I was at a finnish roleplaying game convention called Ropecon. I would sum the experience with a following roleplaying game book analogy: I went there, looking for a newer Dungeon Master Guide or a rules supplement to get better ideas for game mechanics. Instead, the convention was a setting guide, full of descriptive text. There was very little concrete to learn from the lectures and all for me. Most of the stuff was either aids for playing one’s character, or game releases that concentrated on the writers’ settings, both of which were only tangentially useful for me.
Ropecon wasn’t a complete waste of time, however. I learned a few new tricks, saw one example of a game pitch gone wrong and got new perspectives. I also got a new, though quite limited and one-trick-pony-type roleplaying game idea and remembered an old amusing thing which propelled Champions of Ilea forwards.
And yesterday I spent recuperating from the trip, which apparently meant playing Twilight Imperium. We played the expansion’s scenario again, and it finally showed it’s true face: Merciless politicking. The person who is closest to completing his objective usually makes an alliance with the best person who can assist him in the task. As the balance of power changes, other people will start to look like better allies, so the coalitions change. It’s wonderfully chaotic and back-stabby. In normal Twilight Imperium only one person can win, so it will probably feel like a very, very boring game.
No great post ideas in my head right now. There’s a finnish game convention happening this weekend to where I’m going. It’s called Ropecon, and it concerns mostly roleplaying and board gaming. I hope it will generate something to ponder. For now, yet more little points of interest
Two days ago I designed the principles of the artificial intelligence for my thesis project. Despite being annoyed that I have been force-fed coding for the first one and a half years of my time in Kajaani University of Applied Sciences, I felt grateful for understanding how computer logic works. It enables me to efficiently communicate my ideas to programmers and to see whether something is viable or not.
Witcher 2 annoys me from time to time with it’s stupid combat and old-fashioned boss fights. I take many breaks and am generally hesitant to get back to the game. It contrasted nicely with Star Wars: Republic Commando, which I replayed for the third time. That game knows what it’s doing and executes it perfectly. Beside it’s simplish fps- and squad control mechanics, it is a Star Wars game that does not have the opening crawl to John Williams’ most famous piece. That already makes it unique.
I integrated myself into a roleplaying game as a player. The Game Master started it by giving us a history lecture about the political and social situation of Europe in 1300. It took about an hour and was quite detailed. I must admit that I am extremely sceptical about the game, but the cold and rational part of my mind told me that this is a golden opportunity to witness a radically different way to roleplay from a close distance. We’ll see whether it will be worth it in the end.
Twilight Imperium is a quite polarizing game. It has spaceships, interstellar trade, politics and hexes. On the other hand, it has victory point mechanics, the game balance is all over the place and game sessions tend to bear witness to seasonal changes. It’s newest expansion alleviates the latter points by having secret, instant win-objectives, being very structured (and by extension, very balanced) and being potentially very short. The first two games received mixed responses from my group, but I liked it more than the basic game. I’m quite embarrassed to notice that I have been playing more and more Beat Hazard and Audiosurf. The games are easy and require virtually no thought. I feel like I’m just tossing my life away and doing nothing productive as I am playing them. I’m frustrated because I’m doing fun things, in other words. Funny is
human my psyche.
A long game
Organising a longer game is an incredible feat by itself. Take Twilight Imperium for an example: The game takes 6 hours on average. It requires four to six people who are willing to learn the rules, enjoy the game and stick by it for it’s whole duration. Same with roleplaying games. Every activity that requires concentration for a prolonged time is incredibly difficult to achieve, due to people generally being lazy bastards. At least in my area. But there is one little detail that sticks out: Everyone has to be committed to the game.
Magic the Gathering’s rules acknowledge a concept called “shortcuts”. The game itself is very, very structured, as a turn consists of at least ten phases where people can play their cards. Since going through those phases every turn is pure madness, players tend to do skip to the most important ones. Sometimes this causes confusion, especially when an opponent is planning on doing something on a specific moment which the active player glazes over, but mostly it saves time. One thing people tend to do is assess whether they can win anymore. If an opponent has six million life and you have no infinite damage comboes or ways to win the game outright, you will most likely concede and skip to the next game. In Magic, this is a common practice in our play group. But in a game that takes about five to ten minutes, it is acceptable to concede if you feel that trying to win is a waste of time. Not so in a game that takes six hours.
Twilight Imperium, a space exploration/warfare/conquest board game, is a fun game. There are lots of playing pieces, many aspects of the game are replayable and the aesthetics are nice. But one thing that bothers me is that it does not supply rules for conceding. After a player says “I’m not winning, screw this” or “my house is burning, so I need to leave”, there are no rules on what happens to the player’s stuff. Do we skip his turn? Do we collectively play as him? Or do we simply have to end the game prematurely? In a game that is as ungodly long as Twilight Imperium, I think this is a major design oversight. One that should be adressed in game design.
Every game that requires people to be present for the entire game should have rules for absent players. In Magic, a conceding player loses, all his cards are returned to his deck, all effects and spells are removed from the stack, and opponents’ permanents under his control are send to their owners’ graveyards. The surviving players can still finish the game. This teaches us that game designers should look at games from many angles and outside the box.