks about how canny Reagan was during the period that he was falling asleep in meetings around 1987), although most of the book was pretty interesting, if a little disjointed and light.

In euros, I'm surprised to say that I find series a good thing. While I'm a bit concerned that the Settlers franchise seems to be making forays into games that have had problems (Candamir, Elasund, both of which flopped with our group), I am quite impressed with the staying power of this franchise. Our group tends to like vanilla Settlers (in moderation) and some of the Das Buch scenarios. Carcassone, which started as a very light game, has evolved into some great titles, such as Discovery and The City.

On the downside, series can tend to perpetuate mediocrity, a growing problem in the hobby. While some good games come out, it is obvious that we are getting more games that see one or two playings at most, and very few that could be called classics. The new E&T card game looks to be an example of a series that is going the wrong way; a fantastic first game, part of what is perhaps the most successful (both commercially and operationally) series of all, Knizia's tile-laying trilogy that includes Samurai and Through the Wastes.

On the Ameritrash front, games like Duel of Ages, which I found to be a very straightforward game with a lot of historical fluff stapled on, had tons of expansions. Usually, I'm a real fan of this sort of thing, I got most of the Cosmic Encounter expansions back in the 80's (even the, God help me, moons). With my huge haul from the recent Rainy Day Games auction, I was sorely tempted to purchase the second edition of Runebound with all of it's expansions, but having been fooled into purchasing the original edition, I just couldn't give FFG money for this particular product. Had they been willing to give me an update kit at a decent price, perhaps, but they've lost my custom in this particular case. Strangely, I am willing to buy the Doom expansion, which turns a crap game into a good one (although i may just get the rules online)...

All of that said, in every case (other than CDGs, which are really more of a mechanism grouping), I could care less whether or not the game is part of a series. I'm much more interested in a good gaming experience than in having every Settlers game (I've sold off my Nurnburg and Cheops/Alex expansions). Sort of like porn...


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