I’m a commuter. For almost two hours every weekday I’m held prisoner on West Midlands Railway’s ageing rolling-stock trying not to make eye contact with a group of strangers who I see more of than most friends or family. The snippets of their lives that I encounter I even share with my wife when I get home…
… for example the saga of the lady who’s daughter wouldn’t accept that her stuffed bunny had gone to live in a lovely toy shop when infact it had been lost, so she ended up trawling eBay for several days to track another one down. Or the teenagers who spent most of a journey discussing why pyramid schemes were illegal and how they probably shouldn’t put money into the one their friends were running….
For all you non-commuters out there who are wondering why commuters don’t speak to each other the reason is pretty simple: We’re all terrified. All terrified of making a ‘commuting-buddy’; someone who we’re then obliged to say hello to everyday, make smalltalk with, or worst of all sit next to for two hours everyday struggling to avoid controversial conversation with, so endlessly dissecting each aspect of the weather or sarcastically berating whichever generic train company runs the service that week.
Setting all that aside, I kind of like being a commuter (when everything goes to plan). I get some time to bumble about online, catch up on emails, read some blog posts, daydream about endless pet projects I’d like to do, and occasionally do the supermarket shopping. The one thing I’ve never really considered myself to be is a mobile gamer, which is weird as many of my commuting thoughts are gaming related. Having said that, I have enjoyed a few mobile games (I’m talking about games on my phone here rather than portable consoles) even if the good ones are hidden amongst a heap of ‘pay-to-win’ and poor knock offs on the android store. Most recently however I’ve fallen deep in to an Armello hole…
… or should I say ‘another’ Armello hole…
In it’s PC incarnation I’ve already written about this well balanced digital boardgame and why it manages to capitalise on the medium to take the genre beyond mere dice rolling and piece shuffling. In short it’s a great game, and I know that a number of regular readers undoubtedly feel the same. A while ago I discovered that it had a mobile app release and instantly downloaded it; now sitting alongside a chess app as one of my only permanently installed mobile games. It also turns out that my commute is basically a single Armello round long and in recent weeks it has been my commute activity. Heck, I even enjoy putting the headphones in and soaking up the ambient sound of that fantasy kingdom as my wolf avatar battles to steal the throne for himself. So that’s set the scene for you, but what I’m trying to get around to saying is that I don’t ‘just’ play Armello… I play Armello to win in a very specific way.
I play entirely for the ‘Rot Victory’
For non-players; Rot Victory involves becoming more ‘infected’ with the scourge of the land than the king (who is gradually succumbing to the same evil) and then defeating him in battle to reign as the corrupted ruler. It’s the evil victory, and it’s immensely satisfying. The game sets Rot Victory up as a shoot-for-the-moon win condition. Acquiring rot generally involves drawing and playing rot cards, and there really aren’t that many of them. To make things worse having a small amount of rot is certainly a disadvantage compared to being uncorrupted and the king continually gains rot every evening (every other turn) so your goal is always gently strolling further away from you. Luckily, once you make it past five rot points things begin to even out as in this corrupted form you gain health from killing other players and gain rot from defeating banes (creatures manifested from rot). In short, if you manage to become more evil than the king then the final battle is often heavily stacked in your favour and involves a ludicrous number of dice flying around the screen.
It’s not that I just ‘go for this when it seems possible’ I actively pursue it at the cost of all other victory conditions; I ignore my prestige lead, I ignore spirit stones, and I ignore the often healthy battle advantage I have all to get those few extra rot points. Of course part of this is that I’ve now played so many games against the ai that they’re just not that challenging anymore so I’ve begun to invent ways to up the challenge and the rot victory is an inbuilt way to do that… but having thought about this for a while I also realised that it’s not just Armello that I’ve resorted to ‘playing to my own win condition’ with. During my phase of mobile ‘Star Realms’ I would do the same thing against the ai there; only this time I would string them along for turn after turn (when I could just as easily have wiped them out) as I tweaked my deck before landing the final assault. My goal there was to inflict the absolute maximum amount of damage in that final turn, ideally chaining together my entire deck and anything less than one-hundred points of damage was a disappointment. I would play ‘San Juan’ with the sole goal of having picked up the full monument bonus at the expense of pretty much everything else in the game.
I guess mobile gaming has been an obvious outlet for my ‘self-imposed-win-conditions’ over the years; the simple number of rounds I’ve played on these fast turnover games inspires creative goal setting, but I’ve also done this to some extent in my non-mobile gaming hours where I’ve poured more voluminous amounts of playtime. I’ve written before about the unhealthy descent of my Team Fortress 2 phase where at its worst team victory would come second to my personal k.p.d. or when an old housemate an me would compete to see just how many ducks with shotguns we could take out in Timesplitters 2.
Of course self-imposed win conditions, challenges and playstyles are nothing new for gamers. Speedrunners and those who choose to undertake games… I don’t know… using only the jump button have been making up challenges for a long time, but I’m pretty curious to find out who else out there has a specific way they play a game, a specific ‘win’ condition (either legitimate, or of their own making) that they hunt for in a well played game… answers on a postcard… then write them in the comments because you know, I don’t want you all spending money on postage.