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7-in-1 Magnetic Family Game: Draughts

Yeah, we totally forgot to take photos of a draughts game when the Lady and I were in Hydra.
This speaks to how much Draughts left us both nonplussed. The Lady had never played it – which I don’t believe for a second, but let’s believe it while eye rolling in exactly the same way teenage boys do when girl peers claim to never masturbate. Yeah. Like, yeah. I played it, but not since being a pre-pubescent. If I was on a checked board, I would try and push people towards chess – and besides, it was a game my brother always excelled at, and I didn’t really see the reason why.

(Not that he didn’t excel at chess either, but I had more fun fighting uphill there…)

Which kind of point. Neither of us enjoyed the game of Draughts. This makes an interesting compare and contrast with Chinese Checkers, a game neither of us knew at all, and had a right giggle with. The reasons were threefold.

1) We fucked up the rules. I thought I knew the rules of draughts – move up the board, jumping over enemies to take them, get to the end and become a HYPERDRAUGHTSPIECE, kick ass. For some reason I’d forgotten about the huffing rules – in fact, I’m not even sure my pre-teen mind ever played with huffing rules. Actually, googling around reveals that what the printed rules in the magical 7-in-1 set said were Huffing weren’t actually what is huffing. Without getting into the details, it’s a case of if there’s a move where you can take something and you choose to do something else, the other person can force you to do that move (though the rules gave the option of either ignoring it or wiping out the taking piece). Anyway – we didn’t play with that when I was a kid, and we were into the game before I glanced at the rules and noticed it. We decided to carry on playing the way we were, which immediately made the Lady’s tactic of not moving with her back row ever brutally dominant.

Perhaps tellingly, she didn’t enjoy this tactical advantage she gained. She also didn’t like the forced move rule. It seemed to be cheap and… well, she didn’t use the word “unrealistic” but that’s the sense of it. An unnatural rule in a videogame, necessary for balance reasons normally exposes a weakness in the actual game. They’re the ones which you see why they exist, but don’t seem to naturally flow from the game concept. For a sports example, look at Football (Or soccer for all your checkers players). The Offside rule is after the fact nonsense, the one piece of over-ornate filigree in one of the most agreeably simple sports in the world. Equally, that games are little but the rules that make them, the second you add one of these rules to the game, you change its character. Mastering the core rules of the game provokes nothing but admiration. Mastering these patch-up rules provokes nothing but eye-rolling at your metagamery. In football, no-one likes the foul-diver, the Off-side trap-meister. And over in videogame, any time you’ve shouted CHEAP! you’re fairly likely to have found one of these.

The point being, an “unnatural” rule divorces you from the game and makes it less satisfactory. The sadder fact is that without the unnatural rule, the game is worse – and possibly unplayable.

2) We dug Chinese Checkers, because while our tactics were weak, we grasped the motivational end of getting to the other end of the board. We had trouble with Draughts as… well, we got the tactics – certainly far more than Chinese Checkers – but were never sure we were getting nearer to our goal or not, except in the indirect way of taking pieces. Its aim felt foggy – in which case, why wasn’t the same in Chess? I think this comes back to Chess’ embracing of an actual real-world situation, no matter how iconically rendered. In chess, it’s analagous to battle-lines. You can see the piece you’re meant to protect. It is, in a real way, despite being more complicated than draughts, a clearer game.

3) It shared a poor endgame with Chinese Checkers. However, rather than one being divorced from the other and not actually playing against one another, it was a case of one side having such a determined advantage over the other. Yes, I got a fair few pieces in the final section – I had freedom of movement, and reduced complexity of pieces to worry about to allow greater concentration on what I did – but it was never really in doubt. It was directly analagous to the RTS game ending where one side can steamroller another, in a way which Chinese Checkers wasn’t. Which reveals a way which the latter’s design choices are interesting. By removing the ability to actually take pieces, it means that throughout the game both players have the same number of physical toys to kick around. Last time I talked about how what we often considered were rage-quitting was actually boredom quitting in a shitty endgame… but Draughts make me think it’s not that simple. RTS – with the magnification of pleasure caused by their beautiful, intricate pieces – become exponentially less interesting because those toys are taken away from you. It’s like dumped while your best mate continues to get off with a hottie. It’s annoying. There was a flicker of this in Draughts, and it’s only going to be worse with an actual videogame.

All of which left Draughts as the game the Lady and I enjoyed least. But it’s not the worst game. That’s next.

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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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