Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 24, 2013
Challenging games for the weekend

As I mentioned in previous posts this week, under loud protest, I do not consider MMORPGs to be challenging, skill-based games. Not that they don't have challenging parts requiring lots of skill, but because those skill parts take comparatively little time, a small percentage of the overall time spent in game; and in consequence the skill parts also only contribute to few of many different personal "win conditions" people have. What I maybe didn't express so well is that not being skill-based for a MMORPG is totally fine for me. I consider it an advantage that you can freely choose your own win conditions and goals in an MMORPG and pursue those at your own pace. I'm less happy with the fact that generally the design is that everything which is challenging is a group activity and most things that are not challenging at all are solo activities. But overall, if we consider MMORPGs as "worlds" and not just "games", I very much believe that virtual leisure time is at least as important as virtual challenge. Just like in real life most people who go fishing don't do it for the challenge, an activity like virtual fishing is well designed if it is leisurely.

Now challenges come is all forms and shapes, and generally I prefer intellectual, tactical challenges over those requiring quick reflexes. So I am quite happy that I have found Cardhunter, which is a game that is very challenging on a tactical level. It also has excellent feedback mechanics, that is if you do a bad move you usually end up regretting it fast and thus learn to do better the next time. Feedback is less good for deck construction, it is easy to confuse a bad deck with bad luck, but anybody who ever did serious deckbuilding in a trading-card game will be aware of that general problem. So overall Cardhunter is very close to my ideal for a challenging game. And then I end up not playing it much during the week.

Skill is not something that is tattooed on your forehead as a fixed value. You might have a certain degree of talent and experience, but your actual performance will depend on your current form. After spending a full work-day in an often intellectually challenging day job, I often find myself neither in the condition to play a very intellectually challenging game like Cardhunter, nor even wanting to play any challenging game. It is easy to mock watching TV as being a relatively mindless activity, but after a hard day's work people watch TV *because* it doesn't require much brains, not in spite of that. So during the week I often prefer either watching a TV series on DVD, or playing a game which is more leisurely, or at least has leisurely parts. Another game I am currently playing is Anno Online, and that is perfect for just doing leisurely routine tasks during the week, and then making difficult building decisions when I feel like it on the weekend.

Today being Friday I am looking forward to playing Cardhunter on the weekend, even if I barely touched it during the week. Every degree of challenge has its time, and for me challenging games are better suited for the weekends.

Three parts to skill. 1) determining the right thing to do, 2) being able to execute that action, 3) doing this very quickly. Thought, Control, Reflex.

Signed up for the beta, but haven't gotten in, for your card game, but I'm betting that leans on Thought and requires trivial Control and Reflex. It's all about choosing which cards to play. MMO's are all about Control, you know you need to do, you have your rotations/strats/guides/etc, you just need to execute and Mario your way through it, do the choreography. Twitch games are mostly Reflex, see target, move cursor onto it, click.

I do think MMO's are skill-based, otherwise there wouldn't be so many people who are so bad at playing them. Different part of skill than your intellectual games, but still.

I do understand about different games appealing at different times. When I get home from work (I do biomedical research stuff), it can be relaxing to just run around grinding mobs or gathering from nodes in an mmo. At the other times, when I'm on vacation or on the weekends, I'll find myself starting to get antsy and restless, almost itchy, and gravitate more towards the grand strategy games like CK2 and other more intellectually demanding games.
One game that's given me plenty of perfect evening/weekend challenge lately is Sid Meier's Ace Patrol on the iPad, a turn-based tactical WWI fighter pilot game.

Apparently coded by the old pirate himself (a Firaxis person named 'Sid' is even posting regularly in the game's forums), it has 5-15 minute long missions packed to the brim with interesting choices.

Worth a shot for that tired brain of yours!
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