Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Do gamers need help?

My name's Porky and I play games. I may need help. But possibly not the kind you're thinking.

I'm going to trace out an argument with a set of quotes from recent posts. The first is from this post at Plastic Legions on GW's Hobbit range:

The mini manual in the starter set doesn't contain the stat profiles or point costs of the new models. The starter set scenario booklet contains the profiles but not the points. In short if you bought the starter set thinking you were getting the new rules. Think again laddie, its GW 2012!!!  you still have to buy the $85 USD big rule book if you want the full package, ...
... the best part is they dont tell you that until you open the starter box! So if it wasn't for "whistleblowers" letting us know  in advance you are buying the starter set thinking you're getting something you are not.
The only reason I'm still around is they have an untouchable IP I love, ... Believe me the old PT Barnum addage "There is a sucker born every minute" has never been so true for all of us, that participate in the Games Workshop hobby. They suck, they suck rotten, stinking zombie ass, they truly do, and yet we keep on buying-

The telling passage may seem to be "The only reason I'm still around ...", but for me it's the assumption that "the points" are necessary for "the full package". Hold that thought.

Now another, from this post at Blood of Kittens on the Crusade of Fire campaign book:

So $41 bucks late,r what can I say now about the limited copy I now have in my hands? Firstly, I can say it is not worth $41 bucks maybe... $25 at most. I knew that going-- as did many others. From the mostly recycled art to the obvious space filler Crusade of Fire doesn't have the depth I expect from a campaign book. If you compare Crusade of Fire to even an average Dungeon & Dragons module you will find it wanting.
With all that negativity said, I still love the book. I hope it sells out so that Games Workshop can build from it and make better books down the road.
If you are willing to tweak the campaign a bit I can see this being a great supplement, but then again why should I spend $41 bucks if I am going to being do so much extra work...

Here the telling passage might appear to be "With all that negativity said, I still love the book", but I think it's "so much extra work". What am I getting at? Hold this thought too.

Here's a third quote then, from this post at Roundwood's World on Dragonmeet 2012:

... There’s always been a part of the wargaming hobby which loves looking at stunning terrain, lovingly sculpted and painted figures and a fine display. ... And, of course, generally with roleplaying those visual themes in gaming are not as pronounced – it’s not about a layout as much as the game itself.  But for a wargamer, looking around an active roleplaying convention at 6pm on a Saturday evening, with gamers furiously rolling dice and crowding around tables, I felt there was a sharp contrast with a thinning crowd at some wargames shows by 3pm.

And the fourth and final quote, from a comment I left in response to that last reflection:

... Maybe it's related to the physicality and structural limits of higher scale wargaming, and the fact the tabletop and miniatures shoulder some of the creative burden. The demands of a more virtual back and forth may give players a workout that raises overall gaming vigour or stamina. ...

This is the kind of help I'm talking about - help playing the game. From modelled terrain, through miniatures, grids, rulers and templates, to decks and dice, to rules themselves, with points values, even that IP, how much do we need? Do we need the points? Can a campaign book be complete? Should it be? Squares or hexes? Does a single miniature represent just the one individual or 10? If all the 6' x 4' tables are busy, is the game off?

How much beyond ourselves do we need, and what effect will it have on that vigour and stamina? Forget the usual arbitrary divisions - into board game or wargame or skirmish game or RPG etc. A question at the root of it all seems to be this one: do gamers need help? If we can put it like that, maybe we can see the bigger picture and build up better.


Von said...

I wonder how much of it comes down to wanting a distinction between the kind of labour that is done for work, and the kind of labour that is done for hobbies? No, I'm not sure I believe that. Having the points values doesn't eliminate adding up and weighing options and considering; having a pre-made campaign doesn't eliminate the inevitable tailoring that you'll have to do for people's actual collections, play space and preferences. It can't be anything that simple or misguided.

I deliberately haven't responded to quotations three or four there, because I think there's an unaddressed difference in the expectations of how long experiences should last.

Many wargames are expected to be short and decisive, particularly if you're trying to play five rounds of a skirmish game in one day or seven rounds of WFB across two. Each game experience is supposed to be over and done with in the time between getting home from work and last orders being called (which I think was Rick Priestley's original criterion for how long Warhammer should take to play, and Warhammer's influence on contemporary wargaming can be over-estimated, but not by much). Board games too appear to have an expected couple of hour lifespan - certainly there exist some that take longer and are still deemed good, but many of the serious board gamers I know are appalled at the idea of playing a game for four hours, never mind all day!

By contrast, an RPG takes a while to get going. By the time a pair of wargamers are onto turn three and their game's just getting good, a group of roleplayers are just about over the initial 'pretending to be elves' awkwardness and are actually settling into role and purpose and deciding what they're going to do with themselves in this session.

A wargame that takes eight hours to play has dragged. A board game that takes eight hours to play is frequently deemed badly designed. An RPG that takes eight hours to play is... almost par for the course, an indication that things are going well and the experience is enthralling and immersive and worth continuing.

And finally: for what it's worth, I have yet to have a compelling RPG experience at a table where the paraphernalia of wargaming - the miniature, the board (hex or otherwise), the template or the terrain piece - has been present. I do not disdain such things in the gaming of others - I merely note that they don't seem to do me any good at all.

Porky said...

I'm not sure I believe it's in the labour either. Many of us don't think of preparation as labour at all, generally at least, although building a force for games like 40K these days is getting to be a major undertaking, maybe even a fairly dull one depending on what exactly you're aiming at.

We probably all put in a lot of hours, whether on the miniatures, terrain, worldbuilding or scenarios, or just for the love of thinking about it, but with the right tools and familiarity and similarity of expectation in the players, that can be reduced right down. Even if miniatures are used, games don't have to be big, or necessarily need much in the way of terrain, while balance is optional for many people if compensated for by factors like a clear narrative, and the world can even be generated as the inhabitants explore it. Some of the games I've played in recently have been stunningly impromptu, and panned out in very different ways than usual because of it, to the extent they might not have seemed able to support the fun if we'd thought about it harder in advance.

I think the time the game itself is seen to take or supposed to take is interesting. Miniature-based wargames could need to be quicker playing because of the number of miniatures involved in the case of the fuller-package brands, that the business model - for now - seems to demand ever increasing numbers of miniatures sold, while smaller producers still tempt with greater breadth and freshness, encouraging us to build those metal, resin and plastic mountains that given the time involved in modelling and painting then almost demand to be used. With all the unpacking, setup, moving and repacking, the game needs to be quick, and maybe decisive to make it seem worthwhile.

What we think of as roleplaying, especially without grids and miniatures and when lighter on rules, can be more convenient. You can go at it for half an hour, or eight hours, and just pause at a convenient moment, then pick up again at almost any real-world time and place. An exception here is the one-shot, but the essential malleability of the more concentrated form means reorganising and telescoping on the hoof is fairly easily done where needed or preferred. Combine some of that with approaches like guerilla gaming and even ambient random and who knows where we'll be?

There's some loosely-related discussion going on in response to this comment at BoLS.