Thursday, March 10, 2011

PrezCon Games


Some people go to PrezCon to play games for days on end, last year my roommate played something like 19 games of Roborally. This year he was focused on Merchant of Venus, long out-of-print pickup and deliver Avalon Hill game. So he played at least all three heats of the tournament as well as the final, winning two heats and finishing second in the other but not doing as well in the final. He also discovered another level of play. At one point, I think in the final, another player saw where he was going next to purchase goods, and beat him to it to disrupt my friend's entire scheme: a perfect example of anticipatory interaction, something that's quite common in Eurogames. I don't think many people would call Merchant of Venus a Eurogame, but it has some Eurogame characteristics such as no player elimination and no direct or even indirect conflicts. (For me, anticipatory conflict does not even count as indirect; someday I have to finish my description of types of conflict.)

The Britannia tournament had two heats and the final, with 12 different people participating, which is probably more than usual for PrezCon. Mark Smith from Kentucky won for something like the third year out of four or maybe the fourth year out of five!

I watched History of the World quite a bit--the version before the Hasbro plastic piece version--and asked the players, some of whom also play Britannia, why they played. Because it became fairly evident that the distribution of empires in the last round, which has a large random element to it, strongly determined who won the game. The guys really didn't have much to say about that, and I think in the end they enjoy playing because they enjoy the journey, the experience of trying to convince other people that they should attack somebody else, persuading people do go somewhere else rather than toward their holdings, and so forth.

The game itself has very little to do with reality because of the way scoring works. Although you can score extra points for dominating a region, it's more practical to have a presence in several regions, that is, hold at least one territory in that region. So you get things like the Romans, instead of conquering northern Europe, heading all the way to Southeast Asia in order to get presence in several regions. Empires tend to be strung out rather than concentrated. Concentration doesn't help, nor is your defense better when you have more armies in an area or own more adjacent areas. This has very little to do with how empires actually behave, of course. But what this does do is lead to a lot of variation in each game, especially because at least one Empire and possibly two in each epoch (generally out of seven available empires) does not appear. The ideal History of the World game is six players though some of these games were for five.

I should say that there is a new short History of the World game out, and from what I recall reading about it some months ago it may be a much better game.

But studying the game did give me an idea for a way to change how my game Eurasia works that may make it less random and more satisfying; only playtesting will tell.

It's not easy to get people to playtest games at a heavily tournament oriented convention because there are so many tournaments people want to play in. We did get up a session of my pirates card game, and I saw how much difference there is in play between the casual players that normally playtest my games and the "sharks" that tend to come to PrezCon. The sharks are happy to try to twist/distort the text on the cards whereas the casual players will generally take the meaning that appears to be intended. Even though the game is still pretty early and fairly rough, it seems that everybody who plays it likes it. Then again, one guy said "everything's better with pirates".

I also once again watched some Age of Renaissance. At one point a year or two ago I thought about trying to make a simplified "if this game were designed today" version, but it doesn't seem to be worth it.

I watched the only Kingmaker game at the con; for some reason people weren't up for playing Kingmaker, so this game consisted of the convention organizer (who uses kingmaker as his e-mail name), one fellow who had not played before, and two guys who had some experience but did not seem to be sharks. One of them, in particular, did not want anything to do with Parliament because he felt it was boring, though Parliament is supposed to be a big part of the game.

I especially wanted to see the start of the game, which people say is more fun than when the game settles down. Unfortunately this all confirmed what I had gathered from previous observations and from reading about the Wars of the Roses: this game has virtually nothing to do with historical reality. What the players are doing and what the game does just don't correspond to what actually happened or might have happened. So my project to do Kingmaker as if it were designed today will have to focus on the aspects that people seem to like, which are chaos management and negotiation, without actually adopting any of the mechanics of this game. Fortunately I had a long conversation about the game with Jim Jordan, who is the Britannia game master but who also really likes the Wars of the Roses period, and used to be a Kingmaker player but now despises it.

The topic is popular: we have Richard the Third, a block game from Columbia, Wars of the Roses, a Eurogame from Zman, and the upcoming Crown of Roses, another block game from GMT. The block games are for two players. The Eurogame, like most Eurogames, doesn't have much to do with reality, it's for 2 to 4 players. My game will be for 2 to 5 or 6 players. That is, if I ever get to the point of a playable prototype.

I watched some Axis and Allies being played and was struck again with the great variety of play, the different strategies that people employ, and also with the lack of attention to terrain and supply. But it has become, I'm told, a game that lasts as long as eight hours. So I resurrected the idea of trying to do a two (perhaps three) hour strategic World War II game that provides the advantages of Axis and Allies without the interminable dice rolling and the tremendous unnecessary detail. I have always hit a wall on this before, but I think this time I can make it work as a two player block game. The first version will be just Europe in World War II because that should be easier to cope with than trying to do the entire world. The entire world game will be the ultimate goal however. The difficulty with blocks is that I want noticeably different kinds of blocks for sea, land, and air, and I should have noticeably different blocks for five different nations, and that means a heck of a lot of different kinds of blocks! I have Command and Conquer blocks that will do for the Axis, but only one size of three more colors for the allies...

Naturally I asked some people why they like A&A, and the answers have convinced me that I need some dice rolling in this new game. Formerly I wanted deterministic or card-based combat. A few dice are cheaper than cards, at least. (And it must be said, everyone expects dice rolling in a block game.)

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Dear Sir,

You are a gamer after my own heart. History of the World (the very version you watched being play no less) is one of my all time favorites. I have fond memories of Age of Renaissance and Kingmaker as well (although I do remember both bogging down a bit as the game went on).

I am extremely interested in your WWII block game ideas. The simplicity/elegance of Axis and Allies is incredible. Capturing that in something with a bit more historical grounding and not quite as long playtime would be a game I'd jump at the chance to play.