Friday Fun: DM Of the Rings

I heard about Shamus Young during an interview with podcast Fear the Boot, and checked out his webcomic DM of the Rings the following morning. Six hours later, I had to bang out a few mission-critical tasks in a blind panic because I’d lost the day to his hilarious work.

The comic takes screen shots from the popular trilogy of movies, and adds dialog balloons to make it seem like a Dungeons and Dragons game in progress. Full of geek puns, gaming humor and light jabs at some of the goofiest parts of the classic story. Check out panel one:

If you love this, read the rest. If not, it’s likely somebody’ else’s style.  If you really love it, you can move on to Darths and Droids, the same thing…but with Star Wars.

Enjoy.

Word Geekery

I admit it. I’m a geek. I write for a living, on the internet. I read what many would identify as “too much.” I enjoy science. I get passionate about things like marketing and Ted Talks. I participate, as an adult, in not one — but two — ongoing Dungeons and Dragons games.

To demonstrate the appalling extent of my geekdom, I want to talk about something that’s bothered me for years. First-person shooters, those video games where you run around shooting bad guys from the POV of the soldier, games like Halo and Call of Duty, aren’t really “first-person shooters”. They are second-person shooters. It’s true that the entire video game industry disagrees with me here, but in my not-terribly-humble opinion, they’re wrong. Let me break it down for you.

  • The experience of playing this kind of game is most like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, not a detective novel narrated by the main character. Those detective novels are first-person. Choose Your Own Adventure is second person.
  • When you describe what happened in a session of playing these games, you say “I did this. I shot that. I got ganked and bled out.” When you describe what happens in a first-person novel, you say “He found this. He solved the case. He got hit in the head with a blackjack and woke up in an alley.”
  • First-person movies don’t exist. Third-person movies with first-person narration exist. There are a few examples of second-person movies out there, most notably The Blair Witch Project. The POV in this kind of shooter game is exactly that of Blair Witch.

I think the confusion for most people comes from my second point. When you describe what you did in the game, you use the word “I.” Back in middle school, our teachers taught us that “I” means first-person perspective. However, that means your description of what happened in the game is first person — not what happened in the game itself.

This gets further complicated by the option of viewing your game with different camera angles. The shoulder-cam option might be able to make a case for first-person status. It’s probably still third-person, but you’re following the action of your character from an intimately close angle — much like the way you ride through the action of a first-person novel. I can accept that argument. Obviously, games where you can see the entire body of your character — Gears of War leaps to mind — are inarguably third person.

I’m not sure what makes me more of a geek — that I notice these things, or that I care enough to post about them.

Thanks for listening.

Gateway Games

It all started with chess. My father loves chess and my mother either hates chess, or hates playing chess with my father. Either way, as the oldest child, dad taught me early so he’d have somebody to play with. I later graduated to Risk, Dungeons and Dragons, Axis and Allies – games like that.

I love tabletop games of all kinds. I personally have a soft spot for the outrageously complex strategy games with hundreds of little plastic figures, and rules books that look like technical manuals. Dad and I still get together regularly to cover his pool table with miniature multitudes of murderous miliatias.

However, as a dad myself now, I appreciate what I’ve come to call “gateway games.” Gateway games are games robustly complex enough to keep me interested, yet simple enough my son can play it – and easy enough to whip out in a holiday get together without scaring off any aunts.

For my money, the two best gateway games on the market today are Scrabble and Ticket to Ride.

Most people are familiar with Scrabble. You make words with randomly drawn tiles, taking advantage of bonus squares to accumulate as many points as possible.

Fewer folks know from Ticket to Ride. In Ticket to Ride, you attempt to complete train routes across the continent by matching sets of cards you draw from a deck. The basic mechanic is a lot like rummy.

Why do these two disparate games both rate the designation of “best gateway game?” Although they play experiences are different, they share important similarities.

  • You can explain the basic mechanic of play in a single sentence.
  • Both allow for a complete game in under one hour.
  • Individual turns pass quickly.*
  • Quick score upsets are possible, meaning the people trailing on the scoreboard don’t stop having fun.
  • Winning comes from playing well, not by making others lose.

This doesn’t make either the perfect game – my favorite game ever remains chess – but it does make both excellent choices for parties. They’re also great for introducing younger kids to the concept of playing board games. We have to train up the next generation of board game geeks somehow.

Thanks for listening.

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*Unless you get that one Scrabble geek who won’t pull his head out of the dictionary until he’s found the perfect word. I hate that.