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Sunday, June 5, 2011

And the winner is...

Our sixth challenge sees the introduction of several new articles to the game enthusiast's repertoire... one of which might even be playable in a real-world scenario. As three competing works vie for the favor of four voluntary judges, one of the judges invents a new rule and allows herself to deliver weighted integers, while another votes with an irrational number. (In other words, pretty much a normal day around here!)

If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will have been worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

xdpaul is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“Say Harry, does something smell gamey in here?”), but a little more nearsighted. Of course, this time it can see as many words as our participants have chosen to use... but this paragraph is part of our boilerplate, and I enjoy coming up with the quotes.

That's Infotainment!

“A Game of Thrawns” by Ernest T. Scribbler

xdpaul: Now, ain’t that a kick in the teeth.

This entry benefits from the game’s simplicity: it is basically a staring contest, but with hearts instead of eyes. It isn’t made explicit in the text, but it seems fairly obvious that this sort of contest is some form of representational warfare made famous in the contest of David and Goliath.

I think it works like this: instead of both sides devastating each other in costly mass combat, the best representative is selected. I assume that the fighting ground is not advantageous to either side, resources and supply are limited, and the terrain is conducive to a bloodbath. So, I’d like to know more about those circumstances and background in this scene. I suppose I could be reading too much into the ambitions of the empires, and this is some sort of stylized bloodsport combat for entertainment and high stakes only.

Having said that, the piece works brilliantly on its own without having to fill in the “why the heck are they playing this game?” type questions. The narrative establishes early on that the game is high risk, high reward, and economically builds the tension of stopping hearts, evocatively leading to a delicious twist.

I could quibble...aw, heck, I will: Is there a clue I could have that the competitors would not necessarily be aware of the biology of the other? I mean, it is one thing if I walk into the Octagon with the knowledge that my opponent is well past his prime. It is another when I find myself staring across the ring at Ken Shamrock. Wouldn’t the eventual loser know what’s coming...?

As much as I’d like to know that, this entry hit me hard and delivered the whole package: rules, reasons, scene and the game itself being cruicial to both plot and character — and, surprisingly a full-blown story! A tightly written gem.

If I were the gushing type, I’d gush. Instead, I’ll leave my hyperbole to a single word, because it can’t be denied, even by the story’s worst possible critic: “heartstopping.”

Arisia: 3 / Ernest T. Scribbler: voted! / miko: 2 / Ryan J: 2
xdpaul: 15
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 24

“Luck” (a.k.a. “Ladder”) by Ryan J

xdpaul: Having been a bit beffudled by a previous permutation of this story, I have to say that the “instruction set” for the rules, and the longer narrative are really welcome. It’s a meaty story, and the dice splitting is inventive, precisely because it doesn’t make the Wrath of Khan error. Everybody knows that Captain Kirk hacked the “unbeatable” combat simulator in order to win the simulation, and if all Dak did was disrupt the game with his blade, it would have been a Wrath-esque cheat.

But it isn’t: the skill and gamble involved in actually hacking the dice and slicing a positive result is exactly the sort that would impress a rough and cheating gambling gang of criminals.

I still need a more economical, but clear picture of “the splitting of the die.” As it reads, it still takes work to process the physics of what happens. I don't think the story needs to outright say “the second die was split perfectly in half at the four. Two sides hit the table.” but I still need more description clarifying the act. The “six. six. one.” line, powerful in its own right, would become the perfect coda to an amazing demonstration of skill.

Even a mention that he draws “his thinnest blade” or something would aid in making the exercise of skill ring true.

I saw a guy nick an old golf ball with a broken antenna once (again, don’t ask) and was impressed as any good redneck ought to be. But the picture in my memory would need a lot of description before it impressed anyone else, especially on paper.

In short, are there any clues that can be placed before the pivotal scene that will help me more easily see that the dice could be sliced to produce this result.

This feat is an amazing one: I want to be amazed in my reading of it.

Also, I think when Shen needlessly (and early) says “I thought that perhaps you might join us for a round or two of dice,” it is an unnecessary tell. I would think that that statement alone would make Dak reconsider choosing a game of cards when he is offered the choice. The selection of Ladders makes much more sense without that suggestion.

There’s another technical flaw in the way the game is played: the stakes. Shen goes for the kit and caboodle – all the winnings – from the outset. This leaves the formality of conceding (“...or am I the victor?”) just that...a formality. This may work as part of the game (in real life), but as part of the drama (as written), it doesn’t. Give Dak an incentive to “fold.” Say, maybe he can salvage a portion of his winnings that way, somehow. Anything to transform the question into a choice he has to make. Otherwise, he’ll always “climb higher” as he has, quite literally, nothing to lose in doing so.

Having said all that, I love the grit and texture of this story, I care about the character, and the “scene” has a lovely arc that makes it, too, a complete and engaging story. Very nice.

Arisia: 1 / Ernest T. Scribbler: 3 / miko: 2 / Ryan J: voted!
xdpaul: 10
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 18

“Master Move” by miko

xdpaul: This reminded me a lot of The Glass Bead Game, and I mean that favorably. Miko’s game that so efficiently outlines the rules of a sort of social-political-cultural-military “Forever War” is hard to beat. The dialog is a very effective infodump, teacher to pupil, and both the resolution and revelation are timed well and (intentionally, I’m sure) depressing.

I realize that a developed story was not part of this challenge, but I’m altering the deal (pray I don’t alter it any further...) because I have to! These challenges all meet the challenge criteria, and each has a lot to offer, so I’m going to ding “Master Move” for something it wasn’t asked to do: provide more story. I’d love to see this dialog woven into a setting of some sort, with a secondary objective for the characters (something personal perhaps – the master aiming to seduce the pupil upon graduation – emphasizing the “master move”... with the pupil trying to avoid that while gaining the master’s favor for a recommendation to someone of greater power) to increase the conflict.

The spare, haunting dialog currently allows the reader to fill in some blanks, but those blanks are too wide and numerous for a mere reader to bridge: they require the care and architecture of a storyteller.

“Master Move” goes deep, and I like the philosophical implications a lot. For my bronze medalist, this is a really nice answer to the challenge. It feels like a framework around which a very nice story can be built.

Arisia: 3+ / Ernest T. Scribbler: e / miko: voted! / Ryan J: 3
xdpaul: 5
Participation bonus: 2
Total: approximately 16, give or take...


Based on the numbers, both previous champions made strong showings, but our not-quite-dead-yet underdog scored a surprising victory by playing upon the judge's avowed fondness for flash fiction:

3rd Place: ~16 points — “Master Move” by miko

2nd Place: 18 points — “Luck” (a.k.a. “Ladder”) by Ryan J

1st Place: 24 points — “A Game of Thrawns” by Ernest T. Scribbler

Congratulations, Ernest T. Scribbler! As winner, you are hereby invited to propose next week's challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 10 June 2011.


So what was the lesson of this challenge?

xdpaul: Man alive, it’s good to be the HTM, especially when the sacrifices at my altar rival those given to Otogu, but, in the end, in my book, there can be only one, and it is...

“A Game of Thrawns,” by Ernest T. Scribbler.

These were all really enjoyable and I’d like to remind you that, in my book, you’ve all won, except for the two who didn’t.

In any case, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that those who know how to play the game are pretty dang good at designing it, too!
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