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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

You Can Pick Your Friends, And You Can Pick Your... Games

I hope I'm not generating Group Envy when I discuss RCG's Sunriver Gaming Retreat. Since last fall was the first time we'd had to cancel because of too many member conflicts, I've been chomping at the bit to get out there and play games for four days, especially some of the longer titles that we have trouble getting on the table when people's lives tend to get in the way. The retreat is intended to remedy that situation by taking away the competition, and it works pretty well. Today, I'll discuss the limits I impose on myself (one of the few places I actually exercise some discipline) in choosing what games to take.

Our group has trouble picking what to play at our regular sessions. My collection is hiding in a closet in our basement bathroom (we could have had a third shower, we chose more storage), at least the Euro portion, so it's not terribly convenient for people to trek down the flight and a half of stairs to stand in a glorified powder room looking at what I've got for them to play. Even then, my group tends to be polite about letting others pick to the point of pulling out the riot hose.

That's one of the things I like about our Sunriver retreat, I get to bring pretty much whatever I want to, subject to the physical limitations of owning a '98 Dakota pickup with a canopy and my willingness to get said games into said truck bed. It doesn't guarantee that the games will get played, but I can at least choose them.

Some time ago, after yet another crack about how many games I've brought (currently matched by at least three or four members of the group), I decided to take the opportunity to discipline myself (try it, you'll like it!) and limit the games I could bring to three of those plastic bins with the clamshell locking lids. I like these because they can double as empty bottle and recycle bins during the retreat, all I have to do is line them with a garbage bag, and the lids hang on the sides without taking up much room. They also stack nicely.

Anyway, trying to figure out what to actually put in the bins has become something of a metagame for me, and the entire group takes part in an oblique way. Here's what we do...

The first step is for someone to call the Game Game. OK, we don't call it that, but that's the general effect. This time, I started the ball rolling by posting a list of games I was interested in trying out and asking for more suggestions. I try to focus on games that are longer and thus less likely to see play at home, that are relatively new and unplayed, and/or have tended to become staples (such as Funny Voice Starfarers or Midnight Piratenbucht). Others contribute to the list, and the ones that come up repeatedly are the ones that I try to ensure see table time. This year, there seems to be a lot of interest in Indonesia, Antike, and Antiquity, although that last title may take the entire weekend from what I hear. That isn't the only criteria, but it does tend to point us in the right direction.

Once we have a complete list (a little late in the game this time, as a few of us are at that other Gathering, run by Albert Moo or something), we start parting it out. I don't seem to buy as many of the imports anymore, probably because I don't shop at Funagain Games anymore (another flame-inducing post, I'm sure), and Boards and Bits, which can deliver in a day for a set price regardless of quantity, gets most of my Internet business when I'm not buying from my FLGS. The games in the previous paragraph fit this bill, so someone else will need to bring them, or we'll need to borrow them from someone not going.

Another aspect of this part of the Game Game is who plans to arrive when. Some games will work with a smaller number of people, or specific people want to play a specific game near the borders of the weekend when fewer people are present, so it's important for those people to be sure that the game in question will actually be there. This isn't such a big deal near the end, as we can always ask that a game be left for us, but if they want it to see play earlier, they need to be sure it gets there. Frankly, this hasn't been such a big deal in the past, but it could be, especially with the Big Bringers of Games like Mike not being able to attend this time. I'm hoping Tim and Carrie pick up the slack (hint, hint).

Once we know who is bringing what, now my challenge is to see if all of it will fit in my three bins. I do allow for one or two Very Large Games (and Descent, World of Warcraft, and War of the Rings fit this bill nicely) as they don't even fit in the bins at all. I do have to close the lids, I'm afraid, it's a rule. I'm pleased to say that most of the time I'm able to get all of the games on my list into the bins, but part of the fun for me is not actually seeing if it will work. It's a lot like when I played in a rock band and trying to see how best to fit the PA gear, keyboards, and other accoutrements into the back of my truck, or helping my sister-in-law move. Sometimes, though, games have to be left out, and I make that call pretty close to the wire. Usually I take out games that I want to play rather than others, so it works out pretty well. Some of the games dangerously close to the block this time out include 1835, Britannia, World of Warcraft, Reef Encounters, Princes of the Renaissance, and Arkham Horror. These are games less likely to see table time, so I don't see the point in hauling them out if they just sit on one of our patented Flat Surfaces.

That may sound like entire game, although I could include whether or not they actually get played, but the final part of the game is, you guessed it, getting them back in the bins to go home. This is actually the saddest part of the entire trip for me, as just a few days ago it seemed like we had entire days to play games and suddenly it's over. Nothing like getting up before 8am, setting up a game, then realizing we need to order pizza for dinner. Very disturbing, and if there were a good drug that could make time go slower for me (except for the downtime part, of course), I'd take it.

One of the nice things about knowing which games you intend to take is that you can bone up on the rules before going. I tried to teach Age of Steam the first time our group played it after a 10 minute read through of the rules the night before (it wasn't my game, but only a few of us seem to be willing/able to teach games, and I include myself only in the former category), and it was a bit of a mess. AoS is a tough game to learn anyway, on a par with 18xx titles, and even tougher to play well the first time as you can get yourself into serious trouble very quickly. So, about this time of year I find myself setting up a different game every day (sometimes a couple a day) and running through the mechanisms to be sure I've got it down. That includes checking for errata or new versions of the rules as well, so it can be a time-intensive activity.

Why limit myself? First, it's a pain to take more games. The first time we went, I got probably 50% of my collection in terms of actual titles, and they fit in an old iMac box. Mike made fun of me. Within a couple of years, Mike was bringing more than me, so nyah, nyah. Before I sold 100 games at auction, it would have taken me two hours just to load the truck. This really is an illness, folks. And that's just the euros.

Second, I can focus on bringing games that I really want to see hit the table. When there's less selection, it's easier to choose a game you want to play, and this has been very successful in the past couple of years, despite something like 100 games to choose from once everyone is there.

Finally, it gives me a chance to prove, if to no one but myself, that I actually can impose some discipline on myself when every fibre of my being is screaming that I should take everything I can lay my hands on. Can you say "illness?" Sure you can.

I'll post our final group list the week that we leave, and let you know what fit in the bins.


  • At 10:51 AM, Blogger Dug said…

    I should note that I mentioned to some people in our group that this post would be a slam dance of the new GMT title Pax Romana. When I tried to actually run through a scenario, however, I found I had simply lost enthusiasm for playing solitaire (and possibly live, although that's unlikely). I just can't give even an out of the box review of any game without at least one playthrough, no matter how shoddy the development work, so I canned it.

    For the record, any game that significantly changes a big part of the victory conditions late enough as to not make the printed rules sets off every alarm bell in my tidy little wargamer's brain, perhaps an echo of my experience with some wargame software from the early 90's that was so buggy that it crashed when you tried to save the game, and also when you went to the next turn.

    PR may be a great game, it's certainly getting good buzz on CSW (but on that particular fanboy-based site, pretty much everything gets good buzz initially, then people call the game Candyland, next thing you know they're podcasting), but I saw so many dropped balls in the rules and components that I knew it had been rushed to fill a production hole and underdeveloped and didn't want to waste any more time on it.

  • At 11:25 AM, Blogger George said…

    GMT put up a patch for the map and the revised rulebook regarding the victory conditions.


  • At 12:48 PM, Blogger Jon said…

    Hey Dug,

    I just wanted to let you that I am enjoying reading about your planning of the Sunriver retreat. While all this sort of group dynamics may be sort of pedestrian to those involved, it interests me as it allows me to reflect on my own.

  • At 12:51 PM, Blogger Mike said…

    Of course, there's my favorite Sunriver retreat game. List the 10 games brought along that you think won't get played. Done secretly and notes compared later. Fun.

  • At 4:34 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    George, I'm aware there's a patch and the revised rules online. The issue I have is that they revised the rules so late in the development cycle.

    Jon, it's nice to hear that other people find it interesting. I'd imagine it to be interesting to our folks and boring as hell to the rest of the world, but there you go. It is nice to have to think about it in such a way that I write on it, rather than just have a bunch of thoughts in my head.

    Mike, absolutely. Although I never play, it's too depressing. Dave does regale me on the way home, though...


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