Come on in for Next of Ken, where this week I'll be talking about Lewis Pulsipher's recent article on depth and variety, along with quick impressions of Strike Dice and War of the Ring's 2nd edition. Yeah, I'll bet you're in suspense on my opinion on that last one....but anyway, join us, won't you?
Fritter and Waste the Hours, In an Off-Hand Way
Recently, game designer Lewis Pulsipher had an article on our front page talking about Depth versus Variety. And while my knee-jerk response was to dismiss the article with a "pffft, we're still playing plenty of longer games," I did have to stop, do some soul-searching, and think about my own gaming habits.
First up, I love longer games. On the whole, those types of games are the reasons we're here. The types of games you devote four-six hours to and you emerge the other side with grudges to nurse and stories to tell. For me personally, in a vacuum, I would play these types of games the lion's share of the time.
However, unfortunately none of us live in a vacuum. As we age, the amount of free time we have decreases. We're on a sliding scale with money and time inversely proportional to one another.
When I was younger, some friends of mine and I could play one game endlessly, and time was not a factor. There are so many games that I own now that would have blown our minds back then--we would have played them, and played them, and played them until the cardboard frayed and the minis finally broke. Now? I have to admit to being guilty of the lure of the shorter game. On evenings where you have only an hour to spare for gaming, you need something you can bust out and get going quickly.
Also, as our schedules are more frenetic, even when we have blocks of time they don't always line up with the blocks of time that our would-be gaming partners and friends have. We used to be quite good about getting the bigger group together once every month or so for a day devoted to longer games. With everyone's schedule so crazy, more often than not now it's a duel of free dates: "I'm available on the 12th." "I can't on the 12th, we're going out of town. How about the 19th?" "That works for me." "Sorry guys, neither of those works for me. Going to visit in-laws." And so on and so forth. It's frustrating and often fruitless, but you want to have that time with your friends where you can sit down and play games that are worth playing.
Hell, even my video gaming falls prey to this. When you were a teenager, you could waste an entire Saturday playing through videogames. Now? Not so much. I have a shelf full of PS3 games, but I find myself gravitating towards those shorter games that are "pick up and play", those you can drop in and play for ten minutes or an hour, it doesn't matter. Fighting games, wrasslin' games, that sort of thing. I find myself with a roadblock--part mental, part very real--where you know that "I need at least an hour plus to make any headway in this game."
So it's easy then to see why publishers are going with variety over depth. It's hard to create a shorter game that has a large amount of depth. What you can do though is create variety through cards, or scenarios, or variants.
Personally, I think this is a good thing. I know there are a lot of gamers who dislike the "play a game a couple of times, move on to the next one" nature of the hobby. At the very least, if a publisher can give us variety, it at least gives us reason to stick with a game through multiple plays, even if the individual plays are shorter.
I think this has a lot to do with my enjoyment of deckbuilders. Each game is different through the sheer variety of cards available, and so two games rarely if ever end up the same. No one is going to confuse the typical deckbuilder for being deep, but they do have variety.
Variety alone isn't enough to sustain a game, though. I don't want to play a rotten game even if that game has ten different ways to play. Thankfully as designers from all spectrums continually borrow from one another, they learn what works, and what doesn't--and what can make a short game worth playing in the first place.
These will *never* replace the longer, meatier games. I still look forward to big events like Trashfest where time is not a factor and there are plenty of willing opponents to drop four hours on a single game. And I'll continue to try to get the fellas together for those gaming Saturdays, because although it can be a lot of work, it also pays off huge dividends when those game days come together.
So bring on depth, bring on variety, bring on attributes that makes games worth replaying, regardless of length. That's when you know you're getting your money's worth. The rest? Philosophical babble. And I ain't got no time for jibba jabba.
It's Lonely in the Field, Where We Send Our Fighters to Wander
Not long ago I was sent a copy of Strike Dice from Alex Argyopoulos at Mage Company. This was something to review to tide me over until they had more copies of Eragra. I told him I'd be glad to give it a look.
Strike Dice is essentially a Parchesi-style variant using d4s (hey, props to using non-standard dice!) where players roll their d4 "pawns" and place them on the board at entry points. You can then move them around based on the numbers that are on the bottom of the die. So if the "4" is the value on the base of the die, that's its strength, but it can move 1, 2, 3, or any combination of those values when it moves.
The dice strength come into play when they find themselves on opposing "tribases" on the board. The lower strength die is removed. The goal is to have the most dice left on the board at the end of a "Triangulation" (a really fancy word for a round of play.) The winner of the round gets a random triangle card from the top of the stack that grants them special powers in future battles. The winner will have to collect 5 out of the 8 available cards.
It's definitely a game that has its own eccentric vibe, with 80s D&D Monster Manual-style graphics on the front and a host of game jargon like the aforementioned "Triangulation" and "Pawndice."
The game is very abstract, depsite its fantasy artwork and theme. I do like how the stronger dice are less flexible in their movement, where the smaller dice can zip around the board. It's similar to Battleball, the futuristic robot football game where speedy players rolled larger dice, but when it came to tackles, lower results where king. The Triangle Cards have powers that make the game more interesting with each round, as more and more special powers and options come into play.
The rules included were a mess, though. I remember reading through the small set of instructions three times and realizing I wasn't grasping how the game flowed *at all*. Also, the board uses spaces for movement that are not really clear on how you move from spot to spot--they used triangles for everything, and the way you move on them is really unintuitive. Alex provided some updated rules which definitely helped some, and as I understand it the game will have an international edition for future release in the States and elsewhere that will have better rules and new graphics design for the Triangle Cards.
I still need to play it more as I'm still not 100% sure I've gotten everything correct. I like the cheesy, retro style, but wish the board and rules were much, much clearer. I'll give you guys a final verdict when I've gotten it played a few more times.
Balrog's Breath, Mithrandir's Death
If you've read the Fortress for any length of time, you know what a fanboy I am for War of the Ring. It is the game that brought me into the hobby hardcore, and is quite simply one of the most thematic games you're ever likely to play. When people say playing War of the Ring is just like creating your own Lord of the Rings trilogy, that's not very strong hyperbole.
Oh, and it's only, like, my favorite game. Ever.
But here, these are my thoughts on the game, published previously *ahem* elsewhere:
(Sorry folks, this was before the Fortress existed...forgive me.)
War of the Ring has been out of print for the past few years, unfortunately. There was the mega-expensive Collector's Edition, but then as Nexus was in flux and Fantasy Flight Games lost the rights to distribute the game, it appeared the game might be gone forever.
Ares arose from the ashes of Nexus, and now I have in my hands a copy of War of the Ring's 2nd edition. And I am freaking *giddy*, man.
I'm just going to get started, m'kay?
One criticism of the base game as the imbalance of Shadow versus Free Peoples. The Shadow undeniably had an advantage, and while that challenge is something that some players relish, it wasn't everyone's cup of tea. (I say they're whiny babies, but that's just me.) Ares has taken advantage of the new edition to issue some balance fixes into the game.
For one, the Witch King has been toned down. Previously, he was literally a one-man army that could do it all, as he could the Shadow minions into combat and funnel his cards into draws that would corrupt and hinder the Fellowship. There are now tweaks to this ability as well as making him slower to come into play, so he's no longer the "instant action die" with the ability to do everything at once. I know what you're thinking, "how can tweaking one character make so much difference?" Well, if you'd ever used Galadriel in the expansion, you'd know just how much one character's abilities can change the entire game. So it is here.
Speaking to which, it is a sad note that the original expansion will not work properly with 2nd edition. Not really from a rules perspective, but since characters like Galadriel were introduced to tip the balance back to the Free Peoples, putting the expansion in with 2nd edition would have disastrous effects on game balance.
It's funny...for all the criticism the expansion had for being "non-essential", it is a stark comparison going back to the basic game. I already miss stuff like trebuchets and siege engines, the cool Ent minis, even the Corsairs...but especially Galadriel. I have no doubt that a "proper" 2nd edition expansion is already under development, and if they bring the goods, it will be tempting to turn my 1st edition set into just the Battles games. We'll wait and see about that. However, there are enough new goodies and tweaks that the changes so far should be enough to tide me over.
Going back to what's different, the other major change is making Gandalf the Grey more useful and therefore more likely to stick around, as it was unthematic for Free People's players to try and kill him off just so they could get Gandalf the White out faster. The way most players played the game prior to now, you'd have thought Boromir and Legolas heaved Gandy off the Bridge of Khazad-dum themselves. "Good luck, jerkwad! We'll see you in Fangorn Forest!"
Other tweaks include making certain event cards more useful or clearer, and incorporating some errata onto the new cards. Also, now when the Fellowship moves, they force the Shadow to place an Eye in the Hunt box, slowing them down militarily. This is awesome because in 1st edition, it was the Shadow that dictated the pace of the entire game, and the Free People could only respond. Now, there is the ability to use a Fellowship rush to make the Shadow play your game a bit more. I like the added interaction that this mechanism inspires.
In terms of actual rules changes beyond that, they've essentially fixed how the Fellowship enters Mordor. There were a lot of strong tricks the Shadow player could use previously to delay this happening, now they don't work nearly as well.
Production-wise, this is another homerun for the design team. You're still getting a gob of nicely detailed miniatures (though sadly, each side is all the same color, as they were in 1st edition), a gorgeous two-part board with new artwork taken from the Collector's edition, and huge tarot-sized cards that should put to rest any complaints about the small text used on the smaller cards in 1st edition. The board is especially nice because Strongholds and VP locations are no longer as easy to overlook, and while I originally thought the complaints about the small font for 1st edition was silly, I have to admit it would be hard to go back to the smaller cards now after seeing these.
I still have no idea how they do it. The MSRP for War of the Ring is 90 bucks, and can be found online for as low as 59. Yet for that price, you are getting a lavish production with tons of great components. Many companies nowadays are content to charge you more for much less than what's in this box--sometimes, much, much less. Roberto and company are some sort of mad production geniuses, that's all I know.
I realize that some first edition owners are asking themselves, "do I need to spring for 2nd edition?" And that's the best part--you don't have to. In what I consider to be outstanding customer service, Ares is offering an upgrade kit for a fraction of the cost that includes all the new cards you'll need. Yeah, you won't have the spiffy new board or the extraneous (but still cool) Gollum figure, but you will have everything you need at a good price. A lot of companies would have been content to fold their arms and say, "you want 2nd edition, you buy 2nd edition." Not so with Ares. That is just...incredibly, awesomely cool.
The fact is that War of the Ring is a game that deserves to be in print pretty much forever, and accessible to those who want a copy. If you've been sitting on the fence at all, you need to get off yer bums and get your copy immediately. This is a game that should be the flagship of any good ATers library; you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't at least try War of the Ring at least once. Odds are? You'll love it as much as I do.
And that's going to do it for another titillating episode of Next of Ken. Try not to Triangulate those Pawndice too much--as your mother said, you'll go blind. Until then, I'll see ya in seven.
Ken is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash and a member of our staff. When he's not knee deep in playing games for review, he's most likely opening the boxes and getting high off of the plastic vapors.