No Way Out

Lot of minor things I’ve had on my mind in the past couple of weeks.  While just as minor for any given instance, what I’m posting about today cuts across a number of instances.

Time to dwell on choice/variety again.  As I say, boardgames just don’t compel me like RPGs and CCGs because they have nowhere near the variety … variety of experience that is.  When you tell a story about a boardgame, it’s more like “then I forked his rook and queen, 15 moves later, I won”, which may be significant, but it’s not distinct.  Sure, hearing about the exploits of one’s RPG character is pretty painful for people who weren’t there, but it’s great when it’s reminiscing among people who were there.  Can look at my last V:TES tournament win for why I embrace CCG variety –

Key play in the game?  After my first Villein, I played another master – Powerbase: Madrid.  It ended the game in the same state as it had been four turns after I played it – full of counters and unused.

Let me see if I can work backwards a bit on recent experiences and how they relate to choice/variety.

Last night, we played the first session of our RuneQuest campaign since escaping from the dungeon we were trapped in for 4 or so months (it felt like at least 6 to one of our core players).  It was a perfect example of everything defining about our RQ play.

First, there are no meaningful options.  Sure, there are different choices.  But, they all lead down the twin paths of either minimizing screwage or not minimizing screwage.  What was highly amusing, to an extent, of this session was how happy people felt to be out of the dungeon only to engage in exactly the same behavior and experience that is SOP for the group – try to leave town to make progress on a party goal, find random loot and/or random encounter, turn back to town to evaluate loot and/or lick wounds, find out details about unusual treasure and/or heal up, set out from town, find random loot and/or random encounter, turn back to town to evaluate loot and/or lick wounds.

Now, I got a bit away from the real examples of the lack of meaningful choices.  Just thought that paradigm might amuse people.  First, there’s only one way to build characters.  I always get the same armor.  I always either get weapon package A (poleaxe) or weapon package B (not poleaxe – whatever weapon can’t do enough damage to matter much).  Everyone gets Disruption, Heal 2+, Protection, Bladesharp (or Bludgeon) as battle magic.  None of us play to our cults strongly, as, if I did, I’d never adventure with the rest of the party.  In fact, I try to find the optimal cult for having no agenda whatsoever as personal agenda means no plausible way I’d hang out with the rest of the party.

Then, combat is always the same.  Last night, there was a procession that included tied up slaves.  I turned invisible and went to free the slaves, trying to do something more interesting than just standard stand in a line and exchange blows until one side is a mess.  It achieved nothing.  The slaves were combat useless, which meant all I did was take actions that could have been standing with my two comrades and exchanging blows with the monsters.  Then, I didn’t bother casting Protection and Bladesharp at the start of combat as I hoped to not have to do SOP combat.  Then, I get one-shotted (dead, a frequent result), where, if I had Protection up, I would have only been unconscious and bleeding to death rather than dead.  I wanted to use my broadsword as I need to get my skill up to 90% in that as a Runelord requirement, but I can’t because broadswords don’t do enough damage to matter in real fights, and we don’t get minor encounters.

Then, the system has no (standard) reroll mechanics, so there’s no way to control bad results, meaning that everything is a randomfest of randomness.  But, I realized something yesterday or early this morning:  as much as our RQ play is just a series of random die rolls to resolve everything, there’s no deviation in play that makes any sense.  There’s an optimal way to build (fast and weak = useless, weak physically and magically inclined = useless, low armor = dead, etc.), there are optimal tactics given that the party never embraces group tactics of a different strategic sort, greed is essential.

For example, of the last, I gave a bunch of money away to a group of elves who gave us money for helping with an undead problem that is affecting the entire region.  I wasn’t expecting that to be an optimal choice for my character, but not only was there no benefit to doing so, a drawback of not having the money for other uses, but also that I had to make a roll just to avoid offending folks I just dumped more money on than I’ve ever had.  Again, there are no choices in this campaign – optimal greed is optimal advancement, which is what the campaign is all about.

Okay, what are some other instances of lack of choices, or, at least, the perception of such?

Friday’s article on Daily MTG from the developer dude, Sam Stoddard, spoke about having variety in limited play.  For instance, losing to four different “dragons” that nuke your board position is not all that interesting, even if the specific “dragon” is different.  As usual, I try to compare and contrast with how V:TES plays.

Some folks complain about the lack of variety in V:TES, but there’s just no evidence of that when you look at what people play in environments outside of your own.  Which isn’t to say that V:TES couldn’t use some different choices.  It’s just not a problem.  If anything, relating to Sam’s article about limited play in Magic, I feel like limited play of V:TES suffers from lack of variety.  It always amazes me that people go on about how you see cards you don’t see in constructed but ignore that the way decks play (or should play if you built/drafted correctly) isn’t really that varied.  Sure, I can’t predict what’s going to happen when using four different sets in balance or whatever, but, when there is a predominance of one or two sets, it’s not hard to have an idea of the key cards/strategies.

I’ll skip commenting upon my Tuesday night experiences as those highlight very different problems, problems that are largely my fault rather than the game’s fault.

But, to finish up, how about a boardgame example?  Le Havre, to me, is not the most obvious example since the game is all about too many choices of how boardgames lack variety, but actually, from a high level standpoint, I feel like every game is the same precisely because every game is about wanting to achieve steel, shipping, building while having too many choices and not enough actions after the first few turns.  When looked at, at the game level rather than the action level, boardgames just scream repetition of experience.

So, what’s the point?

I guess the points, by game type, are:

  1. RPGs – Variety of character builds and player/PC actions should be viable.
  2. CCGs – If you think the game lacks variety, build something different, anyway.  You may be wrong.
  3. Boardgames – Prioritize other games that have more varied experiences, at least if you have a personality like mine.
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