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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Monday, June 19, 2006

This blog is closed

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Goodbye - I hardly knew ya!

The Gathering of Engineers will be no longer.

I first joined the Gathering of Engineers crew to help forstall this event - several of the original members had hit busy points in their schedules that were preventing them from posting regularly, so I stepped up to try and fill in some of that gap.

Sadly, it appears as if that was not enough to re-invigorate the GoE. Peoples schedules didn't settle down, and a few of them developed other outlets for their game related comments and analysis.

I will say I'm disappointed - I've enjoyed the back-and-forth of the two Questions of the Month I've been involved in, and I've also enjoyed the opportunity to spout off about various games, and games related gatherings. I'll miss having the opportunity to "debate" gaming issues - I've enjoyed having the chance to discuss these topics with fellow gamers.

Dave mentioned that this may have primed me to start my own blog, and he's correct, I've just set it up (going with Blogger, since it's the one I already know a bit about how to use). It's over here - if you have suggestions for a better name, I'm all ears (this one was picked to get it up quickly).

Anyway, my 'Geek profile is here - hope to see y'all around, either on BGG or on my new Blog.

Happy gaming!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

And now it's time for so long...

...so we'll sing just one more song.

As you probably read yesterday, the Gathering of Engineers is ceasing publication after this week. It's been an interesting experiment. Writing for a group publication like this is definitely different than writing for a personal blog. I almost didn't think of it as a blog, per se – it was more like a slowly-published e-zine to me. I certainly tried to give my articles on here more thought than I generally do for my personal blog.

The timing of the shutdown is a good one for me. My gaming time has been a tad restricted over the last few months, and with a new baby coming in August, it's not going to get any better. It's hard to write about gaming when you're doing very little of it. It's tough to come up with an idea when the sum total of your gaming is two Roma sessions, Bang!, PBEM Here I Stand, and reading the rules to 1860 again.

Thanks for all the comments and emails you sent over the months. I know some of you have shown interest in ideas I've started – I'll try to continue things like the looks at sports games and elephant eating over on Incunabula.

It's been fun. I'm definitely better for the experience. I hope you feel like you're better for reading it. Maybe we'll do this again - who knows?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Happy Trials

After ten months, the Gathering of Engineers blog will cease to be. We have all enjoyed the solid group identity and exchanges that made us unique among the gaming blogs, but we feel that the collective failure to post regularly has largely undermined that quality. The good news is that this does not reflect on the health of the Rip City Gamers, where gaming opportunities abound as much as ever.

I will leave the blog open for final goodbyes for another week - I know at least one of the others will not be able to resist - and the archive will be accessible indefinitely after that. In case you do not hear from the others, here is a proxy goodbye:

I am sure you will be hearing a lot from KC in the future. I hope his design/playtesting seminars go beyond the local scene, as his prototype work is top-notch. If he does pop up elsewhere, I am sure an announcement will show up on KC's BoardGameGeek page(!).

It looks like Chris is finding time again to post material to his own blog. I am sure that any material he would have posted here will end up there eventually.

Tim - we hardly knew you! I suppose he will drift back into obscurity, although I'm not sure that such a term is appropriate for someone with a standing invitation to the Gathering of Friends. Possibly we just primed him to start his own blog...

You won't have to work hard to find Dug. The articles on his gaming blog are great quality, and his rants on The Dice Tower are very amusing if mishandled by the hosts (e.g., you don't see Barbara Walters getting in a last word after Andy Rooney's spots; to paraphrase David Mamet, "that's why they call it a rant!")

Eric's activity on his own blog has been sparse since GoE kicked off, but I am sure he will be posting similar articles at a similar regularity at his old home.

As for myself, I am sure the occasional gaming content will pop up at Death Metal Cafe, and it wouldn't surprise me to see another blogging venture emerge in the near future. Other than that, I will see you on the Geek (or, for you local folks, at Game Storm).

Thanks to all you readers - especially those that played along with the Questions of the Month - and thanks to those who volunteered to help with the Game Group series.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

New vs Old

I like to think I'm as interested in the games I have as in new games, but I'm finding more and more evidence that when it comes to getting excited about playing a game, it's all about the new stuff.

Let me be clear about this: when I'm playing the game, I'm much more interested in having fun, and that has little to do with the game itself, other than it being a good game (i.e.; not Rocketville). In other words, what seems to stimulate me during a game is different than what stimulates me when picking a game. Yikes.

That's a bit of a surprising thing to learn about oneself, and I suspect it applies to a lot more than just games in my life. I've already discussed how men and women are wired differently, and that the women-in-chainmail-bikini tendency of fantasy art plays directly into this. One of the differences is that men are all about new and different, and games are no exception. However, what I'm coming to understand that different is important to men when they are making choices, but that it stops being important once that decision has been made.

So, for example, playing "vanilla" Settlers seems boring when we are deciding what to play, but fun when playing it. Assuming, of course, that the company is good.

Recognizing this essential truth about myself is a bit alarming, and I have a strong suspicion that it applies to a lot more than just game selection. However, it does inform the question whether I prefer new games or old games. And the answer is, quite simply, both.

I expect that if I manage to actually internalize this truth, the answer will start shifting over to older games that I already know and enjoy playing. This is already true to some extent with wargames, although wargames have the quality of requiring much more preparation and understanding to play, and thus have a built-in impediment to the Shiny Factor. Mind you, this hasn't prevented me from buying tons of wargames that I will never play, and may never even set up (although I almost always unfold the map and clip the counters). Sometimes I even make it through the rules.

Still, when it comes down to brass tacks, I will always enjoy even a mediocre game played in good company to a great game played with people I don't like much. In the half-turkey sandwich / four-course meal spectrum, I guess that means I enjoy cigars and spirits. ;-)

Monday, June 05, 2006

All For Some, Some For All

I cannot do this Question of the Month justice in the height of allergy season, so I will post something brief and dull.

As for new games, I still like being exposed to them so that I can follow the related Internet discussions. However, something that Dave Bernazzani wrote on Nigglybits a couple of years ago resonated with me at the time, and has stuck with me since:

"It's been a couple of years now where I've really slowed down on new game purchases. There was a time when I would buy most of the Essen and/or Nuremberg releases based on blurbs only. Nowadays, Essen comes and Essen goes - the games eventually get brought to the various events I attend. Although I'm not pushing to get them played, I will, sooner or later, get my chance to try them. Most games end up falling squarely into the middle ground of "yes, I'd play but don't feel the need to own" these days. And I have a huge supply of games that I enjoy that don't see enough play time as-is. I'd rather play a hundred favorites than play a hundred new games looking for one more favorite."

As for choosing a set of games to master, the difficulty would be getting the group to agree to that common pool. Personally, it would be a big risk for me to commit to such a thing as I find that I frequently deviate from the group's collective opinion. It would be difficult for me to motivate myself to make the trek across town if I knew that, in every session, one or more of {Union Pacific, Wallenstein, Amun Re} would be played.

As I see it, the main benefit in playing the same game repeatedly is not having to work through rules explanations, clarifications, and misunderstandings. It is less frustrating for all involved, and it is much more satisfying to win in these settings, where your opponent has no excuse/reason other than his inferior intellect (heh-heh). Also, in multi-player games, it is important to have players become less absorbed in the game mechanisms themselves and more on the interactions between players. Given that, I would prefer a tighter rotation, but no so tight that I cannot get some of my own favorites into the mix.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Shiny New Things

Do you prefer learning new games frequently - but only playing each game once or twice - or playing a smaller set of games several times each?

My first reaction to this is “lately, I would just prefer playing games period – new,old, good, bad, whatever!”  Spring is always a tough time for playing games, especially now that I’m coaching baseball.  Still, the question is valid and pretty straightforward for me to answer.

I’d like to be able to say that I’m a focused person and like to delve deep into the intricacies of a small set of games, exploring nuances to strategy and honing my skills.  It ain’t me, babe – I’m much more likely to gravitate to the shiny new game that just arrived.

Deep down inside, I think I know why I lean towards the new stuff:

  • Enjoying the new thing is part of my nature.  I like hearing new bands, trying new foods, traveling to new countries, and of course trying out the next new game.
  • I’m a strong intuitive first-game player.  I have a pretty good track record of winning games where everyone is playing for the first time.  I don’t have nearly the same track record playing established games where others have honed their strategies.  I don’t prepare myself well for games like this, and I don’t play individual games enough to become adept.  Possibly the only exception is Wallenstein where I have a pretty good track record online at spielbyweb.

Perhaps this is a self-perpetuating cycle?  Because I play the shiny new games, I don’t improve my skills at established games, and because I know I’ll get beat re-playing games I move onto the new games.  Interesting theory, but in truth I don’t care very much about winning.

There are some games I’ve played recently that I’ve been very interested in exploring more deeply.  Twilight Struggle was a blast, and I’ve lost so quickly in both my games as the Americans that I’m dying to find a strategy that can’t get me safely through the middle game.  War of the Ring continues to beckon, especially with the new expansion coming.  I played a prototype this weekend while down in southern Oregon with the Funagain team that I’m anxious to try out with the family – I think Julie would really enjoy it.

Odds are, though, that I’ll continue my quantity over quality streak this year and keep playing single games to burn down my list.  I dreamed up a crazy idea this weekend with KC and Rita – hold a weekend gaming marathon where participants earn points/credits by helping me knock games off my burn-down list.  KC suggested that I could tag-team by having two groups working with me – with the off-group always preparing the next game for play.  I’d have to offer some serious incentives / bribes to torture my gaming friends with such a death march, but it could be fun.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bells and Whistles

Note to our rabid readers – Chris Brooks will be appearing in this spot tomorrow. We’re currently in Ashland meeting with Funagain staff, and Chris did the driving yesterday when he could have been blogging. I’m so grateful!

Do you prefer learning new games frequently - but only playing each
game once or twice - or playing a smaller set of games several times each?

On the main question, I fall more to the side of “learn many.” But what I play more often than once or twice appears to be based on the following conditions:

1 What my family will play – we play a lot of Mah Jongg, Can’t Stop, Liar’s Dice, Havoc (surpise!), Settlers, lately playing more Tichu, Frank’s Zoo, Mall of Horror and Pick Picnick.
2 What the game groups I go to will play – there’s a new “meetup group” in town that will play older stuff like Carcassonne, Puerto Rico and Settlers, which is great to introduce new players into the genre.
3 What Spielbyweb, BSW or other services have online (the easiest way for me to repeat play), especially Tichu where practice really makes the game more fun. I learned Bus this way. I play backgammon non stop online, but rarely in person.
4 What our RipCity gamers will play, often at planned events like a Die Macher day or a Roads and Boats day.
5 What’s being offered at game conventions. Often I can choose to play deeper game favorites like Power Grid, Age of Renaissance, Manifest Destiny, etc.

I also have a special case – prototype games I design have to get played a LOT, so that’s my main “play many times” sort of game. Currently we’re playing Indiana Jones (code name), Isla Nova, BadgeBadgerBadger and Sphinx of Black Quartz.

So as I was thinking about this more, it occurred to me that there were some related questions as well that have to do with how much time a given game takes:

1. What games benefit from practice, and so need to be played several times to get the most out of them?
2. Which games return my investment in time? A game that doesn’t really appeal to me may not be worth the time it would take to “play well.”
3. Which games are easy, generally “fillers” so they come out often (Can’t Stop, Diamante, For Sale)

I’m pleased that our main group invests time in games like Die Macher that you have to play more than once. We have been trying to play more than once a year (!) Roads and Boats is on the list too of games you should play more than once a year. We have a standing “third Saturday of the month” game day for longer games, but lately have also discussed anyone interested can name the game and name the day and seel players.

I think we once tried a “game of the month” – which I think could come back as an idea. The concept was that we’d pick a game (1-2 hours type) and offer it at each weekly session for a month. Those that want to get really good can play it weekly, others can choose since we nomally have at least two games going at once.

This is a good idea for deeper games like Power Grid (or Funkenschlag before that) where
1 I get good vibes even playing the first time
2 The game has enough depth and more than one victory path
3 The game rewards trying different strategies, if not with victory at least with knowledge of how those other paths work.

And here’s my list of games I like that benefit from practice:
* Tichu
* Mu und Mehr
* Sticheln
* Power Grid and Funkenschlag before that
* El Grande
* Wallenstein
* Liberté
* Roads and Boats
* Indonesia
* Antike
* Princes of Florence
* Manifest Destiny
* Caylus
* 18xx (though I’ve never played!)
* Dune (never played)

And there are other big games that I don’t play because I don’t want to invest the time to learn to play well. But then my limited experience generally means I will do poorly in the game, or I will do well but have no idea what I did that made it so.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Exploration in Depth

My first question of the month - and first crack at the response!

The question at hand:

Do you prefer learning new games frequently - but only playing each game once or twice - or playing a smaller set of games several times each?

As people who read my post on 18xx games may guess, my general preference is to play games enough times to get a good understanding of the rules, and an opportunity to experiment with different strategies - hopeful that I'll find an effective one, in fear that I'll find the optimal one (rending a game "solved"). This assumes, of course, that a particular game rewards this experience - there are definitely games that, rather than revealing hidden depths, lose their appeal after a few plays, because the decisions become trivial or uninteresting. These games tend not to be my preference.

This prediliction may come from having been playing these games of ours for over 10 years (I bough my first German game circa 1994 or so) - so I've been exposed to a lot of new games over the years, and it's a rare gem that isn't reminiscent of something I've played previously. Sometimes a new game will combine well-worn mechanics in a new way (or ways), and that can result in an interesting and "new" experience, but on the whole most games are at least echoes of earlier ones.

I prefer games that reveal themselves best when played a few times (in relatively close succession), to allow experience from earlier games to be rewarded in later games. This is a balancing act, however - if a game is TOO obscure (or complex, or whatever) and the learning curve is too steep, it can be difficult to pick up the first time, and even more problematic it may be difficult to interest other people in trying the game once you are experienced. 18xx games definitely suffer from this, in that many people hear stories about how hard it is to win your first game, and are turned off (an application of the inverse of Cooley's Law, perhaps).

A more Euro game that has suffered from this to some extent is El Caballero - in my previous group, one of the players become very good, by playing at conventions and invitationals and the like, and this lead to the game being pulled out rarely (since the assumption was that this player would stomp on the rest of us). El Grande also suffers from this, to some extent, as it certainly rewards regular play - and also has enough "fiddly bits" to it that it helps to keep everything straight if it's been played recently.

So, while I'll admit to enjoying trying new games - certainly, that is one of the appeals of going off to Ohio every year - my preference is to plumb the depths of a particular game. How this is accomplished varies from group to group - my group in Dallas (The CardBenders) tended to pick a game and try to get a game at our weekly meeting for a solid month, and if it was a hit it would likely keep coming back (El Grande was one of these hits). This didn't prevent us from trying new things, but it gave us an opportunity to get to know a game well, and decide whether it was interesting enough to continue to explore. The RipCityGamers, my current group, definitely seem to be more interested in trying new games. The existance of "burn-down" lists are helping bring out some older games now and again, but to some extent these are one-shot appearances, not sustained engagements, and as such still don't allow the opportunity to explore the games in depth.

So - I definitely prefer to delve into a game, and hope that it has enough depth to it to reveal something about itself over multiple plays. I enjoy trying new things, for certain, but I'd like to get to know games a bit better before I decide whether they're for me or not!

Until next week, happy gaming!

Question of the Month: June

Each blog entry for the next week will answer the following question, provided by Tim, who gets first crack at it: "Do you prefer learning new games frequently - but only playing each game once or twice - or playing a smaller set of games several times each?"

Those of you playing from home can use this entry to post your own answers!