Dr Duncan James > Games

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Do you play?

Ingress
A mobile phone game that gets you walking.
Travel Games
Games for passengers in a car, train, aeroplane, etc.
Outdoor Games
Rules for some fun run-around games plus videos.
Sensible Party Games
A complete party outline for serious games-lovers.
Silly Party Games
Fun games for parties.
The Erik Game
A variation of the Mafia/werewolf game that has fun with one of your game group.
Father Christmas Kidnapped!
A free print-and-play boardgame that is collaborative, family-friendly and has a fun story.
Board Games
Two videos of playing Xcom and Dominion.
Role-playing Games
A general introduction to tabletop RPGs and a lot of play-tips.
Wargames
Terrain making, Warhammer 40k, etc.
Card Games
I am a big fan of French Tarot.
Dice Games
I like Dudo (also known as Perudo or Liar's Dice) and Kinito (also known as Keriki) (I do not play this as a drinking game but instead might start everyone with 5 lives).

My Gaming Philosophy

Games mean different things to different people.

I enjoy games that are:-

Why?

What is this page even doing here?

I used to be really into games and enjoyed writing articles or making videos about them. I have played a lot of games and typically focused on the ones I found to be the most fun and effective with mixed-ability groups.

I am now more into mixed-ability hobbies that focus on collective positivity and not competitiveness: so I now mainly spend my hobby time wildlife watching, dancing and enjoying improv.

I have mainly lost interest in things like boardgames, wargames, quizzes and word games. However, even things like party games I find can suffer from having too much competition built into them

Computer games I find frustrating mainly because they are so often designed to be addictive. And if you are playing against human opponents I find all the typical problems including skill-matching apply.

I Only Play Games Occasionally

I still play games occasionally for a bit of fun but not as such a regular hobby any more.

I mainly still enjoy: Games with well-matched opponents; Narrative games (which arguably are not games) such as tabletop role-playing games and narrative wargaming where it is possible to adapt as you go by giving a boost to a player who is falling behind (perhaps with more soldiers or with an adapted mission objective) and; Games that are based around being silly and having fun and where any score-keeping is almost irrelevant to the players involved (this is often less to do with the game and more to do with the group in my experience).

I've thought about this a bit and probably there are six main reasons I lost my previously much stronger passion for playing games:

(i) 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 other activity-based hobbies are ways to achieve the same aim without the downside of the competitiveness.

(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. (Obviously in many game groups this kind of thing is not said and games are played in a more freestyle way but if going to a social club, for example, I often find the players' philosophy on this is not reliable from week to week.)

(iv) 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. For example, a player who does not have the particular skills for a game can struggle and feel left out of much of the conversation as they are not following the strategy and story of the game. Alternatively, a player who is much better than others might easily win or artificially hold back to give the others a chance (and my experience is that sometimes people notice someone holding back and object to it). In a collaborative activity such as wildlife watching I simply don't see these problems (or at least I find they are comparatively minor and can be relatively easily managed).

(v) Computer programmers have started "solving" many games. Tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses) famously always ends in a draw if neither player makes a mistake and is trying to win or at a minimum draw. Mancala has been solved and similarly always ends in a draw. Draughts/checkers is now so well understood that in major competitions each game begins with a previously-designed starting setup to avoid every game being monotonous and predictable. And as computers get more powerful this will simply spread to infect more and more games. For me personally this partly undermines my enjoyment of gaming and I also feel it illustrates the fundamental problem of playing a game except in the case of having a well-matched opponent.

(vi) I find that even cooperative games can be frustrating. Negative experiences include an imbalance of skill between the players making it less fun (although a well-designed game can solve this and the challenge of working as a team can still be very good in my experience). Also, I have found that there is a lot of potential for bossy people to take over too much. Also, weaker players can really drag the game down if they keep getting confused to the extent that the game becomes a challenge for the other players of teaching someone the game rather than stretching themselves to beat the game. Having said that, probably my best game-playing experiences (apart from with party games, role-playing games, narrative wargames and improv games which are all arguably not games at all) are now with cooperative games; mainly computer games where you have a mission to complete together.

“He who plays for himself, plays for the opposition.
He who plays for the team, plays for himself.”

Helenio Herrera

“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

“There is no ‘best’ amount or type of chance for any game. It's a matter of taste: different people enjoy having different amounts of randomness in their games at different times.”

Alvin Glassner, Interactive Storytelling

A footnote about balance: 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 made difficult to design-out because of the way abilities can be combined to be extra powerful and also the way re-rolls of the dice can be manipulated meaning you can optimally manipulate the most beneficial dice to also play more powerfully.