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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sunriffer Part 2: Half Turkey Games

I will continue with my riffs on gaming inspired by our Sunriver retreat, but I will postpone the GIPFathon thoughts to another week. That topic deserves something more Appelclinesque than I can handle after a long holiday weekend.

I have become obsessed lately with this incessant thought about how much the Half Turkey sandwich represents the state of my life right now. We have a pretty decent cafeteria at work - at least the menu is rather frou-frou- but I am usually so busy with lunch meetings and all that, instead of sitting down to a nice warm White Globe Radish Enchilada with Balsamic Chive Salsa, I only have time to grab a pre-packaged Half Turkey sandwich. That, a packet of Dijon, a bag of Sun Chips, and a Diet Pepsi is enough to keep me going until my 6:30 supper. So what's so special about the Half Turkey? It can be bought, eaten and disposed of quickly. I do not have to worry about indigestion. It is not too messy, so I can eat while working. It is familiar. But most importantly, it is always unspectacular yet satisfying (contrast with ham or, especially, roast beef). In an environment that is becoming increasingly difficult for me to control, I have to establish these ports of secure sanity.

The Half Turkey concept extends beyond cuisine. In my PC gaming, instead of subjecting myself to figuring out Civ 4, I am content with Guild Wars (and I would fully regress to Diablo 2 if it could run on my current PC). I am spending almost no time with my more challenging music (classical; bebop; death metal; IDM), instead preferring genres that require less brain and more feeling (ambient; doom; drone; soul). Now, boardgaming is not a solitaire activity like the other hobbies mentioned here; I have to merge my own desires with those of others. However, I am less afraid these days to pull out the veto (although starting with a passive-aggressive shrug usually suffices). Some days, I just want to play the equivalent of a Half Turkey.

For me, a Half Turkey game must have the following qualities:

  • Be quick to setup, teach, and put away (although not necessarily play). An example of a favorite game that does not have these properties is Settlers of Catan.
  • Even better, everyone in the group knows how to play it, and never needs a refresher.
  • Have a very low chance of unsatisfying plays, the unpleasantness usually caused by randomness. Games that do not have these properties (a favorite being Die Sieben Siegel) may also swing the other way, but some days it is not worth the chance of frustration.

Titan: the Arena used to be the group's Half Turkey. It regularly got 5+ plays a year, but seemed to have been forgotten after a tsunami of new releases wiped out our memories. It has been making a comeback as of late, including this past retreat. Slowly since its release, San Juan has emerged as the group's new Half Turkey. There are some fussy parts that bother me - keeping track of which pile is the drawpile and which is the discards; forgetting to conceal the most recent trading table - but it has a groovy, light flow, while having enough there to make you feel satisfied if you win or come close.

Our three-player match at Sunriver was relatively dull. It was the rare match where the winner (me) had a Guild Hall but not a Palace but was still able to keep the builder(s) at bay. The best builder was using his Poor House every turn and was able to keep the game at a rapid pace, while the third player had the best setup - including a FAT chapel - but was unable to find a 6-point building (i.e., was unwilling to select the Councilor role).

Just for Dug, here is my list of Top Ten Half Turkey Games.

  1. Katzenjammer Blues - Only six ranks - no suits - so there is not much complaining about luck of the draw. Partnership variant adds suspense and teamwork.
  2. Titan: the Arena - Easy to accept that so much is out of your control.
  3. San Juan - As long as I get dealt a Tobacco Storage.
  4. Fist of Dragonstones - I find the continuous blind-bidding to be a bit ritualistic. That's good, right?
  5. Heave Ho! - Token two-player entry. Joyous fun whether winning or losing.
  6. Dragonland - Can play conservatively - get rings as early as possible - if you don't care much about outright winning. Scores are usually tight.
  7. Domaine - Headier than others on this list, but the most replayable.
  8. Metro - Even if you get hosed early, there is the delight of kingmaking.
  9. Attila - Three-player only. Okay, maybe four.
  10. Wyatt Earp - Would place higher except Hideout can be annoying, and disproportionate Wyatt Earp cards can throw things out of whack.

In honor of the Half Turkey sandwich, I should start a game publishing business some day called Half Turkey Games, targeting this specific niche. "Bring your own Sun Chips!"


  • At 2:03 PM, Blogger Alex said…

    Although I'm more on the Full-course meal side on boardgames, I'm much more on the Half Turkey side on computer games.
    So, being a huge Diablo II fan, I'd be interested in your take on Guild Wars. Is it as compulsively playable? If you could play DII would you play them both or just play DII? I've been eying GW for a while and just can't pull the trigger...
    Also, what system are you running that you can't run DII? It runs fine on my XP box.

  • At 3:32 PM, Blogger dave said…


    Sorry I didn't reply sooner... our blog comments configuration was messed up, so I didn't know you had posted.

    Oddly enough, my two favorite PC games - D2 & HoMMIV - don't run on my new Dell XP PC! D2 runs but has a tendency to crash the box, either before or afterwards.

    The other games I have tried since D2 are City of Heroes (awesome world, great community, but leveling is too slow) and Dungeon Siege 2 (fun combat but the end fight was so ridiculous I didn't have the heart to bring any more characters through). Of those, Guild Wars is my favorite.

    The Guild Wars universe is beautiful, and the gameplay is pretty good. However, the community is... not as good as COH's. It certainly is very compelling, as every night I play for at least one hour.

    Online D2 was pretty dumb, so I mainly played offline. Of all the games mentioned here, D2 is the one I would choose if I could. You can play for shorter durations more easily, you can explore a wider variety of characters in a given amount of time, and because I thought the gameplay with my very favorite archetypes (e.g., Dire Wolf Druid, Charged Bolt Sorceress) surpasses all other archetypes of the aforementioned games (except more maybe Healers).

  • At 7:10 PM, Blogger Alex said…

    Thanks for the follow-up, Dave!
    I have also played CoH and CoVillians. I enjoyed both for awhile but they just didn't have the staying power of D2. I think the levelling slow part was a problem for me as well.

    Fate is one that is close to the roguelike feel of D2 - stole quite a bit from D2 as well, and is only $20. But D2 is deeper.

    Can't you essentially do Guild Wars solo? Or is it forced grouping?

    D2 remains my favorite for the reasons you mentioned. I also play only single player, and I've just started to look at some of the mods that are out there. Now if only I could find my LoD CD after the move...

  • At 12:28 AM, Blogger dave said…

    You can do much of GW solo by hiring "henchmen" (which you cannot dress up as in D2 and Dungeon Siege), and many have claimed to have completed the game by doing so. However, given the difficulty of the game, I find this only feasible if you have a healing element (typically Monk) in your build. Usually I play most of the Quests using henchmen, but use pick-up groups to complete the more difficult Missions. I wouldn't let this deter you from GW unless you were very thin-skinned. :)

    Note that I am talking exclusively about PvE/PvM mode. GW was designed primarily to be a PvP game, but I have enjoyed GW for many, many hours without going there.

  • At 1:11 PM, Anonymous Dave said…

    keeping track of which pile is the drawpile and which is the discards

    A simple solution that is always used in my group:

    The box top is placed upside down on the table. All discards are pitched into the box top. That way, you know where the draw pile is, and you don't have to be tidy about making a discard pile.

  • At 1:35 PM, Blogger dave said…

    Great idea, Dave. Thanks!


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