The "Great" Debate Hot

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MattDPMattDP   July 06, 2015  
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The excellent Michael Barnes recently conducted an excellent interview with game designer Reiner Knizia. He's widely regarded as one of the best game designers ever, but his stock has gone up and down around these parts. Currently, it's up: something I didn't realise when I waded in to offer a contrary opinion.

The response begs an interesting question: what do we mean when we say "best" in this context? What qualifies a designer for an epithet of "great"?

I'm in a poor position to judge, having designed one godawful game in my entire life, which has never seen the light of day. But as a critic, I'm supposed to offer opinion on such things. So here we go.

What's always impressed me most about new designs is creativity. Board gaming is inherently limited by the things you can do with card and wood, metal and plastic.  It's straitjacketed by thousands of years of human tradition which leads us to expect games to look and play a certain way. Breaking away from these strictures as the massive weight of cultural expectation bears down on you must be unbelievably hard.

Genre-shattering designs are correspondingly rare. Genre-shattering designers, who manage the feat regularly, are even more so. And by that measure, Knizia doesn't measure up.

One of the moments when conventions got splintered to pieces was the mid-nineties when early German-style games hit the UK and America. These games are great games: great then, and still great now. Titles like Settlers of Catan and El Grande were like nothing we'd ever seen before. Their designers were rightly celebrated for that achievement, although they've not hit such heights again.

 

Knizia was not quite a part of that moment. He rode on its coat tails, with his best games appearing in the late nineties. That shows in his designs. Lost Cities and Battle Line are clear Rummy variants. Samurai and Through the Desert trace obvious lines of descent to classic abstracts. Modern Art and Medici are just fancy auctions. 

This trend, of taking tried and tested mechanics and twisting them into interesting new shapes, is almost a hallmark. It takes a lot of skill, and Knizia has more skill than most. What it doesn't take is a lot of creativity.

You could also argue that he's almost earned himself black marks against innovation by using his immense talents to churn out cookie-cutter games. His output is prodigious, focused on the German family market with titles few of us will have heard of, let alone played. But far too many look a lot like re-skinned or tweaked versions of his existing games. That's surely the opposite of creativity. 

His cleverest inventions, to my mind, are his Egyptian games Ra and Amun-Re. They contain the seeds of genius. But I'm not sure two clever titles qualifies a designer for the innovation hall of fame. 

His most celebrated title is Tigris and Euphrates. It's not a design I'd say was particularly creative, owing a huge debt to common abstracts. It's also not a game I enjoy particularly, although I can see why people do. It's a strong, lean and deep design one could play many times and still not master.

Which leads us on to another consideration. What if you don't measure a designer by their creativity, but by a simpler measure: how much people enjoy their games?

Here, the good doctor is on much firmer ground. He's got eight games in the boardgamegeek top 200, a spectacular feat considering that they're older titles in a list which favours newness and celebrity. Some of those games, particuarly Battle Line and Ra, belong to that rare category of games that offer joy to almost everyone.

So I'm guessing that fun is the criteria people are using when they talk about Knizia being a great designer. One could argue, again, that his vast output of mediocre titles should be set against this highlights, but perhaps that's a churlish attitude. 

What's more troubling is that some of his more popular games are amongst his most tedious. Samurai and Through the Desert strike me as humorless, boring games that would be better played against a machine than a fellow human being. The fact that these are celebrated would once have seemed to some as evidence of everything that was wrong with gaming. It still does to me, but it seems I'm now in a minority.

I'd argue, though, that creativity is simply a better measure of greatness. It's rarer, for starters. Since that mid-nineties explosion of German brilliance I'd say there are perhaps three people who've shown it regularly. They are Martin Wallace, Rob Daviau and the incomparable Vlaada Chvatil.

On the other side, of that triumvirate, it's only Chvatil who's regularly put out games that are both creative and fun. Daviau's designs are often packed with fresh imaginative ideas, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Wallace perfected the art of bringing balance to highly interactive and non-random games, but his titles can be dry and heavy beyond endurance.

And this is where Dr. Knizia earns his stripes. Not as the most creative designer ever, nor as the most fun, but as someone who's struck a beautiful balance of the two with so many of his games. When you step back there are remarkably few designers whose work is almost always worth your time in some way or other. I still think Vlaada is top of that heap. But Knizia wins a deserved second.

Posted: 06 Jul 2015 10:29 by The*Mad*Gamer #205455
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Matt,

The fact is in 100 years no one will know who the hell Vlaada Chvatil was but they will remember Knizia. But that's the way things go, a lot of people didn't recognize Mozart's genius in his time.

I wonder if you went back and played Through the Dessert and Samurai prior to writing this article. If you didn't you should read Michael's Master of Theme article and then play these games again. Perhaps you will see them with new eyes.

I find it strange that no one is talking much about Michael's article that the Doctor posted on his website. I got a comment on Youtube in reference to your article Matt that says it sounds like you have an axe to grind...Hmmm...I don't know. Your articles are always full of such elegant prose it is hard to pull out the subtle things that may creep below the surface but I do know Michael's article seems to have people's worlds shaken.

Take Chris Farrell..He has written more articles on Knizia than anyone yet you don't find an article by Farrell on Knizia's site you find Barnes. What's even funnier and a clue to Chris' jealousy is that on BGG you see him thumb a post by a guy that didn't even listen to the interview and still brings up the banning issue 10 years later falling into line with the likes of someone named Drew who still can't get past he was the butt of a few jokes of which I can't even remember.

And what of BGG? Knizia the White Knight of BGG and he puts an article by Barnes on his website? This can't be...I wonder if Barnes heard from anyone over there with congratulations? I doubt it.

An what of Tom Vasel who in his review of Glenn's Gallery by Knizia says that Knizia could just put some scaps of paper and dice in a box and it would be published! What a knock against Knizia! It seems Tom is accusing the Doctor of not really working hard when in fact if you listened to the interview is quite the opposite. Knizia claims that the minimum time involved in game design is 3 to 4 months yet the grand designer of Viscious Fishes seems to know better?

The point is a lot of people don't get Knizia and as Chris Farrell says he's on a different level.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 10:40 by charlest #205456
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Great article but I don't know if I agree that it doesn't take creativity to re-use mechanisms and systems already devised in interesting new ways.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 10:43 by The*Mad*Gamer #205458
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Here is the response to Matt's article posted on YouTube:
poor Matt. Hes gone and written an awful follow up article trying to sound measured and researched but comes across as someone with a weird axe to grind, using all kinds of nonsensical arguments about Knizia not being innovative, LOL. Weirdly forgetting that you could argue almost any game is "just a such and such" version of "this or that" from before. Thats the nature of games which when you think about it all boil down to some kind of abstract. His output in the 90s on its own was titanic, unmatched and yes, GENIUS. Tigris which obviously Matt doesnt like, is probably the best boardgame design of all time, on its own it would put Knizia up in the highest echelon of designers. Honestly his article sounds like some of those retard "sports analysts" that try to argue nonsensical contrarian points just to try and ruffle feathers and totally ignoring the actual facts and reasonable arguments. Troll! Trying to argue that Knizia is "Overrated" and then cobbling together some bullshit article trying to somehow intellectually waffle about what we mean by "great" is just fucking stupid. If you don't recognise Knizia as one of the greatest boardgame designers of all time, you're just fucking wrong and you may as well just quit fucking talking about them. The end.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 10:45 by The*Mad*Gamer #205459
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Good to hear Matt being called a Troll for a change instead of me !!!

LMAO!!!!!
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 11:13 by Gary Sax #205463
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I, personally, do not think someone should be praised for grinding out many similar designs. A guy has got to get paid, it doesn't offend me, but I don't see it like as a plus---I absolutely agree with Matt on that. On the other hand, in his favor, I think even if you group Knizia's designs by very similar mechanics and mentally collapse all the virtually identical games into one he'd still have an amazing like 10 game catalog that would probably blow Vlaada out of the water.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 11:29 by Gregarius #205468
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Personally, I find his variations on a similar design to be proof of creativity, not the lack of it. If nothing else, it at least shows curiosity. I can imagine him looking over a design and asking, "What if I did this?" Instead of just tweaking the design, he makes a new game out of it. Sometimes that works better than others, but the fact that he can make a robust game out of a tweak at all is pretty impressive.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 11:34 by engineer Al #205470
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Wonderful article Matt. Well written and well stated. Excellent job. You did neglect to mention my favorite Knizia game, INGENIOUS which is a fun family classic.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 12:00 by Michael Barnes #205472
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Great writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, poets, architects, etc. do not create a completely unique work every time they produce something new. Nor should they be expected to do so by the audience. All of the above creators- especially the ones we consider great- tend to go through periods of discovery, innovation and re-discovery or revision. A painter might do an entire series of paintings using a particular technique or stylistic motif. A poet might do a full book's worth of writings about a specific subject or using a specific format. This is how creators explore their mediums.

Knizia works on this level. Not on Vlaada Chvatil's level. Not to dismiss Chvatil's creativity or his ability to design great games, but the kind of thing the Knizia does is frankly quite a bit beyond what he is doing in any of his game. Several of which, I might add, are really quite derivative of past designs or concepts.

But great artists also shouldn't be expected to be the starting point for a creative thread. Bowie didn't just come up with everything he was doing in the late 1960s, early 1970s. There were influences that he worked into something new. Lovecraft didn't just come up with all of that Mythos stuff from nothing. He was drawing on the things that motivated his own creativity and developing those ideas into work of his own. This idea that a "great" artist has to be the incept point is just plain ignorant.

Part of the genius of what Knizia does is, whether you choose to accept it or not, how he has branded himself and made his name a marketable and saleable commodity. No, not every game he makes is on par with LOTR, TTD, T&E, Ra and so forth. But not every record Prince made is Purple Rain or Sign o' The Times, either. He gets that he can be successful by selling a design and letting a publisher do whatever they want with it in terms of pictures/setting- and it doesn't matter, because there is still those great 15, 20 Knizia titles that are literally timeless monuments in board game design. To dismiss his ability to become a SUCCESSFUL game designer- probably the best-known and most financially valuable name in game design in the history of the medium is foolish and shortsighted. There is more to it than "I didn't like Relationship Tightrope" or "Zombiegeddon is a lame cash-in".

Knizia is completely UNDERRATED, and the devaluing of his name is probably one of the WORST things that came out of the Ameritrash business. Likewise, the internet parrots that latched on to this "Knizia pastes on themes" thing have done a grave disservice, completely failing to see that this man has a better handle on what theme is than just about any other designer that has ever worked in this medium.

When it comes down to it, Knizia is like the Velvet Underground. It doesn't matter if you like them or not- they matter on their own terms, and their impact is profound. Likewise, your value judgment of individual games in the Knizia ludography doesn't make a lick of difference because even if you boil it down to ten titles, you are still looking at ten titles that are revolutionary, singular, influential and impactful in ways that just about nobody working today in games can match.

I've played bad Knizia games, I get it. But they were also games that I bet Knizia himself would consider to be lesser work. This does not mean that he is a hack, it doesn't mean that he's some kind of sell out or creatively bankrupt. It means that he's smart enough to take a paycheck and keep working in the medium in he loves.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 12:03 by Shapeshifter #205473
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I agree that most of the popular Wallace designs tend to be "dry", especially Age of Steam and Brass spring to mind, but he tends to be also a designer who tries to truly capture the theme/setting of his games. When he does produce a game with a less dry theme he truly shows how intense his designs can be and how much narrative drama they can offer.
"Moongha Invaders" spring to mind, and "A Study in Emerald", both brilliant designs from both a mechanical and thematic standpoint.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 12:18 by Erik Twice #205476
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I always thought the "Knizia debate" was not so much about him or his games as it is a cultural thing. You know, like talking about the cult of the new or whether "heavy" games are better than light ones.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 12:27 by Motorik #205478
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I'm a dyed-in-the-wool wargamer, but one of the things I like about Knizia is his ability to get a lot of "game" out of a very spartan ruleset. There's something very graceful about his best designs. And "graceful" doesn't mean his games are effete, either. His best work offers a real crescendo of emotional stakes through the course of playing, which is pretty amazing when you can strip down the mechanics of most of his work and find only a transparent skeleton of basic math. There's some weird alchemy going on with his classic work, building these rich experiences out of simple rules and a framework that just consists of numbers. I play two-player Samurai a LOT with one of my old-school gamer buddies, and, sure, all you're doing is putting numbered tiles around cities and trying to get the higher total...yet there is a real trajectory of tension in that game, especially between two people who know what they're doing, especially with regard to the use of the special tiles. The "will they/won't they" tension of wondering if your opponent is about to spring the ronin/figure exchange/tile exchange on you is weirdly powerful. That's just one random example.

Anyway, as far as the other designers go, I like Chvatil and Daviau (I'll be nice and not say anything about Wallace), but tap me on the shoulder when they produce a body of work even remotely comparable to RA, BATTLE LINE, T&E, TAJ MAHAL, THROUGH THE DESERT, MODERN ART, SAMURAI, etc. And honestly, I'd take a lot of Knizia's B-roll (Titan/Colossal Arena, Blue Moon, Kingdoms, Money, etc) over most designer's best stuff.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 13:22 by iguanaDitty #205485
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To me the most interesting part of this is the discussion about whether incremental change over time is creativity. I believe it is creative to build upon previous work, tweaking things here and there to see what works and what doesn't. For one thing, the tweaks can be less obvious than it appears. More interestingly, though, I think that lessons learned and ideas spurred from that sort of incremental design often makes the larger more obviously "creative" steps possible.

There's also an analogy here to prolific songwriters. The folk singer Malvina Reynolds is supposed to have said she wrote a song every morning before breakfast, and with an output like that she couldn't help but have a good one once in a while.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 16:31 by Applejack #205513
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I agree with Matt that Knizia has perhaps designed too many games. There are several games of his I really love to play ("LOTR: The Confrontation", "Battle Line"), but he has a ton of published games, 46 pages if you look at his BGG entry. There are a dozen games (or more) of his that I would want in my collection, and a dozen games from the same designer is more than the next closest designer. Not bad for a guy who designs abstracts primarily.

Maybe his prolific-ness is a part of why he's so successful. There's got to be a few gems in that huge a catalog.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 16:37 by MattDP #205515
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Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and comment. I can't reply to everything, but there's a few points I wanted to make clear.

First, this has nothing to do with theme. That's an old and very tired debate which would be better served by its own article, especially since it's irrelevant here. Suffice to say that my attitude nowadays is effectively that you have ConSims and abstracts and pretty much nothing inbetween.

So why pick on Knizia? Well, that's my second point: I certainly do have an axe to grind. I thought it was pretty obvious in the piece. There are several high-profile Knizia games I dislike intensely - Samurai, Through the Desert, The Confrontation and LotR. Not because they lack theme (although even Michael had a hard time justifying the theme in Through the Desert) but because I find them boring. Limp, lifeless things lacking any of the excitement, variety or interaction that are the lifeblood of my favorite titles.

Third, I appreciate that all creative work is built on what has gone before. That's obvious. But when they're standing on the pyramids built by their predecessors, some artists can leap further into the unknown than others. Knizia has not leaped as far as many of his peers. That said, I like the viewpoint that by returning to the same idea and tinkering with it to make new and interesting things time and time again is its own kind of genius and innovation. I can get behind that with Knizia's games.

Finally, I'm not and have never badmouthed Knizia as a designer, and I've always been uncomfortable with those in the community who have. Ra and Battle Line are amongst my very favourite games. Amun-Re and T&E are superbly clever things that I will always play with pleasure and admire, although I like them less than some. The question I'm looking at is whether he's truly a *great* designer as opposed to merely a very good one.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 17:44 by scissors #205518
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sorry, I haven't got anything more to add that if knizia isn't a great designer, I don't know who is. :/ i don't even want to take issue with the article. So you think he's merely good... Who was greater Marc Chagall or Pablo Picasso? Gauguin or Van Gogh? Warhol or Basquiat? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? beckett or ionesco? Cindy Sherman or Nan Goldin?

knizia belongs in pretty serious company, albeit in the gaming world, so it is a matter of appreciation, understanding, preference, even what point you are at personally. He belongs in the Taschen who's who of game designers if they were to ever publish such a thing. Pretty sure chvatil belongs there too and wallace obviously though I personally would choose knizia over either. but that's just me. luckily for dr knizia, there are a lot of people who feel the same way. I'm sure he can't be arsed about the rest. i certainly din't think he is overrated or being showered with unfair praise.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 18:45 by Motorik #205520
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I was doing a little Thought Experiment, trying to imagine the first five classes of inductees for an imaginary Game Designers Hall of Fame in my head. Based not just on quality of output, but also on overall impact or influence.

So, yeah. Totally subjective but Knizia makes my first class of inductees. Wallace? Fifth class, although admittedly I only like one game he's ever designed. Chvatil and Daviau would probably be sixth class, mostly because I feel they both have a lot more great games ahead of them.

To echo something Barnes was getting at, the thing about Knizia is he's somehow managed to build a marketable brand out of his name and design style without it coming across as obnoxious or tacky. I mean, there are dozens of iOS games with his name plastered in the title: original puzzle games that aren't even based on existing table top games. That's pretty amazing to me. While "CATAN" will always be a bigger brand than Klaus Teuber, Knizia's name is somehow bigger than any game he's ever designed. Yet he comes across in that YT interview as remarkably humble.

First Class (alphabetical):
Richard Garfield, Reiner Knizia, Charles Roberts, Sid Sackson, Klaus Teuber

2nd Class:
Don Greenwood, Richard Hamblen, Wolfgang Kramer, Alan R. Moon, Uwe Rosenberg

3rd Class:
Richard Berg, Richard Borg, Bruno Faidutti, Larry Harris, Richard Launius

4th Class:
Leo Colovini, Eric Lang, Ted Raicer, Andreas Seyfarth, Mark Simonitch

5th Class:
Stefan Dorra, Dirk Henn, Francis Tresham, Martin Wallace, Kevin Wilson
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 20:00 by Michael Barnes #205521
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That's not a bad breakdown there- but I would be inclined to possibly move Kramer to the first round. The man invented the victory point track, FFS. And really, Alex Randolph has more provenance than Kevin Wilson, Launius, or any of the more modern guys on there.

It's hard to not include Berg. What that man does is so singular, and he's a great example of a designer who doesn't always make "great" games but is usually worth watching.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 20:21 by DukeofChutney #205525
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Good article, though i probably think Knizia is greater than Chvaatil, I enjoy his games more. I would suggest that greatness is a bit too nebulous to tie down to one attribute. Whilst half of his output are really auction games i think the greatness of Knizia is that he has a good number of life style games under his belt. Most designers put out reams of play it 5 times and then done games, the Knizia games I have played all warrant a lot more than this and are really games to keep playing through life. He does draw on traditional games a lot, but that's why his games have the durability.


In a weird way i think his dependence on traditional style games is actually what makes Knizia unique and refreshing. In a world where most euro style games seem to fit into a cookie cutter set of design principles i find Knizias auction and tile games more interesting and in some respects more creative, although this is my modern eyes looking back, rather than an accurate reflection of the mid 90s.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 20:35 by Motorik #205526
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Aw man, yeah, I totally forgot about Randolph. I'll blame it on residual brain cell loss from playing too much Ricochet Robot back in the day.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 21:21 by Michael Barnes #205528
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DukeofChutney wrote:
In a weird way i think his dependence on traditional style games is actually what makes Knizia unique and refreshing. In a world where most euro style games seem to fit into a cookie cutter set of design principles i find Knizias auction and tile games more interesting and in some respects more creative, although this is my modern eyes looking back, rather than an accurate reflection of the mid 90s.

This is very significant, I think. One of the "great" things about Knizia's best games is that they tie back to these timeless kinds of mechanics.

Waaaay back in 1995 or so when I first got Settlers, a friend of mine said "this is basically Craps meets Civilization". I had not thought about it, but the basic underlying mechanic of rolling two dice with the 6/7/8 easy bets down down the 2 and 12 longshots is actually the same. That is a very different kind of bedrock for a design than deckbuilding, dungeoncrawling or worker placement.
Posted: 06 Jul 2015 21:48 by Motorik #205532
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Can't Stop uses the same basic 'two dice, high/low probability' premise and it's both my favorite Sackson game and inarguably one of the top five beer 'n' pretzels games of all time. You can get so much mileage out of those kinds of enduring old-school mechanics, and I think that's something that's been lost in the hybrid era.
Posted: 07 Jul 2015 00:21 by daveroswell #205541
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Sid Sackson is one of my absolute favorite designers, with Can't Stop actually being one of my favorite games of all time.

That being said, I think it is humorous when people state the "Kinizia pastes on theme" when Kinizia produced a brilliant innovative game in Ingenious. (I always did think it had a little bit TOO much ego with the name, but still a great game and innovative scoring.)
Posted: 07 Jul 2015 12:05 by Shellhead #205560
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daveroswell wrote:
That being said, I think it is humorous when people state the "Kinizia pastes on theme" when Kinizia produced a brilliant innovative game in Ingenious. (I always did think it had a little bit TOO much ego with the name, but still a great game and innovative scoring.)

Knizia totally pasted on the theme in Cthulhu Rising. He totally phoned that game in.
Posted: 07 Jul 2015 12:50 by Michael Barnes #205563
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No. Twilight Creations pasted that theme onto a Knizia design that they purchased to sucker in geeks that will buy anything with Cthulhu on it. Knizia did not set out to make a Cthulhu game with that. You're blaming the wrong part of the equation here.
Posted: 07 Jul 2015 13:18 by Motorik #205565
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sigh

also known by the alternate title Reiner Knizia's Jesus Fucking Christ Geeks Are Literally A Fucking Pox On Humanity
Posted: 07 Jul 2015 21:16 by Sevej #205612
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I have this strange aversion with Chvaatil's designs. Not sure why. In a way, he should be my favorite designer, because he translates my favorite computer games to a board game format. But the thing is, he often translates the wrong part, or the parts I don't like. Marcussen probably took off that mantle from him for me. I guess I'm just looking for something different in board games.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 10:47 by Ken B. #205680
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We played LOTR Confrontation yesterday, hadn't played it in awhile. It's funny, it's actually one of the earliest games I bought when I started "collecting." We played it for months until the cards were dirty and worn--so I sleeved it so we could keep playing. (Sorry "no sleever" purists, that's just how I roll.)

And it was just as fun as I'd remembered. It told a small story in both games we played (flipped sides.) It told the story in large significant beats that were devoid of flavor text or other artificial augmentation.

We played Lord of the Rings earlier this year. Again, one that had been on the shelf for a bit. We all were consumed at Mount Doom, but what a hell of a game it was. Again, it told a perfect narrative in a series of important story beats without beating you over the head with flavor text or artificial augmentation of any kind. See those die rolls on the Shelob board? That's where you fight Shelob. And the game encourages you to use Sam to beat her--just like the book. It doesn't hold your hand or force the issue. It just is. You're actually rewarded for following the story.

I have a vague selection of "untradable" titles in my collection, ones that if I sold would mean I was leaving the hobby (or in dire financial straits, god forbid.) Among those would be Confrontation. Lord of the Rings. Tigris & Euprhates. Ra.

Has he designed some 'paycheck drek?' Yep. But tell me that there aren't days at your job where you're tired or otherwise just phoning it in--you collect that paycheck all the same. And his best stuff? That's the kind of stuff that will stand the test of time.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 13:55 by JonJacob #205721
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I don't know for sure what it is but I find this whole conversation really off putting. Something about ranking designers in this way really turns me off and feels like the antithesis of gaming. Never mind player elimination, this kind of ranking is anti-fun.

They are actually a similar generation of designers but that's not totally fair, yes Knizia did become a full time designer in 1997 and technically Chvaatil's first game came out that same year. But honestly no one knew who the fuck he was till Through the Ages (2002) came out and even then... did we really know who he was yet? I'd argue that wasn't until Galaxy Trucker that he really showed his true colours. Chvaatil is a video game designer who couldn't keep working in that field for one reason or another and made the jump to board games. Reiner is a money man, a math guy. It feels to me that Chvatil, as a designer, created his best games in a post Knizia world.

It is my belief that, partly for this reason, they are not even comparable. The boardgame world was in the midst of a Knizia lovefest when Chvaatil was cutting his teeth, his best designs came onto the market after Knizia was already a star and could not be designed with the same principles or even in the same way. He instead tried to come up with new ways to represent idea's from the video games he worked on. He is a total anomaly really and also changed the way we look at game design. Just like Knizia did. But they did it very differently.

See, I'm ok with someone telling me that Mozart was better than Saleri, that's fine, two classical era composers and one that is incredible and the other is clearly mediocre. But it's kind of dumb to say he's better than Beethoven since they are both hugely important and Beethoven as a composer existed in a post Mozart world. One doesn't really happen without the other in quite the same way nor is there someone who is clearer 'better' once you get to that level. Admittedly I feel pretty stupid comparing game designer to composers but it's what I know... I don't see them on that level personally. Despite my love for this hobby.

Knizia loves math and Chaavatil loves machine language. It's pretty clear that their designs work with different principles and at their root come from very different places. Chaavitl is more baroque and Knizia more spartan but, that's easy, that's obvious.... still, it puts them in different worlds all together. Right now Barnes has managed to turn F:AT into a Knizia love fest and while I like and respect the guy I'm totally against the idea of putting him on some kind of pedestal. Are his 'family' of games equivalent to something like Picasso's blue period as Barnes argues? Representing gaming concepts being pushed in many different directions..? Maybe, maybe he rips himself off a bit... who knows. All I can judge by are the games, his goal going into them is irrelevant if they don't work for me. Mostly they have worked for me and I like Knizia just fine. But I've probably had more laughs, more fun with Chvaatil's titles. Even if they weren't as slickly designed, even if they did have more unnecessary detail. In such a frivolous hobby I like unnecessary detail. The whole damn hobby is unnecessary if you get right down to it. So what? Knizia's titles haven't brought me laughs like Chvaatil's have, they've been brain burning at times, they've been more like gambling for me. Which is fine too, but not my favourite thing about gaming. Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert alone have probably given me more laughs than most games I've played.

On top of all of this even if they were the same time period of designers and even if they didn't have such different design goals, aesthetics and styles of finding logic in game design it would still be difficult to compare them as we're attempting to do here. I think it's a great disservice to both designers to put them back to back so seriously like this. A trashdome would make more sense because then at least the silliness of the debate would be undercut by the extraordinary silliness of a trashdome.

Here's a quick point that I have to make though.. after all that rambling you may not have time to hear any more of my shit but... just because you don't like Knizia or Chvaatil doesn't mean they are bad designers. If you think that... you're simply wrong. There are dozens of great designers and it is very difficult to judge them with any kind of objectiveness... at the level that most of these people reach it honestly just comes down to taste. It's not like we're talking about a hack vs. a pro here, it's two giants from different schools.

Let's try this one next... who's better - Chopin or Johnny Rotten? That's what this argument feels like to me.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 14:23 by Michael Barnes #205729
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Nobody was really ranking anybody...Motorik's post was suggesting a hypothetical "Hall of Fame" order of induction. You are absolutely correct- each auteur-level designer has something different to offer, and there are a wide range of qualities and signatures that are worth looking at. When I call Knizia the "best" or "greatest", it's like when I talk about Bowie being those things...it doesn't mean that I don't love Prince just as much or Joy Division or whatever...because those artists have something different to offer.

I think this is a gross misunderstanding about how Knizia designs and sells his games. There's this assumption that he "slaps a theme on colored, numbered cards" which is almost always not the case. He might work up a design (and he's got drawers full of them, like Prince's mythical vaults) and apply some setting to it to prototype. He takes that prototype- which is really almost just a mechanical proof of concept- to Essen or Nuremburg, wherever and interested parties offer to buy it. They may have zero interest in the proxy setting and fully intend for a simple auction/drafting game to be illustrated with a media license or another setting.

For example. I played an actual Knizia-made prototype of the game that would be come Municipium about ten years ago. At the time, the game was called Magistrate (I think that's right) and the mechanics were almost exactly the same as what got published with a Roman theme eight years later. But when I played it, the design was at a publisher that wanted to do a pulp adventure (think Doc Savage) setting and it was going to be called Adventure League. Knizia wasn't pasting the theme on, as people say. He was selling a mutable design for the PUBLISHER to DEVELOP as they saw fit.

So you get Knizia games about donuts, fleas, zombies, relationships, whatever. And at this tier of his work, almost never are those games purpose-built to express a specific setting.

When people talk about him cranking out copycat games or whatever, they miss the simple fact that Knizia wants his role to be the designer. The person that makes the mechanics. He firmly believes in the publisher-as-gatekeeper (which is where he agreed with me on Kickstarter) and respects that when he sells a design, they may develop it in a way that they feel is more viable or saleable on the marketplace. So sure, Twilight Creations isn't going to (unfortunately) do Jager und Sammler with the prehistoric theme. They're going to do Zombiegeddon. It's not Knizia's fault.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 14:51 by JonJacob #205737
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Michael Barnes wrote:

I think this is a gross misunderstanding about how Knizia designs and sells his games. There's this assumption that he "slaps a theme on colored, numbered cards" which is almost always not the case.

Even if it was I wouldn't have a problem with that. I don't have a hard time finding theme or setting in a game. Abstracts frequently offer me more than enough in terms of theme.

I think that some aspects of the Ameritrash movement or the pro theme movement are actually really lazy. There are a lot of people that want everything hand fed to them and don't want to do any work at all. That's what text boxes are for... people who can't do the work in their heads. I can totally see the theme and setting in something as stupidly simple as Lost Cities... I believe most of us (if we're not being disingenuous) can see it. It's not hard. You can not like that kind of design, you can prefer to have nitty gritty details, but that's just one way to feel the theme of a game.

That's not to say that I don't love baroque designs personally, playing Earth Reborn the other day made me remember just how much I love that level of detail... but it's a different thing. Detail is not theme... Lost Cities has almost no detail, but the theme is very obvious, very apparent. You can say instead that 'the designer is lazy for not giving me more' but that's not fair either. The designer designed the game they wanted to design. You may not like the way they went about bringing theme and setting to the game but that's doesn't mean it's not there.

Like I've said around here before, theme and setting are mystified a little too much by gamers. It is not hard to get those things across at all and I have felt plenty of those qualities in games ranging from 10 minutes to 6 hours. I don't think it's difficult to bring theme out of a game... it is probably difficult to do that well and make the whole experience tense and fun and continually entertaining... but that's a much different discussion.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 14:57 by Ken B. #205740
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Hey Mikey B., here's a philosophical conundrum I encountered while talking about with this with my brother. I have a feeling you share similar opinions, so help me reconcile this.

1. For games, I agree with you. Publishers are gatekeepers and I consider them necessarily so. They are generally fantastic at weeding out poor designs and refining half-baked ones into something worthwhile. While I have Kickstarted projects from time to time, it is rare, and only then for companies I feel are acting as this necessary gatekeeper, but are of a size where using Kickstarter is a necessity. (I've kickstarted games from 8th Summit, Red Raven, and most recently Academy Games.)

But...


2. For music, I consider record labels greedy Satanists who milk every dollar out of the system, leaving crumbs for artists. And I find that even with them, they push acts that I don't feel are of any significant quality. (Seriously, ugly people don't seem to be allowed to publish records on major labels anymore.)


How can I reconcile these two opinions without being a hypocrite?
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 15:34 by dysjunct #205746
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Ken B. wrote:
Hey Mikey B., here's a philosophical conundrum I encountered while talking about with this with my brother. I have a feeling you share similar opinions, so help me reconcile this.

1. For games, I agree with you. Publishers are gatekeepers and I consider them necessarily so. They are generally fantastic at weeding out poor designs and refining half-baked ones into something worthwhile. While I have Kickstarted projects from time to time, it is rare, and only then for companies I feel are acting as this necessary gatekeeper, but are of a size where using Kickstarter is a necessity. (I've kickstarted games from 8th Summit, Red Raven, and most recently Academy Games.)

But...


2. For music, I consider record labels greedy Satanists who milk every dollar out of the system, leaving crumbs for artists. And I find that even with them, they push acts that I don't feel are of any significant quality. (Seriously, ugly people don't seem to be allowed to publish records on major labels anymore.)


How can I reconcile these two opinions without being a hypocrite?

It's a question of scale. Hobbyist game publishers are operating on different scales and are generally in it for passion, not for money. If a game publisher got sufficiently large, and there was enough money in game publishing, then you'd see them adopt the same tactics of the big record labels.

Do you have the same opinion of the small DIY labels like Dischord? I see them as much more analogous to a Z-Man (pre-buyout) than to someone in the same industry like EMI or whatever.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 15:37 by Ken B. #205748
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dysjunct wrote:
Do you have the same opinion of the small DIY labels like Dischord? I see them as much more analogous to a Z-Man (pre-buyout) than to someone in the same industry like EMI or whatever.


That's a good point. No, I don't feel the same about smaller labels. Or even smaller 'vanity' labels like Third Man Records. So yes, a question of scale then.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 15:41 by Michael Barnes #205750
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That is EXACTLY what I was going to say, Dysjunct. In games, you're talking about moving thousands of units and small investments. The CEO might drive a new Dodge. In music, you're talking about millions of units, investing money in A&R, investing in artist development, marketing, licensing etc. etc. etc. The CEO might drive a new Maybach.

I would absolutely agree that even at a level as high up as Z-Man (even with a holding company involved there), it is still closer to Dischord than Capitol Records. And even moving up to FFG, Asmodee and so forth you're still looking at companies that are much less corporate-controlled. And NOT publically owned, so there are no shareholders or anything like that involved. So there is more leeway and less interference.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 21:35 by mikecl #205772
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If, as Michael says, Knizia develops mechanics onto which game publishers slap designs, it's no wonder some of his games like Beowulf feel as bloodless as a corpse. I'm still an Ameritrash fan and that means I want the designer to start with the theme first and then craft mechanics to fit the story, not the other way around. I first got into board games because I wanted to live the adventures I'd find in books, not solve some boring puzzle or justify my intellect. For me games are about the experience. Winning is just the icing on that cake.

I'm no stranger to abstracts, I played tournament level chess in my 20s. Three months ago I even reacquired Knizia's original Lord of the Rings 2000 (after trading it years ago) because as my gaming knowledge and tastes have evolved I have found new respect for the austerity of its design. I have another Knizia game which while great isn't bad: Star Trek: Expeditions even though it's very mathy (like most of his stuff really). Ironically considering the current atmosphere I was virtually alone in supporting it here although Pete liked it I think.

I'll likely pick up the Tigris and Euphrates reprint too

But I don't think Knizia is god. Far from it. I traded the first Knizia game I ever purchased (Lost Cities) because it's just a cheap rummy variant. My favourite games are still War of the Ring, not Lord of the Ring (when I'm playing War I feel like I'm living the adventure in the book, when I play Knizia's version, I feel like I'm playing cards -- yes I can see the abstracted links in my mind, but I don't feel them in my heart like I do with War).

I like games like Duel of Ages, Merchants and Marauders, Twilight Struggle, Shadows of Malice, Earth Reborn, Alien Uprising, Android, (the board game, not Netrunner), Duel in the Dark, Thunder Alley etc...

I know how malleable theme can be. I was a fan of Mark Chaplin's, PnP Aliens: This Time It's War -- a competitive two-player card game based on the Alien movie that got turned into Revolver because Stronghold Games thought a Western would sell better. So Xenomorphs became outlaws and Space Marines, a cowboy posse. It didn't work nearly as well for me. Crashing the train just wasn't as thematic as nuking the planet from orbit, but what do I know.

Many of Reiner's games lack the excitement and immersion I feel with a good Ameritrash game that puts me in the driver's seat. However, like Chess and the chess-like Tigris and Euphrates there's obviously room for both.

Is Knizia a superior game designer? Not to me. He's certainly a prolific one and I get his games (like Beowulf) on an intellectual level, but I play games to have fun and I have to say most of the time, I'm just not feeling him.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 22:39 by The*Mad*Gamer #205778
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You sound exactly like Barnes in 2006! Funny how he has evolved!

I had War of the Ring and traded it away! I prefer Lord of the Rings by Knizia. Plastic men do not make a game, but clearly I am wrong if you look at the big money that is being made on Kickstarter from minis, AMAZING!

A lot of it is group dependent too! My group was bored to tears with WAR OF THE RING, but was on teh edge of the seat with Knizia's Lord of the Rings. All games are math and abstract in some sense but some click and some don't.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 23:08 by The*Mad*Gamer #205781
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I should say that I also traded away Knizia's Amun Re, dreadful game...and I totally agreed with Robert Martin back in the day that this was a spreadsheet game.
I of course didn't mention that to Knizia in the interview because after all it was a Celebrationof his 30 years of games, not a debate. hehehe

But speaking of the lost legend Robert Martin, he was the first guest on my podcast and we were discussing horse racing games. He loved The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game and said that Knizia's Royal Turf (Winner's Circle) sucked all the fun out of a horse racing game.

Now I must say that I have both games and both games went over really well with my gaming group. But the interesting thing is that over the years when someone says they want to play that horse racing game, they mean Knizia's the one with the horse head on the die.

I found that interesting, perhaps a Knizia game is like fine wine and gets better over time.
Posted: 08 Jul 2015 23:13 by wadenels #205782
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The*Mad*Gamer wrote:
I had War of the Ring and traded it away! I prefer Lord of the Rings by Knizia.

Same here.

But I think it's premature to declare Knizia (or any other current designer) good or great or any other quantifier while they're still iterating on their previous designs. A great designer should have a timeless quality. I don't feel like Vlaada has that now, but I may be wrong and maybe someday he'll be in that pantheon of great designers. I hold my "great" designer tier for designers of games that have delivered over decades. Derek Carver is up there, because a couple of his games manage to evoke emotion with dated mechanics. He took what he knew at the time and did something great with it. The original Warrior Knights still puts something on the table that hasn't been reproduced. Lightning in a bottle, maybe, but lightning all the same. Sid Sackson is in that tier as well, although much more prolific. If we're still fondly talking about at least one or two Knizia or Teuber or Kramer games in 2025 then they, too, would probably be considered great in particular circles. They may be in that discussion eventually, but to bring it up now is pontificating. Because they are still iterating and it takes time to separate the wheat from the chaff and make a well-reasoned determination on whether they really hit on something great or a spark that ignited something better in their peers. Maybe that spark is worth discussing.

Was anyone calling Led Zeppelin or The Who great in 1977? If they were they were premature. The Beatles in 1968? Premature.
Any of them in in the 21st century? That's a discussion worth having.

I really liked Barnes' comparison to the Velvet Underground. That's apt. But still premature.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 00:16 by mikecl #205787
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The*Mad*Gamer wrote:
You sound exactly like Barnes in 2006! Funny how he has evolved!

Yeah it's called old age.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 09:25 by Mr. White #205798
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I also prefer Knizia's Lord of the Rings over War of the Ring.

LotR with its simple components and beautiful illustrations puts me in Middle Earth more than WotR does. Also, as has been mentioned many times here, the players struggling against Sauron feels like a better match for the book than a head-to-head wargame does. My take on the story is that the war is the background setting for the themes of camaraderie, sacrifice, etc. LotR better replicates this theme than a wargame does.

Plus, there are other wargames I like more than WotR. LotR is a unique co-op that I feel is best in class.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 09:58 by iguanaDitty #205804
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mikecl wrote:
If, as Michael says, Knizia develops mechanics onto which game publishers slap designs, it's no wonder some of his games like Beowulf feel as bloodless as a corpse.

Yeah, I had the same reaction to that statement.

Maybe you could argue he evokes certain feelings with certain designs that a good publisher can align with a theme...ie if Lord of the Rings was designed this way (no idea if it was or not) the publisher recognized the feeling of sacrifice evoked by the mechanics and saw that it was a good fit with LotR? Feels like a stretch...
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 10:06 by Mr. White #205806
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I don't think that operating procedure holds true for every case.

I'd wager Knizia knew he was contracted to make a LotR game so then developed one rather then a publisher asking if he had a game on hand they could buy and theme up.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 12:39 by Motorik #205854
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People who, like, require some dipshit conventional narrative out of every board game they play confound the shit out of me. There's some bizarre, incongruous dissonance taking place between artistic medium and irrational expectation. I imagine these same people demand that the hamburger on their plate tell them a shitty derivative zombie story before they'll condescend to eating it.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 13:21 by Mad Dog #205862
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Motorik wrote:
I imagine these same people demand that the hamburger on their plate tell them a shitty derivative zombie story before they'll condescend to eating it.

Posted: 09 Jul 2015 13:25 by Shellhead #205864
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Motorik wrote:
People who, like, require some dipshit conventional narrative out of every board game they play confound the shit out of me. There's some bizarre, incongruous dissonance taking place between artistic medium and irrational expectation. I imagine these same people demand that the hamburger on their plate tell them a shitty derivative zombie story before they'll condescend to eating it.

Without any sense of narrative, a boardgame seems like just an exercise in making choices and following procedures. That sounds more like work than fun, and I don't want to spend my free time doing unnecessary, unpaid work. Might as well do some more yardwork instead. And a game without narrative is boring to discuss afterwards.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 13:59 by Motorik #205869
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I dunno I could do without the grab bag of limp genre identifiers that characterize most alleged "narrative" board games.

All games spool some kind of narrative, but directing your brain to search for a conventional narrative is both a weird self-imposed restriction and, to be frank, pretty insulting to the nature of the board game medium. It's a medium that can and is supposed to transcend conventional narrative, and that's why they're awesome.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 14:05 by Ken B. #205870
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Shellhead wrote:
Motorik wrote:
People who, like, require some dipshit conventional narrative out of every board game they play confound the shit out of me. There's some bizarre, incongruous dissonance taking place between artistic medium and irrational expectation. I imagine these same people demand that the hamburger on their plate tell them a shitty derivative zombie story before they'll condescend to eating it.

Without any sense of narrative, a boardgame seems like just an exercise in making choices and following procedures. That sounds more like work than fun, and I don't want to spend my free time doing unnecessary, unpaid work. Might as well do some more yardwork instead. And a game without narrative is boring to discuss afterwards.


Very true, but I don't need a game to always hold my hand and spoon-feed me said narrative, particularly if it's just art or flavor text. I've played plenty of Ameritrash games with less narrative than Knizia's Lord of the Rings. Like...what story are we telling in Smash Up, for example? (I like Smash Up as a Magic-lite way to burn some time, but still.)


But now...all this talk about Lord of the Rings being better than War of the Ring? Let's not get too hasty there, fellas! Heh.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 17:50 by mikecl #205898
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Mad Dog wrote:
Motorik wrote:
I imagine these same people demand that the hamburger on their plate tell them a shitty derivative zombie story before they'll condescend to eating it.


Eat your art and shut the fuck up Jimmy Eat World and don't tell me no fucking stories.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 19:20 by Michael Barnes #205902
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Of course, not every Knizia game is designed/published like what I laid out there. With LOTR, of course he designed that with the setting in mind because he was contracted to make a LOTR game. And likewise, I think with his top-tier games the setting is likely applied at least very early on in the process and in many cases he might sell a game with the "original" setting and it gets to market with it.

As for storytelling and games...all this talk about "immersion" and whatever, give me a break. There was a time when I would have wanted that kind of thing, but now I could not care less about how "immersed" I am in most game narratives because to put it bluntly, most game narratives are about as valuable as a SyFy channel movie. Especially when that narrative is dictated by lots of ding-dong woo-woo mechanics where the designer(s) started with what they call a "theme" and then tried to apply various mechanics and systems to try to somehow vaguely simulate something resembling a genre story of some kind.

Yet the games that REALLY tell great stories have RESTRAINT and let the players tell the story with what they do rather than be told what it is by what is shown on the cards.

Forbidden Stars...I like it, it's a very, very good game and all but it is completely non-thematic and practically abstract if you strip off the 40k illustrations and leave EVERYTHING ELSE intact. It could be about any conflict. It could be completely generic with nomenclature such as "Infantry", "Tank", "Ship" and "Territory". It could be exactly the same game and tell fundamentally the same narrative in terms of themes, even in a plain white box with the word "GAME" printed on in black letters.

I'm sure someone will rush in to talk about how awesome that game is and how it makes them REALLY FEEL like they are in the 40k world because...pictures? Because of what their cards say? Flavor text? ALL THE FEELS.

Back in 2006 narrative and story meant something very different to me than it does now. Like "theme", they are presumed qualities of "Ameritrash" that got puffed up, over-emphasized and beaten into the ground by designers without a lick of the restraint and editorial sense of Knizia, for example.

The truth is that game stories SHOULD NOT be so fucking specific to the point where all we are doing is relying on these pictures and bits of text or even "thematic" mechanics to tell them. It should be in what we are doing, how we are interacting, and how we are engaging with the materials. Shadows of Malice tells awesome stories and puts almost all of the narrative in the hands of the players aside from some vague contextual offerings from the designer. Through the Desert is HUGELY thematic, as it is about travel, vital resources, and extending the viability of groups of nomadic people. There is no need to struggle to find the story there. There is also need for two pages of storyline in the rulebook to tell it.

This is "full article" material so I should stop, but the bottom line is that the really great Ameritrash games were never about piles and piles of cards and "thematic" shaped tokens. And a game with zero flavor text and even no artwork can be thematic and narrative. It's how the designer USES those tools and engages the player that matters. Not whether or not there's a Space Marine on the box.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 19:37 by Hex Sinister #205903
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Michael Barnes wrote:
lots of ding-dong woo-woo mechanics
I am pretty sure this is my favorite mechanic.

Sorry... =D
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 21:09 by boothwah #205905
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Hex Sinister wrote:
Michael Barnes wrote:
lots of ding-dong woo-woo mechanics
I am pretty sure this is my favorite mechanic.

Sorry... =D

Have you ever played Shower Rescue?
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 21:24 by Michael Barnes #205907
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My copy is the version titled Black Barney's Ding-Dong Woo-Woo Shower Rescue.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 21:34 by Space Ghost #205908
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Yet the games that REALLY tell great stories have RESTRAINT and let the players tell the story with what they do rather than be told what it is by what is shown on the cards.

This supports what I have always felt; namely, that the best games are the ones that supply just enough to allow the players' imaginations to truly flourish. Once you move away from this balance, then games can become very mechanistic, either by being too spartan or by trying to do all the imagination work for them.
Posted: 09 Jul 2015 22:00 by mikecl #205909
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Michael Barnes wrote:
As for storytelling and games...all this talk about "immersion" and whatever, give me a break..

I don't know what set this off, but if it was what I wrote, you missed the point entirely. I'm not talking about storytelling games or games with lots of flavor test which frankly bore me. I guess I like adventure-simulation type games. One of the earliest for me was Magic Realm. I like games that start with a thematic premise and set their mechanics to fit it, not the other way around.

I don't expect a game to tell me a story, but I love it when my gameplay tells one, like Duel of Ages, yes like Shadows of Malice, Ascending Empires, Merchants and Marauders, Specter Ops or Richard Launius's new game from last year, Alien Uprising to mention just a few. What is it that separates an immersive game from a pure abstract anyway? All those little bits and pieces? The art? Dudes on a map fighting for supremacy? Sure that's part of it. That's why each and everyone of us here crow about that stuff and show it off to each other. Well constructed games fire the imagination and let your gameplay provide the story. Even Beowulf uses lots of pretty pictures, but It's as dull as a text book. Like Shell said, I don't want to come home from work and do more work. I want to escape, not solve a math puzzle.

Of course not every game does this or should so this. There's games for all kinds of different moods. But these are the types of games I love. I appreciate austerity in design as much as the next gamer. That's why I re-acquired Lord of the Rings 2000, but to hear people now say that it's a superior game to War of the Ring, frankly is laughable ... at least to me.

Some games leave me indifferent. Some leave me engaged, connected and when they're over, fulfilled. So YES I want to FEEL something when I play. It's not a dirty word. It's why I play games.
.
Posted: 10 Jul 2015 01:27 by SuperflyTNT #205917
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It's like this: a guy can draw 100 pictures that are pure shit but if he did 5 that were so incredible that he literally shaped art for an entire generation, people focus on those.

It's as it should be. The man made some fantastic games. Astoundingly good. If you look at the body of his work, you can find something for EVERYONE. That's hard to do.

With regard to "telling a story", he is not great, but he did a solid job with Star Trek Encounters. I'm still fucked off that there's no expansion or sequel because I'd be first in line to throw money at him.

I'm not his biggest fan by a long shot but I have an immense amount of admiration for his ability to produce such a prolific body of games. I think he lacks the ability to tell a story of his own, but he is fully capable of taking someone else's story and making a good game from it.

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