Monday, July 13, 2009

Gameplay: Make Love, Not War

I recently received a copy of War on Terror, which seemed like it was going to be a fun game for my core group of wonks and gamers who love to talk about world politics and circumstances. My wife and I were planning on heading down to see a couple of our friends over the weekend, so it seemed like there was a good chance that we would be able to get it to the table and see how it went over with our group (usually we favor more "in-depth" and "serious" games, so this one was going to be a bit of a risk).

Now, my wife is one of our core gamers, but she isn't as into world politics as the rest of us are. Also, she hates learning new games. Once learned, she can appreciate and enjoy most of the games in our collection. However, that first game is always a little rough with her. So, since I would be bringing out a new game with our group, I figured I would try to get my wife to agree to a trial game of War on Terror before the weekend; this way I could learn the game mechanics to better explain it when we play with the group and my wife will be past the initial learning curve phase and would enjoy the experience more when we played with everyone.

Reluctantly, she agreed. She put our daughter to bed while I opened up the box and started to go through the components and flip through the rules. Usually, I like to read through and possibly place a game solo to understand it before explaining it to anyone, even my wife in a 2-player test run, but it was not a complex game; although the rules did not seem the most well-written. I knew the game would be better with more players, but this was just a play through to learn the mechanics.

My wife came down after our daughter only asked for one story, so I hadn't gotten too far into the rules. With a sigh, she sat down at the table. This was not going to be an easy sell.

I began by describing the components to her. My wife saw the bags of sorted bits and immediately interrupted to ask if she could be pink. I explained to her which were the Pink Empire's villages, towns and cities. She seemed a bit content at the moment by getting to play pink, which is a rare option in games, especially war games.

I set up the oil counters on the board and explained what the numbers meant. I told her that they are numbered from 2 to 12 with some blanks. I explained that the number was not how much oil they were worth, but rather if that number was rolled on two six-sided dice at the end of the turn, then the countries with matching numbers would produce oil. So, I told her, that I reasoned that the mid-value numbers would technically be more valuable territories because rolling two six-sided dice get more mid-ranged results according to a bell-curve since there are more combination of pips possible that will result in numbers in that range. My wife's eyes glazed over a bit.

I realized I was losing her already and moved away from the math geek talk and continued explaining the game. I continued to explain the rules, but pointed out that a number of the rules and exceptions are not listed in the rules, but are rather explained on the cards in the two decks. Her lips pulled into a small, but terse frown at that.

I started to explain the "War" action, which is a basic action in the game. However, it is not explained in the rules, so I started to dig through the cards to find a War Card. I explained it a little more, but then realized that I should also reference the Card Appendix booklet to finish explaining it. I caught the small disapproving roll of my wife's eyes as I could not explain an action without finding and referencing a card and then having the look up that card in the appendix.

My wife was barely holding on as I was really learning the rules at the same time as her instead of being able to give a polished presentation. I jumped ahead and wanted to get us into the action, so she would be a little more entertained and we could finish learning through the first play. So we set up our initial villages, collected our starting money and drew our Empire cards. I told my wife that she could refer to the card index if she had any questions on her cards or I could try to help her if she didn't mind me looking at the card to answer a question. She grumbled something as she went through her cards, but never reached for the card index. Either that meant she understood her cards, or was fed up enough that she just would not play cards that she didn't know what they did.

I told her that I would go first and talk through my first turn's actions and give a little rationale behind my first moves to help her get a better idea about her turn. She blinked and looked up at me and asked, "How does the game end?"

I paused, I hadn't gotten that far. I flipped through the rules and went to the "Winning the Game" section of the rules. I read the Empire Victory conditions to her. I referred her to the chart of how many Liberation Points were needed on the reference card. I then started to explain the continent points and pointed out the reference diagram on the board. She sighed, but grasped it.

Then I explained the Terrorist Victory conditions, pointing out that she should be aware of them even if she wasn't a terrorist, so that she would know how to stop a terrorist player from winning.

Finally, I read the victory condition listed as World Peace. I read it aloud to her, "In the event that the board is completely free of terrorist units, all remaining Empires may agree on 'World Peace'. In this case, remaining Empires share a victory and can give themselves a well-earned pat on the back for being so nice and possessing the wise understanding that this is a 'war' no one can win."

My wife looked at the board, then up to me, "There aren't any terrorist units on the board."

I nodded, "Yeah, we just started. As Empires take their turns, we can place them out there."

She nodded, "Yeah, but there aren't any out there now. Want to declare 'World Peace' with me, then we can go upstairs and fool around?"

I looked at the board for a moment, though it did not take me too long to weigh my options, "Alright. I'll start cleaning up and meet you upstairs in a minute."

My wife smiled, "Good game."

"Uh, yeah. Good game."

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