Dr Duncan James > Games

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"For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes - not that you won or lost -
But how you played the Game."

Grantland Rice

Why?

What is this page even doing here?

How come I have this page on my website? The reason is that I used to be really into games. I'm not so much any more. But, rather than delete all the old content I have left this page for posterity. I still enjoy Ingress but see this more as a way of enjoying themed hiking or walking or jogging or running and not as an actual game. Also, I almost moved my boardgame Father Christmas Kidnapped! over to my storytelling section but I felt it was not quite story-driven enough and too linear. So, I've left it behind in the games department.

My original passion for games has morphed into more of a storytelling hobby where I am much more into game-like activities that allow for creativity and storytelling beyond that which is typical of many games. (This includes improv, RPGs and narrative wargaming.)

So, you are welcome to read on if you wish.

I Fell Out of Love With Games

Rules that get in the way of the fun.

This is brief because the reasons are simple. Probably there are four main reasons.

(i) As described below, I like games that are not too addictive. I find many games are designed specifically to be addictive and so I find myself fighting the intention of the designer. I find this frustrating.

(ii) Games are often described as a great way to give a bit of structure to a social situation so that we can enjoy the company of others. This is particularly good news if, like me, you find typical social situations awkward. However, I am now completely convinced that collaborative storytelling is a much more fun and effective way to achieve the same aim. Therefore games fail simply because I think a better option exists. An evening boardgaming is a missed-opportunity to have had even more fun.

(iii) I have finally lost patience with people saying: "You can't do that because the rules disallow it." Now OK, that is a sensible thing to say in many cases and can be argued to be nearly always correct within the social-contract of gaming. However, I just fundamentally feel that a hobby for socialising with so many prescriptive rules has to be flawed. It is just my feeling.

(iv) Finally, and the final strong push well over the finish line is that: many games only seem to work if the players are evenly matched. A group with mixed abilities can struggle to engage with a game well. To focus on individual experience: A player who does not have the particular skills for a particular game can struggle and therefore feel left out of much of the conversation as they are not following the strategy and story of the game that the others are enjoying (I used to experience this in Scrabble and Chess); A player who is much better than the others might easily win or artificially hold back to give the others a chance (both of which I have tried and neither of which I find satisfying, and interestingly my friends sometimes notice me holding back and object to it). I have had amazing evenings of improv (for example) in a vastly mixed-ability group where everyone has enjoyed themselves and followed what is happening. (For thoroughness of argument I would acknowledge that a highly skilled improv group can have more fun but the important point for me is that I still enjoy a mixed-ability improv group a lot whereas with a boardgame I find a mixed-ability group can be very frustrating and boring.)

By the way, I still enjoy boardgames sometimes. An occasional game can be a lot of fun just as I enjoy many other activities on an occasional or one-off basis for the unique experience. But I do not enjoy it as a regular hobby any more.

My Gaming Philosophy

Games mean different things to different people.

I enjoy games that are:-

Father Christmas Kidnapped!

Rescue Father Christmas in this exciting, free, print-and-play boardgame for all ages.

Father Christmas Kidnapped! is a free boardgame is suitable for ages 10 and higher. This is a collaborative game with a strong narrative. Father Christmas needs to be rescued in time to deliver all the presents this year! You play against the clock with a series of three mini-games to complete. Father Christmas Kidnapped! would suit either a family playing together or alternatively a group of keen adult boardgamers. It is also suitable for solo play. The time challenge means it has replay-value or it could be used as a one-off game to play for a change at Christmas.

I am not the only one writing free games! Other people I am aware of include Andrew Domino who has some excellent simplified wargames and rpg rule sets. There is a (currently) well maintained wiki page with free wargaming rules. Another print and play boardgame that I have not tried but have had recommended is Spyfall (link is to general information page on BoardGameGeek but print and play versions are easily found with an internet search). Do tell me if you know of anyone else I can add links to! And I'm also happy to archive other people's work on this website for posterity.

"He who plays for himself, plays for the opposition.
He who plays for the team, plays for himself."

Helenio Herrera

Ingress

An unusual game played on mobile phones. Combining the feel of a computer game with geocaching.

This might just be a sign of the future of gaming. Alternatively it is an experimental development that demonstrates why traditional sit-at-your-desk computer games will always be better. What do you think?

Wargames

Generally I have some issues with the "conflict resolution through violence" that can be encouraged in wargaming. My unique take on wargames means that the videos I am making are very unusual. Come and find out about a harrowed band of soldiers try to make a home for their families in a far sector of the universe.

I made four test wargames videos in November 2014. I learnt a lot of useful things about editing and filming that has helped with all my videos. At the time I thought it would build into regular wargames videos and I was going to take a unique, pacifist approach: however IP problems with the videos has put a hold on this.

Outdoor Games

Exercise, socialising and games: a great combination!

Mainly videos from my YouTube Channel in this section.

Boardgames

I have a love-hate affair with boardgames. I sort of like them but sometimes find the need to endlessly learn new rules frustrating.

This section is mainly videos from my YouTube Channel. Also, remember to check out my print-and-play boardgame Father Christmas Kidnapped!

Travel Games

By which I mean games to play in places like the bus, train or car.

I like to play a variant of I-Spy called I-Spied where you say something like: "We spied while walking in the forest something beginning T". I like to agree with my fellow players a specific day or week or trip that happened in the past and you have to choose something that everyone saw. This can work well at the end of a holiday and you can describe things from a particular walk on the holiday: it is amazing how difficult it can be to remember things! As a keen birdwatcher I like to say something like: "On this holiday we spied a bird beginning with K".

Another fun game is Alphabetical Food where an alphabetical list of foods is repeated over-and-over with a new food added to the end each time. It can also be played with anything else like wildlife, towns, films and so on. For some reason I think food is really good fun though.

Buzzard or Bust is a game for birdwatchers in Europe. The challenge is to see if you see 5 different species of birds (not including buzzard) or 5 buzzards first. It might seem obvious that you will see 5 different species first but it is amazing how often the buzzards win! Do let me know how you do with this game.

Mark 10 is a slightly daft game which works if you are on a road. Everyone picks a brand of car and the first person to see 10 of that type of car wins. This can be strategic as the place you are and the time of day can be important. Similarly, Mark 1 has everyone pick a brand of car and the first person to see a car of that type loses. If it starts taking too long you can get everyone to pick a second brand of car or even more if you are very good!

Balance in game design is a fascinating topic of you like games and also analysing things. In my Father Christmas Kidnapped! game I used a timeline with the maximum, minimum and average times for every leg of the game to ensure it would be a pleasant experience. In competitive games with multiple choices balance can be much more difficult and here is an interesting article about how a law of diminishing-returns (referred to in this article as gravity) can help prevent game-breaking combinations of choices being too powerful: http://www.sirlin.net/articles/designing-defensively-guilty-gear. A game I used to play a lot called Warhammer 40k has game balance issues and these are thought by many to be caused by the problem of two or more abilities combining in too powerful a way. Warhammer 40k allows rerolls of the dice and this is one of the combination problems in the game.



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