Monday, 26 September 2011
Friday, 23 September 2011
Thursday, 22 September 2011
Via Quirkworthy, I see that Games Workshop have an example of a Dreadfleet game turn. It looks pretty fun to me. I'm hoping that it'll be something that I can [paint up to an acceptable standard and] introduce to friends without them realising they are playing a miniature-based wargame.
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Knowing me, knowing you, we all have a love-hate (or hate-love) relationship with the evil empire of gaming. We might love what it was, but hate what it is. We might love its settings, even its current games (I enjoy WFB8e myself, even if you do need several hundred miniatures to play it properly), but hate its business model. Or its arrogance. Or its rabid lawyers. Or its attempt to strip its settings of any adult sensibilities, making them child-friendly, but with skullz. And just this weekend, I said that I was thinking of consciously abstaining from Games Workshop and supporting other British games companies that I feel have captured some of the feel of early / earlier Games Workshop. Such as Mantic.
But then, on Monday, on Talk Like Pirate Day, with another mid-thirties birthday looming, I went into my local Games Workshop and pre-ordered (or ordered, as we used to say) their new pirate memory game.
Believe me, this is a lot better than the Games Workshop produced video… look for that on YouTube.
Dreadfleet has managed to summon up a lot of negative reaction. I find some of these reactions baffling.
First, price. Sure, £70 is a lot of money. But, having been into one of my two non-GW FLGS recently – Rules of Play, the other being Firestorm – I know that there are big box boardgames that come in just as expensive. And, as others have pointed out, Games Workshop is in competition with other, non-tabletop gaming forms of entertainment these days. Now, imagine the afternoons’ entertainment you get from taking your kids to a football or rugby game… and the price.
And the components do look good too, with 10 ship models (that are pretty big) and a bunch of scenery, and a good sized playmat. Sure, the sculpts are in the overblown Games Workshop-style – which some have criticised are being ‘cartoony’ – but that is as much the end-point of having John Blanche as your chief visionary for thirty years as it is the kiddification of the gaming worlds. His paintings that were used to illustrate Games Workshop stuff in the 1980s were pretty out there… [on which note, check out gothic punk and fuckyeahbritisholdschoolgaming to get your nostalgia kick in the eyes]
But there are two related negative reactions that are even more baffling. Some are complaining that, as Dreadfleet is a one off, they will not be able to spend hundreds of pounds expanding the game. ‘The game won’t be supported’, they moan. So… we won’t see a never ending stream of new models and rulebooks, that carry with them the implication that if we don’t buy and use these, we’re not playing it right. Well, good! [And I play a whole bunch of games that are not supported anymore, such as WFRP1e, and games that don’t need any support, such as, well, any boardgame in existence.]
Another related set of negative reactions can summarised as, ‘who the hell is this game aimed at? Not me, I’m waiting for the new Blood Angels Codex / Vampire Counts Army Book. Maybe,’ they say, ‘I’d be interested if I could use my existing miniatures in the game, or bring the Dreadfleet miniatures over to my WFB games…’
But that is the very attraction of Dreadfleet. It is a boxed game, complete in itself. Not a crippled version of a tabletop wargame, the way that starter sets for WFB – such as
So its not a revamp of Warhammer Quest. Sure, that’s a shame. So its not a new version of Blood Bowl – well, you can still get that for £50 from Games Workshop, so I don’t understand why anyone would want to risk ruining the game with a 're-implementation'. But it is a new game from Games Workshop that does not require the hundreds of pounds and hundreds of hours commitment that assembling and painting two armies (yes, two because that is what you need to play a game) and enough scenery to play a proper game of 40K or WFB.
It is strange to read people criticism Games Workshop because they are NOT maximising the amount of money they can squeeze from gamers. I not sure that it’s a bad business decision, as some seem to think – see Jake Thornton’s blog for an industry insider’s argument on the business case for Dreadfleet. Well, they certainly got £70 out of me. But let us imagine that it is a mistake, that those critics ‘worried’ about Games Workshop’s business plan are right. What conclusion should we come to? That the game designers at Games Workshop have created a cool game (or, at least, a game that they think is cool) and have managed to bring it to market against corporate demands to maximise their hold on the disposable income of British geek-dom. And that, surely, is a good thing.
Caveats – 1) the models could be riddled with miscasts. 2) The ruleset could be terrible. We’ll see in October.
[For an interesting discussion about visiting Games Workshop as an adult with a taste in the kind of games that GW have long abandoned, see Fighting Fantasist.]
Thursday, 15 September 2011
I have been ill. Unable to sleep, I found myself that the best way of filling the time once the rest of the family was in bed was to play on the Xbox. I downloaded trials of Dragon Age II, Dungeon Siege III, and Castle Crashers. All of these are described as RPGs. Even Castle Crashers, which makes Gauntlet look sophisticated.
Oh, there are CRPGs, in the same way that there is a genre of music that is called RnB. But just as RnB is not ‘rhythm and blues’, CRPGs are not ‘role playing games’. They might share some mechanics, they might share setting, and atmosphere, with role playing games. But they lack what makes tabletop role playing games such a distinctive experience.
There is no inter-player interaction that makes a role playing game so much fun. The very best party-based CRPGs, in which different party members are more than simple collections of statistics, but have different motivations and personalities, paradoxically reveal the very emptiness of the role-playing aspect. Even in the great CRPGs, from Baldur’s Gate to Dragon Age, the interaction between party members, and even the actions of the primary character, the nominal PC, are scripted. There might be a handful of different options, but there is no freedom. How does the ‘PC’ develop as a character? Entirely along the lines determined by the hand of a ‘dead’ GM.
And the worst? The worst mistake levelling up and getting new gear and ‘feats’ as character development. They mistake the mechanics and terminology of a role-playing game for the thing itself.
A ‘dead’ GM? A human GM responds to the actions of the group and invents the world and the events of the game on the fly. Sure, he may do so by drawing on the crystallised labour of other GMs – from the rules themselves, through encounter tables, to whole adventures. But the golden rule, or rule zero, or whatever a particular game calls it, is that nothing is fixed, everything can be house-ruled, improvised, bent to suit the people playing the game.
But worst of all is a lack of any sense of peril in CRPGs. By way of ‘Save Game’. A GM might fudge a roll, he might power down an encounter. But I have never played with a GM has said, ‘well, that encounter didn’t go as well as it might. Let’s start again from just before you kick the door down.’ Where a GM has said that again, and again, and again, until a satisfactory end to the encounter has been reached. The save and reload isn’t just a way of dealing with TPKs, but also with the death of single characters, with conversations in which the wrong option has been taken, with the failed skill rolls when searching for loot.
Don’t use the save function? Well, what sort of game would Baldur’s Gate be then? Endless replays of the first few maps, most likely. The game, like the vast majority of CRPGs, is designed to be played with constant saving and reloading, not for playing through as one does a role playing game adventure or campaign.
What of MMORPGs? Don’t they have player interaction and even, at a stretch, an active, ‘living’ GM? Potentially, yes, an MMORPG could be a role playing game. But the first M – Massive – renders it highly unlikely that this potential could ever be fulfilled. The ‘Massive’ aspect places the hand of the GM at such a remove the world has to operate mechanically and programmatically, and means that rather than a group of players collectively producing a fantasy world and narrative within the confines of a game system, you have just let a thousand – no hundreds of thousands of loons – into your game. Loons for whom RPG means just what they have been taught by CRPGs – relentless grinding and gold-farming, practiced min-maxing, endless meta-gaming, and worst of all, juvenile ‘pwning’. I was going to say anti-social ‘pwning’, but that is exactly the social convention by which many MMORPGs operate.
If you want to play role-playing games online, try play-by-email, try Skype, try RPOL. Human GMs, small numbers of human players, and interaction, improvisation, and invention.
No, computers can’t do role-playing games. But they can do good ‘adventure games’. Some of these call themselves CRPGs, and some do not. The Grand Theft Auto games, Red Dead Redemption, even some FPS such as Bioshock, are all ‘adventure games’. That they lack the mechanics and terminology popularised by Dungeons & Dragons is irrelevant, they are no less, and no more, a role-playing game than CRPGs.