The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - July, 2005

Jacob Lee: I really appreciated the Ethics in Gaming article because it outlined many aspects of gaming that most people probably never thought of putting into words to use as a guideline. I had little argument against Yehuda's points, but I did want to comment on a couple of things:

Trashtalking—I can't imagine why anyone would have the patience to endure someone trashtalking him/her. It does make sense to say this beforehand if playing with strangers. However, if it were to occur, I feel that it shouldn't be the responsibility of the recipient to have to say something. The rest of the group should take the initiative to eliminate the trashtalking that was said.

Takebacks—My general rule is takebacks are allowed once in one turn as long as the next person hasn't taken their turn. In my book, even if the next person was all ready to go and made their move a half-second after the previous turn was done, the previous turn was completed and cannot be taken back. In a game where each player has two or three "actions" (i.e. Goa, Torres), if a player took their first action and then realized it wasn't helpful, I don't have a problem if he takes it back, performs his first action again and then his second action. People may argue about this, but if you're only allowed to do it once a turn, it won't slow the game down too much. And a move taken back has no bearing on the game in that nobody was influenced by it because nobody had a chance to be affected by the player's "mistake".

This happened to me late last night. I tried to take back an action less than a second after I completed it, but was caught by someone who didn't think it was fair. He liked the "chess rule" where if you let go of the piece, the action cannot be undone. Because we didn't discuss the rule prior to playing, I asked if we could take a vote on if I could take the action back and I said I was okay with whatever the group decided on. It was the last round of the game and I admitted I had a good chance of winning if I was allowed to undo my move. The vote was 2-2 and they allowed me to be the tie breaker (hard to believe, I know). One of my supporters said that he didn't want me to lose "on a simple technicality". If my afterthought move granted me a win, he thought I deserved it.

Since I was the tie breaker, I did vote for myself, but not before someone asked me what I would do if the same thing happened to them to which I explained my general rule mentioned above. I didn't make it up last night either. I've always believed in what I said. I came in third place.

Mario Lanza: I found Ethics in Gaming to be one of the best articles on gaming in a long while. It was conclusive and covered most of the critical points that have arisen in games among my friends. I'll probably re-read it to try to digest it better and decide how exactly to apply it to my thinking. I must admit the author posed some interesting points that have me considering my own views and exploring ones I hadn't much considered.

For example, regarding kingmaking the author states "you should strive to 'do the least' possible, so that the outcome will be swayed as little as possible by your direct actions." While I don't try to make a move that decides a game between two other players, I usually chose the move I like best tactically without regard to kingmaking. In the interest of fairness it is perhaps not a bad idea to choose the move of least consequence especially when it makes to difference to my finishing position. This, of course, raises the question, Has either of the frontrunners anticipated my best final move and based their final move upon that? Ahh... things to ponder.

Pete Minall: As a UK retailer, I would like to wade in with my two pence worth about Cooperative games. [GGA - see Raising Gamers 2.0]

We have hundreds and hundreds of games in the shop and Cooperative games are one of our most often looked at areas. I can only support the games that Jim Deacove produces and we sell many to families who are delighted that play can be non confrontational as well as educational. Our customers base for these games range from out and out gamers for Shadow over Camelot or Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings to church groups, Woodlanders, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Social Services, OAP's, grandparents, kids, hippies, housewives, Steiner Schools, teenagers and adults. In fact they appeal to people in a total cross section of our community.

Cooperative Games are a great and popular addition to the wonderful world of board games that we all adore and love. Surely there is room for all peoples gaming tastes and because you happen not to find a particular type or style of game to your taste, that does not diminish the value other people get from them or their validity. Of course Harvest Time is not going to appeal to someone that likes San Juan, but those two games would have been bought for differing gaming reasons. Gaming is such a small community in the grand scale of things and I applaud Jim Deacove and his team for not only putting their money where their mouth is and producing a product they and thousands of others truly believe in, but it is valid and gives fun as well as their educational value to many. They help to provide the amazing world of games with the diversity of choice that we now have, they add to choice and light and dark. The alternative of course, could be a few games made by one huge multinational conglomeration that want your money and are not really interested in your needs or pleasure. Isn't it great that we are all different and there is a place for all games. I hate marzipan and Broad Beans, but I would not put pen to paper to ask people to stop growing them.

Yehuda Berlinger: Regarding the article on dice, I have always maintained a similar idea that Dave made at the beginning of the article, namely that there is no real relationship between "randomness" (what Dave calls "chaos") and luck (what Dave calls "randomness")

The examples I give are as follows:

A "random" game without almost no "luck" whatsoever is 2-player Through the Desert. The game changes every time, but the random elements are configured and done before the game begins. After that, each player makes his moves with total knowledge, and control, excepting his opponent's choices. The only element of luck involved is if the tile arrangement perhaps gives one player an advantage for going first.

A "luck" game is roll a die, highest roll wins.

Confusing the two drives me crazy, because one happens before the game starts and one happens while the game happens. One can be planned for and around, and one can't. The randomness of Settlers (the arrangement of the tiles) is very different from the luck in Settlers (the dice rolls).

Darrell Hanning: In this article [GGA - German Games are Fraudulent], you said about certain Avalon Hill games of the 1970s and 1980s, "These are all games that had to fit their mechanics within a theme and I think they benefit from this restriction."

The assertion that conventional, American strategy games fit mechanics within a theme is a bit of putting the cart before the horse, I think.

When a game is, from a philosophical point of view, a "simulation", the designer identifies what key elements he wishes to model, from that which is being simulated. (In the case of some designers, this process of identification can go too far, thus rendering the game virtually unplayable, but no matter—the principle is the same.)

Certain elements of the modeled "situation" lend themselves easily to certain game mechanisms. For instance, in a game with ranged weapons, using a map scale that supports farther-reaching weapons is an obvious candidate, as is the simpler method of allowing the player owning such weapons some sort of first-strike advantage. In a game of territorial control, forces move and contest possession. My point being that the designer in question has a situation he wishes to model, and has at his disposal certain mechanisms which model various aspects of the situation. He selects those he favors in incorporating aspects within his model, or comes up with new ones if he feels this is merited.

In the case of most European-style games, the premise of the idea of the game is slightly different. While the theme more often than not does still come first, what the designer usually seeks is a competition of various strategies, and/or interaction between players. In other words, such a designer is not truly attempting to "model" a situation; rather, he is using the situation as an inspiration.

The difference might be summarized as being analogous to the difference between the soundtrack of Saving Private Ryan and The 1812 Overture. The former attempts to realistically model the sounds of a situation; the latter attempts instead to provide an atmosphere.

I think the "strong thematic connection" to which you allude in your article is a measure of original intent by the designer—whether to accurately model or not. The aims are not the same, and thus the results are substantially different.

If you seek an amalgam, then they are out there—Wallenstein and Struggle of Empires are two examples. But in both cases, I think it's safe to say the subject matter is conventional warfare during a specific period, and I think it's further safe to say modeling that situation was, in fact, the intent of the designer.

What Alan Moon gives us with Union Pacific is a theme-based competition of investment in entities involved in path-bound growth. If you look at the board again, I think you'd realize that it is not just a simple matter of putting trains out in the middle of the table; there are a number of "choke points" and "optimum nodes" found on that board which are of profound, strategic value.

What Mayfair gives us with Empire Builder, while coming closer to modeling construction of pathways found in rail construction, has its own serious "disconnects", such as the absurd restrictions on how many RR companies could actually go between two points on a board of that scale, and the complete lack of a stock/investment model. In between the two, you would find Wallace's Age of Steam, and perhaps this is what you seek in having written this article.

But Age of Steam is not everyone's cup of tea, and as good as it is, Ticket to Ride sells better.

There is room in the industry for all flavors, all philosophies, and "cross-pollination" is inevitable. Thus, you get Age of Mythology (a "hybrid" if I ever saw one), Twilight Imperium 3, the aforementioned Struggle of Empires, and a host of others. There is no need to press for such a thing, and there is no need to force abstract designers into an inappropriate mold.

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