Wednesday, May 9, 2012

[Spin-Off Central] What Constitutes a Game?

I was going to review Hive, an abstract chess-like game that has been reviewed very favorably by lots of people I like.

The game looks cool and appeals to me due to the two player nature. It's portable and seems straightforward enough, and doesn't have any math or random elements- all of these were plusses in my book. 

So I busted it open and discovered that to ME; it's not a game. It's a problem that needs solving. It didn't have "rules", it told me what I could do with certain pieces. There weren't any examples of "how to play". It confused the crap out of me. I decided I was not smart enough for the game and put it away.

(I will be totally fair and let you know I will give it another try before completely writing it off.)

What's the difference between a game and a problem? To ME, the difference is games have rules. Especially with board games, there are clear sequences and operational things to do, with an end goal in mind.

Hive does things differently. It tells you "here are how things work", and then asks you - "how would you make X happen?".

Based on this specific understanding, at the moment, I don't consider Hive a game. I consider it a puzzle. I don't mind that, but it wasn't what I was expecting.

While I was thinking this little idea over, I came across this post and the conversation it generated. I was very taken by the comments made between Sandwyrm and CaulynDarr. Here's the part I found most compelling:

CaulynnDarr: Games on the other hand are math, cognition, and memory problems, with art supporting the implementation.

You can have great process and great products at the same time. Usually great process is the difference between having 1 great product and several great products. Process is often that thing at the end that sends the whole project back to square one if it needs it.

Actually McDonnell-Douglas had the better design, but got out lobbied by Boing and bought out. Though all three designs would be in the same shape now, due to the conflicting requirements.

sandwyrm   23 hours ago in reply to CaulynDarr

Don't be silly. Games are not about math or the technical stuff. They're about the experience. The interactions. Making the interactions of a game interesting and rewarding is just as much of an art as any film or video game. The technical stuff has to support an artistic vision, as Star Wars taught us so long ago. As Apple teaches us now. As Blizzard, id, and Valve prove every day.

Good processes require consistency and predicability. But creativity is never consistent or predictable. So you have to optimize on one or the other. You cannot have both together. Or both end up mediocre at best.

I know these guys were talking specifically about miniatures games- table top war games with figure soldiers and dice and whatnot. But the comment put me in mind of something Porky asked me a while ago:

What is a game?

I think I discovered that anything I will consider a game (at least a board game) has to have operational structure- who does what when; that's essential to me. I think that my tastes have shown that I want a combination of math and/or logic problems ALONG WITH the experience and the interactions for almost any OTHER kind of game.

What about you? What do you consider essential components to be considered a game? What turns you totally off? If you understand either answer, why are those your answers? I'd love to hear.

Monday, May 7, 2012

[Review] Tok Tok Woodman

So, TheBoy and I came upon this fun idea. We would play a bunch of games. We would have fun. We would learn more about the products we sell at the store, and I could review them for my little blog.

We started out innocently enough with the Axis and Allies game. That was a blast. We had so much fun playing that game. I think we will play it a few more times so that I can get a chance to win. (Fat chance, but chance nonetheless.)

We have tried a few games. We loved some and didn't like others at all.

Tok Tok Woodman is one of our perennial favorites.

This game is billed as a "dexterity game", which means it involves hand/eye coordination. This is something I am usually truly bad at, but I STILL love this game.

It's more like a twisted version of Jenga than anything else.

The premise of the game is that you have a tree that you are trying to cut the "bark" off of without knocking any of the wood out from the base of the tree.

You do this with an axe, of course.

The axe pictured is actually from the expansion, but you get the idea. (Yes, there is an expansion. It's just as fun as the original!)  You tap the tree three two times, trying to knock the bark off but leave the discs of wood intact. Every piece of bark is worth points, while the wood COSTS points. Whoever ends up with the most points wins.

I have to say that for me, the largest portion of this game's appeal is how ramped up TheBoy gets. He is absolutely like a little kid, being given permission to break stuff. With an axe. (Yes, it's a little plastic axe, but it's an axe.)

I have sold this game on numerous occasions as a "party game". It's a great icebreaker or timewaster, without any complex strategy or overall need for thinking. It's just silly. The best part of the party game is that if you add drinking, it just gets sillier. I can only imagine making shots a part of this game.

There's no real rules breakdown, or complaint about pieces, or discussion of confusing something or other. This game is straightforward, and fun. It's even better when the folks you play it with understand it is meant to be silly, and get into it with the over the top actions (and reactions) to make it more entertaining.

The only downside I can think of is that if you like a serious, intelligent game, this isn't it.

I think you should play this game, and enjoy some good laughs.