The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - May, 2005

Simon Johnston: I would strongly disagree with Dave Shapiro's assertion (in his review of Doom) that Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation does not succeed in translating the theme of the original source material.

In Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, the dark forces can generally crush the light forces in combat, although the good guys may get in a few lucky blows (such as Merry taking down the Witch King). But this is often to no avail if Frodo can't be found, and slips though the net to throw the ring into Mount Doom. Gandalf can return from the dead and Sauron can use the Palantir to search for the Ring.

Given that the game consists of a gameboard of 16 spaces and two opposing forces of nine characters, nine combat cards and two special cards, I think the game does a very good job of translating the events of Lord of the Rings into a quick 30 minute game. Both it and Knizia's Lord of The Rings show that you don't have to take the big-game, "simulate the entire world" approach of War of the Ring, to successfully have theme.

Jared Scarborough: Bruno Faidutti's article Testing and Prototypes is written from the perspective of a top-flight designer. Because he is known as one of only a handful of superstar designers, he apparently has no difficulty enticing gamers to playtest his ideas, and so it matters little that his prototypes are relatively crude in execution. Potential players know they're in for a treat.

Designers with less of a reputation are likely to find playtest volunteers less than eager to try out an uninspired, chickenscratch prototype when there are so many dazzling design gems to be played.

So, the opposite of Faidutti's advice is perhaps the more likely. If you've got a great idea for a game, but you're having trouble finding willing guinea pigs, enhance the components and graphics, the better to rope 'em in.

True, once you've got a terrific illustration for a particular card, or you've ordered just the right bits, it's sometimes hard to abandon the "perfect fit". But this is a problem of self-discipline, rather than the more basic problem of getting your design tested again and again. Besides, once the move to a computer-generated design is made, it's a simple matter to adjust numbers or switch files. The mapboard for Manifest Destiny, the new Age of Renaissance-based design from GMT, went through nearly a dozen versions during playtesting. One commodity or another was tried out in a different location. The on-board payout chart was adjusted. Boundaries between regions were changed. The Profit Index was overhauled. Granted, that can be a strain on one's printer, but, again, not all designers have a dedicated cadre of playtesters.

Then there's thematic depth. Not all themes will allow for deep congruities between mechanics and the realm of possibilities inherent in a theme. But the more time one spends exploring and embellishing, the less likely one is to end up with a paste-on theme that's made to fit the mechanics. For example, when I first heard about The Bridges of Shangri-La I was very excited and looked forward to buying and playing the game. As the reviews started to come in, however, I soon realized that while the mechanics may or may not have been well thought through, the theme was little more than a story made up to make sense of the mechanics. Most likely the prototype was a chickenscratch affair with little time invested in its execution.

And while the opposite can also be true (just try playing most kids games without the requisite silly mood), there's no reason why the design process needs to favor either theme or mechanics. By enjoying the creative process to the fullest and expecting to work for not months, but years on a given project, the amateur game designer can hope to create a deeply satisfying world of fun.

Ward Batty: Two additional things have emerged in the discussions I've been having with retailers and others since the article in March's issue appeared.

The first and most important is that anyone interested in starting a store should also seriously consider buying an existing store in their area. One could very easily buy an existing store for much less than it would cost to start new. You can always improve the store once you buy it, and you have an established clientele of customers from day one. Not including that option to everyone considering opening a store in the article was an oversight on my part. It could well be the easiest and best way to go, in general.

Another possibility is to scale back your ambitions to something more part-time. Become a junior investor in a local shop and offer to do the boardgame section. Another possibility might be to be more like a rack-jobber, following a model of Entenmann's (among many others) where they stock each store based on what sells in that particular store. There are lots of alternatives to the traditional game store model and the online discount model. So it need not be an all-or-nothing proposition.

John Kaufeld: Joe Huber did a great job with his reviews of three popular books about Monopoly, but he missed a very important title: The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle by Ralph Anspach. If someone wants to read about Monopoly, this is where they should start.

In his review of The Monopoly Companion, Joe notes that the book "kicks off with a correction of the Darrow myth". Why does the book start that way? Because of Ralph Anspach, his game Anti-Monopoly, and a ruling by nothing less than the United States Supreme Court that Darrow stole Monopoly from its rightful creators—and that Parker Brothers knew the truth all along.

It's a fascinating read, filled with mystery and intrigue, particularly for anybody who loves games. I wholeheartedly recommend adding this important book to your list of reviews!

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