How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Rhapsodies on games, gaming, and why we play.

Category: Boardgames

On Mastery of Systems

by berv

This morning, anbrewk sent around a link to the Wikipedia article on Chess960, a chess variant that randomizes the starting positions of the back row of pieces. Much as in those days of yore when we all lived under the same roof, a conversation started up.

berv: OH GOOD

anbrewk: I think this actually looks really exciting and eliminates the frustrations presented with playing someone who simply memorized opening moves (something I think you, berv (or maybe Frange?) had expressed as a negative component of the game).

“The random setup (if it did not equate to the classic starting position) renders the opportunity of obtaining an advantage through the memorization of opening moves impracticable, compelling players to rely instead on their talent and creativity.”

berv: Yeah! It was me. I hadn’t thought about it that way. That would indeed solve some of my issues with chess (which were some of the same issues I had with the original Starcraft) while retaining the mind-fuck ten-moves-in-advance challenge of the game. I’m still not sure if it’s for me, but it’s a step in the right direction, IMO.

Upon further reflection, I think this actually makes the game a degree harder. Across multiple plays, one can’t get used to where pieces begin, and so would be forced to better understand the pieces in multiple contexts. No longer could you rely on bishops to guard your king; you’d have to adapt and find your new and alternate guard. I wonder if there are setups that would make for faster games (i.e. king in a particularly vulnerable position)? Hm.  A knight in a corner has only one legal move at the beginning of the game. Interesting.

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The powerful nature of games.

by anbrewk

First, the idea that games have a ‘nature’ requires some kind of explication which I am totally unprepared to do.  However short-sighted my title may be, I’m am excited enough about games as to consider that ‘game’ is some kind of limiting concept that not everything falls into and in this very liberal sense, I think games have a nature that other things don’t have.  Essentially I am saying there are things that are games and there are things that are not games and that the things that are games are of the same kind, despite perhaps appearing different. In this limited sense I’m saying they have a ‘nature’ – something that ties them together as being the same kind. Before I continue with what I know is going to be a feeble attempt to describe what strikes me as the nature of games, allow me to direct you to another post on another blog that does a really nice job talking about games. Now that you have that, I feel less bad about what I am going to write and what you’re going to end up reading.

I don’t really want to set out to define games so I don’t know why I started with such an epic opening paragraph. And I don’t even like the term ‘nature.’ It’s so messy and normative. But I’m going to leave that paragraph up anyway and continue on just like we were talking. All I really want to do is talk about games. I want to express my enthusiasm for play and gaming and maybe organize the thoughts I’m having in my head.  I think I’ll start by saying that play and games are different.  While play may be described as a  joyous expression, games are structured events.  If play was an ephemeral moment of joy, a game would be a mechanism to capture that moment.  Though maybe not all games. War games are not about joy, they are about practice and training. Play amongst predatory animals is closer to war games than hopscotch and hopscotch isn’t much of a game at all.  But let’s not worry ourselves with answering the questions these examples seem to bring up. Let’s worry ourselves with thinking of examples and then maybe try to sort them. I don’t want to solve anything here. I just want to talk about games and then maybe make a couple helpful distinctions here and there.

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Strategic Bluffing: A Review of ‘Lord of the Rings – The Confrontation’

by frangibility

I’ve recently been introduced to Reiner Knizia‘s Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation by one of my room-mates and I have to say that it is every bit as good as I hoped it would be. If I had any trepidation going it, it was simply due to the good doctor’s prolific output: over 350 games at last count. As such, even though he has designed some of my favourites (including Tigris and Euphrates, Modern Art, Samurai, and Battle Line), you will also see his imprimatur on far less noteworthy titles. Fortunately, I didn’t need to worry: LOTR – The Confrontationis a clever and engaging two-player game that packs a lot of strategy and enjoyment into 30 minutes or less.

So, what kind of game is LOTR – The Confrontation? If you imagine taking the fun part of Stratego (i.e., the initial stage of planning and set-up) and combining it with a system of semi-blind bids for combat resolution (think: Dungeon Twister), as well as asymmetric player powers and victory conditions, you basically have this game. To be more specific, it plays out as follows: each player selects one of the two sides (Fellowship or Sauron), retrieves their single-sided counters and freely positions them upon their side of the diamond-shaped board, following some fairly simply placement rules. The Fellowship player’s goal is to run the ring-bearer into Mordor – the region that represents the Sauron player’s “base;” conversely, the Sauron player’s goal is either to kill the ring-bearer (easier said than done) or to run any three of its units into The Shire (the Fellowship base). The movement rules are very simple: on each turn, a player *must* move a unit forward (or sideways if you are in the forest squares on the Sauron side). Since the board is diamond shaped, this means that each move on your side of the board allows you to choose between two different target squares, whereas moving onto enemy turf is always going to be unidirectional.
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