Immersion

Fairness, Justice, God-given rights. These are the luxuries of the mentally entitled. Those born into life on Carpellon know better. Our Legacy is a burnt-out rock in deep space, our Destiny is no more than that which we can take from the stars. And we haven’t found a God in the dust and storms.

When Shanix discovered a fleet of decommissioned Terraforming robots from the old Gene War days we took them as no more or less than an opportunity to make out way off this stinking rock and leave our-hand-to-mouth existence behind. “Hero” is just a way for the future to judge the past.

Still, one must always take time to appreciate the simple joys in life. Carax 9 is a tucked-away Artist Colony where the aspiring tortured souls of the galaxy with just enough talent and finance come to crank out the synth-drek that qualifies as art to the people who matter; those with credits to burn and taste that should be. Shanix and I must look like a couple of rubes to these people, but Shan always had a winning smile, and what can I say? The ladies love a tortured soul. A genuine Carpellon sob story gets you a night to forget your woes, and a few shiny trinkets that make a quick buck on the open market. And with a few modifications, the robots in tow are able to scrap some of the unneeded scaffolding to fuel our engines.

Race For the Galaxy doesn’t play like this, not really. It’s much closer to this:

I draw Destroyed World for my starting card. Oh, you choose develop, okay, I play Terraforming Robots. I chose Settle, with that I’ll play Artist Colony and take two cards, one for the rebate and one for the robots.

Games have the power to spark our imagination. Like literature, they can take us places we’d never go, and tell us amazing stories. They can even go that extra mile and allow us to tell our own. Some games are better designed for this than others, but they all have that potential. But is it really the point? A game of Race for the Galaxy takes about 20-30 minutes with 2-4 people who know how the game is played. It’s a fun game, but imagine if everyone was caught up in weaving their own galactic opera. It would take hours! And there’s already a game about creating a galactic opera; Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition. And it takes the better part of a day to play, without getting bogged down in narration. For most games it’s considered needless, but I often wonder if we’re missing out on the chance to treat ourselves and our friends to some beautiful tales using the games we clock through at high speed as the foil for something more intricate.

Be Wary of Houses on Hills*

Betrayal At House On The Hill is a game that thrives on its ability to tell an interesting story. I love the game, and am known to talk about it at length regarding its initial release and discontinuation, its emergent cult following, the online bidding wars for it and the ultimate reprint (oh, and the game’s good too). It’s a good game design, with a potentially amazing theme wrapped around it. Everyone plays an archetypal character from a horror movie; the jock, the old scientist, the gypsy, the 10 year old boy who’s there for some odd reason, etc. You take turns exploring an expanding and architecturally maddening house, encountering such horror classics as a voice in the shadows, a creepy doll that talks, a werewolf, and my personal favorite, a mirror that shows you yourself from the future. In the end, somebody becomes the traitor in a random scenario where everyone must work together to defeat the terror that looms before them.

Alright, rag-tag group of would-be adventurers, let’s get in there. And don’t forget to split up immediately.

Most people will say it’s a great game. I would say it’s two great games, and here’s what I mean. Gamers enjoy it, but they will burn through it the more they play. Cards won’t even get read at times; it’s simply “roll the dice. This happens. Next turn.” Or, “everyone pile into the room that gives you a stat bump.” It’s fun, but in a game-y way.

Then there are those whom I prefer to play with, those who endeavor to get into the spirit of the horror genre. Using character voices, reading the encounters with appropriate gravitas, working together not just to beat a game, but build a narrative, can make for a playing experience that sticks with you the same way a good book, or even a personal event can. When you find yourself recounting a play-through of the game with the same excitement and tone as “this crazy thing happened to me one time” you know you’ve done something extraordinary.

Here’s mine:

In the master bedroom of the home I found a man, unkempt, scars across his arms and a stare that would have frightened most women. But I grew up in the bayou. I know from madness in ways the city-folk with me don’t understand. We made fast friends. I knew him only as the Madman, and I would come to understand that he’s been trapped here for a great long time. The house is loathe to leave its treasures to roam. That’s fine, all the tools we need to defeat it are scattered in its dusty halls and strange rooms.

A madman can be dangerous. A madman wearing plate armor and a magic medallion wielding an axe is a force of nature.

Madman, Armor, Axe and Medallion are all items you can acquire. Strictly speaking you’re the one equipped and the madman’s just there, but this is better.

The mad scientist wandered the basement, away from prying eyes. There was a shift in the wind as he began to read from an eldritch tome. “With this the ritual begins. Soon I will have all I need to close the circle and feed on the power from beyond! Soon, I-

*DING*

He turned, slowly, to view a pair of doors he was sure wasn’t there before sliding open. The dim hallway was briefly lit by the interior fluorescent lights of – he couldn’t believe it – an elevator? His stunned reaction turned to shock at the appearance of that annoying little teenager Jenny LeClerk, and an odd, haunted looking man that looked dressed for a holy war with Abraham Lincoln. The sight would have been humorous, given a few seconds. In half that time, the man became a blur of motion and noise.

“Gyaaaahh!”

The Madman would not let this house claim another soul.

For those of you familiar with the game; the Haunt was triggered, and I quickly found the Mystic Elevator and was able to take it to the floor the traitor was on. All the items I had bumped my attack up immensely, and I rolled absurdly well. The traitor was dropped in a single blow, and the rest of the haunt, I forget which one it was specifically, was easily handled. The point is that the narrative that was woven and shared with everyone involved was much greater than the game itself.

Pickles On Parade.

Of course it doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes a game is just a game. And sometimes it isn’t game enough.

Sometimes a game meant to invoke a story fails as a game. I played a card game recently called Anima: The Shadow Of Omega. It’s a pretty bad game.** But in it I saw the potential to tell neat little tales of adventure through the components, in a way that the game may have intended but ultimately failed on. The game, in brief, involves you gathering a team of adventurers to explore far-off places and conduct missions. You gain strength, and ultimately defeat a final mission to win. The game does have a sort of story, but it’s a bunch of unlistenable crap about the City of Infinity and the Orb of Chaos shackled in the Chains of Oblivion or something. The game tries to get you to make your own tale out of it all. Some upgrade cards called “events” use a book as their icon, and contain common story tropes. For instance, I drew “Leading Role,” giving one of my characters a boost in attack, but made him the first to die in a failed encounter. So instead of a pile of numbers, I wanted so much to see my “Dark Paladin” as this dramatic anti-hero doomed to live by the sword alone, until he finds companions who trust him, and ultimately redeem his soul before he’s… randomly discarded by a bad die roll? And now my team is four goofily/scantily clad anime chicks? WTF!

I get the impression they hoped story-telling and imagination would replace a poorly designed game.^ It doesn’t. Any moments of interest I had in weaving a story arc were drowned out in an overwhelming desire to understand, learn to play, and ultimately get through (or in our case, quit) a frustrating game.

Sometimes a game mustn’t be forced to tell a story. Steve Jackson’s Chez Geek is a card game about a bunch of roommates who hold jobs they hate and are seeking to gain enough “slack” points to overcome the varying tedium of their existence. It’s full of that kind of pseudo-satirical humor that’s funny the first time, then just wears on you. Still, the game is good, and its theme is fairly strong. My introduction to it was in high school at a gaming convention. The “Steve Jackson Demo team” (which, in retrospect, was probably just a group of people who knew how to play his games) showed it off, and insisted that the game was much more fun when you role-played it and treated the characters in the cards like people you actually knew in real life. Nobody at the table was really interested. The game is kind of obsessed with sex, which it calls “nookie,” and is scored with a die roll. Gathering a bunch of awkward strangers around a table and getting them to talk about how good or bad the sex was based on the roll is, again, funny the first time only. But apparently…

People seem to like it. This isn’t even half the total expansions out there.

Sometimes you simply don’t have time to appreciate the narrative arc. I recently played Mage Knight at an MIT board game gathering. The evening was fun, and merits a post all its own. But a moment struck me during the tutorial (which lasted as long as a normal game of most other board game I’ve played). The game allows you to negotiate with towns, monasteries, etc., or you can attack and loot them. Good-aligned gamers would balk at the idea, but the game sort of forces it on you, since a pure noble path gets you jack squat, while the marauders of the countryside get the powers, points, and p-bragging rights. So it was with reluctance that I burnt down a monastery to get at the Horn of Glory, an artifact of fair-to-moderate power designed to bring castle keeps to their knees. And there just happened to be one nearby. I thought, this is fantastic! They were probably planning to bring them down themselves, but now I can make good on my moral dilemma and do it myself! At which point I took another hit of evil rep because everything on the map that doesn’t have gnashing teeth and a big “I hate Heaven” sign on its spike armor is apparently a bastion of nobility. And nobody at the table appreciated the moment, as my neophyte status was dragging my turns out in this 4 hour epic struggle between man and math. The game is fun, and it paints a fine picture of these warriors among men carving their legend into the countryside, but it takes a back seat to all the plotting, planning, number-crunching tactical aspects. You know, the game.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? A game is more than the sum of its parts, but how much more? Is this nebulous thing I describe as immersion the reason some of us play games, or is it a condiment, sometimes delicious and sometimes unpalatable, on the side of the main course dish that is the game qua game? It’s most likely in the middle, or more accurately, I believe it is the average of two extremes. Sometimes we want a swift romp through the bits and pieces and fun mechanics of a game, rolling dice and swapping whatever resources the game has in an effort to be the guy with the most points. And sometimes we want to feel like great heroes, or bottom-feeding pirates, great beasts among men and hard-luck detectives striving to make right a world so wrong. And when we do get that feeling, we want to tell these stories to our friends, like we were really there.

There are hundreds of games out there, each designed to scratch that particular itch you and/or your friends have when gaming (and incidentally, Mage Knight is supposed to have an awesome single-player setup, if that’s your thing). It’s an odd place, this subculture of tabletop gaming we laud, but for those willing to brave its waters I guarantee there is something beautiful for you.^^

Take care, and good gaming.

*Especially if those hills have eyes.

** From Fantasy Flight’s website: “The revised edition of Anima: Shadow of Omega has been overhauled to create a more enjoyable and dynamic game experience than previous editions. Revisions include brighter art, enhanced graphics, more durable cards, and an updated rules set that incorporates errata. This edition also introduces the all-new “Crisis!” end-game design which creates exciting showdowns and dramatic finishes for every game.” So yeah, they know the earlier editions are broken. I’m not in a hurry to find out if they fixed it.

^ A bit of internet sleuthing suggests that the card game is based off a role-playing system like D&D.

^^  P.S. I’d like to leave this post with a link to a site I think is amazing. If you like our blog, you’ll love these two UK blokes, as they love board games more than even the self-proclaimed gamers I’ve spent years with. Their site is called Shut Up and Sit Down, and they’ll change the way you think about gaming. And for extra credit, please take the time to watch this 40 minute video of Quinns speaking on the golden age of tabletop game design.

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These Are My Friends

In a couple of my earlier posts I talk about board games, the physical games themselves, as friends. Without deeply exploring the underlying commentary one could do on my seemingly devotion to consumerism to the point of anthropomorphizing commercial products, let’s just reiterate that I take my games seriously. And as such, it vexes me when people talk crap about games I like. While fully understanding that not everyone will enjoy every game, I still get upset when people judge games I like as objectively bad, especially when I feel they haven’t given them a chance.

Last Saturday I went to a friend-of-a-friend’s house for gaming. Knowing nothing more than the fact that it was boardgaming, and a different group than the eclectic bunch at NESFA, I took the 5 minute drive to the apartment. There were 5 people; me, my new friend Kevin, the owner and his girlfriend (possibly wife? It didn’t come up.) and another woman who insisted that her status as an orthodox Jew prohibited her from doing work on this the Lord’s day of rest, which meant no driving, no word games, and no ringing the doorbell.

Among the games we played was David Sirlin’s Puzzle Strike 2nd edition. To stretch the friend analogy, PS is like that guy who’s not exactly a bully, not outright mean but somewhat off-putting, but has really cool ideas and is actually a lot of fun to hang around. The guy putting on the gathering, whom we’ll call J, heard of it and requested we play when he learned I brought it. We played a 4 player game, with me trying to explain the game to three people who never played. It was fun, though it did drag on a bit. Afterward, J proclaimed that it wasn’t different enough from Dominion to be anything special. Now, I disagree with this; the combat mechanic is a marked departure from Dominion which, while an amazing game, is largely 2 to 4 people playing a communal solitaire with limited card stacks. The game is very similar, more-so than most would care to admit, but I don’t think after one play-through that statement can be said.

We discussed it a bit, then moved on while I tried to let it go. We played Tichu. Kevin and I lost, from a combination of terrible draws and overly aggressive play. After that Kevin and I played some 2 player Puzzle Strike, which I now believe is the better way to play. interspersed throughout our three games was J’s commentary that the game wasn’t that good. It included an out-loud aside that he would be giving this game a 5.0 out of 10 on BGG (which is pretty bad).

What I should have said was nothing.

What I did say was, “I know initial experience is a big thing, but I think you didn’t get the full scope of the game with just one play. I think you should play it again before you give it a 5.”

What I wanted to say was, “Stop talking shit about my game! You played it once, you have no right to judge. I know you didn’t like it, we’re enjoying it right now, enough with your bitchy commentary.”

It made me feel kind of bad. I’ve said before, in owning a game you become its ambassador.  If I can wax philosophical for just a bit: Games are the language by which many of us socialize. It’s a medium we use to meet and measure our fellow man.  Saying you don’t like a game I enjoy is like saying you don’t like what I’m saying, you don’t like my friends and you may as well not like me. So I felt like it was my fault J didn’t have a good time. It’s a fun game, it’s Dominion with a cool fighting component, why didn’t he like it? Did I explain it poorly? Was it the other people? Or is he just a stupid jerk who doesn’t like fun? Maybe he’s bummed because he lost, but I lost, I’m (mostly) fine with it.

Now, a deeper analysis of the evening might reveal a few extenuating points. For one, I was coming off a somewhat frustrating game of Pandemic with a bunch of people not listening to my sound logical explanations and doing bad plays. Then we lost Tichu. And of note, PS isn’t really my game, it’s a game I own, I didn’t create the thing. People can hate books or movies I like, and I won’t get bent out of shape. But for some reason I hate it when people talk shit about games, especially games I think are great, especially after one play.

Sometimes it’s best to just stay out of it

So why is it that I (and I hesitate to use the word we here) take criticism of certain boardgames so seriously? It’s certainly possible that I’m just being immature in this regard. But I like to believe it’s because games touch us in a more personal way. Passive media such as books, movies, and indeed many video games can and do reach us on a personal level, but they generally don’t require us to make an investment in them beyond time and a certain level of attention. We make our own experiences with the games we play, we have a direct influence on the outcome of this game, and the ending is not written in stone. Perhaps it’s because we have a hand in the creation of this completed game/story/work that I take it personally when people put it down.

Josh is very up-front and unapologetic about the games he doesn’t like. We’ve played a few games of things I love that he says he hates, specifically Thunderstone and Ascension. And while it wasn’t every time, it seemed to be the majority that he’d put down a game after he lost. Normally I’d write it off as sour grapes; after all, the man loves Dominion, and he liked Puzzle Strike (which he won), what makes these so bad?  But once I get past the reflexive ire I realize that Josh isn’t big on the random components, or at least so many of them. He likes having a little more control over his resources and the state of the game.  In Dominion the only truly random component is your draw.  In Thunderstone it’s the draw and the dungeon, and in Ascension it’s the draw, the row, and the dual point system that could tend to fighting or economy.

We’ll be playing Android: Netrunner in a week, and I know that, before we begin, he’ll want to see each card in the box to get an idea of what the decks do. Which isn’t bad, but I’m looking forward to learning the game as we play, being surprised by each card and how it fits into the game and the narrative. It’s a weird thing to have an emotional investment in, but I’m really hoping the game is fun for us. It’s almost like introducing two friends from different circles and really hoping it works out, only weirder because I haven’t even met one of them, who is incidentally not a person but a board game.

As a final thought, it’s worth repeating that board games are about people as much as they are about the game. And if somebody doesn’t like the game I like, that’s fine, it doesn’t make either of us bad people. But it can mean that maybe I don’t want to play with a guy who isn’t speaking my language. Part of being an adult, even one with child-like tendencies like me, is learning that not everyone is someone you need to please. We meet people, learn about them and get a feel for their personality, then decide if this is a person we wish to spend more time with. Just so with games. And if any game good, any person good too. I look forward to seeing if J and I mesh on other games. Josh and I have our disagreements, but he’s a great guy, and he’s my friend. And nobody talks shit about my friends.

The Collectable Card Game: they all end the same way

A few weeks back, Brandon told me about a new game he was excited about. This is not an uncommon experience, Brandon’s exuberance for new things is one of his finer (if occasionally good naturedly mocked) qualities. He has diligently tried to get me to enjoy Disc Golf, Monday Night Combat, Dominion and plenty of other things with varying degrees of success (I prefer Ultimate, I prefer MW3, Dominion is one of my all time favorites).

This time the new game was an online card game called SolForge.

Brandon:  Oh yeah, I think this game’s gonna be sweet.  It’s designed by Gary Games, the guys who do Ascension, and Richard Garfield, the originator of Magic: The Gathering. It’s a CCG, free-to-play, and as you play cards, leveled-up versions enter your deck.  It’s a cool idea that couldn’t really be implemented physically, and I’m hoping it marks the start of a new wave of digital board games using cool new ideas that only work in the digital space.

Josh: It does look cool! And while I don’t love Ascension as much as Brandon, I would certainly try another game by the creator. But in the description of the game there was one little thing that made me pretty discouraged: “It’s a CCG”

Magic Powercards

This isn’t Magic for most people…

Brandon:  I want to get indignant for this.  But at the same time I think I know exactly what you mean. 

Josh: I played a lot of Magic: the Gathering in my teen years. I have vague memories of the first time I was in Davis Sq (where I now live) visiting the two cardshops that sold Magic cards and had places to play. At my parent’s house I still have stacks and stacks of cards, and almost collected every card in the Weatherlight set. But there came a point when I realized that as time moves forward, so must your collection, lest you be left behind with inferior cards. Cards that were once powerful were made better in the newer expansions and unless you bought more and more and more cards, you’d never be able to compete. Quitting Magic coincided with my first plays of Dungeons and Dragons and Settlers of Catan. After spending hundreds of dollars on Magic cards, the thoughts of a one time purchase for similar levels of entertainment were delightful. While the core mechanics of M:tG were a lot of fun, I found far far more enjoyment out of building decks out of “proxy” cards; index cards on which was written the stats for the card it replaced. The “power creep” is what renders every CCG unenjoyable for those who do not want to devote more and more money for a game that rapidly finds itself jumping the shark. Combine this with the random nature of buying packs of cards and you get an addiction that while healthier than gambling or cocaine, follows the same pattern.

Brandon: It’s kind of funny we’re talking about this right now.  I went to a game gathering around the street from my place this weekend.  the place was the clubhouse for the New England Sci-Fi Association (NESFA).  Among the many and varied events I experienced, one was the back store-room.  Amongst the duplicate (and sometimes triplicate) copies of every Dominion expansion published, there was a stack of plain white boxes with old Magic cards.  I was told no less than 5 times over the course of the day that I could take them, as well as a couple comments that they would be thrown out, or shunted to a free pile for an upcoming convention.  These things really do pile up.
 
I should say I actually like M:tG, except for the abrasive community and the deck-building and the cost and the tendency to random bad draws ruining a hand.  Which should imply that I hate M:tG. But I honestly think SolForge will fix these four things specifically.
Josh: See, I loved the deck building, and didn’t even mind the random bad draws part too much, but the cost is what did me in. Both in terms of time and money. I’m not sure how SolForge can fix these problems and still be “collectible” because you can make lots more money if there are more things to collect and this is the trap that every CCG falls into. I’m not saying that the want for expansions to a game you like isn’t a legitimate one or that companies shouldn’t try to get more money out of something worth playing, mind you. If Nintendo had come out with Super Mario 64 II with no new powers, just new levels? I would’ve bought it in a heartbeat. Dominion continues to come out with expansion after expansion, and while power creep is a bit of an issue, everyone’s playing from the same pool of cards and you can simply not buy the newer ones and get away with it just fine. And yes, for some CCGs, even M:tG, you’re not required to buy new cards to continue enjoying the old ones.  But it’s “Collectible,” it’s right there in the title.  More cards come out, new options, and you really do have to buy them to get that full experience, or avoid the game getting stale after multiple plays.  I’m not sure how SolForge can promise to not fall into the usual CCG moneygrab if it offers you random cards via “booster packs.” The gameplay behind the shell does indeed look cool. The concept of level upped cards in a deck is fun, but I can’t see myself spending any money on a game that requires me to keep spending or risk losing out on what makes the game great.
6000 commons and uncommons

…this is what Magic looks like

Brandon:  I see what you mean.  And that’s a big part of what makes Dominion and the dozens of games now like it so successful; everyone gets to play from the same pool of cards.  Still, you do spend money on Dominion in order to enjoy it.  And I know what you’re thinking, Dominion plays fair and balanced without the expansions, it just offers more choice.  But tell me, doesn’t playing with the base set devolve into purchasing the 3 good cards each draw, ignoring the other crummy ones?  Your favorite cards are from expansions, not because they’re more powerful, but because they offer more choice, more flexibility.
Conversely, you can “get away with” not constantly upgrading your personal CCG deck some games.  Old Magic decks still contain the same fun of the game.  I’m admittedly not arguing for tournament play, and not just because my argument doesn’t hold up there.  But with friends, Magic is still fun with old decks, or janky promotional 40-card packs they give away at conventions and game store events.
 
So, in the midst of all this CCG talk, there’s really one thing I want to know:  can I convince you to try this game out with me?  We can try it, evaluate, decide if it merits more investment.  Just like any CCG, or indeed, any game that allows us to play for free.
Josh: I still do, and still would play with the base set Dominion, but I see your point about old MtG with friends. It holds some appeal, certainly. As for SolForge, I’ll certainly try it. Any Game Good. Just don’t expect me to put any money into it.

The Digital Divide

A few months back, I approached Brandon about this idea I had for writing a blog on boardgames together. “It’ll be fun,” I told him, “we both love boardgames, we both have strong opinions on them, and it’ll give us an excuse to hang out on a regular basis.” I had other ideas I thought would be cool that I relayed; having friends write guest posts (which is still an option, if you’re reading and want to run an idea by us), showing games turn by turn with recaps as to what we were thinking (if done well, I think this would be awesome with Diplomacy), maybe even starting up a game of Nomic (ok, maybe this is still a bad idea). But really the biggest impetus behind starting this blog was to spend more time with a good friend. See, Brandon and I had done theater together for the past couple of years, but our sketch show got canceled back in April, and the play we were working on together over the summer had a firm end date of July 13th. Sure, we could call each other up and make a plan to hang out, but it wouldn’t be consistent. And what better way to spend time with a person I enjoy spending time with than board games?

More recently, Brandon convinced me to signup for Yucata, a website where you can play board games for free (80 different ones, at last count) in a sort of play-by-mail system. Specifically he’s talked about a couple of games he finds especially interesting, A Few Acres of Snow and At the Gates of Loyang and so I signed up. I’m not new to the digitization of board games. I spend a decent amount of time over at Isotropic playing Dominion, and when I have time at a lunch break at work I’ve been known to bang out a game of Stone Age at BoardGameArena.com. Isotropic and BGA are both fast ways to play games that I love for experiences that are… lonely, actually.

This isn’t a new feeling. One of technological isolation wherein even though we are so well connected we feel alone. But the difference in feel is particularly striking when it comes to board games. The best interaction you’ll get from people in isotropic is a little self deprecation, maybe a comment on “i think you’ve got me”, or “one more?” More often though you get a “gl and hf” at the beginning and a “gg” at the end. There’s no commentary on an interesting play, there’s no pleading for “he’s gonna win if…” or the post mortem “I totally could have won if only…”. Just the bare minimum. Good Luck and Have Fun. Good Game. Or sometimes just “faster plz.”

gl and hf

Standard social interaction in online gaming

As a social person, this kills me, and usually prevents me from staying focused on the game at hand. I’m often multitasking, as the game rarely moves quickly enough to command my undivided attention. In person, this problem is solved by conversation, often about the game, but just as often just being jokey. My friend Jess and I make up little songs (greatest hits include “Every Game has the Longest Road” for Settlers, and “Slots” for Vegas Showdown) much to Brandon’s chagrin. Brandon (and I) will peer into the theme of the game for side entertainment. I even like the whining and moaning (to a degree) when someone’s game isn’t going well, because you have to be somewhat invested to whine, and the person losing is a lot more likely to talk about strategy, balance, and fun in a game than the person who’s trying to pretend they aren’t winning. (What Brandon termed “tactical bitching,” is a different thing, but even that I don’t mind quite as much as most people do.)

In fact, the thing that I am most surprised in how different a game feels when playing online versus when played in person, is my level of expertise. In a game like Dominion, where the game moves much more quickly online than in person (the thing that takes the longest in person is shuffling and reshuffling your deck. Computers do that instantly and that is very nice) and as such some games can be completed in 5 to 10 minutes, I do feel like I’ve gained a certain expertise that would have taken much much longer. The availability of players, at all hours of the day means I’m a much stronger Dominion player (at least, in two player games). Conversely, in games that take longer, the boredom and multitasking kick in and I find myself unengaged, which often results in solid, but not innovative play. I have a certain familiarity with Stone Age, but since I’ve only played it once in person, I don’t think I’m particularly that good at it. A player who is newer to the game probably will have more insights than I will, because I’m used to not paying attention. This problem is even worse on Yucata, where games can take days and you can have multiple games going at once. Keeping long term strategies separate is very difficult if you’re playing multiple games. And evaluating a strategy that you used is then impossible.

Playing online can leave you without the social aspect and without the strategic aspect of gaming, but I’m still playing. Brandon and I haven’t started up a game of A Few Acres Of Snow yet, but its pretty cool that we can try it out for free and when we aren’t in the same room to see if we like it. When a friend of mine moved to France he left me some games, and I had seen Stone Age before but had never sat down and played it, so online was a nice way to be introduced to a game that other people in my circle had played some before. I know which Dominion expansions I really like (Seaside, Prosperity, Cornucopia) and the ones I’m not a huge fan of (Alchemy, Hinterlands) even though I don’t own a few of them. And there are certainly worse ways to kill a lunch break.