I have no opinion on the game play, not having time at Gen Con to demo it, but I hope people take a look at this Kickstarter:
Speaking of time magic, I’ve slid into a reflective mood at times, recently. I’ve already touched upon the subject of playing a game without worrying about the game – just do whatever seems fun. And, many of my deckbuilding gimmicks have involved rewinding time to a point when there were fewer cards and my deckbuilding strategies were different.
But, I’ve been thinking about what appeals and what doesn’t about various games that led me to where I am.
I have books on chess. For some reason, I keep pulling one of them down from the shelf that I’ve never enjoyed reading. The problem with its format is that it sets up a key point in a game to illustrate an aspect of chess and gives the key move … and then gives all of the remaining moves in the game without diagrams of the evolving play position. I’m not motivated to pull out a set and play through the moves. I realize that means I’m not the target audience.
Why am I not a target audience for chess?
It’s a game with completely known information. I may not be that into surprises, but I like guessing. I like unknown information, which, as I keep saying, is why I prefer CCGs to CMGs or CDGs.
But, it occurred to me that there’s another aspect of chess that differentiates itself from, say, Dragon Dice or another game with known info. Symmetry. Collectible/customizable games lack symmetry. RPGs lack symmetry. Some boardgames have symmetry or close to it, while others have varying start positions or have factions.
While having nothing to do with time, lack of symmetry is appealing to me. I don’t like doing what everyone else does, which is quite obvious with my RPG characters but should be obvious with my CCG decks. That ability to do something different is dependent upon the lack of symmetry in a game. Sure, you can make various dumb opening moves in chess games that nobody makes just to be different, but the goal isn’t to be stupid, it’s to be different, and there are only so many of those moves, anyway.
When am I ever going to play again? No idea.
Note that mahjong has hidden information. I found the subgame of trying to guess what people have in their hands to be quite entertaining. It’s also asymmetrical! Sure, you have equal chances of having any hand, but you never have the same hand as someone else, even though it’s possible.
Rather than break bridge out into its own section, as I’ve never played a significant amount of bridge, I’d just point out how scientific games like bridge are because by definition you cannot have the same cards in hand as someone else.
Mahjong was my favorite game growing up for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with its mechanics. It was a family thing. It has gambling. The tiles (without numbers) look cool. Different sets had different styles which gave different personalities. I liked the old-fashioned or more stylized sets much of the time. I even collected sets – I’ve always been into collecting.
And, it had special mechanics that separated it from rummy card games I played. Certain melds, certain tiles (flowers), certain hands all followed special rules, which even bled into special rules in play. “Nine down” meant you had to be careful about throwing a tile of that suit, and so forth with the exotic/esoteric old school style of play that the family used.
Style. Specialness/unusualness. Trying to read other people’s positions not by trying to read other people but by following their actions. These and possibly more are elements I see in games I choose to play today.
I technically started with some transitional product between D&D and AD&D, but AD&D was really my first experience with D&D. A very limited experience as I didn’t play the game growing up, just bought it and read it and did some character creation and whatnot.
That period of being interested in AD&D but not playing it had an effect that makes me wonder about my current tastes in RPGs. The reality is, while maybe not a problem for the day or when put up against so many competitors, the mechanics of D&D games rather suck. What drew me in with the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual was flavor. The art made me interested in creating a paladin character (or a victim of a succubus or whatever). I had yet to become offended by how dwarves and elves and other demihuman races are portrayed in RPGs. Even the art in Dragon magazine and the like was appealing with Phil Foglio cartoon humor, et al.
One of the reasons I stopped buying D&D products is that it lost all of its flavor to me. Fourth Edition may be the worst offender when it comes to feeling like everything is just numbers, but 3e started down the path of making the game feel just mechanical to me, even if that path had been started previously with 2e or whatever.
Now, if there weren’t other RPGs out there, then maybe I would have stuck with it. Off the top of my head, I’m trying to think of what fantasy RPG showed me a different model. Not Melee/Wizard/The Fantasy Trip – those were precursors to an even more mechanical feeling game: GURPS (Fantasy). Champions certainly would never have made me see a different path!!
It had to be something about playing at conventions in one-shots of more narrative games. Vampire: The Masquerade, perhaps, with 7th Sea being a more fantasy RPG in a similar vein.
But, you know what? It might have been Origins 1994 that took me down my path.
Immortal – The Invisible War
Once my favorite RPG (maybe even game). Highlander (TV series) and World of Darkness RPGs is what I thought of when I was first exposed to this (playwise, I saw ads for it in Dragon) when Origins was in San Jose (it was in San Mateo in 1981?!?). After having Ran Ackels, the designer, run a table for me at Origins, I started describing it as a cross between Highlander and Mage.
I have my signed copy sitting a couple feet away. I’m getting interested in it again, though no one else would ever run it for me and I don’t have any desire to run it, myself.
What was so appealing about it?
First, mythology. I love mythology. Where I got increasingly disenchanted with AD&D because I thought the game was making Tolkien (and the original Northern European myths) races silly, Immortal could be all about a spin on real world myths. Sure, V:TM got there first as did whatever else, but this put world mythology up front.
Second, mechanics. Sure, Immortal made InQuest Magazine’s “Games That Suck” article (I think the first one but maybe the second). Sure, when talking to Ran and Rick Don, who became the game’s champion, there were comments about how the mechanics didn’t actually work. But, I think that’s an important point – mechanics only need to seem to work. I was not a campaigner back in the day. I was a conventioner. I didn’t see all of the problems in trying to build real characters or in how the GM was to resolve issues. What I saw in that first experience was a PC going through sewage pipes in some liquid (maybe gas) form. I saw my character look into the future and be reluctant to tell anyone what would happen because, the more the future is known, the less you can change it.
But, I’m getting off track on mechanics. What appealed to me about the mechanics was Floating Immaculum. And, yes, the game had just as many and possibly more (!!) pretentious names for everything. Immortals have (rainbow colored) Halos, which are attributes. They have Motes of Immaculum in those Halos, showing how strong the attribute is. Okay, just pretentious names for same old, same old. Except, Dragon Magazine’s Immortal flyer went over Free Immaculum. Immortals have a certain number of Motes that can be moved around from attribute to attribute. I need to be stronger, I assign to Orange. Faster, Green. If I leave it as Free, my initiative or number of actions or something was improved.
The art isn’t quite my style, but it was evocative. But, I digress.
Immortal gave me a view of a RPG that could appeal on a story level much more than “My half-elf is multiclassed fighter/magic-user and will Sleep the orcs.” It gave me weird mechanics (to go with mundane things that were essentially modern day skills – I also like real world settings whether modern or historical). It was not a mass market product. When I played it, which, at first, was only with Ran running, I got to do cool stuff, the mechanics were incredibly minimal, but it didn’t have the “rules lite” annoyances that a lot of more modern games incorporated.
For a time, it was perfect. Later, it became less perfect in my eyes. I saw more of the challenges in mechanics and running a campaign. I really didn’t like what was done with Second Edition. The game became too much about Immortal politics rather than modern day mythology in my play.
Tying into Chromancy, there was even time travel in some adventure I was in, might have been the LARP I played in.
Time to wrap things up. Memories make you. There have been many games I’ve left behind that mattered a lot at the time. Besides leading to me to where I am, it is possible to go back to the well with some of these games. Can still riff on Babylon 5 with that CCG, can still try to do opening hand optimization with the Wheel of Time CCG, can still play the most fun CCG of all time, Ultimate Combat!, and, of course, RPGs never become obsolete. After all, how different is Melee/Wizard from, say, BattleTech?