And now I’ve had a chance to play the new board game based on Firefly. It’s fun, and interesting, and worth the money I plunked down on it. Mostly though, I’m glad I played it because it makes me feel really good about my own endeavors in designing games.
While I was playing it, I couldn’t help but compare it to one of my designs – a lengthy adventure game that is very similar to Firefly in many ways. I think those similarities are the reason I was drawn to the game. They’re certainly what prompted me to write this latest post.
Like Firefly, the game I designed is based on an intellectual property. I’ll make no secret about it: the property is a Stephen King novel which, like Firefly, has a large following that would absolutely be interested in purchasing the game based on their love of the source material alone. Right now, my game has been tentatively accepted by a major game publisher, contingent on us getting permission to use the license. Further, I have a lawyer employed who’s trying to cut through the red tape to find out who can give us that permission, if the rights are even available, and how much it’ll cost me and/or the game publisher to obtain the rights.
Like Firefly, my game is a mission-based adventure game, where you play a specific entity, and as that entity, you travel the fictional game world trying to fulfill those “missions.” There are cards you collect, there are “ability” checks you have to pass, there are hazards that will impede you, and there are rewards for finishing the missions.
I have a roster of over 50 “playtesters” so far, and any of those people who’ve played my game who also play Firefly will certainly see similarities. To them, I have to say this: even though Firefly is published and my game isn’t, I had my design first. Really, there aren’t any game mechanics which are so similar as to be a “copycat”, and let’s face it, there’s a LOT of overlap in game mechanics everywhere. But I just want people to say that Firefly is similar to MY game, and not the other way around. An ego thing, really.
Speaking of ego, though, and this is where the gist of this post lies: I think my game is a better game than Firefly, and here’s why.
First, my game has little or no “down time.” What that is, for you non-gamers out there, is the time that you spend waiting on other people to finish their turn, without doing anything except wait. There’s down time in most games, and the down time usually increases with more players. Some great games have A LOT of down time (Arkham Horror, Merchants & Marauders, even Twilight Imperium), so it’s not a deal-breaker, but I think it should avoided as much as possible. Firefly has almost as much down time as the games I just listed. Because of a mechanic I have in my game, you have to do stuff during other people’s turns, so you’re not sitting around waiting on them to finish.
Which brings us to number two: my game has A LOT more player interaction than Firefly. A lot of “Euro” games actively avoid having players interact directly with other players – you’re essentially playing your own strategy without interference from others, and the winner of the game is basically the person who has the best strategy. In those games, the only way you “interfere” with other players is by beating them to resources you both need. Again, a lot of great games play this way, and there’s nothing wrong with that style of game – it’s a taste thing, really – but one thing about those games is that there’s usually little to no down time. In a game like Firefly, which has significant down time, I think “playing solo” with little player interaction can be detrimental. In Firefly, there’s a race to certain resources, sure, but other than that, there’s limited ways to interfere directly with what someone else is doing. There ARE ways, but 90% of the time, you’re in the sky alone.
My game has significant player interaction. In fact, there’s a mechanic in which the person who’s losing has access to a deck of cards that does NOTHING BUT screw with other people.
Finally, although my game is long – three to four hours depending on things – Firefly looks to be longer. I played a two-player game, and we finished in just under four hours. That puts it at anywhere from a half an hour to an hour longer.
All this is not to say that Firefly is a bad game. I’ve played much worse. I even like a few games that I consider to be in the same vein but not as strong (I’m looking at you, Runebound). I’m just saying all this because I’m encouraged. If Firefly can get published, then certainly my game was a worthwhile investment of my time and energy, and I think Stephen King and my potential publisher will be satisfied with how the game does if it ever gets to market.
To that end, if anybody out there knows a way my lawyer, my game publisher, and I can get some attention from Mr. King’s literary agency and maybe cut through some of this red tape, e-mail me. It’d be a shame to leave my design in the dark. Especially when it could be out there competing with Malcolm Reynolds and company.
All over the world, there are places that - for certain people - are simply magical. And I’m not talking about places like Mecca, or Ground Zero, or the Taj Mahal. Sure, those places are places of power, but EVERYBODY recognizes the magic or power or holiness contained there. I’m talking about places that only a few people, who share a common experience or common passion, recognize. Something about the intimacy of that recognition makes this type of place even more special, and only special to a select few.
Last weekend I visited such a place.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, then when you’re walking down 2nd Avenue in New York City and you pass the intersection of 2nd and 46th Street, you probably don’t even blink. To the unknowing eye, it looks like countless other intersections in Manhattan. But to me and a few other people in the world, we know that in the building located in the northeast corner of the intersection - 2 Hammerskjold Plaza - there is a certain Rose. And across the street, in the little park located there, there is a statue of a turtle - a turtle whose “thought is slow but always kind. He holds us all within his mind.”
When I was a kid, I plowed through Stephen King’s novels like candy. He, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, and Flannery O’Connor were my heroes. When I started writing, I wrote like him - as much as a teenager can emulate greatness.
And then, right about the time I started college and he published Tommyknockers, I abandoned Stephen King. Something about the books he wrote from then up until the publication of Wizard and Glass in 1997 just didn’t appeal to me. Even now - as I defend him to anyone who challenges his power and impact as a writer - I still reserve the caveat that I don’t like the things he produced for that 10 year period of his career. In fact, I despise Gerald’s Game. Not as much as I despise The Da Vinci Code or fucking Silas Marner. But still….
When Wizard and Glass, which is Book Four of The Dark Tower, was published, I hadn’t read any of the series, which he claims is his magnum opus. I have now. I’ve read all of it, all the way through books One through Seven. I’ve read them multiple times. I will say with no hesitation that The Dark Tower deserves a place on every fantasy reader’s shelf right alongside Tolkien, Zelazney, and le Guin. I am not ashamed to say that Stephen King has returned as a major influence in my life and my career as a writer.
The Rose is fictional. It doesn’t really exist inside of 2 Hammerskjold Plaza. There is no statue of a turtle in the park across the street. But that doesn’t mean that when I passed through the intersection there that I didn’t hear a quiet thrum of power coursing through the air, and that I didn’t feel a certain unquantifiable elation.
Because I did.