The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Art, theme, coincidence and cartharsis

Monday I played a rather pedestrian card game, full of workmanlike mechanisms. The players have to collectively (its a coop) deal with a deck of bad cards and empty it. Most of the cards do something horrible, but in a defined way. So it’s got hand management, some cards cause a random card to be added, so it’s got some press your luck. And, of course, it has a bomb (in the technical sense of game design,  as used by Jonathon Degann): If you trigger some card combination, disaster.

At some point, players can pause, which sweeps the board and (possibly) lets them get rid of a few permanent bad things, gain a new positive action, etc. etc. But it’s also the timer, and if you pause too often, you’ll trigger a game ending loss.

In all honesty, it’s been done better so many times, but the game does have an elegant simplicity. In some ways, its like someone took the challenge of trimming Knizia’s Lord of the Rings down to 60-ish cards. A well done minimalist co-op.

Which would not normally intrigue me, except that The Grizzled is one of the most compelling pieces of art in recent memory. On looking at the box and hearing it’s a co-op set in World War I, I asked (semi-jokingly, but also hopefully) “is this about the Christmas Truce?”

I wasn’t far off. The Grizzled sees a bunch of young foolish boys volunteering for glory and country, with the goal of all making it out alive together. Over a deck of cards, you’ll see them age from clean shaven teenagers to scruffy young adults, and they’ll gain neurosis from the stress of war: fear of loud noises, anxiety about being ordered over the top. Some will crack and curl up in a ball when they could make play that could help their team.

He can’t help it anymore, he’s suffering from shell shock.

You could abandon him, of course, but you’ll honor the oath: Everyone goes home together.

At the bottom of one deck is rests the Monument, etched with the names of the six characters.

The Grizzled boasts stunning artwork. The desolate scenes of snow cover- no man’s land. The destroyed buildings, barbed wire in the foreground and birds in the distance mix beauty with implied horror. The cards convey some information via background. You might not notice it’s a game, except for an icon or two. The art’s clean style  reminds me of Sergio Aragonés, although the muted colors create a sombre mood.

Then on Tuesday, I looked up the artist Tignous and discovered that the brilliant artist who drew this inspiring peon to the pointlessness horrors of war was murdered by radicals during the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Such a horrific  coincidence struck me as poetic, a thought instantly followed by self loathing for judging a death aesthetically. (Judging any death based on aesthetics is bad enough, but a terrorist murder?)

I’d already considered The Grizzled haunting in conception and execution before I discovered that the artist was a member of Cartoonists for Peace and literally executed for his associations and beliefs.

Now, I can’t shake the thought that Tignous’ murder is symbolic, he was another idealist who marched off to war and was ground into a mulch, as war all too often does to idealists and realists alike. And I wonder, was Tignous the latest victim of the Great War, or the first victim in a new war, or (sadly and most likely) simply one of all-too-many during the infinite Clash of Cultures.

My only excuse is that these thoughts came unbidden. And I remember a phrase that I’ve heard and don’t think I invented, but I can’t remember the author. The mind can do what it wants, but it can’t want what it wants. I think it’s a german philosopher.

So while I forgive myself for thinking unclean thoughts, now I sit here and look at this post and wonder if I should publish it. Is it right to let others know information that may make them consider a death poetic, instead of tragic? Would they be better off in ignorance? I cannot bring Tignous back, but would he prefer this to be known or unknown? Can I exorcise them by publishing (as I am able to do in other writing)?

I do not want to investigate anymore, and that is a sign of moral weakness.

I doubt I am the only one thinking of this, and for a second I am annoyed at this game for bringing me back into the world, instead of distracting me from it.

I am reminded of that line by Wordsworth, that The World is Too Much With Us.

And then, again, I am not sure.


Written by taogaming

November 7, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming, Rant

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. The Grizzled looks like a good game. As far as communication goes, the rules say that you cannot tell other players the cards in your hand or the support tile you will play. Since the support tiles you have can easily be tracked, is it reasonable to leave them face up until it is time to play one? Also, while you cannot specify cards, is it OK when someone is thinking about a song to say, “how about a song about rain?” If those are OK, is it OK to say, “if you have Clumsy or Fragile, now might be a good time to play it.” That clearly shows that you have Merry Christmas, though it is in a sense just discussing strategy, which is expressly allowed.


    November 9, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    • I think it’s a grey area. If I say, for example, if you don’t use your good luck ability I’ll have to pass (if I have two or three cards) then I’m implying that all my cards match two of a symbol out there. Is that telling them the cards in my hand?

      Also, this game is quite difficult….


      November 9, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      • Even if you say, “please use your lucky charm now,” you are giving away some information about your hand, but I don’t think the rules prohibit that. Here’s the rule book passage: “Some information in The Grizzled can’t be shared among players. The contents of the cards in each player’s hand cannot be revealed. Players should also keep secret the support tile they choose when withdrawing.” I agree that’s not clear and you can argue that any of my questions above can reasonably be answered either yes or no. Here’s another: “I have a really bad card.” “Play it.” That seems OK to me, though the second sentence strongly suggests that the responder has Merry Christmas. Furthermore, the first sentence is really a question, “does anyone have Merry Christmas?” so maybe that’s not OK. If that’s not OK, then is it OK to play a hard knocks immediately to signal to the other players that you have two of them you can play and it’d be nice for them to support you? In particular, if you play a trauma or phobia, your plan becomes obvious. That can’t be illegal, yet it’s telling something about your hand. Playing Clumsy, Fragile, or Prideful as your first play to an early mission pretty much reveals that you have Merry Christmas.

        One other clue about the designer’s intent is the Mute card. If no table talk was allowed, then Mute would just say, “cannot give speeches.” Once you open the table talk door, of course, clever players can pretty much weasel around any specific rules.

        I think the chance of winning the game varies a great deal depending on which hard knocks cards come out early, whether you get Merry Christmas at a good time, and whether you can play 4-5 cards per turn or only 2-3, which is mostly random. Of course, the choices the players make matter a lot, too, but there are deals in which I think we have no chance, and deals which are pretty easy.


        November 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm

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