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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sunriffer: Part 1

There have already been reports of this spring's Sunriver retreat posted by Dug, Eric, Tim, and George. Instead of just running through the list of games again, I thought I would use the setting as a framework for various gaming-related thoughts that have been going through my head lately. In the spirit of "something is better than nothing", I'll stretch these out over the next few weeks.

My Spirit... Has Been Buh-roken

This past week has been a very emotional one for me:
  • Something bad and rare happened to the project I manage at work. Nothing fatal, but it will take months to restore the face. I'll just leave it at that.
  • Elliott Yamin got voted off of American Idol. Surprisingly, this was the most emotional for me of all of the items in this list. I guess that I just see a lot of myself in him (other than my not being a diabetic Jew from central Virginia singing old-school soul music). This man has overcome so much to get so far, and yet has maintained an amazing attitude throughout. It was sad to see him give up in the penultimate round, but, by deciding to go out on the obscure "I Believe to My Soul", it was good to see him take a stand for why he was there in the first place.
  • The Spurs staved off elimination twice in a row to force a game 7 tonight. Given the previous two events, I was convinced that the trifecta was going to happen. [Edit: Urgh. The gods are cruel, prolonging it like that.]
  • My daughter has gone through a serious mental growth spurt, becoming a full-fledged toddler with barely a trace of the baby girl I first met a year ago.
  • My parents sold my childhood home in order to move to a smaller, more manageable setting. I haven't been there in years, and it is unsettling to realize that I will never walk through the back acre of woods again. Having to raise my daughter in a high-density living environment makes it even tougher to wrestle with.
I was thinking last night about how unemotional I am when it comes to boardgaming. I have always said that there are hundreds of musical pieces that mean more to me than my favorite boardgame (still luv ya, Taj!), but nowadays it seems ever more so such a flat hobby. The only other thing in my life that is as uninspiring is solving pencil puzzles. I still very much enjoy the time spent gaming; perhaps it is just that I am at a stage where I am seeking more sources of inspiration and emotion.

As I see it, there are only three lines of growth in playing boardgames (omitting the creativity found in design work): mental stretching (along only one axis of the intellectual space); human interaction; and managing the adrenalin that comes from competition. When you sample from a wide repertoire - including a steady influx of new games - like our group does, you largely lose the latter two, leaving you with the first which has no real emotional component to it. I contend that continually playing with family and/or friends in such a manner is as stunting as a regular diet of television. In any case, boardgaming for me these days serves primarily as a distraction from other things in my life, a way to lose myself in an isolated vacuum; my upcoming cigarette break, my past Disneyland vacation.

The ratio of Top Shelf / Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down games I played at Sunriver (6/11/5) was more favorable than my ratings at BGG (51/137/83), and I tended to find blemishes in my favorites while searching for positive elements in those seemingly unfavorable. Overall, there were more ponderous games played than in past retreats, whereas I prefer frivolity.

A rundown of what I played is listed below. '+' = Top Shelf, '0' = Thumbs Up, '-' = Thumbs Down. A '+' or '-' after a slash indicates a threat to move up or down to the next level. A '*' indicates a provisional rating I wish not to commit to yet; if a '-' or '-/+' rating if marked as such, I usually have no desire to revisit the game to remove the provisional status. Games in bold font indicate victory (lone or shared) on my part.

DVONN: o/+
The First World War: -*
Anno 1503: o
Dragonland: +
Die Sieben Siegel: +
Die Sieben Siegel: +
San Juan: o
Ursuppe: +
Schnäppchen Jagd: o
Alexander the Great: o*
Big Manitou: -/+*
Air Baron: +
Schnäppchen Jagd: o
Ticket to Ride - Märklin Edition: 0
Marco Polo Expedition: o
Katzenjammer Blues (Partnership): +
Power Grid: o
Bolide: *
Tower of Babel: -/+*
Magna Grecia: o/+

Err Baron

I have played Air Baron several times, and almost every time with the advanced rules. In our match at Sunriver, I got a big ORD payoff after the initial buildup, giving me enough cash to go into Fare Wars. After a string of good luck gave me control over the ATL hub, I decided to press my luck and take the inexpensive but valuable DFW hub. I might have played more conservatively, but Chuck was looking pretty strong as well, so I went for it. After getting the first three cheap spokes, and with one more in the way of ensuing victory, I hit my Waterloo: Memphis, Tennessee. I attacked the space on my next turn, and once more got a bum die roll. Because of my earlier success, all five event chips were in the draw cup, and soon enough I got hit by Fuel Hike. With little cash on hand, I had to sell off most of what I had to pay off the 10% of my market share. Chuck had just taken out a loan, so he was able to cover.

At this point, all of us had low market share, but there were still five event markers in the cup! I never anticipated this situation before, even though it seems obvious now; it is easy to forget how brutal a Fuel Hike can be. This meant that a high percentage of draws were events, but we didn’t have the cashflow to keep up with it. A succession of Crashes, Strikes, and more Fuel Hikes continued to beat the trailers down. We said that we would quit and hand the victory to the game system if Chuck got below 100 market share, but he managed to tread water and finally break through to victory during a lull of the chaos, with the rest of us scrambling respectably out of bankruptcy or near it.

I thought that I took a reasonable chance, but surely my reckless pay dragged down the game for everyone. Was it my fault, or a flaw in the design that a player has a right to exploit? Knowing it is there, how will I approach the same situation in the future? Also, if an opponent faces the situation, how will I attempt to manipulate their behavior? How much should one allow the thematic context affect these decisions? Will the threat of the situation cause one to avoid the game altogether, or will the group adopt house rules to deal with it? If we reach it again, will we decide on the same "stalemate" end conditions, or come up with something else? This is another example of the type of discussions that bring fascination to my gaming life.

Next week: More on the GIPFathon; and how I blundered in two of my favorite games.


  • At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Nick Danger said…

    Go Mavs!

    There's one giant monkey off their back. What's sad is that series couldn't have been the conference final. What a battle.

  • At 4:32 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    I'm very surprised to hear you say that human interaction is negated by a large pool of games to choose from. Perhaps that's because I consider human interaction to be enjoying other people's company instead of understanding what they will do in a game situation.

    As far as games being inspirational, I guess that also depends on your definition. I just finished a "subron" mini-campaign of Silent War that was solitaire and very exciting. I don't know that I played optimally (although to be honest, the optimal choices are pretty obvious, the game is about finding out what will happen more than about decision points), but every time I had an excellent shot at that 10,000 ton carrier with a good TDC and few escorts, I was rolling with enthusiasm. Is that inspiration? Hard to say, but I do know that I would call it "fun".


  • At 5:58 PM, Blogger dave said…

    Dug writes: "Perhaps that's because I consider human interaction to be enjoying other people's company instead of understanding what they will do in a game situation."

    I meant the latter. See the last paragraph in the Air Baron section (as well as the link to my Hot or Not post) for more on that. Yes, the other type of socializing is just fine but has nothing to do with gaming itself; we could just as well be arranging flowers. But from your assertion it looks like you agree with me on how the type of interaction changes based on the variety of games you are playing.

    I find gaming (as well as solving pencil puzzles) plenty of fun, just as folks who watch a lot of TV usually find that fun.


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