Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Curse you you varlet!

The recent gaming drought ended with a visit from Badger on Friday. I remained under the cloud of those recent vicissitudes, so we ended up playing a few rounds of Knizia's everfresh cardplay gem Ivanhoe. Everfresh? Clunky neologism? Quite possibly. A touch hyperbolic? Not at all.

I've recorded 68 games of Ivanhoe since I started reguarly recording my games played @BGG back in 2007. This filler from 2005 reminds me that I've owned the game for some 7 years now, so that even just 1 game/month in the forgotten years would add about 50 more games to the total. Ivanhoe thus merits its place in the 2nd division of my most played games ever: games which I've played some 100 or more times (that's games #6 to #10 below BTW).

My 'most played' and 'must play' lists, courtesy of BGG

(Badger and the lads might want to note the Hot 10 which accompanies this Top 10: I'm hoping they'll be seeing these games across the tabletop in the immediate weeks to come!)

Accounting for taste then: to be 'everfresh', a game will display some subset of a finite list of attributes around the positive merits of which can form a durable consenus. Ease of learning, speed of teaching and playability are all obvious metrics for these attributes, but it must be remembered that these are all modulated through their interrelationship with games' expression of their themes, according to the desired degree of resolution (AKA level of abstraction). That is to say: those abiding attributes are less the 3 obvious metrics themselves than they are the systemic features of games' architecture whose forms underly those metrics, thematic expression, and any other appropriate categories.

Anyone who knows Ivanhoe can vouch for its scoring high in the learning/teaching/playability metrics. Regular readers probably won't be won't be surprised that the game's cardplay is the core of what makes an everfresh game out of numerically high LTP metrics as against an equivalently low score in thematic expression. But even the oldest of old hands might be wondering how this statement of the bleeding obvious in any way justifies my high-faluting wordage.

What I'm on about here is cardplay as:
  • Games' architecture that delivers players neatly and vividly into a particular viewpoint (I have already discussed this in relation to Up Front- here; and Memoir'44- here and then here).
  • A specific gaming skillset.
The players' immediate viewpoint in Ivanhoe is obvious enough. However the abstraction away from concrete space created because Ivanhoe is a pure cardgame is not the simple spatial remove of Up Front and Memoir'44; rather it is a temporal, as per the game's premise- a game of non-lethal tournaments instead of the mortal combat more familiar to wargamers. The following elements then are among those Reiner Knizia packaged together so nicely in Ivanhoe:
  • A precisely focussed card-driven viewpoint: 1 person.
  • A non-lethal theme that implicitly connects all the games after the fashion of rpg's.
  • An abstract representation of space, time and movement which drives that implicit connection towards explicitness because its abstractness foregrounds the temporal.
  • A cardplay skillset whose crucial subskills - eg. deck knowledge and hand building - neatly reflect the learning curves of the game's viewpoint protagonists (cf. the M44 posts above, the 2nd especially).
I hope by now readers will begin to see why I think that Ivanhoe is proving to be an everfresh game: its simple system architecture supports a thematic model which belies its simplicity. The key to this is the repeated play which unlocks the specific features of the thematic model. If that seems to amount to the circular argument that Ivanhoe is everfresh because it's everfresh, I plead guilty. I guess that's the ever-present paradox of generalising from personal taste.

What went down
Badger and I played 6 games. Unlike a long ago session, any ownage was all on Badger's side: a single game fortunately. The other 5 games went to the wire IIRC. In the end, Badger proved that he's a much better Ivanhoe player than he was those 4 years ago. All that practice at M44 and CC has stood him in good stead it seems.

Seasoned squire 4
Creaking chevalier 2

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