In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.
Max Sebela is the Gaming Evangelist at Tumblr, that massive site where creative people share GIFs and illustrations and other nifty things. (Even The Gameological Society has a Tumblr, can you imagine?) Sebela’s job is to support the game-loving community on Tumblr, a gig he’s well-suited for as a part-time game designer himself. He spoke to Gameological about this new-fangled version of Risk where you tear up cards—that sort of nonsense never would have passed muster in my day—and a soon-to-be-released party game that one-ups Apples To Apples in the “loud subjective argument” department. (Full disclosure: Max is also a friend of mine, so if you’re wondering why I’m so rude to him in this conversation, it’s because he’s used to it.)
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Max Sebela: I am playing Risk: Legacy tomorrow night. I’m playing Little Inferno throughout the weekend, NBA 2K13, and a little game called Story War. You actually caught me on a pretty good weekend because tomorrow night, we’re unboxing our copy of Risk: Legacy for the first time. It’s going to be the the first match of a long series of the same group playing Risk: Legacy again and again and again, creating a little permanent world where bears fight mechs and we play Risk. Then on Saturday, we have an NBA 2K13 tournament, which is interesting because I’ve never played NBA 2K13, nor do I care much for sports games.
Gameological: Who are you playing these games with?
Sebela: We have sort of a revolving door that comes in and out of our apartment of just the same eight people that come over and play games. Depending on what the game is, it’ll look different. The Risk group is this sort of weird hodgepodge of startup people and NYU people, and then for 2K13, it’s like business and sports fans. It just so happens that our apartment has become the hub if these people are going to get together and play games.
Gameological: That’s cool, although I’ve never been invited to this.
Sebela: Maybe someday. Do you want to come over and play Risk: Legacy tomorrow?
Gameological: No, I’m not interested.
Sebela: It’ll be good! You could team up with me and try and explain the archaic bear-people of my own—
Gameological: Are you saying “bear-people”?
Sebela: So, Risk relaunched a sort of experimental special-edition version of itself—I believe last year—and the idea is that every game permanently modifies the world. So you’re drawing on the board, claiming new capital cities with stickers. You’re basically creating the world, and it carries over from game to game. You’re ripping up cards that will never come into play again. It builds up this bizarre canon of history, and with that came—because it had to take place in a fantasy world in a way that Risk doesn’t—they have five different race sets, one of which is these archaic savages that ride what look like direwolf-type bears. You see them fighting futuristic mech-robots. It doesn’t really make sense, but it’s a pretty cool step forward for that franchise.
Gameological: Now, why do you have to call it a “franchise”? It’s not a Carvel ice cream chain. It’s a work of art.
Sebela: Well, it is a franchise. Risk, I would actually say is an actual franchise. It’s gone through a ton of rule changes, and people have allegiances to one versus the other, the same way you might have an allegiance to a Star Wars movie. It feels like a franchise. The iterations kind of matter.
Gameological: It’s a series, though. “Franchise” is such an ugly word.
Sebela: What about the NBA? What would you call an NBA team?
Gameological: A team or a club, but “franchise” is acceptable in that context, I think. When it’s talking about works of art like games, I hate this word “franchise.” It’s a marketing term. We don’t even use it on the site.
Sebela: That’s permanently removed from your style guide?
Gameological: That’s right.
Sebela: In the case of something like Mario, how do you avoid the term “franchise”? Because you’re talking about dozens of games that might share very little with one another, that ultimately compose something that doesn’t really have a canon or a level continuity. Mario Party is not taking place in the same world as Super Mario Land. It’s not happening. But how do you aptly describe the fact that it’s all encompassing the same set of characters and whatnot?
Gameological: “The Mario games.”
Gameological: See, that wasn’t that hard, right?
Sebela: “A game with Mario.”
Gameological: What games are popular in the Tumblr office?
Sebela: We have [an arcade] cabinet downstairs that we’ve been working on—that actually, you helped bring in. [I lugged part of this beast into Tumblr HQ one night. The heavy part. —Ed.] I think that Marvel Vs. Capcom has been going pretty consistently on that since it got brought in. We actually have been playing Story War, this game that actually comes out of Tumblr—it has all of its design processes in place right now. I don’t know if you’ve seen that on the development blog.
Gameological: Tell me about it.
Sebela: It’s still in beta. It’s going to enter Kickstarter soon. They’re still balancing it and everything like that. It came up as a solution to the fact that games of Apples To Apples all just result in non-funny exchanges of lack of logic. You’re basically just throwing down cards, and people are like, “Haha, that’s funny. That’s the best one. I’m going to go with that.” There’s no internal logic to it.
So they decided to pull from quasi-Greek, quasi-comics mythology and create a similar type of subjective arguing game where the judge throws down a setting, and then each player chooses from their hand who they think would best perform in that setting. You end up with things like a grassy knoll—a field—and you wind up with a fairy versus a minotaur. You have to argue back and forth and convince the judge why [your chosen hero] would work out the best. So it’s subjective and really hilarious because it’s just screaming at one another, and choosing what you think a fairy is or a minotaur is. You wind up with these really bizarre match-ups where you might be pulling from your Harry Potter allegiance versus someone’s Hobbit allegiance for what a minotaur or centaur might do.
Gameological: Usually these What Are You Playing interviews are with people who don’t have a connection to the game industry, so I’m going to get in trouble with the staff for cheating on this one. Maybe you could tell me a non-gaming-related thing you’re doing this weekend to balance it out.
Sebela: You want me to say something about the Super Bowl?
Gameological: No, that’s game-related. That’s a bad example.
Sebela: I’m doing mostly game-related stuff this weekend. I’m going to Brooklyn Brewery to watch the Super Bowl but also to participate in the Tumblr/Food Republic/Brooklyn Brewery Puppy Bowl. We’ll see how that works out.
Gameological: I hate that Puppy Bowl stuff.
Sebela: You don’t like to see adorable things all flopping around one another?
Gameological: I like that, but I don’t like how the Puppy Bowl has become the default counter-cultural, “Oh, aren’t we funny? We’re going to watch the Puppy Bowl instead of the Super Bowl!” thing.
Sebela: At the same time, Animal Planet has figured out how to take some eyes away from the biggest sporting event of the year, and all it is is putting a crap camera on a table full of puppies. It’s kind of grotesque in that way, but it’s pretty awesome that they can draw eyes away with it. I don’t say, “I’m watching the Puppy Bowl instead of the Super Bowl,” but for picture-in-picture purposes, it sounds pretty great.
And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.