Category Archives: Gaming and Culture

Warhammer 40,000 Forbidden Stars review in the Swedish Guardian

One of my friends on facebook just linked to this, an extensive review of Warhammer 40,000: Forbidden Stars. I guess it shows how “relaxed” I have become about keeping up with Warhammer 40k that I had no idea this was coming out.

Interesting I think for two reasons: the Guardian (which is a pretty big newspaper) is running a long review of a sci-fi board game, a GW IP no less; and it looks like just the sort of thing that might save GW from their current problem. Which to me can basically be summed up as “no-one wants to buy into that mess, so the only people playing are those already invested.”

This looks like one of those big complicated 1990s-style token-and-card strategy games like Shogun and Axis and Allies. I used to love them. A large-scale gateway game is what many of us in the blogosphere think is lacking from miniature wargaming these days.

We’ll see,

James

Blow it all up

Hi everyone, I was reading Thuloid’s Adepticon report at the House of Paincakes this morning, and the discussion about Mantic got me thinking about the relationship between miniatures and rules. There was some interesting talk about Mantic’s Kings of War, and their strategy of capitalizing on Warhammer Fantasy Battle’s percieved mishandling. I realized that the current norm – companies that are combination miniatures manufacturers/rules producers – is, like most norms, an accident of history. Continue reading

Scrabble to the Death

I read a post by my friend SinSynn at the House of Paincakes network last night.  It was about online trolls, but he mentioned in passing that he doesn’t play miniatures games primarily to win.  Neither do I, and it brought to mind a personal revelation I had a little while ago.  I was chatting to my partner about a game I was playing, the mobile scrabble clone Words with Friends.  I’m in a few continuous matches with people when I ride the bus in the morning, and one of my friends, let’s just call him Roland, is a guy I had a friendly rivalry with as an undergrad.  We were both top of our respective high schools in English and we actually became friends when I helped him with a crossword he was doing in the bar.  That sounds pretty uncool, I know.  But we were drinking beer at least, and hey, we were wagging a lecture!

So I play Words with Friends casually, and Roland keeps beating me.  He’s top of the leaderboard out of everyone I know who has the game, and that’s a lot of people.  I find myself trying really hard to defeat him, to play as well as I can, and I was complaining to my partner that when it’s my turn I usually knock out a word in two to five minutes, but against Roland it takes me days to make a move, because “I’m actually trying to beat him.”

She laughed at me and when I asked what was so funny she said “that’s so you.  I think most people are always actually trying to beat everyone they play.  I bet Roland always tries his best.”  And you know, she’s right.  So I started actually trying to get the highest points I possibly could from every word in every game.  My game dramatically improved in a couple of weeks.  One person I was playing with resigned when my score doubled theirs and did not challenge me to a rematch.  Everyone else I was playing either lost to me or mysteriously improved as well, and scraped a victory.  But the list of friends I’ve never beaten is now down to one, when before the number of friends I had beaten was er . . . one.

I’m trying to figure out why I’m like this, and why I don’t play games seriously as a rule.  I now play a total of two games in this way: Words with Friends and Street Fighter.  It’s an enjoyable way to play, and seductive; it gives you a feeling of accomplishment and it’s simple.  You don’t have to deal with any social grey areas involving such things as sportsmanship, or taking responsibility for your opponent enoying themselves.  You just focus, and you assume that they’re doing the same, and you get down to it.

Why do we play some games in this way and not others?  Are all games even suited to playing seriously?  I doubt it. 

I know that many people today play all games this way, and I’m fairly certain that this is a new development.  In the 19th and early 20th century even sports were played in what is sometimes still called a “gentlemanly” manner.  Now people play Scrabble like they’re dicing with death.  What happened?  I could take a few stabs at it, but I’d be much more interested to hear what other people think first.

Till next time,

James

Console gaming is the new hardcore

Over the last year or so I have seen a bit of confusion amongst mainstream video game journalists about how the term “hardcore” should be applied.  Obviously different segments of the community use it in different ways, and those uses may not necessarily make sense or work together.  Often attitude or skill level is the key.  A friend of mine was ranked in the top 20,000 players in the world on XBox Live for Call of Duty: Black Ops. When he plays a game, he really plays it.  He researches, he spends a lot of time and energy, and he always gets pretty good – good enough to beat most casual players.  It’s easy to point to him and say “he’s a hardcore gamer.” 

Then again, I have that attitude with Street Fighter, and not with any other game.  But I do play a lot of games, of many different kinds.  Am I hardcore?  My sister spends hours playing mobile games of all kinds, constantly breaking up her day with a quick game.  Is she hardcore?  You can see how it gets confusing. 

Many game journalists have responded to this confusion by writing articles claiming that there is no such thing as hardcore, that it is a divisive term that should be shelved, or that hardcore is dead. The interesting thing is, with the up-coming release of the next generations of the two major consoles, and particularly with regard to the XBone, this confusion seems to have been resolved.

The Xbone seems to be many things besides a games console, and was certainly pitched as such at E3 earlier this year, much to “hardcore” gamers dismay.  This was good in a way though – at last we have a proper way to define the term.  A hardcore gamer is now anyone who habitually plays games on consoles or PCs.  They are contrasted with “casual gamers” who mainly play quick simple games on mobile devices and tablets.  Attitude or skill level no longer have any part in the definition. 

I just read an interview in Hyper magazine #238 with Ted Price, the CEO of the independant developer Insomniac.  Price used the terms precisely in this way, which suggests to me that that is how industry professionals have been using them for a while.  What was even more interesting was that the journalist interviewing him proved the distinction a valid one.  Twice he asked questions and was met with a response like “well, that’s not true.  It’s true of our past console games, sure, but we also have Outernauts, a very successful facebook game.  And it’s not true of that at all.”

Hyper is focused on console and PC gaming, and the fact that their journalist wasn’t even aware that Insomniac had a very successful mobile/social media game proves to me that there really are two kinds of gamers.

The funny thing is, that makes me a hard core gamer.  And I’m not sure I feel comfortable with that title.  I feel like a fraud somehow…

Gaming, large and small

Sometimes it’s a bit strange being Australian and reading wargaming blogs and sites. Most writers are American or British, and there are some things that are often taken for granted about world-wide gamer culture that don’t tally with my experiences at all.

For example, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that in terms of point sizes, American games tend to be on the large end of the spectrum. In the heyday of 5th edition Warhammer 40,000, the bigger US tournaments were normally arranged around 2000-2500 point games. That is HUGE by Australian standards. I’ve never participated in a Warhammer 40,000 tournament with games larger than 1850 points. 1500 or 1750 is standard.

Likewise with other games, such as Infinity. The Infinity wiki mentions the pros and cons of different sized games, yet it’s not uncommon to see US-based gamers take 300 points to be the standard. Craig on the D6 Generation pod-cast recently referred to a 300 point game as a “full size” game, as if smaller games are lacking somehow. Here in Australia 300 points is more the maximum than the standard. I actually find it hard to build a 300 point list for Infinity that is still focused and works together well. There is just too much space.

If you’re expecting hard science to back up these claims, tough luck! But I did do a quick Google scan. US Infinity tournaments seem to range from 200 to 300 points, but with significantly more 300 point ones. In the UK the spread is pretty even. In Australia we tend to play 200 points as the standard.

Why is this? My guess is that cultural factors cause players to lean towards certain sizes. In Australia we have a frugal approach; we like to see how well we can do when we don’t have the option of taking whatever we like, and we want to limit “no-brainer” choices. That way, not only are the games quicker (which is a sweet mercy in the case of some systems), but designing your army is an exercise in cunning.

Larger, American-style games push the limits. They let you take pretty much anything you like, and thus become bombastic and exciting arms-races that test each faction’s elite against the others.

I don’t want to draw any major conclusions, but I’d like to share this: my dad told me a funny Vietnam war story, of a US soldier with a defective M-16 offering to swap a tank(!) for an Australian self-loading rifle. The US Marine Corps (“the Few”) is larger than all three arms of the Australian Defence Force put together. Perhaps that says something about our respective cultures, and the way we approach even games about war?

All the best,

James