Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Obfuscations

I have played a lot of games in my life. As a child the games were more pedestrian in nature, involving the simple purchase and sale of properties and moving your piece around the game world, contained completely within the bounds of the playing board, with the goal of comaplete and total financial ruin of your brothers and cousins. I have played games strangely based on expressions of rage-inducing empathy during the play, particularly at moments when you had just screwed your opponent-brother out of any chance of winning. I have even played a game loosely based on a mutual experience of strategy and skill, but invariably devolved into a game of how many fake rules I could coerce my opponent-brother into obeying. We played card games, the rules of which are equally as impossible to remember now as then. Many relatives lost all hope of playing a friendly game of anything with such a diabolically cunning mastermind, or so I saw myself when manipulating rules to suit my hand. Go fish! became an all out struggle for supremacy, the opening moves full of subterfuge and bluster while the endgame was strikingly more physical.

As I grew older the games became slightly more unusual as did the rules sets. Games involving legions of monsters marching around a strange hexagonal universe were enjoyed as much as games wherein the pursuit of success was secondary to hampering all chance of success by your fellow players. The supplied rules sets became far more complex and the simple lies and coercions of the past were insufficient to secure a victory, as even I was utterly flummoxed at times by the inherent systems of this era's games. I learned to become one who would take the time to learn all of the rules and then pursue aggressive means of enforcing penalties upon my brother-opponent. When questioned, I always offered to let my opponents read the rulebooks, but when the rules set truly approaches book length, most will simply give in rather then settle down with a cup of tea and an afghan and peruse an arcane tome for clues as to why my legions could move against a box tile, but his could not. It had something to do with native lands. I learned that masterful cheating must always seem reasonable, and yet still leave your opponent completely hosed.

Given my rather flagrant history and flamboyant imagination, you might think that I developed a habit of crafting intricate new interpretations of rules all working to a singular goal: total domination of my brother-opponents. Sadly, the elder brother-opponents had many more years of experience in game-rule manipulation and younger brother-opponent quickly developed and interesting defense: apathy.

I began to move to games that had no measurable means of success and even more rules. Rules that required multiple books, with actual spines. I found myself reading more and more, learning combinations of rules that could work to my advantage and yet still be completely within the legal realms. There were many such games and many such days spent attempting to redefine victory not against some loathsome creature sent forth from the bowels of imagination but victory against the very imagination itself. I collected playing aids in the form of multitudes of dice, in the hopes that certain dice would gain me certain advantages in play. I became superstitious about color, shade, and warmth of my dice. If I could not successfully manipulate the rules to my advantage, then I would manipulate my playing to my advantage. All the while having no appreciable idea of the goal of these desires.

I played an uncounted variety of sword and sorcery games, and even more uncounted versions of these games. I played Western games, involving playing cards and dice. I played science fiction games, the more deadly to my character, the more I enjoyed them. I learned one constant among all the games I played: more books means more rules. Eventually, the human mind would reach a storage limit and carefully compartmentalized rules sets would become jumbled and slowly mingle in the mind of the players. Rules would meet over drinks, share a dew laughs, stumble drunkenly to a room in the hotel upstairs, and then awkwardly run out a few hours later, only to discover the following month that a new rule was growing inside. A rule that made rather a lot of sense when you think about it, I wonder why we hadn't been doing that before. It was in these spaces that I learned to allow my fellow players to breed rules, as they were far less likely to find fault with me if they had written the new rule. Could I really be blamed for buying the new handbook? After all, it was their idea to read it. I gradually moved away from manipulating rules to wholesale manipulation of people.

Despite this rather...miscreant behavior of mine, I like to think that I only wanted to have fun. To that end, I knew that there were some games that should be avoided at all costs. Some games had rules sets from which there was no recovery. fulsome once tried to interpret set of rules from a venerable institution that were an attempt to simulate a realistic system of combat against popular, fictional aliens. The designers had forgotten two things: nobody cares much about realism when the creatures you are shooting at explode acid, and that a mind is a terrible thing to lay waste. fulsome currently resides in a lovely, double-width refrigerator box in Berkeley, California.

Monday's Penny Arcade inspired this post.

14 comments:

dontEATnachos said...

I was sure that one of your links was going to be for Paranoia.

Also, if you're like me ... I'm actually more fascinated by the rules than the actual gaming. I think that co-op video games (whether they be World of Warcraft or Ghost Recon) kind of fill the niche of many of these games. It's about developing tactics that keep you and your team progressing.

The benefit of the games you list above is the fact that with the virtual worlds being entirely imaginary, it costs significantly less to produce them and allows more flexibility on the part of the person who is running them than most video games.

D&D 4.0 is kind of interesting because it goes the opposite way, it basically tries to take World of Warcraft and turn it into a pen and paper RPG.

Kathleen said...

awesome post

Chuckles said...

Yeah, D&D4ed can GTFO. I listened to the first two Penny Arcade podcasts and realized that there was little to nothing I wanted in 4ed. I am currently playing Dark Heresy with my brother-opponent and a friend. It is rather...first edition-y, what with the strange rules and copy-editing errors. Seriously, the main rule book averages 1 error per page, including artwork, and there is a lot of artwork. The standards at the Black Library are rather lax.

dontEATnachos said...

I've played some Dark Heresy myself (I've got sweet void born imperial psyker).

We were doing one of the canned adventures (which involve you going into a mine). I would like to say that the falling rules in the game are kind of hilarious if they weren't so annoying.

Luckily, like Warhammer, there is enough randomness in char gen that I don't really mind if my guy dies and I have to go through it again.

Still, I'm kind of attached to my guy already so I'd hate for him to die before he can have any of his powers result in hilarious calamity.

The Uncanny Canadian said...

Now you just play games involving the promise of cookies and lack of fulfillment thereof.

rotten mcdonald said...

ever play a game where you are destroyed by Lord Tucker the Orange?

Chuckles said...

That's called the Game of Free Market Life, BP.

Alex said...

Nice post. Remember, some of us make these nebulous beasts for a living (or, at least to pass the remaining shreds of our free time through the juicer of Work Related Stress).

No 40k mentioned though. Only marijuana. Strange...

mdh said...

Two Words: Arkham Horror.

It's a board game located somewhere between all those other games you described, except all the players play together. As a bonus, Cthulu! which means the game usually beats your group.

Worth checking out.

dontEATnachos said...

I am a fan of Arkham Horror (although I've only played it once). We kept being so close to sealing all the gates ... and then they all got unsealed. That kind of sucked. But it was good fun.

Chuckles said...

I don't cheat or manipulate the rules in 40k, I prefer to crush my enemies, see them driven before, and hear the lamentations of the women by outfoxing my opponent legitimately.

OR as has lately been the case, just get crushed utterly.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

I have played dating games.

Except I was an unsuspecting contestant.

Lucky me!!!!!!!!!

Brando said...

Great post, Chuckles. I love the way you wrote this.

My D&D days are long behind me, but my friend from those days and I play Grav-Ball whenever we see each other. It's an old FASA board game that's like Rollerball in zero-gravity.

And I still play Risk once a year, usually with my brother and assorted friends and family at Christmas. My brother once made a T-shirt that had the infantry, calvary, and artillary cards on the front, and "Yes, I have a set" on the back. He kept it under a button-up shirt and unveiled it when he cashed in a valuable set of cards.

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