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Everything I need to know about WAR I learned from Monopoly

July 2, 2009

I get a lot of flak from people.  The term “fanboi” gets thrown around a lot in fact.  I tend to shake my head and chuckle.  Not because I’m not a fanboi, I am.  Instead, I do so because I’m not a WAR-fanboi or Mythic-fanboi like people think.  I’m a Fun-fanboi.  I love having Fun.  Whether it’s playing an MMO I like, a console game, seeing a good movie, playing a good board game, going on vacation, etc.  If you’re not having Fun while doing it, it’s either a chore or work right?  Hence, I do tend to champion the idea of Fun and in doing so come across as a (enter game/studio/etc name here)-fanboi.  Such is Life.


However, it’s been a while since I had a post on my blog that was simply a critique of what I feel the WAR experience is.  As a matter of fact, the only one was Behavior Modification and Training in MMOs back when I started the blog months ago.  I’ve critiqued minor systems since then as part of reviews of upcoming patches or as part of my PQ Crawl write-ups and the sort, but never just really sat back and talked about what the game “feels” like to me since then.  Partly it’s been because the game has been in an almost constant state of change since I made that post and I wanted to see how those changes played out, but partly because I was kept so busy (enjoyably) writing guides for all sorts of things and also going on Tour.  (Let me just say, you have a lot of time to think about all kinds of random things while driving cross-country by yourself.  A LOT of time.)


At the beginning of my Tour though, I had a chance to spend some time with my younger cousins and play a board game with them.  It was one I had seen a long time ago and had always wanted to play, but didn’t get the chance to.  So while I was there, I went and bought it for them and one afternoon we sat down and played it.  In doing so, I was reminded of conversations I’d had about the fundamental differences between this game and other “classic” board games and how they compared in regards to Fun for all players involved.  Thus, the seeds of this post were spawned and grew while I drove.


Disclaimer: This post is long (when aren’t my posts long though, sheesh) but if you want to know how someone who gets called a fanboi a lot truly feels about the current state of WAR, read on…




I love games, always have.  Obviously I enjoy the Fun ones more than the non-Fun ones, but I’ll try just about any game if there’s the chance it’ll be Fun.  I spent the first eight or so years of my life living on a sailboat, so card games were probably the first I picked up, but I was taught Chess and Backgammon in pre-school by the Principal.  Bad idea.  Very hard to find willing opponents when you’re 4.  lol.  Anyway, eventually board games became the next big thing, then Pong and Pac-Man whenever I got a chance to play them.  But of all the different types of games I played when I was a kid, Monopoly is always the one that stands out as the “classic” for some reason.


I’m not really sure why.  Probably partly because everyone always seemed excited to play it and fight over who got to be what token, but also partly because there was ‘money’ involved and it felt good to have lots of it (even if it was fake).  As a kid, it allowed you to pretend you were a grown-up and doing “fun” things like making money as opposed to a game like Life where you got married, had kids, etc.  Not really what a lot of the kids I knew wanted to think about or even considered Fun at the time.  Also, back then, our options were kinda limited.  There were very few games where lots of people could play at once, at least that we owned.  Monopoly was it.


Even now as an adult, I have this thing for Monopoly.  I love playing it.  I like all the different game-boards they come up with and would probably fill multiple closet shelves with different versions of Monopoly if I thought I had the space to spare just so I could play different versions whenever the mood struck.  (Interesting note: I only own one version currently, the Pirates of the Caribbean one, go figure)  When I ran a before/after-school program at a middle school for three years, Monopoly was a staple in the games cabinet and was so important to me and the kids I worked with, I actually spent $50ish dollars on the Anniversary Edition in the silver canister for us to use.  That was a big deal considering that was half my budget for the entire program for a month.  lol.  A few years back, I even played Monopoly online quite a bit at the old games.atari website before they sold the rights back to Hasbro.


However, in the most unusual of revelations, recently I realized Monopoly just isn’t a Fun game.


Sure, it’s engaging and you can enjoy playing it with others, but ask yourself this:


How often do you sit down to play a game of Monopoly with people, finish it, then play it again with those people either that same day or the next, then do it again the next day and the next and the next…


Most people would rather get a root canal than play Monopoly more than once in one sitting, let alone every day.  The only person that usually wants to play again right away is the winner.  Gee, I wonder why?  In playing with one of my friends online where we would play multiple games each nite, I found that once you got on a losing streak of roughly 3 games, you just did not want to play again for days, let alone play again that nite.  It was only when the winner bounced back and forth that it held your interest at all.


Does any of this sound familiar yet?


I’m talking generalities so far though.  Let’s get a bit more specific in our comparisons.


Starting the Game

In Monopoly (M), you start the game by deciding on the piece you will use to represent yourself as you move around the board.  The banker then assigns everyone playing a fixed amount of money that is the same for each player.  The game board is set up, all card decks are randomized and play begins.


In WAR (W), you start the game by deciding on the class you will use as you explore the online world.  The game assigns you a set of starter items, stats and skills.  At this point, classes are as equal as they will ever be in the game.  The rules of the world are set (for now), the world is populated with mobs and items and play begins.


*Not surprisingly, both games start out with players choosing their “characters” and with all players on fairly even playing field.  This is common for most games, so shouldn’t be a huge shock.


Playing the Game

M – Random dice rolls determine your movement around the board.  Lucky rolls can land you on Chance or Community Chest and more luck can earn you money or useful cards to help you when you’re in trouble.  Your rolls can also land you on property you can buy, if you can afford to do so.  Unlucky rolls can land you in Jail or on other players’ property where you will then lose money and they will gain it.


Every time you pass Go, except in special cases, you earn money regardless of what you own and other players’ (bad) luck.


Upon acquiring groupings of the same property type, you earn even more money automatically when a player lands on one and by putting more money into that property, can make even more money.


In some cases where you are “losing”, you may even have to forego earning money with a property (mortgage).


W – Combat mechanics (dice rolls effectively) determine whether you kill things or not, thus how fast you progress through the game.  Good outcomes can earn you XP, RP and Gold and lucky loot rolls can earn you items that can be used to speed up your progression or help you out when you’re in trouble.  Your combat and loot rolls can also earn you set gear or tokens you can use to buy it when you can afford to do so.  Unlucky rolls can result in death and a trip to the nearest respawn point and when it happens in PvP, it also results in a benefit to your opponent in the form of XP, RP and possibly tokens/gear.


Every time you kill things, complete quests or loot items you don’t need, you can sell them for Gold regardless of how well you’re doing against other players.


Upon acquiring multiple pieces of an armor set(s), you can earn even more XP, RP and Gold automatically because your increased stats allow you to kill things faster, or even allow you to kill things you couldn’t before for greater rewards.  Putting in the time to acquire more pieces, and other items to complement them, can make you even more XP, RP and Gold.


In some cases where your Realm is “losing”, you may not have access to things like buffs from Battlefield Objectives, NPCs in Keeps, quests/dungeons in your Capital City, or even your Capital City itself.


*Now yes, I’ve left a bit of detail out in regards to both games, but if I had to, I could find the mirror for both games.  To me, again, not surprising since most games tend to have common themes.  However, I’m curious how many people actually realize just how much video games mimic board games when they’re playing them.


Winning the Game

M – Victory is achieved by forcing all other players into bankruptcy.


W – Victory is achieved by forcing the other Realm out of their Capital City and capturing their King.


*Again, this shouldn’t be surprising, the victory conditions are basically the same.  One side wins at the expense of the other side.  You can even take strategies for obtaining victory from Monopoly and transfer them into WAR without much effort or adjustment.  Overall, both games are very much about shutting your opponent down completely as the pathway to victory.


That’s how games work though…..right?


Let’s hold that thought for a moment and look at the experience the games provide when attempting and reaching the victory conditions though.  Keep in mind, on one hand we’re talking about a board game invented decades ago and on the other hand a fairly-new MMO/RPG.  One costs about $10 and you can play it infinitely, the other costs $15 a month after an even larger initial outlay of cash up front.


End-game” Experience

M – There are a few different versions of the end-game experience in Monopoly.


1.  After the first few rounds of play, victory is ultimately determined by who has certain pieces of property and the most cash on hand to upgrade them with.  Statistically, obtaining those pieces of property and upgrading them can almost guarantee you a victory every time.


If one player obtains these properties and has the cash to upgrade them, the outcome has been fairly well determined and while that player happily looks forward to the rest of the game as they cruise to victory, the other player(s) has already resigned themselves to a loss (in most cases) and just wants the game to hurry up and end.


2.  After the first few rounds, no one has any kind of advantage at all.  In fact, property is split up and no one is willing to trade and provide a chance for victory to the other player(s).  In fact, all players take their turns repeatedly going back and forth hoping that bad luck hits their opponent and not them and they can take advantage in some way.


The game can sit this way indefinitely in some cases until enough players lose the desire to win and effectively give up allowing one player to achieve victory.


3.  After the first few rounds, players are equally matched with both good property sets and good cash reserves.  Players are very much interested in the outcome of each turn as one bad roll could ultimately end the game very quickly.


This type of game tends to end quickly and is the one most likely to result in another game being played right after due to the feeling of victory being readily available to all players.


W – Despite what some may think, there are different versions of the end-game experience in WAR as well.  Can you guess how they play out?


1.  After the first three Tiers of content, victory is ultimately determined by which Realm has the most players.  Statistically, largely outnumbering your opponent affords you the opportunity to control more Objectives and Zones at once with sufficient forces to prevent any serious threat against them.


When one Realm has a numerical advantage like this, the outcome has been pretty much decided and the winning Realm looks forward to victory while the losing Realm just wants it to hurry up and be over with.


2.  After the first three Tiers of content, neither Realm has any kind of advantage or hope for one.  Objectives and Keeps are pretty fairly split and control swaps often but without any major outcome.  Each Realm watches for the other side to make a mistake they can capitalize on while hoping not to make one of their own.


The game can sit this way indefinitely in some cases.  However, true victory won’t be achieved until enough players from one Realm get bored and effectively give up allowing the other Realm a victory.


3.  After the first three Tiers of content, both Realms feel like they are equally matched and both sides make aggressive moves to take control from the other.  Both Realms are very interested in the outcome of major battles like Fortress fights because it could quickly lead to a trip to the other Realm’s City if taken advantage of.


Trips to Cities and even victory status happen frequently and quickly in this type of game.  It is in these cases where the losing Realm actively looks forward to the next game because victory was possible for both sides.


*This is what surprised me because I’d never really thought about it before.  Both Monopoly and WAR share the same end-game experience.


In case 1, they share the same glee on the part of the winner and apathy on the part of the loser, even before the outcome is truly determined.


In case 2, they share the same apathetic viewpoint of opposing sides just going thru the motions until someone just gives up.


In case 3, they share the same sense of excitement and, dare I say it, Fun because there truly is no pre-determined outcome and anything can happen.  This is really the only time both Monopoly and WAR truly have a chance to be Fun for both Realms/players.


Still, case 3 is uncommon for both games.  In the case of Monopoly, it tends to only happen in games with two people where they try to play for the Fun of it more than victory and thus are more willing to make trades to set both sides up for a fairly even shot.  In WAR, it occurs occasionally on any given server for a short period of time, but then tends to disappear for no readily apparent reason. In some cases, some servers may have never even seen it happen once.


Again, this is how games work though, right?  Monopoly is one of the best-selling board games of all time.  Games like Battleship, Sorry, and Checkers share the same types of victory-at-the-cost-of-the-opponent type rules and are widely popular as well.  These are all games the general populace consider Fun yet that Fun is dependent on at least one player having almost no Fun at all.  In fact, one player probably spends the majority of the game either frustrated or apathetic.  Either way, when the game is over, do you think they want to play again?


Only in the type of game like the third example for both WAR and Monopoly do people feel willing to continue playing.  The type of game where all players feel like the outcome is undetermined and even when one side gains an advantage, they feel it is short-lived and they could still come from behind to victory.  And not just via luck.  Players want to feel that their skill is what will ultimately help them turn the tide and regain the advantage.  Sure, they like the occasional boost of good luck, but they feel much better at the end of the game when they know they won via skill than just simply good luck.


Could WAR ever be like that?  Are there board games like that?  Of course there are.


One is called Settlers of Cataan.  It’s probably the greatest board game of the last decade that most people have never heard of.  Why haven’t they heard of it?  Because it isn’t being sold by Hasbro or some other major game-maker that just repackages games made decades ago in new forms and spends millions on marketing.  Instead, it was made by a dental technician in Germany in his spare time and play-tested with his own family.  When the wife and kids looked bored or weren’t paying attention, he went back and changed something.  Over and over and over again until finally they were always looking forward to game night because regardless of the outcome of the last one, this could be their night!


Why would they do that?  Because it’s a game built around the third example from above.  All players feel like they can win, or at least come back from behind, at any given time.  When one person looks to be gaining a commanding lead and on their way to an easy victory, that could all change with a bit of luck and a solid strategy.  So sure, there’s some luck involved, there always is in games, but there’s also a lot of skill and strategy involved.  In this game, the old adage “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” actually holds true.


Let’s do a quick breakdown like we did above and see how it fairs.


Starting the Game

SoC – Players pick a color to determine what pairings they start with.  All pairings are relatively equal in resource availability and strategic positioning (in the recommended board setup).  Everyone starts with the same number of possible upgrades per their color (as opposed to a shared pool that is competed for like in M).  Card decks are randomized, specialty cards are set aside, and the game begins.


*As you can see, the games all start fairly similarly.  The only noted exception is the non-competitive upgrade pools between M and SoC.  It’s a minor difference, but has a affects the game experience greatly.


Playing the Game

SoC – Everyone’s turn starts with a dice roll.  The roll determines possible resource gathering for ALL players, not just whose turn it is.


Players can use resources to purchase items to place on the board to further their progression or cards that they can use to assist themselves in reaching their goals or prevent their opponents from reaching theirs.


The person whose turn it is can attempt to trade resources with all players and all players can attempt to trade with them.  However, if it’s not your turn, you can’t attempt to trade with someone else if it isn’t their turn either.  If no one wishes to trade, the player still has the option of trading with the game itself but not always at favorable rates.


*Right away we start to see a difference.  All players are actively involved in all stages of other players’ turns.  From resource gathering to trading to purchase and placement strategies, the game rewards you for paying constant attention to everything your opponents are doing.  And not just at some later stages like in M, but from the very first roll of the dice.  Now, W has been making strides towards allowing you to see more of what the other Realm is doing in terms of the VP bar changes and the map changes, but it’s a long way from actively engaging you in what your opponent is doing.


SoC adds a couple wild-cards into their game-play that help to provide incentives and/or shift the balance of power in certain situations.  They do this thru the use of the Robber and specialty cards.


The Robber is a feature that, when you roll a specific number, you get to move it to a resource tile on the game board.  In doing so, that tile no longer produces resources while the Robber is there and if your opponent is adjacent to that tile, you get to mess with the cards in their hand.  If they’re holding over X number of cards, they’re forced to discard down.  On top of that, you get to take one of their cards.  This is both a luck aspect and strategy aspect combined.  If one person is on a roll and has a lot of cards in their hand that can give them a big advantage, the Robber is always lurking and ready to equalize the situation.  It also shuts down resource production for anyone near it, even you.  Now, this isn’t another player/faction, this is just a tool at all players’ disposal.  It is important to keep that in mind.


The specialty cards are rewards for building the longest road and for having the largest army.  These cards are awarded upon one person achieving the requirement, but can move from player to player if someone outdoes someone else.  Since these cards award points towards the victory condition, ownership can turn the tide and help achieve victory.


*Now, M has some things like the Robber in its game-play that can punish players who are in the lead, but in most cases, that player just loses things and the other players don’t get anything (other than grim satisfaction at the leader’s pain).  The closest thing W has to it is the handicap system for resources to get to the Land of the Dead, which while it provides items that can help in the campaign, isn’t a direct part of the campaign at all.  And the closest W has to specialty cards is Battlefield Objectives, which frankly don’t even compare in regards to the true end-game of the campaign.


However, both of these game mechanics play heavily into not only the determination of the outcome, but also in the shifting of the balance of power and thus the continued active participation of all the players.


Winning the Game

SoC – Victory is achieved by being the first player to get 10 points.


*What’s missing here?  Oh yeah, the utter destruction of the other player(s).  I mean sure, you can apply strategy during the game to try to shut down the other players’ access to things, but their destruction isn’t a victory condition, merely you getting to 10 first.  That can be achieved without being ruthless and with active participation from all sides.  As a matter of fact, the trading of resources that is required to attain victory almost requires that you be on good terms with your opponents because if you’re not, they’ll just snub you and you’ll either have an extremely hard time achieving victory or you’ll lose.


End-game” Experience

SoC – There are only two different variations of the end-game experience I’ve seen to date.


1. After a few turns, the lead changes quite frequently until someone finally gets an advantage and pulls a win out quickly before losing the advantage.


2. After a few turns, the lead doesn’t change much, if at all, but all players are never far from the leader and tend to feel like they could apply some strategy and luck and catch up, or even take over the lead and win.


*Wouldn’t it be great if that was how WAR was?  If, even when your Realm was underpopulated or just plain losing in equal-numbered fights, there were still game mechanics in place to ensure that you might still come from behind and win thru a little bit of luck and a good helping of skill and strategy.  And I’m not talking about 1v1s, 6v6s or even warband-on-warband fights.  I’m talking actual end-game campaign progression and victory.


I mean, what if every time you lost a Keep or Fortress fight, people walked away with the sense that the next battle could just as easily be theirs and that one loss didn’t mean things were all over.  What if they even felt that way when someone got to their City or even captured their King?


Despite all the change to the game we’ve already seen, there are a lot more on their way.  Somewhere in all of them, hopefully, one day, we log in and find out we’re no longer playing something like Monopoly and instead are playing something like Settlers of Cataan…


…maybe then I can finish off the unlocks for all the Armor Sets. 😉

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    July 3, 2009 7:34 am

    So funny how accurate the comparison is. Seems like the victory condition kind of kills the game. When it looks like victory is out of reach, the will to continue just evaporates.

    But when you look at a game like EVE Online that has essentially no victory condition, what happens? That game seems to thrive, despite the fact that death carries a pretty harsh penalty.

    Love your blog! If you like to drink, stop by Denver 😉

    • gaarawarr permalink
      July 3, 2009 10:30 am

      Some MMOs flourish with no victory condition because there is no “game” in play. Instead, it is just a universe created with rules that people go to live in. EVE would fall into that category as would the original Star Wars Galaxies. However, RvR is the “game” in WAR and MMOs that use this type of conflict system. When creating the rules for this type of game, one has to be very careful with the victory condition and the mechanics that support it to make sure the experience is a Fun one for everyone participating.

  2. Radishlaw permalink
    July 3, 2009 7:08 pm

    Extremely insightful comparison, and I think it is exactly what WAR needs: a perspective of “catching up, nearly there”, and ways to topple the leader.

    Something similar to what you describe as a “robber” would be like this for LotD:
    There are big “resource piles” scattered around the area around every map, for Order and Destruction. In additional to killing players and locking zones, you can steal resources from their resource piles. The amount stolen each time is related to how much the other side got, and you have to “carry” it back – no zoning, and it will be dropped upon death.
    In addition, you can do a special quest to “encourage” some NPCs to steal resources for you. But it is not for certain – they may be killed on the way, or they may need “further encouragement” mid-way. On the other hand, the other realm can stop these thieves by “discouraging” them from going further.

    I sure hope Andy or some community manager can point this article to Mythic, because this is a very good way to analyze the endgame of WAR.

  3. Framke Guderian permalink
    July 6, 2009 9:22 am

    One thing that sems to be lost is all this, is, in my mind, the poorly understood term ‘end-game’. While I believe the chess analogy is apt, unfortunately, too many people seem to view it as the ‘end-of-game’, roll credits. Hence, the huge numbers, on Iron Rock, anyway, who quit after the first city siege, the post-merger daily Altdorf raids, the post 1.2 daily IC raids, etc… I find that there is no ‘winner’, only a side that is temporarily dominant, to be one of the main attractions of WAR. Apparently, this put me in the minority.

  4. Joshua permalink
    August 18, 2009 1:03 pm

    Settlers is a great game , My Tabletop rpg gaming group would play it when we didn’t have a RPG going. Munchkin is another good game, with cards instead of a board, but the same style of fun.

    Now use the same metric on a true Role Playing Game, Like Vampire: The Masquerade , or a properly run Dungeons and Dragons Game (pre 4.0). Those of you who have ,will know what I’m talking about, That is what an MMORPG is supposed to be. Even games like Settlers of Cataan has a winner and losers and more importantly an end, a doomsday scenario ,ala-astronest.Neither makes a good MMORPG. Once one has “won” all you can do is replay the same game.

    MMORPGs, as a medium, can be so much more than just a sunday afternoon game or a way to blow off steam. On such a medium , morality tales could play out , one after another. Meta plots arcs could rise and fall, over and over. A dynamic, shifting world with thousands of “actors” could fufill the promise of MMORPGs as a genre.

    One can dream


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