Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Werewolf. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Werewolf. Show all posts

Friday, November 8, 2013

Latest micro-game addition - Council of Verona

(c) Crash Games.  Used by permission
Earlier this week I received my Kickstarter reward copy of Council of Verona (designer Michael Eskue, artists Darrell Louder and Adam P. McIver, publisher Crash Games).  I was intrigued by the description of this game as soon as I read it, both for the Shakespearean theme and for the apparently tactical gameplay in such a small package.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ethics in gaming: Reflections on the WBC seminar


[While on vacation in North Carolina, in anticipation of going to the World Boardgaming Championships in Pennsylvania in a few weeks, I scheduled a re-post of one of my most popular articles, a reflection on the "Ethics in Gaming" seminar from the 2011 WBC convention.  Originally appeared 15 August 2011]

Last week at the World Boardgaming Championships, Joel Tamburo led a fascinating seminar on ethics in gaming.  I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at the directions that the conversation took.  Right away, the group explored the question of whether it is ethically acceptable to lie in the course of a game.  The immediate example that came up is Diplomacy, a game only half-facetiously blamed for ruining good friendships.  A consensus emerged that there is an understanding that in a game like Diplomacy, lying is an expected part of negotiation.  Although success requires alliances, winning sooner or later requires betrayal.  So as long as it is understood among players that lying is - or can be - part of the game, then that becomes part of the game's acceptable code of ethics.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Family games - what works for both adults and kids?

As parents of boys spanning eight years in age difference, we've struggled to find family activities that work for all of us.  Naturally, my first choice for an indoor occasion is to play a boardgame - anything we can all agree on and enjoy.  In my experience, a game that appeals to kids as well as the adults in the family does not come along often.

The other day we tried a little game that my son got for his birthday called Pictionary Card Game (designer Brian Yu, publisher Mattel).  Unlike the original Pictionary, which requires players to draw diagrams and pictures, the card game has a set of pictographs - little cards with icons, sketches, and other abstract or symbolic drawings that can be combined or manipulated to prompt teammates to come up with the intended answer.  There are two levels of play - adult level, where the answers that teammates need to guess require a certain familiarity with culture and turns of phrase (like "Yellow Submarine"), and kid level, where the answers are more generic (like "ruler").  Each answer has an associated category (like "school supplies" for "ruler") so that players have a general idea of what they're trying to guess.

Sample pictograph cards used
in Pictionary Card Game
What we found was that when adults play with kids at the kids level, the adults will start shouting a range of generic answers to the category before the "clue-giver" has much chance to assemble the pictographs into any kind of clue.  For example, when "school supplies" was announced, people started calling out "paper," "pencil," "eraser," "chalk," etc.  In several cases, the right answer was stumbled on in a matter of seconds.  So the conclusion I reached is that PCG probably works well for kids among kids, and for adults among adults, but not in a mixed setting of adults and kids.  Other word-association games that have not always succeeded to bridge the adult-kid gap include Catch Phrase (which the kids love but which the adults tend to dominate) and Taboo.

Games that have worked well for us in a broad age range setting include Clue, Apples to Apples Junior (though not the original Apples to Apples), Pirateer, and Guillotine.  In larger groups, we've had success with Are You a Werewolf? as long as the participants are comfortable in a player-elimination game.  (If the group includes kids who are sensitive about getting "voted out," then Werewolf won't work.)

Trains Planes and Automobiles fits the bill as a family past-time in a group spanning a broad mix of ages - even more successfully than I expected when I first conceived and developed the game.  I am frequently and pleasantly surprised by the positive reactions I get from both children and adults when I demonstrate it at conventions or hear from people who have played it at home.  I mentioned in my last post that it had become a favorite of our friends' son and that they love the fact that they can get together and play it as a family without having to drag people to the table.  I think the principle reason is that TPA rewards good decision-making enough to keep grown-ups engaged but also has enough luck and balancing elements to keep everybody in contention for the whole game.  Kids feel as though they have a good chance to win, while adults enjoy playing a real game that is more than just a roll-and-move luck exercise.

Familia quod ludit una manet una.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ethics in gaming: Reflections on the WBC seminar

First of all, many thanks to DiceHateMe and Monkey238 for their mention of Man OverBoard and Trains Planes and Automobiles on their podcast "The State of Games."  It was great to meet them both and try out Viva Java, which I described in my "Third Day at WBC" post.  I'm very excited for their venture into game development, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for them.

Last week at the World Boardgaming Championships, Joel Tamburo led a fascinating seminar on ethics in gaming.  I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at the directions that the conversation took.  Right away, the group explored the question of whether it is ethically acceptable to lie in the course of a game.  The immediate example that came up is Diplomacy, a game only half-facetiously blamed for ruining good friendships.  A consensus emerged that there is an understanding that in a game like Diplomacy, lying is an expected part of negotiation.  Although success requires alliances, winning sooner or later requires betrayal.  So as long as it is understood among players that lying is - or can be - part of the game, then that becomes part of the game's acceptable code of ethics.

Ethical issues can emerge when games bleed over into real life, however.  If someone's feelings are genuinely hurt by a twist of the knife in a game, it raises the question of whether even perfectly legal game-play can cross a line if it damages personal relationships.  It happens that not all games are for all people; some people refuse to play Diplomacy because it is just too cutthroat for them.  That makes sense, too, because presumably the point of a game is to have fun; if playing under a code of behavior that permits back-stabbing ceases to be fun (for an individual), then the game (for that person) ceases to be worth playing.  I have had two episodes in which perfectly legitimate moves in games actually hurt people's feelings - people very close to me - and led me to adjust the way that I play to accommodate the relationships that I have with the other players.

Another interesting aspect of games that involve lying can bleed over into real life as well.  Sometimes we learn how to lie, or how to detect lying, by playing games in which good lying is rewarded.  Bluffing might be considered lying, so a person who develops skill at poker might also be honing social skills that can be used to take advantage of other people.  One member of the seminar raised the question whether it is morally proper to play a game that practices and develops the "skill of sinning," such as becoming more adept at lying.

I shared an experience I had as a junior office aboard a submarine in the Navy.  It was the custom of the wardroom to get together occasionally at the Officers Club for a game of Liar's Dice.  At one particular session, I was alarmed to learn that I was remarkably good at lying to the captain.  I could just imagine being in a situation at sea in which it would be easier to lie to the captain in the middle of the night than to tell him what was really going on, and I didn't like thinking that I could actually pull it off.  (For the record, I never did, of course.  The Naval Academy Honor Concept is quite clear on this principle.)

I was surprised to learn about games that encourage stealing - Cosmic Encounter, in particular.  I don't mean games like Clue: the Great Museum Caper, in which one player is an art thief who moves around the museum attempting to steal paintings.  I mean that the game motivates a player under certain circumstances to swipe game pieces - like money from the bank - and keep it if he or she can get away with it.  As the others in the seminar described the roles in this game, it struck me as odd and a little outside my comfort zone in terms of what a game should be - or at least, the kind of game I like to play.  And a few others in the group, who were familiar with Cosmic Encounter, said they don't play it for that reason.

The discussion also turned to the question of inappropriate game themes.  I know of parents who discourage or prohibit their children from playing wargames as impersonal recreations of killing on a large scale.  There is some merit to this position as a matter of conscience.  But everyone present at this seminar was quite comfortable with wargames.  One theme that did come up as questionable, however, was that of the murder of an individual.  Joel posed the question regarding the game Kill Doctor Lucky, in which players compete to kill the fictional Dr. Lucky without being detected in the murder.  The tone of the game is humorous, but some might find offensive the notion of trying to get away with murder as the object of a game.  The group did not settle on a firm consensus on this point, though no one singled out Kill Doctor Lucky as an objectionable game in its own right.

I brought up Guillotine as another game with a potentially questionable theme.  Players represent executioners during the French Revolution competing to execute the most prestigious nobles.  The game even includes a few true historical figures - King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre.  But the rendering of the nobles and the action cards and the nature of the game rules are so comical that the game comes off as light-hearted, despite the rather morbid theme.

Subsequent to this discussion, I recently ran across a review of Letters from Whitechapel, in which one player attempts to carry out the role of Jack the Ripper while the other players try to apprehend him.  I find this game a little more disturbing than Kill Doctor Lucky and Guillotine for several reasons.  First, Jack the Ripper was a real serial killer, and his victims were real women.  The notion of playing this role by moving around the board attempting to kill prostitutes crosses a line, for me, because it represents a ruthless real-life murderer who was never caught.  Second, the game art sets a dark, somber tone, not at all a light-hearted deflection of the nature of the theme as in Kill Doctor Lucky or Guillotine.  Had I known about this game at the time of the seminar, it would have been an interesting addition to the conversation.

Surely there are few themes more objectionable to depict in a game than the Holocaust, and yet I'd read an article about a game called Train based on that very topic.  Actually, to be fair, Train wasn't so much a game as a work of art, or a psychological demonstration.  Still, it goes to show that there are some places in history that just aren't appropriate for re-visiting in the form of a game.

(c) Looney Labs
Used by permission
I think the overarching theme that developed from this seminar was that games have their own internal codes of ethics, but that as social exercises, they can also affect relationships.  On the one hand, if someone pulls off a brilliant betrayal in Diplomacy or manages to completely deceive all the villagers in Are You a Werewolf, then the rest of the players can only shake his hand and congratulate him on a game well played.  To some extent, though, trust relationships are formed or developed over games, and their social effects can bleed over into real life.  So we need to be mindful, when we play, that the people and the relationships linger after the box gets put away.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Maybe Werewolf beats Resistance after all

I'd earlier blogged about my recent discovery of The Resistance and my initial impression that it must be better than Are You a Werewolf?  Well, now I'm not so sure, based on two days of family reunion gaming in which I introduced siblings, nieces, and nephews to both games and got some very unexpected reactions.

Image used by permission
of Indie Boards and Cards
First we tried two games of The Resistance (designer Don Eskridge, publisher Indie Boards and Cards), a social deduction game that I'd never played before but which I was convinced would be better than the more familiar Werewolf, particularly for the new crowd.  We found that the secret ballot process was a little clumsy, since we'd be constantly turning in votes, then turning in the unused vote cards, then redistributing them again, once or twice for every mission assignment.  But more to the point, in two games, the Resistance never successfully completed a mission.  In both games, the spies successfully sabotaged three consecutive missions.  Now, I don't know if that's a function of the experience of the players, in which we were invariably approving mission teams with spies in them, or a function of the play balance of the game itself.  So my intention later this week is to research what others have written about play balance in Resistance.

So then at my 15-year-old son's insistence, we switched to Werewolf (derived from the Dimitri Davidov designed Mafia, publisher Looney Labs).  I was worried about how the younger kids would react to the elimination aspect of the game, the killing theme, etc.  Oh, but that was not a problem.  Everybody jumped right into the spirit of the game.  My brother Pete was particularly enthusiastic.  I lost count of how many games of Werewolf we played over the two days.  The games were quite varied, too.  Sometimes we would leap right on the werewolves and eliminate them quickly.  Sometimes the wolves would make short work of the village.  And sometimes there would be long, convoluted debates over who was a wolf, or a seer, and why.  But I think everybody who played had a great time and kept asking to play again.  We even drew something of an audience at the picnic ground at one point.

(c) Looney Labs
Used by permission
So this experience begs the question:  Why did Werewolf turn out to be so much more popular with the family than Resistance?  Frankly, I think that there are two reasons: (1) We had an unfortunate early experience with Resistance appearing to be so lopsided after just two games, and (2) Werewolf really is an engaging, exciting game in its own right.  First, I do want to make sure we got the rules right; if so, I should revisit the play balance in Resistance, because that just seems so unlikely to be a common experience with a game that was so well-reviewed the first time I researched it.

How popular was this game with the family?  Well, my brother Brenden wants me to order a copy for him, and my brother Pete plans to order two copies - one for himself and one for his girlfriend, whose family apparently enjoys playing games.  I feel as though I should get some kind of discount from Looney Labs on my next order from them for all the business we generated...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Poor Man's Resistance

I stumbled upon a review of The Resistance and immediately thought two things:
(1) this game of hidden identity and "social deduction" should beat Are You a Werewolf? hands down (no small feat, since I'm a huge Werewolf fan) and
(2) this game can be played easily with a small subset of a normal deck of cards.

The game is designed for five to ten players.  Players secretly determine their identities as rebels (attempting to conduct missions) or spies (attempting to sabotage the rebels' efforts) as follows:  From a normal deck of cards, select a number of face cards equal to the number of players such that a third of the cards (rounded up) are red face cards and the remainder are black face cards.  Shuffle the selected face cards and deal them face down, one to each player.  Each player looks at his or her face card to determine whether he or she is a rebel (black) or spy (red).  These secret identity cards remain face down in front of the players for the remainder of the game.

One player is randomly selected as the leader.  Players shield their eyes so that no one can see any of the others.  The leader announces, "spies reveal," and the spies (only) open their eyes and look to see who their fellow spies are.  The leader announces, "spies hide," and the spies close their eyes.  The leader announces "everyone open," and all players open their eyes and begin the game.  By this procedure, all spies should know who all the spies are (and therefore who all the rebels are), whereas each rebel knows only his own identity.  Unlike Werewolf, this is the only occasion in the game when it will be necessary for players to cover their eyes.

The remainder of the game consists of a series of missions.  For each mission, the leader assigns several players to participate in the mission.  The number of people that the leader assigns depends on both the number of players in the game and the mission number to be executed; it varies from two to three players (in the first attempted mission) to three to five players (in the fifth attempted mission) and can be discerned in the table appearing in an image of the gameboard posted on boardgamegeek.

Once the mission team has been selected, players vote openly whether to approve or disapprove the selected mission team.  [Edited for correctness.  In my original post, I mistakenly indicated that the vote to approve or disapprove the mission team was done by secret ballot. - PDO]

If the mission team has been disapproved, the mission is aborted, the role of leader rotates one player to the left, and play resumes as above with the new leader assigning a new mission team to be voted on again by all the players.  (Note that the aborted mission does not "count" as an attempted mission, so the number of players on the mission team does not change.)  If five consecutive missions are aborted, then the game is over, and the spies win.

If the mission team has been approved, then the mission team members (only) each get one red non-face card and one black non-face card.  From these two cards, each mission team member secretly selects a card to execute (black) or sabotage (red) the mission.  Each mission team member turns in his vote face-down to the leader, who shuffles the votes and then turns them face up to determine whether the mission succeeds (all black) or fails (at least one red).  There is an exception to the requirements for a successful mission:  In games of at least seven players, on the fourth mission only, at least two sabotage (red) votes are required to cause a mission to fail.

If this was the third successful mission, then the game is over, and the rebels win.  If this was the third failed mission, then the game is over, and the spies win.  Otherwise, the role of leader rotates one player to the left, and play resumes as above with the new leader assigning a new mission team to be voted on by all the players.

The brilliance of this game relative to Werewolf is that it requires no referee (i.e. everybody gets to play) and - most important to me - does not eliminate players over the course of the game.  Also nice is that it is only necessary for players to cover their eyes once at the beginning of the game to allow spies to identify one another (unlike Werewolf, which requires players to close their eyes in every round).

The reviews I have read and seen are quite exciting, and I look forward to trying this game out with a decent-sized group.

I should add that the original game comes with a small expansion set of cards that provide the leader with some additional "powers" to make the game more interesting, so there's motivation for buying the game regardless.