Friday, June 27, 2014

Five Things on a Friday: Games I Play with My Kids

The biggest problem this blog has is that it's not about anything, it's about everything.  This week's Five Things is no exception.

1. The Business of D&D’s New Edition
A new edition of Dungeons and Dragons is coming out next week.  I don’t play as much as I’d like, but I’m still looking forward to it.  One of the best things the girls and I did on vacation last year was playing D&D around the dining room table.  It’s hard to believe, but the idea for my book came out of those sessions, along with our family’s hike up Cadillac Mountain.

I’m not an insider, but it looks to me like Wizards of the Coast (and parent company Hasbro) would very much like to repeat their success with Magic: The Gathering using D&D.  It’s tough, though, because Magic is a card game.  The revenue stream is constantly refreshed whenever WotC releases a new deck.  By contrast, D&D is a complicated tabletop RPG that succeeds--at least for players--when it has a flexible but stable ruleset.  A stable ruleset does not lend itself easily to ongoing revenue streams, unfortunately.  D&D players want to buy the books and keep them; Hasbro would like to sell new rulebooks on an ongoing basis.  This has tended to alienate the game’s fans.

Cover art for The Rise of Tiamat
Hasbro seems to recognize the value D&D has as a brand, but the search for a better revenue stream remains ongoing.  WotC’s D&D brand team has a very small permanent staff, with most of the work now done by contractors.  The novel lines are flourishing, but I doubt strongly that they’re producing on the scale of, say, the Transformers.  What’s needed, then, is a way to make the game sequential in the same way that the novels are while growing the overall value of the brand for new markets.  
To tackle this problem, WotC is releasing a free (!) new version of the game’s rules online, along with a new set of ongoing tabletop games, all of which are intended to be entirely self-contained.  You no longer have to buy “D&D” in order to play.  You just buy the game you’re interested in, for example The Rise of Tiamat, and everything you need is right there.  If you’re really interested, you can then dig deeper, downloading the online rules that allow you to customize the characters that come with the adventure, and if you want to go even further than that, you can buy the new rulebooks--The Players’ Handbook, etc--and create truly exotic characters and adventures of your own.
Will this work?  
I have no idea, but I’m rooting for them.  If nothing else, the new ruleset is both simpler and more entertaining, and that’s saying something.  Here’s hoping we get some truly creative new stuff in the near future.
2.  Star Wars “Hooked on a Feeling”

The Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killings using armed drones risks putting the United States on a ‘slippery slope’ into perpetual war and sets a dangerous precedent for lethal operations that other countries might adopt in the future, according to a report by a bipartisan panel that includes several former senior intelligence and military officials.
The group found that more than a decade into the era of armed drones, the American government has yet to carry out a thorough analysis of whether the costs of routine secret killing operations outweigh the benefits.”
It’s a critical point.  America has for years been looking for ways to target the “bad guys” in tighter and tighter circles.  Kill enemy combatants without collateral damage--preferably without putting any American lives at risk as well.  With modern drone technology, this appears possible.
The appearance is an illusion.  It assumes that the “bad guys” don’t enjoy popular support at home, that everyone would like to be an American if only they had the opportunity.  Neither of these things is true.  Nor is it necessarily easy to draw crisp, clear lines between “bad guys” and the civilians amongst whom they live.  By employing drones, we’ve lowered the cost of war to ourselves, allowing the mass of the United States’ populace to ignore the hard questions.  This is not a net positive.
We already live in a nation whose military is a small cadre of volunteer professionals.  They are increasingly disconnected from the people whose freedoms they are ostensibly meant to protect.  Civilians control the military, but the civilian populace has very little at stake in military policy.  They don’t have to serve, and they are rarely asked to contribute.  War has no costs for them.  It has less impact and less emotional resonance than the performance of their favorite football team on a day-to-day basis.  With the addition of drone warfare, there is little reason to consider what we’re fighting for or to stop fighting once we’ve begun.
To put it another way: there is no longer an incentive to pursue compromise.  Containment has gone out of fashion.  Regional engagement is a dying art.  
Look, you either kill everyone in the enemy camp, or else at some point we have to learn to live together.  The horror of war is what makes people compromise despite very deeply held convictions.  This is not news, but in trying to make war less dangerous and less messy, we are in fact creating a world where we refuse to make tough choices.  Similarly, we allow the other guy to avoid making tough choices as well.  The upshot is war that never ends.  This makes the world more dangerous, not less.
If you ask me, Sherman said it best:  
“War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
“Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”
This is where we are now.  It’s leading to bad choices and bad policy.
4.  Maine In August
We've got just over a month.  I'm soooooo excited!

We rented the same cabin.  It's out in the middle of nowhere,
and that's glorious.
5.  Army Football: 71 Days
That went up yesterday, so today it’s actually seventy-one days.
For the record, my family and I have tickets to the games against RiceAir Force, and Fordham.  The guys in my office are going with me to see Army vs. UConn at Yankee Stadium.  Sally and I are also hoping to go see Army at Yale because that’s one of the Connecticut Association of Graduates’ events, but we don’t have tickets yet.
That’s five games.  Five is a lot.
At some point, I will start to vet my daughters’ potential boyfriends in terms of their reactions to Army Football games.  At nine and ten, we’re not quite there yet, but that’s coming.

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