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One Similarity Between Rappelling and TTRPG

I hope everyone enjoyed “The Month of Adam.” As promised, I am getting back to writing about the meaning and experience around the games we play with others. This summer, my regular World of Darkness group has entered an indefinite hiatus. I’m not here to pick apart the minutiae of personality differences between us that may have been contributing factors, but to propose a theory of why we’re not still playing that campaign on a weekly basis and what can be done to try and avoid future collapses.

Before continuing I would like to state that it is difficult as a DM/GM/Storyteller not to think “this is my fault” when things do not go well, even if everyone tells you it is not and you know at an intellectual level that it is not. Knowing that the Storyteller for this campaign is likely going to be one of the first people reading this post, I would like to be clear and explicit that this is not a dissection of something he did wrong.

I’m also not here to claim that the Geek Social Fallacies are the only reading a person should ever do about group dynamics, but I have found to be very useful general guidelines to use when explaining why something is the way it is in social circles that I am a part of. Today’s GSF is #5, that everyone must be invited to everything. I have noticed over the years that “the group” has formed around common interests and bonds of friendship which is not a bad thing. But in seeing what happens when “the group” can’t be divided when interests diverge, it becomes clear to me that a burden is placed on the people who want to organize a tabletop campaign. A prospective DM is put in an awkward spot when they want to run something that isn’t everyone’s jam. On the other side of the screen, players get pulled into campaigns as a matter of loyalty rather than pure leisure. Rather than seeing tabletop RPG as a monolithic hobby, perhaps we would do better to see it as being a broad category under which different games exist. If I was the sort of person to organize excursions for people to go on a five-hour X-TREEM rappel adventure, then I would not likely be inviting most of my tabletop group and I don’t think anyone would really mind too much. So, too, should it be okay for me to run a hack-and-slash OSR dungeon crawl for some people and not feel compelled to invite people who dislike that and want epic character arcs when they play an RPG.

We can still be friends even if you don’t invite me to do this.

So, I think that what we can do is be more intentional about it: players need not play every game that is on offer, nor should the prospective DM be shy about inviting some people and not others. The reason why we play with our own groups more than just heading out to the local game store’s D&D night is that we want enough stability to tell a bigger story than what can be run in 2 hours with random strangers. But that’s not enough to sustain wildly different desires for different kinds of play. Maybe we should be more accepting of that, and put more energy into social occasions that are not centred around the current TTRPG campaign so that whoever is not invited to that can still feel like their friends aren’t ignoring them.

Okay, so now that we’ve got the social side sorted out, how do we “be more intentional” about the gaming part? I’m going to be addressing that next week in my post about the four characteristics of TTRPGs that can help guide our choices in which ones to play and which ones to take a pass on.

Full Steam Ahead – Wrestling Revolution 3D

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none

Welcome to the final post of the month of Adam. Over the past month, I’ve explored a variety of games chosen by Adam Nordquist. These games have been confusing. These games have been terrifying. These games have be difficult to enjoy and difficult to play. These games have, almost without exception, been as weird as hell. What’s more, these games have been a real challenge to write about.

For most of my posts, I can usually get at least a paragraph or two out of my previous experiences of the game. For the month of Adam, I’ve been handed a series of games so far outside my wheelhouse that I often have no idea where to even start writing. I can’t speak with experience about Russian biological science fiction. I don’t have a lot to say about Swedish horror. I am probably the least qualified person in the world to write about queer bondage or demon hunting. I don’t know that anyone can talk about whatever the hell The Norwood Suite is about.However, for the last game of the month, Adam has given me, to use his words, a reward for getting through everything else.

Adam has given me a professional wrestling game. I’ve been a fan of pro-wrestling for some time. I watch wrestling shows when I can. I try to keep abreast of the storylines in a handful of promotions. I just finished Mick Foley’s autobiography Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, and enjoyed it. And yes, I play wrestling video games. However, Adam is still Adam, and he would never pass on an opportunity to make me regret giving him this power. Thus, Adam has chosen the worst wrestling game I’ve ever played.

Adam has chosen Wrestling Revolution 3D.

Adam, you are a generous, compassionate human being. And also sometimes a jerk.

Full Steam Ahead – The Norwood Suite

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none

“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of my sanity, that some of Steam’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest Adam’s bizarre taste in games wake to resurgent life, and truly weird games splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” Alastair Starke, with apologies to H.P. Lovecraft (but not many).

We return to the month of Adam, in which Adam donated a significant amount to the Calgary Distress Centre, and has chosen to use his power to choose the games for Full Steam Ahead to make me suffer.

This week’s game is a little-known indie game called The Norwood Suite. Released in October 2017, is the most recently released game yet encountered on Full Steam Ahead.

Remember back in the post for Vangers when I said it was going to get weird? I didn’t know the half of it.

Full Steam Ahead: Ladykiller in a Bind + Midnight Ultra

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none

Awareness of either of these games before the month of Adam: none


Welcome back to the month of Adam. Adam donated money to the Calgary Distress Centre, and has chosen some really weird games for me to play, because he is simultaneously charitable and sadistic.

As odd as it may sound, I take pride in my writing. I won’t pretend that every piece I write for Almost Infinite is particularly novel, or filled with brilliant observations, or even terribly coherent. All the same, games are important to me, and the writing I do about them is important, and as with many things I’m proud of, I share my writing with the people in my life who matter to me.

Having said that, I have some reservations about sharing this particular post with my Grandma.

Welp.

Full Steam Ahead: Year Walk

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none

Welcome back to the month of Adam! For those unaware, Adam donated enough to the Calgary Distress Centre to select games for the entire month of August, and I’m now playing through them. Now, he made an effort to select games of which I had no prior knowledge. He was initially successful, but eventually he had to release the list of games to me. At that point, I was free to do some research.

We will talk about Year Walk the second game in the month of Adam in just a bit, but I would like to talk, for a few brief seconds, about some of the parameters I gave Adam. Adam is, after all, a friend, and he wanted to know if I had any specific requests. I’ll confess, I have no interest in playing any propaganda games, and I don’t particularly enjoy horror games. I said as much. Adam smiled, nodded, and then promised that he wouldn’t make every game a horror game. If you know Adam, you know that’s actually a fairly merciful guarantee.

So, let’s talk about the research I put into Year Walk. According to Wikipedia, “Year Walk is an adventure game developed and published by Swedish mobile game developer Simogo.” That doesn’t tell me a whole lot, but the words “adventure game” and “Swedish” lead me to believe that this is going to be a horror game. Now that I have completed Year Walk (including the secret second ending) I can tell you that initial hunch was right on the money.

So that’s the game Year Walk, but what actually is a year walk?

I’m am concerned, but also captivated.

Full Steam Ahead – Vangers

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none

Dear readers, When I introduced the Steam-Powered Hope initiative during the holiday season last year, I expected to see a game moved here, or a replay there, gaining a few extra dollars for the Calgary Distress Centre along the way. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine someone would donate $100, and pay for five new games for me to play.

In recognition of this donor’s generosity, I humbly ask that you grab a pen, pencil, or sharpie, go to the nearest physical calendar you own, scratch out August, and write Adam in its place. Because my good friend Adam Nordquist has just bought this month, every post in August will see me playing through a list of games carefully chosen by him.

To give you an idea of Adam’s rationale our decision process, he presented a shortlist of a dozen or so games to me back in June. Then, he eliminated any game I had any familiarity or knowledge of. I’m diving into this blind, and I’m bringing all y’all with me. So, without any further ado, let’s get the month of Adam started with Vangers!

Those of you who don’t know Adam… strap in. This is going to get weird.

The Cave

I always have a little bit of trouble at the board game cafe. Should we play the game we all know so that we can be sure? Or should we try a new game to take advantage of this vast library? A few weeks ago I opted to go for the latter and try out The Cave, a “cooperative” game which is about exploring a cave. I have to admit that the rules were a little much to understand on the first reading, but once a person gets into it, the turns start to go faster. The concept is that you are exploring a cave and collecting tokens either by being the first to find a good photo spot, the first to descend to a lower level, the first to make a tight squeeze, etc. The game pieces are visually appealing, but the play of the game left me wanting for something.

Individual “teams” discovering new tunnels all alone…

I found that the game doesn’t really encourage “teams” (the word the game uses for each individual player) to interact with each other much at all, and that success is easiest to achieve by being lucky on the draw of unexplored tiles. At my table there were one or two occasions when one player would scoop some tokens left behind or not yet reached by another player, but for most if it we all started discovering our own tunnels. I found the only real obstacle to racking up points was getting a bad draw: even if it’s not a complete dead end, drawing a piece that makes it difficult to navigate your current tunnel can be a more subtle obstacle. Nothing in the play of the game suggests that it would be advantageous for any teams to work together, so we are just left hoping that our draws match the kind of equipment we happen to have packed.

While I think it’s a fine idea to play a cooperative game based on cave exploration, I think that it’s probably better if players have some kind of incentive to cooperate. I will probably give this game another one or two tries to give it a fair shake, but right now I am feeling like I could have insisted on Carcassonne or 7 Wonders despite the fact that it’s not a terribly novel experience and doesn’t have the same promise of being a completely cooperative game. As frustrating as it is to see a resource you need in 7 Wonders too far away to trade for, at least I know how player to player interaction will go. Or maybe I should just dispense with the pretence of being there mainly to play games and just have delicious local ice cream with some friends on a hot summer night…


August 2018 is going to be Full Steam Ahead’s “Month of Adam.” I will still be here moderating comments and generally keeping the behind-the-scenes part of the site running, and will be returning in September with some great new content. Until then, please continue to enjoy Alastair’s excellent series.

Full Steam Ahead – Batman: Arkham Asylum

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 46 Hours

Just so that we’re clear beforehand, I love comics, and heroes, and good storytelling. The character of Batman is one the earliest memories I have, and the fact that Batman has always sort of been at the front of many aspects of geek culture has been particularly good to me and my interests. So make no mistake, there will be many other opportunities to talk about what that means to me, and what Batman means to me, and how I feel about the Batman games in my steam library, as well as introductions and more in-depth explanations of various aspects of the Batman mythos. But that’s not what I want to use this post to talk about.

You see, I’ve already played Batman – Arkham Asylum many times. I love this game. I’ve played the story, I’ve played the challenge maps, I’ve completed all the Riddler’s challenges. So I want to try something different with this game. In my mind, without a doubt, the Batman – Arkham series of games by Rocksteady Studios do a better job of capturing the feeling of being Batman. So, if that’s the case, how good a Batman can I be?

Nana nana nana nana…

Full Steam Ahead: Age of Empires III

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 9 Hours.

 

The Age of Empires series of games is special to me. These are the games that introduced me to the real-time-strategy genre. Age of Empires got me interested in the classical empires of Persia, Egypt, and Greece. Age of Empires II brought the stories of medieval leaders to life: Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Saladin. Age of Mythology took the well-balanced, carefully crafted gameplay I had come to love, and transported it to the world of Norse, Egyptian, and Greek legend.

So, let’s make no mistake: Age of Empires III is fun game. It is a well-balanced real time strategy game, and part of one of that genre’s most consistently excellent series.

Now watch as I spend most of the rest of this article barely talking about the game.

The Spanish home city, and title screen of Age of Empires III.

Not Being That Kind of Jerk at the Card Table

Yesterday I was at an annual Canada Day BBQ when someone pulled out a copy of Cards against Muggles. I didn’t want to have anything to do with this game. At first it appears to be Cards Against Humanity, but saturated with Harry Potter references. Having already decided that I never need to play Cards Against Humanity again I was already predisposed to take a pass on any game called Cards Against ____________. I have no problem with the format, but the idea of playing a game where people compete to be the most shocking in their “ironic” racism, rapism, ableism, homophobia… have I missed any? If so, can someone please pass me a marker and the blank card? If I want to be something more than a jerk then this is a game I cannot play.

I try not to be a jerk about jokey card games.

Cards Against Muggles, to its credit, is crude without a lot of the stuff that makes Cards Against Humanity bad. Sure, I have heard more speculative jokes about the sexual exploits of the Weasley family in the past 24 hours than I would care to ever again, but it was something I could hang around the edges of without feeling like there is something fundamentally wrong with what we, as a group of people, are doing. Most of it was simply an endless barrage of references, a few of which I recognize, but mostly stuff I know to be related to the fandom but have no personal knowledge of. This is what I imagine it’s like to read Ready Player One if you didn’t grow up white and nerdy. This is something that I could, if I was really desperate to play a card game, play. I declined because I found cheeseburgers and side conversations to be far more appealing. In this, however, I still have a responsibility to refrain from being a jerk. I’m not a Potter fan, and that’s okay. Some of the people at the party were huge fans. That’s okay too. For the same reasons I can’t abide playing Cards Against Humanity, I have to let people enjoy Cards Against Muggles without complaint from me. I don’t want to be the kind of jerk that dehumanizes other people for fun, but nor do I want to be the kind of jerk that presumes to judge people liking what I don’t and not liking what I do. I want to be the kind of person that does a reasonably good job of holding those two things in balance, and I want to be the kind of person who does his own small part to make this what being a “Canadian” is about.