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Three Moves Ahead Episode 147 – Fire No Guns, Shed No Tears

December 16th, 2011 by Rob Zacny · 18 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


A heavily medicated Rob hosts Julian, Troy, and Bruce to explain what’s so boring about peace, love, and understanding. Why does strategy gaming usually come back to armed conflict, with the exception of city-builders? Do most people really even want games about other subjects, and can designers make good games out of them? What ever happened to A Force More Powerful, and why does it make Bruce want to punch Troy? How do board games handle these subjects, and do Eurogames get them right?

Special thanks to Michael Hermes for doing links for this monster.

Persuasive Games by Ian Bogost
Trauma Center
Source of the Nile
Dawn of Discovery
Supreme Ruler: Cold War
A Force More Powerful
1960: The Making of a President
Hearts of Iron 3
Gametable Online
Twilight Struggle Game
Andean Abyss
Boot Hill
Hera & Zeus
Abandon Ship
Modern Art

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • Tom Chick

    I love that Bruce Geryk thinks Carson City is non-violent. I look forward to playing with him, at which point I will gladly disabuse him of that idea by accumulating guns which my cowboys will use to rob his banks, pharmacies, hotels, and ranches. Since he insists the game is non-violent, I presume he will not contest my attempts to appropriate his cash!

    Seriously, though, that’s just crazy talk. If it’s a Western, it’s got dudes shooting six-guns at each other. Them’s the rules.

  • Pedro Campos

    Ron, for some reason I cannot hear the podcast in its full time extent(it stops the stream at 10min into the show or so) nor can I download it fully(once again It completes the download with only 1.30 min of recorded sound). Do you have any idea how can I solve this?

  • Troy Goodfellow


    Are you streaming it or using iTunes?

  • Pedro Campos

    Thank you for the response.
    I was streaming it. It stopped streaming in 7-10min into the show.

  • Troy Goodfellow

    Quite odd. I have no issues streaming it – the entire hour plus. And you can’t right click “save as” either?

  • Bruce

    Who wants to punch anybody? Where did that come from?

  • Troy Goodfellow

    A joke, I think Bruce. Because you seemed very excitable.

  • Bruce

    I am always excitable. It’s never personal.

  • FhnuZoag

    Maybe the problem with peaceful strategy games is the illusion of movement. In military strategies, there’s a clear view of units moving across the map, advancing on objectives, coming into contact and so on. It’s hard to fit that sort of thing into a peaceful scenario.

  • Quasar

    You know hearing the discussion about non violent games, the first thing to sprung to mind was tabletop RPGs. Whilst in many games the whole combat aspect is the area where the most effort in mechanics is, quite a lot of gaming (at least for some people) is non combat.

  • CraigM

    You hit things spot on in so many ways. The problem is the basic types of conflict. Man vs man is the most common because usually the player is set against either the AI or other players. The typical way this is modeled is direct conflict, but sometimes through competition for resources. Again you pretty well covered how that divides pretty neatly along video games and Ameritrash style board games, and Eurogames.

    Man vs nature could be interesting. I can’t think of many myself, Pandemic perhaps in the board game sphere. Do you know of any quality survival style strategy games? I’m drawing a blank there, but it’s something that could be a neat take in strategy.

    Man vs self is probably the hardest. I can’t think of any examples here. Board games are probably right out, since it is inherently an internal fight. That or it would be the ultimate multiplayer solitaire euro. In the video game sphere, perhaps something where sanity, or humanity or happiness. I could see something from the cthulu myths lending something there. I don’t know though, could the internal conflict carry a strategy game, or would you need some kind of external threat.

  • Ginger Yellow

    I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Bruce (at least early in the podcast), but I have to dispute the premise. There are loads of non-violent strategy games – it’s hardly fair, to dismiss as you mostly did, city-builders. That would be like excluding RTSes from a discussion of violent strategy games. It’s a huge genre, and while some of them include violent conflict, that’s not where the fun is (and in Anno, say, you can play without any violence at all if you choose). And besides that, there’s the whole genre of logistics management games – Capitalism, Industry Giant, Transport Tycoon etc. And straight-up management games – Theme Park, Rollercoaster Tycoon, etc.

    Railroads alone are a font of strategy games – Railroad Tycoon, A-Train, Ticket To Ride.

  • David Brake

    After all that talk about A Force More Powerful I would like to hear a brief coda about “People Power” if you could look at it, its $10 replacement which works on Windows, Macs or Linux thanks to Adobe AIR. I’m curious about whether the new game has a way of trying to work without leaders or minimise their effects since a number of the new movements claim that they are leaderless…

    PS you forgot to link to Labyrinth – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/62227/labyrinth-the-war-on-terror-2001

  • Nathan Hoobler

    Glad this turned into a whole show! I thought it would be a pretty limited discussion, so I am thrilled the discussion turned into something that could make Bruce shriek in frustration.

    One of the games I had thought of that fits this role that I think was left out is Fate of the World [ http://fateoftheworld.net/ ], which is a sort of edu-game about the multiple concerns of global problems. It’s very abstract and I would say it’s not necessarily the best modeling of some of the factors involved; however, it’s interesting as an attempt to teach the interconnectedness of these issues and the potential courses of action.

  • Nathan Hoobler

    Also, I’d argue that Solium Infernum, despite its setting, is really one of the best “non-violent” games I’ve played in a while. It’s true that waging war and controlling territory is a central pillar of the gameplay; however its role is highly limited and very readily subverted through politics and indirect game mechanics. I really think you could re-skin SI to be a great Cold War Conflict game…

  • Hell-Mikey

    It would have been interesting to have the panel explore why they had a much easier time coming up with non-violent strategy boardgames than non-violent strategy computer games. My suspicion is that Dr. Geryk danced around the root cause – that the conflicts in non-violent games are best when they are non-linear; non-linear games must be played against other people.

    So, non-linear? Consider Dr. Geryk’s assertion that 3 panzer divisions will overrun one understrength reserve French company. We accept that this will and should happen, perhaps with some slop introduced by the dice. We also accept (with sophistication and nuance, because we are well informed) that dropping more bombs mean you’ll blow up more stuff. The cranky doctor notes however, that we’d consider any social modelling system that says “Put more of X in, you’ll get more of Y out” flawed and unrewarding in gameplay. This is why every panelist is upset at the “happy” button for dissident groups in Tropico 4. As noted, stock market games are not about the stock market, but about the system used to simulate the stock market. I suspect that the tepid embrace of the city-builder genre in the discussion results directly from the disquiet associated with playing the city-building system, and not with the real challenges of running a city. Mr. Yellow, I’d argue, likes looking a pixels of growing cities and moving trains as much as Dr. Geryk likes looking at photos of Nixon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Mathmaticians stick a hand up and insist that they can simulate a non-linear system. And they have, classically, in Civ I, when a Phalanx could sink a Battleship. This is historically accurate – rowing skiffs silently in the dark past the simulated picket ships, pouring up over rope ladders onto the decks where their tight-packed formations clear the corridors with frightful efficiency. It was rare, but it could happen. And the result, when Mr. Meier baked that into the game? Howls of protest from the players, who’d insist the AI was cheating and a flurry of save scum. At this point, a single tear rolls down Mr. Johnson’s cheek. And yes, that system was linear, but the type of edge condition it rarely allowed helps prove the point. Gamers enjoying the understanding and mastery, there’s some sort of parabola or catenary about it.

    Boardgames suffer no accusations of cheating AI. That sudden denial of resources, the tepid response to a Ciceronian argument, the dogged refusal to optimize a position that happens to allow the play of an artfully constructed hand, all of that is tied to real people who do act in unpredictable ways. An AI that will model these is either rejected for cheating or for playing the game suboptimally. Behold the great reward that lies ahead for the developer who is capable of creating a plausible AI for a non-linear, multi-party game!

    As multiplayer grows more fully baked in to our strategy games (not on PCs, but on phones, I’d imagine) we’re likely to see as long a list of non-violent themes emerge in our computerized space. Consider, too, how exciting it would be to know a designer had tied the behavior of a virtual electorate, for instance, to something external, noisy, but verifiable, like the day’s stock market returns. Suddenly the game forums are filled not with accusations of AI held up by the crutch of cheating, but by righteous anger at the flash crash in the Dow that cost you control of your virtual Senate. Then we will find ourselves in a wonderland of non-violent games.

  • Bill H

    I’m sorry but Bruce is not a good panelist and constantly off tracks the podcasts. What is he talking about this game this a training tool or not. It doesn’t matter. Frankly he is a disruptive force to the podcast as the rest of the panel has to take 20 minute tangent to calm him down because he is upset about God knows what. From this point forward, anytime he is on the show, I just won’t listen to it.

  • Rob Zacny

    Hey Bill, you’re not alone and Bruce’s style definitely puts some people off. If he really ruins episodes for you, then I think you should skip them and I hope you continue to enjoy the rest of what we do.

    However, I really enjoy working with Bruce and appreciate his voice on the panels. He does sometimes fixate on tangents, and that is not always a good thing. On the other hand, I sometimes ramble forward in the hope of making a cogent point, while the sound of crickets becomes a roar. We all have our special ways of bringing the show down at times.

    If Bruce derails the show at times, it is because more than any other panelist, he is likely to ask, “What do you mean?” Which is an important question, because often we fall back on vagueness and platitudes to try and make our point. Most of us politely ignore it when someone speaks without saying anything, but Bruce will call people on it . He will point out when someone skips over something important. I like having someone who does that. It is good to have your feet held to the fire from time to time. It forces sharper thinking, and I think that is what Bruce brings to the show when he is on it.

    This episode is a good example of what you might call the good and bad. Yeah, he sidetracked the conversation about A Force More Powerful. But you know what else? He wrung a thorough explanation of the game’s mechanics out of me, instead of a confusing description.

    Bruce is not on every show. If you want a Bruce-free 3MA, it’s not hard to have one. But I enjoy having him as one of our regular panel. I think he pushes us to be better, in addition to providing his own perspective.