Old Time Fan

I’m not going to do another “here’s what the new year will look like” post as last year’s was boring and I couldn’t validate predictions in a number of cases, anyway.

I was visiting family recently.  An interesting thing about visiting family is that the region where they live is one where I know a decent number of people who play games.  I can play V:TES (which I’ll get to in a subsequent post).  I almost got in a table of Heroes of Rokugan.  A friend of mine here grew up there, and I’ve gamed with his friends, playing Magic and boardgames.  I have in the past played the Babylon 5 CCG out there.

Then, there’s the actual possibility of gaming with family.  A recent present for one of my brothers was a Kinect.  I only tried two of the games, but one of them was a winner.  We played a lot of Kung Fu High Impact.  By we, I mean every sibling but one, a girlfriend, a family friend, and maybe others when I wasn’t around.  The room set up wasn’t great, so we were too close to the camera by a bit, which may or may not have mattered for game play – did cut our legs off at around the knees.  I know that it was exhausting to the point where I’d lose my ability to make the requisite motions for Power Punch, one of two key maneuvers in the game.  The other being backflip somersaults where I never did learn how to do multiflips.

Then, because one of my brothers and his girlfriend had a Nintendo, the name of the one that allows you to play two different generations of games escapes me, and because another brother mentioned how good River City Ransom is, a third brother and I played a bunch of River City Ransom.  Apparently, the twins had never won at the game.  After doing some online research on how to play the game better, mainly intended to find out what stuff to shop for since there are a ridiculous number of options, we found out about the cheaty “take me out and run off the screen fast” system in two-player play that allows you to recharge your stamina while not losing any money.  After doing more research and finally realizing we weren’t facing a boss because we kept not clearing the warehouse, we conquered the game … on novice level … without even stopping to find Ryan’s girlfriend before punking the end boss.  While the fighting is only okay, the shopping and attribute manipulation in the game is crazy.  I certainly would play it again on normal mode to see how efficiently it can be beaten once you know what you are doing.

“Ah, but videogames are totally not your thing.” – Random person talking to me (probably myself).

As with many things, movies for instance, I make no effort, but I’ll partake.  In fact, I only play Wii at my grandparents’ old place.  Only played old school Zelda, Megaman, et al when visiting relatives.  Etc.

Of far more interest was getting some Mahjong* in.  One brother always talks about playing when I visit, but it’s rarely the case that it happens.  I don’t recall the last time I played.  I did show the old South Bay V:TES group that morphed into a boardgame group how to play years ago.  I played while living in Shanghai in 2007 a funky variant with a coworker’s family.  I played a bit at an old company’s holiday party, which might have been later in 2007.

*  Because it can be spelled so many ways and I have little idea what the preferred spelling is, I’m going to go with the simplest spelling going forward, even though I find it silly that it’s capitalized and even though I’ve spelled it differently in other posts.

One wonders why we don’t play more.  If one were to wonder how I got started in gaming, it wouldn’t be hard to explain.  At around 8 years old, I was playing Mahjong with my grandparents, their siblings, my parents, and other family and family friends in Hawai’i.  These days, I like to identify younger folks who have played so I can tell them I’ve been playing longer than they’ve been alive.  Meanwhile, on the mainland, my mother and I frequently played rummy when we went out to eat.  I learned poker, chess, and I’m not sure what else back in those days, as well.

I loved playing so much when growing up that I would do all of the set up of the table, the tablecloth, the chips, the walls long before people arrived.  At some point, it lost some luster.  I believe it had to do with changes in getting together with family.  By far the people I most commonly played with were my grandparents and my grandmother’s siblings (and their spouses).  By high school, that generation was slowing down.  By college, not only that but I far less frequently visited my grandparents.

Its importance as a group activity declined and I developed other interests.  But, perhaps contrary to perception, I never lost interest.  We played a few rounds, not bothering to keep score, and I was reminded how interesting the game remains for me.  At its heart, it’s a simple rummy game.  Actually, the complexity in the game and much of the depth comes from playing to a scoring system.  We have a family system of scoring that is old style Chinese with all of the peculiarities that come with a regional system of scoring.  And, we aren’t even consistent with that – sometimes a hand qualifies for additional fans and sometimes not, for instance.  Or, how to score Seven Sisters will vary.

Even without the depth from how to play to a scoring system, I was engaged by the flow of probability calculations that comprise the decisions in the game.  There’s even a psychological element to what to discard, if a subtle one that only occasionally comes up.  The level of complexity is where it should be with the basics being easy enough and the analysis not being overly paralysistic.

An advantage to not playing for money was that I could screw around, like one hand going for 13 Orphans, which I think I’ve done once or twice ever, possibly never.  On the other hand, I do see money being essential to getting the most out of the game.  It’s not so much to make it more competitive as it is to make it more strategic how to play.  Well, then why not just track points?  Can do that, but actually, yeah, making the points turn into dollar dollar bills does make it more competitive.  I was certainly gambling by the age of 9, which I think helped immensely for making me a better player.

Our family style is very aggressive with no reward for playing defensively and giving up on hands except in the most extreme endgame situations.  I would rather see the rule used by the Japanese and common in Chinese play that discarder pays for everyone.  I would rather eliminate flowers as they just add a massive randomness element to the value of hands.  The wildness that I found attractive when young is less interesting to me than proper strategic/tactical play that possibly playing other games has instilled within me.  On the other hand, it’s also fine the way it is.  It’s a good style for learning how to win.  And, there is a tactical element to changing posture based on the visible value provided by relevant flowers.

Once upon a time, I would say that there were only two things I believed I was good at.  Mahjong being the other one.  At least in the last 20 years, I have found I could hang with anyone I played with.  Unlike other games, like V:TES where I’m not ruthless enough, I think I can hold up as a player, at least as long as my mood doesn’t veer towards recklessness as it so often does when gaming/gambling (there’s a reason I don’t gamble virtually at all anymore).

I do think it’s unlikely I will see much play outside of family get togethers as there are so many other things to play – many boardgames have way less investment of time.  I certainly have no interest in playing online where the pageantry gets taken out of the game, making the game an overly mechanical exercise, much like online poker or even JOL.

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4 Responses to Old Time Fan

  1. Brad says:

    My wife and her family occasionally play Mahjong at family gatherings. Seemed complicated and time consuming. Though that is not a bad thing (I love VTES, ASL, OCS…), but it is a barrier to entry for someone who has only a casual interest.

  2. Azel says:

    Gawd, I love mah jongg. Still have my set somewhere. Never got the starting dice mechanics down pat (which Wind starts the wall’s first break and then seating order for who goes first) or counting hands for payment (because of the variance between Philippino, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and American scoring systems). That and I could never keep up with the American Mah Jongg Society’s new special hands legal for tournament play, let alone all the cultural legacy special hands and house rule special hands.

    But as a basic game of rummy with a simplified scoring system, it’s a hoot. Only pain is to get enough players to play, but then VTES suffers the same problem.

    As a game, it’s pretty short, as hands only take about a few minutes — assuming experienced players who play fast. But it’s a marathon in nature because it’s addictive, it’s simple to start “just another hand,” and people want to win their money back. Too bad I suck at the game and almost never bet anything greater than penny ante fans, just like how I play my poker.

  3. […] We started with my teaching my family’s style of play, with its rather convoluted scoring system (for modern play).  Note that I speak of similar things in this post – Old Time Fan. […]

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