The Eye of the GameStorm

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Our story really starts a month before Game Storm 13, when I read a column on a British newspaper site complaining about a game called Top Trumps. The main point of the column was that this game, by forcing the players to focus on the biggest, the fastest, and so forth, has irreparably damaged the entire British conversation about cars. No one cares about the sheer enjoyment of driving, lamented the columnist, because that can't be quantified. Instead, it's all about what has the most cupholders or makes the most horsepower.

A vague thought in response rapidly evolved into an idea for a game where the point would be, as economists put it, maximizing utility rather than individual statistics. And so the time I should have spent putting together the spring Picofarad was instead used for putting together card lists, finding index card stock to print to, and discovering once again that I really have no graphic design skills.

The playtests at Game Storm confirmed that the game mechanic was workable, but the sort-of-funny flavor text I came up with for all the imaginary cars needs to find room on the cards themselves and there need to be pictures. Also that most gamers have even less understanding of car-related humor than I do, which is saying something.

I don't know if I'll do anything more with it. It's a very simple game, nowhere near the level of challenge you get from most of the games at a convention specializing in Eurogames.

Take, for instance, In the Year of the Dragon, the last thing I played on Sunday afternoon. Each turn requires you to grapple with a different disaster, keeping track of your resources and people and ruthlessly deciding what's expendable while trying to maximize your score for the end of the game. The winner will be the person who can focus on the numbers and treat their population as so many tokens. (Which, I announce with some trepidation, was me. Really, computer programmers should not be permitted to play games like this against novices.)

It's hard to go too far in piling on the cognitive load, but I did run into one game that managed it. It was a playtest of a Monty Python-based game, with hilariously written rules, but too complicated. When you get to where the quests are nested three deep and it takes all the concentration of everyone at the table to remember whose turn it is, even your veteran Eurogame players are going to get frustrated.

One other slightly disappointing experience was bringing a game called Cthulhu 500 to the open-play tables only to find out that the actual gameplay is not nearly as much fun as just reading through the cards. Oh well, now I know.

Also on the horror front, the most fun new game I discovered was a thing called Gloom. With a very Edward Gorey-esque feel to both the art and the attitude, the object of the game is to take your household of evil people and arrange for their lives to be dismal. Whoever stacks up the most points of despair before their characters die wins.

At the Steve Jackson table, I got to try out Cthulhu Dice (a simple, essentially random game), Zombie Dice (a little more skill-based if you know statistics), a card game called The Stars Are Right, which is about manipulating the heavens so that you can summon creatures from the Cthulhu mythos (him again!), and another one about zombies running a fast-food place. Then there was Munchkin Booty, the pirate version of the game, with all the usual level of silliness (most memorable card: the LOLcatfish).

I did get to revisit one very old friend: AD&D. First edition AD&D. The Wizards of the Coast editions of D&D have drifted so far from the original that there is still a community of gamers who have said the heck with it and stuck with the TSR versions.

I heard someone had actually gone one better than that, though, and brought a copy of the original boardgame version of D&D. Maybe next year...

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