F:AT Looks Back: The Epiphany

F:AT Looks Back: The Epiphany

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marleyandmarleyIt'd been a tough day - during work I'd had to spend the afternoon chairing a meeting instead of using the whole day to prepare for my first ever shot at playing War of the Ring like I'd planned. It was going to be a PBEM game via Cyberboard with a long-time PBEM opponent of mine. Our baby had decided that being awake and playing of an evening was a much more fun alternative to going to sleep - can't say as I blame her really - so home time had been awkward too. As a result, I'd wound down by scoffing a curry and then polishing off maybe a glass too many of a cheeky French Shiraz that smelled of violets and tasted of plump, ripe blackberries on a summer morning.

Perhaps the chillies and alcohol were to blame, perhaps not.

I was awakened from my slumber by a strange noise. Out of instinct, I turned over and looked at the baby monitor but it lay quiet. It was then I noticed that the room, instead of being dark as it should be at 3am, was filled with a cold glow.

I sat up in bed and saw before me the indistinct outlines of the EON design team trio, shimmering and ephemeral.

"We are the ghosts of Ameritrash past!" They moaned, and rattled their shrink-wrapped copies of Dune and Cosmic Encounter.

The first thing that struck me was that this was very odd, considering none of them were actually dead yet, but before I could consider the situation more, the spirit of Bill Eberle spoke again.

"You have sinned! You have been seduced by the Euro and it is time to atone!"

With mounting horror my thoughts raced back to the Gaylus boxshot that got posted a few weeks ago.

"No wait! I can explain!" I stammered. "It was just that blue eye-shadow, I couldn't help ..."

Jack Kittredge cut me short. "Not that, puny mortal. Tell me, did you not give your second ever ten-out-of-ten score to Wallenstein?"

"Well, yes. But what's wrong with that, it's a great game!"

"It is indeed a fine game, but is it really fit to even lick the boots of Titan?"

I had to consider this. "No" I said. "But it's so short and simple in comparison."

"There you go" replied Jack. "Seduced into playing inferior games on the basis of complexity and play time." He looked at the baby monitor. "Okay, maybe we'll forgive you on the play time, but the complexity angle ... " He shook his head sadly.

My initial shock had faded and I was starting to enjoy myself here. It was pretty cool to be debating games with three of the best designers ever and I was determined to face them down. After all, what the hell right did they have to be invading my bedroom in the small hours of the morning? Bastards! Gaming legends or not, I wasn't going to let them leave without bagging me one of those shiny copies of Dune!

"Allright, I accept that" I said. "But I kind of only gave it then ten because I could see how playing face-to-face would be better than over on SpielByWeb, especially with a real life dice tower. So that's a pretty feeble basis on which to make any accusations."

It was Peter Olotka's turn to chip in. "Don't presume to tangle with us, boy. We've been in this business long enough to have become omniscient when it comes to games. We remember when you posted an article in this very blog about how low complexity games are cool."

"Well yeah but that was ... that was ..." I rallied. "That was just to generate discussion!"

The next question came, like a barrage. "What was the last face-to-face game you played?"

"Tigris and Euphrates. Oh but I'd been waiting to play that for months. And it made it into the Ameritrash top 25 games!"

"Did you, or did you not" Peter thundered "have Santiago on your wish list for a considerable period of time?"

I could see that they were all starting to get angry. "Er, yeah but I took it off in the e..."

"WHAT'S LISTED AS YOUR MOST PLAYED GAME OVER THE PAST 12 MONTHS?" Peter was screaming with rage now.

I broke into a cold sweat. Guilty as charged. They had me.

"Attika" I said in a tiny voice and started to weep uncontrollably into the duvet.

Between sobs, I managed to gather myself sufficiently to speak. "Masters. What must I do to absolve myself?"

Bill piped up once more, more gently this time. "You have accepted your great sin, grasshopper. That is the first and most difficult step. Your atonement shall be easier - indeed you have unwittingly already begun it."

I lifted my head in wonderment. "How so?" I asked.

Jack spoke. "Recall the time you spent this morning, reading the rules to War of the Ring. What did you think."

I cast my mind back. "Well ... I can recall thinking that I'd never learn all the rules in one step ... but they seemed to have a logical consistency which made them a bit easier than I'd been expecting."

"Good" said Peter. "Remember that game of T&E you played - your first ever? What did you think of the rules to that?"

"They were easy but really unintuitive and I had a really tough time remembering them. And like with a lot of Eurogames the strategy was just mathematical and stupidly obtuse because I had no real-world anchors to start to build on. With WotR I could see there would be lots of play options, but I could immediately see how to put some into effect."

"Better" said Bill. "You realised that complexity is often necessary to build a great game and that the time invested in learning is repaid during play. Yea, verily, even tenfold for the very best games. What did you think of War of the Ring?"

"Erm, it seemed to be a game of considerable strategic depth, with lots of decisions."

Jack frowned. "You're sounding like a Eurogamer again. Strategic depth is important, but there's more to a good game than just that. What else did you read, apart from the rules?"

"Some strategy articles and .. and .. session reports."

"And how did they make you feel?" Chorused all three dread spirits together.

"Wow, they were great. Made me remember how much I loved reading the books - I could really piece the games other people had played together in my head, and they made such great stories. Not like all those Euros - I can never follow what's going on in the session reports."

The cold radiance in the room had extended to a warm glow. The three were smiling broadly now as I continued.

"Yeah, made me really want to play the game - test out some of the strategy ideas I'd formulated and make up some narrative of my own. I mean some of it seemed a bit silly - rolling a dice for corruption with that Shelob tile was a bit much of an extreme random mechanic to use in the endgame - but most of it was so great I could forgive that. Anyway, I guess it's just up to the fellowship player to get to Mordor with as little corruption as possible - and phew! It'd be one tense roll!"

Lost in thinking about how much fun I'd had anticipating the game ahead, I didn't notice the spirits begin to slowly fade.

"And the balance? Who cares about that! There's some easy fixes to apply by the sound of things, without spoiling the theme - maybe put a city in South Rhun like they originally intended. And when I get the game and play it face to face, it'll probably be four-player and that's more balanced anyway. Man, can't wait to get the game, take it round to Graham's house and play in that room he has with all the Tolkein posters on the wall! Even if it takes him hours to learn, he's gonna love it! I don't remember the last time I was this excited about trying a game!"

I looked up and the trio were gone.

Instead of a shrink-wrapped Dune, they'd left a sticky mess of ectoplasm on the carpet. Bastards!

I leapt out of bed, went downstairs and put on some coffee while I waited for the computer to start. Half-past three in the morning. If I was lucky, I'd have just enough time to download and read the rules to Twilight Imperium 3 before breakfast.

Sorry I missed my slot this week, been super busy. Already got something in the pipe for next Friday. It's kind of the time of year to be posting this, though, with its Christmas Carol overtones. Plus, while I downgraded Wally in the end I often still find myself drifting off the straight and narrow on this issue. I even bought Santiago in the end. So it's good to recall the time EON visited to teach me the error of my ways.

F:AT Looks Back: The Epiphany There Will Be Games
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