Thursday, November 30, 2006

Games: My Answers

So how did I learn to play games?

I was thinking about this on my long drive home (OK, so this now counts as my Obligatory Seattle Blogger Snow Post as well, thank God.) It might be better for me if I were to break down a few games I've spent some time playing and act as a relatively representative sample - not necessarily my favorite games, mind you - into three categories. Let's call them Board Games (in which I will put tabletop miniatures games, like HeroClix), Card Games, and Video Games.

Since I consider many RPGs to be the same, just with different systems, I'll put those at the end in a kind of catch-all category.

Board Games
Monopoly: Aside from Chutes and Ladders and Candyland, Monopoly is one of the first board games I have a memory of playing. I'm reasonably certain I was about six or so when my dad taught me how to play. I was lucky in that I came from a family that valued "game nights," so we played a lot of Clue, Euchre, Pinocle, and other games. For a while, we did it once a week. Kind of like I do now with my D&D game, come to think of it.

Chess: I think my grandfather might have taught me the rules to chess. At the very least, he had a crazy chess computer circa 1980 that always played the same opening every time. I learned its opening, and finally started to mirror everything it did. I think I played that stupid computer to a draw more times than I can count, and neither of us never learned from it. I'm guessing I was about 7 or 8.

HeroClix: OK, here's a biggie. I learned HeroClix by myself, but I did so at a friend's recommendation. People who know me, know that I tried Mage Knight before I tried HeroClix and I hated it. Absolutely, no-holds-barred hated it. I thought the IP was just generic fantasy with nothing unique to recommend it, I thought the gameplay was far too imbalanced and rewarded first strike (actually, first dice roll), and it did nothing for my imagation. I discovered HeroClix on the day Infinity Challenge (the first release) hit the stores; my buddy and I were there to get comics, and he showed me the game because he knew I liked comic book statues. And the sculpts were what drew me to the game first, before the game itself. I learned the game by trudging through the manual and forcing my wife to play playing with my wife. But it was my comic shop guy's recommendation that brought me into the fold in the first place.

Fury of Dracula: I like this game, but not many of my friends do. I was introduced to this game at GenCon 2005 by Angus, who told me he'd played the original version and that I should check out a demo in the Fantasy Flight booth. So I did, and while the game is complicated (not as complicated as Arkham Horror, which I will not include in this list because I've never actually managed to play it), I had a good time and grabbed a copy when it came out later that year. I then tried to teach my wife, roommate, and friends, who didn't like it; then I tried to teach the WizKids crew, who also really didn't like it all that much. Fury of Dracula has its flaws, but what's interesting is that both my personal buddies and the WizKids crew wanted to quit playing after trying it for a certain amount of time. It just wasn't fun for them, and I can't imagine what they would have done if they'd tried to learn it by reading the instructions having purchased the game blind.

Go: First, my confession - I wanted to play Go after I watched the movie Pi because it was "cool." At least in the movie. So I bought a cheap Go set and a book to teach myself Go. I didn't really understand it. Then I journeyed onto Yahoo Games and played Go online. I didn't really understand it then, either. Then I tried to have Crabby teach me how to play Go. And to this day, I still don't understand the rules. Supposedly, the rules are simple, but so far no one has adequately explained the game's mechanics to me in such a way that I've seen the underlying strategic structure (or, for that matter, what the hell I'm supposed to be doing!) I'd still like to play Go someday.

Card Games
Poker: Texas Hold 'Em. Here's another game I didn't understand, even after watching it on television and reading a book about it. It took someone explaining to me how it worked before I "got it." Since that time, I've read all kinds of books, played all kinds of poker both in "real life" and online, listened to poker podcasts, read poker magazines, and so forth, but the game mechanics and my opinions of the game were formed when someone took the time to explain the game to me.

Pinocle: As I mentioned before, Pinocle was a game that we played on family game nights. My family, both sides, and my in-laws all play Pinocle, so it's a good game to know in my situation. I learned Pinocle as kind of an extension to Euchre (the first trick-taking game I learned). It's not really one of my favorite games, because I think it relies a little too much on luck, but it's a fun diversion.

Magic: The route by which I learned Magic is a strange one indeed. The owner of the game store in Bloomington came to give a talk about games to my mom's elementary school class. While there, he talked about this new gaming sensation called Magic. My mom was intrigued, so she bought me a deck (of unlimted) and a booster (of Arabian Nights.) I tried it out and was hooked. I showed it to my friends, who soon bought decks, even the chubby Mormon girl (yes, Mormons play Magic.) We organized a little Magic league at school. We played in Boy Scouts. And here's the funny part: none of us really knew the right rules. We finally read the rulebook enough to figure it out, but there must have been a half-dozen variants flying around at one point. We didn't realize you could play without using all of your cards - I won a tournament because I figured out that there was no rule that didn't let me play with only green cards, so I played with only my green cards. Oh, and we anted. I lost a Time Walk in an Ante. A buddy lost a Black Lotus. We didn't care, because the "collectable" aspect to the game just wasn't there for us yet.

Munchkin: I was introduced to Munchkin by, well, a munchkin (the gaming type, not the cure little kid type) at a coworker's house. Munchkin is right up there with Chez Geek and pretty much every other Steve Jackson game: if you can keep your head down and not piss anyone off, you can win about two-thirds of the time. These games are really just excuses to be social (which is fine), and are fun because the mechanics are simple to teach and you can still play the game after a drink or three.

OK, that's a really long post. Next time, I'll do video games, RPGs, and the Lone Wolf books. 'Cuz I can.

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