I read The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks the other day. I don't really want to review it overtly, but I do have one comment worthy of note: I did not enjoy the gaming, and I'm still not entirely sure why. Perhaps writing something down will help?
The game in question - Azad - was used in the book as a tool upon which an entire interstellar empire was based; the best player was set up as the Emperor, and other top players ended up with top government/military jobs. The game itself theoretically "modelled the society", and therefore had to be both near-infinitely complex and nevertheless understandable. There were gambling elements, cards, and group play elements; but fundamentally, it appeared to be modelled on Go, albeit significantly scaled up.
Somehow, this hurt my ability to suspend disbelief.
Much of the book also discussed the idea of game theory and societies that value high-level game players and theoreticians. The top gamers in (another) society write essentially peer-reviewed articles on the games they play. Well, okay, I'm fine with that - but part of this seems to indicate that the games that are considered "real" fit into a few categories. And those categories were quite narrow. Specifically, they were so narrow that they would eliminate virtually every game that I play today. And I think that there's something a bit strange about that.
A few mechanics that seemed to be left on the floor:
- Worker Placement
- Auctions (except in relation to gambling)
- Rock-paper-scissors (for units - they seemed to be one-size-fits-all)
- Any kind of economic system
- Simultaneous actions of any form (or maybe there were? I got a very strong sense of asynchronous actions
- Network building (this could have been abstracted away, I guess)
- Doing anything interesting with the cards, other than using them as a "battle card" system, including laying them as "mines". There wasn't much in the way of hand management, for instance.
- More abstractly, close back-and-forth interaction between the various "sub"-games.
Sure, several of these didn't exist at the time of writing. Still, given that effort was put into dismissing other styles of games, it just felt odd.
Maybe the real lesson here is that this felt weak because it pre-dated the recent board game "revolution". It focused on Go and war games because that's what the author was knowledgeable about, or could do research on. But I'm still a little bit irritated to see whole genres of game just ignored, including genres that did exist when the book was written (1988), including my current favorite, 18xx, which dates back to 1974 (or 1986 in my preferred incarnation).
Aah, well. I'm still going to read the next one.