Perfect Information Podcast Episode 42 – What’s in the baaahx?!

Mortality. It is not – as it turns out – an old-fashioned word for taking far too long to finish a thought or sentence for that matter. It is in fact the realisation that lifetimes are finite. Maybe even those of board games. What does that mean exactly? We probably won’t answer it in this podcast.. but we do talk about games and how long they stay with you. Or at least in your collection.

38:01 – The reliable visit to the guild has to be postponed for a quick sojourn at Ben’s place. Wherein we list all your replies to our guild question: Can gaming bring us together?. Maybe not all replies, though, because we take a rather sudden and wide-ranging detour towards… eh… just listen.. it’s definitely something.

1:04:32 – The Boardgame Professor has been let loose once more and delights us all with his invaluable insight into The Manhattan Project. Naturally, he also has a few things to say about what the game says about the things that it inadvertedly says something about: FX.

1:21:02 – We didn’t lock ourselves in our studio, you locked yourself in your studio! But while we’re here, we review Exit – The Game. (And if you’re wondering which game I’ve so expertly mangled the name of… it was: Escape The Room: Mystery at the Stargazer Manor.)

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Contents of box to be disclosed at a later date

Interview with Alessandro Pra

Eclectic Italian house of fun Horrible Games were gracious enough to let Alessandro Pra talk to Ben about their upcoming Kickstarter: Alone.

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…again naturally

Perfect Information Podcast Episode 41 – Bridging the Gaps

Math. It’s a difficult subject. For most of us. But there is one thing that seems to come naturally to us these days: division. 

Ben argues that even among board gamers there are divisive issues, that pitch us against each other. What are they? Do they have us in their thrall? Or can we reach out and overcome them?

TC Petty III (48:01) jumps in to remind us, not only is he still around, but he also has some choice words to say about reaching out to new gamers by being an ambassador for games.

The guild sees us temporarily relocated into the wing of local hospital (1:00:20) where the results of Ben’s elective surgery bring about… “interesting”…. ideas.

And finally (1:27:20) we tackle a long-overdue big box game from our Essen 2016 heap (remember that one?): Unicornus Knights.

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Reach out and touch faith

Perfect University 104 – Winning

Come in and join us in these hallowed halls of higher learning, that we have called Perfect University. 

This week it’s the topic that is on everyone’s mind or at least everyone’s table following International Tabletop Day: winning. 

In particular how we do or rather don’t want to talk about it. Why is that? And what does it say about us?

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The Hot Chocolate of Board Games

Perfect Information Podcast Episode 40 – And then?

Not content to be shackled to the here and now, we boldly let our imaginations run free as to what the future of board gaming may look like. (Most likely no flying cars.)

And then? We talk about our sponsor: spielpro.com (38:48)

And then? It is a very quick stop near the guild, as Ben visits the only place that could help him with his Tory problem. No, not the firing squad… but the hospital! (39:29), where we talk about the factors that determine the size of your collection.

And then? Nick Mariner has things to say. Unscripted. It is 37,8% less insipid than what we have said about Barcelona – The Rose of Fire. (01:03:06)

And then? We don’t review a game. We do something else. We talk. Or rather Ben does. With somebody else. It is really as mindblowing and revolutionary as it sounds. Hold on to your seats so as to not get sucked through a PORTAL of gaming INSIDER knowledge! (Get it? Get it? Get it? No… well, then just listen… at 01:14:43)

And then? It is time for the outro. Wherein we speak about how you can reach out to us. (01:40:46)

And then?

And then?

And then?

Nothing…. it’s just a podcast. Sheesh.

 

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And then? And then? AND THEN?!

Interview with Frank West

Did you know that there is website where gamers like you can pledge money to a board game before it gets made, so it can collect the funds necessary to kickstart its production? I believe it’s called “Pledge-Monies-For-Gamies”.com

One of those games there is called The City of Kings and Ben took it upon himself to hunt down poor, beleaguered designer Frank West to bombard him with questions about his soon-to-come-into-existence game.

Get the inside info on this cooperative fantasy adventure right here.

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The difference between too much, too little and just right

Georgios Draws First Blood – Gloomhaven

EDIT (April 15, 6pm): There have been quite a few comments and reactions to this piece, that have convinced me that I’ve once again done a bang up job of communicating my ideas. It was truly remarkable. There were absolutely no misunderstandings. At all. None. It was like people directly looking into my mind because I made my point so very, very clearly. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to include some clarifying sentences just in case some future reader might stumble over my phrasing here and there. Because I obviously did not write anything that could be misread. Obviously. OBVIOUSLY.

This is a rather long review of Gloomhaven, so to keep you from having to scroll all the way down, let me put my conclusion right at the top:

gloom
Aerial shot of the Gloomhaven box

If you are a board gamer, Gloomhaven is not for you. It is too big, too much of a long-term time investment, too unwieldy to handle easily and designed to evoke a very specific game experience, that board games do not dabble in a lot. Gloomhaven presents a promise that players of Dungeons & Dragons (if not in name, then at least in spirit) will recognise, and most likely long to return to since their regular roleplaying group has either drifted apart or been taken over by the pressures of adult life. EDIT: This isn’t a judgement on the game’s quality, but its purpose. What Gloomhaven offers and demands from its players is decidedly different from what board games generally go for.

Don’t let the trappings fool you: this isn’t a board game. Gloomhaven is at its core the next evolutionary step to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. As Chainmail became Dungeons & Dragons; Gloomhaven looks at AD&D and distills it into a doll house-sized box of gameplay. EDIT: As much as it takes inspiration from the focused rules designs of modern board games, its heart lies in roaming the fantasy lands and adventurescapes of Dungeons & Dragons.

The design of roleplaying games (the so-called traditional ones at least) has always had a blaring omission at its core. Borne out of an almost fetishistic belief that roleplaying games must adhere to freedom above all else, no roleplaying game really spent much time defining just what its goal was. What was the endpoint that would resolve play? What were players supposed to drive towards, what objective were their actions supposed to achieve? What was the whole point of play even? This vacancy has led to groups, individuals and sometimes entire movements pursuing different paths. Some turned the act of play into its own goal elevating immersion and experience into the golden calf of roleplaying games; others pursued a more holistic approach seeing the sum of play as a gestalt called narrative; yet others sensed that there was something missing and sought out objectives to pursue and fulfil as they knew them from other forms of play. In the years that followed the roleplaying genre developed in all kinds of directions, yet never fully tackling its own hollow design with its flagship title. Some indie designes forged a path of their own, bringing forth many delightful, unique and fascinating oddities. Feel like swallowing an ancient sumerian bug for tenure? How about dying as a Polish teen in World War II? Better yet be a religious lawmen keeping the peace in parish after parish, infested with moral corruption! These games got you covered. And as unique and quirky as they were, none of them managed to actually succeed AD&D as the dominant roleplaying design template.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was re-vamped, modernized and cleaned up… about four times now. As much as third edition revitalized the hobby with its open game licence (and at least partly responsible for somebody like Kevin Wilson eventually entering the field of board game design, for which I at least am very thankful), at its core it was still only a reduction of AD&D. It didn’t fill the conceptional gap with anything. It was still up to game masters themselves to turn their D&D campaign into being about something. Killing orcs and levelling up? Sure, fine. The long and inspiring tale of Trogdor the Burninator? Have at it! Truly inhabiting the role of the pick-pocketing Black Leaf? Sure, but it’s your funeral, pal.

The following editions didn’t really dare to stray away too much from the path AD&D had laid out: more than enough scaffolding to build whatever you could imagine, but refraining from telling you what it took to actually make it work. (Cue the millions upon millions of hours wasted with arguments and social dysfunction that has plagued roleplaying groups, as they fought over the shape and core of the game they played without really knowing why, yet alone how to solve this.)

I say all this in the knowledge that this failure in game design was also its greatest allure. AD&D (and the roleplaying games that followed) was a game design kit that came in form of a game itself. It was up to the game master to put the rules in place, to apply them as needed and to codify what was necessary to make the roleplaying game you were playing into an actual game: with objectives, robust structures and layers to expand as the group progressed.

This is what Gloomhaven does. This is the box you are buying. You get a game of D&D, a campaign box set – even though I prefer the term doll house for boxes this size – where all this design work has been done for you. The purpose of play is defined; the characters objectives are tangible and resolvable; the world of Gloomhaven exists for you to explore through play. It can be as intricate and involved in character interplay as you want it to be – nobody is keeping you from play acting your character except your own complacency about roleplaying. (Obligatory shout out to Dave Arneson!)

20170413_190738
We’re off to see the wizard.. the wonderful wizard of- WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU EVEN WEARING?!

Fun awaits you whenever your adventures reward you with enough experience points or new character perks to improve, evolve and expand your character. This is ultimately the turning point where Gloomhaven self-assuredly, but decisively leaves the genre of board games and posits itself as a roleplaying game. Or as I am trying to put it: the next evolution of roleplaying games.

Please note, that the use of the word evolution is deliberate. Evolution is not about improvement, but adaptation. Gloomhaven does not improve on roleplaying games, but has adapted to the demands and abilities of adult roleplayers. It gives you a product that takes the heavy lifting off of you and your gaming group, and puts it into rules and components.

And, by Clapton, there’s a lot of components. In fact, while I argued, that Gloomhaven isn’t for board gamers because of the type of experience it delivers; it is also an uneasy fit for board gamers because of the sheer amount of book keeping, component handling and organisation that is required to play a scenario, let alone a campaign. And to be clear: it is not possible to only play scenarios. Where board games have individual rounds, Gloomhaven has scenarios. A full game of Gloomhaven is not a single scenario, but at least half a dozen. It is only when characters advance, improve, grow and eventually retire that the game delivers what it sets out to do. Playing only scenarios is like only playing a few select turns of Carcassone or Pandemic. It just makes no sense.

20170413_190720
Spoiler alert: some of those standees will not survive the encounter

That said, the rules are pretty decent in general. The basics of the now familiar dungeoncrawler are all here: characters move and attack on a map of hexes, deal with terrain effects, and face an enemy AI that keeps you on your toes, etc. Instead of a die, an individual deck of cards allows for some randomness when attacking. This opens up nice ways of improving and customizing your character’s abilities later on. The card play and hand management when on a mission, takes some getting used to, but in turn adds a level of tactical play, that goes beyond mere positioning. Elements such as wind, air, fire, darkness, etc. are triggered by some actions and provide temporary resources for characters to draw upon, further expanding on ways of tactical group play. There are a lot of fine points spread throughout the rules that are clever or at least sensible design choices. But all this of course comes at a price: accessability. If the size of the box didn’t make you stumble, the number of components didn’t make you swallow hard, and the length of play didn’t raise your eyebrows… rest assured this game makes Vast: The Crystal Caverns look like Lost Cities in comparison. By which I mean there is a lot to wrap your head around, and it takes a few scenarios to avoid making stupid mistakes.

But Georgios, you’re saying and probably pronouncing my name wrong, I can only make up my mind about Gloomhaven, if I know whether you will buy it! The short answer is: no, I won’t. The long answer is: this is simply not a game that fits into my gaming habits, schedule or group. For quite literally the same reasons, that I don’t play roleplaying games any more. I have neither the time, nor the inclination to regularly make my way through a game of this magnitude and bulkiness. The experience it provides lacks both the flexibility and the effortlessness that I get from a regular board game night. EDIT: To reiterate this doesn’t make it a bad game, but an play experience distinctly different from board games, be they Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, The Others or Inis. Gloomhaven isn’t a game you play, but a roleplaying campaign you embark on.

Gloomhaven is a fascinating achievement of game design. It is the idealistic promise of Kickstarter made manifest. An unproven and radical vision lifted into existence by the faith of its target audience and somehow it all actually works. Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro should be paying very close attention to what Isaac Childres has done here and out of sheer courtesy offer him the development lead on the next edition of D&D.

The time of roleplaying games coming in three seperate core rulebooks, five supplements and oodles of accessory packs is over. You want to play a modern roleplaying game: it has to be Gloomhaven.

-Georgios

Perfect Information Podcast Episode 39 – What Matters?

In this week’s episode we are going to talk about things that actually matter to gamers. Firstly size! How big is your gaming collection? How big should it be? What is the right way to determine sizes? 

T.C. Petty III returns to talk about that other thing that matters in board games: fairness. How does it matter? Why? And what should we do about it? (38:21)

At 52:52 we talk about some more things that matter, namely our sponsor: spielpro.com

We then turn our gaze towards the urgent matters of the guild, some unfotunate infections and of course your urgent responses to the question of what keeps people out of the hobby? (53:40)

Our sponsor vengeful-games.dk reminds us not only that games can be bought, but we also give recommendations on what to spend your hard-earned Euros or Kronen on. (01:13:20)

And finally we wonder, what is the matter with Roll Player (01:15:20)? Is it good? Is it bad? Do you really want to know? Do we even know where we stand? What are all these questions doing here? Am I getting paid by word count?

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The difference between too much, too little and just right

The Appurtenance Archive – Episode 2

The long-awaited sequel to the medium-bending, limits-shattering and sense-defying entry that was our first Appurtenance Archive is finally upon us. Or rather upon you, PIPL.

We have once more gathered all our mental faculties to bring you the most hard-hitting piece of review journalism ever to grace the podcast format. Today we review a calendar!

But not just any calendar, but the German sensation sure to sweep the nation (so long as that nation is Germany)… Frosted Games’ Brettspielkalender.

Is it truly as rectangular as the legends say?

Are the dates actually sorted by ascending number?

And which games have been selected to grace the pages of each month?

Listen, and ye shall be enlightened

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What are YOU looking at?

Perfect Information Podcast Episode 38 – Of the Surface of Things

There are two unassailable truths about existence: first: there is an unbridgable gap between knowing the self and knowing others; and second: I definitely left my keys right here and now they’re gone.

While we can never fully grasp the implications of the latter, the first is reasonably easy to deal with. In our case we are going to look at board games (this being a board game podcast it seemed somewhat appropriate) and talk about the discrepancy between perception and reality. In other words, what do non-gamers see in this hobby as opposed to us.

A few words for our sponsor: Spielpro.com (39:33)

Our stay at the guild is short, yet fruitful as we talk about unsalvagable rules and mechanics according to the most discerning listenership in all of boardgaming, and the one that is far too clever to be taken in by cheap flattery. (41:20)

A few words from our new sponsor: Vengeful Games (01:06:21)

The board game professor (commonly known as Nick Mariner) has come to bury Mombasa, not to praise it. Or at the very least talk about the good and the bad of it. (01:08:40)

This episode’s review (01:22:18) looks at a game that sets out to tackle questions of ethics, morality and metaphysics… by way of killing a bunch of things for fun and profit. We talk about one of the many recently released Eric Lang games: The Others.

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What are YOU looking at?