Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Learning Games

In the last couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to teach a couple of games I love to friends. So how did it go?

First was World of Warcraft, the Boardgame, to my friend Connor. Connor likes games, and in the past he's been one of my top 2-player game partners. As a guy who loves role-playing games, I figured he'd be a natural for World of Warcraft's character development system. We played using the basic game (not the Shadows of War expansion to keep the options to a minimum), a competitive game with two characters each. I was the Horde player, he was the Alliance.

World of Warcraft is a pretty easy game to teach, although I think it's a bit harder to learn (if that makes sense). There are many options each player has in the course of a turn, at least if you're playing two characters. I kept it all at a pretty high level, covering what the general goals were, what the various dice were good for, the differences between using instant and active powers, and the five basic things you can choose from for each action. Still, there is a considerable amount of complexity in understanding how battles work, and knowing what powers and talents can combine to good effect.

We played for three hours, and were about 2/3rds of the way done when it came time for Connor to head home. We were both very close to fourth level in our two characters (each), and we were using the Travelin' Dragon overlord. Connor felt a bit overwhelmed, I think, but so long as you have an experienced player involved, it's not that hard a game to teach - you just start playing and demonstrate the various elements as you go. Better for the experienced player to be in the Horde, as they can demonstrate training from the very beginning.

That said, I still think the game is just as interesting in solitaire form, and I don't know that I'll try to bring it out again for two-player gaming, especially not with Combat Commander available.

The other game I taught was GMT's classic WWI card-driven wargame, Paths of Glory. Chris Brooks had this on his "burn-down" list (games he wanted to play this year or get rid of), and so I offered to spend an afternoon teaching him the system. The game is the second of the "strategic" card-driven games (For The People was ostensibly the first, although the Avalon Hill version is hard to find), but comes with two player decks, further divided up into three sub-decks that enter play as the game progresses. Unfortunately, the game takes about 8-10 hours to play to completion, and we had nothing like that amount of time, especially considering it would be Chris's first game.

Chris had read the rules, but you simply can't just pick this game up that way. I really hadn't considered that I'd be teaching the game, but I have played 20+ games over the years and while I don't consider myself to be a good player, I know my way around the rules. As such, I gave kind of a scattershot coverage of the rules, focusing heavily on the strategic situation on the board and what players had to be aware of when playing. I took the Central Powers, as the burden of attack is on them to some extent.

We only got four turns in, but I was mildly disappointed that we couldn't continue. The Germans had made good progress into Belgium, but the French were recovering nicely and I wasn't getting much in the way of replacement points onto the board. On the Russian Front, I was just starting to bring up an extra German army to start working through Poland, and there hadn't been a concerted effort by the Russians in Galicia, but the AH were starting to make trouble for the Serbs (who managed to roll a trench on one try in Belgrade). The MEF had landed off the coast of Adana, so things were also getting warm in the Near East, but just barely.

Chris's view after our short game was that this is a title that needs to be played repeatedly to be enjoyed, and he is absolutely right. To be honest, I rarely have the chance to play long games like this anymore, especially since I no longer go to WBC or play on ACTS or online (too many 3am's sitting up in bed thinking I shouldn't have made the move I just did). As for shorter games on topics his kids will enjoy, I think he's out of luck in this genre unless he can score a copy of Hannibal - everything else is either too long or not an interesting option for his kids, and I simply can't recommend Shifting Sands because of the card cycling problems (how the game goes is too heavily dependent on when cards come up, and too many events are "must-play" simply to get your deck down to a size that you can get through it in the course of a year). I did, however, recommend...

Wait for it...

Combat Commander.

Regardless, I was delighted to at least give Chris a chance to evaluate this classic. Like all CDG's with player-specific decks, it must be played repeatedly to be understood and enjoyed, and although I personally feel that this is a worthwhile thing to do, it just doesn't fit Chris's lifestyle and time availability. I will have to get this on the table again at the next WBC, though, it really is a game I miss playing.

I did think that the way I taught the game (giving my opponent a high level overview of what things they might want to accomplish over the course of a turn, giving specific warnings when a potential problem arose such as holes in the line) worked pretty well. I've also taught it by having my opponent tell me what he'd do, then making alternate suggestions. It really is a problematic game to teach, it's almost better to have two new players going at it with an old-hand helping with rules and occasional suggestions.

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