Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Civilized Goblin Slayer

We love civilization games – we, as NSKN Games and (dare I say) we, as gamers in general. Since the success of Francis Tresham’s Civilization almost 35 years ago, civilization games have always turned heads of most people finding pleasure in tabletop gaming. The only question is: why?

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A few days ago I listened to the 160th episode of the D6 Generation, a podcast I’ve been a fan for the last few years. Russ Wakelin and Craig Gallant invited Tom Vasel to sit in the third revolving chair (now being a trademark of the show) to review Star Wars: Imperial Assault and talk about the mechanisms in dungeon crawling games. After creating a list of rather obvious entries (like HeroQuest and Descent), and making some surprising exclusions (most notably Wrath of Ashardalon and the whole D&D Adventure System), they arrived an what I found to be a particularly interesting conclusion: the story and character building is what makes a dungeon crawl what it is – and a good game in general.

This is an interesting conclusion, as it would seem that a dungeon to crawl, some monsters to kill, and some heroes to kill the monsters with would be all you need to enjoy a true dungeon crawling experience. The character development is probably not the component most people would come up with instantly, but it’s also something most of us would mention along the way. And whether we agree with the D6G genre assessment or not, it seem that ensuring some options for the heroes to “ding!” is essential to enhance a game’s staying power.

If we take a small sidestep and enter the adventure game territory it will become rather obvious that character development is one of the key things we are after. And stepping even further – far enough to cross the boundary that divides American and European style games – it will quickly become noticeable that one of the things we seem to love most about gaming is improving things. So, in general, whether we’re talking about a barbarian getting better and better at slaying goblins, an economic engine more and more effective at cranking out victory points, or a nation built from a humble settler now able to flood the world with its armies or dominate the lands with its ruthlessly adorable culture, we will arrive at the same concept: development.

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It’s true that there are gamers who enjoy destroying, confronting other players and generally wreaking havoc (right from turn one if possible), but even they are not impervious to the lure of a bigger gun. And whether those gamers like it or not, the temptation to see something of their own grow, become faster, stronger or simply more lethal falls in line with a base desire we all seem to share: a desire to build, to improve and to watch our creation grow for the benefit of (or to destroy) all who lay their eyes upon its glory.

But all of this is not really a surprise. After all, we love growth and development not only in gaming. A book or a movie is also far more enjoyable if the characters change and evolve, if they learn new things, if they lose something (but usually also gain something in the process). Thus, it would be unwise to ignore development as an important factor of any creative endeavour – be it one the audience can observe, or one it can actively participate in. And that is probably also why we like civilization games so much – and why we need more games that take cues from what seems to be one of the most basic drives when it comes to gaming.

Also, if anybody asks, this is why NSKN loves games where you get to build and develop so much. And this is why we made will keep making them.

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