Podcast 125 - fiddle factor and engagement

Just listened to Matt talking about his gaming experiences over the past year, and I have some sympathy with his distaste for excessive bookkeeping. Something like Whitehall Mystery or Fury of Dracula doesn’t need a GM when played face to face; WM could be played by forum with Jack acting as GM, though FoD conceals some information from Dracula. But it’s much more fun, I think, to have someone on your side to chat with.

Meanwhile with Tom on RPGs, I think there’s a potentially interesting distinction to be made between “the players didn’t engage with my great plot” (but had fun doing something else in the world) and “the players didn’t engage with the world at all”… maybe?


I’ve just listened to the episode.

I think this sums up something nicely. As a more experienced role player than me I would like to ask what you think about the role of peoples egos in roleplay. I might start a thread in the RPG section. Specifically though with relation to this, how much can the game influence that? It could come from the GM not doing so well or the players not wanting to engage before they start. How much can the mechanics of a game compensate and encourage engagement?

For me the bit I felt discordant with was listening to Quinns talk about how much he thinks engaging with people makes a board game step up to exceptional levels. While I often like more interactive games I think there’s a lot to be said for mechanics abstracting away that interaction. When I’m low and tired I like a multi player solitaire game or something with more indirect interaction. Just removing the pressure of bringing my personality to the fore is a nice way to socialise without pressure. In some groups engaging with the more negative traits of other people brought out by negotiation or self balancing mechanics can be difficult when feeling bad about myself/the world. When not feeling worthwhile it’s hard to be ‘the best bit about any board game’. I also have possibly been unlucky with games club members showing some very poor behaviours over the years which has put me off a lot of games/situations/mechanics.


I think this may be a fundamental question of RPGs, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t promote my own RPG podcast at this point. (Indeed, I think this might turn into an item there - @MIchaelCule, what do you reckon?)

There have been two major taxonomies of RPG player goals that I’m aware of – by Aaron Allston in Strike Force and by Robin D. Laws in Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering – but, to take an example I’ve met recently, neither of them really has a slot for “my life is stressful and thinky, I want the game to be not those things”. (And that’s not necessarily a bad player, but the GM will need to make accommodation for that style just as they would the player who always wants to kill things.) And I think the same is true of boardgames, except instead of the GM making accommodation it’s the game choice that bends.

As an essentially antisocial person I like the format provided by a board game (or RPG) meeting: we’ve got together to play games, our interactions will be structured to some extent through the gameplay, though there’s room for general chat too. To me that’s much more congenial than just getting together to chat, unless I know the people involved really quite well.

The computer games I like (e.g. FlightGear) tend to be very unlike boardgames and for me don’t really feel as though they scratch the same itch – even as boardgames that I can solo. And the bits of RPGs I like (the role-playing rather than the tactical wargame or otherwise building the mechanics) are so dependent on other people that the idea of a solo RPG is a nonsense to me – though Thousand-Year-Old Vampire might come close.


I’m not sure this is the right place to discuss the podcast in general, but I’ve just listened to the episode this relates to.

I really enjoyed it, but I thought it had a very different feel to the usual shows. More soulful and melancholic maybe?

I don’t know whether it is Ava’s presence bringing it out, but I think they are now very aware of their position and their influence within the industry. I think it’s really interesting and probably a positive thing and I’ll be interested if they carry on the conversation about sustainability going forwards.

The news thread has interesting discussions and something I feel Ava has been particularly great at is trying to increase awareness of diversity (or lack of it) within the industry. The written news was a great space for that so hopefully they will find room for it somewhere else.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but I just found the whole thing a very interesting listen.


In particular with respect to their crashing of the second-hand value of Etherfields, yeah!

(Which is weird in itself. I mean, I went through my “that looks good I’ll buy it” phase as I think many gamers did, but I’ve now come out the other side and I always try at least to read the rulebook before committing to a game, ideally play it a bit though that’s not always possible. But I think many, not all, of the problems with Etherfields would become apparent with a good read of the rulebook. I suppose there really are people who say “ooh, 617 minis, it must be good”.)


Fair enough, I think this is a personal thing for Quinns. It’s great having Ava on the podcast to offer a different perspective, as they tend more towards solitaire, heads down games more than the other three.
I tend to align closer to Quinns where I’m always looking for games that will give us the space to laugh with each other about our own input into the game. Rather than worker placement or resource management, my favourite mechanics are things like bluffing, drawing/clue-giving, push-your-luck, dexterity, and “reveals” (is there a word for that? Like when everyone flips over their card in Diamant, Sushi Go or Flamme Rouge to reveal that someone has spoiled someone else’s plan - or their own).

This is true. I am always the host of games nights, I am always teaching and facilitating. This means that I feel a lot of pressure to keep everyone engaged and curate a fun experience for everyone. While I am really passionate about it, I could not do it without having the great friends that I have that bring positive energy and are all genuinely lovely people. I feel very fortunate to have friends who are good, enthusiastic and available enough to consistently become the highlight of our game nights. On the days when I’m down, they are there to pick up the slack and make it an enjoyable evening, even on the worst days.

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That was (I don’t think interesting is the word) interesting. Quinns (imo) is a confident, outgoing individual who plays games with other confident, outgoing individuals. When he and Matt riffed that interactive games were the best games as though it was an objective fact was a bit odd. However, I think they possibly overemphasised that because that is what they’ve both missed. It certainly made me want to play The King’s Dilemma or The Resistance again.

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Yeah, there’s a BGG community that plays The Resistance by forum and it’s a very different game – all about looking at people’s voting patterns. (And I’ve had fun with it, but given the choice I’d much rather do it face to face.)


I totally get the thing about games being fundamentally a way to facilitate social interaction. Roger says it really well:

Games provide a framework for social interactions that I find more comprehensible than the normal rules of society. I like negotiation games and war games, because I like the way they accentuate the player interaction to build unexpected stories. I can see that this is to some extent a matter of personality.


Tom Vasel and Rahdo adored Etherfields, but that doesn’t seem to have been enough to save it?

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Rahdo adores everything, and everybody knows it. Tom Vasel is prepared to dislike stuff, so might count for more? Maybe it’s just “most recent review”…

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Dice Tower are a bit of a dinosaur in the community. I’ve not seen so much fervour in response to their reviews in the same way as SUSD. Their reviews are almost treated like infomercials! It’s more about showing the game than their opinions, other than general good or bad feelings. I don’t think the vast volume of games they cover helps either.

Tangent so feel free to ignore

I miss Sam on the dice tower. He was a good counterbalance to zee particularly when it came to theme.

I do think the dice tower maybe lacks a sense of scale to their reviews. It almost feels like a 3 point system (bad, ok, good) and it isn’t till the end of the year review I get a sense of what they really enjoyed. This could just be that I consume more susd ‘content’ but at the end of the year I can normally have a good stab at what they would rate as best of the year.


I miss Zee on the Dice Tower! His degenerate TARGET reviews are so awful. Does the game have art? Yes the game has art. Plus. Is the game long? Yes it is too long. Minus. Everything looked at in isolation in a long tick box list, as if a game is a shopping list.

He used to be the most passionate and articulate of the team in his opinions, but his compartmentalism of his current approach is a joke. It doesn’t provide any space for him to express anything interesting and is so rigid in its format. It’s a massive shame!


I was watching quite a lot of The Dice Tower a couple of years ago, and I found I generally agreed with Zee but Sam put me on to V-Commandos. :slight_smile: (Also I’ve given Zee a lift across Essen and he’s a pleasant chap.)


As I’ve expressed elsewhere: I miss Paul. Matt’s opinions are largely ‘Quinns 2 but interrupts even more’. Glad they added some new people to the team - a little too late to save it for me.

I think reviewers get this wrong all the time - that they should influence people rather than inform. A number between 1 and 10 gives a good idea of what someone’s subjective opinion is - we need to know why they gave that number so we can compare it to our own preferences (which are likely quite different than theirs).


I’m kind of onboard with the idea that highly interactive games are best, I just don’t need or particularly them to be interactive in the sense of facilitating verbal/roleplaying/laugh-out-loud interaction.

A two-player game in silence, where the first mistake made will be ruthlessly pounced on and exploited, is great interaction for me. A multiplayer game where someone makes a “sub-optimal” move, and I can recognise that they did it not because they didn’t see the “better” one, but because their move indicates a detente, and allows me to refocus on a more pressing threat, or even begin collaboration to take down a bigger threat, is a kind of holy grail of interaction for me (in practice, I don’t have this level of understanding with anyone, and such agreements have to be talked through - but I have read of groups who achieve this level of non-verbal communication).

I agree with Sagantine that Quinns and Matt probably blow each others’ trumpets too much, but I don’t think the format of two very vocal guys liking the same stuff necessarily lowers the quality of their output. I am glad that Ava is around though, as the only person who I see some overlap with, in terms of gaming preferences.

Back on the original thread topic, I make a distinction between bookkeeping fiddle, and general fiddle. Bookkeeping fiddle is bad, as you aren’t making any decisions and it’s all downtime drudgery. General fiddle can be OK, as long as you are getting more depth with the granularity, and game length doesn’t get excessive. Small differences that snowball into bigger things can be good. So, I have a high tolerance for when turns involve moving lots of pieces, and little tolerance for when a “bot” turn or a cleanup phase involves doing lots of stuff.


An example which most of you probably haven’t played, but I did a lot back in the day: Battletech the 1980s board game. When you’re shooting at another unit, you choose which weapons and which unit you’re shooting at, and that is the end of your decision process: it goes down a tunnel of die rolls and tables and eventually comes out with some amount of damage to the enemy. In other words there’s lots of complexity, but the levers you have with which to manipulate it are very small and simple compared with the influence of randomness. To me that’s non-fun fiddle.


I second this. Ava isn’t the only person I see some overlap with - I like games like Cockroach Poker, Avalon and Skull, which I mentally file as Quinns games - but Ava’s is the opinion I’m most likely to agree with in general, for sure. I sense that Ava could endure a game of Through the Ages, which might be the acid test.

I think I distinguish social interaction from interaction with game mechanics. I love playing chess online, but it’s not really a way to make friends. The social interaction on chess.com is often quite depressing (‘lucky’ is the most common comment, and one of the politer ones), so I turn off the chat feature. For interaction in the sense of directly messing with the other player’s plans, it scores 10/10, but it’s essentially a solo experience for me, like playing the Through the Ages app challenges.

With people I know, though, I don’t really want to play chess, unless we have very similar ability. I want to play something that encourages shifting alliances and trash-talk, or just comedy moments. That is social interaction as a by-product of the game interaction, and I enjoy it. So I guess I’m in the Quinns camp, while having a higher tolerance for long games with non-streamlined rules.


This merits a “wow” and a jaw-drop emoji.

The Through the Ages angle is one I can relate to better. The solo challenges are nowhere near as satisfying as a game played in silence against one or more skilled opponents. Chat is a bonus, not something the game needs, but human opposition (interaction) is way more interesting than playing against algorithms, or optimization puzzles.