Resource Management

Josh and I had a delightful game gathering over Memorial Day Weekend. In attendance were Me, Josh, Katie, Nicole, Fraley, Perich, and Sylvia. 7 people can be a tough number for a gaming group, as none of the games we’ve brought fit 7. Fortunately, we’re able to move past that “what are we going to play” phase of game night and get to playing in different groups and configurations. Among the games played were Factory Fun, Innovation, Castle Panic, Dixit, and Galaxy Trucker. Galaxy Trucker is the one I’d like to talk about.

Shipsmiths

It’s a work in progress. But I swear she flies.

I love Galaxy Trucker. I love playing it and I love teaching it. It was Nicole’s third game, Perich’s first, and my… I dunno, 37th? Well, enough that Perich referred to me as a “practiced shipsmith.” The game specifies that it can be punishing, and that any player who made a profit by the end wins (though “some are bigger winners than others”). I confess, dear reader, that I did not adequately pull my punches when ship building. I don’t think I stole critical pieces or put time pressure on anyone, but I did come out with superior ships, though in round 3 large chunks broke off mine, which was simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating.

After the game, Perich asked Nicole and me what general guidelines he should be following in building ships. For what it’s worth, he took second place with a very respectable score. And he did it with very slim ships.

I’m not a genius, but I fancy myself a pretty good Galaxy Trucker player. I told him, “it’s important not to block off sections of your ship by placing pieces with too few outward connectors. Each square of your ship should be looked at as a resource, a place to put something in your ships of some use. Specific ship pieces are important as a resource, but your most important resources are time and space.” Then I thought, “Wait, was that poignant?”

Resource Management

Resources are defined as “a source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed.”  All games have at least one resource. No, seriously. Every game you will ever play has resources. Some are obvious; wood, grain, ore, cash, energy, etc. Some aren’t called resources, though of course they are; workers, deeds, territory. Some aren’t even considered as resources, though again they are, and sometimes more important than the obvious resources you’re given. For example, Scrabble is a game about building words to get points. You draw letter tiles from a bag; that’s an obvious resource. It’s also the least important one in the game. The biggest resource the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary, or more specifically, your ability to memorize and access those words.

Here’s a more eccentric example. The Resistance is a game about hidden roles and espionage. The game itself is fairly simple; two teams, resistance fighters and spies, try to win three missions. The spies know who’s on whose team, and the resistance has to smoke them out through accusations, extrapolation, and sometimes outright guessing. The game has no traditional resources, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. I would say the most important resource you have is trust. You earn it through lies and clever play, and you lose it through missteps or simply being in a bad situation with more consummate charlatans.

What I’m getting at here is that being aware of what’s available to you is important in understanding a game, and in making strong decisions. Good games are all about interesting decisions, and those decisions are informed by what you can do in a game, and what you can do is defined by what resources to bring to bear.

The Wide World of Gaming

Athletes and professional video gamers view their time, their physical endurance and their mental acuity as resources. The French Open is happening right now, and already there are talks of Rafael Nadal struggling to close out his first round. It happens every year, and every year since Rafa’s 2005 victory he’s won the French Open (except 2009, and we’re all happy Federer finally got one). I don’t think Nadal is struggling, I think he’s conserving himself. He doesn’t need to use all his strength to defeat lesser opponents.

The other day I was reading an old book on Pac Man strategy. Yes, really. The book talks about using your time well, resting during the intermission scenes, and staying relaxed and focused. Fighting game professionals don’t go all out for their opening matches, as the mental fatigue drastically reduces their strength in later rounds, though sometimes they’ll attempt to finish matches quickly to give themselves more time to rest. RTS masters are as concerned with time and momentum as they are with the game’s endogenous resources. And anyone who thinks the resources in poker are limited to your chip stack will be sorely and expensively mistaken.

Billy Mitchell knows what I’m talking about

But Back To The Point

My advice to Perich crystallized a thought that I sort of knew but never put into words. For my part, I love games where the resources aren’t just measured by tokens or currency, but also by creativity and time-management. Every game has a resource, and as such, resource management is part of every game. And sometimes the key is to be aware of which resources are the important ones. After all, if we hadn’t managed our time so well we may have never gotten to play at all.

I’m pretty adamant about the importance of theme and story in games. A fun game (and a great game night) is more than the sum of rules, pieces, and mathematical combinations that make up the game system. Games are a sort of living art. But I also hold in high regard the actual quality of the play itself. So next time you play a game, keep in mind that you have a lot more to work with than the cards in your hand, the cash under the board, or the tiles in the rack. And of course, be brief with the jawing and debate of the evening’s game selection, and get to gaming!

Legacies: Prelude

“So, um, not to be a downer, but how are you going to keep one Legacy campaign from spoiling the other?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. It’s important to me and to Greg, the man who asked it on my previous post Rabbit Rabbit. But let’s back up a bit.

Two years ago…

Michael Bay would love to direct the movie adaptation.

In 2011 Hasbro published Risk: Legacy. Some of you probably felt your stomach lurch at the mention of Risk. When I first heard of it a year ago I was disdainful. It sounded like regular old Risk, only sometimes you had to smudge parts of the map so they became unplayable. A Risk game you had to mar, and then replace if you wanted a fresh board. I (mostly) like what Hasbro has done with the Risk license since its inception. But this one I tossed it out of my mind. But let’s back up a bit.

52 Years Ago…

Whereas this looks more like a Focus Features thing, slice of life and all that

According to the Internet, Risk was created in 1959 by French film director Albert Lamorisse. It came to the United States and, fast-forwarding some years, became one of the most iconic games in the U.S. (to say nothing of its international status), second only to Monopoly. The rules have changed over the years, but the premise is the same; the world is divided into 6 continents, a number of territories, and the object of the game is to conquer these territories, crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women (okay, maybe not that last bit). The game used to be about global domination, meaning it wasn’t over until you either took every last territory on the map, or the last two people got bored and quit.

Risk now has dozens of licensed remakes and editions. The first one I saw was Risk 2210 A.D. I loved it; Risk in the future, with new territories in the oceans and on the Moon, generals that enhance your abilities, cards that don’t just get traded for units, but used to give new powers and tactics. And it was designed to last only 5 turns. Brilliant! Every Risk should have a built in clock like that. Since then, every remake from the classic re-skins to the marketing tie-ins have offered some gimmick or rules change to the classic format. In Lord of the rings Risk, it’s good vs. evil as the ring actually makes its way across the board, and can be captured by the orcs for victory. Star wars: Clone Wars Risk has the proto-Empire place the Emperor on the map after devastating the Republic forces, offering a victory for good if he can be captured. The current thrust of Risk is to release a number of collectors’ edition video-game skins: Halo, Starcraft, Metal Gear Solid, all have Risk games complete with the factions and trappings of their video game counter-parts.*

Still, Risk doesn’t get played much (ever) in our group. The pieces get used for other print-and-play games, but Risk has remained untouched, as it did for most gamers. Then came Risk: Legacy.

Back to 2 Years Ago

You can understand the skepticism from tabletop game enthusiasts. It’s a Risk game. It’s sold at Wal-Mart, right alongside all the party-games and Candy Land clones. Then you come to find out that the game asks you to destroy components as you play. No board game has ever asked that of its owner, and most would view it as sacrilege.

In 2012 the game got a ton of attention. What was it that took 6 months to a year for people to start catching on? In short, a campaign that took 6 months to a year for people to finish. Risk: Legacy’s conceit is that, in the distant future, scientists have discovered a solution to the ever-growing problems of all dystopian futures, such as overpopulation, starvation, massive wars, Mad Max Marauders, etc. they create new Earths. So imagine that each box of Risk is its own pre-fab planet, fresh for re-colonization and subsequent Global Domination. The rules have a 15 game campaign, during which cities are raised and razed, factions grow in power and ability, whole countries are turned into radioactive ash, and by the end, you have a unique war-torn Earth that one person can say they were victorious over after a year’s worth of pitting himself against his opponents. No game I can name (and I can name a good many) promises to offer an experience on such a scale. I want to play it, but getting 5 adults to sync their schedules and commit to not just one night, but several over the course of months, is a lot to ask. So I sit, and dream…

I got this e-mail

November 28th, 2012, Josh and I sit down to play Android: Netrunner, and Josh gets an e-mail. Apparently somebody is fishing for people to get a Risk: Legacy game going. After hemming and hawing about how the guy who doesn’t like Risk gets the e-mail I’ve been wishing someone would drop in front of me, Josh agrees to forward my information along. A solid month of fishing and scheduling later, Greg sends the confirmation of December 28th, 2012.

3 days later…

I’m at my friend Ted’s house for New Year’s Eve. I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned him before, but Ted is a board game enthusiast and part-time designer. He’s interested in risk: Legacy too. I can’t help myself. I ask him to send me the info on the game he’s setting up. A few days later we’re scheduled for a game. So now I’m part of not one, but two epic games.

Present Day

“So, um, not to be a downer, but how are you going to keep one Legacy campaign from spoiling the other?”

A little more about Risk: Legacy. The initial campaign games are quite simple; empty board, handful of troops, first to capture 4 red stars wins (you start with two, and you get them by taking over an opponent’s home base). You play a specific faction that has a unique power. As the game progresses, so do the factions. So does the map; new cities are stuck to the board with decals. So does the rule book; there are large spaces where new rules and components will be added when the conditions are met. You know the conditions but not the components, they’re sealed in packets that you have been instructed to not open until told. The game evolves as you play, with each new packet adding something, and some packets potentially never being opened. It promises some delightful surprises the first time around

So it’s a fair assumption that the second time you come across them is not as great.

If Pandora’s Box had this label…we still would’ve opened it.

As I said before, the game is asking a lot. It’s asking me to make a fairly large purchase (Risk: Legacy Retail Value – $59.99, $46.71 on Amazon.com for Prime members). And after purchasing the game, it asks me to destroy some of the stuff I bought. Immediately, in fact; factions start with one of two powers, and the other one is torn and trashed. Territories can be destroyed, and their cards are to be ripped up or burned. The game asks me to commit to 15 games or risk missing the epic saga and being lost when I come in later. And it’s asking me to only play it with a single group of people, or risk ruining the surprises and suspense for the others. Holy s***, no other game in the World asks that of me! Games want the opposite; they want me to go forth, play openly, laud its praises, spread its joy, and yeah, maybe buy a copy for yourself. Risk: Legacy wants me to take in the spectacle, then rush to my friends and say this:

“Oh man it’s amazing! You gotta try it. No, I can’t tell you what happens, it’ll spoil the game for you, but it’s worth it. No, I can’t play with you, I don’t have the time, I’m playing with this group. No, I can’t play when I’m done, I already know too much. No, you can’t join us, we’re already a few games in, you won’t know what’s going on and you’ll have missed all the cool intro stuff. No no, just pick up a copy, find 4 friends with the time and desire to play a new game of Risk with little to no idea of what makes it any different from regular boring Risk (and nobody to teach the rules) and we can talk about it later! But only a bit, because I don’t want you ruining anything for me.”

I exaggerate a bit, but you see my point. The game wants more from me than any game (good) has ever wanted. And God help me, I want to give it. So badly in fact that I committed myself to two groups. Groups that can’t duck out of for worry that the whole thing comes apart if the full number isn’t there. So for the time being, I’m going to play them both. And so the question remains: How do I keep one Legacy campaign from spoiling the other?

The answer is simple. The answer is… I don’t know.

I’m hoping that Risk: Legacy truly offers the unique experience it promises, and that the two will be barely comparable by the 4th or 5th game. Failing that, I’m hoping to keep the two sessions compartmentalized in my mind. I don’t know a lot of the people in either group, but I know that Ted is a swift, methodical game player, almost procedural, and the guys I know in the other group are more thoughtful, eager to get into the mythos and spectacle of a new Earth to have new wars on. Basically, one game will be an exercise in mathematics and tactical optimization, and the other just might have costumes and theme music.

I know I can doublethink my way past it only so far. At some point, one game will influence the other, and I won’t be able to ignore it. And it’s at that point that I hope I will make the decision that keeps the game as fun as it can be for everyone.

*No word on if Zerg rushing has been nerfed. Little nerd humor there for ya.