Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 21, 2021
 
How to get a Kingdom Death: Monster - like experience at 10% of the cost

My apologies to those of you not much interested in board game content, but with me having spent the weekend at a board game convention, this is obviously the subject on top of my mind. So I mentioned in a previous post the board game with the highest price for just the core box, Kingdom Death: Monster. And because I didn't know all that much about the game, I watched some reviews and playthroughs (well, not actually play *through*, because that would take bloody forever) to get an idea of what the game is about.

Kingdom Death: Monster is a game in which you play a group of survivors who live in a very low tech tribe. Really, really low tech, for example your starting weapon is a sharp stone you picked up, and you'd consider a bone blade, which is just a sharpened bone, a major upgrade. There are different phases of the game, and in one phase you turn over cards to encounter various events, while in another you fight monsters. What people like about the game is the emergent storytelling, where the survival of your tribe depends a lot on the random results of cards and dice.

Unfortunately Kingdom Death: Monster usually costs $400 for just the base game, although there currently is a special offer at $350. What if you can't afford that, and would like a similar experience for something closer to $40 rather than $400? It turns out that the game of the year Paleo isn't actually all that far off, and costs just $40 (at least in Europe, importing to the US might add cost).

Of course, for $40 for Paleo, you don't get exactly the same game as a $400 Kingdom Death: Monster. But you do get a game in which you play a tribe of survivors in a very low tech tribe; and you do get the experience of turning over cards to encounter various events, resulting in the emergent storytelling of a survival game. What Paleo doesn't have is the tactical "boss battler" combat, but there is a basic combat mechanic, and you do end up with equipment made from the hides, stones, and sticks you find. Paleo scratches the itch of the cooperative survival game, where random events might kill you, but if you succeed to slowly build up the gear and capabilities of your tribe, you could end up victorious. And that in a fraction of the time and the money that the same experience would take in Kingdom Death: Monster.

Personally I like Paleo very much. And I won't buy Kingdom Death: Monster, because I find it both expensive, and not easy enough to get to the table. Kingdom Death: Monster is more of a lifestyle than a board game. Paleo is a game you can explain in 10 minutes and get a game going spontaneously during an evening with friends. You can finish a game of Paleo in the time it takes to play one complete lantern year (turn) in Kingdom Death: Monster. Of course, different people have different needs for games, but I just wanted to throw it out there that there is a faster and cheaper alternative.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
 
Games are too expensive, or why I don't need more bones

On Sunday I wrote about the fact that the core box of a board game tends to be priced in the tens or low hundreds of dollars. However, there are also expansions. I checked, and I own about $400 worth of core game and expansions from Too Many Bones. If that sounds a lot to you, I have proof that this is still on the low side: There is a now crowdfunding out on Gamefound for Too Many Bones: Unbreakable, and the all-in pledge that gets you all the games and expansions is $1,100. It even comes with the luxury box included that holds all that content, which usually sells for $150.

Now Too Many Bones, even in the most basic version, is a game of luxury components. Pretty much any other board game would be completely ruined if you spilled a full bottle of soda all over it while playing. Not so Too Many Bones: All the components are either neoprene or plastic, and you could just rinse the game off with water, dry it, and it would be as good as new. And indestructible game components come with a price. So you could pledge $85 for the new standalone Unbreakable, *or* pay $130 for the original Too Many Bones, *or* $90 for the Undertow 2-player standalone game, and given the quality of the components and the fact that this is the 40th best game on BoardGameGeek, I would say that you are getting a reasonably good deal. I would also recommend their neoprene dice tray that has no folds, and rather reliably prevents cocked dice.

But it is damn easy to get sucked into that game and want more expansions. I bought too much Too Many Bones. And the currently 151 people who went for the $1,100 all-in pledge will most certainly end up with far too much game to play. How are you ever going to play through all 17 characters? Especially since it is well worth playing each one several times before you get anywhere close to mastering it. I have 7 of them, and haven't played all of them yet. The $1,100 pledge comes with a serious risk that you will never play the game at all, because just choosing what combination of characters, tyrants, and rules variations to play is too daunting a task. The all-in pledge contains so many boxes with possible rules variations, it might get really confusing.

Speaking from economic theory it is simply a problem of diminishing returns. Twice as much game would cost you twice as much, but not give you twice as much enjoyment. Even if you have new characters battling a new tyrant and new baddies on a new battlemat, the core experience is still the same as in the base game. Which is a very good game, but how often do you want to play it? So I would say that it is a good thing that Unbreakable is the last expansion of the Too Many Bones game. There is too much of a good thing here.

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Monday, October 18, 2021
 
Destinies - kind of a review

In August I wrote a blog post about why I didn't want to buy Destinies. Saturday I bought the game plus the expansion (for €70, which is less than what it would have cost me to buy online) anyway at the Spiel in Essen. And Sunday I played the game with my wife to see whether we wanted to play this together, or whether I would rather play it in solo mode. We ended up both liking it, and deciding to rather play together, although I'll say more later about what we didn't like.

But first I would like to talk about why I changed my mind about Destinies. Because that has something to do with a realization about what I am looking for in games. At the Spiel I had the opportunity to play Paper Dungeons, a roll-and-write "dungeon scrawler". And it didn't really excite me. Not that it was a bad game, but because of the basic game loop that this game shares with the majority of games I saw at the Spiel convention: In each turn by a mix of random elements and player decisions each player manipulates game elements and records them (typically in the roll-and-write or flip-and-write genre that recording is written on a piece of paper, while in other games the recording is represented by meeples and dice on a board); at the end of the game, each player translates his record into points; the player with the most points wins. Although technically Paper Dungeons is about dungeon crawling, there isn't any narrative experience or exploration involved, turn by turn.

If you look at the "hottest" game at Spiel Essen on BoardGameGeek, they all work like that. There are a bunch of different mechanics, like worker placement, card drafting, tile placement, or engine / tableau building. But it is always player decisions that change game elements, which at the end of the game translate into points, and the highest point count wins. That isn't very satisfying to me. I play games for the experience, not to "beat" somebody. The convention's hottest game, Bitoku, looks like this. Complicated, isn't it? The "game" is to understand this complex board, and to be able to make a move that ultimately maximizes your points. Paper Dungeons looks like this, which at the same time is completely different, but then again totally the same challenge: Understand the complex game state and be able to make a move that ultimately maximizes your points.

How do you win a game like that? Usually some luck is involved, but unless everybody understands the game equally well, the degree of understanding is a better indicator of who's winning. If you play any one of these games for the first time against somebody else who already played it three times, the other player will near certainly win. The consequence of winning by understanding is that nobody explains their moves; you wouldn't want to tell the other players your strategy, and why you think that doing this or that is a better move than what they were doing. And because of the complexity and not knowing the other players' strategy, you often are surprised by the final result; you thought you were doing well, and end up in last place, or the other way around. You barely understand all the consequences of the move you just made, and usually much less the move that other players are doing. It is all very abstract, and all the big surprises come at the end, when points are counted.

I much prefer games in which every move is an experience, preferably one that is shared with the other players. And at least at the Spiel, which is an European board game convention, these more "American" style thematic games are rare compared to the point-counting, abstract, "Euro" games. I bought Destinies not because I thought it was a perfect game, but because there simply weren't all that many games of the style I like that were available. I'd rather buy a game with a strong narrative in every move and some flaws, instead of an abstract Euro game in which narrative isn't really a part of my every move.

The good news is that Destinies is extremely strong in the narrative part. Pretty much every turn is a sequence of discovery, narrative decisions, dice rolls to determine successes, and finding out the consequences of the combination of your decision and the dice results. It fits the description of "role-playing game in a box", with an app serving as the dungeon master. There is also some interest in watching the turns of the other player(s), provided every result is read out aloud, because what another player encounters might give you a hint towards your objectives.

The bad news is that the narrative experience of Destinies somewhat clashes with the game design decision of making the game competitive. In order to explain this better, the following part of the post will contain heavy spoilers of the introductory scenario of the base game, you have been warned! Destinies is principally designed for three players, each playing one of three main characters in the scenario. Each player/character is trying to achieve his "destiny". But the destinies are mutually exclusive. In the introductory scenario the information shared at the start of the game is that there is a werewolf threatening a village, and that the mayor of the village has disappeared. Each player has additional hidden information: The noble just wants to look the hero by defeating the werewolf; the witch is the mayor's mother, and believes that the werewolf is her son, cursed by his wife, who is a sorceress; the huntsman is the lover of the sorceress and knows that she wanted to get rid of her husband by turning him into a wolf, that spell only worked half. Each character has two different ways to reach his destiny: The noble can either collect silver items to get a silver weapon to kill the werewolf, or organize a mob by helping villagers; the witch can either help villagers to get them to help her reverse the curse, or collect ritual items to break the spell herself; and the huntsman could either collect silver to kill the werewolf with a silver weapon, or collect ritual items to help the sorceress to complete the spell. So by the design of the story itself, one player winning makes reaching the objective for the other player(s) impossible.

In a 3-player game, player 1 can choose between pathways A and B, player 2 can choose between pathways B and C, and player 3 can choose between pathways C and A. Ideally you end up with each player having chosen a different pathway. But statistically, if everybody chooses a pathway at random, in 75% of the cases two players will choose the same pathway and get into each others' way, while the third player cruises to victory unopposed. You can change your pathway during the game, but obviously you end up wasting time, which diminishes your chance to win. In a 2-player game the chances are fifty-fifty that the two players either have the same or different objectives. And because everybody sees when the first player picks up his first silver item / ritual item / villager, the second player can then still switch to his other objective if necessary. So for me the game works better with 2 players than with 3.

However, at the start of the game you have no idea where the objects you need to collect are, unless you played the scenario before. And I wouldn't recommend playing the same scenario twice, the game works best when all players don't know the scenario played and each have a sense of exploration and discovery. But if nobody knows the scenario, "winning" the game has a rather big luck component. Yes, sometimes you have clues, for example if you want to gather villagers it makes sense to first stay in the village and talk to people there. But more often than not you don't know where the objects you are looking for are hidden, and end up deciding more or less randomly which direction to go. Now I usually don't mind randomness and dice rolls in role-playing games, but that is for cooperative games in which random results just add to the story, and you "fail forward". In Destinies, with the mutually exclusive destinies, if one player wins, the other players are "punished" by their story getting a bad ending they have to endure passively. Only the winner gets the satisfaction of having driven his story to the good end.

You can, if you want, play Destinies solo. Either you play with a timer, which means that if you fail to reach your destiny in time, you can replay the scenario using the information you already learned and pretty much automatically do better. Or, if you don't want to do things over, play explorer mode, which just means there is absolutely no loss condition, and you play until you reach your destiny. The stories of the scenarios are interesting enough to make solo play viable; but from a pure game mechanics point of view, neither of the solo options really feels satisfying.

With the base game having 5 scenarios and the expansion 3, and the scenario editor and player-created content not being out yet, my plan is basically to play this game 8 times in 2-player mode with my wife. With each move being interesting, the only downside is the pang of disappointment that one of us will inevitably experience when losing a scenario. But while being "competitive", there isn't much opportunity in the game of one player messing up the game of the other, except for randomly reaching an objective first when by chance both players have chosen the same pathway. So in general both of us play the game neither competitively nor cooperatively, but in parallel, enjoying the exploration and discovery. And that joy of discovery is strong enough to carry the game, so we don't mind too terribly when inevitably one of us can't finish his destiny. We would have enjoyed a completely cooperative version, in which players work together towards a common destiny more. But even the way it is, Destinies is a fun game for the two of us.

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Sunday, October 17, 2021
 
Games are too cheap, or why I don't need a board game table

In regular economics it is assumed that demand for a good goes down when price goes up. The exception to this is called a Veblen good, and it typically applies to certain luxury items: People want it *because* it is outrageously expensive, because then owning that good is a great status symbol. Yesterday I spent all day at a board game convention, and one sort of Veblen good really stood out: Gaming tables, like for example this one from Wyrmwood, for $8,500+. Apparently there are "cheap" ones somewhere out there, for under $1,000, but the ones I saw at the convention were all above $2,000, with one even priced at $13,500. Yes, a table that is priced at the same level as a used car looks really nice, but I'm pretty sure I could furnish a whole house for that sort of money if I bought the furniture at IKEA.

The reason these tables stood out was that there wasn't much else which was really expensive at the convention. Yes, you can "deluxify" your board game, for example buying metal coins to replace the cardboard coins your game came with. But I saw those offered at €10 for 30 coins. You could probably double the price of your board game by deluxifying it, but that still isn't all that much money. There were very few games at the convention that cost over €100, and a lot of games were €50 or under (all the games I bought were). The most expensive board game I know of is Kingdom Death Monster, at $350 for the core box, if you don't count chess sets made out gems and noble metals. Some "all in" pledges on Kickstarter are more expensive, but then you get multiple boxes full of games and expansions and miniatures. So how do you spend really big money for your board game hobby?

Board game tables have one main feature: A lowered inner play area, usually with some sort of soft covering, like felt or neoprene. The advantage is that a soft play surface makes it easier to pick up cards or other game components. And the railing around the play area stops dice or other game components to fall to the floor. Obviously you could do as I do and put a soft material game mat (I use a Chessex vinyl Megamat) on a regular table and just not throw your dice all that hard, or use a dice tray. Personally I sat at a board game table and found the railing to be uncomfortable, especially if you want to play a game where you need to write something. I really couldn't see what advantage an expensive board game table would provide over my solution. So my only explanation is that people buy board game tables *because* they are expensive. Either to buy something really nice for yourself, or to impress your board game group. Me, I decided I don't need one. And I'll be buying board games for a decade with the money that decision just saved me.

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Saturday, October 16, 2021
 
Spiel Essen 2021

The Spiel in Essen is the biggest board game convention in Europe. Usually happens every year, but obviously not last year. And because it isn’t that long ago that I rediscovered my love for board games, I actually haven’t gone there for three decades. But this year I went. Unfortunately on the worst day, Saturday, but work prevented me from going on the first day, which is more quiet. Maybe I’ll do that next year. Overall it was a success, and I bought 4 games: The “new beginning” expansion for Paleo, which was released on day one of the convention; Destinies plus Sea of Sand expansion, a game I was on the fence about and then succumbed to the convention rebate; Suspects, a new card-based detective game; and finally Mortum: Medieval Detective, a game I had never heard about before, but was intrigued by the detective story meets Witcher-like world setting.

The main negative point is that after a full day of visiting the convention, I’m not sure that I have seen everything, but my feet hurt too much to continue. Given the pandemic, the organizers could have spread out the booths a bit more, there was unused space at the back of the halls. But at least you needed a Covid certificate to get in. I didn’t get to play as many games as I would have liked, it seemed it was easier for small groups than fir a single person to get somebody offering them to show a game. So I squeezed in with other groups, and played Paper Dungeons and Oathsworn. Not sure whether I will get these games later. But while I didn’t get to play much, I got a lot of short explanations on games to find out whether I would be interested. Malhya is definitive maybe, although it seems to me that the game has been under development for a rather long time, since 2018, and still hasn’t even launched the Kickstarter.

I was a bit hampered by the fact that I like thematic, story-driven games, preferably played co-operatively. But in a European board game convention you unsurprisingly mostly see competitive Euro games, with all sorts of worker placement, tableau building, and other mechanic-heavy gameplay elements. Even Destinies, while story-driven, is competitive. I’ll have to play it once with my wife to see how much that bothers us, otherwise I might have just to play it solo. Only one of the games that I backed in crowdfunding (Nova Aetas Renaissance) was represented at the convention. I would have loved to see more of them, to get at least a first glimpse while waiting for these Kickstarters to deliver.

At least I didn’t overdo it on the spending. I took an airport hotel 15 minutes by car south of the convention, which was a lot cheaper than the hotels in walking distance. I was happily surprised that they charged me only 6 bucks a day for parking at the convention center. And I paid only 175€ for those games I bought. I even saved money by eating ouside the convention, but that was more to take a break and bring the games I had bought back to my car, so I didn’t have to lug them around. I had a really fun time overall, but I’m happy I took a hotel instead of driving back home after a long convention day.

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Thursday, October 14, 2021
 
La révolution mange ses enfants

In 1789 the French Revolution happened. By 1793 the revolutionists had gone from guillotining royals to guillotining rival revolutionists, causing one of them to declare: "La Révolution est comme Saturne : elle dévore ses propres enfants", frequently cited as "the revolution eats its own children". Browsing US news I had to think of that quote, when I heard that about trans employees of Netflix insisting to cancel a show of David Chappelle, because Chappelle had said that trans women aren't real women in that show. Chappelle is very much Team Woke and makes very progressive stand-up comedy, but argued in defense of JK Rowling that a feminist can feel about trans women the same way that African Americans feel about white people putting on blackface. So the woke revolution is now turning the guillotine of cancel culture against its own children. Probably because it has run out of "royals", I mean, when was the last time you saw a right wing stand up comedian on Netflix?

Ultimately there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that content should be censored just because it is offensive to somebody. "Inoffensive" isn't exactly a quality attribute for content, especially not for stand up comedy. Everybody locking themselves into echo chambers where they never even hear a dissenting opinion is exactly what is wrong with media right now. And obviously there are questions where both possible alternatives are offensive to somebody. It gets worse if the divide isn't along the clearly established frontier line of the culture wars. Who has the greater right not to be offended, extreme feminists or extreme LGBTQ+ activists?

We should also get away from the idea that the end justifies the means. A lot of people are okay with Trump being banned from Twitter. I doubt that the same people would be okay if Twitter banned AOC. The question shouldn't be who deserves to be banned, but rather whether we feel it is okay if a private company holds so much political power. Twitter's ban of Trump hurt him more than two impeachment trials. Do we really want to fight elections by making sure that the respective political opponent doesn't even get heard? And do we want big corporations to decide which politician gets heard and who isn't?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021
 
Vagrus - The Riven Realms

In 2004 I wrote a blog post about how I would like to see trade implemented in a fantasy role-playing game, buying low, having a dangerous journey to transport goods elsewhere, and selling high. At the time I wanted that to be a MMORPG, but after 17 years of waiting I'll take Vagrus - The Riven Realms as the next best thing. Finally there is a game in which I can manage a trade caravan travelling through a dangerous fantasy world.

While I am having a lot of fun with this game, I can clearly see how this wouldn't be for everybody. The post-apocalyptic bronze age setting includes harsh things like slaves, which some people won't consider as politically correct (even if it is modelled after Roman times, where many of the slaves where white). The game is also exceptionally hard, you should really play it on the easier difficulty setting. And it is full of stories and lore which are presented in often long walls of text.

But I don't mind all that. Vagrus plays like such a great mix of trading management and fantasy adventure. You manage a caravan consisting of large beasts of burden, mounts, cavalry, soldiers, scouts, workers, and the aforementioned slaves. There is a huge map, with many yet undiscovered locations, which you slowly learn about by taking on quests, or listening to rumors. You can travel on roads or through the wilderness, with the wilderness being more dangerous, but also giving you more opportunity to hunt or forage for food. A good chunk of your cargo space is taken up by the supplies you need to feed everybody, and you will need to keep a good balance between amount of beasts that give you cargo space, the workforce they require, and the guards that protect them.

Besides buying low and selling high, you can also take on transport tasks from various factions, or transport passengers. You can also get various "companions", which each have their own story line. There are two combat systems, one in which your whole caravan fights, and another in which only your companions fight. The latter is often used in the various quests and adventures you can take on. You can concentrate on being a merchant, or more of an adventurer, or more of an explorer. The whole game is a big sandbox, with very little handholding, so frequent saving is recommended. Things can quickly go wrong and get your whole caravan eliminated.

Vagrus is an indie game, and thus not very expensive. The downside of that is that the community is rather small. If I get stuck in a quest in Baldur's Gate 3, there are lots and lots of websites that can give me information and walkthroughs. For Vagrus I couldn't even find the very basic information on what I would have to do to start the personal quest of my orc companion Gor'Goro, which I would need to level him up past level 2. Well, I'll probably stumble across that at some point in time, and I am having a lot of fun exploring. So, yeah, Vagrus is kind of a niche game, but it is the right niche for me!

Saturday, October 09, 2021
 
Are social media affecting game design?

When was the last time you learned about a new game from a print magazine? If you are anything like me, more often than not these days you learn about a new game via the internet: Social media, newsreaders, YouTube suggestions, and so on. Today, via YouTube suggesting a video review to me, I learned about Vagrus - The Riven Realms, an indie RPG with a strong trading component. Sign me up! However, I could help but feel that the medium YouTube is hurting the game: Vagrus is very story-heavy, and that is something that doesn't make for a good "watch it played" video.

Dungeons & Dragons, which had gone out of style during 4th edition, made a huge comeback in 5th edition due to video of people playing the game. If the DM is a good show man, like Chris Perkins or Matt Mercer, D&D 5th edition is very watchable. More so than 4th edition, which is a bit more mechanical. And I don't believe that Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast aren't aware of that. They are apparently currently working on edition "5.5" to be released for the 50th anniversary in 2024. I am pretty certain that when making game design decisions these days, they are taking into account the question "and how does that look played on YouTube?".

Streamers playing indie games on Twitch are an increasingly important marketing channel for these smaller games. You can see that by the way indie companies cater to those streamers, creating NPCs in the game with the face of the streamer for example. But again that means that prospective customers will learn about a game by watching it played; and "how good is it to watch?" becomes a design criterion.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Watching a game played tends to give me a much better idea of it than a typed review. But there are things I like in games, like narrative, which are disadvantaged by this. Unless a streamer is great at voice acting, reading game narrative in a video usually doesn't impress much. Not as much as the same story would have impressed you if you had read it while playing the game. And so I am wondering in how far video social media like YouTube and Twitch are ending up affecting game design to something more showy, less introperspective.

Thursday, October 07, 2021
 
Hacking the win condition in your head

So I solo played the first game of the new board game I got this week, Paleo, and promptly lost. And then I continued playing until I fulfilled the win condition. Paleo uses a relatively simple algorithm to determine wins and losses: Achieve 5 "win" points before reaching 5 "loss" points. But other than a lack of loss point tokens (skulls), there is nothing that would prevent you to play on after you reached 5 skulls. If you want a quicker game, stopping at 5 skulls make sense. But if you don't want to stop and start over after having already to some point developed your tribe, a different win condition also makes sense: Play until you win and try to do it with the least amount of skulls possible. As Paleo is a game that you tend to get better at with experience, if you play the same scenario again, you are likely to do it with fewer skulls and at some point with less than 5 of them.

In competitive games, the other players provide an absolute win condition. In solo and cooperative games, where you play against the system (or the AI), the win condition tends to be arbitrary. It is a bit like doing a high jump while alone in the stadium: What is a win? If you jump higher than previously, that would be enough for most people, even if that is far less than the world record.

The big advantage of board games is that there is no computer kicking you out with a "game over" screen. It is up to you to follow the suggested course of action when you reach the win or loss condition. But once you realized that the win or loss conditions are arbitrary, you can decide to alter them, in function of what is most fun to you. Some people enjoy starting over, others would prefer to play on.

I assume that with time I will get better at Paleo, beat the first "easy" scenario, and move on to medium and harder ones. But if I wouldn't get better and would be unable to get past a certain difficulty level, I wouldn't want to be locked out of the latter, very difficult scenarios. I'd rather change the win/loss condition and play the difficult scenarios, even if under the arbitrary rules the developers set these scenarios would be "too hard" for me. Also, I'm planning to go the Spiel Essen 2021 in a week, and maybe pick up the expansion for Paleo. For a computer game you can't beat, it would be stupid to buy a DLC that is even harder; but if for some reason the Paleo expansion would be very hard, "hacking" the win condition is an obvious way around that problem.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2021
 
We need more Jaws of the Lion

So I got my copy of the Paleo board game yesterday, from Amazon, for €40 (including shipping). Also yesterday was the launch of a Kickstarter of another board game called Mythwind. If you compare photos of the components of Paleo and the components of Mythwind (core game), the physical amount of game you get with these two is about the same. But Mythwind in its most basic version costs €72 + €22 for shipping. If you go "all in", which adds a 5th character and miniatures, you end up paying €150 overall, including shipping. And honestly, I don't think you get 2 to 4 times the fun out of Mythwind that you get from Paleo.

There is a certain trend in 2021 with board games, especially crowd-funded board games, that the value you get for your money is significantly worse than it was in previous years. That has a number of reasons: One is that value added tax wasn't enforced much previously for Kickstarter games; the small volumes plus the thin illusion that customers "donate" money to a company and receive a "reward" back kept the tax man away for a while, but not any longer. For Europe that directly means everything gets more expensive by around 20%. Another factor is that most board games are made in China, and shipping costs from China have gone up by a lot this year. And finally, the specific business model of Kickstarter in which you pay now and receive your goods later means that companies need to account for inflation, and sell you stuff at next year's prices; which didn't matter when inflation was very low, but now increasingly plays a role.

These trends don't mix well with another trend: Deluxification. One reason Mythwind is more expensive than Paleo is that in Paleo the character trays are in cardboard 2D, while in Mythwind they are in plastic 3D. That has a cost. It also has a benefit, but not everybody really needs those nicer components. The game this year where this struck me most was Descent: Legends of the Dark, with a MSRP of $175. Yes, the game has beautiful, high-quality miniatures and 3D terrain. But a lot of people would have preferred 2D terrain and cardboard standees if that had meant the game at half the price. Of course, different people have different amounts of disposable income, and some can easily afford $175 board games. But I can't help but compare this with a triple-A computer game, which is likely to give you a comparable entertainment value / time for a third of the cost, and even cheaper if you wait a while after release.

One shining example for me is Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, which provides a half-price alternative to the regular Gloomhaven. Less components, but the same basic gameplay, and with the added advantage of being faster to set up and more accessible than the original. I'd buy Descent: Jaws of the Lion, but the original is too rich for me. I would especially ask makers of board games to always offer a cardboard standee version instead of miniatures: Not everybody appreciates miniatures equally, and not everybody can paint them, so to some extent the mono-colored miniatures look less good than colored cardboard standees.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2021
 
Ethnic representation in games and cultural imperialism

Do you believe that the ethnicity of characters shown in games should be representative of the general population? If yes, *which* general population exactly are we talking about?

My copy of the board game Paleo arrives today. It is the third edition, with the "game of the year" award logo on it. Other than that it doesn't differ much from the first edition. Only, because of some very vocal protests from woke Americans and British, many of the characters in the game are now black. Which is a problem, because it isn't representative of the ethnicity of the general population.

Paleo was developed and produced in Germany, and is mostly sold in Europe. The game is actually very hard to get in the USA, as it wasn't made for that market and isn't directly distributed there. Now Germany is a very multi-cultural society, with about a quarter of the population having a "migration background", defined as either them or their parents having arrived after 1949. If you go out on the street, you will see many different nationalities and religions. The main groups are from Turkey, Eastern Europe (up to and including Russia), the Balkans, and since 2015 over a million people immigrated from Syria.

What Germany doesn't have is sizable Black or East Asian populations. Less than 1% of people in Germany are black. This is a direct consequence of Germany never having imported large numbers of slaves from Africa, and from having been a minor player in colonialism (not that they didn't want to, but they were late to that game, and got kicked out early due to WWI). In other words, the ethnicity of the characters in Paleo in the first edition was a perfect representation of the people you'd meet on the street in Cologne, the city where the game was made. Which obviously is different than the mix of ethnicities in London or Washington. The ethnic mix in Paleo in the third edition corresponds to Washington, but not any longer to Cologne. And it doesn't correspond to the ethnic mix in Beijing. Or the historical ethnic mix of paleolithic humans. (The woke only care about historical accuracy when it suits them, see The Witcher 3.)

If the makers of Paleo had to change the ethnicity of the characters in the game to be representative not of their own country's ethnic mix, but of the ethnic mix of the USA, that looks a lot like woke cultural imperialism to me. I mean, I can understand why Americans would insist that representation of black people matters to them, in their country, based on the guilt they feel about slavery and the ethnic mix that resulted from that history. But surely Germans would have other things than slavery to feel guilty about. Even for a very woke German, the representation of black people in games is only important is as far as he has imported his wokeness from America. And if it was about global ethnicity, why would a German game want to represent a US ethnic mix, and not for example a Chinese one?

Monday, October 04, 2021
 
Don't read this, play a game instead!

I haven't had much energy lately, especially not in the evenings after coming back home from work. As a result, most of my evenings lately have been spent with passive entertainment, like watching YouTube videos. And because of my interest in games, many of those videos were about games. To some degree that is perfectly okay, if you like games it is sometimes good to look around what everybody else is playing, and see if there are any games you missed. But currently my ratio is completely out of whack, with me being *very* informed about all sorts of board and video games, and very rarely actually playing anything.

And then of course I realized that by doing game-related content creation on my blog, I am adding to the problem. Why are you reading this instead of playing a game? Now to some extent a blog, while being outdated as a medium, has one big advantage over a YouTube video: It is easier to read a blog while at the office, pretending to work. Many companies operate under an illusion that every employee is working 40 hours per week. In reality, the amount of work you actually have in an office job is likely to fluctuate, and sometimes you are just waiting for somebody else to provide you with data that will allow you to continue working. A certain amount of surfing the web is perfectly normal, as long as the content is "safe for work", which walls of text tend to be.

But if you are reading this at home, you could probably be playing a game instead. Why don't you?

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