Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Too Many Options: The Game Designer's Curse

How do you carve an elephant? Get a block of marble and carve away everything that isn't an elephant.

The failed process of game design goes as follows:

*Flash* Brilliant game mechanic, looks like fun. This will be huge. It's perfect.

How should the turns play out? Could be one at a time or simultaneous. I'll decide later. Should I add a board or just use cards/dice? A board's superfluous. Then again, it's more substantial than a card game.

How should the game end? A set number of round. No, until someone reaches a certain number of points. No, when the deck runs out. No, ... So many options! OK, I'll decide later.

How should the scoring go? 1 point per card. No, per set. No, more points are earned in later rounds. No, collect point tokens. No, print the points on the cards. No, ... ok, I'll decide later.

Wait a minute. Let's combine this mechanic with this other game prototype which has been sitting around. It makes a great fit. Now my simple mechanic is combined into a game that looks like a six hour, fifteen step civilization game from the 1980s with route planning, area control, auctions, set collection, special powers, mission cards, and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. (I've done this before.)

What was the mechanic again? Yeah, that, but it favors the first player. No, it allows a kingmaker. No, it makes for no way to catch up. No, your decisions don't matter enough. No, there's no way to stop people from ganging up. No, there's not enough interaction.

There's too much luck. I can eliminate the cards/dice in favor of selecting or an auction. No, then it's too dry and mechanical.

Why did I think this was fun again? I think I'll shelve it and get back to it.

(Repeat every day)

Lack of ideas isn't the problem.

Knizia is a successful game designer not because his ideas are better than anyone else's. He just knows how to avoid all this nonsense.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Got a New Laptop

Replaced the stolen laptop, and downloaded the only two computer games I play: Nethack and Igowin. Well, I also play Bridge online at BridgeBase, but I don't know if their Java client counts as a download. Oops: I also play Lexulous.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Scrabble: 460 to 371

Rachel and I played Scrabble: 460 to 371. Each of us had two bingoes. Rachel did really well, but unfortunately for her I did even better.


There may be a Poker tournament starting tomorrow in Israel, but no one has any idea if it is legal as of yet.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Session Report, in which we play Pentago and Amyitis for the first time

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Magic: the Gathering, Stone Age, Amyitis, Pentago x 7 or 8, Dominion, Bridge.

A Pentago-fanatic arrives and we play the game and analyze it. We also try Amytis for the first time and rather like it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Kind of Day It Has Been

Early Friday morning a burglar crept up the side of our building into our balcony and into our apartment. Stole mine and Rachel's laptops, a digital camera, and took her purse (found dumped outside with only the cash missing).

I had backed up our work on Wed evening, so we only lost Thursday's work, but we also lost the hardware and software and a whole lot of bother. I still haven't gotten any work done, in between trying to get a new system or configure my son's underpowered desktop.

Friday and Saturday I was a bit of an emotional mess. That's not the reason that I lost a game of Puerto Rico to Rachel (I beat Nadine) on Saturday afternoon, but I'll go with that.

I figured the worst that was going to happen on Sunday was more time trying to get insurance to fix things, find a laptop, and get my son's desktop working well enough to use (I didn't; I can surf on it, but I can't really work with my old copy of Office 2000). Or that the person I'm playing against on Lexulous would take the spot I needed to place my 116 point word (UNIONIZE across two double word spaces; she ended up taking my spot).

This morning I found out that my 18 year old nephew Tuli suddenly died in the hospital. He had Familial Dysautonomia. That link won't do it justice. Suffice to say that for 18 years he's been in and out of the hospital; actually, he hadn't been in the hospital for the last 6 months, but that was a rare period. He drank liquids through a tube in his stomach, and always needed to have his lungs suctioned. His mental abilities were somewhat affected due to numerous bouts of loss of oxygen. And he was in a wheelchair, always followed by tanks of oxygen and a suction machine.

Yet he was also so often happy, smiling, and laughing. He loved cartoons and games. He would cheer up the people who came to see him in the hospital. He loved to see me, and he would always grab me with a strong moist hand and hold tight, laughing, like he would never let go. That's what I remember most about his: his hand that wouldn't let go.

I sometimes spent nights with him in the hospital, perhaps not as many as I should have. My brother and sister-in-law, and their other kids, and various friends, family, and national service girls, devoted an awesome amount of time and energy to raise Tuli and keep him as healthy and happy as possible.

May his memory be blessed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Solo Anagrams

Drawn 7 Scrabble tiles and make a 7 letter word. You can swap any 1 tile, and can swap up to 3 times. Score = (values on all tiles - 7) x (4 - the number of swaps you made).

Yesterday evening I ran out the door to catch a bus arranged to take members of our community to a wedding in Afula. I had to grab a game but didn't have time to think what to grab. Should have taken a deck of cards, I guess. I grabbed my bag of Scrabble tiles. I guess I thought we could play Anagrams on the bus, but it wasn't the kind of bus with any flat surfaces. So I invented this and played by myself until twilight fell.

At the hall I Youtubed videos of early Bob, Joni, and Judy, as well as some Flight of the Conchords, to watch on the way back.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Can the Story Substitute For the Win Condition?

The mother ship is in danger and needs a certain item collection to make repairs. The players - ship officers - are sent to collect the items.

If no one brings back a collection within X rounds, the ship experiences catastrophic failure. Anyone who brings back at least a workable collection receives a service award. The person or team who brings back the best collection will also receive bonus vacation privileges.

What would happen if I left the rules like that?

My feeling is that most anyone who sees the rules like this is expecting a final sentence or two: And the winner is the person who brings back the biggest collection. Or: the game is a cooperative game where you score for the number of players that win. Or: play with teams. Or: each player gets a goal card: the player wins if every player gets a complete collection, or if only he has the best collection, or he is a traitor, and so on.

If played entirely cooperatively, bringing back a collection to save the ship will be challenging. If played entirely competitively, one person might be able to bring back the collection and prevent everyone else from doing so, but this vastly increases the risk of catastrophic failure. You may find yourself unable to win, but able to prevent anyone else from winning. It could be played as teams. Or once one person has a collection, they could help everyone else get their collection.

Do I have to add anything about winning? Can I let the players decide for themselves if they want to play cooperatively or competitively or half and half or with teams? After all, in the real world situation this is simulating, the actors get to decide this for themselves. Is the story of the game sufficient motivation for the players; or does there have to be a defined concept of winning and/or losing?


Monday, June 15, 2009

The Top 100*


* Some duplicates removed, so a tad less than 100, actually.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Puerto Rico: Switching Small Market and Construction Hut

I always remove Small Market and Construction Hut from our three player Puerto Rico games. Small Market is always bought first and gives too great an advantage at the early game for its cost. Construction Hut is never bought at all; who really needs a bunch of quarries at the expense of developing production? Especially since, in a three player game, you have ample opportunity to grab a quarry on your turn, if you really want to.

I usually replace them with two other buildings, but this time I thought to include them with switched prices to see what would happen.

It worked out very well.

Small Market was the second, not the first, building bought by two of the players (Rachel and Nadine), since the loss of an extra early coin meant that getting either indigo or sugar up quickly would be that much harder. It was agonized over and bought anyway, just a little bit later than usual. And it helped them, but didn't dominate the game.

Construction Huts were bought early, since the one cost buildings are always bought, if, for nothing else, by someone who has a quarry and doesn't really want to buy anything else. I took it on my first buy in second position, because it didn't cost me any cash at all. Nadine eventually got the other. Again they helped, but didn't dominate the game. I'm not sure if I would buy it early again in another game.

I had first coffee while Nadine to my right started working on tobacco; I expected Rachel on my left to take tobacco ahead of Nadine, but she took coffee. She traded it once when she needed to. She also bought an early Commodity Exporters (5/2 like a Harbor, but only for indigo and sugar) and gained a few VPs from that, but the boats quickly got blocked to slow that down (and I also got a CE a few rounds later).

Nadine had Factory, but ended with only one big building to our two each, partly because she shipped her tobacco to slow down the boats. I think. I don't really know why. She rightfully should have ended with two big buildings, but I scraped enough together to buy it in front of her by sacrificing sente for shipping to Rachel twice.

As a result of that, Rachel ended with a few more shipping points than me and we had about even boards. Nadine had about the same shipping points and slightly less on the board.

It was a close game. Rachel won 61 to my 58 to Nadine's 52 (or 54).


Friday night I played Scrabble with Rachel and beat her by a scant five points 306 to 301. I hate having seven letter words and nowhere to put them (two turns in a row at the very end of the game).

My step-daughter played Jungle Speed On Saturday afternoon with her friends (loudly).

Facebook name: http://www.facebook.com/yehuda.berlinger

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Session Report, in which I handily win Agricola

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Mr Jack, Dominion, Boggle, Tichu, Agricola, Cosmic Encounter, Traders of Carthage.

I handily win Agricola, but it still came down to the last few turns.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Don't Video Games Tell You the Rules?

An interesting thing about video games: many don't tell you all the rules.

I noticed this curiosity when a web game developer asked me to preview his online "board game". The game is played on a limited grid. The player gets five actions each turn to play, heal, or attack with his pieces. Between player turns, the enemy grows, does various things, and attacks back. The object is total annihilation: you or the enemy.

I've already told you more than I knew when starting the game.

There is a introduction screen with a start button and some theme, the usual fantasy elements, magic, etc. There is an options menu you can access from within the game that lists the controls and very simple ideas of what you can do: click to place this object. Click to attack with this object any enemy target within range. Click to heal your objects.

And that was it.

Anyone steeped in video game culture probably finds nothing wrong with this. OK, you say, I'll figure it out as I play. Let's just blast things already.

I had a different reaction. How many rounds in a typical game? How much damage does each item do, exactly? If it's random, what is the random factor? What's the range of each item? What rules govern how the enemy will play!?

In other words: I wanted to play a strategy board game. It looked like a strategy board game. But it played like a video game.

Video Games Don't Tell You the Rules

Video games think nothing of throwing you into the thick of the game. Just look at The Path which I played last week. The entire point of the game is to discover not just the items, not just the nature of how things work, but the very goals of the game. You don't know how fast you walk, you don't know what it means if it gets dark or if you run, or if you pick something up. Even after something happens, you don't know for sure that it will happen again. In essence, the point of the game is to discover the rules.

And once you discover the rules, there is little point left in playing the game.

Reason 1: Johnny Can't Read

I asked the web game developer why so little of the rules is given before starting the game. He said that video game players expect to just start the game and figure it out. No one wants to read a page of rules before playing a game.

I've heard that about board games. Publishers try to minimize the rules to make getting into the game as easy as possible. But even five minutes of rules explanation (enough to play Checkers, for instance) seems to be too much for today's video game player.

A lack of information doesn't leave room for deep strategy, only for educated guesswork.

After playing the game, I still didn't know exactly how many spaces I could shoot, nor how much damage I would do; I only knew that "this" item allowed me to to shoot "more", and "this other" item did "better" damage against "that" thing than against "the other" thing.

Reason 2: The Enemy is Us

In board games, players do all the management. I don't know for sure what card will be flipped up for the diseases in Pandemic, but I know how many cards there are, what the possibilities are, and exactly what happens when they do. Video games want to protect you from this information, so it seems.

On the one hand, that makes some military sense: you don't always know what your opponent is capable of in the middle of a war. Fog of war and all that. On the other hand, that's the only type of game it makes sense for: war games. If I can't evaluate what resources I get, how much the settlements cost, or what the victory conditions are, my game of Settlers of Catan may as well be a crap shoot. Forget any long term strategic planning or counting out exactly how many resources you need to build that city.

Reason 3: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rules

I also think: many video game players don't care what the rules are, not really. They want to blast things.

There is no point in playing out a board game where the ending is a foregone conclusion. Any polite player will resign if the situation is hopeless. In well-designed games, the situation is never exactly hopeless until the game ends - at a set number of rounds or a set number of points.

I don't have too much experience with video game players, but the ones I know don't end the game when they've established that the game is a foregone conclusion. They keep blasting and cheering to the very end. The ones I know - admittedly teenage boys - purposely make themselves invincible with cheat codes so that the necessity of strategy and survival doesn't distract from the ultimate point of destruction.

Victory in this online board game was pretty much a foregone conclusion at mid-game. There was rally no need to mop up the remaining forces; nor mop up mine if I was losing, as I surely would have been on a more difficult setting. I get the fact that you can't easily program a video game to concede. But it didn't even occur to the designer to leave that part of the game out. Better and more thoughtful play isn't the point: total victory is.

Are there thoughtful video games, with explicit rules and goals, where the game is played, round by round, to calculated victory?

Monday, June 08, 2009

What's New in Board Game Blogs?

The board game blog world has been relatively stable. Most everyone who was blogging four months ago was blogging twelve months ago and is still blogging today. There are a few exceptions, and some blogs fell off of my radar. See my left sidebar for a complete list of board game blogs that I track.

If you know any blogs that discuss general board game topics and update at least once a month, drop me a line and I'll consider adding it. Thanks,

New (to me) blogs:

Beyond Candy Land - Eric Paradis, Stamford, CT. Board games for kids, with a Eurogame slant. Hasn't updated since April.

Board Game Doc - Lorien Green, NH. Making a board game documentary.

Board Game Master - Darren Nattinger, Austin, TX. Eurogame strategies and sessions.

Boston Board Game Examiner - Rebecca Merrill. Following Skip Maloney's Examiner site (generally called "Boar Game Examiner") come a number of city specific Examiner sites. Chris Ferejohn does the SF Board Game Examiner site, Robert Moyer the Pittsburgh Board Game Examiner site, and Joe O'Connor the Atlanta Board Game Examiner site.

Cumbersome - Seth Jaffee, Tucson, AZ, of Tasty Minstrel Games. Blog may be moving to his web site soon.

Ex-Teenage Rebel - Chris Pramas and Nicole (NikChik). Chris is president of Green Ronin Publishing.

Game Cryer - Allan Sugarbaker, with contributions from others. Game reviews.

GamePrinter - Ben Clark, Kalamazoo, IN. Blog for Imagigrafx, a printer (now also a board game printer). On printing and other aspects of the game industry.

Halesowen Boardgamers - Game group blog from Halesowen, UK. Session reports.

Inside Strategic Space - Mark Salzwedel, NY, NY. From the small publisher Strategic Space.

Material Poetics - Itai Raccah, Israel. Only two posts, so far.

Pinebars: Applying Board Game Mechanics - Denni Hoyle, MS. About game mechanics.

Seize the Play - Tim Walsh, FL. Game designer of Blurt and Tribond, author, and has a website The Playmakers. On his exploits and game thoughts.

Tabletop - Ian Henry, TX. Writes about classic abstracts.

The Messy Game Room - Mike and Marshall, a board game podcast.

The Play Forum - A group blog from TimetoPlay Magazine, more about toys than games.

Toms Board Games Blog - Tom Wakeford, Edinburgh, UK.


Friday, June 05, 2009

The Most Expensive Items on Amazon.com

Recently some kind Purple Pawn reader bought a 46" plasma HDTV through our affiliate code: clicked on a link through to Amazon.com from our site, navigated to the TV, and bought it. That extremely high-priced purchase netted us a tidy affiliate bonus. Thank you weirdo luxury fanatic, whomever you are.

In that spirit, I thought it might be helpful to point out some other ... uh ... luxury items that my kind, super-wealthy readers may have missed. Put otherwise, the most expensive items on Amazon in each category. (Rich Lafferty did this post two years ago, but times change.)

Be sure to click through this site if any strike your fancy.


Russian Sable Fur Jacket - Wing Collar - $29,995.00

This lovely fur coat retails for $70,000, but it's yours for the paltry sum of only $30,000. A reviewer writes:
Nothing but the best for these sables, who were given several hours of scheduled play-time with youngsters specially screened for gentleness. The animals were frequently reassured that they were "cute" or "adorable." The "harvest" was accomplished in the most humane way possible, as the animals were gradually bored to death by recordings of old Soviet agricultural 5-year plan discussions. As each animal expired, a blessing was chanted by a clergyman of the Church of the Sub-Genius.
Ridiculous scale: 3. Hand-made furs from rare animals have always commanded exorbitant prices.


Anchor 40x-580 Cylindercga/580 (100-40X-580) - $117,645.88

Yeah, I don't actually know what this is.

Ridiculous scale: I couldn't guess, but I'm going to have to say 9, given that this costs more than a new car. Several new cars.


Charades- Micro Fiber Plush Bunny - $9,999.99

I don't know if it comes with the plush carrot.

There's actually a tie in this category. Other products for $10,000 include this wooden Angel Line Glider Rocker, Big Rigs - Full Dust (a bed cover), a Dutailier Maple Ottoman, and LC Creations Save The Children Stay on Track Shelf with Pegs (a painted wooden coat hook).

Ridiculous factor: The ottoman I can see; I'll give that a 2. The rocking/slider is a bit pricey: 4. A $10,000 shelf or bunny suit? 10.


Kinerase Lip Treatment - $38,100

This is $38.00 on the kinerase site; what we have here is a slip of the old decimal point. (On the other hand, the seller probably makes a commission depending on the price, so I say go for it.)

A non-error product is La Mer Creme de La Mer. 500 ml for $1,700.00.

Ridiculous scale: 10.


Mrs. Skagg's Husbands. - $7,642,906.24

Yes, that's right. And 24 cents.

This may not count, since it's only sold used by a reseller. Spon's Architects' and Builders' Price Book 2009: Multi-user licence ships from Amazon for the paltry price of only $1,754,383.00.

Ridiculous scale: I guess that rare books can cost a lot of money, but the most expensive book ever sold was a first edition Shakespeare folio for $5 million. I'll give the first a 9, and the second a 10.

Camera and Photo

[USED] 1200/5.6L EF LENS (USM), 2527A001, 35mm Lenses - $120,000.00

Cameras is a sub-class of Electronics. Still worth a mention.

Ridiculous scale: 10



Once again, I have no idea what this is. They don't even provide a picture or description. I can tell you for sure that it's overpriced. Second place is a tie at $1,155,000 for either TSUNAMI MP.16 3500I SUBS INT 18DBI ANT 3.4-3.6 (a wireless antenna) and the ACE 12" Passive 2Way 800 Watt Speaker. A helpful comment: "When pointed at my neighbors and with the volume control set to '11', my neighbors house was reduced to dust. FCC license required."

Ridiculous scale: 11.

Everything Else

Harmensz van Rijn Rembrandt Etching Original Old Master - $275,000.00

An original Rembrandt c. 1649.

Ridiculous scale: 1.

Gourmet Food

Classic Grey Sevruga Caviar - 4.00 lb. / 1800 gr. (Free Overnight Shipping!) - $13,290.50

Better be free overnight shipping, as the stuff is perishable. As I keep kosher, I haven't a clue as to how much caviar should go for, but I still guess there's a limit to how much bang you can get for your buck at a price like this.

Ridiculous scale: 5


Parent Child Testing Product - $25,000

Yet another item about which I have no clue. I don't even know what it's doing in the grocery section. The next most expensive item is a $3,000 Stainless Steel Tandoor Oven 36.

Ridiculous scale: probably 10, but who can tell? The oven might be somewhat reasonable if you're into that sort of thing.


Queen Anne Cast Iron Table Base: Standard Height: 28.5" - $1,724,998.28

I'll go out on a limb and call this overpriced. What's it doing in the Health and Personal Care section? The next best item is this $100,000 F811-0297 Collecting Cell.

Ridiculous scale: 10

Home and Garden (also Tools)

HOE HNDL 54" W/FERRLE ASH - $2,555,557.99

You don't even get the whole hoe. Just the handle.

Runner up at $360,000.00: Meyda Tiffany 35'w Chandelier 72090.

Ridiculous scale: 10. Chandelier is high, but not unbelievable: 6.

Industrial and Scientific

Stainless Steel-Channels-Alloy- 304- 3 - $66,433.50

Once again I'm caught short. I hope it's not just the drawing. It weighs 33 pounds.

Runner up is an impressive looking TBS ATP1 Automated Tissue Processor; Floor model for $54,283.65.

Ridiculous scale: ??? but probably 7 or 8. Tissue processor is 1 or 2.


Platinum Sapphire and Diamond Necklace VAN CLEEF & ARPELS - $1,500,000.00

I admit it's pretty and it's got 100 cts of sapphires and 300 cts of diamonds.

Ridiculous scale: 3 for what it's worth, but spending money on rocks that cost this much is well past ridiculous.

Kindle Store

Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems (Part 4) - $6,431.20

This is a download. A download, people. And a DRM's download, at that. I love that it's part four, so you can't even make use of it unless you got the first three parts.

In the Video on Demand section, you have some videos at $600.

Ridiculous scale: 9 (might be worth something to someone)


Cru International Quarterly Market Service Reports Package - $59,254.74

No picture provides. I checked around and this is what the CRU group charges for their magazines. Seems a bit pricey to me, but I guess they only have to sell a few copies. On the other hand, they also sell services, which I'm guessing must be not much more expensive.

Ridiculous scale: 3


"Complete Set" of Presentations-Professional Use DVD Copy - $2,999.95

It's not that I can't imagine a set of DVDs costing $3,000. It's just that the run time for this one is ... wait for it ... 3 minutes.

In VHS, you have Milady's Standard Comprehensive Training for Estheticians [VHS] for $2,809.10.

Golden Islands Far From West DVD and Chato's Kitchen [VHS] arefor sale by external retailers for $100,000.

Ridiculous scale: 10


Essential Music Bundle - $3,615.44

Contains 178 essential CDs from music history, including rock, folk, opera, blues, and so on. Which is slightly over 20 bucks a disk. I can only assume that the roughly $2,000 too much that you're paying for this includes some kind of a neat booklet.

And you "Get $1 worth of MP3 downloads from Amazon MP3 after you order your item."

Something called Very Very Strong Wind is for sale by an external retailer for $100,000.

Ridiculous scale: 7

Musical Instruments

KolorGlobe XENON 4000 Architectural Moving-head Colour Changer (L557) - $31,600.00

It's a moving light that changes color. I'll guess that you can get pretty good versions of this for a wee bit cheaper.

Runner up is this $25,000 Gibson Custom Jeff Beck 1954 Les Paul Oxblood Aged Signed Electric Guitar personally hand-signed and played by Jeff Beck. One of fifty.

Ridiculous scale: 9.5 for the light, 2 for the guitar if you're into Beck.

Office Products

CNMMF6590 - ImageClass MF6590 Multifunction Printer - $79,799.00

Another slip of the decimal point, this should really be $797.99 . Another one is this Whittling Craft Knife Blade (680-11-111A) Category: Utility Knives; it only costs $160, but that's on sale from $102,400.00 .

Here's a $79,000.00 Curtis Australia Wildlife Warriors Endangered Species LTD Gem Set (6pcs) Fountain Pen.

Ridiculous scale: 10, including the pen.

Pet Supplies

Ring 5 Blow-DRY Creme Rinse - 1 Gal - $37,099.00

Pet supplies is a sub-category of home and garden.

I'm guessing there's another misplaced decimal point here. Instead, here's an $8,324.39 Deltec External Protein Skimmer AP1006.

Ridiculous scale: 10 for the shampoo. Probably a reasonable price for a protein skimmer, whatever that is.


Moschino Vernice Luce A7407 Shoulder Bag - $7,695.00

I don't really get the fancy handbag obsession. And this one is made in China, so even more so. Doesn't even look that nice. What's this doing in shoes, anyway?

Here. For $5,926.95 you can get some Esquivel Men's W.K. Dress Shoe.

Ridiculous scale: 8


Zetafax 5 User Starter System Business Edition - $1,155,000.00

A million dollar fax server. They also have over $100,000 technical support deals.

And this lovely science information disk, Cells (works on Win 98 and Mac) is available from an external seller for $8,496,425.80 .

Ridiculous scale: 10

Sports and Outdoors

Dublin Reserve Lace Up Ladies Paddock Boot - $49.90 - $214,061.00

I don't know what that pricing means. I'm pretty sure it's only $49.90.

Instead, here's 1930's Hall of Fame Autographed Baseball PSA/DNA: six baseballs autographed by nearly every famous early ball player. $44,805.00 .

Ridiculous scale: boots probably don't count. Baseballs: 1.

Toys and Games

deer four-sofa composition by moroso of italy - $34,104.00

No idea. Maybe it's a couch. Probably not a toy or a game.

A little detective work turned up this:

Princess Mega Series Modular Playground 5 Inch Posts - $43,102.33

which doesn't show up on the regular search.

Here's a $24,000 La Petite Maison Cottage Playhouse.

Ridiculous scale: house is 5, but rich kids need their playthings, I guess.

Video Games

Beyerdynamic Headzone PC Gaming Digital Surround Sound System with MMX300 Digital Headset with Microphone - $2,018.98

A paltry price for a system this lovely. Actually, the most expensive item here is a ATA-300A 300cc Air Cooled ATV for $2,359.00, but this really belongs in Toys.

Ridiculous scale: 1


Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Mens Watch 25984OR.OO.1138OR.01 - $380,000.00

I would expect watches to be lumped in with jewelery, actually. This watch may seem expensive, but it's 46% off its retail price of $707,500.00.

Ridiculous scale: 7. Expensive watches are a given, but really.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Session Report, in which I decively win a game of Antike

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion, Magic: the Gathering, Antike, Power Grid, It's Alive, Path, Atlantic Star.

I decisively win a game of Antike through military might. I still love It's Alive. I dust off Atlantic Star to see if people want to keep it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Jungle Speed

My eldest daughter stopped playing games with us after The Settlers of Catan turned into The Cities & Knights of Catan (and then all the rest of the Eurogames). The one exception is Apples to Apples, which she loved to play with her friends, even though many were native Israeli and A2A features English and American culture.

So it was surprising to hear that she found a new game to play with her friends that she liked so much, she actually went and bought a copy of it. It's Jungle Speed.

Jungle Speed is a deck of cards and a wooden "totem" or stick that stands up on its end. It comes in a drawstring bag. It's a pattern recognition / speed reaction game, not the only one of its kind (there's an Israeli-invented game called Halli Galli which is pretty similar and has a bell instead of a totem).

Going around in a circle, each play reveals a card from his or her personal deck. Whenever two people have cards with the same pattern revealed (color doesn't matter), whichever one of them grabs the totem first gives all of his or her cards to the loser. First player to have no cards left wins.

Additional cards add some twists: one causes it to be color, and not patterns. One causes all players to simultaneously reveal a new card. One requires all players to grab the totem (first to do so places their cards under the totem, which are given to the next player who loses a grab). Some of the patterns are quite close and so designed to cause confusion. Grabbing the totem when you're not supposed to gains you all cards in play.

I admit, it's a great game for the right age group - I think I'm just past that age group now, unfortunately. More to the point, the game concept is a great idea, and probably any number of similar games would be just as enjoyable. You could probably play with with a standard deck of playing cards and some odd rules (such as jacks and sevens are matches) to make the game confusing and interesting.

Anyhoo, I played it for the first time against three teenagers and lost thoroughly. Of course, they were all experienced with the different patterns, and so had an easier time distinguishing when they matched and didn't.

Pictures of my first encounter with the game here.

Some other games: I played Scrabble with Rachel and lost by about 70 points, even after I played LAV onto ROOMED to make VROOMED. I played bridge online at BrigeBase.com for a few hours. Probably a few others which I can't recall right now.

And I have 12 spanking new copies of It's Alive to sell (Israel only; I don't want to undercut my publisher) or give away. I'm going to give at least one away in my 2,000th post here (I passed 2,000 on Purple Pawn a while ago).

Monday, June 01, 2009

It's a Game, It's Not a Game, Whatever: It's Art

Last week I discovered The Path, an interactive piece of software developed by Tale of Tales. You navigate one of six young girls away from the short and easy path to her grandmother's house and into the woods to discover things and people, and her "personal wolf". Much of the onscreen activity comes from the software, rather than from any sort of direct control.

Is it a Game?

First things first: notice that I didn't say "game" in the above paragraph. Why not?

The home page of The Path describes the work as "a short horror game", and you are exhorted to buy the "game". Yet, on the About page of Tale of Tales, they claim that their purpose is
to create elegant and emotionally rich interactive entertainment. We explicitly want to cater to people who are not enchanted by most contemporary computer games, or who wouldn’t mind more variety in their gameplay experiences. For this purpose, all of our products feature innovative forms of interaction, engaging poetic narratives and simple controls.
Games are one type of interactive entertainment, but not the only type. The above paragraph is nearly devoid of the word "game", except insofar as their aim is to target people who play games with something different. Instead, they call their work "interactive entertainment", or "products" with "interaction", "narratives", and "controls".

Similarly, on the bottom of their site is a small About box, which reads
We make interactive projects that often take place in virtual spaces. Our motivation is mostly artistic. We want to discover and exploit the enormous expressive potential of realtime technology.
"Interactive projects", "realtime technology".

So what is The Path? Is it a game? Is it even entertainment? Is it an interactive experience?

The Problem with Calling This a Game

The problem with calling The Path a "game" is that people then evaluate it as a game.

As a game, it is perforce classified as entertainment and recreation. As a game, it is contrasted to other games with regards to fun, replayability, accessibility, decision-making, flow, strategy, excitement. These are yardsticks for evaluating games.

But it is evident that The Path is not meant to be most of these things. It is deliberately trying to tap other emotions other than fun, isn't concerned with replayability, provides more story than decisions, has no defined goal on which to hang strategy, and is meant to produce a very different type of excitement.

A great number of critics of The Path, lulled by the word "game" and the criteria as to which all games must perforce satisfy, see fit to criticize The Path as falling short in one or more of these criteria.

Other critics take issue with all designers of products such as these, claiming that people who design non-fun, non-replayable "games" should stop sullying the name of games, and stop looking to games to make artistic points. In their eyes, games can't make these points, because that's not what games do.

Maybe they are right. If you DEFINE quality in a game as fun, replayable, goal-oriented, flow, and so on, then these are not quality games. And one can never make a quality artistic game, because by definition, cognizance of art is and can never be more than an interruption in the flow of the drive to win. Beautiful graphics and lovely game play are by necessity lost within flow, strategy, and goal-orientation. Winning, as a goal, is antithetical to the concept of art, at a very core level. And so if a game requires you to win, any message irrelevant to winning can only detract from the game.

I have no issue with this. I don't like to argue about what "should" be the definition of "game". If that's your definition, then we just have to come up with another word for what projects like The Path are. Just be aware that others will argue that game could consist of interactive activities that are not necessarily goal-oriented or fun.

The confusion arises because this software is designed by a "game company" for a "game platform" and called a "game". But can only games can be created by game publishers or experienced on game platforms? You can watch movies on most game platforms, can't you?

Is it a Movie?

Rather than be held up to the standards of a game, what if we consider The Path a movie?

If you go into a movie expecting a game, you're bound to be disappointed. No controls! No goals! Movies, or more broadly theater, television, film, and other performance arts, have their own criteria for quality: visuals, sound, composition, acting, plot, theme, and so on.

How does The Path rate as a movie? Anyone?

No, It's Not Quite a Movie

You can fail to finish a movie, like you can fail to finish a game. A movie might present difficult to understand metaphors that are a challenge to understand. A game gives you challenges that you must overcome; however, these are typically overcome by discovering some spot on the board or control sequence, not through epiphany.

We expect movies to be non-interactive, and for good reason. Part of the art of movie making is pacing, narrative juxtapositions, specific shot angles, story arc, and so on. You could create an interactive movie that is simply a "choose your own adventure", where all of these are guaranteed regardless of what choices are made. But that's a very low level of interactivity.

Most games allow you to move forward and backward, in endless loops, angle screens from various directions, and fail to complete part of the narrative. Can that ever really produce a cogent work of art?

What is it?

What do we do with interactive entertainment that is not a "game" and not a "movie"? They appear to be more movie than game, if we burden game with all sorts of requirements that non-goal oriented activities, or even goal-oriented but non-win oriented activities don't have. We could simply call them interactive movies.

Interactive entertainment borrows from both games and movies. It's somewhat interesting that game developers, and not movie producers/directors, have been primarily the ones interested in making them, since conventional wisdom seems to think that they're more like movies than like games.

The reason for this is that even those dipping their toes into these waters so often labor under the illusion that they must include game trappings. There is still a feeling of having to throw in entertaining game play or the possibility of winning, or goals, or quests. None of this is truly necessary. But when they are not, what is there in its place? You have to fill the void with something gripping.

The Path

Reviews: fidgit, Slate, Brainy Gamer, Videogamer, IGN, neoSeeker, Eurogamer, Bit-Tech, Horror Style, Die Hard Gamer Fan (truly hates the game, and gives spoilers), Joystiq, Escapist, Pop Matters, GameZone, Indie Gamer, and many more.

I am not a video gamer. This is the first video game I've bought since Myst, a game I also didn't understand or complete. The only other video games I've played (since around 1990) are online board game implementations and Minesweeper.

That makes me a complete newbie with regards to video games. As a newbie, I am unused to devoting more than ten minutes to a single-player game - I devote an entire day to tabletop games, but usually a dozen different ones throughout the day, and interspersed with social and strategic interaction. The Path is puzzle.

I'm not into puzzles. I don't enjoy wandering around trying to find deliberately obscure clues and items; I enjoy trying to work out metaphors in movies, but only because there is no single right solution. In a puzzle game, there is usually only one right solution and no clues that you're even getting closer. And the solution is usually pressing the right key or crossing the right square, which is hardly deep; it's methodical.

I spent two hours wandering around in the game, discovering things, interacting with things, and collecting things. I admired the personalities of two of the girls, and suspect that there is a whole lot more to discover, but I couldn't be bothered to continue. Nearly all of the things I see in the above reviews are not things that I discovered myself; I wouldn't know they exist unless those who actually know video games and had the determination and hours of time to complete them neatly wrapped them up in an article for me to read in a few minutes.. Maybe I'll give it another go some other time.

That's where I have a problem: as a game, of course it's slow, ponderous, and not really rewarding. As a movie, it's slow, ponderous, and not really insightful over the first few hours. If the entire thing could be played in 2 hours AND I would be guaranteed to discover everything within that time, I would probably think that it was an amazing game. But The Path is obviously aimed at experienced video gamers who know what to expect. Not movie goers and what they expect.

For someone like me, whose never played a long game, I can't possibly devote 12 hours to it to get this experience. Give me a boiled down version of the game and I'll love it. Make it into a movie. If interactive games are going to be this long, they're not going to reach the public any time soon.

Further reading: see my articles on games and art, and games and winning.