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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Monday, March 13, 2006

March Potpourri

In response to the others’ posts for last week’s Question of the Month, I noticed that, while everyone delighted in picking apart what constitutes a “series”, no one else other than Eric addressed the second part of the question (“What would you like to see next in the series?”). I added this part to make the QotM less mundane and elicit some creativity, but what else should I expect from a bunch of engineers? To make up for this, here is a bonus answer.

I collect all of the Mystery Rummy games, although I am no big fan of Canasta on which they are largely based. Other than Jekyll & Hyde (and Wyatt Earp, the unofficial entry in the series), I would not feel the need to own or play any of the titles if they were released outside of the series' context. What I do like is watching how the designer Mike Fitzpatrick morphs the system to fit the newly chosen literary/historical background. However, each subsequent setting has stretched the boundaries of what I would call a “mystery” (the last two being the Chicago gangland and Bonnie & Clyde). I would like to see the series return to something more conventional.

I’ve been reading a lot of Agatha Christie novels this year, and who better than her to mark the return to the series' dark roots? Evil Under the Sun and Murder on the Orient Express both have plot twists that could be modeled with this system, but the best choice for a Mystery Rummy setting has got to be And Then There Were None (also published as Ten Little Indians). It would take ten suits (or eight if you omit the servants), and you would have to have a mechanism to “kill” suits.

I enjoyed KC’s whimsical take on Havoc spinoffs - I would be the first in line to purchase HOVAC - but I thought he limited himself too much by just using the short name. Just look at the inspirational material that comes out of the full title Havoc: The Hundred Years War:

Don’t be fooled; it’s just another “Dictionary” variant.

One of those rare games that comes with an expiration date.

Once you learn the basic wing-clip maneuver, the basic game loses its luster.

Guide the introverted protagonist thru social situations and zombie slaughter!

What was I talking about again?

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to sift through the seemingly endless anagrams for other feasible titles. Don’t be discouraged; I’m pretty sure there’s a decent Charades game in there somewhere…

Speaking of Havoc, I have to this point been noticeably (or perhaps not) silent on my opinions of the game. That ends today! After ~10 plays, I give the game a solid Thumbs Up. This rating encompasses scores from 7 (“Good game, usually willing to play”) thru 5 (“Average game, slightly boring, take it or leave it”), and my opinion of Havoc has wandered throughout this sub-spectrum over time, settling on the halfway point. I have a dislike of the card drafting mechanism in general, although here the card selection strategies and tactics are more sophisticated than found in most other games that employ card drafting. The choose-your-battles aspect works well, even though it loses the strategic planning element found in similar games that use a board and thus introduce a spatial aspect. I find the way battles play out to be a bit tedious; the tactical elements (e.g., bluffing) are practically non-existent due to card memory and the fact that playing half of a run/set usually leaves the other half worthless in your hand.

All that said, I think the game is above-average in terms of skill – and, yes, I consider memory a valid and acceptable skill – in the drafting. I win more than my fair share, but most of my victories have been against new players lured by high-valued cards; in these games, I usually finish strong with straight flushes across the lower ranks. While I do not experience the same “fun” factor that so many other players do, I think the game is somewhat underrated in terms of depth.

With more experienced players, I find lots of little subtleties in the drafting, often discovered in the post-analysis my own poor play. In one match (which I believe had the full complement of six players), I was aiming for a high-rank straight flush due to being initially dealt most of the cards. I quickly collected the others, except for one card right in the middle of the run. I soon realized that the player to my immediate left was collecting cards of this very rank. So, I had to wait until the first reshuffle to see whether my card was in someone else’s hand, still in the drawpile, or already in my opponent’s hand. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the latter. I jumped into too many battles hoping he would join in and play the card for me to retrieve with a Dog (as he was to my direct left, I could only speculate when he would join), but he kept passing and I ended up hurting for cards in the endgame. In retrospect, I think I should have either abandoned my strategy the moment I knew that he was collecting the rank, or, even better, started collecting the rank myself, in which case he would have been more likely to play the weak set in an earlier battle.

While I was happy to unload so many games at the Rainy Day Games auction this year, sales were somewhat disappointing this year (~$8/game mean compared to last year’s ~$11). Even more disappointing were the number of items I had to bring back home due to their not receiving the minimal bid. Perhaps, with the glut of games and limited number of buyers, everyone was content to return home with a mere handful of bargains; not only did they not feel the need to compete on items, but it curtailed the impulse buying of more obscure titles. The most surprising item of mine not to get a bid was a Wizard Kings bundle (base game plus expansion maps and two expansion armies with a minimum bid of $25); most popular titles have no problem getting sold at 33% retail value.

On the other hand, I failed to help matters any by my not participating in the bidding myself. The problem is that I don’t like to buy used games. I haven’t bought a single used CD ever since leaving school. Although I prefer to buy new copies of books, I do check out ~50% of my reads from the library due to storage limitations (and to abate my Excessive Consumerism Guilt).

Speaking of used games, I used to be a bit unsettled at the practice of middle-class games raiding thrift stores and boasting of their purchases online. I thought the mission of these stores was to make the “donations” of privileged community members available to those less fortunate. It turns out that I was far off the mark. The primary objective of these organizations is to use the store sales to fund more meaningful programs to help “disadvantaged” folks get a leg up, not just to simply help them accumulate “stuff”. It seems obvious now, but I thought I would share that with other folks not in the know. That said, they should implement a policy to jack up all boardgame prices so they can get more money off of you cheapskates! I hate to think about how little that box of Eagle Games we donated to the Veterans Association pulled in…


  • At 2:45 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    Actually, I did answer the question - I don't really care about series so much, so the answer was "Neh".


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