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Xiphias Gladius

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My favorite genre of game is the cooperative story improv game. [Feb. 16th, 2014|10:13 pm]
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I've made the comment before that I don't actually like most board games, but I really like the kinds of people who like board games, so I play them in order to hang out with people I like. And I mean both ancient and modern board games when I say that: mancala, chess, backgammon, nine-men's-morris, Sorry, Monopoly, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Sentinels of the Multiverse -- my feelings toward the games themselves may be mildly positive to mildly bored, but I really like the other players. I have no particular desire to win when I play, but I want to play to the best of my ability in order to help provide a good gaming experience to everyone else (it's no fun to play against someone who isn't at least TRYING to do well). But I'm generally indifferent to the actual game. There ARE card games I genuinely like for themselves: gin, seven-card stud, spit, a couple versions of Solitaire, but, mostly, I play games as a way to hang out with friends and strangers.

APPLES TO APPLES was a great boon to me. All of a sudden, there was a massively popular game (in terms of games, "massively popular" means that "there's an actual chance that a random person-on-the-street would have heard of it") that was based on social interaction and humor. Where the purpose of the game was to entertain the other players, rather than to use planning, knowledge of odds, and so forth to create optimal strategies toward victory.

I really ADMIRE the ability to win games with strategy and planning, and I do my best to do so when playing them, but it's not something I actually ENJOY. I think it's valuable; I think that it's good brain exercise, and that the habit of thinking several moves ahead is something that is just plain useful in life. But I don't enjoy it, per se.

All the games in the A2A genre are based on the "win by being the most entertaining" concept -- CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY being the best-known A2A, with SLASH and CLUSTER FIGHT being two more examples which currently exist in prototype form and are being rolled out in the next couple months.

So the A2A genre is my third favorite.

My second favorite is the cooperative/semi-cooperative improv story game: THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, ONCE UPON A TIME, FIASCO (pretty much my best-of-the-best of the category), NANOFICTIONARY (okay, that one's not cooperative, but I like it anyway), and FORSOOTH! -- a game we learned this past weekend at Boskone.

But it's harder to find people to play these games with. Heck, my cousin-in-law Erika Gold specifically lists this as a type of game that she simply CAN'T play, and I had to nag and puppy-dog-eyes Lis to get her to play FORSOOTH!, and, even though she enjoyed it, there were other things she could have been doing that she would have enjoyed more.

My favorite-favorite genre is the long-form story-based tabletop roleplaying game, with an ongoing campaign that's not too combat-heavy. Which fundamentally IS a cooperative improv story game -- I like things like FIASCO and FORSOOTH! because of their similarity to tabletop RPGs.

One of my friends was talking to Lis and he said that he wasn't really great at improv story games, but he liked playing them with me, because I was so entertaining with them. And I was thinking about it, and I guess I AM good at them. (I was commenting to Lis that I didn't think I'd been doing THAT well in the Shakespearian-style FORSOOTH!, because I had only MOSTLY managed to talk in iambic pentameter in my scenes, and I only twice managed to end them with rhyming couplets.)

I got to talking with a couple of game designers, including the designers of FORSOOTH! and Cluster Fight, about this. One of the other designers had been teaching people his Lovecraftian Horrors-doing-masked-Mexican-Wrestling game, and was commenting that there were a lot of players who WERE enjoying the game, but just playing it as a strategy fighting game, and not even trying to use the "extra points for entertaining people" mechanic. And he didn't get why -- he'd tried to create a game which would be enjoyable to strategy players and entertainment players, and had therefore created a way in which you got extra points for making people smile. There was never a penalty for trying and failing; strategically, attempting to be funny could only help, and never hurt. And yet MOST players didn't even try.

I thought about that, and told him what I thought it might be.

We human beings are social animals, and as such, one of our most fundamental fears is social rejection. Which means that one of the most unpleasant things that can happen to us is "being laughed at." In order to play one of these games, you have to convince yourself that "being laughed at" is a GOOD thing, rather than among the worst things that can happen to you.

It can be done, of course. But it's the same sort of thing that makes people hang-glide, parachute, bungee-jump, cliff-dive. All of those include taking the fundamental human fear of heights, and re-defining it in your own mind to being a good thing.

To enjoy cooperative improv story games, or even to use that sort of mechanic in another game, you need to go through the same process of redefining a "fear" as a "thrill". I have, and enjoy them, but it's not fair to expect everyone else to.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: jadasc
2014-02-17 12:59 pm (UTC)

A compliment, and a recommendation.

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A nice post to wake up to. :) And, have you played Dixit yet? It falls in an interesting place between 1 and 2 on your list.
[User Picture]From: wordweaverlynn
2014-02-17 06:43 pm (UTC)

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Seconded.
[User Picture]From: jazzfish
2014-02-18 03:33 am (UTC)

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Agreed, on both counts. I think of Dixit as "like Apples To Apples, but with some thought and creativity required."
[User Picture]From: alandd
2014-02-17 01:53 pm (UTC)

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I played one called "Machine of Death" this weekend. It's cooperative and a lot more open-ended than most similar games (seem to me) to be. Some friends backed it via Kickstarter, so have a bunch of expansion packs... http://machineofdeath.net
[User Picture]From: snippy
2014-02-17 09:48 pm (UTC)

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I have only played Jo Walton's cooperative story-telling card games, and I adore them. I adore their ability to bring in even reluctant storytellers, because you can just read a card aloud or you can embellish the line on the card into a paragraph or more if you are inspired to.
[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-02-18 02:08 am (UTC)

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I totally didn't know that Jo did that! I googled around about it, and found some comments by ffutures about them. Apparently they're out of print now; I should ask her if she's got any lying around, or she or Ken have the files for the cards -- from the description, it seems like the sort of thing that could work print-on-demand, or even downloadable PDF.
[User Picture]From: snippy
2014-02-18 02:30 am (UTC)

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I think she's said before that she has the files, but in a format she can't open. But by all means, try to get them, they're wonderfully made. I may try to dig mine out, I haven't played with them in about 10 years.
[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-02-18 03:21 am (UTC)

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Well, Jo, if you're reading this, and you're interested, we can see if Lis can dig up someone who can open them -- she's had success in random things like that in the past.
[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-02-18 08:45 pm (UTC)

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They're not possible at current tech level.

I have files for the DOS DTP program Avagio, and what I have is the format that's ready to print... to a printer I used to have, an HP inkjet from 1992. So they'd have to be redesigned -- and while they were a couple of days work for each set in Avagio I'd rather cut off my finger than do that work in a Windows program. Two fingers. Really. And there are 200 cards in each set, which makes doing them with the kind of people who offer card printing for 52 cards ridiculously expensive. And I believe I gave Ken the physical copies because he was going to do something with them, which he never got around to.

So yes, they were great, but very very not worth my time trying to redo. Anyway, for what? To sell 6 copies to my friends? To spend all my time trying to market and going to the post office? Seriously?

And I do not even have lists of the card titles. I have a couple of cut up packs in the games cupboard -- I know I have Dark Continent and I think I have the fantasy one and maybe one other. If you come to Montreal we could play one. Marcus Rowland has complete sets of everything.
[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-02-18 08:48 pm (UTC)

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True enough. You've got an ACTUAL job.
[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-02-18 08:46 pm (UTC)

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Oh, and I can open them any time I want.

On my DOS computer, in Avagio. Can't do anything but open them, of course, but opening them is not the problem.
[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-02-18 08:50 pm (UTC)

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So, basically, the only reasonable solution is to build a time machine and take the computer to about 1990 or so.
[User Picture]From: snippy
2014-03-04 10:45 pm (UTC)

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While looking for a knitting pattern, I found "Into the Death of Civilization." I would be willing to scan the cards and the instructions and produce a pdf if Jo permits.