Now I have someone new to get mad at when I lose!
Posting will resume in the near future.
Now I have someone new to get mad at when I lose!
Posting will resume in the near future.
I’ve been playing cow clicker games on my ipad lately and have seen the banner ad blitz from several similar F2P games on the Web: Evony, Tynon, whatever that one is that bills itself as exclusively for male gamers.
They all strike me as ochre-jelly slimy. But somebody must think there’s money in them. So I investigated Tynon.
There’s plenty of T&A, but it’s not very… sexy. I can see the lens that allows me to see the female characters as sexy, but the game doesn’t even really work all that hard to objectify. And the figures are tiny most of the time, so you can’t even get all that excited over tiny sprites with what would be proportionally big boobs. Most of the NPCs are mammarily gifted females, but they’re static images. They’re just half-naked drawings telling you to kill ten rats. The sex is almost purely marketing. That’s objectification, but it isn’t porn.
I’ve been watching it for about 20 minutes, and it seems to be less related to an rpg and more closely related to combat guessfests like My Brute.
I let the game name me “Madisyn”, one of several stripper-esque choices. The general populace had the usual doggerel of fantasy-ruiner names, such as “Monkeybutt” or “TigOlBitties”. I could have made a dude avatar, but I wanted to get the full experience.
“Auto-Navigation” walks you through what we’ll call “the story” on technical counts. This means it does nearly everything for you. It finds the next quest giver, walks you over there, clicks on him/her, and gives you money for showing up.
In fact, it’s playing itself while I’m writing this. I think I’m fighting zombies right now. Ultimately, this is the best choice because 1) you do a lot of boring things repetitively to grow (without money), and 2) the UI is cluttered like a 5-year-old’s room. You don’t have to mess with that when the game plays itself.
As I spent more time with Tynon, I began to see how deep it runs. It has dizzying complexity in equipment, henchmen, and skills, all of which pour into a central stat called “Power”. You want Power to go up so you can win more fights. Not all the math behind Power is transparent, so if you want to get at Tynon, you have to join the community and research.
What I would think of as the game environment—theme, graphics, my avatar, etc—is revealed to be entirely window dressing. Accordingly, they haven’t dumped just a whole ton of resources into that.
The real “game” is metagame. It involves management of Power-gaining resources, guild management, and a weirdly hands-off PvP, where you don’t control the fight — you just line up your guys beforehand and pick your opponents from a small pool. Protip: Try to pick the ones with lower Power.
The game is dog-simple to start and play. If that appeals to you, it’s got quicksand-like capacity to keep you around with numerous clever little F2P touches: rewards based on clicking every 30 minutes, negative reinforcement based around checking in every 24 hours, an announcement of the dollar value of the “gifts” the game gives you so you understand what stuff costs, a crawl that tells you when other players get lucky.
There’s a business model underneath all of this that doesn’t need quality or even, apparently, a game to lure in money. I can’t tell how much of this bad design/good business is intentional, but I’m thinking, most of it.
I came into Tynon wanting to revile it and left with a begrudging respect. Not for the barely extant game, but for the sharp gamification from uCool, Inc. In addition to Tynon, uCool operates two different versions of Evony, and a Facebook game called Sunnytown, and yet has no customer-facing website of their own. If you work for uCool or know someone who does, get in touch. I’d like to see how this watch works.
Played High Command last night and got a solid fourth place out of four. I accord my sterling performance to several factors, such as forgetting to use all of my resources, letting myself get rattled and making dumb decisions, and the usual first-time-you-played-so-you-don’t-know-how-to-play issues.
The main problem though was that I spent a lot of resources fighting instead of winning. Most board games are about fighting. Drama needs conflict, and the best way to engineer conflict in tabletop games is to explicitly pit human players against each other.
However, as in real life, fighting is the absolute least efficient way to get what you want. If the arbitrary circumstances of board game rules didn’t make attrition warfare the only way to achieve victory, no one interested in winning would try it. It sucks down all your resources, is fraught with unmitigated risk, leaves very little to act with once the smoke clears, and the worst sin — it’s kind of boring and samey after a while.
If you ever read The Art of War, you might remember that Sun Tzu spends most of his words telling you how to win war by making sure you don’t have to fight. Many other military strategists write long books full of insights that basically amount to, “Here are all the things you should do before you have to break down and actually start killing each other.” Games frequently skip past all of the maneuver though, the interesting part, the real war part, and cut to the stabby bit at the end.
On top of all of these things, this session was a particularly pernicious example of how dumb fighting is, because I spent a lot of time fighting one other player over one territory. Every once in a while I have to relearn this lesson it by losing hard: when you challenge a single player in a multiplayer game, you are handing fractions of victory to the non-participating players because they can spend resources winning instead of fighting.
Put another way, the winner is the player who contrives to fight least.
One reason for the rise of co-op board games is that as people come into this hobby, ever-more of them do not spring from the hobby’s wargaming loins. Customers want interesting games that don’t involve new complex ways to beat each other up. High Command is a decent game with some nice touches, especially for a deck builder. But I’d rather see (and make) more games that look for more clever conflict.
A couple years ago I was repping AEG at boardgamegeekcon and had a great time. When the show ended, we had inventory left over. Among other things, a couple of cases of Monkey Lab, a game about monkeys. In a lab.
During breakdown, I was over at the Funagain room, trying to sell leftover stock at a discount so we didn’t have to ship it home. I brought the full list of everything we had left–Thunderstone, Infinite City, Nightfall, some other stuff. The Funagain guy picked some, rejected others. He wouldn’t take any Monkey Lab.
I asked him why.
“It’s an OK game,” he said. “That’s the problem. There’s plenty of OK games.”
Monkey Lab is probably nobody’s favorite board game. It’s not a bad game. It was good enough to get published. It’s a decent kids’ game. But by some measures, that might be a step worse than being an outright bad game.
Every game company that’s been around for long has a stable of these. Games good enough to publish, but not good enough to flourish. Games that will roughly break even and then sink to the bottom of the catalog.
Reminds me of the apocryphal story of when Sony bought MGM studios. The formerly-MGM execs presented their slate of movies for the year to their new bosses.
“We’re going to make 40 movies this year. Five will be blockbusters. Ten will do OK. Twenty-five will lose money.”
The new bosses ask, “Why don’t you just make the five that will be hits?”
The movie types say, “We don’t know which ones they are.”
Some of that happens in any creative endeavor. Nobody wakes up and says, “I’m going to make a sufficient game today!” But it can be surprisingly difficult to tell what’s really good until it gets out there. Your bullshit detector loses its calibration unless you take pains to keep it accurate. When you’re running a business, that calibration easily falls down the to-do list.
More often what happens is that you MUST put something out. Cash flow is desperately important to a small business, often more important than high-quality product. A game that you’re confident will break even keeps cash moving around until the real moneymaker shows up.
But as we’ve seen, it can be hard to tell the moneymakers from the money-not-losers. A lot of companies jump from sufficient game to sufficient game for a long time. I guess that’s really just called “business.” Nearly every game company would like to operate like Blizzard or Days of Wonder, only putting out excellent games on an excellent schedule. But in most cases, that is neither feasible nor desirable. One that I know of intentionally operates the other way, publishing good enough games as a wildcatting strategy. It works too.
Ultimately, I wrote in praise of the OK games. They have a place, although not an honorable one. We would love for all our games to be Tickets to Ride, Agricolas, and 7 Wonderses. But thank the Lord there’s room for Monkey Labs too. Monkey Lab keeps us all here in ways that Power Grid cannot.
I’ve scoffed at the $1 backer level for Kickstarter. It’s a reward for the project do-er, not the project supporter. I don’t get excited about having my name in a list on somebody’s website. I don’t know who does.
But here’s a couple of articles that are changing my mind. As I contemplate my own project, I’m considering these carefully.
Demystifying the $1 Kickstarter Pledge
Summary: The $1 pledge is about emotional support for giver and receiver, not fiscal support. Also, it’s useful for marketing.
After reading this, I’m wondering if you can include a $0 pledge level just to get more people minimally invested for marketing purposes.
The Power of $1
This article from Kickstarter’s blog demonstrates things successful project-runners have done with their $1 level to create value for the backers. This way, they’re not just giving you a buck because hey man give me a buck. More value for backers = doing it right.
I’m starting to imagine a game or activity for backers that the $1 level lets you participate in based on name length or twitter handle or something. Something that scales well, doesn’t take significantly longer to add new names to, but gives some tangible outcome to the backer.
I know these recaps are sort of self-indulgent, but I keep doing them for two reasons:
So here’s how August went down:
Started off the night floating and greeting new people. In between, I kibbitzed games of Love Letter with some friends and Toc Toc Woodman with some kids of friends. Lots more kids this month, and more new people I’ve never seen before.
I’ve said before that Dungeons & Dragons is one of the best ways I know to love people. I could probably expand that to general game play as well. I’m pretty introverted, but I love meeting new people over games.
Here’s what I wound up playing:
When I start to think about Kingdom Builder, I find it hard to think of as even a game… it seems more like a puzzle at first. But then interaction with other players kicks in and the potential for screwage puts it into the “game” category after all. I find myself liking KB even when I lose.
Got this in the mail a week or so ago, and for once I was the first kid on the block to show up with a new game. Well, a new game that we’d been playing in prototype since January. AEG sort of AEG-ed the game up, which was to be expected. I liked the addition of starter location cards that allow you to vary the size and placement of the game’s start. It’s also probably more economical for AEG than just putting in a 5″ x 8″ paper rectangle or something. We played! Somebody won! Hooray!
In a field of eight racers, Team Quick was first and second for most of three laps, with Meredith in front, and me in second nakedly keeping her in first. Josh opportunistically joined Team Quick when he wanted to ally himself with winners. I don’t know why everyone didn’t try this tactic.
This became a boon for Team Quick after all when Josh leapt to the front on the final turn. The jump at the end stymied Meredith, so I stopped being a supportive husband and just took second place behind Josh. The pack caught up to her while she was trying to clear the jump, and she finished somewhere ignominious in the bottom half. Boo!
But Team Quick still placed first and second, so go Team Quick!
We’re doing this again September 10, 2013, so rush on out to 1125 S. Broad in Philly and join the hoopla!