The Slow Drip

In the wake of my orgiastic unplugged gaming at Gen Con, I've gone into withdrawal. Gaming can be a trance, leaving me with an altered way of approaching the world. Sometimes, the return from a deep period of escapism leaves a sense of detachment. The world is seen through a glass darkly. Objects in the mirror are closer then they appear. But the inverse is also possible -- each item that makes up my universe becomes a saline-clear access point. People become meeples -- little wooden objects that exist only to be manipulated. The world becomes cold and sharp. These contradictory states of detachment and world-too-much-with-me peak in a paroxysm of withdrawal. A delirium tremens only remediated by a trickle of escape.

I fall back on the obvious: ways of reconnecting with the virtual world, while the all too real forces its way back in. A quick game of Half Life 2 Deathmatch would normally help, but when the withdrawl is from the slow pace and cerebral state of Gen Con, I need better methadone. And thus, I present a simple list: my seven opiates for a slow-burn gamer in a fast-twitch world.

Magic Online

The first place I would normally turn is Magic. Oh Magic, you whore of Babylon. You call to me as a harpy. But you aren't a paliative drip -- you're the mainlined junk. You are perfect. You are better than the "real thing." Your virtual pleasures crafted to make the high easier than the cardboard world you re-create. Oh, how I have poured money down into your festering pit. Not this time, my love. Of course, I won't sell my cards. I won't cancel my subscription to StarCity, that oracular force that guides me back in, each and every time. But this time, I will resist.

Brettspielwelt

Here's the real thing. Only the Germans really understand the pull of the slow game. They buy more games per house than anywhere else in the world. Their conventions make Gen Con look like a sad showing at the University Anime Club's weekend-of-small-eyes. The big game companies pay Brettspielwelt to make online versions of their games, which anyone can play free. This forward thinking approach to the marketing is very un-American, and wonderful. The site itself, like all great insider communities, is so arcane as to be nearly unusable. But once you get beneath the painfully crunchy exterior, the caramel on the inside is worth it. While knowing a little German helps, that English flag on the front page makes it at least a little better. A little.

The games available change over time, but nearly always feature the winners and runner-ups of Germany's Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) awards such as Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico. The implementations are masterpieces of design -- each game runs perfectly in a 640 x 480 window, and often play vastly faster then their cardboard counterparts. Unlike Magic Online, BSW (as it's known by the cool kids) runs on Java, so pretty much anyone can play.

Game Table Online

Running on a different model, Game Table Online charges a few bucks a month to play their games (you can get two weeks for free). If their selection of games was better, it would be a no-brainer to drop $50 bucks a year, but the list is eclectic. While if features some classics like Cosmic Wimpout, Nuclear War, and Kill Dr. Lucky, it's short on the recent, hot games that set BSW appart. It's too bad, because the graphic implementation of Game Table Online is superior. My hope is that the site grows to the point where there are SO many games it's irresistible.

Volity

Working on more of an open-source model, Volity provides an free engine, and any game designer can publish a game. The engine -- called Gamut -- is well designed, intuitive, and purports to be easily programmed. The open nature of the platform has drawn the self described hippie games of Looney Labs more than any other company. That's fine, because the games featured -- Fluxx, Aquarius, Treehouse, and Barsoomite Go -- are all great. The business model lets the developers charge whatever they like. So far, that's nothing, and I hopes for that continues. Like Game Table Online, it's young, it's growing, and with luck, will achieve critical mass.

Days of Wonder

Days of Wonder produces and distributes some of the best games printed. The current hot sellers are the Memoir '44 series (an excellent set of simple war games by Richard Borg), and Ticket to Ride, the "big thing" from last year. Their model for the online versions is the opposite of all the other game companies: they let you play for free online, but only if you've bought something from them already. Each Days of Wonder game comes with a special code you can use to establish an online account. Currently Ticket to Ride is the only top tier game they offer, but it's insanely great. They don't seem to have figured out how to bring the highly customizable Memoir series online yet, but when they do, I'll be wasting countless hours.

AsoBrain

AsoBrain is a newcomer to the world of online board games, and alas, I don't think it's long for the world. Their games are -- ahem -- tributes to top board games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, but renamed and tweaked just enough to not be completely identical. By being knockoffs, they're able to take the existing rules and systems and add new twists. Xplorer, their Settlers knockoff, allows for huge customizable maps, making the game very different than the dozen or so other online versions of Settlers. Even better, they've done solid work making AI players -- something missing from virtually all of the above. The reason I think they might be doomed is simple: copyright. As far as I can tell, the site is designed and written by two college kids in the Netherlands, and I don't imagine they'd survive a well written angry letter. But while it lasts, AsoBrain has developed into a very active community for online board gamers, and it's a good paliative for my aches.

VASL

Last, least, and obscure, I must offer VASL onto the altar of gaming obsession. Virtual Advanced Squad Leader is just that -- a way to play the single most complicated (and arguably the best) tactical war game of all time, from the comfort of your desk. ASLis dense: the rulebook alone weighs 157 pounds and costs $1400. Well, OK, its maybe 3 pounds and $80, but once you read the rules, you won't be able to judge weights, values, or even speak English for a month. To truly play the game requires an investment of several hundred dollars (as much of the components are only available on eBay), at least two weeks of your life in hard study, and an endless quest to find an opponent. It's fans are so loyal that when the franchise was in danger of dying, Curt Schilling (yes, the Red Sox pitcher) personally bought the rights and reprinted the materials he needed.

VASL solves this quest-for-players problem. It implements no logic, provides no rules, and can't teach you anything, but it does replicate all of the various boards, chits, dice and bits perfectly, and provides a way to connect with and play games against other insane people. With VASL, you too can spend 2 hours moving your multi-man counter 45 feet. The likelihood that any but the most die-hard grognard will use my little epistle here as the instigator to hop on VASL, shouting with joy, is infinitesimal. Yet there is no greater symbol of the depths to which I, and others, will go, in search of a blessed lenitive for the soul.
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This is by no means an exhaustive list. I can hop into Second Life and play a dozen games of Tringo. There are a thousand slow-playing and intellectual flash games on the web. Microsoft's Zone anchors an entire industry based on casual games like Hearts and Backgammon. Virtually any game you can imagine can be played by email, with a dedicated tinyculture sure to be found with a Google search. BoardGameGeek users maintain detailed lists of obscure programs which can fill your every computerized cardboard need.

But these are my drugs of choice. The slow drip that will help me slide back into the basement, and the blue screen, and the 9 to 5.

Comments

Brettspielwelt intimidates me; all that German to wade through. Thankfully there's an excellent thread over on Board Game Geek on how to English-ize BSW.

Board Games with Scott did a v'logcast on Ticket to Ride a while back, and I've been lusting after a copy ever since. The only thing holding me back is the fact that I've bought about 5 different board games in the last 2 months and I just can't justify spending more cash on games that may or may not get played (My circle of friends is slow to get into board games, though I do have them hooked on Carcassonne now so there's hope).

Gaming can be a trance, leaving me with an altered way of approaching the world. Sometimes, the return from a deep period of escapism leaves a sense of detachment. The world is seen through a glass darkly. Objects in the mirror are closer then they appear.

Brilliant, rabbit, brilliant.

I'd like to point out that Settlers of Catan is just about the most fun 4 people can have sitting at a table. It's so good I would recommend it to anyone, don't even find out what the game's about, just go buy it.

I am not much of a cardboard game (as I will henceforth refer to all real, physical games, be they board or card) geek, despite my recent night with Star Munchkin, for I have found solace in Magic Online. Not as good as playing in real life against fun people, but since that's not really an option for me (dang stores keep going out of business), Magic Online it is. It is awesome that one can get a game of Magic there any time of day.

Right now I'm in a non-Magic cycle, which happens once or twice a year, but with the new block debuting at the end of next month, that will likely change soon. I also hope that Magic Online v3.0 will add some much-needed features to improve the online experience.

There is a Magic Online GWJ clan, "Gamers with Jobs", so if anyone is interested, look us up - add Fedaykin98 and "tex red" (mumford, who is the captain of the clan) to your friends list if you're interested.

Trachalio wrote:

The only thing holding me back is the fact that I've bought about 5 different board games in the last 2 months and I just can't justify spending more cash on games that may or may not get played (My circle of friends is slow to get into board games, though I do have them hooked on Carcassonne now so there's hope).

They'll get there, don't worry My friends were a little slow to get into board games as well but now it's pretty much all we do when we get together. Heck, my buddy who swore he hated board games is now hooked on them! I went from zero games at Christmas to 14 games now and there's no slowing down

Dreaded Gazebo wrote:

They'll get there, don't worry My friends were a little slow to get into board games as well but now it's pretty much all we do when we get together. Heck, my buddy who swore he hated board games is now hooked on them! I went from zero games at Christmas to 14 games now and there's no slowing down :lol:

Oh I know they will. They've gone from giving me looks of fear when I mention trying Settlers of Catan to "hey, that hex board game thing you keep talking about looks like it could be fun to play."

I've also made the mistake of playing Robo Rally (there was a Wizards of the Coast rep at my local game store on Saturday and he offered to play a round) and now I've got another not so cheap board game that's on the "must have" list.

It's funny, I'm happy to spend 40 to 60 bux on a video game (heck I paid 80 for Rez) yet I balk at a 40 and 60 dollar board game.

souldaddy wrote:

I'd like to point out that Settlers of Catan is just about the most fun 4 people can have sitting at a table. It's so good I would recommend it to anyone, don't even find out what the game's about, just go buy it.

I'd completely agree with that statement. I even bought the expansion on Saturday in the hopes that I'll have my circle of friends hooked soon

souldaddy wrote:

I'd like to point out that Settlers of Catan is just about the most fun 4 people can have sitting at a table. It's so good I would recommend it to anyone, don't even find out what the game's about, just go buy it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well for only two players, and that's all that are willing/able to play the game in my house.

I'd consider playing Magic Online if I didn't already have like 3000 physical cards. That game truly is a whore.

Shazam wrote:

I'd consider playing Magic Online if I didn't already have like 3000 physical cards. That game truly is a whore.

I'm beginning to think I was lucky not getting into Magic:The Gathering. A buddy of mine was into it for years and gave me about 150+ cards (I'm not even exagerrating, there was even a few alphas in the stack he gave me) 'cause he thought I'd dig it, but I just couldn't build a good deck to save my life. Every single time I played I'd get my ass handed to me. Guess I'm just too blond to play

I've got a few boardgames (RISK, Diplomacy, Star Trek..) but no one to play them with.

Can I get an 'awww'?

Trach, there's a pretty big learning curve for Magic vis a vis playing against a player who knows what he's doing. That said, it can be an expensive hobby. It all depends on how you play. My preferred method is a booster draft, which tends to cost around $13-15 for 3-5 hours of entertainment, plus you get to keep the cards for your collection, as well as any prize that you might win.

Trachalio wrote:
Dreaded Gazebo wrote:

They'll get there, don't worry My friends were a little slow to get into board games as well but now it's pretty much all we do when we get together. Heck, my buddy who swore he hated board games is now hooked on them! I went from zero games at Christmas to 14 games now and there's no slowing down :lol:

Oh I know they will. They've gone from giving me looks of fear when I mention trying Settlers of Catan to "hey, that hex board game thing you keep talking about looks like it could be fun to play."

I've also made the mistake of playing Robo Rally (there was a Wizards of the Coast rep at my local game store on Saturday and he offered to play a round) and now I've got another not so cheap board game that's on the "must have" list.

It's funny, I'm happy to spend 40 to 60 bux on a video game (heck I paid 80 for Rez) yet I balk at a 40 and 60 dollar board game.

Yeah Robo Rally is a great game, nice and short too, assuming of course you can play only one round. As for the cost, I'm in the same boat. I think it has to do with the fact that you can play most computer games by yourself, while you are pretty much required to have at least one other person to play boardgames if not four or five more people and normally at least 2 hours.

I think I'm going to try and learn how to use BSW, since getting lots of people together is so hard.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Trach, there's a pretty big learning curve for Magic vis a vis playing against a player who knows what he's doing. That said, it can be an expensive hobby. It all depends on how you play. My preferred method is a booster draft, which tends to cost around $13-15 for 3-5 hours of entertainment, plus you get to keep the cards for your collection, as well as any prize that you might win.

Key word: "Expensive". It's bad enough that I'm not only picking up a 360 and a Wii this fall, that the games for the 360 are at least 60 bux, and I'm still buying games for my other platforms on top of that. It's compounded by the fact that now I'm getting equally addicted to board games. So I think, for the sake of my pocket, I'm just gonna have to let Magic: The Gathering pass me by;) .

Zaque wrote:

Yeah Robo Rally is a great game, nice and short too, assuming of course you can play only one round. As for the cost, I'm in the same boat. I think it has to do with the fact that you can play most computer games by yourself, while you are pretty much required to have at least one other person to play boardgames if not four or five more people and normally at least 2 hours.

I think I'm going to try and learn how to use BSW, since getting lots of people together is so hard.

I certainly don't mind playing a board game for an hour or 3, it's just convincing my friends that grew up playing Monopoly that board games really can be fun, and I think I've convinced them. The last 3 Fridays now we've played Carcassonne every time and given both Zombies!!! and Attribute a spin too.

I'd like to learn more about BSW but to be honest, I just don't have the time right now and don't see that changing anytime soon. I've got a huge back log of games that I need to get finished and that Wii launch date is gonna be sooner than later!

Don't be too put off by BSW. The english site does do a halfway decent job of walking you through. It's not a great way to learn a NEW game though. If you know and like Settlers, AsoBrain is pretty darn good and intuitive.

1Dgaf wrote:

I've got a few boardgames (RISK, Diplomacy, Star Trek..) but no one to play them with.

Can I get an 'awww'?

The one where a Klingon takes over your VCR, er, I mean Enterprise, and you have to give him the boot before the tape runs out?

You bastard! Just when I was about over my"GB Blues" You have to bring up all th good times I had @ Gen Con! You're right though.....Brettspielwelt is de bomb.

rabbit wrote:

delirium tremens

That's a fantastic beer. End Line

Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Alhambra on Xbox Live!

Wow. Xbox Live just keeps getting sweeter and sweeter!

Curse you Microsoft. From hell's heart I stab at thee. I've resisted the call of the 360 with the hard resolve of a PC gamer... It's getting harder and harder.... (I'd point out you can play these on BSW for free right now though)

croaker wrote:

Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well for only two players, and that's all that are willing/able to play the game in my house. :(

Have you tried Lost Cities? Excellent two player game.

MacBrave wrote:
croaker wrote:

Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well for only two players, and that's all that are willing/able to play the game in my house. :(

Have you tried Lost Cities? Excellent two player game.

I'll second that. Kat and I own this, and pop it out from time to time for some fantastic gaming. Once you know the rules, games can fly, and there are quite a number of layered tactics involved.

Don't forget San Juan either, plays well with two, and there are the settlers card games, also designed for two (if a bit two player solitaire).

I don't have anything to personally add to this thread, but here are two things chock full of information:

The Couples Games list on boardgamegeek.
Penny Arcade forum thread on board games

Enjoy!

croaker wrote:
souldaddy wrote:

I'd like to point out that Settlers of Catan is just about the most fun 4 people can have sitting at a table. It's so good I would recommend it to anyone, don't even find out what the game's about, just go buy it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well for only two players, and that's all that are willing/able to play the game in my house. :(

Just remembered! There is a Settlers of Catan Card Game made for 2 players that works pretty well. Nothing beats the original but this is good fun.

souldaddy wrote:

Just remembered! There is a Settlers of Catan Card Game made for 2 players that works pretty well. Nothing beats the original but this is good fun.

I've got it, and it does work pretty well I think. Unfortunately for me when I mention playing a round to the boyfriend he gives me the look of ultimate death and proceeds to lecture me how he's not a "games" person. Usually while he's reaching for the Guitar Hero controller

Trachalio wrote:

Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Alhambra on Xbox Live!

Wow. Xbox Live just keeps getting sweeter and sweeter!

Here's a bit of necrophilia for you. I just played Alhambra with some people at work for the first time and I knew the name sounded familiar. Traced it back to here. This sort of branching into totally unexplored genres might do a lot to expand the 360's audience. I doubt any one would buy a 360 just for Settlers, but someone who has played Settlers and has made a habit of dismissing consoles might start to change their tune

I think crossover titles can/will/should be really good for gamers in general. I wonder how many people are getting more out of UNO on their 360 than they are out of, say, Dead Rising. May seem a silly comparison, but I'll bet its a lot. When Texas Hold'em was released for free, it apparantly was averaging 100 downloads *a minute.*

As excited as I am for a game like Settlers to come to xbla, I think the title everyone should REALLY be looking at is:

CHESS.

I know Certis is fond of saying "so wait, you paid for Yahoo! games?" but as newly converted, being able to play something *different* on the 360 is a very, very good thing. The world is full of chess wannabees. Most of them, like me, suck ass. A decent skill matching/tourney/achievement system for an otherwise simple game like chess could be very powerful in terms of keeping people in front of their consoles. Of course, a decent AI/training system would be a lock. As far as I know, there has never been a good, solid chess trainer for anything but the PC.(I know there have been attempts, but I've never heard anything good about them)

The second title that would rock XBLA hard?

Scrabble. Someone go beat on Milton Bradley. Or Atari. Or whomever the hell it is that currently has the online rights.

Number 3:

Go.

All these games have one thing in common. It's very hard to find someone who will play against you. Even on your computer. Certainly with voice chat.