I’m sure this can’t just be me. The games design industry is getting ever better at metacommentary and self reflection, we’ve developed a pretty wide array of habits and design fallbacks that we’re aware of our own foibles and the like, and it’s not like we don’t have parodies of games on YouTube, gods there must be thousands of skit comedy groups producing jokes that only make sense to gamers. We talk our own language, we have our own jokes, and we have a community and culture that is ripe for parody.
What we don’t invest in, are parody games.
Weirdly I have fond memories of a Myst parody that I found long before I found the original game. It was crude, barely a game, more of an interactive comic strip of sorts, but if featured John Goodman as King Mattress, a mockery of Atrus, who appears as a floating head in a pool, much as he did in the original game funnily enough. The Parroty Interactive rendition paints the island of Myst as a lousy tourist attraction that has fallen on hard times, is falling apart, and is being taken over by a big corporation with radical ideas on how to run a theme park. Everything is viewed through postcards, so that the writing on the back of each snapshot becomes a mockery of the reading that forms the backbone of Myst’s puzzle solving.
Fun fact, one of the biggest producers of parody games is PETA, an organisation that has become a mockery of its own purpose, who produce games about animal cruelty. There we go, that’s something you now know. And they’re not the only people to produce pokemon parodies either but… well we’ve got a month left but we’re going to keep things above board, let’s not delve too deep into pokemon parodies.
We have the likes of Braid which is a non-comedic lens shone on classic gaming tropes, we have the likes of Knight of Pen and Paper, which is a great game filled with jokes for tabletop role-players, same as Bard’s Tale, and Goat Simulator which is a madman’s idea of a simulator game, but I think we lack direct parodies. We don’t want for material, but we seem to turn all of that material into sketch comedy rather than full titles, and to be fair, that is one hell of an investment in time, money, and resources for an extra-long joke, but it’s not like we’re lacking a sense of humour about ourselves.
I genuinely think that a proper parody is required, something that points a mocking finger at a specific title like Skyrim that’s been a titan of gaming history for the last eight years, or Final Fantasy which seems shockingly lacking in parodies given how it has dominated the last decade or two. Small-time producers used to flood the likes of Newgrounds with Flash games that were mocking takes on the big titles of the day, but it’s been many a year since that was common practice.
Perhaps I’m longing for a time long gone, or perhaps parody lends a formality to the art form, and that without analytical pystakes (see, ’cause…. ahh, you get it) games can’t take themselves seriously enough. It’s a logical paradox, but if we can’t laugh at ourselves can we analyse ourselves enough to grow, and to take another step forward. We need to break a few old habits. If we don’t, we’ll never break them, and we’ll be making variations on the same game for years.
A parody of gaming auteurs, The Magic Circle presents itself as an incomplete game that you are playing while it is under construction, right down to the hovering cameras of the admins floating around openly discussing the development process. A black and white fantasy world filled with monsters and wonders, and placeholder objects, unrendered models, floating production notes, object interactions filled with placeholder text, and pieces of an old game spliced together with the new content.
I have not finished this game… but I still have some thoughts… (more…)
In many ways more than one, the name of the game sort of tells you everything you think you need to know about it. This game is Offensive Adult Party Game, which is a mock of all of those offensive adult party games you’ve seen. You know the ones – They even took the image of one. Now, there’s not a massive amount to say about this campaign, but all you need to know is that it’s already earned enough to be funded, so there’s something. If you’re a fan of parody-esque Kickstarter products, then read on.
Munchkin is a game that strips the Tabletop RPG to its foundations, separates out the memes, in jokes, and instantly recognisable features, and parodies them mercilessly. The Steve Jackson game has not only gone wild with no fewer than fourty-two expansions varying from boxes of a few hundred cards to blister packs of about fifteen, three or four re-releases, and about twenty spinoffs with their own catalogue of expansions, and I haven’t even touched upon the assorted merchandise, Munchkin themed game-rereleases, a board game or… several… look it’s getting really difficult to keep track of all this now.
Not a bad back-catalogue for a board game released in 2001, right on the cusp of the reviving board game market. So why have we never reviewed it before?
How to Play
The premise is that the players are a party of adventurers trampling through a dungeon, bashing down doors, killing the monsters, gathering their loot and levelling up.
The game begins with two decks of cards (heights may vary depending on number of expansions; number of decks may vary depending on expansions or spinoffs; there may also be a board, bobbleheads, entirely fictitious miniatures…) one Door deck, one Treasure deck. Players begin as level 1 humans with no class (seriously that joke is in every rulebook) and start with a hand of four cards from each deck.
During the game the door deck will offer you the chance to gain classes, or change race to a classic fantasy species, throw out curses to debilitate you, and monsters to challenge you. Defeating monsters raises your level and earns you treasure, items or abilities that make it easier for you to progress, or make it harder for your “friends” to win. The first to reach level 10 wins the game.
As a D&D fan and lover of all things nerdy – or at least classically nerdy – the decks are jam packed with jokes that I can appreciate on an esoteric level. They’re my jokes, in-jokes for the in-crowd, mixed in with a few that are easier for other people to get, not many. But the sheer variety of sets means there’s something for everyone to laugh at and feel very clever about. I know nothing about westerns, very little about the old wuxia martial arts films, but there’s a set for those who geek out about them. There’s a few puns I get in The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin, but what the hell are The Eyes of Texas?
Once you get past the comedy and into the game there are some very simple mechanics that are easily built on to create a game that’s interesting and different every time you play, moreso the more you add, detract, change and mix. While there is such a thing as not being “in the mood” for Munchkin you can always pick up and play and expect something interesting. The simplicity of the basics and universal appeal also make it a great game for bringing in new gamers who may never have tried anything of the sort.
It’s an elegant blend of strategy and chaos, building your character up to the heights of power, only to be torn down when you get too big for your own good. Negotiating for help during a fight can be a cutthroat time, as players bargain for treasures, threaten to worsen the situation, and choose their allies carefully. It’s a thrill to toppling someone before they win, but there’s a method to tearing one player down without exhausting your resources so that someone else can snatch victory from someone else’s defeat. Depending on the cunning of your opponents, the second rat is often the one to get the cheese.
I’m a harsh enough critic to admit that Munchkin is flawed, despite its success.
My biggest grievance is an issue with any game dependent on random chance, and that is that bad luck seems to dog certain players, despite the odds being even every turn. Too often I’ve seen one player get stuck around level three or four through no fault of there own, while everyone else toughs it out around levels eight and nine. Lack of creatures you can defeat, lack of creatures altogether, means no levels, no treasure, and a handful of broadly useless cards.
To balance this there is the charity rule, meaning that the lowest level player gets the cards discarded by those who’ve reached their hand limit, although it’s fairly uncommon occurrence it can help to gather the hand-me-downs. Your biggest advantage as a lower level player is that the guys who are winning become the victim of every screw-over and cut down the deck has to offer, where you get a fairly easy ride. Ultimately you may very well find yourself catching up, or even getting to a point where you can win, but in the mean time it’s boring and disappointing round after boring and disappointing round.
More sets means more mechanics, ones that are rarely of use to you once they’re diluted by the other cards. Stripping down the sets to the core, picking and choosing some favourite expansions makes the game a lot more manageable, and if you’re savvy you can put together custom decks designed around your favourite game elements.
Final flaw, and this one’s very nit-picky. Once you’ve browsed the deck once and played the game a couple of times the humour is rather lost, you may find yourself buying the decks to try and find a new joke to laugh at. As I say, nit-picking.
This is a must-have for any games cabinet, at least one copy of any variety. You can happily spend the absolute bare minimum on this game and expect a lot of fun times to be had from it, and if everyone has their own favourite version at home then you’ve got the chance to try out a few things. It may not be a game to every one’s taste but it’s a definite crowd pleaser with no great limitations on maximum numbers of players, making it a great one to bust out at parties, conventions, or just a night when no one wants anything too serious.
Shameless promotion here, my friends at e-Collectica games will be celebrating the store’s 10th birthday on October the 15th with their longest ever Games Day. 10:00 – 19:30 at the Darwin Community Centre in Shrewsbury. If you’re in the midlands and want to join us for nine and a half hours of games come on over. We’ll be featuring a Ticket to Ride tournament, a couple of roleplays and your chance to learn some new games, or just play some favourites. More info at the event page on Facebook.
Comedy is amongst those commonly agreed “markers of high intelligence” as the ability to not only understand but also create humorous content is a highly complex thing that requires a deeper insight into the world around us and to demonstrate it from a new and often exaggerated perspective. It’s also one of the hardest things to do well. Comedy is a heartbreaking thing to try and make a living at, even if you’re considered funny, a lifetime of trawling through pubs and clubs getting booed off stage, or more likely these days getting booed of YouTube, or worse, ignored.
For those few who succeed it’s a life of bringing happiness to others, often at your own expense. The best comedians are often highly educated, cunning observers of life, the world and humanity, and masters of the written and spoken word, but comedy has many shapes. It’s something worthy of far greater study, but for now let’s get just a little geeky on the subject. (more…)