Feb 252013
 

Last week – amongst other things – I mentioned the fun that non gamers could have playing games that were at heart, role playing games. I left you with a link that attracted quite a bit of attention, and an awful lot of traffic away from the blog. This was for an event called 2.8 Hours later. This is just one of several zombie based activity I know of that isn’t really aimed at role players.

Don’t worry, we have plenty to keep us occupied though, such as All Flesh… and my own personal favourite Unhallowed Metropolis. There are even a bunch of board games out there that allow you to have fun surviving the undead hordes, either by throwing your opponents into the slavering maw of the walking dead, or working together to get as many people out as possible. Or maybe something in between. Any of the board games can be used as an introduction to get people into the idea of role playing games using this hugely popular cultural trope, as almost all of these games put you into the shoes of a character in a way that is far from abstract.

There are of course exceptions, and my least favourite zombie game falls into this category. Zombies!!! the game does nothing to make you feel like you’re part of a world that is falling apart, and every time I’ve played it, I’ve ended the game not caring one bit who lives or dies. The fact that the characters re-spawn so easily but PVP is positively encouraged has meant that after the last tile is played the game has carried on for another 2 tedious hours as players just keep killing each and re-spawning. Literally every other zombie based game I’ve played has been better than this. Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a review of a game I hate, but a discussion of zombie things that rock! Back to 2.8 hours later then…

7053168809_765bbc3e4c_oThis has become a bit of a big deal over here in Blighty, even getting a fairly big mention on the BBC breakfast news show a few weeks back. As large businesses close down, that leaves large empty office spaces, and even an occasional shopping centre (or mall  for my American readers) with nothing to fill them. This is far from a great state of affairs for a country to find itself in, but then geeks come along and happen upon a great alternative use for that space. With a big group of people who like making them selves up as zombies – and trust me, there’s no shortage of that – you just need a few rules in place. These are very similar to playing airsoft or even keeping LARP safe.

And that’s it really. You have a big abandoned looking space, and countless undead walking around it ready to eat your face clean off, and then insert members of the public. The person who introduced this to me, long before I saw it on national television, is not a role player in the slightest. He’s a huge fan of very dark horror movies, and whenever we talk over a pint or two, the topic always ends up on which highly disturbing movie he’s seen that I should hunt out. Just the thought of him being able to live through the experience himself had him hooked from the first time he saw an advert for the event. If money wasn’t quite so tight, I’d have joined him. He has since told me how much fun it was and how all the participants got very quickly immersed in the story of horror survival, and were making decisions in the same way the people tend to when role playing; what’s best for the character’s chance of survival.

unnamedThis is just one bit of zombie fun that’s out there though. On an episode of Comic Book Men a couple of the guys took part in a zombie themed marathon, with the threat of permanent undeath keeping them moving at speed while running and getting through obstacles. There’s even a keep fit app based on the idea of zombie survival that you can get for a smart phone. And if you want to know just how easy it is to find people who like getting made up to look like zombies, all I need tell you is I live in a small university town – not even a city – in the north of England, and we have no problem finding shambling corpses. I have just spent a good few minutes going through the pictures behind that link, it’s a bit worrying how many of those people I know and drink with.

What does all this teach about us gaming though? Well for me it seems that if you want a great way to introduce your non gamer friends into what it is that you do, then zombies should be the way forward. There are plenty of avenues open to you to try this, and since they have infected popular culture so much in recent years – when we get the first episode of the podcast online, you’ll see that I think it’s maybe gone a bit too far – you won’t need to work hard to get the basic concept across. If there are any other zombie based activities that you know of that I have neglected to mention, then please, share them in the comments section.

Sep 172012
 

I am a huge fan of Fantasy Flight Game’s (FFG) run of Lovecraft inspired board/card games, and play them as a whole, way more than almost every other board/card game my girlfriend and I own (which is a lot). There are a few reasons for this; I’m generally a big fan of the Lovecraftian mythos, FFG put out some top quality games, and they work for groups of varying sizes, unlike other games that can flounder with smaller or larger numbers of players. This isn’t my main reason for liking them though; I love the fact that while playing them, I get a genuine sense of being a part of the story.

In simplest terms this is done by appealing to the role player in me by handing me a character sheet to begin with, one that would pass muster in a pre-generated adventure one off. It contains a little bit on who the character is, and some basic stats that don’t need to much explanation to tell me what they specializes in. Don#t get me wrong, FFG aren’t the only company to do this though. Just looking into my full to bursting board games cupboard, I see Robo Rally there, and each of the eight little robots has a sheet with a quick description of their personality included. Sadly, this has no bearing on how the game is played, and each robot is in fact exactly the same in game terms; so it’s fun to be a robot, but that’s all you get to be. That’s not really a great help when it comes to relating to the character.

Horror and survival games seem to really go all out on this aspect of the board game, with several in the zombie survival genre coming with their own set of character sheets, and another from my collection, Betrayal at House on the Hill. Going back to FFG, Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Mansions of Madness all come with character sheets too. maybe the games’ designers realise you might do more to keep a character alive if you get the chance to connect with them.

You might be wondering why this is such a big deal; well I’m a role player predominantly, and although character sheets aren’t a necessity for me to get into the role I wish to play, when it comes to a board game they really help you feel more attached to the character than if they weren’t included. Think of Monopoly: do you ever get a sense of attachment to the boot you’re moving around the board? Do you ever to stop to consider the decisions you’re making from the little dog’s point of view? I would think not. But when you’re handed a little bio of your character, and have an idea of some kind of motivation for what they’re doing, it means you start making decisions that are based more on what the character would do, and less on what you yourself would.

This to me, is one of the fundamental aspects of role playing. When what I do is influenced more by the world I’m playing in and the character I’m playing, than by my own motivations. There are discussions aplenty about there about meta gaming, and I invite my readers to search them out, as they can really help to hone your role playing. In a board game though, should this matter?

I say yes! Take the simple and wonderful card game Gloom. In it you play a miserable and weird family, with the aim of making them as miserable as possible before killing them in a variety of interesting ways. This can be played as a numbers game, or you can take the time to read the cards out as they’re played, to weave a story of melancholy and despair before the inevitability of the grave claims your family. Doesn’t that sound like more of in depth experience than just totting the numbers up and playing to win? OK, playing to win is kind of the point, but I hope you know what I mean.

All of this is also very important when looking at survival style games. Using the monopoly example again (for the record, I do enjoy playing it, just not as a role playing game), could you see yourself getting any kind of attachment to the wheelbarrow, and doing everything you could to save them from a hoard of zombies? I really doubt it, and I know I care a hell of a lot more about keeping a character alive if I have been given the chance to relate to them, and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Lets take a look at another popular survival game, Zombies!! I’ve played this many times and find my enjoyment quickly diminishes over time. The simple reason for this is that I don’t really care about my character. They’re just a coloured figure with a few points of life and bullets, and when they inevitably die, there is no sense of loss. Put a character from Mansions of Madness in the same situation, and all of sudden, they have a personality, and as a role player, they become my character and I want them to survive.

Does anyone else play board games like this, or am I reading way too much into things. And do people have their own stories of how board games have become so much more thanks to role playing out the character?