Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Buying used games

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I bought two items at the PrezCon auction store. Those who know me will be unsurprised to learn that they were the same item, because I was buying for pieces, not for a game to play. On my second walk-through of the auction store (later in the afternoon when the prices were sometimes cheaper) there were two copies of Exalted: War for the Throne. I could not place the game in my mind, so I supposed it was one of those self published games that one sometimes sees at small booths at conventions. Someone designs a game, which often appears to be like Risk (conquer the world), often with lots of plastic pieces that they've had made in China, and they go to a convention to publicize the game. You almost never see them back the next year because they found that the trip and booth cost them more money than it was worth. But when I later looked the game up via the Internet I discovered that it's a game published by well-known RPG company White Wolf, tying into their world setting. That helps explain how they could put so many plastic pieces into the game and not lose an arm and a leg, by using a large print run (and only three molds). But this $70 list game was being offered brand-new for $20.

When I saw that it included plastic ships that look like Viking ships I decided to buy one copy, then went back to the room and opened it up and check things out, and then went back and bought the second copy.

The game includes 30x5 ships, which on closer examination are galleys, 75x5 medieval spearmen, and 50 “manses”, which look rather pagoda-like. Along with that are 75 cards, 120 small glass beads, over 100 large cardboard “coins”, five very heavy cardboard information plaques for the five aspects of magic, and a few other bits, as well as 10 rather elaborate 10 sided dice. The plastic is fairly hard and very detailed: I decided the ships were galleys rather than Viking ships when I saw the eye bulges on the bow and the rowing superstructure along each side that characterize galleys but not drakkars. And there’s the mounted (but warped) board, which is rather small and plain and cursed with “four-color mapism”. That is, each dominion is colored separately like a typical political map of nations or states, which looks absolutely unrealistic if not garish on a game map. The only other board I can think of that does this is China: the Middle Kingdom, and it looks similarly unsuitable and unedifying.

So buying these for $20 each for parts, especially the ships, is a pretty good deal for a game designer. But this made me think about the materialist inclinations of game buyers. If I were buying this as a game, the fact that it has lots of plastic pieces would be relatively unimportant. I want a game that's good to play, over and over again. But in contemporary terms, many people don’t seem to expect to play a game more than a few times, so they’re not as worried about whether they are getting a really good game and more worried about whether they’re getting “their money’s worth” for the parts. This in itself is ridiculous because most people are not game designers and are not going to reuse the parts. But that seems to be the way many people think and talk.

It reminds me of the novice game designers who put lots of time and money into the looks of their prototypes. Manufacturers are much more interested in whether it’s a good game than in how the prototype looks. And designers should make simple prototypes, and spend their time on making the game better. But even here things are changing, because it’s harder and harder to get people to playtest a game unless it looks good. I spend more time on the looks of a game by far than I used to, but fortunately thanks to computers and having thousands of pieces like the ones I got from Exalted: War for the Throne, it doesn’t take me more time to make prototypes that it used to take.

I did read the comments about the game on Boardgamegeek, and read/skimmed the rules. An awful lot of the game seems to amount to spending magical essence to get additional dice rolls. It seems to be a Risk-like game, but better than Risk, or at least it would have been if it had been thoroughly play tested which may not be the case. But I confess that the first thing I did with the rulebook is look at the list of playtesters and see that there weren't many. That may not mean much or it may mean that the testing was insufficiently broad, and so some very effective strategies were not tried or certain situations were not played much.

But for people spending the $70 list price (about $45 online, compare with something like $30 or less for Risk), it’s really important to have lots of nice components. I suspect the game really has appeal only to people who play the role playing games in the Exalted world setting.

1 comment:

Paul D. Owen said...

I have to confess that as a relatively new game designer, I haven't yet caught on to the practice of buying games for the parts. I still think in terms of buying prototype parts from suppliers like Bits and Pieces or Our Game Table, or even a craft store. But I can certainly see that if you're flexible about the kind of parts you get, you can save a bundle that way.