Category: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

Decemberween: Desert Bus

This year, I contributed a print-on-demand game, The Pipesm’n Conspiracy, to the Desert Bus for Hope 2018 event. I’ve shared some pictures of this game, both in development and once it was finalised.

The game was made over the course of a month, and printed at Gamecrafter, then sent to the LRR folks. I have never handled a copy of this game, but I’ve tested a prototype I made myself.

It was made into a silent auction, where it it raised a thousand dollars for Child’s Play, with a bid of $987.65. This obviously blows my mind and I’ve spent the intervening time processing the feelings as a result. I’m confused, I’m stunned, I’m honestly ashamed – because I know the work that went in to getting that stuff in place.

To tell you the story, briefly, of how this happened; I made the game, in my home, on cards and in GIMP. I then exported the files and sent those to The Gamecrafter, and had them print and send them to Vancouver, to my friend Hazel.  At this point, expected delivery was within the week, but something went wrong, and instead they were delayed on the way to her.

That means they arrived at Hazel’s place late. Hazel is in Vancouver, which for the Munchlaxen amongst you is basically the next city over from Victoria, its destination.

Hazel received the games, then bagged them as per Desert Bus requests. Then, with the deadline ticking down, as we fumbled through the records for address information, we did our best to find our shipping options that would get it to the right place at the right time. We almost got it right, but I want to shout out to Hazel here – she was willing to personally get on the ferry right there and detective work her way to the right location to hand the game over to people personally to make sure it got there on time.

She didn’t have to do that, as we got her the address, but I messed up on the information, and that meant the prize got there but wasn’t labelled for Desert Bus and went into general Mail Time.

What happened after that point was, thanks to encouragement on the Discord when my prize wasn’t showing up on the Desert Bus page, I contacted the Prize people, who then – while they were very busy– went digging through packages for my mislabelled one, found it, put it on the website, put it on the schedule, and that’s how it got to happen.

I feel awful about putting people out like this.

I want to thank Hazel so much for her part in this – she did nothing wrong, she executed on the information I gave her perfectly. She gave me tracking information which was invaluable for getting the right package. I also want to thank the hard work of Fugi (Foo-Jee) and Ashley Turner (and anyone who helped her, who I cannot name by name), in getting the prize into the pool. Everyone involved was doing other stuff, they were busy, and I made everything a bit harder, and a bit more complicated. I’m so embarassed by this messup and I’m sorry that it went the way it did.

I’ve been trying to approach LoadingReadyRun with my games for a while; you might remember the ridiculous way I got excited when they opened some of my games on Mail Time last year. Except thanks to a cock-up on my end, they arrived without boxes and therefore, without rulebooks, a point of unprofessionalism that also hugely embarasses me. I don’t like twitch chat very much, so I feel very bad being this person @-ing people on twitter like I’m an exciteable fan going oo oo Mr Stark, Mr Lauder, please pay attention to me!

Desert Bus is an amazing charity that does things that matter to me a lot; it aims to be inclusive and respectful and indulgent, which is what I want out of my games. This year they passed the $5,000,000 lifetime earning mark, brought in dozens of amazing people, and in a tiny way, in the tiniest of ways, I was part of that. Not only was I part of that, but people involved in that worked to keep my contribution from falling away. They didn’t need my thing to raise that money, they didn’t need it. They could have kept it for next year, or told me sorry, you messed up, or sorry, we’re too busy.

They could have and they didn’t.

I feel ashamed that it’s necessary, but I am so, so grateful to the people who spent their time and effort in such an incredibly busy time to make something like that happen, to let me and Hazel be part of this.

Desert Bus is wonderful and good and as much as I hate the way I lose a week of my life just paying attention to this stream, I am so blessed by the work and actions of the people involved to be included in it.

Thank you, Desert Bus.

MTG: Kamigawa Revamp, Part 2: The Kami War

Wizards of the Coast Employees, this article is going to feature custom card designs.

When you want to dismantle a set and fix it, it seems to me you should want to get down as close as possible to the basics of what went into that set. Strip it down, examine the central principles, and see what you can do to fix them. You need to find the things that made the set feel the way it did without, hopefully, carrying forwards the things that made it feel bad. Which means that you want to represent the same general factional struggle and strife, you want things to broadly still have the same boxes they can land in and in Kamigawa that means addressing the big flavour underpinning the whole thing:

The Kami War. Continue reading

Decemberween: Big Stevie Dee

First up hand on heart, I like Steve Dee‘s games. That’s a weird thing to disclose, because it’s normally the other way around. They’re not the kind of games I play, but I have bought some of them, because I like having them and they have good mechanical ideas that I can use for my own projects. That doesn’t reflect on my opinion of him as a person, though.

There’s this idea I have as a game developer that I want to hear from people who have something going on other than games development. Games Development As Identity is kind of how you wind up with these small, insular groupings of games that feel similar, even if they have huge or small budgets. There are lots of Games Developers who got into Games Development by being Games Developers.

Steve Dee came to my house this year, and he spoke to me about dogs.

He spoke to me about dogs, because he was here to give us lessons in understanding and helping our dog. Elli, who is a beautiful but somewhat silly dog. And in one afternoon, Steve was not only able to explain to me behaviour from our dog that bore out as true, but he was able to do it in a way that made sense to me.

That’s an under-appreciated skill in game design. You’re trying to communicate a way things work to people through rules, through game play. Steve has it, but crucially, Steve works at it.

Game Pile: Blades in the Dark

It took a lot to get me out of 4ed D&D.

I’ve been playing D&D 4th edition since 2008. Our playgroup has a two-DMs policy, so the DM doesn’t have to wear out only ever playing; so we have two campaigns running side by side. This year, I sat down in the heat of a summer night with my friends, pulled out some printed sheets, and asked if we could give Blades in the Dark a try.

I’ve been running this game now for a year. My players’ crew, the Six Towers Station, a gang of daring smugglers, who I sometime tease for their lack of interest in smuggling. They have pulled off bank heists, woken up in a shipping container, relocated the bodies of ghostly lesbians, sold a soul in bits to the eletrical grid, created the myth of a refugee goddess, and ensnared in their web of crime a tanner’s and an undertaker’s.

I planned exactly none of this.

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Unintentional Optimisation

Let me complain about a problem I’m having.

One of my games, currently titled under the genius name Boat Game is about shipping containers. I’m very proud of it, I did the art myself, I’m liking seeing the bits come together etcetera, and I have a lot of system stuff done for it, but it’s not in that turbo-get-it-done stage that led to games like Winston’s Archive being blurred through.

What’s holding me up is that question I vented about earlier of procedurality. I’ve made a bunch of procedural games, where everything that exists exists in a specific set. You know, n hands of cards, or cards exist in these two-part combinations.

For Boat Game, I was trying to avoid that. Which means that while there are a bunch of shipping container cards that show two containers, I don’t think I want it to be as simple as ‘every combination of containers shows up the same amount of time.’ This then puts me in the next challenge.

How do I divide this up?

What I’m afraid of, at core, is the idea that by distributing these things unevenly I’m going to create a scenario that’s unfair. This is a card game – shuffling cards tends to increase variance, so if the distribution of cards has an unfairness in it, it won’t show up readily or easily. That means if I do create an unfair game state, it’s entirely possible I won’t catch it in the game development and playtesting.

I’m paralysed.

I am writing this to exorcise this, to some extent. After all: These things are distributed on markets and player behaviour. If there are some things super expensive or super valuable and rare, then the odds are good that players will still scrabble on it. The question is about whether or not things get too desperate, if things become too high-stakes.

m hoping by the time this publishes, the game is out, but hey.

MTG: Pet Cards XIX, Amonkhet Block

I guess… this is the end?

The most recent set to cycle out, the most recent set I can think of as having ‘gone’ from Standard. A set I played a lot, with my fistful of change, a set I watched streamers drafting. A set that I really did like.

I might go back and look at Odyssey block again, because, I mean surely I should? But I’m going to enjoy digging into Amonkhet in the coming weeks, to play with it out of standard, to see what casual modern feels like in the MTGO playrooms.

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Minecraft, MMOs and Word Counts

I write every day.

Well, okay.

I wrote every day. I write every day, most every day. Sometimes things will interfere with that. These past two weeks, the thing that’s interfered has been being sick.

Oh don’t worry, it’s not now now. This is back in September. September I got a flu so serious it knocked me flat out and resulted in a giant pile of just forgotten paperwork. I got things done, but there were all these small things I was on top of that I’m not on top of right now, as I write this – in October.

During this time I did climb back into feeling okay, and started looking at my dwindling backlog of writing. It sit usually somewhere around 30 to 40 posts. As I write this, it’s dipped down to 27 – but I was really riding high when I got sick, nearly 45 posts, all on schedule. I’m very happy with my blog productivity, and I’m happy with how often I write.

While I was sick, I reinstalled Minecraft. And that resulted in something… interesting.

See, back in 2017, I thought that I had to stop playing MMO-like games because they were sapping my creativity. I’d spend a lot of time on grinding and building and learning lore and all those things to roleplay in these spaces, and that work was, in general, pulling me away from my blog. I kept anxiously shifting to writing tasks or creative work, because I was afraid of all the time I was losing to playing the MMOs, and I found myself in this awful loop of just refreshing two or three websites endlessly in a loop for hours at a time, to make sure I didn’t miss opportunities to RP that I might enjoy.

Right now, I have Minecraft open and I have basically been running around in a small loop for most of the afternoon. It’s 3AM now. That’s not sensible. That’s not healthy. And part of it is that I kept breaking my attention from the tasks I wanted to do to run around in Minecraft, move near a farm or set up a thing or check what I was doing, and that, that’s where I put a handle to the problem I was having with MMOs. The problem I was having with my blog.

October has a theme of spooky games. I, as I write this, still haven’t got my final spooky game lined up and writte up. This is really late for me – I’m usually a whole month ahead of time, so I’m a bit bummed out that I haven’t done a good job there. Even as I sit here writing this I feel the urge to tab across and double check things, to see if I missed things, to see if there’s something important I need to do.

I realise that the problem isn’t that MMOs are failing me or that Minecraft is too addictive.

I’m just anxious.

And I’m so anxious I’m losing whole days on the same simple mental loop.

This sucks.

Term: Traitor Mechanics

With co-op and semi-cop already introduced, it sort of seems a natural flow from that point that there are traitor mechanics. Traitor mechanics are mechanics where one individual player can choose to change their allegiance to the rest of the group. Traitor mechanics are important to separate from semi-co-op, because a traitor needs to have had some reason to be in the cooperative group in the first place.

Utility

Usually, traitor mechanics are best deployed when there’s an incentive for players to succeed together, but also an incentive to succeed alone. This can be a challenging puzzle when you deal with it in a larger scale – you want to design things so the traitor is an option without it being a natural endgame. You can also use traitor mechanics as a way to introduce surprise and spice to an existing game structure (and it shows up in some co-op Legacy games, but I won’t mention which ones because that’d spoilery).

Note that a game with a traitor mechanic really isn’t too different from ‘a semi-co-op game.’ These arent pure descriptors of mechanical language as much as they are trying to be useful guides to what someone means when they mention a thing.

Limitations

I tend to think that traitor mechanics want to be part of larger games – games like Archipelago and Battlestar Galactica, where if one player is a traitor, deducing that they are and routing around them still has enough game to it. That’s not to say they’re totally necessary to make traitor mechanics work – after all, you can view poker as a game based around a traitor mechanic, and so to our small game Pie Crimes.

I think myself, I’d avoid using the term traitor mechanic too broadly. It isn’t just the idea of competing, unsure teams like The Resistance – it’s about giving a player a reason and a choice to prioritise themselves over others. Dead of Winter does this by giving players secret goals – stockpiling medicine, for example – without necessarily making it break the whole group at large.  This isn’t Betrayal At The House On The Hill either because it’s not like a player ever has to choose between competing rewards.

Examples

Mafia De Cuba and The Game Of Thrones board game.

Working in Layers 2

A while back I wrote about working in layers for the design of a card, in Good Cop, Bear Cop. Thanks to the work of a friend, Vivienne, I got a nice 3d representation of this.

This here is a card from Sector 86. In this case, the card can have different names (under the ‘AKA’) and flavour text (italic at the bottom) with the same artwork and mechanical information. Now, this is a simplified version of the card, made out of parts, but here’s an example of how layering lets you make parts of the card art interact.

Work in layers is extremely basic advice, but it’s very good basic advice.

MTG: Karador and the Decisive Combo

Some Commanders create a robust structure around them, a sort of general-purpose space where you can use them to construct a solid but not unreasonable deck. Sometimes a Commander is a back-up plan, who can come in to bat clean-up after your deck has done its thing. Sometimes a commander enables a slow, grinding playstyle and sometimes they are the sword which you plunge into other players’ hearts.

Maybe we’ll talk about some of those soon.

Anyway, one of my favourite Commanders, a commander who helped really crystallise me as a Commander player on MTGO, is Karador, Ghost Chieftain.

I may just be a sucker for playing dudes with antlers.

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Game Pile: Sprawlopolis

I’ve talked about lawnmower language when it comes to talking about games. It’s the idea that sometimes we talk about games as if we’re talking about products for a task and sometimes we talk about them like they’re art for consideration. Normally, I don’t do that here – even the games I really love, I tend to love with caveats, big asterisks that tell you hey, I may like this game, but don’t go thinking you should. Sometimes, some game reviews are basically advertisements for the game.

In this case, I don’t mind advertising this game because it’s very easy for me to tell you how much you should want it. Hell.

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MTG: Pet Cards XVIII, Kaladesh Block

When I started this series, it was on a whim, and I did not map it out at all. I picked an arbitary start point (I mean, Odyssey was legal when I started, why not start there? I played Extended, why not reach back to the start of that? I play a lot of cards that predate myself, etc etc) and just kept going bi-weekly. I wasn’t aiming to be relevant or timely. I try to avoid that!

I didn’t realise Kaladesh and Amonkhet would have just rotated by the time I got to them.

Kaladesh is a bit too fresh, and it was in part something that edged me out of Standard, even as it pushed me into playing with my cube a lot. This set had one of the first mechanics I’ve ever seen that made Fox – Fox! – actively happy about the way a limited environment played. It had a huge cultural importance, I got to watch the rolling waves of cultural imposition, accusations of mistakes, cultural insensitivity and the fascinating question of what respect to faith in this context.

And also, a bunch of busted, busted cards.

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3.5 Memories – Singh Rager

Sometimes playing Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition was like playing a game under a Mexican standoff. Part of it was our maturity as players and part of it was a very programmatic view of the game rules. There was a fairly widespread, commonly seen vision that there was a correct way to play the game, and you could use precedent and rules and various senior authorities to make your position the correct one. The thing is, these arguments weren’t fun and they’d eat all day and you’d get sick of them, so you wanted to avoid them.

What’s more, the game was so big that it wasn’t very easy for a DM to be sure about what their players could do, and it was often very awkward to roll with it when a player did something unexpected. If you were particularly strict about things, you’d sometimes watch as the game juddered to an almighty halt as you nerfed a player in-action, putting your foot down at the right moment to make a player feel bad. Especially bad when players had common goals, but you had to reign one in while leaving the other unrestrained. Rightness of it notwithstanding, it felt bad.

It wasn’t like the design didn’t encourage this kind of mindset, too – there were all sorts of monsters which were made explicitly to shut off particular abilities of player characters. Golems often were immune to magic in all but extremely specific ways, many monsters had totally unreasonable damage reduction or really weak saves in one category, and that was meant to represent a way that the players could prey on weak points, or, that you could punish players for their failings. DMs knew they had ‘the nasty stuff’ they could bust out, and it was stuff that almost never had any meaningful reason to be the way it was. You didn’t need to put Gricks anywhere, Gricks didn’t have powerful resonance. You didn’t need a Golem, representing a wizard’s hubris, you could just use all the other more interesting things wizards could do. Wizard players would never flipping bother with making a golem, too.

DMs stayed away from these things unless the players got uppity, and the players, in order to avoid arguments, tried to avoid getting uppity. One of the easiest ways to get uppity was to show off that you could exceed the challenges presented by the DM – which really, in hindsight, is such a silly thing. If a fight’s over fast, just implement that knowledge for next time.

Anway.

What this meant is that if you wanted to min-max, you kind of wanted to min max within boundaries of what the DM could handle. Combat was a good place to stay, because even the nuttiest combat build still tended to be limited by where it could physically stand and how many actions you got in a turn. Wizards could sidestep entire combats with utility spells, or scry-and-die boss monsters. Clerics could make armies and take over dragons, and druids were all that on rocket skates. The Artificer and Archivist waited nervously in the wings, hoping nobody would notice them, because they were somehow more busted than the other spellcasters.

If you wanted to min-max a melee combat type, though?

Well, boy, you could go buck. wild. there and it wouldn’t really matter too much. The most broken melee combatant in the game you could make was probably a wizard or cleric, after all, so if you got there without doing any of that nonsense, you were usually seen as ‘playing fair.’

So let’s talk about the Singh Rager, a 3.0 orphan that got nerfed by 3.5, and was good enough even after the nerf.

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Mad About Adam Jensen

I really don’t like Adam Jensen. The character from the Deus Ex franchise, and based on games’ count alone, the main thing the franchise is about. The guy who never asked for this. This guy.

Adam Jensen’s only limitations represented by his cybernetic augmentations are the moments when someone calls him out of a lineup to tell him that he, the cool looking super badass who doesn’t have conspicuous augs and has special privileges that keep him from being seriously detained, has been noticed. There’s inklings of his physiotherapy, of the recovery, shown in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but it’s invisibled. It’s on his desk in his home and you never have to do it.

Adam Jensen isn’t in debt for his augs. He gets a super cool job that lets him do all the things he was doing beforehand, and the guy who could hypothetically charge him for the augs, repeatedly tells him that hey, no, it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re not in debt. The guy who gave him his augmentations basically is his dad, and that dadness carries through in how how kindand incredibly permissive that dad figure is. Cyberpunk stories are so often about alienation and destruction of conventional support networks through technology, but instead we have Adam with his beloved Dad taking care of him, even if he is doing shady stuff on the side.

Adam Jensen isn’t dealing with the medical disabilities of everyone else with those augs, and it’s because Adam Jensen is the human being this universe created to be the one person immune to those problems. Like, that’s the point. The reason augs can happen at all in a widespread fashion is because Adam Jensen is immune to glial build-up. And what he did for this is literally less than nothing.

In a cyberpunk universe, worlds defined by waste, corporate power being expressed through things like private police services, and the grinding complexity and difficulty of human interface with technology, Adam Jensen is the person who is exempted from these problems or benefits from them.

Adam Jensen is the least cyberpunk thing to ever be created for a cyberpunk universe.

Game Pile: Lords Of Madness

I rarely hold up Dungeons and Dragons books as being good books for general gaming purposes. They’re all very much books about Dungeons and Dragons, and even Elder Evils, last weeks’ offering for campaign-ending threats, was a book jammed full of systems for explaining weather, big dungeon designs and complex fight mechanics. When you bought a book for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, you were often getting a book that was some 30%-50% system information, information that’s dead weight if you’re not using that system. Some of my favourite books from that time, like The Tome of Battle and Races of Eberron are absolutely steeped in mechanical information, and if you’re not using it, you really aren’t getting enough book for your investment to be worth your time.

But let me show you a book that I want to recommend to anyone making or playing with horror even if you don’t want to use D&D or even fantasy settings, that also has the on-theme matter of being a spooky book about spooky stuff. I don’t mean Heroes of Horror, which devotes a lot of its space to trying to systemitise horrifying things, no. I want to talk to you about a book about putting things in your world that are horrible.

I want to talk about Lords of Madness.

That said, I would issue a content warning, beyond the typical this is a book about spooky stuff. This book has a lot of humans being eaten, brain parasites, descriptions of people being seen as prey, but all that stuff is very passe for D&D monsters. Here be tentacles, goop, puppeteering and meat.

The other content warning is that if you’re Dissociative or plural or have DID or any of the related fields of mindset complication, Lords of Madness attempts to write numerous ‘alien’ psychologies that may look familiar to you, imagined as alien othered.

I’m personally reluctant to use the term ‘saneism’ because I don’t feel qualified to make that call, but there’s a lot of language in this book that assumes a very simple mental health binary and puts things like plurality or low-empathy living in the ‘bad’ bucket. Note that this doesn’t really take into account that most D&D adventuring parties are composed of homeless murderers.

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Anatomy of Nsburg

Hey, remember me posting about my Craft-a-long project for Desert Bus 2018? I made a little card game about rearranging the inner city of the town of Nsburg, from the QWERPline podcast.

Now, I posted a bunch of this to twitter, as I was doing it, but twitter rolls past, and I wanted it to be both searchable, and I wanted to remind you this is a thing you can have. This is going to be (hopefully, as far as I know) available as a charity prize for donating to Desert Bus 2018. Here! Check it out! Get hype!

Here are some of the town cards of Nsburg so you can have a look, and a bit of a laff, and see how this game project went from Nothing to Something in as short an amount of time.

Ironically, this game was really hard to research, because Nsburg is definitively confusing. And of course, none of what this represents is canon – there’s no sign in the QWERP continuity that Lack Fixlakeindianname is its name. I still had a lot of fun doing this and sharing it with people and I hope you tune in to Desert Bus and we see how it goes!

Game Pile: Elder Evil

Part of the challenge in finding horror topics for this month has been finding game related things that I found actually legitimately horrifying. Things that I found creepy, things that I found that were capable of giving me that prickle on the skin, rather than just wearing the trappings of the horrific. There are lots of horrifying videogames, lots of games that want to be horrifying, but so few of them really make me feel it.

Let me show you then, the book that heralded the end of the world for 3.5 D&D, and went out with a howl.

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Solitaire, The Coded Cardboard

I think a lot about single player games.

I think about them a lot because it’s kind of the main way I have had to play board games most of my life. I didn’t have friends growing up. My sister and I weren’t on the same level – she could see different means to how games like Monopoly worked, and I never got the impression playing games with me was fun for her. This meant that I played a lot of solo ‘board’ games, sort of.

You know Solitaire? That game that we use as an example of a minimally interesting sort of videogame? I played it a lot growing up. I had a desk, I had a deck of cards from a Go-Lo, and I sat and actually played Solitaire, and Freecell, and I learned how those games worked from watching them work on a computer. I had to translate their rules. To this day I don’t know if Solitaire has some secret hidden rule to prevent broken arrest states.

Neither of these games has an ‘AI’ to them, but they’re solitaire games that present resistance. Solitaire itself is a bit like picking a big lock, constructed out of a bunch of parts that have no reason to care about how they were arranged previously. Solitaire is… interesting in that regard. It wasn’t made to make that lock – the game, the structure of it – is part of how that lock comes together. The rules impose on the pieces and create the puzzle. That is, the game is a code that creates the play.

I’ve sometimes murred about coding cardboard. What I find interesting is how do we make games like this, that are interesting solo experiences, where the play can be satisfying, and then, can we make that design space interesting to interface with? Solitaire’s metaphor is sorting your deck of cards, so what other stories can we impose on these complex locks?

And what can we do to make that fiction interesting as we work on it?

MTG: Halloween Commanders, Part One

This started out, at first, as an attempt to make a Halloweeny Commander deck. Then it became an examination of two Halloweeny Commanders side-by-side. Then four. Then six. Then I realised that I have no business trying to make decks for all these, certainly not in a month.

So instead: let’s look at some commanders and grade them by their Halloweenyness.

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Game Pile: Werewolf

You wake up one morning and find tragedy has struck. A member of the village, someone you know, a family member perhaps, is dead, laying spread out guts and all in the town square. The savagery and the ferocity of it, coupled with the signs of a struggle point to one horrible cause.

Werewolves.

There’s a werewolf in town – at least one.

And now, you have to do what you can to stop it killing again.

You don’t know who you can trust. You know you’re okay. So you point fingers. You watch who reacts. You demand people explain themselves, justify themselves, watch who aligns quickly, or not quickly enough. There’s arguments. Rage. Recrimination. Indignation. In the end, the whole village pick someone, and string them up, hanging them by the town square.

And then, in the night, the werewolves rouse, and claim another victim.

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Koans as Games

Kōan are a type of Zen story or riddle designed to make a practictioner reconsider their knowledge of Zen, or demonstrate their existing grasp of the study. They range in complexity and length, from some classic phrases like If you see the Buddha, kill him and What is the sound of one hand clapping, but they get positively enormous by comparison, becoming like little stories with multiple parts that all combine together to form their own conflicts.

The thing is, and you could probably see this coming from me, the boy who cried game, but I think that zen koan might be a wonderful example of what I think of as a zero-materiality game.

My thesis is building around the idea I established in my honours thesis, the idea that you can look at games on three non-related axes; their confrontation, their abstraction and their materiality. Now it’s easy to find games with lots of materiality, like big elaborate escape rooms that need you to pay attention to the entire room, and it’s sometimes easy to point between two similar games as to which introduces more material elements (D&D versus Magic: The Gathering, for example).

One thing I’m interested in is when you take any of these elements to an extreme; what does a game with no abstraction look like? What does a game with as much abstraction as we can conceive of look like? As confrontation models change, you move away from direct confrontation to races to competition for resources to simultaneous play to cooperation and so on, but materiality… materiality has interesting extremes. I used to think that how to host a murder was a good example of low materiality, but even those are designed to be played in a space with other people and the ability to position yourself in relationship to other people, and the room, and so on, all play into how that game plays. Also sometimes there are props. Anyway the point is, as I tried to erode the idea of materiality more and more, I came upon kōan.

A practitioner might not think of kōan as games, but I’m not one to tell them how to Buddhism and they don’t to tell me how to games. The kōan is a sort of almost unsolvable puzzle that is meant to imply by its engagement that it will unlock or enlighten you, or there is a way to view it that will make the rest of it make sense, and as you come to understand kōan – not solve – doing so will make other kōan make more sense, and then you can return to older kōan with newer knowledge and suddenly they’ll make sense in a different way, but you still reached this higher level of understanding after understanding them in a different way like some kind of conceptual-spiritual scaffolding. The whole process is a form of play – and indeed, that the mind keeps returning to the kōan is a sign of how engaging they can be.

The kōan is a puzzle, which requires no material mass, but does require you to engage with it. And in so doing, you are given a way and a place to play, and their interrelationships transform one another.

Also, in amongst these, I wanted to provide a link to Ted’s favourite kōan, the wild fox kōan.

MTG: Pet Cards XVI, Khans Block

The best block of modern MTG history is the block with the single biggest structural mistake in it and it’s a structural mistake because there is basically no meaningful way to have course-corrected or changed it. Making this mistake was 100% reasonable in the way that Magic sets are crafted and in a way it’s good that the structure that bound Khans and ruined Tarkir died here. It was doomed before Tarkir was made, but it seems fitting perhaps that a design dragon – the needs of small sets to serve larger ones – was slain in the lands of Tarkir.

What I’m talking about is that Khans of Tarkir is, without a doubt, one of the best sets of modern Magic. It is one of the best worlds, and its cultures represent something we both haven’t had much of and were finally able to put conception to. In most faction sets, the factions include a few duds – most people can appreciate an element of a faction or two, but most people who like the MTG factions will like one or two of them. Tarkir howerver put this on its ass because all the factions are cool, and have something about them to recommend (except the Sultai, who make up for their moral and narrative failings with grotesque power). Tarkir was great and it was cool and it had this interesting post-apocalyptic feel thanks to the absence of Dragons, but it didn’t hurt for them. Without dragons, the game had to make do with other big things that crashed through defensive lines.

Then, the fiction told us, we went back in time (a bad sign) and changed things to bring back dragons. Which could have been cool, but it meant all those noble, interesting, exciting khans we met, and grew attached to were now all losers subservient to a bunch of dragons, who were also now emblematic of the death of The Thing We Liked.

How were Wizards to know that we’d love their Khans? How were they to know we’d like Khans way better than their dragons that sucked? Dragons are consistantly some of the highest-polling cards in the game!

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