A Seat at the Table: Serious Games

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There Will Be Games

Jonathan Volk continues with Episode 2 of A Seat at the Table, looking at gaming’s obsession with serious, “complex” games. The first episode, “Playtime”, can be found here.

 

1. Serious Games Criticism

Is Gloomhaven the best board game of all time? No. 

One thing I should mention: I have not played Gloomhaven.

#sorrynotsorry

Maybe I should back up a second to explain my criticism.

I take perverse pleasure reading the comments of online games criticism, where a certain kind of reader can usually be found screaming for a critical “objectivity”. Stick to the measurable facts of the THING, you weenie, these readers demand. It would seem that for many gamers out there, their chief interest in games criticism is reportage of the inarguable—that the thing is a thing; it is molecularly consistent, so far as we, those rare collections of idiot molecules that can talk about other molecules, can tell; gravity conspires against it in the usual ways; and its intangible qualities—mechanics, themes, narrative—are regurgitated to the reader in prayerful burps. The usual pathways of criticism have all but decayed, where someone (who we once unironically called a critic, replaced by one who we now unironically call an influencer) sits, for a time, with a cultural object to argue why said object demands (or doesn’t) others give up their precious time to it. Now, it is quite common for readers to show up to criticism already certain that the object, which they haven’t touched with their hands (nevermind their minds), is worth their time and, if the critic tells them otherwise, they demand the critic shut up and stick to the facts. Not only do we no longer want critics to do their jobs, we want to punish them for bothering to look for work in the first place. In this line of thinking, criticism is useful and virtuous only when it puts into words the thoughts we supposed we had, if we’d only bothered to put them into words ourselves. This hostility to criticism is like calling the fire department when your house is burning down and, as the fire fighters arrive, unspooling their hoses and aiming at the flickering calamity, propping their articulating ladder against the second floor window where you’re trapped and beginning to climb up toward the flames, and toward you, you give the ladder an evil shove. Who on earth has the nerve to not only tell you your house is burning down, but that they can save you from it? Just this month, in response to negative reviews posted about the first woman-led superhero movie from Marvel Studios, Captain Marvel, Rotten Tomatoes changed their policy of allowing users to review movies they hadn’t yet seen. Picture it: for years, anonymous “critics” had been logging in to praise or scorn the idea of a movie, an enterprise filthier than the floors of the theaters they weren’t even bothering to attend. Criticism is no longer the fallible attempt of mere mortals to say why grace is briefly possible. No, criticism has changed genres entirely, it is an outrageous saxophone anyone can pick up and blow having never learned to play the saxophone, but knowing that it, the saxophone, is the showiest, and likeliest, instrument to bring you attention. All that’s required is a capacity to blow. Sound and fury signifying a righteous nothing. 

Where did the critic’s authority once come from? If you’re saying expertise, authority, years of work and toil—well, bro, how much do you lift? The Rock pours Rock-branded tequila into his oatmeal, and we realize we like to pour tequila into our oatmeal too. The influencer counts on the steroidal lift of his celebrity and, worse still, ruthless positivity, good vibes, the golden sheen of the piss he’s calling neu-water. And sites that feature (unpaid) user-generated content, unsullied by editorial gatekeepers, which include Amazon, Yelp, GoodReads, and, sure, RottenTomatoes, have made it possible for anyone to write and immediately publish thoughts on the best gastropub mac n cheese, the silkiest climbing chalk, why Thomas Mann is a boring idiot, and so on (confession: I live a second life reviewing climbing chalk). When everyone is an influencer with the Instagram followers to prove it, criticism becomes both a social expectation and a shameful liability—we’ve all got opinions just as we’ve all got You Know Whats, so don’t make me the asshole pointing out why you’re the asshole. In the race to dismantle the capacity for criticism to meaningfully dismantle why a cultural object does or doesn’t work (water is, dang dude, so primordial), we’ve also dismantled our capacity to piece together our own thinking with any coherence. We are broken shapes trying to point beyond our own brokenness, and I’m sorry, but I don’t, like, have the critical capacity to make that image clearer.

So why am I poisoning the criticism well, so to speak, and telling you that Gloomhaven, which I haven’t played, is not the best game of all time? As someone who has no strong desire to play board games like Gloomhaven with “automated” antagonists—should board gaming aspire to be greater than that solipsistic activity where you try to hit a tennis ball above the faded line of a rotted wooden wall?—you can take my no at the beginning of this essay for what it is: uninformed, pridefully ignorant, plain wrong. Maybe, after all, I’m part of this whole movement to render criticism meaningless. 

Though Gloomhaven sits at number 1 on Board Game Geek’s influential, market-moving list of the best games of all time, I don’t see myself playing it anytime soon, and with a suggested list price of $140, it qualifies as “mass-market” entertainment the same way sky-diving does.

I presume most critics love these “best of” lists because they affirm our tastes or, even better, make clear who our enemies are. Seeing what strange things move others inspires a kind of critical rubbernecking, where I get to gaze luridly at someone else’s disastrous tastes.

When I look at Sight & Sound’s poll of the greatest films of all time—regarded as the “serious” list, because it queries film critics and filmmakers—I feel a genuine shame for the gaps in my viewing, especially silent cinema (reader, I have not yet seen 1925’s Battleship Potemkin!). IMDb’s “Top 250” doesn’t inspire the same sort of shame, partly because its list more clearly announces the scruffy demographics of its voters: only one of the top 10 films, Pulp Fiction, can plausibly be said to have a female main character, while three of the films functionally have no women at all—Shawshank Redemption, 12 Angry Men, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Eowyn’s “I am no man!” is both an argument for and against the telling of her own story in Tolkien-land, where she ranks as the 11th -chattiest character in the film, saying 145 words total1; you could hire a pilot to sky-write all of Eowyn’s dialogue and probably still have enough money left to buy Gloomhaven).

Why do I feel shameful about my viewing gaps but not my playing gaps? Why does film inspire me to be a better filmgoer, which is to say to view more widely and with greater effort, whereas play inspires me to stick to the rolling provincialism of what I already know I like? Is it because film is obviously art, and art nudges us to scratch deeper at the confusion of existence, while play is, well, something lesser than or tangential to its arty roommate? If board gamers and game designers want to be taken seriously, how seriously should we critics consider the hobby? And if our most “serious” and influential board game critics are functionally sketch comedy performers in questionable costumes (Shut Up and Sit Down), or men wearing even more deeply questionable hats (Tom Vasel), should we abandon this conversation entirely and just, you know, play?

 

2. Serious Games

In “An analysis of board games: Part II - Complexity bias in BGG”, Dinesh Vatvani examines the “complexity bias” of user reviews in the Board Game Geek community. Accordingly, site users tend to reward games that have higher complexity ratings with, so it goes, higher overall ratings. The metaphor here is obvious: are more complex works of literature better than simpler works? I won’t make the case that War and Peace is “better” than Green Eggs and Ham, though I will point out that both consider oppositional binaries (maybe you don’t see green eggs and ham opposing one another, you say, I say, but just try them, I say, just try!). Tolstoy’s project is materially “more complex” than Seuss’s, as any readers who threw the book down during one of Tolstoy’s long and plotless chapters on historicity and the act of remembering can attest. I’m afraid that we are entering the listless land of subjectivity, that cruel place where war is better than eggs, to some critics, and I will relent. Certainly the metaphor is flawed here: if Gloomhaven is War and Peace, does that really make Codenames Dr. Seuss? Codenames is teachable within 5 minutes, as Seuss is readable in the same timeframe, but its complexities (and Seuss’s!) are emergent and largely social—you learn something about the ligaments of language, certainly, but also about the ligaments of your friends’ thinking, and the ligaments of your relationships to your friends. This should make sense to anyone who’s erupted at the end of Codenames that they have no idea how “submarine” is connected to the clue-word “schmear,” and the clue-giver’s cheeks turn the color of salmon schmear while they try to explain that, well, this, and salmon, you see, but…

Vatvani takes aim at the Board Game Geek Top Board Games List. Lovers of such lists know well the impossibility of comparison: how do I reconcile my love for Nancy Meyers’s The Intern with my love for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, both released in 2015? The guzzoline-whiffing post apocalyptic poetics of madness to cozy, encircling turtleneck domestic fantasias? They aren’t reconcilable, except that they are both movies, and movies don’t monolithically aim to do the same thing, besides dance light across a silver screen.

All that said, is Gloomhaven, currently ranked at number 1 on Board Game Geek, the War and Peace of gaming? Gaming’s The Shawshank Redemption (the best film, according to IMDb)? Or Vertigo (Sight and Sound’s top film of all time)? Or video gaming’s The Last of Us? These analogies might be flawed anyway because they operate under the assumption that board games are art, which we haven't yet determined; board games and other sports obviously contain artful elements, as a well-designed team mascot like Gritty can make a case for itself, but we’re not really habituated to think about sport and play as artistic. I'm going to get myself into trouble if I mention the balletic grace of Jordan dunking, or of Serena Williams serving, so I won't (forget it, reader). The blush of youth also seems to advantage games on the Geek list; chess, by comparison, has remained popular for 13 centuries or so, is teachable in 5 minutes, and emergently complex in a way that makes me dizzy (and whose complexities most of us will never be able to grasp), and yet it’s ranked down at 424. 

The value of Vatvani’s analysis lies in its “correction” of complexity bias. Vatvani gives us a very different list of the “best” board games once he corrects for this bias:

Vatvani Complexity Analysis

Crokinole, a game of finger-flicking pucks across a polished surface, moves from the deep 6os to the top 5. Conversely, Through the Ages drips through the rankings to 65. A Game of Thrones nosedives like a depressed child-king from 76 to 403. One Night Ultimate Werewolf gallops from its charming, if provincial, hamlet at 246 to the big city at 44.

Vatvani’s new list strikes me as a potential point of revolution for the game table, and demands that we at least begin to question how we usefully waste our time playing (and how we put an economic value to that playtime, afterwards). I can say outright I’ve had more fun playing Codenames (38—>4) than Terraforming Mars (6—>16), though I love both. Codenames is a hit no matter where I take it. Its universalizability shouldn’t be overlooked, whereas Terraforming Mars is a brain-burner with hideous aesthetics, its images a slur of competing graphic design schools of thought, crowding together sketches with clip-art with media commons photography. Asking people who have never played a complex game to play Terraforming would be like introducing cinema through Andrei Tarkovsky. A noble goal, maybe, but most of us didn’t fall in love with movies by watching miserable Russians wag their misery in silence through shots that go on the length of the Soviet regime. You see, our love of movies gets us to the miserable Russians, whose misery becomes for us, at least, another reason for living. But I don’t want movies to only do what Tarkovsky does, just as I don’t want board games to only burn my mind, or only deliver immediate, cool pleasure. (We can talk about pleasure in a later episode, which I’m already afraid won’t be pleasant.)

Better still, Vatvani’s list doesn’t shove complexity off the table entirely; rather, it argues that King of Tokyo’s (209—>40) chunky, nearly thoughtless dice rolls, which tell the story of kaiju wreaking chaos in Tokyo through gaming’s most satisfying and tactile chaos-manufacturer, the die, can clatter noisily across the same table as Eclipse’s cerebrally, arrived-at-through-complex-tech-tree-decision-making dice (27—>176). I don’t know if King of Tokyo is a better game than Eclipse, but I have some inculpatory evidence: I once taught Eclipse to a couple who, as the teaching ticked over the 1-hour mark, began to hold their heads as if they were trying to escape from the rest of their bodies. They were suffering deep into the playful mood, and that suffering tinged their strategies once the game finally started, each aiming to destroy the other. That couple went on to break up a month later, and I still maintain that Eclipse played a part in their dissolution, in all seriousness, because the collapse of the final ludic dartboard wall, Being Playful, can allow real suffering to rush in. 

Chess, if you were wondering, actually falls from 424 to 1,684. Go, one of the oldest games we have, falls from 113 to 696. Both games actually score relatively high complexity ratings, even though they’re quick to teach, which sort of begs the question: what is complexity? Does it have something to do with emergent gameplay? The number of interlocking mechanics? Time to teach? Time to play? Time to master? Whether or not a super computer can beat me at it? (I’d love to see a super computer try to beat me at Dune.) I think it can be one or more or all, and that many Board Game Geek users might be describing the sheer quantity of stuff as complexity: consider, a pile of garbage might be more ‘complex’, materially, than a single page of Seussian poetry, but the Seussian page echoes a guiding, authorial complexity, a clean intelligence, that the pile of garbage never had, spoiled rotten as it is with stuff.

In the comments section of Vatvani’s article, some users are grumpily suggesting that Board Game Geek already has a way of “filtering” for an individual’s complexity preference. Don’t want to play a never-ending campaign of Gloomhaven? Click over to the Family Game’s list, you gentle idiot! But these Geek users are really arguing for the ghettoization of board games, a stay-in-your-lane dictate that diminishes what board games can and should do to a very narrow point. 

Fine—but why do Board Game Geek users worship complexity above all other idols? I think part of their worship has to do with the anxiety of being taken seriously as gamers, which is mysteriously paradoxical. If we take away the older games, chess and go and poker, say, we’re left with a young medium, still in the “I DIDN’T ASK TO BE BORN” phase, and its relative immaturity expresses in ways that can turn off otherwise playful people, keeping them from the game table. There was a point in my early twenties when I craved complexity because I craved being seen as someone who was also complex. I proudly carried Infinite Jest on the subway, careful to hold the book open so that my hands didn’t obscure its title. The thrill of being seen doing something grandly complex by equally grandly complex people isn’t new or really at all impeachable—reading parlors used to exist precisely to allow readers to catch one another paging through an ever more fashionable way of being. 

We construct our game tables as spaces similar to those reading parlors: we long for serious connection through the least serious means.  And the broad cultural decay of serious criticism has done gamers no favors to help explain to others why our useless little pursuits actually matter. Let’s just not forget that we learned to read in increasing stages of complexity, just as we learned to play in increasing stages of complexity. That playful friend you love, who cracks you up with her refusal to ever be too serious, might really want to take a seat at the table, provided you don’t ruin it all with the rules of the game.

1According to The Pudding’s fascinating analysis of dialogue in Hollywood films: https://pudding.cool/2017/03/film-dialogue/:

Return of the King Dialogue Count by Character

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Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #294015 19 Mar 2019 08:34
It's interesting to me to discover that based on Vatvani's analysis, I don't own and, in fact, have never played any of the "top 15" games on BGG (Yes, I've played Pandemic, but not the Legacy versions.) I haven't read his article, so I don't know what went into his assessment of either complexity or bias. I do like complex games but I'm also a huge Go fan and a fan of games like Neuroshima Hex, neither of which are complex, but both of which possess great depth.

I also spend precious little attention on the opinions of "influencers." I don't really care what Vasel thinks about a game. I'll occasionally watch one of his reviews (and used to read them...) but mostly to get information about a game, rather than to take his opinion into account. That said, I did go back and watch his review of Portal's Cry Havoc recently and was surprised by the fact that most of the reasons that he listed for why he LOVED the game mirrored my own. Is that a factor of Tom's opinions matching mine or that Michael Oracz's designs have broad appeal and heightened specific appeal to a certain audience? (Due credit to Grant Rodiek here, as well.)

(BTW, I think you mean "wreaking" here: "... kaiju reeking chaos in Tokyo...", although depending on the kaiju in question, they certainly could be reeking and causing chaos, as as result. Smog Monster incoming: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godzilla_vs._Hedorah )
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #294018 19 Mar 2019 09:04
You must tell me, where can I purchase some of this neu water?
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #294019 19 Mar 2019 09:16
The "complexity for its own sake" trend has hit full force of late, with stuff by Stefan Feld and Vital Lacerda constantly getting praise. To me, Uwe Roseberg's best game is probably Bohnanza, because it's a fairly simple game which entertains by giving you tough decisions to make in its small space. I've little interest in his sprawling, wheels-within-wheels other games.

You can count on me to always take a small problem and expand it to a Problem With Geeks and this is no exception. I feel as though a lot of games have moved out of "games you play" and into "games you solve". Not "solve" in the traditional sense, but where the play against others is simply a contest of who unravels the board state fastest so they can exploit it sooner. Satisfying this and the urge for novelty means many new releases are just "New York Times Crosswords Vol 27" -- literally more puzzles of the same time to solve and then move on from.

This, to me, coincides with a strange desire for media, particularly TV and movies, to be similarly solved instead of enjoyed. TV shows aren't seen as a creator working to entertain an audience but a challenge for the audience to "beat" the creator by figuring it out first. In movies as well, what happens in any particular movie seems to be less important than what we think may be happening in the next installment.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #294021 19 Mar 2019 09:26
Arguably the problem is rating and ranking itself, which, whether we filter by complexity or ease or box size, still just privileges one hierarchy over another, and generally arbitrarily.

One (compound) reason for a complexity bias is the gatekeeping/status-establishing role of complex games and the novitate's journey from gateway game to brain burner. It's also probably a reaction--overreaction?--to the experience of playing "bad" mass-market games such as Monopoly and Risk, which, whatever their merits, aren't thinky games in the modern sense.

But while I may have been conditioned by BGG to feel this way, I do like much of what's valorized by the top 100 on BGG. It's biased toward the heavy, but it also doesn't to me feel arid or themeless. There's certainly reason to question the "more is more" approach, but that's not about complexity per se.
GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #294029 19 Mar 2019 11:32
This was fun to read. Another great article, Jonathan.

Gloomhaven might have been my moment, the one where the excitement of owning it carried me through a few different plays, and where the other players and I kept looking at each other and saying "this is great." Then looking at each other. "Yeah, okay, this is great, right?" Then we put it down for a month or two (bad sign) and started it again. "This...is not great?" "Yes, I definitely think this is not great." That's the moment I had, the moment I probably should have had about 10 overhyped games ago. My subsequent reassessment began by pretty much banishing anything with AI upkeep.

(My two exceptions are Pandemic, which I keep for good reasons, and Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, which I keep for reasons of being the type "overweight hoarder of things").
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #294030 19 Mar 2019 11:41
It took me forever to read this article because I had to keep stopping to catch my breath from laughing.
GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #294031 19 Mar 2019 11:43

Legomancer wrote: The "complexity for its own sake" trend has hit full force of late, with stuff by Stefan Feld and Vital Lacerda constantly getting praise. To me, Uwe Roseberg's best game is probably Bohnanza, because it's a fairly simple game which entertains by giving you tough decisions to make in its small space. I've little interest in his sprawling, wheels-within-wheels other games.

You can count on me to always take a small problem and expand it to a Problem With Geeks and this is no exception. I feel as though a lot of games have moved out of "games you play" and into "games you solve". Not "solve" in the traditional sense, but where the play against others is simply a contest of who unravels the board state fastest so they can exploit it sooner. Satisfying this and the urge for novelty means many new releases are just "New York Times Crosswords Vol 27" -- literally more puzzles of the same time to solve and then move on from.

This, to me, coincides with a strange desire for media, particularly TV and movies, to be similarly solved instead of enjoyed. TV shows aren't seen as a creator working to entertain an audience but a challenge for the audience to "beat" the creator by figuring it out first. In movies as well, what happens in any particular movie seems to be less important than what we think may be happening in the next installment.


This! All of this. And I see this mania for solve-and-consume cascading down into many things for which there is some sane, ordinary but nebulous object (like "make art" or "learn something" or "spend time with friends") and towards which the object becomes stressful and neurotic ("win at art" or "attend the best school" or "beat your friends"). I can think of a few dozen healthy, pointless activities of which people are always asking what's the point?
JonathanVolk's Avatar
JonathanVolk replied the topic: #294033 19 Mar 2019 12:10
When I returned my copy of Caverna for store credit, and watched as the salesperson patiently counted all ten thousand pieces for two hours (seriously), me sitting in silence so as not to interrupt her counting, I kept thinking about death, and the useless iterations of meeples and resource chunks that haunt us solidly. When she finished counting, she looked up and smiled and said, “All here! I can give you $7 in store credit.”

“I paid $100 and never played my copy.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not sure I want to sell it to you now. I had no idea it would be worth so little, I—“

“Are you serious?” she said, the look in her eyes the look when someone feels profoundly that they exist in time and that that time belongs to them, and that others exist in time too, and of course their time is theirs too, and that we are constantly trading our time with others’, and that the exchange rates generally suck.

“I’m sorry. I had no idea it would take so long.”

“There are ten thousand pieces to count.”

“I’m sorry.”

“$7.”

“Ok.”

“Ok.”
RolandHemisphere's Avatar
RolandHemisphere replied the topic: #294036 19 Mar 2019 12:32
This was posted to Reddit and, as you might have guessed, you made a lot of heads explode. Gloomhaven fans have very thin skins and are too busy playing the game to read the entire piece. It's pretty funny.

Really engaging article. #thanksthanks
JonathanVolk's Avatar
JonathanVolk replied the topic: #294038 19 Mar 2019 12:55

This was posted to Reddit and, as you might have guessed, you made a lot of heads explode. Gloomhaven fans have very thin skins and are too busy playing the game to read the entire piece. It's pretty funny.


Something tells me the Vertigo superfans (Vertigoalies?) would be kinder.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #294039 19 Mar 2019 13:05
I think that complexity is a combination of a number of things:

Depth
Fiddliness
Amount of Rules (which creates the learning curve)
Opacity
Player Interaction

You can have a game with a lot of rules, but if the rules are all pretty intuitive it can quickly go from seeming complex to being rather straight forward. However, it may require that you play it several times to get to that point.

Personally, I think other players are the biggest contributor to complexity and depth. The more player interaction you have in a game, the more complex, deep and interesting the game is. People are more complicated than anything that can be designed. Therefore, I don't find Gloomhaven particularly complicated or interesting. Just kind of slow and fiddly.

However, many of the gamers I know equate opacity with complexity. If there is a lot of crap layered onto a game such that it obscures the core game engine, it gives the illusion of complexity and depth. They also very much enjoy "solving" the game by trial and error. They will hate you if you pull back the veil and expose the mathematical engine to them. I learned this the hard way when I lost patience with the length of time it was taking people to make purchase choices in a game with multiple currencies and blurted out, "It's just division. Convert to a common currency and divide by the number of victory points; buy the least expensive victory points." We never played that game again because I had "ruined it forever."
JonathanVolk's Avatar
JonathanVolk replied the topic: #294042 19 Mar 2019 13:14
Ubarose writes,

Personally, I think other players are the biggest contributor to complexity and depth. The more player interaction you have in a game, the more complex, deep and interesting the game is. People are more complicated than anything that can be designed.


Perfectly said. This is why I’ve developed a near-allergy to games with solitaire-like mechanics and minimal interactions. It’s like a bunch of people taking separate submarines to the bottom of the ocean with really complicated Rubik’s cubes, and, after a predetermined amount of time, surfacing to see how all the other submarines did. Deep isolation.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #294048 19 Mar 2019 14:00
Regarding #1: Is there even such a thing as formalized board game criticism vs. board game review? Because 99.9% of what's out there in all fields is review. For example, some reviewers hate minimal-player-interaction games, and some love them. But I rarely see any reviewer get beyond hating Submarine Rubik's Cube to explain why it works so well if you like it.

Re. #2: BGGs difficulty ratings are every bit as arbitrary as their game ratings. There's no kernel of objectivity to be found there. Just prefix throwing that rating around with, "BGG rates it...", or better yet, "BGG rates it x, but I hate <insert game category here>," and you'll be fine.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #294050 19 Mar 2019 14:18

JonathanVolk wrote: Perfectly said. This is why I’ve developed a near-allergy to games with solitaire-like mechanics and minimal interactions. It’s like a bunch of people taking separate submarines to the bottom of the ocean with really complicated Rubik’s cubes, and, after a predetermined amount of time, surfacing to see how all the other submarines did. Deep isolation.


Multiplayer solitaire. There are a lot of games like that, such as Race for the Galaxy. You're solely concerned with your engine and almost nothing anyone else does has any impact on the construction of your engine. It's a fine line for some, though. There are people here who think Race is fine and the changes that some expansions have made to it that occasionally force interaction are the tipping point into acceptability. I'm not on board. I like the elegance of the whole design, but I play games with people in the room to play with those people. If I want to do my own thing, I can play a lot of video games. I think Terraforming Mars evaded this problem with a quite similar design by having the communal board with global (ahem) effects that change the way various players' engines function. But it's still pretty limited in terms of interaction.

I've had the argument made to me that Villainous is multiplayer solitaire because of how disparate the various characters and their win conditions are. I've argued back that the Fate decks in that game offer a form of direct interaction that's actually essential to some of those win conditions, so there's no way to properly play the game without interaction. It does require a social impetus, though, which many other games don't have or need.
PROJ's Avatar
PROJ replied the topic: #294061 19 Mar 2019 16:43

JonathanVolk wrote: Ubarose writes,

Personally, I think other players are the biggest contributor to complexity and depth. The more player interaction you have in a game, the more complex, deep and interesting the game is. People are more complicated than anything that can be designed.


Perfectly said. This is why I’ve developed a near-allergy to games with solitaire-like mechanics and minimal interactions. It’s like a bunch of people taking separate submarines to the bottom of the ocean with really complicated Rubik’s cubes, and, after a predetermined amount of time, surfacing to see how all the other submarines did. Deep isolation.


Unfortunately, it's far from perfectly said. All (and I mean that quite literally) human interactions in games can be boiled down to some variation of rock paper scissors (even perfect information games with discrete turns), which we have rejected as a society (and rightfully so) as a game worth spending any sort of energy on. Mathematical systems can be much more interesting and consistent than simply interacting with a human opponent. In fact, the reason interactions with the other players are interesting are because the game sufficiently obfuscates the rock-paper-scissors dynamic into something more subtle and interesting.

If you spent less time crafting similes and more time analyzing game design mechanics from a logical and mathematical perspective, you'd find that these "multiplayer solitaire" games not only converge to more interaction the better you get at them, but they have other desirable properties that more interactive games don't have.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #294062 19 Mar 2019 16:56
I don't really agree with Volk on this one, but saying that math is better than humans if you're smart enough is the most headass thing I've read all day.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #294063 19 Mar 2019 17:06

PROJ wrote: but they have other desirable properties that more interactive games don't have.


That's great and all, but the interaction IS the desired property.
DukeofChutney's Avatar
DukeofChutney replied the topic: #294069 19 Mar 2019 17:47
Lets start with the important questions; I use Metolius Super Chalk. Have you reviewed it? Should I consider using different chalk, what factors should I consider when selecting a climbing chalk?

With the first section on criticism I think there are two things going on here.

First there are a quite a number of people who take their taste in games as part of their identity and thus, as far as I can tell, take any criticism of the games they like as attacks on them personally. This is what I think is going on. I have two friends like this, both are very very intelligent people, good at games, and very nice reasonable people, but both get upset by negative reviews of games, films or media they love. Both will describe reviews as 'just wrong' even though they both understand these things are objective. Neither actually post much online.

Second, criticism has been subsumed into this idea of the culture wars. All cultural and artistic objects are now often seen as weapons of insidious cultural indoctrination. Feminism, veganism and both left and right wing politics are often viewed as being the real motive behind works of art, films, games etc. Whilst art has long been used for propaganda it seems more common in recent years to assume that anything that expresses any notion of a political, ethical or philosophical view point is being used as a weapon by its originators. Sometimes it might be, but i tend to think its just a reflection of the feelings or personality of its creator.
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Sulla replied the topic: #294071 19 Mar 2019 17:54
Roger Ebert, a very prominent movie critic, said the following:

When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to Mystic River, you're asking if it's any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two.


I was reminded of that when reading section 2. of your thought provoking article.
cfmcdonald's Avatar
cfmcdonald replied the topic: #294072 19 Mar 2019 17:57
The interaction in Race for the Galaxy is in the role selection. If you pay attention to what other people are doing you will crush players who don't.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #294076 19 Mar 2019 18:57
I wouldn't necessarily call BGG attracting gamers who like more complex design bias, I would just call it a selection effect stemming from people who seek out a board game site. I suppose both mechanisms result in a selected set of ratings, but on the other hand I'm not sure the hypothetical population we're trying to infer about using the ratings (gamers who don't log collections and rate on BGG?). fwiw, I think the weighted by complexity list is just as spotty, to my tastes, as the raw bayesian BGG list.
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mc replied the topic: #294078 19 Mar 2019 19:11

Vysetron wrote: I don't really agree with Volk on this one, but saying that math is better than humans if you're smart enough is the most headass thing I've read all day.


The maths, at least at boardgame level, is solvable. Humans are not.
I don't find knowing that there is a quantifiably "best" move on my turn interesting in the slightest. Even if the complexity is such that i can't reasonably be sure, given timeframes or other constraints. I simply don't care.
I find wondering wtf my opponent is going to do much, much, more interesting, and more to the point, enjoyable. Not only that, but that's a puzzle that is dynamic and forever
Consistency? Yech. Viva unpredictablity.


I was playing Citadels with my daughter recently, and, was (again) amazed at how much of a tough nut she is to crack, and how easily she sees through me. She's a terrible liar. But in the moment of selection.... who the hell knows?

I take the point that systems can deal with this in many ways, and adding maths over the top "can" be interesting.

I don't think I'm alone in thinking the way I do though, especially outside the BGG bubble.
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jeb replied the topic: #294079 19 Mar 2019 19:19

Sulla wrote: Roger Ebert, a very prominent movie critic, said the following:

I thought about Siskel & Ebert a lot when this blog/site was getting started. I'd seen hundreds of movies (sister worked at the video store!) and watched a lot of S&E review shows and realized a lot of their success as reviewers and entertainers came down to how differently they looked at and evaluated cinematic art. Siskel, by and large, was a film guy. He wanted brave bold new art, pushing the boundaries of the form, or crystallizing the essence of the genre. Ebert, by contrast, was a movie guy. He went to the movies--was it good? Was he entertained? They would both adore a great picture, but they arrived at that thumbs up through different paths.

Over at BGG, there was a great big pile of gameur tastemakers that wanted only the perfect gaming experience as distilled down into rules, components, and chances for "heavy" intellectual puzzling to arrive at optimal strategies. Hence, CAYLUS rocketing to the top of the charts. You also had a smaller but (very) vocal contingent that just wanted to play a game and have a good time, and thought something like DUNGEON! should be rewarded with more buzz than it would otherwise get at BGG. Some feelings were hurt, some folks were banned, and now there are two decent sites for generic boardgame buzz and chatter.

I think BGG shed a lot of the nonsense over the years, actually. Some is still there, geeks gonna geek and all; but it's harmless for the most part.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #294080 19 Mar 2019 19:22
@PROJ

I think perhaps my statement was a bit ambiguous. It isn’t the in game interaction that is necessarily complex, but the human interaction above the table, so to speak, that is complex and is interesting to me. The actual action of throwing paper isn’t the interesting part. It’s can I predict that you will throw paper, or manipulate you, misdirect you, or negotiate, or bluff, or lure, or strong arm you into throwing paper? And can you do the same to me?
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Frohike replied the topic: #294081 19 Mar 2019 19:24
There's an unmistakable, hobby-specific snobbery in the assumption that the structure and intricacy of rules surrounding human interactions are superior to --and more refined than-- the interactions themselves. Can designed systems enhance these interactions or sculpt them in interesting ways? Sure. But turning the tables and saying that these systems are not only the determinant of a good game, but in fact a replacement for what they are framing... isn't some sort of clever deconstruction. It just amounts to stating that the tail wags the dog.

Sorry if that's too "analogy heavy"... or whatever.