Gaming Session: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, March 31, 2022

We’re continuing our exploration of Moria in the Lord of the Rings card game. Thursday at 8:30pm EST / 7:30pm CST / 5:30pm PST, voice chat over Discord, gameplay on DragnCards.

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Symposium: Psychonauts 2, March 3, 2022

Psychonauts 2 (2021) is the long-awaited sequel to the initially commercial unsuccessful but critically praised game, Psyhonauts (2005). With nearly 16 years between the two, each presents very different approaches to level design, gameplay accessibility, and platformer combat. The second is clearly an echo of the first, but much of the in-game mechanics have been updated for 2021 sensibilities for how encounters should work and with much more attention, for example, to more options for in-game items for health recovery for combat planning and anticipation by the player.

Let’s consider the following questions in regard to Psychonauts 2:

  • One of the more noticeable changes from Psyhonauts (2005) to Psychonauts 2 (2021) is the introduction of additional healing options and items. When playing Psychonauts 2 (2021), did you plan out possible encounters by buying items in anticipation of difficulty? Did you use items? Stockpile them?
  • While the first game was able to dig into the minds of characters using a more metaphorical approach (i.e. carrying items to “become” a persona in the infamous Milkman level), Psychonauts 2 (2021) leaned more heavily into using the perception of space with non-Euclidean geometry and spatial awe. Are the different approaches more a reflection of a bigger budget or from, in part, changing expectations of a 2021 audience? How affective did you find each? Why?
  • One of the central themes of both games is the processing of trauma through community and the idea of finding a place that fits you. How effective did you find the comparison of Raz’s family as compared to the base of the Psychonauts?
  • Bonus: The first game ends with trying to process patriarchal violence and trauma via the Meat Circus level. However, the second game leans much more into queer and feminine spaces. If the spaces are reflection of our assumptions about how people understand (or fail to understand) themselves, what can we infer about the expanded set of experiences the second game draws from? Is this a balancing away from the focus on fathers of the first game, meeting the expectations of a more diverse audience, or a little bit of both?

We’ll meet at the usual time: Thursday at 8:30pm EST / 7:30pm CST / 5:30pm PST.

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Gaming Session: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, February 24, 2022

We’re continuing to play the Lord of the Rings card game this week; gameplay on Dragncards, voice chat on Discord. 8:30pm EST, 7:30pm CST, 5:30pm PST.

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Symposium: Disco Elysium, February 3, 2022

For February, the game we’ll discuss is Disco Elysium. Personally, I’ve been thinking most about how an RPG behaves with no combat (but with tons of non-combat stat checks). But I imagine that we’ll also have a lot to say about the narrative of the game.

We’ll meet at the usual time: Thursday at 8:30pm EST / 7:30pm CST / 5:30pm PST.

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Gaming Session: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, January 27, 2022

We’ve been enjoying talking about the Lord of the Rings card game recently, and we think that Dragncards should let us play together online, so we’re going to try that out. The regular time: Thursday at 8:30pm EST / 7:30pm CST / 5:30pm PST.

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Symposium, 6 January 2022

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Steve’s copy of The Black Riders

I’m going to continue on with my symposium series about what I call the cooperative adventure card game. This time around, I’m hoping to zoom in on The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, though with the usual call outs to other such games, in particular Fantasy Flight’s other cooperative LCGs.

I want to see if we can describe the relationship among the storyworld (Tolkien’s Quenta), the individual narrative of the player’s session, and the particular mechanics that scenarios like “A Shadow of the Past” (the first scenario of The Black Riders saga expansion) lay atop the more basic mechanics of the game.

One of the very first decisions the player must make as they set out on the long journey of the saga expansions is how many characters to commit to the quest, given that there’s a Nazgul in the staging area and more lurking in the Encounter Deck. That choice is a complex one, and if things go to plan Thursday night we may spend the whole time just on what it means from a practomimetic point of view — and of course what the implications of our description are for Flip Flop Solitaire, jazz, and Milton.

We’ll meet Thursday at 8:30 EDT / 7:30 CDT / 5:30 PDT, voice chat over Discord.

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Symposium, December 2nd – Outer Wilds

We launch once more into the void on Thursday at 8:30 EDT / 7:30 CDT / 5:30 PDT, with voice chat over Discord, to continue our exploration of space through the clockwork universe of Outer Wilds.

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Symposium, November 4, 2021: Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run! (2012) is an exemplar of an often-ignored genre of games named exergaming. Created by combining “exercise” with “gaming,” the portmanteau describes a classification of experiences using forms of gamification to encourage exercise and other health-related activities. In the case of Zombies, Run! (2012), the explicit activity is running. (The title includes the word run, after all.)

What sets Zombies, Run! (2012) apart from other applications used to gamify exercise is the narrative framing of the player within the role of a person who is called “Runner 5” by other characters. As the player runs, short episodic audio narratives are played matching the length of the exercise activity. In order to hear more of the overall story, the player must keep running (or, in more recent versions, use simulated running while doing other activities).

Throughout a running session, and mixed in among the audio episodes, is the player told they are acquiring different materials and items. This can be something as simple as a bra or plot-centric documents. Once the session is over, these acquired materials are then used as part of a base-building mini-game in which the materials are used to expand a base and improve the lives of the characters referenced in the ongoing audio story.

Yet, both the material acquisition and base building never quite connect to the player-character dynamic. Players can ignore the base-building and even turn off the signaling of gathering materials, if wanted. The only fixed requirement for progression is the starting of an audio episode before the next unlocks in order.

To help drive discussion, lets start with the following sets of questions:

  • How did you feel about the narrative framing of being named “Runner 5” by the game? How did you imagine the character of Runner 5? Was it you? Someone else?
  • Did you participate in the base-building? What did you accomplish? Did you feel the mini-game contributed to the overall game in a meaningful way?
  • Did you use the zombie attack functionality? What did you think of the dynamic intermixing of different audio cues? Did they help? Were they distracting?
  • Many people seek out a “runner’s high” that is achieved by or right after running or other related activities during which they lose time or are less aware of their bodies as a result of the activity. In what ways can we think of this phenomenon in the same way as Flow? And, if so, do experiences like a session of Zombies, Run! (2012) contribute to that feeling or prevent it through interruptions?

We’ll meet Thursday at 8:30 EDT / 7:30 CDT / 5:30 PDT, voice chat over Discord.

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Symposium, October 7, 2021: Bowser’s Fury

In this month’s Symposium we’ll be discussing Bowser’s Fury. Some topics I’d like to hit on:

  • This is the first Mario game to go all-in on being an open world; that both to broader trends but also has points in common with 3D Mario games starting from Super Mario 64.
  • It’s a somewhat experimental game, in a way that’s rare for AAA studios; what do we think about that?

We’ll meet Thursday at 8:30 EDT / 7:30 CDT / 5:30 PDT, voice chat over Discord.

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Symposium, 2 September 2021: The Cooperative Adventure Card Game

The Mad Titan's Shadow - Fantasy Flight Games
Cards from the upcoming expansion to Marvel Champions, The Mad Titan’s Shadow

“Cooperative Adventure Card Game” (CACG) is my term for the genre that includes the LCGs I’ve been bringing to my last few symposia. What is it, though? Clearly the genre comprises not only The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and Marvel Champions: The Card Game, but also other games like Legendary: Marvel and the re-skins of Legendary, as well as several other games such as Sentinels of the Multiverse. Interestingly, the category should probably also include competitive games for which designers have provided cooperative and/or solo modes: most interestingly, Middle-earth Collectible Card Game had such a mode starting in 1996.

So how do we distinguish, and why should we distinguish, among them? Should we bring cooperative board games — especially dungeon crawlers playable in coop mode like Gloomhaven, Descent (when played via app), and very interestingly, Descent‘s transmedia-franchise re-skin, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, some of which make extensive use of cards, into the conversation?

I can think of three topics I’d like to consider off the bat, and I’ll probably think of more by Thursday.

  • How does a CACG’s elaboration of and participation in a transmedia storyworld like The Lord of the Rings distinguish it from a CACG whose narrative unfolds in a different sort of possibility space?
  • How does the mechanic of deck-identification in the LCGs , where players’s decks correspond to their characters, distinguish it from Legendary, in particular, where players recruit hero actions to build their decks? Relatedly, how do the deckbuilding aspects of the LCGs, where decks are set before the game, make them distinct from “true” deckbuilding games, where the player constructs their deck in the course of the play-performance session?
  • How do the expansion models of the LCGs and other CACGs differ among themselves and/or with other genres of game?

We’ll convene the discussion on Discord at 8:30 Eastern/5:30 Pacific, with a Twitch stream to have a look at some cards if it seems worthwhile.

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