"The Jungle" in games

Richard Garfield at one point talked about a part of Magic he loved, and that filtered into why he made Keyforge. It was this sense of being in “the jungle” - that you were all exploring the space in the game together, and you didn’t all have it figured out. It keeps coming up for me: this is maybe the thing I love most in games.

Things that are “the jungle”:

- printing some plain old busted cards like Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall because, what the heck, nobody will have more than one or two of them anyway.
- a weird mixed lore, like the early cards that had quotes from Coleridge, Shakespeare, and the 1001 Arabian Nights, in addition to Urza and Mishra. (Urza and Mishra were characters created in the Magic universe.)
- diverse art, like a world where Stasis and Chaos Orb existed alongside Shivan Dragon and Serra Angel
- every so often running into cards you’ve never seen
- every so often running into decks you’ve never seen. Full English Breakfast was a revelation to me. (non magic player note: this was a wacky deck that incorporated a few cards into a ridiculous combo that could win the game out of nowhere)
- uses for cards you’ve never seen (see: /r/badmtgcombos)
- chaos drafts. This is where you “draft” (start with a random pool of cards, take turns selecting cards, and build your deck out of those cards) with a bunch of random packs from Magic’s past. (usually, when drafting, you all use the same type of pack, which means you can kind of “metagame” because you have a pretty good idea of what cards everyone’s going to get.)

Things that are the opposite of “the jungle”:

- metagames. Knowing that probably 30% of people are going to be playing Deck A while 20% are playing Deck B, so even if your Deck C is great, you shouldn’t play it if it does poorly against Decks A and B.
- honestly, high-level constructed competition. It’s going to be really hard to create a competitive scene without metagames. (maybe, “high-level competition” at all.)
- most strategic board games. These games feel “Spikey” - like you all know what are the moves you _can_ make, and you only win if you happen to exactly judge when to make the right moves.
- winning by slivers. Poker is not “the jungle”, because you can only win by grinding out a 1% edge over the competition, over and over again. In “jungley” games, you usually win or lose big.

Games that feel jungley to me:

ok yes Keyforge, Spelunkey, “Would You Rather” driven by @wyr_bot, Drawful, Dominion, Ascension, Betrayal at the house on the hill, D&D, Bughouse, most passive games like Antimatter Dimensions, most computer RPGs, Minecraft

Games that do not feel jungley:

Agricola, Settlers, Eclipse, chess, most FPS games like Halo

Games that feel jungley when you’re playing at home but not in competitions:

Magic, Smash Bros, RTS games like Starcraft, Dominion

I wonder what Magic player archetype this makes me. I guess Timmy, because I like playing in order to feel the excitement of “what a cool card!” or “what a great play!” With a touch of Vorthos (cool flavor is cool) and Jonny (I like expressing myself through my play)


Daniel -

Big ups for this! I hadn’t thought about “a weird mixed lore” as a contributing factor, but in retrospect, it definitely is – I think that adds an element of “who knows what new cards could even be?!” or something. Maybe that’s what you’re pointing to?

Have you played Slay the Spire? This video makes me think it might feel a bit jungly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=terD4Bk3L_8

Note on chess: I find that I can recover some of the feeling if both players focus more on “who should win from this position” and use pretty liberal take-backs. It’s sort of competitive, sort of not. Now that I think of it, I should try teaming up with someone against a computer – that might be a fun way to “play a game with people” that would be different from competing.

Dan -

Lore: yeah! Like, have you played Frog Fractions? That games switches its lore multiple times, and I loved it. Or stuff like Phantom Tollbooth or Labyrinth where you’re in a new world every 10 minutes. I guess… not that that’s necessary, and it could make games feel aimless if overdone, but I tend to love it when it happens. Similarly with Keyforge: you’ve got your Gruul giants and trolls on Brobnar, your mono-white Big Stupid Knights on Sanctum, and… like, demons that are kinda like Rakdos on Dis but less comical and more sinister, and… Martian guys? I like this.

Slay the spire: ach, not yet! it’s like next on my list.

Chess: yes, that’s true. I guess there’s a jungle out there. And PPvC would be more fun than PvP, I agree. Still, you’re still trying to Win, and there’s not as many weird surprises that can happen - like the best thing is “ooh I came up with a cool sequence of moves that got my pawn promoted”, so that’s somewhat less exciting to me. Plus, “computer > everyone” is kinda like a whole metagame exists, it’s just all in the computer’s head.

(I do like Spiking sometimes, like especially in word games or things where I feel like I’m just naturally pretty competitive and pretty good at it. So it’s not that chess scratches no itches for me; just not usually the jungle one.)

Daniel -

Ah, right, “cool things happening” is a relevant ingredient. Makes sense!

I haven’t played frog fractions, I probably should one of these days :)

Todd -

Definitely seconding frog fractions, Daniel.

Dan, maybe I’ve just played Dominion way too many times at this point, but I don’t get the jungley feeling from it. I like that there’s no metagame! But I don’t feel like the cards themselves ever surprise me, or that there are new uses/combinations I haven’t seen before… Just me?

Dan -

Yeah, nah, that’s fair. I think I’ve just played it less. Or like, I’ve played the base game a bunch, and I do feel like that’s less jungle now; but pretty much all the expansions still feel pretty new and jungle filled to me.

Daniel -

Reading cards from games that I haven’t played (and that have a high probability of being janky) gives me a good feeling: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/290803/warlord-saga-storm

Dan -

Huh, somehow that doesn’t do it for me as much.
Like, if I didn’t know the rules of Magic, looking at a Black Lotus wouldn’t inspire that feeling of awe. “It’s a flower that gives you 3 of something? I guess that’s good?”

Or even Volrath’s Shapeshifter, to use the Full English Breakfast example above; it would seem like “huh, ok, a shapeshifter” and would kinda blend with every other shapeshiftery card. (side note: have I raved about this deck’s combo to you? remind me to explain it sometime, it’s silly and great.)

Similarly, after discovering Chapel in Dominion, that card almost feels totally disconnected from an actual church. We discovered a weird tropical fruit in the jungle named Chapel that lets you win in this somewhat counterintuitive way. Delicious!

Maybe I’m into exploring not the jungle of the in-game flavor, but the combination of the in-game flavor plus the flavor that real life creates from the game?

Daniel -

Next time we hang out, we should chat about Jungle-y game designs! I’m still interested in capturing that flav.

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