Sunday, August 27, 2017

State of the Artist: August 27, 2017

Or, "Thoughts on the Management of Chaos in Art and Board Games."

Goodness, I'm tired.

I spent the weekend playing board games. A lot of board games. I've also realized what kinds of characteristics I look for in a game. "Process things into other things" seems to be a large part of it, as is "use the things to then build other things that process even more things into other things." This is probably why I'm super-fond of Uwe Rosenberg games (such as Caverna, Le Havre, At the Gates of Loyang, Glass Road, Fields of Arle, so many more) and a few others (La Granja, Spirits of the Rice Paddy).

I also swerve into other games with somewhat similar mechanisms, which tend to boil down to "process things into points to pay for other things that generate more points" (Shakespeare, Russian Railroads, The Networks), "manage chaos and try not to fall into disaster" (all of the Oniverse games, Grand Hotel Austria) and "build all the things that connect up to other things" (Suburbia, Castles of King Ludwig).

That's not all there is to what I like, though.

I used to love Viticulture, but now I see some of its holes. All of the games I've mentioned do involve luck, and dealing with encroaching disasters created by such, but I always feel like I have a handle on the situation. That no matter how bad things get, I can always pull my bacon out of the fire.

But Viticulture always feels out of control. I think a huge part of that is because the solo mode in the box contains various aggressive AIs you play against. And given that Viticulture is mercurial (you can more easily lose points due to bad draws with little time to deal with the ensuing chaos), defeat due to the hard point limits meted out by the AIs happens so often.

And that gives Viticulture a certain no-win feeling that doesn't allow you to easily think, "Well, I did the best I could, given the circumstances." No—you straight up failed.

These days I admit I prefer to rack up points and build engines to process things in fun ways. Zeal for winning against an AI just doesn't stack up for me. The most I want out of an AI, if one must exist at all, is that it creates problems for me to solve.

In many ways, this is how I approach art as well. I'd much rather figure out ways to incorporate accidents into a finished piece, to solve constantly changing problems of communication and representation, than to see how many "points" I rack up in terms of likes or dislikes.

The only goals that matter, the only measurements that matter, are my own—and they are never simple.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.