Jim Felli - "I'm a Terrible Game Hobbyist"

Jim Felli - "I'm a Terrible Game Hobbyist"

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xthexlo     
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 There. I said it.

I mean, objectively, I am terrible. Horrible, in fact. The worst. I'm the demographic that publishers avoid: I don't have and have not played the newest games, I haven't incorporated the newest expansions into the games that I own, I don't care about phone/tablet/computer apps to enhance my playing experience, I have no idea what games are up on KickStarter, and I don't follow the shiny intellectual property (IP) du jour. What else makes me terrible? Oh yeah - I don't spend a lot of money and I don't follow hype.

(I did, however, just purchase a bottle of 14 year old, single cask Laphroaig. We'll get back to that.)

What ultimately makes me a terrible game hobbyist is I take games more seriously than our current board gaming culture appreciates or allows. Not serious in the sense that I get angry with other players and hold grudges, or that I abet and encourage rules lawyering, but in the sense of opportunity cost. When I spend money on a game, I am well aware that I am giving up the ability to use that money for something else (e.g., see a movie, buy a pizza, pay for gas); when I sit down to play a game, I am cognizant that I am giving up the option to do other things with that time (e.g., read a book, practice a kata, dine with a friend). The end result is that I only purchase and play games that I believe will offer me engagement and richness.

I find a game engaging if it is sufficiently immersive, flexible, dynamic, unique, and interesting to pique and hold my interest. Much of this derives from a game's theme and from mechanisms that are consistent with that theme. Beyond that, I want the promise of active involvement and an in-game environment that is logically constrained by a reasonable rule set but still open to evolution based on player decisions without the limitations of a scripted path or an inevitable conclusion. Last, I look for a sense of freshness and distinctiveness in design or story as opposed to freshness date. This is why I tend to avoid IP games. I have found that popular IP tends to attract lazy non-mechanistic design, simply because the theme and salient story elements are already generally accepted or established canon.

Games don't need to be deep or complex to offer richness. They need to be clever, thoughtful, and nuanced. The long and short of it is that I don't want to simply be able to play a game more than once, I want to need to play a game more than once to digest and appreciate it. Shallow games quickly expose everything they offer and are usually mastered after a few plays. The issue is that I'm not looking for a sense of mastery: I'm searching for a prolonged sense of challenge. I want to be rewarded for my dedication to a game, perhaps by new insights gleaned or intriguing nuances slowly revealed. I want to push the boundaries of a game and discover things about both the game and myself: Can I still win from position X? What happens if I play counter to strategy Y? What is the spirit of the rule as opposed to its letter, so that my table can enhance our experience with interesting house variations?

In the grand scheme of things, a game can be a pastime or a shared social experience. I prefer the latter. This is why I don't pursue solo play. My enjoyment of a game derives as much (or more) from the shared rituals my friends and I have slowly established during our time together as it does from the playing of the game itself.

(And that's where the Laphroaig comes in. I told you we'd get back to it.)

The games that capture my imagination and hold my attention require - no, demand - commitment to multiple plays. It is only through repeated play that understated variances are revealed, that the lovely tendrils of immersion thicken and strengthen their hold, and that willful strategy begins to more consistently overcome blind luck. With more plays, corner cases emerge, small rules make their presence felt, and a game evolves from a simple set of mechanisms, payoffs, and objectives supported by manipulatives and graphics into a human social experience, rich with evocation and emotion, and worthy of permanent residency in the collective memory and mythos of one's circle of friends.

But there is a cost. The rapid acquisition and adoption of new games runs anathema to thoughtful exploration and intimate participation. Every play session one spends delving deeply into one game is a play session denied to another. So it comes down to each gamer to decide where they find their greatest value at the margin: tasting games or savoring them, meeting them or grokking them. The same holds true for designers. Will one develop games for rapid consumption and ephemeral encounters, or will one design games that offer substance and subtlety, and that reward players for dedication and repeated play? As for me, I have deliberately chosen the latter, both to play and to design. And I am willing to accept the costs of limited exposure to new games and a limited audience for my own.

So, choose wisely and enjoy the ride. If you choose the path of deliberation and you see me plodding about along your way, stop and say hello. After all, it's not like we are in a rush to get anywhere. And if you choose to surf on the seemingly unending tidal wave of new games that constantly floods the market and you see me being battered about like an old buoy, speed on by...

... after all, I'm a terrible game hobbyist. Let me drown.

Jim "xthexlo" Felli

Writer

Jim was introduced to AD&D back in the mid-1970s. For a high school kid that grew up devouring comic books, Warren magazines, and Harryhausen films, AD&D was the epitome of the game he never knew he wanted. From his very first game, he was hooked on the magic of imaginative play.

By day, Jim works as a scientist; by night, he creates fantasy worlds and designs unique and quirky games. He is the owner and sole employee of Devious Weasel Games.

Jim is married to a wonderful woman, has three awesome kids, three unruly and enigmatic cats, and a goofy, loyal Newfie. He loves good food, single malt Islay scotch, and pretty much all dad jokes.

And math. He really likes math.

Jim Felli - "I'm a Terrible Game Hobbyist" There Will Be Games
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Posted: 23 May 2018 08:45 by stoic #273923
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I salute your taste in scotch, my good sir, having consumed more than a glass or two while toasting Robert Burns on his Birthday at a Burns Supper held in his honor. And, no, I don't wear anything under my kilt other than my shoes.
Posted: 23 May 2018 09:14 by hotseatgames #273926
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Through most of your article, all I could think of is "Cosmic Encounter. He wants Cosmic Encounter."
Posted: 23 May 2018 09:53 by PaulO #273934
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Ditto.

Growing up in a rural area, video games were and still typically are my primary playground. Even D&D was played online through Roll20.

Having said that, I do have occasions to play board games. When old friends are back in for the holidays, or every few months when my current cohort of fellow parents are able to align our schedules for a game night.

I ask friends who are board game hobbyists for suggestions, and every so often I play them: Munchkin, Ticket to Ride, Citadels, Small World, 7 Wonders. And I gotta say: I find that most board games are ultimately unsatisfying. After playing each of those games a handful of times, the only one I look forward to playing anymore is Citadels. (I do have one friend who absolutely loves Ticket to Ride, so it still sees some play.)

I was recently lightly teased by a board game hobbyist for suggesting classic Risk as a good area control game.

What games do you enjoy? Are any of your designs available to play?
Posted: 23 May 2018 09:54 by xthexlo #273935
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stoic wrote:
I salute your taste in scotch, my good sir, having consumed more than a glass or two while toasting Robert Burns on his Birthday at a Burns Supper held in his honor. And, no, I don't wear anything under my kilt other than my shoes.

Thank you, kind sir. I’m Clan Kinkaid.
Posted: 23 May 2018 09:56 by xthexlo #273937
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hotseatgames wrote:
Through most of your article, all I could think of is "Cosmic Encounter. He wants Cosmic Encounter."

That, my friend, is one of my all time favorite games.
Posted: 23 May 2018 09:57 by SuperflyTNT #273938
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No, you’re a terrible consumer, but one hell of a good hobbyist. You found the market lacking, and created, funded, and published your own games.

Pretty fucking good hobbyist IMO
Posted: 23 May 2018 09:57 by Michael Barnes #273939
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What games do you enjoy? Are any of your designs available to play?

My man Jim here has done three very innovative and unique titles- Shadows of Malice, Zimby Mojo, and Bemused. All of which are worth your time.
Posted: 23 May 2018 09:57 by Jackwraith #273940
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Good taste in Scotch generally follows with wisdom in other pursuits, in my experience. (I've been debating the majesty of the Islay style with my girlfriend, who thinks the peat overpowers everything. I did get her, the non-Scotch drinker prior to our meeting, hooked on Dalwhinnie, so we're making progress. But I digress.)

I agree with your general premise: I like exploring the nooks and crannies of my games and am more interested in playing the 15th session of one that I really enjoy than the 1st session of the latest hotness. That also makes me a poor audience for most publishers. I wonder if that still makes us suitable expansion consumers? Is it better to have more options and variants of something one really enjoys? I've found myself in that category fairly often. That would fit with hotseat's assertion that Cosmic Encounter and games like that (Arkham Horror?), with a central mechanic that can be carried in many different directions, might be how publishers could appeal to that type of gamer.

By the same token (ahem), there's something to be said for retaining the "purity" of the original design and simply exploring the facets. I'm a huge fan of Go, but I've found that I get too easily distracted to really engage and become proficient at it. Do I lack the patience to really savor basic designs? Dunno.

Great post.
Posted: 23 May 2018 10:09 by xthexlo #273942
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Jackwraith wrote:
I'm a huge fan of Go, but I've found that I get too easily distracted to really engage and become proficient at it.
I know just how you feel. I’m a great fan of Pente. That game, like Go, is deceptively simple yet devilishly engrossing.
Posted: 23 May 2018 10:26 by Michael Barnes #273944
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I’m just putting this out here to hang for a bit...but Jim’s next essay is going to knock your socks off. Stay tuned!
Posted: 23 May 2018 10:37 by xthexlo #273947
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What!? I have to write another one!?
Posted: 23 May 2018 12:12 by SuperflyTNT #273955
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Apparently one which involves the proper removal of footwear
Posted: 23 May 2018 17:54 by Sevej #273972
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Probably not terrible, but stupidly demanding. At least your pet peeves seem legit.

I often dissect games I don't even play, especially if it's a friend's favorite. I ask them to convince me to play it (since spare time is so fucking invaluable), trashing the game in the process. The latest victim was Battletech, for being slow and not unique among it peers. Jim Krohn's Band of Brothers & XCOM kill a lot of these games for me. Previously it was Zelda, while I admit is very good, a lot of praise about its "interesting encounters" struck me wrong.

If a dungeon crawler's map is smaller than the spread of sheets, cards and counters around it, I'll complain.
If a dungeon crawler's group of monster consists of only a single monster, I'll complain.
If a dungeon crawler becomes extremely analytical, I'll complain.
If a game makes me struggle more with its mechanisms than the actual game I'm after, I'll complain. For example, in dungeon crawler, taking a lot of time to look at character sheets and enemy stats instead of the map.

I can do this all day long.
Posted: 23 May 2018 22:23 by san il defanso #273983
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I just got done unpacking my games after they spent two months making their way to Manila, and as I saw them all sitting on a single bookshelf, I reflected that if I never got another new game I think I would be satisfied with what I have. I mean, I'd probably like to get some new content for those games now and then, but my collection already looks like its frozen in amber from 2015 anyway. If it actually was I think I'd be fine with it.

That's not to say new stuff is bad, but more that it's overrated. I like digging into games for so long that their flaws are now integral parts of what I enjoy about the game. Some games that I've played for a decade plus (Power Grid, Agricola, Catan) have this bigtime. There are definitely elements of those games that could stand to be altered, but they have become perfect for me with age and experience. That's a really nice place to be in with a game, kind of like a good friend.
Posted: 24 May 2018 07:57 by Sagrilarus #273990
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I think you've got a case of mid-fifties-itis Jim. I'd be curious to hear what you think of super hero movies and modern tv shows, because with the exception of a preference for Speysides I could have written this article (though not with such dash).

At some point your time becomes the more precious commodity, and the expenditure of money on the newest titles does nothing but bring additional burden. With games on your shelf that still require exploration the new purchases add to a to-do list that, frankly, you're not going to complete.

This past Monday I played an old game for the 11th time in 12 years, including the first time with my oldest boy. He couldn't stop talking post-game-show about it on the car ride home, a good sign for a game that is still revealing secrets to me. At 17 years my son has the time (and should spend the time) to explore new pastimes and figure out where he's going to be at my age.

I'm in a different stage of life, one where much of what comes out appears to be a repackage of prior work, another version of a game that I already have and still wish to explore. I still buy occasionally, but it's rare. My limiting factor has become shelf space, an artificially-imposed limit I've placed to make sure I'm clearing my old junk as fast as I'm acquiring new.

S.
Posted: 24 May 2018 08:42 by charlest #273994
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Enjoyed this article Jim. Good work.
Posted: 24 May 2018 08:51 by xthexlo #273996
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san il defanso wrote:
That's a really nice place to be in with a game, kind of like a good friend.
I agree. It’s the intimacy that I appreciate. Many games (old and new) are too superficial for my taste.
Posted: 24 May 2018 09:05 by xthexlo #273997
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Sagrilarus wrote:
I'd be curious to hear what you think of super hero movies and modern tv shows
I have mixed feelings. Overall I really like Netfix’s treatment of superheroes. Even Iron Fist — I disliked their treatment of his character, but the supporting cast was really quite well developed for the most part. The Marvel movies are fun and their reinvention of their characters are pretty interesting. I have grown to view Star Wars films as extended commercials for merchandise. And I think Star Trek has become a soulless venue for action and special effects to entice a new generation of moviegoers to spend money.

Sagrilarus wrote:
with the exception of a preference for Speysides I could have written this article
I enjoy a good Macallan, and I have a soft spot for Abelour and Glenfiddich. Ooh — and a double distilled Cragganmore will quite turn my head!
Posted: 24 May 2018 09:13 by xthexlo #273999
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charlest wrote:
Enjoyed this article Jim. Good work.
Thanks, Charlie! I take that as high praise.
Posted: 24 May 2018 10:47 by faceknives #274004
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This is why I tend to avoid IP games. I have found that popular IP tends to attract lazy non-mechanistic design, simply because the theme and salient story elements are already generally accepted or established canon.

There would have been a time when I'd have fiercly agreed with this entirely. And then Gale Force Nine happened.

That aside, I'd agree. You are an incredibly bad hobbyist. Wanting to play and explore games rather than consume them? Completely counter to everything the modern hobbyist stands for.