Review: World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King

World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher KingWorld of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King by Luke Cuddy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up after a friend recommended it to me in the wake of my review of “Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved.” While I think this concludes my foray into pop culture philosophy for a while, I did enjoy this book considerably more than “Halo Philosophy.” The nature of MMOs as shared simulated spaces (alliteration intentional!) invites several intriguing discussions, especially with regards to the metaphysical. Furthermore, so much of what makes MMOs interesting is the people that play them, and even though a first person game like Halo is also multiplayer, it’s really in the MMO space that one can seriously consider questions of character, identity, and self.

As you might expect, not every essay in this book is going to impress, but there are some true gems. In particular, the essays on the relationship between the character and the self really intrigued me. I’ve played a wide variety of characters over the year, including characters of an opposite gender. Thus, I paid particularly close attention to the essay written by a male player who, rather unintentionally, “toured” as a perceived female gamer for several months.

Is this a book I’d recommend to a non-WoW player? Eh, probably not. The authors generally do a good job of not relying “too” heavily on the game terms, but the largest appeal of these pop culture/philosophy books is how the content of your favorite game (or show, or movie, or whatever) can become the fuel for a philosophical discussion. If you’re not already a WoW player, I’m not sure why you’d be interested in picking up a book about it. That said, this is a very solid philosophy primer and if you’re an MMO player (of any game, really), you’ll find something to mentally gnaw on.

Quick aside: it was a little silly, but I really enjoyed the chapters presented in WoW’s “0/1” quest tracker style, as well as the “+3 to intellect” for completing the chapter. It was a fun bit of attention to detail.

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Tabletop Gaming Weekend: Sunday Recap

For me, Sunday is the gaming day. Almost every week, we gather the troops to play Dungeons  & Dragons or Pathfinder (our current system). Every so often we’ll play another game like Arkham Horror, usually when the DM (me) isn’t feeling up to running a session. It seemed almost foolish to host a Pathfinder game after two solid nights of tabletop, but a DM has to have standards, you know? Even if those standards roughly amount to “being good enough at improv to keep up with the players and act like you meant to do this all along.”

I thought about calling off the game, I really did. Call me crazy, but it just seemed like it would be a mistake. Maybe I wanted to see if I could really go the distance, you know? Even if, in this case, the distance didn’t actually involve that much movement.

Well, to my surprise, we ended up canceling the Pathfinder game anyway due to being short a player, a player whose character had been killed and hadn’t rolled a new one yet, and still needing to level up after last session. With that bookkeeping out of the way, we decided to hold off on the game itself and play something in the meantime. That something turned out to be Sentinels of the Multiverse. (SotM)

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SotM is a cooperative card game where you take the role of different heroes and fight against a single villain, represented by its own deck that runs automatically. The characters are archetypal in the best comic book tradition. There’s the Wraith who’s basically a female Batman (but not Batgirl!). Absolute Zero is an ice-based guy with a backstory that manages to involve heroic blackmail (seriously, it’s “here’s a suit to survive your tragedy, now fight for good or we’ll repo that shit”). Fanatic is your winged angelic crusader with a huge sword and a “smite the evulz” complex. I ended up as Nightmist, the paranormal investigator who ended up tapping into dark powers and now wields those powers against evil. Like I said, classic. Fun fact: there’s a few very subtle references to H.P. Lovecraft and the Arkham Horror board game worked in there. I appreciated that. There was also a reference to my home city in the Wraith’s biography. You don’t see many shout-outs to Rochester, New York, so that made me happy, too.

Each deck plays differently, but the basic mechanic is that you can play one card per turn, activate one power (such as the one printed on your hero card) and draw one card at the end of your turn. The card interactions for Nightmist’s deck were pretty intricate; I could see right away why she was ranked as one of the more complex heroes to play. My deck involved buffing my damage dealing ability, then using my power to damage myself to draw more cards, then using my amulet card to redirect all the damage I’d done to myself towards an enemy instead. It was pretty fun.

With 18 different hero decks to play (this is including the expansions) and just as many villain decks, there’s a lot of variety here. The decks interact with each other in different ways; as Nightmist, I was able to generate card drawing for my allies which helped out a few times when things got rough.

There are two things that really make this game stand out. The first is that it’s a self-contained set, so unlike collectible card games like Magic: the Gathering, you don’t have to build your own deck which lowers the entry barrier considerably. Secondly, the decks all seem to be built with cooperation in mind, so there’s plenty of interaction among the heroes. It’ll be fun to see which decks work well together against which villains, since each villain deck is designed to play different and offer a different challenge.

We finished the game around 11:00 pm or so. It was at this point that I passed out on the couch, having imbibed just a little too much during the course of the evening. At some point, I staggered into bed.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend, if unintentional. It reminded me fondly of the undergrad days, where we’d play Magic or D&D well into the early hours of the morning. There was a certain abandon then, a certain idyllic sense. Of course, this was just the geek version of partying all night, which is why I didn’t end up going to many parties in college. But I wouldn’t trade it if given the choice.

However, I was very glad that I had today to recover from my weekend gaming binge and I don’t think I’ll be trying to repeat the experience any time soon. Once a week should be enough for me, I think.

At least for a while.

Tabletop Gaming Weekend: Saturday Recap

It wasn’t supposed to turn into this three-day thing, you know? Friday’s gaming was a spontaneous thing, the result of one James Walter and the colorful box he carried to a work meeting and then to dinner right after the meeting. It was just there, you know? We had to try it. I can’t be blamed for that.

Saturday, though. For Saturday, I don’t have the luxury of that excuse, because I was enticed purely by one sentence: “who wants to play Dominant Species?” The answer was me. I do. I want to play this game. This is how day two of the gaming binge got started.

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Dominant Species is a strategy board game where you take the role of one of five different groups of animals and try to survive the encroaching Ice Age. It plays similarly to a tabletop war game, except that there’s really no war to speak of beyond this hilariously awesome combination of dropping glaciers on people and competing for resources.

The animals on offer are mammals, reptiles, birds, arachnids, and insects. Each one has a special ability: mammals are highest on the food chain (and thus win ties) and can survive extinction events. Reptiles can resist regression (which otherwise takes away the adaptations you need to survive). Birds can migrate more spaces than other animals. Arachnids have a particularly insidious power: they can preemptively eliminate other animals during Competition; they’re like tiny venomous assassins. Insects go first during each turn and can reproduce like crazy.

This was my second time playing dominant species and both times, I’ve picked the reptiles. They’re not the most powerful species, in my opinion, but I’m loyal to my scaled brethren. The goal of the game is to spread out across the board (which is arranged during play by placing hexagonal tiles to represent new terrain) and accumulate victory points while trying to survive. The various ways you can be eliminated are starvation due to lack of resources or competition, where other animals kill you off.

The real charm of this game comes from the massive amount of strategy. Each turn plays like this: there is a section of the board divided up into phases, with each phase representing a different strategic option. You have a limited number of tokens that you can place in on the phases to pursue those strategies. Some a limited in number: only three people can select the Adaptation, for example. You won’t be able to do everything. Once everybody has placed their tokens, each phase is resolved and you see who lives, who dies, who reproduces, and who runs away to a lonely corner of the map and tries to hold onto “Snake Mountain” for the entire game while everybody else kills each other or gets glaciated.

The glacier mechanic is particularly fun. The game starts with the center hex covered in a glacier. Each turn, whoever is first in line on the  Glaciation phase gets to place a new glacier tile anywhere on the board as long as it touches at least one existing glacier. This glacier kills off all but one animal of each species on the tile and also removes necessary resources from the board. It’s very fun steering the glacier towards your opponents. It’s very frightening when they steer it back towards you.

There’s a lot more strategy that goes into the game and you have to balance a lot in order to win. If you specialize on one resource, you might die off if that resource vanishes. On the other hand, if you engage in too much competition, you might not dominate enough areas to earn points. There’s a lot going on.

The game does have a rather long set-up time and takes a while to play. We didn’t hit the actual endgame by midnight and just ended up calling the game. I think part of this is due to the fact that both games we played, we were learning (we were all new the first game and had one new player the second game). Once you “get it”, things go a lot faster.

It’s a more complex game than King of Tokyo or Cards Against Humanity, but this is a core tabletop experience. A huge board, a lot of pieces, a ton of strategy: this is the kind of game that you’ll come back to again and again. I like how perfectly it captures the feeling of trying to survive as resources go scare, land changes, and then your land is overwhelmed by venomous spiders. The competition mechanic is more passive than other war games, but that makes for a nice change of pace.

It took up my entire Saturday night, but when you get right down to it, a Saturday night playing Dominant Species is a Saturday well spent.