Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When The Physical And Virtual Blur

Oooo, deep title Douglas!

Tuesday showed what can happen when you have a lot of discretionary time on your hands - six hours of WoW online. Everything seemed to go pretty smoothly, with me getting up to 11th level and completing quite a few quests. I also moved on to the Loch Mordan region and took my first flight path to Ironhold.

Still, six hours. I did stop for lunch and a shower, fortunately. I would have played even longer but the servers were down for maintenance until 11am PST, although that didn't stop me from trying to log on every ten minutes until I got lucky at 9:30. It did not help that Mel was working that day, so no one to tell me I was playing too much. Which I was. Today I'll be forced by events to avoid playing more than a couple of hours at most, and in fact my intention is not to play at all. Hello PS2 and Guitar Hero!

Hmm, that's a lot like trading in cocaine for morphine. Which is really a pretty good idea, believe it or not - one of the founders of Johns Hopkins saved his life and career through exactly that strategy.

But enough about my supposed drug use. On to boardgaming with actual people! A Tuesday night Rip City Gamers session! At Matt's! Playing WoW the Boardgame!


Matt and Laurent had expressed an interest in playing the board version, and so I brought my copy thinking there would be four of us (including Chuck. Silly me, I forgot about the unholy trinity of Alex, Liz, and Dana. However, they all were interested in giving the game a try, so we set up for six players with me "game mastering" and teaching the rules as we went.

Six players takes a long time to play this game, and in fact we were about two thirds of the way into the game when suddenly it was after 10pm and we needed to pack it up. I was glad we'd tried out the six-player competitive version as it really showed some interesting characteristics that I've typically missed in my usual solitaire or two-player games. In the latter, the game is pretty much about the race (against your opponent or the clock) and developing your characters. In the six-player game, while there was a lot of focus on those elements, it seemed to me that the social factor was very strong, with both sides spending quite a bit of time planning out their moves to their best advantage. I saw this to some extent in the game I played with Dave and Chuck at WBC West last year, although I was the guy who was healing up much of the time while they were running around in tandem killing everything in sight.

Unfortunately, WoW is an experiential game rather than a true competitive game, and there was little interaction between the two groups other than a little quest poaching thanks to a Subterfuge card. Dana ran smack into the same problem I alluded to in the last paragraph, where if you blow a couple of battles you can find yourself in a world that can and will kick your ass at the slightest provocation. There are a few things in the expansion that help here (giving at least the opportunity of XP for independent critters) but as in many development games a bad turn at the wrong time can kill you. Worse, it puts you in a position where you have little control over your fate - if you have no money to upgrade your powers, for example, you can end up in a cycle where you attack a too-strong quest monster over and over, spending four or five cycles for every iteration.

On the plus side, this didn't happen to anyone else. In fact, Chuck (who was also on the Alliance side) was screaming ahead, hitting level 4 before we'd finished turn 12, which is perhaps the most impressive XP collecting I've seen - that's only 12 actions on his part, including training, movement, etc. He got the benefit of a war fought by Liz and Dana that benefitted everyone, but still quite a feat.

Playing with two experienced WoW online players, Matt and Laurent (who apparently will show up if I offer to bring this game), it was nice to hear that it did indeed invoke the spirit of the online game quite well. Jesse had commented on this too, but since that was a two-player game I was interested to see if it worked with more.

Playing time was a bit of an issue, but to be honest I think we could have finished had I been able to set the game up ahead of time and had everyone been familiar with the rules. There is a lot of planning that can go on during the other faction's turn, and I did encourage this. However, I had to teach the game as we went, so the first few combats went quite slowly, but by the third or fourth on each side everyone had a very strong grasp on how combat worked. Considering the complexity of the system, I think it is quite impressive in how intuitive it is. There were a few questions coming up over the course of the game, but in general I was able to answer almost everything without checking the rules, and when I did I actually found the index to be useful! Amazing.

All in all, I'm more impressed with this game the more I play it. I think that the expansion is a must buy, as it does give you something to do with the Blue monsters and gives every character a broad range of choices for development. It's almost like running two concurrent role-playing games on a common board, with a strong race element (we used Nefarian, who demands the players move as quickly as possible as he may end the game sooner than the full 30 turns). While I think you need the right people, temperment, and fairly large table (Matt's extended dining room table was not large enough, to be honest), it worked well and I think everyone enjoyed the game with the possible exception of Dana who (rightly) felt that he was put into a difficult situation by the game itself. My opinion is that this is a risk in an experiential game, and while it doesn't thrill me I can live with it, and in fact have been in that very situation myself. At that point, you have to start scaling down your expectations of your contribution, and help out with planning for the rest of your faction. In a two-player game... well, that's why we have concessions.

Thanks to everyone who was willing and eager to play this monster. I suspect that this game will start to see more playings in our group in the future, even if they are two-player sessions (which Laurent has expressed a strong interest in).

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