Friday, 24 August 2012

why After The Flood makes me uncomfortable

Not that I dislike After The Flood. If asked to give a yes or no answer to whether I like the game, I’d probably say it’s complicated. And it’s not really just about After The Flood. It’s about the type of game in which there exists a mix of deep economy and high-impact warfare. There is a mix of constructive and destructive elements. It’s like you need to spend much effort building your own sandcastle, and in the same game someone will try to kick your sandcastle, and you have to do the same to them. It makes me a little nervous and uneasy, because I get that unsettling feeling of “that’s not very nice”. I am more at ease with straight conflict games, like Axis & Allies games, Sekigahara and Hammer of the Scots, and mixture games where the build element is simpler, e.g. A Few Acres of Snow, Wallenstein. In the latter, despite there being an element of what you have built getting torn down, at least you are less emotionally invested. I also don’t mind much the warfare in games which are primarily about development but has just a little confrontation thrown in, e.g. Endeavor and Age of Empires III. The warfare is mostly localised or is limited.

I guess one of my favourite games, Through the Ages is a game with a mix of intricate development and destructive warfare. It doesn’t make me nervous only because I always play against my wife and we play in a less aggressive way (military being used mainly for events and colonisation, and rarely for aggressions or wars). Civilization (Fantasy Flight) is this type of game, and because of the threat of war, I always need to play with an “at war” mindset. I need to be at least playing defensively, even if I don’t plan to attack others.

After The Flood

Well, that’s one theory about why After The Flood makes me nervous. However, that does not fully explain why Tammany Hall and Confucius can make me quite nervous too. So my other theory is that I play these games in a PBEM-like (Play-By-E-Mail) manner, and they are mostly open information.

When there is much time for me to ponder between turns, I find that I think too much, and end up worrying too much. I play too conservatively, because I see all the risks and I don’t dare to gamble. I expect the worse, and sometimes over-prepare, because I dare not hope for my opponents not doing their worse to me. Over-preparing means I am forgoing opportunities. I spend my resources on defensive play, some of which end up being unnecessary.

I often play these games as 3-player games with Allen and Han, and they all feel like knife fights in a phone booth. When there are three powers of roughly equal strength, it is nervous to see which two will gang up to eliminate the third, and only after that settle the fight between themselves. It doesn’t always happen, but the possibility is always there. I’m either poor at playing this metagame (not sure if it’s an appropriate way to use this term), or I’m unlucky. It is important to not appear too strong, if you don’t want to get ganged up on. However it is also bad to allow yourself to become too weak, lest you end up never being able to catch up, or another player trounce on you in order to push himself further forward. I find that I often do well in the early or mid game, only to crash and burn towards late game. There seems to be something seriously wrong with my pacing, no matter which game.

It is probably the combination of (a) being a 3-player game, (b) being a PBEM-like game, (c) being a mostly open information game, and (d) being low-luck, that makes some games quite unsettling for me. I have played some Axis & Allies Anniversary against Han before, and despite meeting criteria (b) and (c), those were 2-player games and there is some luck. Those games were very exciting and nerve-wracking, but I wouldn’t associate them with “uncomfortable”. In three player games, I sometimes feel Iike I am in a 1 vs 2 situation, because I keep expecting the worse.

Tammany Hall

Uncomfortable is not necessarily bad. It keeps you on your toes. It makes sure you pay attention and do your best. These games are exciting. Probably a little stressful, but they really engage you. You just need to know what to expect. Anyhow, I probably need to learn to relax a little.

All this came to me during an online turn-based game of After The Flood that I have just completed. I’ll be writing a session report on it.


Cecrow said...

I've experienced this myself and I think it does sometimes decide whether I enjoy a game or not. I've ruined a Twilight Imperium or Diplomacy game or two for myself by entering into it with exactly this paranoia and taking it out on my neighbours before they were even thinking of turning on me. I'm much more comfortable with already defined sides (A&A) or even Imperial that has an investment mechanic rather than identifying me with a particular country.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

One other very good game that gives me this uncomfortable feeling is Quo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. A very simple game, but it's all about negotiations and favouring one opponent over another. I can see this game causing hurt feelings. It's a game I admire but hesitate to buy or play. I've only played it once. You need to play with a certain mindset and not get too emotionally involved. And you need to play with the right group too.