Friday, March 18, 2011

JUST GAMING AROUND - Vikings on Yucata - Did I REALLY just play a board game online?

I have never really played games online including board games, video games, Facebook games, etc. My only real foray was playing Chess on several years ago and only with a friend from work and with my wife's father. Other than that, I have had a general aversion to online gaming and specifically online BOARD gaming pretty much since I started really getting into board gaming in 2008.

When I first started out, one game I played with my friend Chris was called Hive. Man did I LOVE that game. It felt like a fast chess game with interesting mechanics. I immediately went out and bought the wooden version from someone off of BGG (just loved the chunky pieces).

I also tried out the online version against the AI. After playing a few games I realized exactly the strategy it was using to win against me and started doing the same thing but better. Pretty soon I was winning pretty much every game. Then, when I played other people I used the same strategy and pretty much stomped on everyone I played. I quickly lost interest as it had lost it's magic. I was frustrated and disappointed that this terrific game had been ruined for me. I have only played sporadically since then. I'm hoping that eventually the magic will return - we will see. I still have hope.

Since then I have been determined to NOT play games online, particularly against an AI, but even against other players. It just didn't appeal to me, particularly with the bad taste still in my mouth from my Hive experience. I had numerous friends that were playing games online and invitations to play with them, but I generally ignored or politely declined.

Recently I had a great time playing some games FTF with my friend Cary. A day or two later he sent me an email saying he had started playing Vikings on Yucata and that if I wanted to play during lunch or late in the evening he'd love to play. Now, I have heard of Yucata and other such online gaming sites but, honestly, I hadn't even really looked at them - I was aware but purposely ignored them.

For some reason, playing Vikings late in the evening this way sounded fun. I don't know why I had a change of mind. I enjoy playing games with Cary and we'd had a great evening of gaming a couple of days back and perhaps that was...ahem....carrying over. Well, for whatever reason I immediately went over and signed up. I took a look around and set up my account a bit - just settling in and such. Later that evening I got online and sent him a note that we should play. So he fired up a session and I joined.

I have played Vikings before so no rules review was really necessary. I'm not going to review Vikings here or talk about the game in detail, but here are my observations about this particular online system with this game:

Things I liked:

  • Not having to worry about getting all the bits out, mixing up the tiles, drawing the vikings out and placing them on the board - We just had to start it up and play!
  • The chat feature so that we could discuss issues, make comments, etc.
  • The game handles everything like scoring, moving things around, and giving you stats on the game. It's all laid out there for you to see at a glance.
  • I could get up, go to the bathroom, get something to eat, sit around in my underwear (if I wanted) and generally be cozy at my computer playing without interfering at all with his gameplay (mostly)
  • It looks like there is the ability to be able to play multiple games. I like this idea in that you could play a couple of games in parallel to help eliminate downtime between turns.
  • Mousing over different items on the board gave you information about the components, rules information, etc. This was a very nice touch and is akin to an interactive player aid.
  • No picking up the game when you're done. The winner is announced and you just move on!
  • Online stats with win/loss record and rankings. This is pretty cool and is a great way to track how much time you've spent playing games.

Things I didn't like:

  • Not being able to get all the bits out, mixing up the tiles and stacking them, drawing the vikings out and placing them on the board - I missed the tactile-ness of having everything there to actually see and touch. It's a bit like foreplay in that it gets you 'geared up' to play.
  • The chat feature wasn't exactly real-time - there were sometimes delays in seeing how the other person responded to you so that delay resulted in feeling like you were truly interacting because I felt like I was missing something.
  • The game handles everything like scoring, moving things around, and giving you detailed stats on the game. I knew EXACTLY how many islands he had, how long his longest island was, etc. On the other hand HE knew exactly what *I* had. Hmmm....  Sometimes I want to lay low and hope others don't notice what I'm doing - sometimes this is part of the gameplay and it's harder to get away with it when the stats are RIGHT THERE telling your opponent exactly what you have.
  • Cary could get up, go to the bathroom, get something to eat (he did - and it caused some delays unfortunately) and I didn't know why it was taking him so long to move - I figured he was just being thoughtful. (On the other hand I don't know if he was playing in his underwear and probably DON'T want to know). NOTE: This isn't a dig on Cary specifically, just the general idea that there can be unexpected delays and, if the other person isn't communicating that to you, you might be sitting there waiting for them to play when they are off lolly-gagging around.
  • The ability to play multiple games could cause you (or others) to take forever - you might be waiting a long time before someone else makes their move if they are focused on some other game instead of yours.
So, overall, I will say I enjoyed the experience. However, as you can kind of tell from my Likes and Dislikes - the things I like about it are things I also dislike about it.

In particular, I generally enjoy getting the game out and seeing it on the table, handling the bits, shuffling the tiles or cards, etc. This is part of the fun of gaming! Sometimes it's nice that the system will be doing this for you (drawing all the vikings in this game can take some time) but sometimes those portions of the game are just fun to do as PART of the game. Seeing the vikings and tiles come out one by one and seeing how this round is shaping up is a fun aesthetic of Vikings.

For me, the jury is out on how much I like online gaming. This is only one site with only this one game so I am going to suspend final judgement. However, I *did* enjoy my experience. There are some things I definitely missed about playing FTF including the direct interactions of the players. But, I won't mind playing a game from time-to time online, particularly if I don't have time to meet up but want to still get a game in. And, I can see myself trying some of the other games here, too, to at least learn them before I consider buying them and / or just to learn the rules. This is certainly a nice selling point for gaming online.

Ultimately, I never thought I'd be saying these things but it's true. I have modified my behaviour. I must not be too old of a dog yet and can still learn a few new tricks.

However, I still have some rules for online gaming.

My new rules for online gaming are: 
  • (Still) NO AI ONLY GAMES
  • I will likely only be playing games online in certain situations where I can't normally play against someone FTF otherwise but am feeling like playing a game
  • It has to be 'live' / 'real time' (no dragging out a relatively short game for weeks and weeks, please!)
  • Preference is for playing with someone I know, not trolling for any game with just anyone. I guess that's not really a 'rule' but there it is.
So, if you want to play a game with me online, send me a note and I might just do it if the timing is right and I'm in the mood. Or, if you're close by, let's just get together to play instead.

And I still reserve the right to stop playing games online completely again, so if I say no and don't ask me again, that's probably why.


  1. I have very much the same experience. However there are a couple of games, e.g. St Petersburg, where I really want to learn the game well so I need constant practice against all types of opponents. I've previously played on BGG, BSW and and got sick of them, but yucata is very nice and is currently most of the gaming I do. That's aided by the fact that I'm playing China Gold, Oregon and Yspahan which I've never seen physical copies of anyway.

    I've invited you to another game of Vikings - please don't consider me a just anyone :-). Real time may be a little difficult due to massive time zone differences, but I do the best I can.

  2. I've pretty much come to the same conclusions as yourself. No fun being way better at a game than the friends you are playing with.


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