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The "Great" Debate

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08 Jul 2015 14:51 #205737 by OldHippy
Replied by OldHippy on topic The "Great" Debate

Michael Barnes wrote:
I think this is a gross misunderstanding about how Knizia designs and sells his games. There's this assumption that he "slaps a theme on colored, numbered cards" which is almost always not the case.


Even if it was I wouldn't have a problem with that. I don't have a hard time finding theme or setting in a game. Abstracts frequently offer me more than enough in terms of theme.

I think that some aspects of the Ameritrash movement or the pro theme movement are actually really lazy. There are a lot of people that want everything hand fed to them and don't want to do any work at all. That's what text boxes are for... people who can't do the work in their heads. I can totally see the theme and setting in something as stupidly simple as Lost Cities... I believe most of us (if we're not being disingenuous) can see it. It's not hard. You can not like that kind of design, you can prefer to have nitty gritty details, but that's just one way to feel the theme of a game.

That's not to say that I don't love baroque designs personally, playing Earth Reborn the other day made me remember just how much I love that level of detail... but it's a different thing. Detail is not theme... Lost Cities has almost no detail, but the theme is very obvious, very apparent. You can say instead that 'the designer is lazy for not giving me more' but that's not fair either. The designer designed the game they wanted to design. You may not like the way they went about bringing theme and setting to the game but that's doesn't mean it's not there.

Like I've said around here before, theme and setting are mystified a little too much by gamers. It is not hard to get those things across at all and I have felt plenty of those qualities in games ranging from 10 minutes to 6 hours. I don't think it's difficult to bring theme out of a game... it is probably difficult to do that well and make the whole experience tense and fun and continually entertaining... but that's a much different discussion.
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08 Jul 2015 14:57 #205740 by Ken B.
Replied by Ken B. on topic The "Great" Debate
Hey Mikey B., here's a philosophical conundrum I encountered while talking about with this with my brother. I have a feeling you share similar opinions, so help me reconcile this.

1. For games, I agree with you. Publishers are gatekeepers and I consider them necessarily so. They are generally fantastic at weeding out poor designs and refining half-baked ones into something worthwhile. While I have Kickstarted projects from time to time, it is rare, and only then for companies I feel are acting as this necessary gatekeeper, but are of a size where using Kickstarter is a necessity. (I've kickstarted games from 8th Summit, Red Raven, and most recently Academy Games.)

But...


2. For music, I consider record labels greedy Satanists who milk every dollar out of the system, leaving crumbs for artists. And I find that even with them, they push acts that I don't feel are of any significant quality. (Seriously, ugly people don't seem to be allowed to publish records on major labels anymore.)


How can I reconcile these two opinions without being a hypocrite?

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08 Jul 2015 15:34 #205746 by dysjunct
Replied by dysjunct on topic The "Great" Debate

Ken B. wrote: Hey Mikey B., here's a philosophical conundrum I encountered while talking about with this with my brother. I have a feeling you share similar opinions, so help me reconcile this.

1. For games, I agree with you. Publishers are gatekeepers and I consider them necessarily so. They are generally fantastic at weeding out poor designs and refining half-baked ones into something worthwhile. While I have Kickstarted projects from time to time, it is rare, and only then for companies I feel are acting as this necessary gatekeeper, but are of a size where using Kickstarter is a necessity. (I've kickstarted games from 8th Summit, Red Raven, and most recently Academy Games.)

But...


2. For music, I consider record labels greedy Satanists who milk every dollar out of the system, leaving crumbs for artists. And I find that even with them, they push acts that I don't feel are of any significant quality. (Seriously, ugly people don't seem to be allowed to publish records on major labels anymore.)


How can I reconcile these two opinions without being a hypocrite?


It's a question of scale. Hobbyist game publishers are operating on different scales and are generally in it for passion, not for money. If a game publisher got sufficiently large, and there was enough money in game publishing, then you'd see them adopt the same tactics of the big record labels.

Do you have the same opinion of the small DIY labels like Dischord? I see them as much more analogous to a Z-Man (pre-buyout) than to someone in the same industry like EMI or whatever.
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08 Jul 2015 15:37 #205748 by Ken B.
Replied by Ken B. on topic The "Great" Debate

dysjunct wrote: Do you have the same opinion of the small DIY labels like Dischord? I see them as much more analogous to a Z-Man (pre-buyout) than to someone in the same industry like EMI or whatever.



That's a good point. No, I don't feel the same about smaller labels. Or even smaller 'vanity' labels like Third Man Records. So yes, a question of scale then.

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08 Jul 2015 15:41 #205750 by Michael Barnes
Replied by Michael Barnes on topic The "Great" Debate
That is EXACTLY what I was going to say, Dysjunct. In games, you're talking about moving thousands of units and small investments. The CEO might drive a new Dodge. In music, you're talking about millions of units, investing money in A&R, investing in artist development, marketing, licensing etc. etc. etc. The CEO might drive a new Maybach.

I would absolutely agree that even at a level as high up as Z-Man (even with a holding company involved there), it is still closer to Dischord than Capitol Records. And even moving up to FFG, Asmodee and so forth you're still looking at companies that are much less corporate-controlled. And NOT publically owned, so there are no shareholders or anything like that involved. So there is more leeway and less interference.
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08 Jul 2015 21:35 - 08 Jul 2015 21:36 #205772 by mikecl
Replied by mikecl on topic The "Great" Debate
If, as Michael says, Knizia develops mechanics onto which game publishers slap designs, it's no wonder some of his games like Beowulf feel as bloodless as a corpse. I'm still an Ameritrash fan and that means I want the designer to start with the theme first and then craft mechanics to fit the story, not the other way around. I first got into board games because I wanted to live the adventures I'd find in books, not solve some boring puzzle or justify my intellect. For me games are about the experience. Winning is just the icing on that cake.

I'm no stranger to abstracts, I played tournament level chess in my 20s. Three months ago I even reacquired Knizia's original Lord of the Rings 2000 (after trading it years ago) because as my gaming knowledge and tastes have evolved I have found new respect for the austerity of its design. I have another Knizia game which while great isn't bad: Star Trek: Expeditions even though it's very mathy (like most of his stuff really). Ironically considering the current atmosphere I was virtually alone in supporting it here although Pete liked it I think.

I'll likely pick up the Tigris and Euphrates reprint too

But I don't think Knizia is god. Far from it. I traded the first Knizia game I ever purchased (Lost Cities) because it's just a cheap rummy variant. My favourite games are still War of the Ring, not Lord of the Ring (when I'm playing War I feel like I'm living the adventure in the book, when I play Knizia's version, I feel like I'm playing cards -- yes I can see the abstracted links in my mind, but I don't feel them in my heart like I do with War).

I like games like Duel of Ages, Merchants and Marauders, Twilight Struggle, Shadows of Malice, Earth Reborn, Alien Uprising, Android, (the board game, not Netrunner), Duel in the Dark, Thunder Alley etc...

I know how malleable theme can be. I was a fan of Mark Chaplin's, PnP Aliens: This Time It's War -- a competitive two-player card game based on the Alien movie that got turned into Revolver because Stronghold Games thought a Western would sell better. So Xenomorphs became outlaws and Space Marines, a cowboy posse. It didn't work nearly as well for me. Crashing the train just wasn't as thematic as nuking the planet from orbit, but what do I know.

Many of Reiner's games lack the excitement and immersion I feel with a good Ameritrash game that puts me in the driver's seat. However, like Chess and the chess-like Tigris and Euphrates there's obviously room for both.

Is Knizia a superior game designer? Not to me. He's certainly a prolific one and I get his games (like Beowulf) on an intellectual level, but I play games to have fun and I have to say most of the time, I'm just not feeling him.
Last edit: 08 Jul 2015 21:36 by mikecl.
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08 Jul 2015 22:39 #205778 by The*Mad*Gamer
Replied by The*Mad*Gamer on topic The "Great" Debate
You sound exactly like Barnes in 2006! Funny how he has evolved!

I had War of the Ring and traded it away! I prefer Lord of the Rings by Knizia. Plastic men do not make a game, but clearly I am wrong if you look at the big money that is being made on Kickstarter from minis, AMAZING!

A lot of it is group dependent too! My group was bored to tears with WAR OF THE RING, but was on teh edge of the seat with Knizia's Lord of the Rings. All games are math and abstract in some sense but some click and some don't.
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08 Jul 2015 23:08 #205781 by The*Mad*Gamer
Replied by The*Mad*Gamer on topic The "Great" Debate
I should say that I also traded away Knizia's Amun Re, dreadful game...and I totally agreed with Robert Martin back in the day that this was a spreadsheet game.
I of course didn't mention that to Knizia in the interview because after all it was a Celebrationof his 30 years of games, not a debate. hehehe

But speaking of the lost legend Robert Martin, he was the first guest on my podcast and we were discussing horse racing games. He loved The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game and said that Knizia's Royal Turf (Winner's Circle) sucked all the fun out of a horse racing game.

Now I must say that I have both games and both games went over really well with my gaming group. But the interesting thing is that over the years when someone says they want to play that horse racing game, they mean Knizia's the one with the horse head on the die.

I found that interesting, perhaps a Knizia game is like fine wine and gets better over time.

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08 Jul 2015 23:13 #205782 by wadenels
Replied by wadenels on topic The "Great" Debate

The*Mad*Gamer wrote: I had War of the Ring and traded it away! I prefer Lord of the Rings by Knizia.


Same here.

But I think it's premature to declare Knizia (or any other current designer) good or great or any other quantifier while they're still iterating on their previous designs. A great designer should have a timeless quality. I don't feel like Vlaada has that now, but I may be wrong and maybe someday he'll be in that pantheon of great designers. I hold my "great" designer tier for designers of games that have delivered over decades. Derek Carver is up there, because a couple of his games manage to evoke emotion with dated mechanics. He took what he knew at the time and did something great with it. The original Warrior Knights still puts something on the table that hasn't been reproduced. Lightning in a bottle, maybe, but lightning all the same. Sid Sackson is in that tier as well, although much more prolific. If we're still fondly talking about at least one or two Knizia or Teuber or Kramer games in 2025 then they, too, would probably be considered great in particular circles. They may be in that discussion eventually, but to bring it up now is pontificating. Because they are still iterating and it takes time to separate the wheat from the chaff and make a well-reasoned determination on whether they really hit on something great or a spark that ignited something better in their peers. Maybe that spark is worth discussing.

Was anyone calling Led Zeppelin or The Who great in 1977? If they were they were premature. The Beatles in 1968? Premature.
Any of them in in the 21st century? That's a discussion worth having.

I really liked Barnes' comparison to the Velvet Underground. That's apt. But still premature.
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09 Jul 2015 00:16 #205787 by mikecl
Replied by mikecl on topic The "Great" Debate

The*Mad*Gamer wrote: You sound exactly like Barnes in 2006! Funny how he has evolved!


Yeah it's called old age.

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09 Jul 2015 09:25 - 09 Jul 2015 09:26 #205798 by Mr. White
Replied by Mr. White on topic The "Great" Debate
I also prefer Knizia's Lord of the Rings over War of the Ring.

LotR with its simple components and beautiful illustrations puts me in Middle Earth more than WotR does. Also, as has been mentioned many times here, the players struggling against Sauron feels like a better match for the book than a head-to-head wargame does. My take on the story is that the war is the background setting for the themes of camaraderie, sacrifice, etc. LotR better replicates this theme than a wargame does.

Plus, there are other wargames I like more than WotR. LotR is a unique co-op that I feel is best in class.
Last edit: 09 Jul 2015 09:26 by Mr. White.

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09 Jul 2015 09:58 #205804 by iguanaDitty
Replied by iguanaDitty on topic The "Great" Debate

mikecl wrote: If, as Michael says, Knizia develops mechanics onto which game publishers slap designs, it's no wonder some of his games like Beowulf feel as bloodless as a corpse.


Yeah, I had the same reaction to that statement.

Maybe you could argue he evokes certain feelings with certain designs that a good publisher can align with a theme...ie if Lord of the Rings was designed this way (no idea if it was or not) the publisher recognized the feeling of sacrifice evoked by the mechanics and saw that it was a good fit with LotR? Feels like a stretch...

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09 Jul 2015 10:06 #205806 by Mr. White
Replied by Mr. White on topic The "Great" Debate
I don't think that operating procedure holds true for every case.

I'd wager Knizia knew he was contracted to make a LotR game so then developed one rather then a publisher asking if he had a game on hand they could buy and theme up.

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09 Jul 2015 12:39 #205854 by Motorik
Replied by Motorik on topic The "Great" Debate
People who, like, require some dipshit conventional narrative out of every board game they play confound the shit out of me. There's some bizarre, incongruous dissonance taking place between artistic medium and irrational expectation. I imagine these same people demand that the hamburger on their plate tell them a shitty derivative zombie story before they'll condescend to eating it.

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09 Jul 2015 13:21 #205862 by ChristopherMD
Replied by ChristopherMD on topic The "Great" Debate

Motorik wrote: I imagine these same people demand that the hamburger on their plate tell them a shitty derivative zombie story before they'll condescend to eating it.


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