Life Outside My Cube

My life, a work in progress.

I’ve Got Game

Next Saturday is the monthly LAN party at my workplace, and we’re going to be playing AOK, a family fave from way back that I haven’t played in many years. I got thinking about it when we played StarCraft at a previous LAN party. The two games are very similar in concept – civilization-building and warfare. The former I enjoy tremendously, the latter not so.

I’d never seen StarCraft before, so was very unfamiliar with the alien terminology. Though the mechanics of the game were similar, it takes a while to come up to speed with the different beings and their capabilities, their pros and cons. AOK is based on real earth civilizations, so although there are some unusual military units, everyone knows what calvary or archers are and what they can do.

Syntax aside, both these games have a strong pull and large following. What makes them good? Several aspects of the games make for enjoyable play. First, each scenario is different from the moment the game starts. Whether it’s solo, team, scenario or online play, there’s a certain unexpected randomness to opponent actions that makes each game unique and never boring. You never know how any given game is going to end up.

Second, while there is a framework of rules, how a player achieves his goals can vary widely. Building a powerful war economy is not easy, and strategy will be affected by many variables outside ones control, i.e. other players. I like the ability to choose the same scenario and work out different strategies through many iterations of play. Concentration, careful planning and quick response to unexpected events makes for an intense compelling game play.

Third, there’s more to the game than just killing opponents; it’s a constant march to building a more powerful civ, even as the skirmishes go on. A careful balance of resource, building and unit production is required throughout the game, not just quickness with a controller, though a certain agility with the keyboard and mouse is essential. It’s a combination of both; a thinking and action game.

Fourth, there is the opportunity to team up. That’s not unusual, but it’s an aspect of the games that I like, that allows people of different strengths and experience to enjoy playing together. Often at a LAN party there will be one or more people that are expert at one game or another, and they end up bored or teaching most of the time. With teams, even beginners can participate without being killed off right away. And there’s something about team play that brings people together.

Games like these are certainly no substitute for conversation, and I’d never suggest that they are a foundation for relationship building. However, I find myself engaging with people during a game that I’d otherwise probably not relate to on a casual level. It’s neutral territory, an overlap of experience that may help to deepen a relationship in another area.

So next Saturday I’ll be at the office. Not working.

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