Tuesday Chatterbox – Abnercon Edition


Railroad Tycoon at Abnercon. I’m Yellow. No, I didn’t win. 

Abnercon Wrap-up

Abnercon was, as always, a fantastic time. Over the weekend we played 7 Wonders w/expansions (x2), World Cup, Spartacus, Mare Nostrum w/expansion (x2), Railroad Tycoon (US East map), Cosmic Encounter, and Tomorrow (in development). I pulled out victories in World Cup (with Ireland, no less!), Spartacus, and Cosmic Encounter (total fluke). I finished strictly middle of the pack in Railroad Tycoon and was fortunate to do that after I completely biffed my opening turn. I am ashamed. As to the other highs and lows, let’s dig in…

First, Tomorrow. This game really is promising. Bill and Dirk are still fine-tuning, but it’s got that certain something and, like Diplomacy, with it’s divided loyalties and conflicting agendas, it’s a game destined to end friendships when the player you think you’re allied with drops a nuke on one of your controlled territories. I had control of Europe. We were depopulated. The only saving grace is that I did at least beat Jon Shafer… by a single point. Trust me when I tell you I will remind him of that fact whenever we meet again.

Then there’s Mare Nostrum, a territory gathering and resource collecting game set in the Mediterranean in which you control an ancient civ (Greeks, Romans, etc.) and try to build up some achievements. I played this at Bill’s, once, years ago and had very positive memories of it. Not so this time, and not just because we got some of the rules wrong in both games we played. It’s too convoluted. There’s too much downtime. It is not an elegant design in any sense of the word. I think these things stand out more to me now because I’ve played so many different games since we last broke it out. Speaking purely on game terms, it was the weekend’s low-light, which should not be confused with not having had a good time. That’s the thing about board games. Even bad games are a good time with the right people around the table, and this weekend was lousy with great people at the tables.

The game of the weekend for me, however, was Spartacus. (World Cup was a close second.) It was only one play (the 2-4 player limit hurts at a weekend like this one) and I’ve never watched the show on which it’s based, but it’s a brilliant design. It moves quickly, its gladiatorial battles (played out with dice) are compelling even if you’re not directly involved, and there’s constant player interaction with no room to grow bored. This will be my next boardgame purchase, hands down. I’ve also added a Starz subscription to my DTV service specifically to go back and watch the show. (It beats paying Amazon $35 to stream it or having to add a DVD subscription to Netflix.)

All in all, big props to Bill and Mary for all the work they put into making the weekend go off without a hitch. Those two (and their spunky, punky teenage daughter) are aces. Aces, I tell you!

Transistor in 2014

Supergiant Games, the folks behind Bastion, have announced their next project — Transistor. I was never quite as high on Bastion as most, but I still thought it was a very good game and a great value. Summing up this trailer in a word? Sold. About the vocalist for the theme music — that is the same voice as the woman who sang Build That Wall in Bastion, right? I’m not imagining that am I? Wonderful voice.

EA Being EA

In EA news, Sim City is still a fiasco and not just because of server issues. The more people dig into the game, the more it looks the like the underlying play mechanics are rather buggered. RPS is doing wonderful work covering this story. A sincere hat-tip to John Walker and his merry band for taking both EA and Maxis to task.

Unrelated and yet related, CEO John Riccitiello stepped down. I say it’s both of these things because SimCity, specifically, surely had little to do with his resignation. The mindset that lead to EA’s strategy of trying to wring every last cent out of gamers for a line of products of inconsistent quality (like SimCity) almost surely did. But then, did he have a choice? Whenever you hear about the business of EA, it’s about shareholders and their love of subscriptions and micro-transactions and “monetizing” gamers without regard for offering value. That’s not the business of quality gaming and it takes quality games to sell the unwashed masses on your $60 product (plus DLC, plus micro-trans, etc.). The desires of EA shareholders are in conflict with the desires of gamers who actually purchase product and no one wins when that’s the case. These models are not a match made in heaven and only a very select few (or one… or none) will make it work over the long haul.

Yes, yes, SimCity has reportedly sold 1.1M copies in two weeks. Should we be impressed by that? It’s a Sim game. That franchise is an evergreen seller. And the always-online requirement makes it pretty darn difficult to pirate. So, if all those legions of filthy, nasty pirates have to put down an honest buck to play this immaculate product then where are all those gained sales? If piracy is all that stands between the publishing big boys and a new era of increased sales, shouldn’t this already be a 3M unit seller? Shouldn’t it be doing Call of Duty numbers? That sound you hear is all of us not being the least bit surprised that this model won’t turn out to be the savior of AAA budget-busting games. Cue next-gen industry crash in the next 12 to 24 months.

As for Mr. R, he gets himself 24 months of continued salary for doing nothing. It’s nice to know he’ll be able to make it through the lean times… unlike the numerous rank and file worker bees EA has cast out during his tenure.

*Originally published at NoHighScores.com, 3/19/2013
*Updated 2/23/2016 (minor text updates)

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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