Author Archives: Mary Alexandra Agner

Bored Games

Are you bored? Is it my turn? Are we still playing?

I've been playing Minecraft since the beta version. I still enjoy it even though it has turned into shopping and XP. (Its fear-of-the-dark made manifest is the best part of the game to me.) But I don't really enjoy playing for more than an hour or two, which surprised me for a long time. I'm nearly as reliable as a clock: after 60-75 minutes, I've probably added to my architecture, killed some spiders, planted something, explored somewhere—most of the actions you do in Minecraft. And I'm done.

Except at the beginning of a world; then I'll play for a while. But I've detected a pattern: given at least one awesome house, an enchantment table (and my kreeper-proof armor), some serious time killing mineshaft spiders, and a flock of chickens, once the terrain patchwork becomes uninteresting to explore, I'm ready to start over. And I've started over a lot.

But it took Kimi saying, about Skyrim, "This is not a game you 'finish', this is a game that you eventually grow bored of" to make me realize this was a class of games. Skyrim, Minecraft, Animal Crossing: things you play until you're bored.

But what a weird ending condition boredom is! It's not a state of satisfaction, it's not a state of closure, of success. It's not a positive state, it's uncomfortable and itchy, mind-numbing. It makes us dull when we could be witty. It's a rut in which we're stuck simultaneously knowing we'd rather be anywhere else but can't get there from here. Boredom is not worth achieving, better a shared win in Cosmic Encounter.

Boredom for an ending condition feels a bit too much to me like game over in first-world real life: keep working for the weekends, keep drinking to Fox News, until they come for you with a casket.

So why are we still playing? My mother wore out three Nintendo DS machines playing Animal Crossing and now has it for the Wii. Minecraft 1.3 just debuted with interactive NPCs. (I wonder if they'll get catchphrases eventually?) I don't hear the constant buzz that Skyrim discussion used to be but I have no doubt that it's just gone into a different room from this one.

Is it, in fact, the closeness to reality juxtaposed with the impossibility of real life (dragons, kreepers, talking tanuki) that keeps us changing the seed in

The whole experience has made me appreciate endings, whether I win or lose, not only the finality but the opportunity. That game's over and now we can play another, no more quasi-guilt from the number of saved world directories sitting on my hard drive. Who's in for Ohne Furcht Und Adel? Seven Wonders?

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The new version of Philippe Keyaerts' Evo is out in stores. I picked it up in Pandemonium and read the box: "Evo is a game of conquest in a hostile setting."

I stopped cold. Evo is a game that simultaneously pokes fun at evolution while showing how vital change and growth are to a species. Games of Evo always involve people laughing. Games of Evo let you alternate between dressing your dinos, attacking your neighbors, and bluffing the other players while bidding for genes. Games of Evo mean people yell "Babies!" every turn. Evo has a little bit for everyone, with bright colors, intriguing pieces and cards. There isn't a hostile bone in Evo's body (except maybe if you play the egg-launching card).

This is no longer your grandmother's Evo and I think that's a shame. While the art for Evo might have been whimsical, the mechanic never was. Nor was it ever trivial or obvious.

I haven't opened the box but I'm guessing the core of Evo hasn't changed in the new edition. However, the marketing plan clearly addresses a different audience with this version of the game.

The word "hostile" takes a big step away from the previous version, which was subtitled "The Last Gasp of the Dinosaurs". I think it's too facile to make a gender comment about this particular point so I'm going to skip that—I'm sure you can all fill it in yourselves—and move on to the division this word creates in the potential pool of players. There are a lot of players, although probably not hard-core gamers, who are going to put down the box of a game described this way, independent of their biology and gender. Not everyone wants a war game and not every game needs to be one. The colorful, cartoon style of the old artwork makes it easy for you to want to try the game if you haven't already.

The new artwork is realistic, streamlined, aggressive. The front cover shows two dinos attacking each other. Fighting certainly is a component of the game mechanic but it is not the only mechanic. And I doubt most people are going to produce a mental image similar to that on the new box cover given the pink Tyrannosauras Rex chits and the hair drawn on each Dino Portrait card from the first edition. It frustrates me that the game is now being presented as a war game when it isn't (solely) and that anyone interested in the other facets of the game will have no way of knowing they exist.

I want to digress a little here because I can already hear the grumbling. Most games have boxes that are not representative of the mechanic or tenor of the game. I argue that the Evo box changed from representing the game well—a whimsical, mixed mechanic of bidding, fighting, and costuming—to representing a narrow portion of the game. And while I'm clearly sensitive to portrayals that exclude diversity, I argue that the older edition does not resort to stereotypes for color and ability, and therefore panders to neither gender. (The majority of pictures on Board Game Geek show males playing Evo, clearly undeterred by the lack of violence on the old box.)

Lastly, I'm surprised by the need to force a story onto the game, taking it from quasi-science into complete fantasy: "Millions of years ago, the Island of Keth sheltered great wandering tribes who were accompanied by strange creatures belonging to a race that is today extinct."

Everyone goes extinct at the end of a game of Evo. Some dinos, hopefully yours, are just the last ones standing before the comet hits. Evo is a great game and the new box does it a disservice by killing off potential players before they can learn the game's full potential.

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