The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - September, 2000

Steve "Mythboy": Please don't be too shy on the game reviews. Sure, there are lots of them out there but it's always interesting to read someone else's considered spin. And given the editorial quality of your publication so far I think it's safe to say that your opinions will soon become well respected.

Would be interesting to know why some games are not reviewed too. I hit Brett and Board regularly to review Mik's ratings but I've often been surprised at what's not on his list. Why? Has he never played them or were they not even worthy of a 0?!.

GGA - The easiest explanation is that he hasn't played or seen them. There's a limited amount of time people can devote to this hobby so naturally you're forced to be selective about things. The problem that arises is how "inbred" the community can become: Players read about a game (Mik's site being an excellent example), buy it, play it and then review it elsewhere. So what happens is that the same group of games is sucking up the lions share of the discussion. A smaller game just might slip through the cracks. No one has written about it and so even fewer try it out and we're in a downward spiral. This more than anything else is the reason I'd like to focus on under-appreciated games. Hopefully this will encourage some of you out there to put pen to paper (finger to keyboard?) and review some buried treasure others have overlooked.

Kevin Maroney: The clearest example of budgeted action points in a wargame might be Sorcerer, a Redmond Simonsen title published by SPI in 1975. The key units in this game, the titular Sorcerers, each had a certain number of points they could use in a turn for various tasks—primarily moving around and casting spells, although there were some odd tasks like garrisoning troops.

Sid Sackson's Major Campaigns of George S. Patton also has an action point system—the players flip up cards to reveal how many actions they get to take in moving and attacking.

Neither of these is really historical—Sorcerer is wild fantasy and Patton is very "German-game"-ish. I'm sure there must be others, and other models.

Earle Davis: I just read your article about open or closed Acquire holdings. [Open and Closed]

I run an Acquire League in the Chicago area and I also play the game both socially and for very small stakes with friends. In all three venues, we play the game with open money and holdings.

Clearly, playing an open game levels the playing field somewhat among players with varying memory skills, but the most compelling reason for playing the game open, one that was not mentioned in your article, is that it enables any player to audit the money and holdings of other players for accuracy at any time. Without the ability to audit, how else can one be certain that each player has paid the correct amount to the bank for said purchases, or taken the correct number of certificates from the bank, or received the correct amount of change.

That said, I understand the position of those people who prefer a closed game. An interesting aside, I know of an Acquire player from San Francisco who, being a world class tournament Bridge player, has a phenomenal memory. Playing a closed game, at the conclusion of a game, he can immediately tell you each player's net worth without seeing their money or holdings. Pretty impressive.

Most informative in your article was the revelation about the inclusion of a new rule in the most recently released version of Acquire regarding the issue of open or closed holdings, "Players must now decide as a group whether the money and stocks they acquire will be openly displayed." I support this position.

Harlan Rosenthal: A suggestion: You have a new puzzle, which I found interesting and printed to send to my son at camp. I also see the link to the solution of last month's puzzle. Is the old puzzle still available? In fact, I envision the "puzzle" page having links to the puzzles (and solutions) of all past puzzles.

GGA - All the older content from previous months is available in its original form on the Archives page.

Donna Hainsworth: I would like to know how to acquire the rights or what protocols are required to buy the rights of an "out of print" board or card game.

Kevin Maroney: The situation is going to be different for every game. The short answer is, contact the most recent publisher of the game and try to determine who owns what rights to the game. If the most recent publisher can't be found, try to find the designer. Be aware that sometimes the rights are so tangled or obscured that it might not be possible to re-publish something, and that sometimes people simply disappear off the face of the earth.

Frank Branham: Um. First find the proper copyright holder. Many authors seem to set in contracts that the rights to produce a game revert back to them after a period of years. So the author would be the likely choice.

Large companies—Hasbro are more likely to keep the rights permanently. But I know two folks who have licensed games from large companies who would be good to contact: Winning Moves, and Endless Games.

GGA - Kevin and Frank have pretty much summed up everything I can say on this subject. More detailed information can be found in this month's article: Acquiring Game Rights by Phil Orbanes.

Kurt Weihs: I read your comments with interest [Non-Predatory Games]. I have absolutely no training in logic or game theory though I have lots of anthropology experience, and have been an avid gamer since I was old enough to hold a pawn and a pair of dice.

What a challenge you have laid at our feet. Can we make this new game? How do we define a game that lacks the elements we traditionally associate with gaming?

My first question is this... does culture determine and shape the game or does the game shape the culture? As in all things I suspect an amount of both. Has there been a big enough paradigm shift in our culture to create a change in gaming? I don't think so. Brutality and warfare are as big a problem today as ever. I believe violent conflict is even more prevalent today than it has been since the beginning of the cold war. After the genocidal conflicts in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia I am surprised Checkers hasn't become the game of choice around the world.

It would be wonderful to be able to come up with a game that is challenging, does not involve predation, and can influence behavior. The key word is challenging, though. Predatory games appeal to me. I am not the overzealous winning is everything kind of person and thoroughly enjoy a game of Cranium whether I win or lose, but the chief appeal in games for me is essentially predatory. Overcoming the obstacles that threaten my survival. I am truly a child of my culture. To become a child of this other, kinder, gentler culture I would almost have to be born into it. On a gut level I don't think the games of that culture would appeal to me as much as the ones of my culture already do (guess I shouldn't knock it until I try it though).

The other problem is definition. Many people define gaming by the very aspects you suggest removing to accomplish the paradigm shift. We are Plato's people in the cave trying to describe the game that sits outside the entrance. We can see the reflection of the pieces and board on the wall but are unable to describe anything beyond its basic fundamentals. So I am stuck trying to define a game without using the concept of conflict. Remove conflict and games become other creative parts of our, love, education, and art. This new game you suggest sits on the very tip of my tongue but my 20th (and 19th, 18th etc.) century mind is unable to verbalize what you are looking for. So here is the real challenge... our culture has yet to prove itself worthy of a game that exists without conflict and predation so the game is going to have to change culture to make it worthy of it. Not only that but we have to make this game with concepts that are unknown to us except in the form of ideals and vague realities.

Play SimCity lately? hmmm...

Kate Jones: Thank you for your thoughtful letter. Indeed I am aware that I am pushing against the weight of millennia of cultural conditioning, and even DNA-encoded behavior. But I am not against "conflict" per se, only against the destruction of and predation against fellow humans. Kin survival should teach us that we ourselves are not the enemy, we ourselves are not resources to be devoured. It is, in my view, an aberration of what Nature, or evolution, originally programmed into life forms. It may, in fact, be the original sin. The allegory of Cain slaying Abel.

As an anthropologist you are probably more keenly aware and knowledgeable of how humans everywhere and everywhen charge into battle in competition for scarce resources. My whole point is that the conflict is not against those other humans but against the scarcity itself. How much better to team up and pool our knowledge and experience to solve the problem of scarcity rather than slaughter our rivals. Brain, not brawn, is the hallmark of humankind.

The enjoyment game players derive from achieving symbolic survival can be transferred to the solving of problems rather than training even children to expect emotional satisfaction from hurting others.

So, I look forward to such a game idea, perhaps from you? I believe the culture is ready for such a shift. Thirty years of Star Trek and the Roddenberry vision are reassuring evidence.

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